Students Staff

Disability and dyslexia

In 2014-15 there were over 800 students registered with the disability service at Essex and not all students choose to disclose. Be aware that disabilities aren't always 'visible'. We would encourage you to think about inclusive teaching styles which benefit all students including those with difficulties.

No two disabled students experience the same combination of difficulties but below is some general guidance on particular disabilities and the difficulties they are likely to cause. To discuss adjustments for individual students contact our Student Services Hub or your Departmental Disability Liaison Officer. We have developed separate disability advice for students.

Supporting disabled students

  • Autistic Spectrum Disorder or Aspergers Syndrome

    Aspergers syndrome is one of a range of related developmental disorders known as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). ASD can cause a wide range of symptoms, which are grouped into three categories: difficulties with social interaction, including lack of understanding and awareness of other people's emotions and feelings; impaired language and communication skills, including an inability to start conversations or take part in them properly and unusual patterns of thought and physical behaviour, including making repetitive physical movements, such as hand tapping or twisting and maybe becoming upset if routines are broken (NHS).

    Some students find it difficult to work well in groups, and have difficulty organising their time. Also, note taking may take them longer or they may struggle to know which are the pertinent points to note. They may experience higher levels of stress and anxiety than other students. Moreover, the thing which cause them stress and anxiety may be different than for the average student population, ie a student with Aspergers syndrome may seem unconcerned about a particular assignment but may experience high levels of anxiety if changes are made to the timetable.

    Adjustments tutor can make

    • Provide written material and slides in advance
    • Visual strategies and multi-sensory learning can be useful for some students with ASD
    • Use clear and unambiguous language. Avoid figurative language such as metaphor or irony
    • Make links between topics and themes explicit
    • Give very clear instructions for any activity, with short and direct commands
    • Make clear the purpose of a task
    • Identify which skills will be needed for an activity
    • Make clear what volume of work is expected and by when
    • Tell the student when something is good enough
    • Use the student’s name if you are addressing them specifically
    • Give the student time to respond to a question (10 seconds can feel like a long time to you), maybe saying you will come back to them for their response
    • Wwitch off the projector/air conditioning when these are not necessary
    • If group work is required some planning or help may be necessary in finding partners – if the student prefers to work alone and is still able to achieve learning outcomes this is a reasonable adjustment
    • Consider sensitive marking if requested

    More information is available from the National Autistic Society. If you would like to speak with a disability adviser contact our Student Services Hub.

  • Dyslexia and other Specific Learning Difficulties

    This information is intended to provide tutors with a brief overview of those features which might identify any of your students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLDs), whilst offering pointers to effective support and some helpful resources.


    A Specific Learning Difficulty, such as dyslexia, is usually diagnosed when an individual’s literacy and/or numeracy attainments and skills are significantly poorer than would be predicted statistically from his or her intelligence. That is to say, there is an imbalance between that person’s verbal understanding and a range of skills in reading, spelling, written expression, and sometimes computation (known as dyscalculia). Accompanying clinical features evident from psychological assessment usually include a very poor working memory, a discrepancy between verbal and non-verbal abilities generally and a reduced speed of information processing, which is seen as a slower rate of working.

    Poor motor co-ordination

    • Untidy handwriting and presentation of work
    • Mild clumsiness or motor dyspraxia

    Poor self organisation

    • Difficulty keeping to timetables
    • Problems with time and dates

    Poor spatial awareness

    • Confusions of left and right
    • Poor sense of direction, difficulty finding the way to places
    • Difficulties of orientation eg in map reading

    Eye co-ordination problems, ocular-motor apraxia

    • Poor convergence when focussing on print
    • Dysfluent tracking or scanning of text, with words or lines missed out

    Scotopic sensitivity, reactivity to light and glare

    • Problems with print-background contrast in books or computer screens
    • Perceived ‘jumping’ or blurring of text
    • Excessive headaches from reading

