Seeking learning support during your studies
Sarah Ahmed is a graduate of the University of Aberdeen and undergraduate tutor at the University of Edinburgh. She has just finished her final exams for the Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the Edinburgh Centre for Professional Legal Studies and is looking forward to commencing her traineeship in Autumn 2016.
Whilst settling into life as a law student, it can be difficult enough to get your head around the 'off-side goals' rule or to memorise the case law for criminal, so what happens when you realise a learning disability is holding you back?
Learning disabilities are often referred to as 'hidden disabilities', as when you look at and talk to a person you would have no idea that they have them. This brought me comfort as my dyslexia and dyspraxia was something I wanted to hide when I started law school in 2009.
After all of the fun of freshers, exam season came around too quickly. Having made use of a computer for most of my school examinations, I felt embarrassed and unconfident in my handwriting and spelling.
However, after purchasing all the books and writing up flashcards I convinced myself that if I simply tried hard enough I would be able to make it through. I just wanted to be the same as I perceived my peers to be. (Side note: constant comparison with others during your studies and early career as a lawyer can be unhelpful).
Unfortunately, unlike everyone else, the words 'time’s up' at the end of the exam came too quickly for me and I could barely decipher the scrawls on my paper.
Luckily, my personal adviser noticed the discrepancy between my ability and the work I had produced. I was referred to a specialist Disability Adviser. They used a computer program to screen me for learning disabilities and because the results were positive I was referred to an Educational Psychologist for a full assessment.
Examinations looked different for me going forward. I was able to make use of a computer as well as having extra-time for reading and planning my answers.
My Disability Advisor helped me with applications to Student Awards Agency Scotland (SAAS) for Disabled Student’s Allowance (DSA). I was awarded funds for extra printing credit and given equipment such as an audio-recorder for lectures and tutorials.
The results of these dispensations made a marked difference to my grades and overall degree classification as well as my happiness and wellbeing at university.
There are many different types of learning support you can receive during your studies. The adjustments can be tailored to suit your specific learning support needs, which may change as you progress through your degree.
Turn it into an advantage
Learning disabilities do not need to prevent students from achieving their best results. Around 40% of students with dyslexia or another specific learning disability achieve a first or upper-second degree (JTE Richardson, 2015). An upshot of my disability is that I have had to develop skills that are highly relevant to the study and practice of law, for instance creative thinking and problem solving.
Under The Equality Act 2010, learning disabilities are a ‘protected characteristic’ and universities must afford access to reasonable adjustments for those affected. In my experience, the learning support I received did more than simply help me to finish the paper or take notes during class. It helped me to thrive and achieve my best.