CALL Scotland and Assistive Technology [1]

At a recent meeting of the Adult Network (Edinburgh), Allan Wilson from CALL Scotland told us about CALL Scotland, and demonstrated some assistive technology to us. This blog post:

  1. Shares some of the information Allan gave;
  2. Signposts you to further information;
  3. Tells you about my personal experience of assistive technology; and
  4. Asks you some questions. I will be telling you about specific pieces of technology that dyslexic adults may find helpful. This does not equate to Dyslexia Scotland endorsing these.

CALL Scotland

  1. ‘CALL’ stands for Communication, Access, Literacy and Learning.
  2. CALL Scotland supports people with disabilities, including dyslexic adults, to use assistive technology. For example, CALL provides:

The Scottish Voice

  1. The Scottish Voice is a computer voice[4] which CALL Scotland and software company Cereproc developed together.
  2. It comes in 3 forms: a female version called Heather, a male version called Stuart, and a Gaelic version called Ceitidh.
  3. You can install the Scottish Voice on your computer or mobile device. It is compatible with most text readers.
  4. All dyslexic adults in Scotland can obtain the Scottish Voice.
  5. Just fill in the form at http://www.thescottishvoice.org.uk/download and CALL will send you a link to download the voice.

Scanning pens and Apps

  1. Scanning pens and Apps let you scan text and then listen to it.
  2. Allan demonstrated 2 scanning Apps to us: ‘Claro ScanPen Reader’ and ‘TextGrabber’.
  3. Allan’s written a comprehensive blog post on scanning pens and apps: http://www.callscotland.org.uk/blog/scanning-pens-or-scanning-apps/

 ‘I have an iPad – which apps should I obtain to help me with dyslexia?’

  1. Allan is often asked this question. He answers it by asking: ‘Do you know about Speech Selection?’
  2. Speech Selection is built into the iPad. It does the same job as a text reader: converts text to speech.
  3. http://www.callscotland.org.uk/information/text-to-speech/text-to-speech-ipad

 My personal experience of assistive technology

  1. I use the Scottish Voice and text readers to proof read my writing, and to listen to a piece of text that is too long for me to read in print. The Scottish Voice helps me because I, and most of the people I speak to, have a Scottish accent. This makes the computer voice sound as normal as possible to my ears, which means I can focus on the content.
  2. My Workplace Needs Assessment acted as a useful starting point for me because it recommended specific software, and which purposes to use it for.
  3. For more information on assistive technology, see Dyslexia Scotland’s leaflet ‘Dyslexia and ICT’, available in pdf and audio at https://www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/our-leaflets

 What is your experience of assistive technology?

  1. What assistive technology do you use?
  2. What purposes do you use it for?
  3. What would be your top tip(s) on assistive technology?
  4. If you’d like to share your answers, please post a comment.

By a member of Dyslexia Scotland

 

[1] Assistive technology is technology that helps disabled people.

[2] An app, or application, is a piece of software you can download and use on your mobile device.

[3] Text readers read electronic text aloud. For a self-help guide on text readers, see Making written web content accessible using text readers

[4] A computer voice is a synthesized voice which you can install on your computer or device. It works with a text reader to read electronic text out loud.

Volunteers are the golden thread connecting our communities

Volunteering banner_2017_1

I crafted the above banner in response to Helen Fleming’s request. Helen (Dyslexia Scotland’s Volunteer Manager) is part of the Scottish Volunteering Forum and the Volunteering Cross Party Group in the Scottish Parliament. Helen asked me to create a piece of work for this year’s Volunteers’ Week Scotland, which is this week (1st – 7th June).  The theme is ‘The Golden Thread’ and it reflects the observations of Angela Constance MSP at the CPG on Volunteering meeting in November 2016.

It is my belief that voluntary organisations are the KEYSTONE in the heart of Scotland’s communities. They provide a setting and hub around which volunteers can concentrate their efforts and which we (volunteers) can find a voice. Golden threads require an anchor from which to maintain their strength and focus.