    Language processing weaknesses

    • Difficulty finding the appropriate word or label
    • Problems in organizing linguistic concepts

    Poor speech articulation, history of mild verbal dyspraxia

    • Muddling similar words, stumbling over multi-syllabic words

    Mixed hand dominance or ambidexterity within the close family (left and right handers)

    Evidence in a learning environment

    It is important to appreciate that the range of features displayed by dyslexic individuals may not be consistent and can vary considerably according to the demands of the working environment. They may include:

    • poor retention of verbal information and instructions
    • problems in summarizing information, particularly from books or in written form
    • difficulty taking notes other than verbatim, especially whilst simultaneously listening
    • slow rate of reading, possibly including missed/repeated words or lines, relatively frequent loss of place in a text
    • inaccurate and inconsistent spelling
    • difficulty in maintaining a coherent and sequential argument in writing
    • problems in planning and organizing information as part of a written assignment
    • grammatical errors of sentence structure
    • a slower rate of working, persistently unfinished written examinations
    • problems in absorbing what has been read – a need to re-read texts several times
    • mis-reading the sense of textual information, e.g. examination questions
    • poor concentration, a level of distractibility or susceptibility to extraneous stimuli
    • difficulties transcribing accurately from the board or computer screen (distant vertical plane) to a book (near horizontal plane)
    • difficulties in translating or interpreting information in different formats, e.g. 2-dimensional to 3-dimensional construction, scale drawings, graphs and charts, map orienteering, foreign languages, musical notation, medical/scientific symbols, and shorthand script


    Dyspraxia, or Developmental Co-ordination Disorder, is a recognised medical disorder, which impairs the organisation of movement. It is also associated with problems of language, perception and thought. It affects about 10 per cent of the population - 2 to 4 per cent seriously.

    Usually adults who have dyspraxia have developed their own strategies for working effectively, many of their difficulties are similar to those with dyslexia.

    People with dyspraxia may have further difficulties with fine motor co-ordination which means that producing legible hand writing especially under timed conditions such as during lectures and exams can be near impossible. They may have developed skills such as typing, producing work only on a computer to overcome this.


    Dyscalculia is a condition that affects the ability to acquire arithmetical skills. Dyscalculic learners may have difficulty understanding simple number concepts, lack an intuitive grasp of numbers, and have problems learning number facts and procedures. Even if they produce a correct answer or use a correct method, they may do so mechanically and without confidence. (DfES: National Numeracy Strategy, 2001).


    Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a group of behavioural symptoms that include inattentiveness, hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Common symptoms of ADHD include a short attention span, restlessness or constant fidgeting and being easily distracted. Students may be subject to mood swings and low self-esteem. Social interaction may be affected by impulsive comments.

    ADHD can occur in people of any intellectual ability. However, many people with ADHD also have co-occurring specific learning difficulties. They may also have additional problems such as sleep disorders.

    Identifying students with an SpLD

    If you have identified a student you suspect may have a SpLD you should direct them to their Student Services Hub where they can be screened, assessed and supported. If a member of staff needs particular information or advice on how to best support a student with a SpLD please contact our Student Services Hub.

  • Blind or visually impaired

    "Different eye conditions create different problems. Very few blind people see nothing at all. A minority can distinguish light but nothing else. Some have no central vision; others have no side vision. Some see everything as a vague blur; others see a patchwork of blanks and defined areas. Some people with impaired vision can see enough to read this, though they may have difficulty crossing the road." (RNIB, 1991).


    Most students will already have a preferred system of accessing information. This will usually be large print, audio tape, Braille or electronic format such as the web or disk. Many students use a combination of these.

