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Online Materials for Staff Disability Awareness
[Resources] : Student Interviews

Saptal Bains

Name :
Saptal Bains
Course :
BSc Quality Management
Year of study :
Level of study :
UCAS Disability code :
1 - dyslexia


Can you explain to me the route you took when you came to university? Was it through an FE college or A' Levels?

I had a very dodgy way to get through to university. Obviously I did GCSEs and failed them twice, so I took them three times. Then I went to college and thought, 'What shall I do at college? Shall I do A' Levels, or shall I do a GNVQ?' I was mulling it over for ages in my own head. The easy option was to do GNVQ and that should have taken me two years and it took me three years. From there, obviously I passed and got the merit, I had an interview with the lecturers here, the Head of Department and I got through to university that way. I went through clearing, actually.

I'll get on to that in a second, but at school and FE college did you get any support similar to what you are getting here?

Nothing of the sort. Nothing at all. There was no acknowledgement - basically you were just treated as though you were just lazy. I don't think there were any facilities to actually accommodate people with dyslexia, my disability, anyway, which was really sad. I look back at it now and I'm really angry, it's so sad, I've wasted five or six years in academics when I could have got it over and done with ages ago. I'm 25 now. I haven't taken a break - it's always fail a year, do it again, fail a year, do it again.

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So you got the GNVQ. Did you apply through UCAS, as normal?


And what happened with that process?

My first option was Nottingham University and there were two courses at Nottingham, a course at Sheffield and another two in Wolverhampton which was my last resort because I am from there, anyway and I didn't want to stay in the same place. Nottingham, I would have loved to have gone, but I was just missing a grade, and the same with Sheffield, I was just missing a grade. I applied for clearing and everything, but I did pick up a UCAS book and I never actually saw Quality Management. I never knew that it existed. I looked at it, read a bit about it and it looked interesting and diverse, which really appealed to me.

So, what were you missing on the GCSE? Was it maths or English or what?

It was my maths - just a C but they wanted a B.

Did you get chance to have a look at the university? How did you find out about it? Obviously the course struck you.

I had two friends studying History and Geography here at Salford so I thought I might as well come up and see what it was like. I got the shock of my life at the time. I thought, 'OK, it's a bit rough.' But I spoke to one or two of the lecturers and they showed me what is available on the course and where you might go forward from the course --which made it a lot easier for me - it was interesting and not just a typical Business Studies degree. This gives me something different. I've missed so many years out so I thought that something different would make up maybe a year or so on it.

At this stage did you know anything about the Equalities Unit?

Nothing of the sort. I never knew I had dyslexia.

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On the course

So there wasn't anything on the application form? That's not something that became an issue, was it?

It kicked off in my first year. I was annoyed because nothing was sinking in. Everything seemed a lot harder. The work didn't seem that hard. It made sense, but when I went off and did it myself there was something going wrong. The transaction of reading it, interpreting it and understanding it was completely out of the window. So I approached one of the lecturers that I got on quite well with, Derek. He said that I could have dyslexia and advised me to get myself assessed and go to the Equalities Office and they will sort things out for me.

Had he seen one of your assignments or was it just by talking to you about your difficulty?

It was ages ago when I was quite young my uncle said, 'Has he got dyslexia?' That was when I was quite young - 14 or 15. It just came in my head in my first year and I thought I would speak to somebody about it. Luckily my lecturer knows quite a bit about it, which was good, and he could read the tell-tale signs. He mentioned a couple of criteria, factors, and I fitted in those categories and decided to get myself checked out for definite.

What happened next?

I came into the Equalities Office and managed to get assessed. They booked me an appointment to see this woman. She talked to me about it a bit and put me through to an assessor and I was assessed. A couple of weeks after a report came to me.

What sort of things did you find out about yourself?

I'm not good at - my reading and my writing skills are below average and the way I interpret things is a lot different to somebody else i.e. I can easily misinterpret something if I read it - I think it means something - but it doesn't. So the process of my mind is different. I can't go from A to Z just like that, I have to go through all the alphabet and it's just a longer process.