Dyslexia Scotland has a member’s only magazine, which is written by members for members. I would recommend both membership of Dyslexia Scotland and volunteering.  A pdf of a front cover of Dyslexia Voice (from March 2014) about Volunteering is attached to the end of this blog, for your inspiration and information.

The following are quotes from the above mentioned magazine. I wanted to use other volunteers’ words within this blog, as volunteering is a team effort and we all rely on each other (and therefore stand on the shoulders of giants) :-

  • “[The opportunity also allowed me to gain]  knowledge of dyslexia which could help me better understand the condition. (Ann, pp 16 -18)
  • [I have been involved with various] events like the education conference and helping man stalls at other conferences. I have also helped out with stuffing envelopes, organising information packs for conferences (Sam, page 21)
  • [If] you want something done, ask a busy person. That’s what they say and that would be me! … Driving towards Stirling at 6am on a Saturday. … “What am I doing?” … already had a really difficult week at work, … As the day comes to an end, my solemn, unappreciated mood has changed to one of satisfaction and elation… (Dawn, Dyslexia Scotland Fife, pp 36 + 37)
  • [I joined Dyslexia Scotland as a volunteer to] support other parents, and help raise awareness of the support available.  I wanted to give something back for the help I had received. (Janette, West Lothian Branch, pp 10 + 11)
  • [I] thoroughly enjoy being a volunteer at the branch where we meet monthly and look for things to do and how to get our message out. (Jock, Perth & Kinross Branch, pp 8 + 9)
  • One of my particular highlights was meeting Sir Jackie Stewart and the other wonderful ambassadors at the Edinburgh Castle event in 2013. (Hazel, page 30)
  • [Meeting] new people and the feeling that I’m making a difference with the advice that I can offer has given me the confidence I was missing (Angela, page 33)
  • [I am responsible for] ensuring that the organisation is adequately funded, that proper financial records are kept, and that the Board is fully informed at all times of our financial position.  As a volunteer I do of course give freely of my time and am very happy to do so. … many volunteers who give of their time and skills. … without you the worth of Dyslexia Scotland would be much diminished. (Jim, pp 12 + 13)”

I would advise people to try volunteering because I believe volunteering could be the cornerstone of everyone’s wellbeing. And the best bit is that as well as helping yourself: you could be someone’s (or a community’s) “stitch in time that saves nine”.

Doreen Kelly, DS Volunteer and Member

magphoto

Adult assessment

Unaddressed dyslexia disabled me

I was assessed for dyslexia in my early 20s but not identified. This meant my dyslexia went unaddressed.  Living with unaddressed dyslexia wasn’t easy or positive.  I felt inept and blamed myself for my difficulties.  This had a negative impact on me and the people around me.

Being assessed let me understand my dyslexia and address it

16 years later, my unaddressed dyslexia was causing me and others problems in employment. So I went to be assessed again.  This time I was identified.  Straight after my dyslexia assessment, I was given a Workplace Needs Assessment.  The dyslexia specialist who assessed me recommended a set of reasonable adjustments which I asked my employer to make.  My newly discovered self-awareness also let me start self-managing[1] my dyslexia by addressing my difficulties and maximising my strengths.

Why did I delay going for assessment?

I only sought assessment when I could see no other solution to my problems. Here’s why.

  1. I didn’t realise that I might be identified the 2nd time round.
  2. I feared the irreversible step of being identified because I didn’t know what life would be like as an identified dyslexic.
  3. I feared discrimination.
  4. I feared dyslexia, and not being able to overcome it.
  5. I didn’t know how assessment might have helped me, or where to go for assessment.

Self-acceptance

Now that I know I am dyslexic, I can accept myself. This makes me feel more positive and confident. I still find it hard to fulfil my potential. But success is achievable whereas previously, it wasn’t.

Why be assessed if you’re not experiencing problems?

