There are many obstacles for a dyslexic student throughout elementary, middle, and high school, but the challenges don’t stop there. Often, the student’s first introduction to college is an expansive list of schools, each with their own set of forms and deadlines: the admissions process.
The admissions process can be overwhelming for any student, but for students with dyslexia, navigating the monolithic application forms means spending more time going through the tedious process.
What is dyslexia?
Dyslexia is a learning disorder that affects the student’s ability to identify speech sounds and how they relate to written words and letters.
Students with dyslexia face significant hurdles early in their school careers, and dyslexia can even go on undiagnosed, meaning that students may go throughout the entire schooling process never knowing why they seem to struggle with reading more than others.
Anywhere between five and ten percent of the population has dyslexia, and the learning disorder can be so severe that even reading a restaurant menu becomes a chore. However, the list of tools these students can use to help them overcome their learning disorder is growing.
College Application Process
The application process is spread out across many different schools, so there little opportunity for a dyslexic student to fall back on some of the tools they’ve developed to help them maneuver through pages of reading while they studied in a unified system: namely, their high schools.
However, assistive technology has become increasingly helpful for students with dyslexia in helping them parse through crowded and difficult text, as well as helping them write more efficiently, and certain companies have developed apps that specifically target problematic processes.
To begin, managing deadlines is always the first step: what is due, and when is it due? These are the first questions to ask, and they lend a guide to the student’s effort.
Google Calendar and Drive are two great tools that allow students to collaborate with whomever may be helping them through the process, and can be critical in assisting students who struggle with executive functioning. The student is able to access their calendar and any of their documents related to the application process from any device that has an internet connection. Not only that, but they can share a calendar or a personal statement with an academic advisor, a parent, or a friend so that they can get additional feedback on their work.
One of the largest challenges for dyslexic students is taking large chunks of text and reading through it quickly. The dyslexic brain has fewer neural connections in the portion of the brain that makes sense of letters and written words, so looking at a large chunk of text can be like standing at the base of a tall mountain.
Companies like Audible have tons of offerings of audiobooks, which has become a standard and common accommodation for dyslexic students in the classroom, but audiobooks can only cover a small fraction of the actual reading a dyslexic student is expected to complete. It is more important to be able to read through forms, emails, and informational articles than it is to read through a novel– simply because we encounter those forms of reading far more frequently.
Luckily, text-to-speech programs have flourished in the past few years. If a dyslexic student is working from any Apple product with iOS, they can highlight any section of readable text (that is, in a document or on a webpage) and have their device read the selection to them. The voice is robotic, which can be difficult to listen to for long periods of time– a common complaint among dyslexic students– but the option is there.
If you don’t have an Apple product, “Read & Write” for Google Chrome is an excellent option as well. It has the text-to-speech feature that the Apple iOS has, and in addition houses a speech-to-text feature that the student can use when writing personal statements or important emails.
However, some forms come in PDF format, which is unreadable to both Apple iOS and Read & Write. There is another program that plugs right in as a Google Chrome extension called “Snap & Read”. The student is able to drag a highlighted box over any area of text they wish to have translated into speech and the character recognition software will go right ahead. This can be immensely helpful when moving through forms with irregular formatting. Plus, “Snap & Read” has been developing their software in a manner to suit a general dyslexic student’s needs, and has been able to reduce a lot of the frustration that comes with the robotic female voice that seems to accompany every text-to-speech option. They still use a female robotic voice, but it’s among the best options today.
Another issue all students face, but is particularly acute with dyslexic students, is organizing their essays. This can be problematic when facing the long list of personal statements and short answer questions they face when moving through the college application process.
Mindmap apps like “Inspiration” are helpful because students are able to construct and order the beats of their written answers in a highly visual form. Dyslexic students can be overwhelmed trying to make sense of the notes they typed up during a brainstorm, but in mindmaps, the flow between main idea and supporting points is clear. Students are able to manipulate the structure of their notes so they can move through several possibilities for their essays and gain confidence in their idea before committing to the writing.
Grammar and Writing
All of these tools are helpful, but the technology isn’t perfect. The student can have a form selection read to them, and can speak into a microphone rather than type to fill out the required area, but often, speech-to-text programs can include irrelevant words that escape the dyslexic student’s notice.
That’s where “Grammarly” comes in. “Grammarly” can also be used as a Google Chrome extension and automatically reviews whatever the student is writing to check for spelling, punctuation, and proper grammar. “Grammarly” covers everything from written documents, to emails, to Facebook posts. Whereas built-in spell checkers work for misspelled words, “Grammarly” is able to pick up on common errors like “to,” and “too.”
Additionally, “Grammarly” will make suggestions for punctuation, and can be helpful in keeping sentences tight and clear. It’s near-universal use makes “Grammarly” particularly important because the student can easily understand the method and interface and provides a bridge of continuity between the hectic application landscape and their work. (Grammarly Screenshot)
Why Educators Should Advocate for Assistive Tech
Too often, dyslexic student’s devices become cluttered with a long list of tools– each one serving a highly specific purpose. That in itself can be overwhelming.
All of the tools listed above offer continuity that a dyslexic student can depend on. Regardless of what chunk of text they are looking at, the student will know exactly which tool to use to help them understand it.
These tools and apps can take loads of frustration off of a dyslexic student’s shoulders, thus allowing the student to better express themselves. Plus, dyslexic students become more independent when using assistive technology, making the educators job simpler as well.
When the student has more freedom to express themselves, the educator and student can focus on ideas rather than execution.
These few simple tools can assist the student with deciphering the broad array of information that comes to them throughout the college application process , and, in combination, can ensure the student is able to clearly express themselves to find success on their way to college.