In the first year I was quite naive - I just didn't want to come to terms with it. It's a disability, or a gift - some people call it that. It's with you for all your life. It's classed as an illness and I thought if a read a couple of books I will be fine. So I kind of plodded through the years until I came to this year and this year it has hit me big time.

So you passed the first year and ...

Yes, and I passed the second year - just about scraped through by the skin of my teeth. Thank God I had the extra time in the exam and so forth. But this year, the final year makes a big difference. You've got to know and understand it fully and understand its limits and constraints. That's why this year has been a bit dodgy.

So what's hit you?

It's the level of work you have got to do. In past years, you pretty much read a text book and describe it. This year you have to analyse it and be critical about everything and evaluate everything. For me that process takes a hell of a lot longer than the average person. For me it's a hell of a lot harder. My first assignment is like a half module and we are given four weeks to do the assignment. The question was simple enough. The wording was poorly done. I had to read it about a thousand times just to make sense of it. I wasted almost three weeks just reading the question and trying to understand the damn thing. It took me the final weeks to just cram everything in. It was a shame because I should have done it in the first two weeks and allowed time to do the other two assignments - they all come in at the same time. So because I went in that mess and couldn't understand my ability, I came out under attack for that particular assignment. It left me three weeks behind - and three weeks in you final year - you are on your deathbed, basically. It's the wrong thing to do.

What sort of support strategies do you have? You got the report done, but you didn't take it any further? You didn't come back for any dyslexia tuition or anything like that?

I wasn't told that I have to have tuition or I can have tuition. It was said, and was recommended on the report, but I said, well, 'What's one of those?' I did go to some of their tutorials where they show you how to use the computer. I went to a few of those and it seemed very basic - how to file and so on and I was doing that in my course already. I was given the extra time for the exams and that was about it.

Do you get a personal tutor and regular feedback from staff?

I've only just had a personal tutor for the last two weeks. I think it's such a bonus having a tutor because you sit down and rip the question to bits and brainstorm it. When I used to do my own I used to brainstorm my girlfriend at a tangent and on different topics. But this way she shows me how to focus on one area.

Is she in your department?

No. The Equalities Office sorted it out for me.

So she's more like a dyslexia tutor?

Yes she's a dyslexia tutor. I think I should have a tutor in my department. I saw on the notice board yesterday that there is a third year Quality Management tutor available.

Maybe it's worth going because they give you the subject specific stuff.

It just occurred to me to find the notice board and see what was on it. I saw that and thought, 'Damn!' But nobody had mentioned it to me. Nobody had said there are special tutors and you can do this, this and this. I wasn't aware of that.

It says, 'Provision of lecture notes in advance wherever possible.' Does that happen much?


Would that help? When you do get them, does it help?

This has only been happening now recently. If this was done earlier on, say at the end of the second year. When I came back to start my final year I was really geared up and you are in that mood to do everything in advance. Because I am so far down the road, they can't give me anything in advance now, because the exam periods are starting now. I've got the notes and now I have just got to revise it. When it comes to the second semester, if they give something in advance then, that would help because I could stay, not ahead of the game, but level with the game.

I was talking to someone before you and he said that in his department, often lecturers will do presentations and they will hand out slides and you can take notes with it.

Yes they do that in lectures but if I had them beforehand, a week in advance, I would know that I would not have to research on that. I can go to the next stage. By the time I go to the next stage the other students would have done that and caught up with me as well. It would help if we were all in the same place.

So it's constructing the essay that you need the extra time for, rather than reading through and trying to change the grammar and things like that. So, in lectures you take in aural information quite well and you prefer that method. So what do you do about taking notes?

I used to take a dictaphone in but I stopped that because you run out of tapes extremely quickly, your batteries die quickly and I was having like a double day at uni. So on Monday I was in from 9 til 5 and I would come home and do the same thing again and it got to me - it was way too much.

So the second time, were you listening to them to try and take notes, then?

Yes, you can stop the tape and rewind but I don't think it's a particularly good thing because there is a lot of the tape you don't need but you record it anyway.