If you’ve not been assessed, and wonder what you’d gain from assessment, here are 10 things I’d say to you.

  1. Dyslexia might not appear to be causing you problems just now. But if I’d been assessed before I felt I had no other option, it would have avoided many undesirable outcomes for me and others.
  2. You might not realise the negative impact your unaddressed dyslexia is having on you and others, because this is what you’re used to.
  3. If you’re dyslexic, it’s better to know, because then you can do something about it.
  4. Each person’s dyslexia is unique to them. Being assessed let me understand how dyslexia affects me. It set me off on a journey of finding out how I think and learn. Now I can make informed choices on how I approach things. For example, I use street view when using a map.
  5. Your dyslexia doesn’t just affect you: it affects the people around you too. So they need you to understand and address your dyslexia too.
  6. 1 in 10 people are dyslexic. So you won’t be alone and support is available.
  7. You might lack faith in your ability to cope with dyslexia. But you have strengths which you’ll be able to use to overcome your difficulties.
  8. It’s never too late to be identified, to understand yourself and accept yourself as you are.
  9. You deserve to understand your dyslexia and fulfil your potential.
  10. I recommend Dyslexia Scotland’s information leaflet ‘Dyslexia – assessment for adults’. It is available in audio format and pdf at http://www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/our-leaflets

Further information

  1.  Dyslexia Scotland has a helpline for anyone in Scotland. See  http://www.dyslexiascotland.org.uk/helpline
  2. There is currently no government funding in the UK for adult dyslexia assessment.
  3. ‘The Dyslexic Adult in a Non-Dyslexic World’, reviewed at         https://alifelessordinaryds.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/book-review-the-dyslexic-adult-in-a-non-dyslexic-world/

[1] To find out about self-management, see https://alifelessordinaryds.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/hello-from-the-health-and-social-care-alliance

This blog was written by a Dyslexia Scotland member

Finding Success with Dyslexia

dragon mindmap doreen

The mindmap/picture above (please click on the link) is partly inspired by Rob Gilbert’s “It’s all right to have butterflies in your stomach. Just get them to fly in formation”. The Dyslexia Dragon in the middle is dangerous, passionate and unpredictable: but when someone with dyslexia finds success it appears they manage to make society, workplace and their self, dance in time. While using the dragon’s passionate fire to create something sensational.

This composition is proving rather difficult because I am a dyslexic individual who does not yet count herself among the high-flying successful individuals. However, self-help literature advises visualisation of success in order to plan one’s goals.

I was inspired to create the opening image by attending the adult network meeting in Stirling on Saturday 18th February 2017. The meeting was focused on individual dyslexia stories.

Super

Unique

Crazy

Creative

Energy

Sows

Success

Part of the reason I don’t yet count myself amount the ranks of successful people is that I am having real difficulty finding an employment role in which my talents can shine. I am extremely creative but my fine motor skills do not allow me to excel in fine art or music. I enjoy science and studied for and achieved a BSc Hons in Biology With Geology, but for a variety of reasons this has not led to the start of a fulfilling career.

I am trying to use my periods of non-paid employment wisely: I have discovered that the internet is full of excellent free learning resources, a lot of which I have been using to try to discover a suitable career path. I have, however, also found an excellent citizen science website, www.zooniverse.org. The website/project was initially set up to identify celestial objects but now includes many diverse research projects. The scientists had far too much data to analyse and asked for volunteers. They said they needed human eyes attached to human brains to identify patterns (too complex for computers to make sense of). I have found that it provides an excellent opportunity to use my dyslexic talents of pattern recognition to help with real science. I like learning and volunteering with Zooniverse as there are no classrooms and no face-to-face interactions (that one would need to engage in when volunteering in a charity shop and other voluntary roles).