    Electronic format

    • Often the easiest way to make documents accessible to students who are blind or partially sighted
    • Can include using the web and forwarding documents by email
    • Further information for preparing materials are available from the following TechDis and Accessible curricula

    Large print

    • Usually16-18pt (preferably printed as documents enlarged on the photocopier can often lose quality
    • It may still be preferable to present on A4 size paper rather than enlarging to A3
    • CCTV (closed circuit television) can be used by students who use large print. This magnifies a page of a book onto a screen (the library has a MyReader)
    • Software can enlarge the print and icons on screen (see electronic above)


    • Accessible electronic materials can be read by assistive software
    • RNIB library provides some texts on audio tape or in audio format
    • Text not in electronic format can be scanned into the computer and received through a voice synthesiser
    • Course materials can either be read aloud to a student (by a reader recruited by Student Support) or can be transcribed by the RNIB


    • Only a minority of people who are registered blind use Braille (even less use moon which is a similar system)
    • RNIB library provides many texts in Braille
    • Many electronic materials can be printed out in braille by an embosser linked to a computer. Students who use braille also have this equipment
    • Transcription centres are able to transcribe longer, more formal documents
    • There are two types of braille contracted (Grade 2) and uncontracted (Grade 3)

    Academic Support

    • Copies of course materials and presentations given in advance and in electronic format (or student's preferred format)
    • Book lists with key text recommendations available in advance so texts in alternative format can be obtained (transcription centres usually take 6-8 weeks to transcribe documents)
    • Providing direct hyperlinks to electronic/web resources can help save the student time navigating to the correct information
    • Awareness that information written on the board may not be seen
    • Prompting a student when it is their turn to speak as they may not be aware of other visual clues
    • Awareness that information displayed on a noticeboard (e.g. essay deadlines/change in tutorials) may not be accessible
    • Explanation of visual aids used in lectures (eg reading out information on Powerpoint)
    • Whatever format is being used it may be best to send a 'test' document to ensure it is accessible before proceding to the transcription of numerous resources/pages

  • Deaf or hearing impaired

    Much of the learning process is based around speech. Students with a hearing impairment may find it difficult to access lectures and classes.

    Hearing loss will be different for everyone. Students who are pre-lingually Deaf (i.e. profoundly deaf from birth) find it harder to express themselves in spoken and written language. Students who have developed a hearing impairment should be able to express themselves verbally but may not be experienced in accessing information through other means. A large proportion of the population has tinnitus (a continual noise in the ears). This can also affect the ability to hear a lecturer and can affect concentration.


    Students may use lip-reading, sign language, a hearing aid or a mixture of all these to aid communication:

    • lip-reading: Most people use lip-reading to some extent, particularly those with a hearing impairment
    • lip-speaker: Students who have difficulty lip-reading but do not use sign language may use a lip-speaker to emphasise lip patterns and to understand speech
    • sign language: For many pre-lingually deaf people, sign language will be their first language. An interpreter or communication support worker will normally need to translate during lectures and classes. This facility could also be used in other areas (e.g. tutorials, office hours, asking questions in or after class, accessing the library and departmental offices)
    • hearing Aid: These do not fully compensate for hearing loss. All sounds are equally amplified, including background noise. Amplification of the isolated lecturer’s voice can be achieved through the loop systems in all lecture theatres (this requires lecturers to use the microphones provided)
    • radio Aid: Students who wear a hearing aid may also use a radio aid in large lectures or classes. This acts like a mini loop system. You may, therefore, be asked to wear an additional microphone which transmits directly to their receiver

    Support from the tutor may include:

    • handouts and course materials available in advance as students will not be able to read handouts and lip read at the same time and it will prove a useful context to lip reading
    • ensuring students can always see your face so they can lip read. The Disability Rights Commission identify it is likely to be unlawful for a tutor to lecture whilst simultaneously writing on the board NB: try to ensure your light source is on your face and not behind you
    • speaking clearly and at a reasonable pace
    • assisting students with new terminology (especially those who are prelingually deaf)
    • email can be a valuable communication tool
    • consider special seating arrangements in tutorials i.e. form chairs in a semi circle so students can lip read and see other students faces as well as the lecturers

  • Physical and mobility impairment

    As with other disabilities the nature and severity of difficulties is individual to the student. Some students may use wheelchairs, others may need assistance with daily living, taking notes or accessing the library. Some students will have mobility difficulties which will make it difficult for them to access stairs or to sit for long periods. Students may have difficulty with manual dexterity including using a keyboard or completing practical experiments.

