I wrote that blog at one of the lowest points in the PhD process. But in it's context it's very abstract, it's about the broader experience of a dyslexic PhD, as well as my personal experience. It's about how we have different struggles, and that our struggles are as real, valid and important as any other student with disabilities. It's also about how at PhD level we tend to maybe negelct student needs. It's about the way we work with dyslexia which I'll come to in a minute.
The week after I wrote that blog I was called into and office because I'd been accused of being mentality unstable and a possible danger to myself. Based on that blog and the meeting that sparked it. In that meeting I'll tell you what happened blog reader; I cried. I cried in frustration that I couldn't no matter how hard I tried fix the thing that needed fixing. The tears were the annoying tears that well up in your throat and eyes and no matter how hard you try they won't leave. I apologized for my tears, and for the thing I couldn't fix. The meeting went on. It wasn't a good meeting but there was nothing other than my momentary overwhelming frustration to mark it out as extraordinary. Imagine my surprise when frustration at my dyslexic shortcomings and a momentary lapse of composure (and we're talking a few sniffles and chocked words, not full on sobbing) turned into that. It felt like, as it did in that meeting, my disability was being used against me. It felt like a battle, and as it's something I cannot change about myself, it's a battle I can never win.
In getting my corrections for the thesis following the viva, this rears its head again. Luckily both examiners and chair were incredibly understanding and supportive. This concept is by now almost alien to me. The idea that yes it is a problem, but that I'm acknowledged as obviously hard working and trying my best to get to this point is actually strange to me.
That doesn't help the fact however that despite all the work, and a substantial sum of money getting it professionally proof read, it's still not good enough. I'm embarrassed that it isn't. I feel bad for the examiners that they might have thought I didn't care enough to present it properly. But actually again, they didn't. Once told I was dyslexic they were understanding-it still has to be fixed but they understand why.
And that is the key difference. What made it so hard to this point is being accused of not doing the work, of being lazy, of not caring. In fact as a dyslexic person I work twice as hard at some things. It takes me longer to read, it takes me forever to proof read and I will sometimes never ever get it right. I'm not asking to be held up to different standards, the finished product has to be equal, and judged equally, what I'm asking for is reasonable understanding and adjustment in the process. Particularly academic process.
Example, if I was working in a "normal" office job environment, and I had to produce a report. I would make whoever I was reporting to aware of the dyslexia issue. I'd probably work out with them a strategy for working with this, for example agreeing that a colleague could take time out to proof read it before it was due. Or submitting further in advance than it was actually needed so that further amendments could be made. I wouldn't be asking my boss to make those amendments, just to give me the space/time to ensure those amendments could be made. It's about creating your own safety nets, it's about making adjustments. In the workplace I'd never ask to produce less work or to a lower standard, I'd simple make adjustments to my working practices to ensure I reached those standards. In the same way being in a wheelchair wouldn't stop a person doing a job, they'd just have to consider how they go about it a little differently.
I think what I'd like future PhD students to experience is that 'reasonable adjustment' I guess it upsets and frustrates me more, because I've worked for student services for nearly 4 years now. I both know what is expected, what is reasonable and I know what a difference adjustments and support can make. And it makes me sad that for PhD students that doesn't happen. It makes me sad that in my case, not everyone on the team could see it for what it is-something beyond my control that I do my best to work with.
I don't mind being dyslexic. I don't curse it. To me, it's a different way of thinking about the world. The way I approach things is different and that's an asset. I think creatively, and I think outside the norms. In actuality I'm a real asset to academia-we need people who think differently and creatively. In the scheme of things if my grammar and proof reading are a little iffy then that should be something that can be worked with, not against.
Of course I'm frustrated. Right now I could cry. I've no way to fix this PhD, doing these amendments now seems an impossible task because what I handed in was my best (it was also a very expensive best given the cost of proofreading) and I don't know where to go from here.
That said, I am so very grateful to finally have reached a point where conversations about dyslexia and the PhD are supportive. That makes the world of difference. It's hard to understand if your spelling grammar, reading and maths are immpecable. It's become trendy to be a 'grammar Nazi' and that, by the way feels like an attack on us who can't see it. We aren't stupid, you wouldn't pick on a colour blind person for not being able to pick out red would you? don't pick on a dyslexic person for a syntax error then.
But still, is there a place for dyslexics in academia? I honestly don't know. If the prevailing attitude is that we're lazy, or stupid then no. If they attitude is that we make errors others don't but we think creatively, differently and are an asset. Then yes.