My Overall University Experience

I have now finished university and found out that I will be graduating with a 2:1. I can’t tell you how pleased I am with my result and how proud I am of myself as it’s not been easy, so I thought I’d write a post on my overall university experience as it’s the end of an era for me. I thought that it may help some of you, but it’s also something that I can look back on in the future.

I’ve split this post into each year of university so that I can discuss each one in more detail as they were all completely different.

I hope you enjoy this post! It’s a long one so grab a drink or a snack and enjoy!

 

Preparing for university

I first applied for university towards the end of 2013, I had previously attended several open days earlier in the year and contacted the universities and decided where to apply for and which courses I wanted to also apply for. I weighed up all the factors, and decided that York St John university was the university for me. The Head of Programme of the Children, Young People and Families course was really accommodating and seemed to understand my needs, she seemed approachable and willing to help me in every way possible. AT the time, I didn’t feel confident enough to live in halls of residence so I decided that I wanted to commute. I made sure that I did everything early such as applying for student Finance and DSA (Disabled Students Allowance), this meant that I received my DSA equipment early too which was a great advantage. For those of you that don’t know what DSA is, it is an allowance that disabled students can apply for, which means that they can have equipment to help them with their studies, support, mobility training and much more. During the summer of 2014, I received my A-level results meaning that I had got a place at my first choice university which was obviously York St John. I can’t tell you how happy I was, as I had basically convinced myself that I wasn’t going to get in. Everyone believed in me, but I didn’t believe in myself. I think this was a turning point for me though, as I realised that my hard work had paid off and that I could actually achieve something if I put my mind to it.

I also had a final meeting with the Head of Programme and Disability Support to double check that everything was in place, and how they could best support me. My Head of Programme also got my timetable early for me, so that I knew what days I had lectures, and so that I could learn the routes to the lecture and seminar rooms.

I had orientation and mobility training around campus a couple of weeks before my university journey started so that I knew the routes when I started lectures so that I had some idea of where I was going and also because the campus was quiet so it made it easier to carry out such training. I was extremely nervous about doing orientation and mobility training as I wasn’t the most confident cane user, and didn’t really like using one. You can read my story on embracing the cane here. I’m pleased to say that this was the first time that I really did enjoy using the cane and honestly did enjoy mobility training. After all this, I was just about ready to start my journey at York St John University.

 

First year

Like every student, starting university is a nerve-racking and daunting time, and my experience as a visually impaired student was no different. Like I said, I did orientation and mobility training around the university campus so that I could attempt to navigate campus with my long cane. I was nervous about using my cane around university as I hadn’t had the best experience of doing so in school, but I thought that university might be different so wanted to try and give it a shot.

Freshers week (welcome week) arrived and I was feeling both excited and nervous; excited for a new chapter of my life to begin but also nervous, as I had no idea of what to expect, didn’t know anyone and didn’t have any clue of what university life would be like. For anyone that doesn’t know what fresher’s week is, it’s a way of getting new students settled in and familiarising them with university life by holding events and having introductory lectures. I didn’t get involved with the events because they weren’t very accessible for me as a blind person and also the fact that I didn’t know anyone and didn’t really want to go on my own. I was quite nervous for the few weeks ahead because I thought everyone on my course would have made friends already and I’d be on my own but later on I found out that that wasn’t actually the case.

Once freshers week was over, it was time to start the course and therefore, lectures commenced. The first lecture I had, the lecturer told me that he had no idea that I was going to be in his lectures and that he didn’t know he had a blind student. This wasn’t true at all, my Head of Programme had reassured me that all the lecturers did know that I was going to be there and what they had to do. So as a consequence of him apparently not knowing, I hadn’t been sent any materials for the lecture so my note taker had to read everything out to me. This made me feel like I was back in school, not at university at all. What a great start! Luckily this all got sorted and this didn’t happen again. This was an issue that did not repeat itself. A positive outcome of this particular experience, was that the staff involved truly wanted to resolve the situation, rather than feel like they had to. Staff at my university looked beyond my disability. Other than that, there weren’t any major hiccups in first year which I was extremely happy about.

In terms of support, in the first semester I received note-taking support and library support but nothing else. I thought that I could be independent and do the majority of things myself. I soon realised that there was no harm in using extra support and learnt that this was invaluable in the long run. I also had proofreading support from then on, and personally I think it helped to boost my grades. The disability support service was very proactive in sorting support which was fantastic. This did not mean that there weren’t any challenges because they really were, but they helped resolve them to the best of their ability. In terms of accessing materials, I used my DSA equipment (laptop with Jaws screen-reader, braille display and ClearReader+).

