Did they ever have doubts about starting on a university programme? Never, say Charisa Wittenberg and Anne Fleur Hoctin Boes during their appearance on Erasmus TV. While their functional impairments have occasionally thrown up extra challenges, why would they let this stop them?

Due to a hearing impairment, Special Education master student Tanja Urosevic has difficulty following the online lectures. But she still manages, thanks to the support of a speech-to-text interpreter. This interpreter types out what’s said by the lecturer, allowing Tanja to read along on her tablet. “Right now, I now longer attend lectures in real time. I watch them later on, with a full transcript on the side.”

According to Anne Fleur (who has ADHD and dyslexia) and Charisa (who has autism and dyslexia), studying hasn’t become easier since the lockdown. “I find it difficult to start occasionally,” says Anne Fleur. Before the crisis, attending lectures at a different location to where she does her reading helped her stay focussed. And the students have been assigned more reading to replace regular lectures: extra hard for someone with dyslexia. “I used to like watching lectures a second time, at double speed.”

Charisa actually had a big exam coming up on that notorious day, 12 March. That afternoon, it was announced that all examinations would be cancelled until further notice – shortly before her own exam was scheduled to start. “I always have days like that complete planned out. First, all sorts of updates came in – whether or not it would be going ahead – and then it was called off at the eleventh hour.” This took some getting used to for her, and the fact that students were suddenly expected to work from home didn’t help either.

Particularly in the beginning, Charisa noticed that her autism made it extra challenging for her to study at home. “Making the switch to independent learning was very hard. You need to do more by yourself and look up your own information – read more, in other words. That wasn’t easy for me, having dyslexia. Although everything’s going smoother now – you find all sorts of new ways to get the job done. For example, nowadays when I get a text, I often read the introduction and the conclusion first. That way, I already have an idea what it’s about.”

Studying with a functional impairment

Anne Fleur and Charisa have also benefited a lot from the coaching programme Studying with a functional impairment. The participants in this programme are helped by fellow students. Charisa’s coach Lotte is of great help to her. “When it comes to studying with autism, I occasionally don’t know who to contact within the university, but I’m welcome to text her via WhatsApp. For example, I wanted to know whether my special arrangements like extended examination times also apply when I’m studying from home.”

Anne Fleur works as a coach herself and supports a second-year student. “I really enjoy doing this. And I’ve noticed it benefits me personally too. For example, by explicitly offering someone tips on how to improve your overview, you take more time to think about it for yourself as well.