I think a lot of people would agree with you. A lot of students do it but whether or not they then make use of it because it is so time-consuming.

I've tried it many times. You've got head-phones on and you are intensely listening and trying to make notes. I still believe that handouts are the best. I saw my dyslexia tutor today and she has different coloured highlights and she highlights with one colour which basically describes it; then highlights one area saying a negative point and then a different colour bringing out the good points. It's really wicked. It's basically so simple and I never thought of it. I know it's going to help because my time is wasted in going back and re-reading, going back and re-reading and this way I can pick out the good bits, the bad bits and the bits just describing it.

Sometimes it's boring enough the first time listening to a lecture, isn't it?

Yes, and again and again.

Has anyone spoken to you about it (referring to the papers)? Has your Course Leader had you in at all for a quick chat?

Nobody's really spoken about it as yet. I was going to give them until the end of this week and then I was going to approach them on Monday and ask them where we are going. Nobody's getting back to me on what provisions I do have and what I can't have and options. You said you weren't sure about how they go about making these concessions, it would perhaps help just to explain it to you.

The issue of disclosure of your dyslexia. Are you comfortable with people knowing e.g. the lecturers, and is everybody informed who teaches you?

I wasn't in the first year and then I thought, 'What the heck.' If they are professional they are not going to be down on me and if they are not professional - well that's their fault. Some of them do know - most of them do know and they just treat me like normal, which is really, really good. One of the lecturers said, 'You are not thick, you are not stupid,' which is good.

What about students on the course?

There are quite a few dyslexic students, but not many students know about me.

What about working in groups? Have you done group assignments? What do you do and are you good at it?

If there are four or five people in the group I can hide it. It's come to the stage where I'm not really bothered if they do know. It's not going to make any difference.

I'm not saying in a group work situation that you should use it as an excuse, but it could come to draft something and you might feel embarrassed ...
I'll give a whole chunk for them to read and I might just read a paragraph myself right at the end. I try to be a bit of a leader, in that sense. I know that if I have to read a big chunk it is going to take me ages. I get somebody else to do the writing and I say that my spelling is atrocious.

I'm not sure whether that's good or not.
It's tactics!

That's what students with dyslexia do. Lots of them have these strategies of coping with it. Especially if you have been undiagnosed in the past - you've got to get through school and all that sort of thing. I haven't told anybody at home because ... I told my cousin and my uncle. Their response from me was inadequate because I don't really suffer too major. They didn't understand that there are different levels of it. The way they tackled it was to say, 'Read a couple of books and you will be fine.' I was disappointed in those two people in particular because I thought that if they were going to think like that ...

There might be other people in the family ...?

No, I'm sure not.

It does run in families - it can do.

Saying that, I do think my cousin might be dyslexic. There are some things that he's got that I've got - you know, the short attention span and getting things mixed up the wrong way round. I did actually suggest it to my aunt that he should be assessed at some time. If he is having some difficulties it would be better to have him assessed and see how he was getting on.

How do you get on in the library with finding books - do you have any difficulties with that at all?

I think it's not that bad. I think the library here is fantastic. For my course anyway this must be the best library. I've been to all the other libraries in Manchester, all the universities, and there are not as good books or the variety, either.

Do you have any difficulty with using catalogues and finding books on the shelf?

Not particularly because I have quite a short attention span with those things, so if I can't find things the first go I stop and go and ask somebody else to find it for me. It's as simple as that, I just ask somebody who works there to find it for me. Nowadays we use the journals and they are a bit of a headache because you have to get the right year and the right title and often I get the wrong year or the wrong title. The journals are so technical that by the time you have read half of one your mind is dizzy.

Do you use the Internet much?

I use the Emerald website to download the journals and I use that a lot, especially this year. I do use two other companies who help me with my assignments, and some come back with help and some don't. They don't actually help, they just say, 'Go to our website.' So you go to their website and it doesn't have jack on it, so it's a waste of time.

Did you get a computer through the DSA and how do you use it? Were you handwriting assignments previously?

Yes, handwriting. Now I type it and you have the Inspiration [External link: Open in new browser window] program and the speech thing, which is not all that good because I hate the way it talks. You can't blame the technology.