    The physical environment usually forms the greatest barrier for these students.

    Academic support can take the form of:

    • ensuring rooms are accessible
    • allowing additional time to move between lectures and classes
    • providing a notetaker, recorded lectures or a scribe
    • help to undertake experiments (e.g. a partner or another student who would follow direction)
    • technology to assist students with their studies; this includes voice recognition software, adapted keyboards etc

  • Other disabilities or medical conditions

    Students with ongoing medical conditions can require additional support and reasonable adjustments to access their studies. This can include Learning Support or individual examination arrangements. Students may miss some taught sessions and should follow the notification of absence procedures.

    Very occasionally students become ill and require emergency or first aid attention. Call 2222 for the patrol staff.


    There are usually a large number of students who declare they have Asthma. The condition can vary from individual to individual, with a few students having frequent attacks. In extreme circumstances students may miss periods of study whilst their condition is stabilised in hospital.

    Crohn's Disease

    This condition can result in an urgent need to use the toilet and diarrhoea. It's not always appreciated that symptoms can also result in extreme fatigue, abdominal pain and painful joints. Medication to address the symptoms can lead to depression, headaches, nausea and flu like symptoms. Students are likely to experience the disease in a different way and support will be tailored to their needs. The Crohn's and Colitis UK website is a good source of information.


    Diabetes is a metabolic condition of having higher than normal blood sugar levels. The three main types of diabetes are:

    • type I diabetes; Is the most serious; individuals with this condition are insulin dependent. Hypoglycaemia - this occurs when blood glucose levels become too low. The individual may feel hungry, confused, tired, shaky or nervous. To treat a 'hypo', a quick acting source of sugar should be taken. Hypoglycaemia can quickly become dangerous if left untreated
    • type II diabetes; Is the most common type and normally individuals are non-insulin dependent
    • gestational diabetes: Some women develop gestational diabetes late in pregnancy has produced some useful guidance for students.


    There are many types of epileptic seizure. Most people with epilepsy successfully control their condition although medication can cause drowsiness. This can have implications for both taught classes and private study.

    • Absences: This is usually the loss of consciousness for a few seconds. This will mainly affect concentration and the ability to follow the structure of the lecture or the class.
    • Convulsive: If a student has a convulsive or ‘grand mal’ seizure, this could last anything from 2 - 10 minutes. Try not to obstruct a person, eg don’t hold them down or put anything in their mouths. Try to protect the head with a coat or jacket if possible. Once the seizure has stopped, place the person in the recovery position. If you have concerns, eg the person continues to convulse or has not regained consciousness within 5 minutes of the end of the seizure, call the emergency number, 2222 and the patrol officers will assist.

    Academic support

    • Recorded lectures can assist with notetaking.
    • Awareness students may find it difficult to concentrate in class.
    • For a few students, they may miss taught sessions due to ill health, particularly immediately following a seizure.

    It is recommended that students whose epilepsy is not controlled by medication have their lectures recorded to try to minimise disruption to their studies. They may also miss classes if their condition is unstable enough to warrant hospitalisation.

    Fatigue and stamina difficulties

    Some students have a long term medical condition which has an effect on their studies. This could include ME, HIV and cystic fibrosis amongst other conditions. Many of these conditions will not be visible.


    Students who have low energy levels may find it difficult to concentrate for long periods which will affect both work within lectures and classes and their private study. Others may incur periods of ill health when they are unable to attend lectures or may be absent to attend regular hospital appointments. Medication can also exacerbate.

    • Students may require recorded lectures or notetakers
    • Adaptive technology may assist with dictation software etc.

