Lidia Pantin, who has dyslexia and dysorthography, helps provide a support and listening service for students with special needs and disabilities
Lidia Pantin is a student in the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences (SSP), working towards a Bachelor of Science in psychology. She is keen to get involved in supporting students with all kinds of special needs and disabilities, especially dyslexia. Her goal is to create a place within the faculty of social and political sciences' student union (Association des Etudiants en SSP - AESSP), where these students can find support and be listened to.
What was your experience like when you arrived at university?
My admission to the University of Lausanne was a long struggle. Because I went through the non-academic stream at school, I had to sit various different maturité [the Swiss school- leaving exam] and take access courses to be admitted to the university. At the beginning I was afraid that the university was not going to be able to accommodate the reading and writing difficulties caused by my dyslexia and dysorthorgraphy. I didn’t think I could do it. Before I even started the course for my Bachelor's degree, I contacted UNIL to ask about any reasonable adjustments they might offer and how I should proceed to access them. I had to see a speech and language therapist again and retake all the tests to get a more up-to-date certificate. It was beneficial for me to see the therapist again as an adult and it opened up new possibilities for me to explore. I was really surprised that UNIL processed my application very quickly. Even better, in the SSP faculty, once the application is accepted, students with special needs or a disability don’t need to reapply while they remain at the university. I feel that this is an important point The reasonable adjustments I have obtained are essential for me as they allow me to continue with my university studies on an equal footing with other students. The additional time is extremely important for me because it takes me longer to read instructions and check what I have written.
I am lucky to have so much great support at UNIL. I sincerely believe that without the support and help of some of my fellow university students, I would have found things a lot more difficult. It is important to have good friends around you when you are experiencing difficulties. My friends help me correct my important emails and answer the various questions I'm asked and, above all, they are a great source of moral support.
What types of problems have you faced ?
My biggest problem at university is the reading. What I find frustrating is that some teachers give us a lengthy essential reading list, which often does not even figure in the exams. This is a huge source of stress for me because I find reading so difficult, especially lengthy texts. I would have preferred it if the reading identified as essential was strictly limited to the content of the exams, while other reading supporting understanding of the course was instead considered to be optional. That way, students with reading difficulties could focus on the books and papers important for their exam. I also think it is a shame that the reading is not available in audio format so that all of it is equally accessible to everyone.
I have also had problems understanding others, both students and professors. I have been the victim of remarks from people who did not understand my difficulties or the adjustments made for me. It’s hard having an “invisible” disability, because it is sometimes not recognised by other people. Nowadays I reply to such remarks by saying, “If you want my adjustments, I’ll give you my disability.’’, It's a comment which I think is very representative of my experience as someone with a dys-order.
What would improve the situation?
We are in the process of setting up a project with the SSP student union (AESSP) designed to improve the inclusion of students with special needs and disabilities at UNIL. The aim is to provide additional support for these students, listen to them and together identify potential future improvements within UNIL. This need is growing as a result of the Covid 19 pandemic. There is also the option of training students to help other students with various special needs and disabilities. This would include helping them with certain classes, or to organise and plan their studies. This project may take off thanks to the support from Nathalie Janz, disability coordinator at UNIL.
What advice would you offer to dyslexic students?
I would advise all students with special needs and disabilities, whether dyslexia or anything else, to stand up for themselves. Don’t hesitate to ask for help and don’t feel bad about asking for any reasonable adjustments you need. Try not to isolate yourself, reach out to other students, so that you have a circle of friends. Plus, don’t forget you’re not alone. There are different clubs out there to help you and UNIL is also ready to listen. It doesn’t matter how long your studies take, you have your place at the university and you can succeed.