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Information & Advice

...for Students

...for Staff

...on Assistive Technology


Key points about dyslexia for busy lecturers

In the UK, USA, Australia and New Zealand we are obliged by law to avoid disadvantaging students with special needs. The most common of these is dyslexia; in the UK, 2% of higher education (HE) students are dyslexic, and some universities probably have a slightly greater percentage than that. (Not all students decide to disclose that they are dyslexic.)


The purpose of this document is to provide some checklists for best practice. These are intended to serve both as introductory information for colleagues who are not highly aware of dyslexia, and as refreshers for those who are familiar with this issue.


Dyslexic students are as intelligent as their peers. Their primary difficulty is often with linear thought, although gaining information from text and structuring their writing can be major factors. They usually have strengths in other areas such as lateral thinking and spoken communication.  They tend to prefer mind maps to lists. Adopting the approaches suggested will potentially prove beneficial to all students, as an inclusive approach implies awareness of a range of learning styles.


Recommendations in this document are not referenced individually; they are supported by a range of literature, key items from which are listed below under ‘sources of more information’.


Teaching: making course materials accessible

  • Make presentations as diagrammatic as possible
  • Encourage the use of sound recording (including in individual meetings)
  • Indicate key items on reading lists (and key chapters)
  • Provide glossaries of technical terms
  • Provide handouts (see below for points on presentation)
  • Provide handouts on disk if possible
  • Use non-book source material (e.g. tapes, videos, CDs) where possible
  • Use at least 36 point text size in overhead transparencies (OHTs) and PowerPoint
  • If applicable, remind students that they can reserve books via the online public access catalogue, to save them struggling with the Dewey system. In many universities, extended loans are available to dyslexic students.


Tips for paper-based materials

  • This font is ComicSans which many dyslexic people like (note the a and g)
  • Use a sans serif font such as Arial, in at least 12 point
  • Align text on the left only (to keep word spacing even)
  • Use plenty of bullet points
  • Keep blocks of text short
  • Use boxes and diagrams
  • Avoid sentences or headings in capitals
  • Consider using two columns of text (short lines can be easier to read)
  • Use wide spacing between characters and lines
  • Avoid black text on white paper: cream paper reduces ‘glare’ and eyestrain


Web site design

  • Ensure navigation is easy. A site map is essential
  • Ensure downloaded web pages can be read off-line
  • Avoid mobile text. It creates problems for people with visual difficulties. It also causes a problem for text-reading software
  • Offer a facility to change the background and font colours. If this is impossible, use dark lettering on a pale yellow or pale blue background
  • Keep the layout simple


Assessment (1) : Coursework

  • Make expectations very clear
  • Include oral assessment, to cover a wider range of all students’ abilities
  • Consider non-linear assignments such as portfolios
  • Allow time-bounded extensions, because dyslexic students take a long time to read/write
  • Assess work against learning outcomes, which will reflect your subject priorities
  • Correct selected spellings only (e.g. technical vocabulary)
  • Use two different pens, neither red: one for the material, one for spelling etc
  • Write comments legibly. Many dyslexic students struggle to read handwriting.
  • Correct English by talking to the student along with written comments. This will contribute to the long-term effectiveness of your feedback
  • Do not say ‘please use spell-checker.’ The student is probably using it a lot, and choosing the wrong options
  • Ask for a skeleton plan (or a draft) first, if time permits


Assessment (2) : Exams.       Helpful approaches include:

  • Extra time (10 or 15 minutes per hour), in line with University regulations
  • Questions on tape
  • An amanuensis
  • Questions printed on coloured paper
  • Questions printed in large font size
  • Use of a computer
  • Working in a separate room
  • Provision of a spelling list
  • Oral examination

Amendment of assessment must be carried out only by prior arrangement with the Subject Authority Board or equivalent (or if the course is validated for such procedures). It must also be applied only to those students who have been formally identified as dyslexic and have evidence to prove this.



Group sessions

  • Minimise copying from boards and flipcharts
  • Make reading aloud voluntary
  • Make all handouts on coloured paper, rather than just for dyslexic students
  • Write up difficult spellings for all, rather than indicating who they are for
  • Leave OHTs on long enough for slow readers/writers
  • Maintain confidentiality: dyslexic students may not want others to know


Sources of more information

  • Useful UK books on dyslexia in Higher Education include:
    • Singleton C (Chair) (1999) : Dyslexia in Higher Education – Policy, Provision and Practice (Report of the National Working Party on Dyslexia in Higher Education)   HEFCE/University of Hull                                                                                                                      
    • Hunter-Carsch, M & Herrington, M (2001) : Dyslexia and effective learning in secondary and tertiary education.  London, Whurr     
    • Farmer M, Riddick B & Sterling C (2002) : Dyslexia and inclusion – assessment and support in higher education. London, Whurr
    • Gilroy DG & Miles TR (1996) : Dyslexia at College. Routledge                  
    • Pollak D (2005): Dyslexia, the self and higher education.  Stoke on Trent, Trentham Books
  • Recommendations above in respect of visual presentation are supported by:
    • Wilkins A (2003) Reading through colour. Chichester, Wiley
    • Evans BJW (2001) Dyslexia and vision. London, Whurr.
    • The research of John Stein:
  • The following web sites contain information for and about dyslexic adults:
  • British Dyslexia Association


  • International Dyslexia Association
  • Iansyst (IT company)


On the BRAIN.HE site, there is a document called ‘Dyslexia in Adults: reading and website list’ available under ‘print and online resources’.