    Academic support

    • Timetable planning and early publication of assignment titles and deadlines to avoid fatigue or problem times
    • Awareness that students may find it difficult to concentrate in class
    • Awareness that work may take longer to complete
    • Course materials available in advance, so the student can work when they are well
    • Ongoing dialogue with the student if they have a fluctuating condition include contact during periods away from study

Student support worker recruitment

Student Support can facilitate the recruitment and organisation of student support workers. There are a number of different types of position, they are all part-time and involve providing support to students with disabilities, mental health difficulties and specific learning difficulties. These positions are open to students as well as external applicants. Job descriptions of these positions are given below for your information. Please contact the Access and Disability Service at for further information.

Support worker vacancies are open to second to fourth year undergraduate students, postgraduate students, staff and members of the general public.

  • Role descriptions

    We recruit support workers to work with disabled students in roles such as, library support assistants, practical support assistants, notetakers and readers and examination scribes.

  • Non Medical Helper DSA rates template

    Our DSA NMH specialist mentor and one-to-one study strategy tutor provision is fully allocated and we are therefore not able to take on any new DSA-funded recommendations during the 2017-18 academic year. Please consider alternative providers.

  • Current vacancies

    There are no vacancies available at the moment.

Information for providers of support services to our students

In order to protect the safety of our students and visitors to the University we request that all providers of commercial services particularly non-medical help support to University of Essex students comply with the following advice:

1) Be currently registered on the DSA-QAG providers register and have in place the following policies/training and all other requirements identified within the NMH registration process:

  • ­Booking confirmation system – To be agreed between provider and student
  • ­Cancellation procedure – To be agreed between provider and student
  • ­Timesheet/ confirmation/ absence process – To be agreed between provider and student
  • ­Complaints procedure – Internal process of provider should be available to student and HEI
  • ­Lone Working Policy – Internal process of provider should be available to student and HEI
  • ­Health and Safety – Internal process of provider should be available to student and HEI
  • ­Confidentiality – Internal process of provider should be available to student and HEI
  • ­Risk awareness – Internal process of provider should be available to student and HEI
  • ­Data protection – The provider must be registered under and adhere to the Data Protection Act
  • ­Insurance / register of interests / staff training / queries – Must be in place and kept up to date by provider

2) Provide a copy of their risk assessment for remote working to the Disability and Access team, who can be contacted on

3) Provide the Disability and Access team with:

  • contact details for the non-medical helper who will be on campus
  • information on the support being offered to the student
  • monthly reports on each student supported indicating progress and concerns
  • feedback from students on a termly basis

4) Ensure that a suitable and appropriate venue (in accordance with DSA-QAG requirements for a suitable venue) is used to support students.

  • For Colchester and Southend campuses this can be arranged through Event Essex, please complete the room booking form (.docx) and send it to Benefits attached to use of this accommodation include – access to computers, internet and room set up.
  • As it is not possible to book appropriate rooms at our Loughton campus these would need to be arranged off campus.

Access for non-medial helper support

Access to classrooms etc will be dependent on the campus where support is being provided. At all campuses you will need to arrange to meet with the student prior to the start of the session at an agreed location.


  • Colchester Campus – there is a pay and display visitors car park available
  • Southend and Loughton Campuses – there is not parking available on site

Health and safety

  • Make yourself known to relevant lecturers
  • Familiarise yourself with fire procedures for the building (as displayed on building fire notices)
  • In the event of a fire alarm activation you must leave the building as directed
  • In the event of an accident or emergency report immediately to campus Security / reception staff)
  • Cooperate as necessary with University staff and follow all instructions given
  • Respect all safety signage and follow relevant procedures and direction given
  • If in doubt or you have any queries speak with campus security or reception
  • ­Only enter areas that you are required to as part of your support work. Do not enter any workshops, laboratories or other similar hazardous areas unless specifically authorised by University staff and then only when supervision is in place and the appropriate safety clothing/equipment is being worn
  • ­Beware of traffic and other moving vehicles and always use the designated walkways, paths and crossing areas

Confidentiality and data protection