I also use Zooniverse to keep myself job and interview ready. When I don’t need to make decisions, I tend to avoid decision-making which can be a problem when I go back into the work place. Also, I often struggle to talk about my hobbies in interviews – when I try to talk about my crafts they sound a bit homespun and not overly intellectual. However, I think my work on Zooniverse will provide an excellent non-controversial, cerebral and socially conscious activity to talk about. I could not claim to like reading, as my lie would be obvious as soon as they asked me what the last book I read was. While talking about studying various subjects would make me sound like an eternal student which is not always seen as an advantage by employers. Also, I probably wouldn’t manage to organise my thoughts enough to give a quick overview of a subject to an interviewer.

I hope this blog helps someone to see the world or their life differently. When the world often gets me so down that I can no longer see the wood for the trees; I am really grateful for the situations that remind me of things I already know (but presents the knowledge in a new way, so it really hits home).

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland volunteer and member

Book review: ‘The Dyslexic Adult in a Non-Dyslexic World’

‘The Dyslexic Adult in a Non-Dyslexic World’ by Ellen Morgan and Cynthia Klein

John Wiley & Sons, 2000. ISBN: 978-1-86156-207-4

Available from Dyslexia Scotland’s resource centre.

This book is about dyslexic adults who were identified in adulthood. I think it is an excellent book.  Here are 10 reasons I liked it.

  1. It deepened my understanding of dyslexia. For example, it discusses how dyslexic people learn better if the learning content is linked to a context that is meaningful to them.
  2. It helped me make sense of my experience. For example, I was assessed and not identified in my early 20s, then assessed and identified in my late 30s. The book revealed to me possible reasons for that.
  3. It broadened my knowledge of the experience of dyslexic adults. This helped me to put my own experience in context. For example, one adult featured did not label himself negatively at school. He was able to see beyond his literacy difficulties and recognise that he was good at academic subjects and enjoyed learning.
  4. The content is beautifully and simply expressed. The authors and interviewees articulate brilliantly and succinctly what it’s like to be a dyslexic person identified in adulthood. The book provides a framework and stimulus for any dyslexic adult’s own story.
  5. I found it accessible. It’s rich with detail but never heavy-going. It quotes directly the dyslexic adults who contributed to the book.
  6. I found it therapeutic. I was identified in adulthood. Much of the book reflected my own experience. I found it so self-validating it felt like a treat to read it. I didn’t want it to end.
  7. I found it fascinating and insightful
  8. It shares some inventive strategies that dyslexic adults have devised. For example:  A strategy for managing time which involves imagining the days of the week in a ring and a method for remembering how to spell the word ‘pyramid’:

Pyramid Page 164 of the book.[1]

   9. It crystallised some ideas for me. For example, identification in adulthood lets   an individual start to reframe school experiences.

  10. It is underpinned by research. It draws on research by the authors and others.

3 tips for engaging with this book

  1. Ask the Seeing Ear[2] if they would produce it in Word so that you can use a text reader to listen to it[3].
  2. Engage with other books that complement it. For example:
  • ‘Dyslexia – How to survive and succeed at work’;
  • ‘Understanding Dyslexia – An Introduction for Dyslexic Students in Higher Education’; and
  • ‘The Dyslexic Advantage’.[4]

3. Try to obtain your own copy. Highlight points that are particularly significant for          you. Note your responses and cross-references in the margins.

Conclusion

As I’ve been reviewing this book I’ve been wondering about its title. Does it help dyslexic adults and everyone else to think of the world as non-dyslexic? There is still low dyslexia awareness, and dyslexic adults still experience many challenges. But I think it’s now time to see dyslexia as a part of society, and accept that reality. Then we can all work together to address the difficulties and maximise the strengths of dyslexia. So if I were to write a sequel to this book, I’d call it ‘Including our Dyslexic Adults in our 10% Dyslexic World’. What would you call it?

By an anonymous member of Dyslexia Scotland

[1] The publisher asked me to include the following copyright notice. I take no responsibility for it. “All rights reserved. No part of ‘The Dyslexic Adult in a Non-Dyslexic World’ may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of John Wiley & Sons.”