The speech feedback one, rather than the speech input, or do you use both?

I've used both but I've stopped using them. I just use the Inspiration and the mapping packages. Most of the software they have given me I don't particularly use but I use the PC with it connected up to the Internet because I can't be arsed with going to the University all the time. I have to pay a bit of money, which is sometimes a bit of a headache, but I have to pay some money in my flat and I use the money that way.

Do you do extra photocopying? Do you get any extra time for taking books out of the library, for instance? Do you find it, for you, that it takes a lot longer for you to get the information?

The library's profit sheet is due to me because my books are always overdue. I never get time to go through them all. There are no particular concessions for that - all I should do is just renew it. It's a matter of remembering when the date is and renewing it.

Have you been for a colorimeter test?


Did they think tinted lenses would help?


So you don't use overlays for reading, it doesn't help?

No. Apart from that, the department does treat me with respect. I don't feel like I can't talk to them, which is a good thing.

So you think your department is reasonably supportive?

Reasonably supportive and they are quite with it. They don't completely discard it. Only a few of them might know the range of dyslexia. They all know about dyslexia, but only a few of them know about the range of it and not many of them know about the different levels.

So you think they are accepting of it, but they might not have the depth of knowledge about it?

Yes, but I don't think it's too much of a weakness, because they are balanced by some that do, which makes it easier.

So you are happy with the University of Salford, then, in terms of support that you have had?

Yes, I'm happy that they are letting me get my support. I've still got to speak to them about that, because that's only been sent off recently to them. They've only had a week to look at that. But next week they've had their week up and I'll go and see what is available.

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This year I need an interpreter for my exams - for my assignments and for my exams. You get two stickers to put on your assignments but they've changed slightly now. There is a bit to do with the interpreting of work and not just on the reading and the writing but the structuring and that's changed a bit. There are one or two things that have changed - I'll show you.

So this goes on your exam scripts, does it, and also your assignments?

Yes. That's what I have been speaking to them about and that is what I need. The memo has been sent off to the Head of Department and so on.

This is quite a good document to go through because it will structure what we are talking about. It is asking for certain types of academic support. Does all this happen, the academic support? You've got concessions for spelling and coursework.

I don't know how they do that. I don't know how they make concessions for spellings. That's not clear to me - I just leave the stickers and think that maybe they just do it.

When you get the coursework back, what sorts of comments are on there?

The usual average of my marks is not fantastic. My best piece would be a 60 something. Usually I'm like a 2.2 student. The comments will be like, 'A few interesting points but didn't mention/argue this point or that point and wasn't able to put this across.' So I do lack a lot.

But they don't go through and point out your grammar and spelling mistakes?


The first time I handed in an assignment I was really worried about that. I thought it would shatter me because that's all I had in my school life and college life - your spelling's this, your grammar's wrong and all this kind of stuff. But they just pointed out the weaknesses in my assignment and the areas I had covered - which was good.

Then, flexible arrangements for written coursework - does that come off at all or do you generally stick to deadlines?

I do generally stick to deadlines but I do explain to the tutor. I run my assignments according to my dyslexia tutor. If it slips over the deadline I explain that help was needed from my tutor so can we extend it? Also I am going through other difficulties, like counselling and so forth, and they take all that into consideration. I haven't actually done one yet but obviously I'm going to because I've just stopped at one assignment. It's a double module but I have stopped because I was overwhelmed looking at the assignment. It's on a railway disaster and you have to read a report based on it - which is about 280 pages long, single spacing. I've printed half of it out. I thought I would never get through it in the time I had got - especially since I messed up in the first assignment I did which should have been done in two weeks and ended up being done in four weeks. That's what it is in the final year - it's not so much what you know as how you go about it. Because I wasn't aware of how to go about it in the beginning, that's what has made me fall so far behind. I might end up just doing an ordinary degree because the workload has lagged - that one assignment lagged so far behind, so I stopped that module completely.

Can you re-take, do you think?

