When a pilot programme for a new initiative to promote a supportive learning environment for dyslexic people was announced this year UCOL's literacy and numeracy leader jumped at the opportunity to take part.
Vicky Beckwith has worked in dyslexia supportive roles for more than 20 years, in both Britain and New Zealand, after having her own learning difficulties as a teenager.
"We have a lot of underserved learners in tertiary ... there's a natural gathering of dyslexic students in the practical industries and vocational areas," she said.
The Dyslexia-Friendly Quality Mark (DFQM) initiative is a first for the Southern Hemisphere and UCOL was the only Institute of Technology Polytechnic accepted for the pilot.
Two other organisations accepted were Capital Training Ltd, a private training establishment based in the lower North Island which offers a wide range of free courses, and Kapiti Youth Support (KYS), a free confidential health and support service for anyone aged 10 - 24 living in Kapiti.
According to Mary-Ellen Mik-Dekker, Capital Training's centre team leader, "[With] 10 per cent of NZ learners [having] dyslexia ... as a learning organisation or a youth organisation you really want to be catering to those learners.
"It enhances staff's ability to engage with young people, to understand their needs [which means] it's going to be a better outcome for young people," said Raechel Osborne, chief executive of KYS.
The programme is run by Ako Aotearoa, which is a government-funded organisation committed to supporting the country's tertiary sector teachers, trainers and educators to be the best they can be for their students' success.
Funding for implementing the pilot programme was provided by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) who are committed to actively supporting tertiary organisations to deliver quality education and training to learners with dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions.
UCOL chose its Horowhenua campus as the perfect site to apply the programme to as "everything is there ... it's a microcosm of the UCOL programme," said Beckwith.
Once accepted by Ako Aotearoa and TEC, UCOL Horowhenua began assessing its current environment and resources for students, mapping them against highly detailed dyslexia-friendly standards.
The trial period ran from April until the end of June, with Ako Aotearoa providing a simple-to-follow self-assessment checklist, as well as a comprehensive online tool to use, along with valuable support from DFQM facilitator Mike Styles.
Styles is a self-employed consultant, with more than 20 years' experience working in the areas of adult literacy/numeracy, advising education organisations and companies across the workforce in matters of dyslexia and neurodiversity.
"The online tool was really easy to manage [and] provided lots of background information around dyslexia ... where the quality mark comes from ...," said Jordan Hunt, a KYS social worker.
All three organisations felt Styles was always there for them. "He was passionate about the DFQM [initiative and] to get us involved ... to get us over the line."
The eight-week pilot was followed by time afterwards for further improvement and preparation.
Beckwith said the UCOL Horowhenua team have worked hard, doing multiple walk-throughs of the campus, evaluating the signage, resources, and support provided.
"We've had fantastic buy-in from our staff, and our other campuses [in Manawatū, Whanganui, and Wairarapa] are excited about this initiative being rolled out [in their locations] as well."
She believed that by embedding dyslexia-friendly practices within the tertiary education culture, the UCOL team can better ensure the success of their students.
"In a learning environment designed to help, not hinder, [the students] can better recognise their potential and unleash their creativity, while developing more meaningful relationships with the staff," Beckwith said.
UCOL Horowhenua is now just waiting for its DFQM verification visit by Ako Aotearoa facilitator Styles, which has unfortunately been delayed due to the level 4 lockdown in Auckland.
Any tertiary organisation can register their interest and apply to be accepted for the Dyslexia-Friendly Quality Mark accreditation process, with round one of applications having opened this month.
There are places available for up to 20 organisations, with a small number of sponsored places available on a first-come, first-served basis.
For more info or to register email Annette.VanLamoen@ako.ac.nz