Defying dyslexia to thrive at UQ

As a teenager Jemima Hutton never dreamed that she would go to university, let alone study medicine at The University of Queensland.

“Up until Year 10 at school I was trying very hard to be very average,” she said.

“I kept telling myself I was stupid and lazy and moved schools seven times to try and get the support that I needed.

“It was a rough road and I mostly coped by identifying myself as the ‘sporty girl’ rather than the girl who struggled to read and write.”

At 15 Jemima was diagnosed with dyslexia and her approach to learning changed.

“Any aspect of my study that was not working, I immediately stopped doing, including things like reading textbooks and revision notes,” she said.

“I stopped taking notes in class altogether because I wouldn’t read them anyway and it was actually distracting me from engaging with what the teacher was saying.

“Instead, I listened to the audio books and taught myself to listen at three-times the normal speed so that I could ‘ear-read’ faster than anyone else.

“I taught myself to study smarter and with the help of my parents, advocated for myself to get accommodations for my exams.

“I went from an average student to graduating dux of my school and even got the top English score, which was pretty crazy for a dyslexic person who never actually read the books with her eyes.”

Jemima described her schooling as a battle but that changed when she got to UQ to study midwifery.

“From the get-go UQ was really supportive,” she said.

“I had spent most of my school experience fighting my way through the system and it felt like everything was a battle to get any sort of special consideration or support.

“At UQ, basically I walked in the front door and talked to the disability support team who quickly set me up with a disability advisor, who I’ve been lucky enough to have the whole way through my degree.

“She told me how I was able to get accommodations in place for exams and I was literally blown away by the speed and willingness of the University to provide that help.

“Having gone from fighting tooth and nail to get every accommodation that I could to support myself in the best way possible to give me a fighting fair chance at school, university was a totally different experience.”

UQ’s annual Teaching and Learning Week is celebrating inclusion and student belonging.

UQ Deputy Provost Professor Tim Dunne said the University was committed to ensuring Persons with Disability (PWD) were given equal opportunities to participate in the UQ community.

“Our Disability Action Plan provides us with an operational framework to become a leading organisation for inclusion and accessibility for PWD,” Professor Dunne said.

“We are continually making changes to improve physical accessibility on campus, as well as digital accessibility, library support, training and education for UQ staff, disability inclusive recruitment and partnering with organisations such as Vision Australia.”

UQ students are supported through a range of initiatives including The Tertiary Transition Toolbox, which helps students diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder transition to university, Diversity Disability and Inclusion Mentoring groups, as well as support for students with disabilities getting ready to leave university.

Jemima is about to graduate with a Bachelor of Midwifery from the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences and will return to UQ in 2023 to study medicine.

“My advice to school-leavers is to be brave but also to relax,” she said.

“As long as you self-advocate and communicate your needs, the University is really willing to support you and help is much more accessible in the tertiary environment.

“Don’t be fearful of asking for help because there’s a lot of support for you at UQ.”

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