University of Chester graduate scoops national dyslexia award.

Posted on 5th October 2017

A University of Chester graduate recently gained a top professional award recognising her contribution to helping dyslexic university students.

Gemma Holtam with the Assistive Technology Award.
Gemma Holtam with the Assistive Technology Award.

Gemma Holtam, 33, from Sheffield, received the Assistive Technology Award at the Association of Dyslexia Specialists in Higher Education’s (ADSHE) annual conference,  which was judged by a panel of industry professionals. The award recognises Gemma’s hard work in raising awareness of how technology can support dyslexic students and help them study more effectively.

Gemma graduated with a Postgraduate Certificate in Dyslexia Research and Practice at the University, and was diagnosed with dyslexia herself in 2010. Gemma applied for support through the Disabled Students’ Allowances [https://www.gov.uk/disabled-students-allowances-dsas] and received a number of assistive technology packages which supported her with organising her thoughts and increasing her reading speed.

According to the British Assistive Technology Association, assistive technology is a product or service that maintains or improves the ability of an individual with a disability or impairment, helping them to communicate, learn and live independently.

Gemma said: “I use screen tinting software which has dramatically reduced the amount of headaches I experience. It also reduced the amount of rapid fatigue I suffer when reading. In addition to this, I used audio note-taking software to record my lectures. I never knew how much information I missed until I was able to listen to my lectures again. I also used mind mapping software to organise my thoughts.”

These tools transformed Gemma’s ability to study and she went on to specialise in dyslexia support. She has now been awarded Approved Teacher Status in Further and Higher Education by the British Dyslexia Association (BDA).

To support others who work in this field, Gemma has co-founded a peer support network for assistive technology specialists working in universities. The network currently has 29 universities as members and meets once a semester to share best practice.

Gemma said: “I am extremely proud and overwhelmed to have won such a prestigious award, and to be recognised nationally for the work that I do. Assistive technology can transform an individual's life, which is evident in my own studies, as my marks significantly improved after using this support. If a dyslexic student would like to access assistive technology and they are studying at a university, I recommend that they speak to a Disability Advisor about applying for the Disabled Students’ Allowances.”

Gemma has now been promoted to the Board of Directors for the ADSHE, and her post focuses on supporting specialist dyslexia tutors to integrate assistive technology within the support they provide.