 

I got all of the lecture slides sent to me beforehand in an accessible format, some lectures even provided me with image descriptions which was brilliant. Accessing books was a bit harder especially if they weren’t available as eBooks. Publishers are restricted by copyright laws which means that they can’t just distribute electronic copies of books, this meant that I had to request books that I required much earlier than my peers, in order for the library to get me an accessible copy. The library did everything they could to ensure that I had the books in an accessible format as quickly as possible.

The social aspect of university was something that I thought I’d struggle with, due to my negative experiences in school. However, at university, this was completely different. People came up to me and spoke to me, which I didn’t expect which really helped. I didn’t join any societies in my first year of university but made some good friends on my course. It’s important to remember that everyone comes from a different walk of life at university and there are many students with disabilities so you’re not alone.

 

Second year

I remember going into my second year of university feeling excited for the year ahead; something that I had never really felt whilst being in education. I will admit, second year was such a huge jump academically from the first; I don’t think we were fully prepared for how hard it was going to be. There were a couple of minor glitches like lecturers not sending me work in advance but this was all resolved quickly. Nevertheless, I finished second year on track for a 2:1 overall if I kept that standard of work up throughout third year…no pressure then!

Support in second year ran smoothly – there were no major issues and I once again was grateful for the support that I received.

I think second year was by far my favourite year in terms of the social aspect of university. I had a good, solid friendship group and we all got on really well. I also joined the disabled society, “superhuman society” as it was called. I also made some friends through that and was also asked to be a committee member so that helped me broaden my circle of friends. Some of my favourite memories have to be our regular visits to Pizza Hut and our cocktail evenings.

I spent the summer planning my dissertation and doing some research so that I could try and at least do some preparation and be ahead of the game as I was expecting that third year was going to be the most challenging year yet. Over the summer I had developed some problems with my eyes, I had no idea that this would continue into my third year of university.

 

Third year

Third year was very hard, extremely stressful and presented me with various personal challenges but I learnt a lot from those. I had problems with my eyes, resulting in me having to have an operation in January, right in the middle of my third and final year. I actually did some dissertation work whilst waiting to be called for my operation…dedication or what? I didn’t let that stop me though, I just got on with it and I feel like those challenges gave me the motivation to carry on and get through it. I was surrounded by incredibly supportive people and I couldn’t have done it without them. The university were really accommodating as well, providing me with extensions for my assignments and also any other support that I required.

The main piece of work was a 10,000 word dissertation. Before writing it, I didn’t think I even knew 10,000 words! It was by far the hardest piece of work that I’ve ever had to do but I am pleased to say that I achieved a 2:1. I’m so proud of it and all the effort that I put in towards getting the grade that I so wanted. As well as my dissertation, I also had several 5000 word essays to complete. I completed all of my work on my laptop, and also used my braille display and my OrCam for reading materials. I couldn’t have done my degree without this equipment, especially my laptop with Jaws screen-reader.

 

There were no major academic issues in my third year, all of the lecturers that I had had previously taught me so I definitely think that this was a bonus.

The support that I received in third year was invaluable, it made my final year a lot easier. Having support meant that I didn’t struggle on my own, it made tasks such as finding books and journals and proofreading so much easier. I felt very lucky with the support that I received throughout my time in higher education, especially third year, as it really helped with my studies. The only difficult part was not just being able to get books for my dissertation when and when I needed them, but the library did their best to accommodate and they did a great job of doing so. I think the support in third year was a step up from previous years, as I really got on with the people supporting me, they really understood my needs and went above and beyond to support me.

The social aspect of third year was interesting, as I really found out who my true friends were. The stress of third year tested friendships, but we all got through it which I’m extremely happy about. I’m so proud of all of my friends as they all achieved the grades that they wanted which they thoroughly deserve.

 

Overall thoughts

I am extremely pleased to say that I will be graduating with a 2:1 BA (Hons) in Children, Young People and Families! A 2:1 was the grade that I was hoping for. The stress really started to take its toll on me towards the end but I’m so glad it was worth it. If there’s one thing that I’ve learnt from my university experience is that hard work most certainly does pay off and determination is key.

So as you can tell, my overall experience of university has mainly been a positive one. There has been challenges along the way and it hasn’t all been plain sailing, but that’s to be expected. I know that everyone’s university experience is different, and I feel very lucky for the experience that I have had.

I’ve learned a lot whilst being at university, I ppreviously wrote a post about things that university has taught me which you can read here. My confidence has grown so much over the last three years, I also feel like I’ve really found my true self. I’ve also become so much more independent and I feel so much more comfortable in using a cane.

I could go into a lot more detail, but this is just a snapshot into my experience in higher education over the last three years.

I feel like I’ve wrote a book but before I finish this post, I’d like to thank a few people as I know some of them will be reading this post.

Firstly, I would like to thank my family, especially my Mum and Dad as they’ve always been there for me, supported me in everything that I’ve embarked on and made sure that I had the provisions and support in place in order to succeed. They really have been my rock.

I’d also like to thank my friends, they’ve always been there for me, and have given me some wonderful memories.