[2] http://www.seeingear.org/about-us/contact-us

[3] For guidance on text readers see ‘Making written web content accessible using text readers’ at http://includeusall.org.uk/1205-2

[4] These books are detailed in a list of self-help books and resources that is available to download from http://dyslexiascotland.org.uk/our-leaflets (scroll to the foot, under ‘Further Reading’)

Hello! From the Health and Social Care Alliance

By Kerry Ritchie and Lara Murray, Network Development Officers

The Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland (known as the ALLIANCE) has recently become a member of Dyslexia Scotland and we are also pleased to welcome Dyslexia Scotland to the ALLIANCE family.

alliance 1

Kerry and Lara, Network Development Officers at the ALLIANCE

With over 1,900 members across health and social care, the third sector and including people living with long term conditions and unpaid carers, the ALLIANCE has a huge reach and a remit to improve services for people living in Scotland. We are both Network Officers at the ALLIANCE, working to grow and strengthen relationships. We want to introduce you to the ALLIANCE and to the different parts of our networking activities.

Membership of the ALLIANCE

At the ALLIANCE, our vision is for Scotland to be a place where everyone has support and services that put them at the centre. People of all ages living with disabilities, long term conditions or providing unpaid care for a loved one need to have a strong voice to ensure that they enjoy their right to live well and free from discrimination. We view everyone as an equal and active citizen who should be able to shape the health and social care services they use.

Our three core aims are to:

  • Ensure people’s voices are at the centre of design, delivery and improvement of services
  • Support transformational change, towards approaches that work with individuals and communities
  • Champion the third sector as an important partner in the delivery of health and social care

Working towards our vision, the ALLIANCE is involved in many different projects and you can read about them all on our website. However, our real strength is our membership: the people and organisations that provide their voice and expertise on what is currently happening in health and social care and what needs to change. 1,900 voices are so much louder together.

alliance 2

A recent ALLIANCE members’ networking event

In return for lending their strength to achieving our vision, we offer members a range of benefits, including up to date news, briefings and alerts as well as knowledge sharing and opportunities for networking across sectors.

Dyslexia Scotland is now a member of the ALLIANCE as an organisation. It is also possible to join for free as an individual supporter. Learn more on the ALLIANCE membership website. Contact Kerry Ritchie to find out about joining.

Self Management

One of the priority areas for the ALLIANCE is our self management work. When we talk about self management of a long term condition, we do not mean people being left to manage alone. Supported self management is about people living with long term conditions feeling able, through the services, support and information they access, to live well with their condition. Our work aims to bring about a change in the way services are delivered to support this way of working with people.

Since 2008, the ALLIANCE has been administering the Self Management Fund on behalf of the Scottish Government. To date, more than £16 million has been awarded to over 200 projects delivering innovative services that enable people to self manage their long term conditions.

alliance 3

2016 Self Management Network Scotland event held with Crohn’s and Colitis UK showing attendees holding a paper chain made of ‘powerful partnership’ links to promote the theme of partnership working

Funding these projects is the cornerstone of our other self management work including the Self Management Network Scotland. Around 500 people with an interest in changing health and social care services to work in this way can connect and support one another through this network. Joining is free and we host regular networking events as well as issue updates on the world of self management in Scotland.

Find out more and join on the Self Management Network Scotland website. Contact Lara Murray to find out more.

Why do we need Neurodiversity?

In a society where ‘labelling’ someone with a neurological difference creates much debate and where some people are accused of wanting labels unjustly, in order for children to be given more time in exams, somebody might question why another label, such as that of being neurologically diverse, is needed. Let me explain why.

While there are always going to be people who disagree with the assigning of labels entirely – and this is perfectly okay – I believe that saying someone is neurologically diverse has some merit. One, you are not sticking a specific label to them “Jack has X problem, while Jill has Y issue,” you are merely saying that their brain works differently to the general population. Given that there is truth to this statement, nothing about this is wrong.