With that module I am actually missing out. They actually do it in the second semester. What I am trying to do is see if I can do it in the second semester with my dissertation. The procedure that they have so far is that if you do that in your second semester, you are not allowed to do your dissertation.

The assessment procedures can be quite complicated and complex and I've seen students who have dropped a module and they have basically been told that they are sitting that module on its own with no student loan and no hardship loan because they are not officially enrolled on a course any more. Really be careful that everything's sorted out.

That's what I'm doing. I've got my counsellor writing a letter to my Head of Year, saying that I am progressing. Basically I've told him to write what he thinks, but I feel like I'm progressing so if you think I'm progressing, then write that I am progressing, if I am going forward. I went to the Academics Adviser and she is helping me out and will write to my Head of Year and to so and so people and we'll talk about it and see if we can switch it over to the other side and do it next semester.

I've got my own dyslexia tutor. I've had her for three weeks and I can do an assignment in a week, really, so it shows that I am constructive and that I have got that order there which suits my mindset. I will be able to do it and that's what I have got to get across. Whether it gets across or not, I'll just keep my fingers crossed.

So would you do your dissertation the year after?

Yes. But there has been one exception on the course that I know of. The person missed x amount of lectures at the beginning and they have given her the option drop that one module and carry on with it in the second semester with the dissertation. I'm thinking of putting that forward as well. I've got my backup now; I've got people working with me and I'm quite constructive now.

In examinations, it says that you need the use of a reader and is that something you are going to be having in this semester?


Explain how that will work.

I'm not quite sure. I think you sit separately in a room somewhere and they read the question and then you can write it out.

So some of your exams are quite lengthy are they?

Some of them have case studies. My reading speed is a) slow, b) then I interpret it wrong and c) I panic as well.

So for you hearing information is a lot better?

Yes. Some lecturers do think I am quite bright in the sense that I can sit in lectures and you have those 'light bulb moments' when things click in your head. It all makes sense when the lecturer's telling me something. But then when I go to do it myself, that's when it goes all wrong. It's the process in my head - it doesn't sink in, won't sink in. I have to take it in really small bite sizes and be really patient with myself. I can't sit there and say; 'I'll read this whole book.' I'll just read a couple of pages of a chapter and come back to it next time.

Do you find the extra time is right? 25%. How long are your exams?

3 hours.

So then you've got your extra time?

It's really handy.

But you are going for 4 hours, is that not tiring?

No because you have so much in your head to say on paper. I did have to do a re-sit - that was 2 hours and that was not enough time and I ran out. If you want to do an exam properly you have so much to write and you need that extra time.

Is there a range of assessments on your course or is it just essays and exams a lot of the time.

You do a few presentations in your first year - but I hate presentations. I had a presentation to do this year but I missed it.

The reason why I ask is that some dyslexic students have the gift of the gab.

I only hate it if I have to read off something. If I know it anyway and I have it drummed into my head well in advance, then I'm OK with it and I'll just talk and talk. It's such a huge topic that if I make notes and read off the notes and talk, I don't like it because I hate reading.

Of course you've got to read your notes.

Also, if I write my interpretation of the notes, it might not be their interpretation.

So you have a very specific strategy of how to do a presentation?


And it doesn't fit with all the guides to giving a presentation.

This is a problem. I bought a book the other day about speed reading, but I don't know why I bought it because I haven't got the time to read it! Actually I bought two books, that and a line-mapping one.

These books generally tend to be a bit visual and not so text based.

Yes, you read the first page and it says that your reading will improve by x amount, but if you are going to read the whole book you are obviously going to improve your reading, no matter what book you pick up!

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Are there any placements on your course at all, industrial experience?

Not as such. In the second year you carry out a project where you go out into industry for a couple of weeks and then you base your project on how well they conform to certain areas of quality, or whatever. I did it for an independent counselling service. She wanted to set up a business as a sole trader and I helped her with the marketing side of it - making a booklet on her service; looking at colours and design schemes.

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Career Aspirations

What about employers, when you finish your degree? Have you thought about it?

