Abbie Osborne, 26, Birmingham DSA assessor (Disabled Student Allowance) for AbilityNet, talks about finding a surprise career working with assistive tech and accessible apps, and being a top-reviewed author on Amazon in her spare time.
Can you sum up your job at AbilityNet for us?
I assess the needs of university students with dyslexia and related conditions such as dyspraxia, dyscalculia and dysgraphia. I work out how they can make the most of assistive technology, apps and any other support in order to do as well as they can in their studies.
What do you find most rewarding?
I love it when student is really amazed by the tech available. There's a lot of exciting stuff out at the moment; new developments all the time. I love learning about new apps and assistive tech and sharing it with clients and colleagues. Zotero is one of the most popular free tools I recommend. I've explained a bit more here. One of my other favourites is DyslexiaKey, which I've talked about here.
What are the worst parts of the job?
Knowing that there's something that will help a student but not being able to recommend it because there are some things student finance will not fund. It can be very frustrating.
Can you give us an example of some of the disabled students you've helped with assistive tech?
One student I remember helping had dysgraphia – it meant that her handwriting was virtually impossible to read. She found it really difficult to produce good work when writing it by hand because she was concentrating so much on the process of writing. As a result, she was placed in the bottom sets at school. When she contested this and asked to use a computer to complete her work, she was accused of plagiarism because the work was so good compared to her handwritten work.
When we did her assessment, she was relieved that we were able to recommend she use a computer for everything including placements and practical sessions. As well as this we were able to recommend free apps that could help her day-to-day and also note taking software to help her with her processing difficulties in lectures. We also looked at Mind Mapping software so that the student could make notes in a visual and organised way.
How did you come to work at AbilityNet?
After doing English and History at uni I was an assistive technology trainer at another company. I'd never thought about this kind of job until I got a graduate email from university about becoming an IT trainer. After three years at the other company, much of the work moved to London and my job became quieter, so I was happy to be head hunted by AbilityNet via Linkedin.
Is the job fulfilling your expectations?
Yes, my role is about to expand to cover all disabilities and I'm now on track to be a centre manager for a job I didn't even know I could do a few years ago. I thought I'd need a qualification. I never really knew what I'd do job wise, so this has all been a fantastic surprise really. I also get quite a lot of training days, which is helpful.
Tell us about a typical day as a DSA assessor for dyslexic students?
I'm either at home writing assessments or I drive between Birmingham and Coventry and sometimes Bristol, seeing students at our assessment centres. I generally do about three assessments a day and have to prep and write up each one. It's quite busy. Outside of that I do a lot of general research about the latest tech and apps.
What tech do you find useful in your own life?
The Global Auto-Correct software. The old school one that was used before Microsoft Office. It's great for when I'm trying to whizz through reports in an evening. When you make a mistake, it analyses the sound patterns in the word to understand what you're trying to spell and changes it as you go along.
What do you like to do outside of work?
In my spare time I love writing. I've self-published a thriller called The Puppet Master, which has 30 reviews (all positive) on Amazon. I used to read 100 books a year though I can't quite manage that at the moment. And I've written quite a few blogs for dyslexia blog The Codpast.