Furthermore, it is a more inclusive term to use, particularly in the case of people who have multiple conditions within this particular spectrum. Because it is possible to be both dyslexic and dyspraxic, for instance, an individual is sometimes neither one nor the other. Consequently, some may argue that it is more accurate to describe someone as neurologically diverse. On a related note, in the same way that “disability” can be used to encompass a variety of conditions, neurodiversity can too.   As a result, it might be that the individual wishes to use the term to describe themselves rather than divulge the specific nature of their difficulty.

As well as being used as a non-specific signifier for those that are maybe wary of putting a particular label on themselves, it can also be used as a unifying force to bring together lots of people. Having previously said that you can be neurologically diverse in more than one way, let us also remember that neurologically diverse is a huge umbrella that contains a great many people with many different traits, strengths and difficulties. However, you don’t have to have exactly the same problem in order to sympathise with a predicament someone else is facing. For example, just because people with dyscalculia struggle with numbers and people with dyslexia struggle with letters, it doesn’t mean the frustrations are not similar, just that they are caused by different things.

Those who are critical of the term may feel it is too broad to be of any real use, possibly arguing that isn’t everyone neurologically diverse in some way? (After all, no two people are the same). To them I would say that there is a world of difference between thinking differently and someone’s brain being wired differently. It’s a question of the difference in how information is processed rather than a difference of opinion on that information itself. Since this is something that is not unique to one condition, neurodiversity is needed as a term to illustrate and take account of that.

Although some people may disagree with any label in principle, there is no getting away from the fact that they are at least partially needed – people need language to allow them to talk about what they are experiencing. In being broad and non-descript, though, the term neurologically diverse enables someone to describe a learning difference in their own way because it makes as little assumption about the problems people may encounter and allows people to tell who they like what they like when they feel it’s appropriate. Unlike dyslexia, which many mistakenly see as purely a reading difficulty, ‘neurologically diverse’ is not a term that has gained enough traction to generate such misconceptions. Due to the breadth of the term, someone can even say “I’m neurologically diverse and this is how it affects me,” which could, in theory, reduce the number of labels needed altogether. Given this, whether you are in the pro or anti label camp, using neurodiversity as a way to describe learning differences is no bad thing.

Gemma Bryant, Resource Centre Volunteer

Barriers to finding my creativity

BudStugglingToBloom_DKSometimes I feel like ‘neuro-normal’ people put verbal vaults in my way to imprison my intellectual and creative gifts.

I often feel like the bud above, trying to blossom in a society that relies heavily on words. I think I am a nonverbal thinker. However, most people want me to explain my plans to them. I think another issue here is my working memory. I often feel worried about going out shopping, to clubs and to appointments [sometimes I’m even hesitant about spending time with friends and family] because life and conversations rarely follow a set script.

Real life is not a rehearsal and I too often feel unprepared. I often don’t answer fast enough, causing people to badger me for my answer (or that’s how it appears to me). If I try to answer quickly the content of my statement tends not to cover everything I would have liked. So in my experience, the person I’m speaking to sees this as proof that I don’t know what I’m doing. They then start judging me and telling me what I should do. I then have a negative emotional reaction and I can’t take control of the situation.

For other people who have dyslexia this may sound rather strange: however, I believe I may have dyspraxia as well. When I was diagnosed back in the 1980s: the phrasing was something like ‘learning difficulties with dyslexic type difficulties’. My gross and fine motor skills were also flagged up as a problem, I think. My belief that I may be dyspraxic is bolstered by how hard I have to work to be organised.