I took last year out. I was going to graduate last year. I took a job with an application for that asked if there were any disabilities and I didn't put down dyslexia - I just left it. How would they cope? What would they think? I don't think people in the workplace know much about it or are quite in tune in that area. I did go to work and tried to speak to one or two people about it and nobody knew anything about it.

Who were you working for?


It's a big firm?

It's a big firm in the Midlands, mainly. I was working at the headquarters which is based in Wolverhampton. It's not one of the things we know about it in the workplace. I don't know if managers are aware of that kind of disability.

My dyslexia tutor says that architectural companies will employ dyslexic staff because their visual base is far better than the average person's. They see things more in 3D than average. I will probably put it down in the future in application forms.

I think there are so many people nowadays that it is more open. More people have been identified with dyslexia - like you are saying on your course there are quite a few dyslexic students.

Yes, there are five or six.

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Three tips for lecturers

If you could think of three top tips for lecturers that would make your life easier, what would they be?

Advance notes. Irrespective of whether the student reads them or not, he's got them and there is no excuse.

What do you think about lecturers who say that if they give notes out in advance then they won't turn up to lectures?

It's the student's fault. If they can do all they can, nobody can say to them, 'You didn't do this.' So if they give a handout and if those students don't turn up to lectures and then the student turns up at the end of the lecture and says, 'What does this mean, what does that mean?' They have the right to say, 'Well, you didn't turn up to the lecture. I give out handouts but you should also come to the lectures.' It's up to the student then, especially in the final year.

Examples. When you explain something, I reckon examples works wonders because you can relate to something and picture something.

The final one would be ...

I think in some ways it is good that all the lecturers know that you are dyslexic. I don't think it should be undisclosed. I do feel that the lecturers know not only that a student has dyslexia, but also the level the dyslexia is that he or she has got. They have got to know the level or they will think that if one student is like this then they are all like this.You can have quite mild dyslexia and just get on with everything and not have any difficulties. But then, on the other side you can be struggling.

You know where it says about flexible arrangements for coursework. I think it's about it running to deadlines. Has there been any talk or negotiation about it. Some courses have a ridiculous amount of written assessment and to keep banging on at a student with dyslexia and asking for a 5,000 word assessment and then another 5,000 word assessment, when in actual fact you know what kind of grade they are going to get, anyway.

I spoke with my Head of Year briefly about the option of dropping a module. I thought I had no options and I left a note with my Head of Year after about a week or so asking him to contact me and let me know the options available to me. I left that with my Course Tutor and my Head of Year and neither of them got back to me. I bumped into them in university when I plucked up courage to go in, because I thought I had failed. I said to the lecturer that I would go for a 'pass' degree and he told me not to rush into it and think it through. A lot of students who do their pass degree don't come back and do their dissertation. They get their job and don't come back and then can't top it up to make it honours. So he said to think it through carefully and see what options I wanted to be available. When I heard about the person who had the allowance to drop the module now and do everything in the next semester. I was wondering if I could just do that. With the difficulties I have had so far this year, external from my dyslexia, which I'm sorting out before I come back for my second semester, I was thinking if I could push it on for that. We'll see how it goes. I've got to wait for other people to talk to my tutor and so forth. From this period now it's going to be a bit cagey for me - a bit touch and go.

Can you think of anything else?

The only thing that people wouldn't know about is that some dyslexia students do go for counselling. It is a contributory factor to it, but my life has moved round a hell of a lot with the academics world, but not about me. It's about me more than about the academic world and that's what I'm using these counselling sessions for - to understand myself and my constraints and my limits and who I am, really. I've only done that recently because I was on the brink, because my doctor had given me tablets for depression and I'm not going to take them because I don't agree with that. It's only happened recently and I realise that the workload is getting way too much. I go to uni., I come back to my flat - I've cut out my social life completely and I only have one flatmate, but he's always off to Nottingham with his girlfriend and I'm just here and not getting enough time to do my work. When you are doing your work and it's not sinking in it causes severe problems because there is nothing going on. Now the ball's picked up and my strategies are kicking in. I've been shown how to do it this way and that way and it gels. I did an assignment in three days! It makes a big difference.

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