Interview with Dr. Lucinda Matthews-Jones, Historian and Victorianist
In a few words, could you tell us about the work you do?
I’m a university lecturer which means that I am a teacher, researcher, and administrator.
What is your personal experience of growing up with dyslexia?
My school reports brimmed with words and phrases such as ‘lazy’, ‘would do well to read her work thoroughly’, ‘work appears rushed,’ etc. It was demoralising. I worked hard and conscientiously but this was largely overlooked because I dropped words from sentences, wrote ‘p’ and ‘d’ the wrong way around, together with some very creative spellings. It wasn’t until the final months of my secondary school that I was diagnosed with dyslexia after my mum arranged for an independent educational psychologist to test me. I can remember my mum’s indignation when the report come back that the school should have listened to her rather than dismissing her concerns. I also remember that the test cost my shop assistant mum £250. For me, then, there was a sense of relief in the result because I felt this money hadn’t been wasted. But waiting till I was 15 to be diagnosed meant that I never fully understood dyslexia and how it affected me. For a long time I actively despised being dyslexic: seeing it as something that was a hindrance rather than something that informed who I was, both as a student and as a person. In the last five years or so I’ve increasingly come to see my dyslexia as a positive attribute.
How did your experience with dyslexia affect your approach to teaching in a Higher Education institution?
I pride myself on being a supportive and imaginative teacher. I think being a dyslexic lecturer means that I think outside of the box. For instance, I don’t rely exclusively on essays and exams when it comes to assessments. I believe that communicating and sharing ideas can be achieved through more creative means such as short blog posts, posters, independent creative projects (songs/radio shows), etc. For me, traditional assessments can reinforce specific communication devices that are elitist and ableist.
Moreover, I am strongly committed to working with and for my students. I think this comes from me being a dyslexic scholar because I am perhaps more aware than others about how university is about invisible rules. Thus it is my job to make them more apparent to my students regardless of whether they have a disability or not. I know personally that I have thrived in places were there has been clear and supportive mentorship: where you can knock on someone’s door and pester them with questions. I feed this forward by helping my students by showing them the tools of writing and structuring.
Tell us about the support in place for dyslexic students and staff at University level in the UK. Is there anything you would like to see change?
All universities have a duty of care towards disabled students and staff. However, Government cuts to the Disabled Students Allowance since 2014 have meant that many dyslexic students now struggle to get the support they need. This has placed a lot of pressure on individual universities to support students with disabilities. For instance, it is taking a longer time to get dyslexia assessments in place for students who might not have been diagnosed with dyslexia. So, one thing I think we need is more money and people to help support students with their dyslexia.
“Knowledge is Power,” as the famous maximum goes. Yet, I am surprised how little dyslexia is discussed or explained to us as lecturers. You have to be personally interested in disability in higher education to really know about dyslexia and other disabilities. I don’t think this is right. I think it should be the duty of universities, departments and individual staff to understand and comprehend dyslexia, especially as 10% of the population are dyslexic.
Would you use the term ‘dyslexic academic’ to describe yourself? What does this mean for you?
If you had asked me this question a few years ago then I would have said no. But in the last couple of years I’ve really started to embrace being a ‘dyslexic academic’. This has partly been helped by the fact I have met with and started to talk through what it means to be a dyslexic scholar with many of my peers. There are more dyslexic scholars out there than you might realise.
More importantly, I’ve started to recognise that I am not a failed academic because I have dyslexia. Yes- I could be writing more, working harder. But I’ve realised now that I have achieved so much because of my dyslexia, not despite it. When people now say to me ‘it must have been so hard to get to where you are now because of your dyslexia’, I’m proud to say, ‘nah, I’m here because of it’. My dyslexia makes me see my research in different ways, helps me problem solve, and use a wide range of verbal and nonverbal sources to build up a picture of the past.
What do you consider to be your dyslexic mind-strengths?
I am an excellent strategic thinker. I am quick at thinking through problems and a good trouble shooter.
In a few words, could you tell us about the work you do? I’m a university lecturer which means that I am a teacher, researcher, and administrator. What is your personal experience of growing up...