I often feel like a coin in one of those charity whirlpool collecting domes. Imagine you are a 2p coin that has been rolled in through one of the wee slits in the side of the dome. Let’s think of this as a really good roll: the coin goes round and round in tight circles and covers almost every part of the ellipse. My life feels like this roller coaster ride. Round and round in circles – whilst each circumlocution may start at a different point due to what I have learned and experienced (it most often doesn’t feel like that). Occasionally as I metaphorical fall through the hole and look back at how far I’ve come I can see my progress. During these rare times where my self-esteem rises a little and I’m flying through the dark void of the unknown, I get a little respite.

However, I’m just in the space between fractals and in far too short a time I’ve hit the next whirlpool vortex. And round and round I go; feeling sick and dizzy all over again.

My creativity follows the ellipse too. My fine motor skills are not good enough for me to be a fine artist. But I’m extremely creative, I love: knitting, cross-stitching, and card marking etc. People don’t understand my creativity. I often design projects myself. The patterns are pretty useless to me. I can’t decipher cross-stitch grids or knitting patterns. I will often start a project without knowing what the finished article will be. Numerous people ask, ‘What are you knitting?’ I might reply ‘A square, for now’. They are often not happy with this answer.

I’d like to say not every journey needs a defined end point. Travelling along the path can be its own reward. Please let me ride the roller coaster of the vortex as a thrill ride for a change: rather than just feeling under-the-weather all the time!

Doreen Kelly, Dyslexia Scotland member and volunteer

 

Dyslexia and Art School

Dyslexia is a common distinction of the creative individual, with many young people attending art college falling into similar statistics as follows.

At Central St Martin’s College of Art and Design research by Dr Steffart found that three-quarters of the 360 art foundation students assessed have a form of dyslexia. Dr Steffart designed a series of six tests of verbal, written and spatial ability for the students. Their intellectual and visual spatial skills were at a superior level – but they had many problems with reading, writing and spelling. Independent

We know that this can cause great barriers to some subjects but you would imagine that art and design would be an area that if you were struggling with dyslexia then things would be much easier.

However, I work with students in my role at Portfolio Oomph supporting them making an application to art college or creative courses at University. One thing that has struck me, in the last 8 years since the inception of the colleges/unis using a digital portfolio to assess a student’s skills and creative capabilities, how much the organisational ability that is affected by dyslexia can really disadvantage a student.

The creation of a digital portfolio is a digitising of a student’s portfolio (drawings, paintings, sculptures etc) and arranging it to clearly demonstrate the creative process. Each college, and sometimes each course, has differing guidelines on how many images they require. They request your images categorised into research / development, final outcomes and often context (the artists and designers you are inspired by and your influences). The pixel size is limited as is the file size and type, to 200kb or 1mb of .jpeg format.

If you’re bamboozled by this, you’d not be alone.

For some courses the digital portfolio is the first part of the selection process and if they rank highly here, they will be called for interview. Other colleges use only the digital portfolio (along with their UCAS application) to select potential students.

Furthermore, many courses ask for a 500 word statement in addition to the UCAS statement, which is yet another challenge to write concisely and succinctly with passion and relevancy for their subject and college.

Art college is not just about painting pictures these days, has it ever been? More and more there is an expectation that the student’s application imbues an intellectual ability via the portfolio, UCAS statement, 500 word statement and interview. As Dr Steffart’s research defines, creative students can be intellectually gifted and their art can be the vehicle. However, if they struggle to organise and prepare sufficiently this can be critical.

So, to summarise, some courses have a 4 tier selection process requiring sustained organisation, time management and planning over a period of approx. 7 months.

The competition for creative courses is high and it’s because of this that I established Portfolio Oomph, an online hub to practically support students in all aspects of making applications to creative further and higher education.

Making a plan and being organised, thinking ahead from September about what each college requires, deadlines, content etc. is a good start to the year when you’re applying. Ensuring that you have a personal interest in your idea/themes is essential so that you can more easily express your commitment and passion for it. Use­­ the colleges’ language when talking about ‘trying things out’, ‘making mistakes’ (which are important parts of the creative process and need to be celebrated!) use research, development etc.

Finally, like most things, there is help and support out there if you seek it.

