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Dyslexic PhD student James Bond takes University of Sydney to the NSW anti-discrimination board

James Bond, a prospective University of Sydney student who says he is being discriminated against because there is no support for his dyslexia. Photo: Janie Barrett Former prime minister Julia Gillard wrote a letter congratulating James Bond. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
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The University of Sydney. Photo: Phil Carrick

Macquarie University. Photo: Paul Wright

James Bond has an IQ of 150 and can’t get into university.

Despite testimony from former prime minister Julia Gillard, NSW Labor frontbencher Mick Veitch and former deputy premier Andrew Stoner, Mr Bond has been rejected for his PhD by three different universities, Newcastle, Macquarie and the University of Sydney, because he has dyslexia, he says.

In a complaint lodged with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board Mr Bond alleges the University of Sydney is discriminating against students with a disability by not providing support services to allow them to enrol them in university.

Mr Bond, who had a supervisor at the University of Sydney willing to supervise his PhD on dyslexia legislation in Scotland and NSW, was unable to gain access to a scribe to complete his proposal to be able to enrol, unless he was already enrolled, according to emails from the university.

“It’s a catch-22 situation,” said Mr Bond. “Ultimately I’m trying to change the status quo, I don’t think they want a person with severe dyslexia going forward.”

Mr Bond, whose dyslexia renders him unable to read, relied on audio recordings and a scribe to complete his Bachelor of Arts and Masters of Research at Macquarie University.

There, he said, the enrolment requirements were less onerous compared to the full research proposal required of a PhD. He applied for a place at Macquarie but was rejected because there was no supervisor available and at Newcastle where the university found him “academically unsuitable on the basis of unsatisfactory progress”.

At the time of his bachelor’s graduation in 2012, Ms Gillard said the dyslexia advocate, who helped draft several amendments to disability legislation in NSW and brought text-to-speech technology to hundreds of schools, was an inspiration to her.

“Today, in front of your family, friends, teachers and classmates, you’ll receive that precious piece of paper which tells a remarkable story,” she wrote in a personal letter.

“A story of self-belief and persistence against the odds, a story that says the gift of education belongs to everyone, not just the lucky few.

“I’m deeply inspired by what you have done because it affirms everything I believe and entered politics to help accomplish, that discrimination and disadvantage can be overcome if we have the courage to confront them.”

But three degrees, months of lobbying and several years later, Mr Bond says the lack of support services for students wishing to enrol in universities means that for many people suffering from dyslexia, those degrees will remain out of reach.

In a letter to Mr Bond, the University of Sydney said it would stop discussing the issue with him because of his “intemperate” communication and pending complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Board. It also invited him to amend his application and resubmit it with the help of a university funded scribe.

Mr Bond said the offer should not just be made to him but all students with a disability wishing to enrol.

“It’s a difficult process for a person without a disability to go in there and enrol, so a person with a disability has an extra stumbling block,” he said.

“To me it is about equality and getting a step on that ladder, to be gainfully employed, to be a taxpayer in this county and to be able to support your family.”

Mr Bond said the guilt that people carried with dyslexia “was incredible”.

“The embarrassment that dyslexics suffer is second to being a paedophile,” he said.

“I know people out there who have PhDs who have mid-range dyslexia, but they don’t tell anybody – they scrape through university without being helped by the disability unit because they don’t want to acknowledge it.”

Mr Bond has tried to find work as a butcher, plumber, railway worker and public servant since being told to leave school at 14 because of his disability. He said he had battled bureaucracy his entire life in search of meaningful employment.

“When I applied for the Department of Defence I was initially told that it would be beneficial to have a person with dyslexia undertaking tasks such as shredding classified documents,” he said.

He said those attitudes still existed in university halls despite the success of well-known dyslexics and business leaders such as Dick Smith and Kerry Stokes or disabled academics such as US autism advocate Temple Grandin.

“I was at a lecture on social inclusion once and I had a scribe sitting next to me reading out what was being put on the board,” he said. “A woman got up next to me and said: ‘Can’t you read!?”

“I said, ‘Actually I’m unable to read’, and she got up and she just said I’m not staying in a lecture with someone who can’t read and stormed off.

“That’s the type of thing that goes on in life,” he said.

“We’ve changed a lot of attitudes at universities but there are still a lot of things that haven’t changed.”

The universities have been contacted for comment.