 Written by: Julie Read is the founder of Portfolio Oomph 

Dyslexia, Mental Health and Stigma

Dyslexia is not a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t affect one’s mental health and it can often lead to a mental illness, like depression or anxiety, because of the ripple effect dyslexia can have on one’s whole life – from brain processing, to self-esteem, to work, to independence and isolation. However, the words ‘mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ still carry a lot of stigma. So, if you’re finding the label dyslexia stigmatising, it’s likely you’ll also hate any other labels, especially relating to your mental health.

Well, here’s my opinion: Having mental health difficulties is no less stigmatising than having physical health problems. It’s all part of being part of this world.

  • Let’s look at asthma. You get medicine for that when needed. You avoid certain environments, pets, or hill walking, to not provoke an asthma attack. You get regular check-ups. You talk openly about it. You even write it down on forms, declaring it without a second thought. It’s perfectly fine. You can’t help it. You were born that way. Your body isn’t functioning like people without asthma but that’s ok.
  • If you break a leg, you get a cast on it. You avoid mountain climbing and running etc. People will ask you openly what happened and you’ll answer as keenly. You get help and support – maybe even a physio. You know you’re currently limited in how you can live your life, but it doesn’t define you.
  • You’re off sick with the flu. You’ve been to the doctor; they prescribed rest and fluids. You stay off work. You tell your manager – you even throw in an extra cough for emphasis. You moan to anyone who’ll listen because a bit of extra pity feels good. You binge watch TV and stay in bed all day. People tell you to relax and offer their help. You might even get your meals served in bed. It’s nice.
  • You can’t get out of bed because you’re feeling depressed. You watch TV but then feel guilty. You don’t want to tell your manager the real reason you can’t come into work. You don’t tell your friends either because you did once, and was told to ‘get over it’. Why are you even depressed, you ask yourself? Life’s good. What do you have to be upset about? Ok, so you did have that ‘thing’ the other day where you were put on the spot and you couldn’t read what you were asked or write what you were supposed to. It reminds you of the other children laughing at you at school. It wasn’t fine. It made you feel lonely. You’ve been told you have dyslexia. It’s not nice. You don’t want to declare it on forms. You feel you should somehow be able to overcome it, unlike asthma. It defines you, unlike a broken leg.

Why is a broken body acceptable? Why is breaking your leg ok, but struggling with your mind because you were born that way, not? How do we hope to change the stigma if we do it to ourselves?

I have dyslexia and am currently trying to find out if I also have dyspraxia. I found these terms very stigmatising once, until I realised it explained all the things about me that I hadn’t been able to understand; the things I had criticised myself for – and instead of stigmatised I felt freed. It was a release. After all, the many names I’d called myself throughout the years were labels too, like ‘stupid’ or ‘clumsy’. However, all the self-doubts I’d had growing up, led to low self-esteem and spells of depression.

I still get anxious when I’m asked to read out loud, but instead of letting that anxiety build, I just say I don’t want to as I’m dyslexic and that’s that. I also say whenever it comes up that I have depression and what I’ve found is that every time I’m honest – instead of pushing people away or feeling ashamed – other people feel braver and say they have problems too. My honesty, instead of isolating me, brings me closer to others. My openness about my struggles breeds inclusion instead of exclusion. That doesn’t mean everyone ‘gets it’ or accepts it – there are still judgemental people out there and there always will be – but it’s not about being accepted by others anymore; it’s about being accepted by myself and I now do, which has taken away from my sense of stigma.

Terese Smith – guest blogger

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I found these TED Talks very inspirational and helpful. Maybe you will too:

Emotional first aid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F2hc2FLOdhI

Vulnerability: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

Shame: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psN1DORYYV0

Thank you for reading and I hope you found this post interesting. What’s your experience of stigma? Have you seen examples of – or experienced – how dyslexia can lead to other mental health problems? Any advice on how to cope and feel better? Please comment below.