I’d like to thank everyone that’s ever supported me in education – you helped me get to where I am today through your hard work and dedication and I will forever be grateful. It’s given me some special people in my life. Many of you went above and beyond to ensure that I could succeed, and you looked beyond my disability and were willing to adapt and learn about my visual impairment.

I’d finally like to thank my readers; your support has really helped me and motivated me over the last couple of years. You’ve taken a keen interest in my blog, which then inspires me to write content for you all.

I could go on and on but this post is long enough already!

It’s the end of an era for me, I’m feeling both excited and nervous about the future. I’d like to work within the field of visual impairment, supporting people like myself so we will see where life takes me.

That concludes today’s post everyone, thank you so much for reading! If you got to the end then well done!

Are you a disabled student? What are your experiences of university? Let me know in the comments.

I hope this post has helped some of you.

I’ll be back soon with another post.

Holly x

Things University Has Taught Me

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

I am approaching the end of my degree, and my time at York St John University is coming to an end. It’s only a matter of weeks until my final assignments will be submitted and a matter of months until I graduate!

The last three years have been a bit of a whirlwind, there’s been some amazing times but also some rubbish times too, times where I’ve wanted to drop out but here I am! Going to university has taught me a lot so I wanted to share some of the things it’s taught me with you all.

I’d like to do more university related posts in the next few months so if you have any suggestions then please do send them my way! Feel free to leave them in the comments below or to contact me.

Without further ado let’s get into today’s post!

 

Having a disability is completely fine.

There are probably more people that have a disability at university than you realise so it’s completely normal. It’s not like mainstream school or college where there are very few disabled people and chances are you are the only one with a disability, university is completely different. There’s people from all walks of life at university, with a range of disabilities.

 

Being different is okay.

I think at university you reach a point where you realise that there’s no point being anyone but yourself.

 

Fight for what you need and what you’re entitled to.

If you need support such as Disabled Students Allowance then fight for it, if you’re struggling and need help, make sure you receive it. At university, people have your best interests at heart and the majority of them want to help you.

 

It’s ok not to be ok.

University can be an extremely stressful time and you can experience a rollercoaster of emotions. There is always someone out there that you can talk to and support is always available.

 

Life isn’t what you always expect.

This has most definitely been true for me over the last three years; I’ve changed my mind on what career I want a number of times which has completely thrown me off track at times. There was appoint in my second year of university where I didn’t even know if I was on the right course, I didn’t know what I was doing with my life basically. It wasn’t what I expected to happen at all, but I stuck with it, and here I am, about to (hopefully) graduate in a few months.

 

Independence is key.

Whether this is moving away from home, becoming more confident in using a cane, applying for a guide dog etc, taking those steps to independence is so important. This can often mean stepping out of your comfort zone and facing new challenges, but it’ll more than likely be worth it! Independence is different for everyone, so whatever it is you do, be proud of yourself because it’ll help you in the long run.

 

Drama still exists.

If you thought you left those friendship or boyfriend dramas behind in school or college, they decide to make an appearance at university. But be the bigger person and sort them out.

 

You will find out who your true friends are.

Like everything, university has most definitely taught me who my true friends are and you know what? It feels good.

 

Lecturers want you to succeed.

They have your best interests at heart, it’s important to ask for help if you’re struggling and ask questions.

 

Deadlines come quicker than you think.

Preparation is vital to ensure that you don’t get bogged down with all the work and add extra pressure.

 

Organisation is key.

Leading on from the previous point – this is fairly self explanatory but it’s important to organise your assignment, work commitments and social activities so that you have a good balnce and stay on top of everything. University is stressful and it’s very easy to get bogged down with the all the work.

 

Referencing is the bane of your life.

Chances are you’ll enter first year not really knowing how to reference or what you’re doing, it’s frustrating! There are many tips and tricks that can help you along the way and for it to be less of a pain.

 

Hard work really does pay off.

I know it doesn’t always feel like it in the process but if you put your mind to it, then you can achieve anything you put your mind to. If you put the work in and try your best then it’s something to be proud of. This has definitely become more apparent to me now that I’ve finished my dissertation!


(Photo of Holly holding her completed dissertation which has been printed and bound, it looks a bit like a book)

 

University is so much more than a degree.

I think we all get so caught up in the work that we often forget this, I do anyway. The degree is vital obviously, but university is also about the friends you make, the life lessons you learn and it’s also about growing as a person.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post and that it has possibly helped some of you that are transitioning to university or that are currently at university. If you are a student, what has university taught you? Let me know in the comments!

Holly x

My Favourite Memories of 2016

Hello!

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas! I just wanted to start off by saying a huge thank you for all your support in 2016, it has truly been incredible and I cannot tell you how much I really do appreciate it. It’s hard to believe that I’ll have been blogging for two years in January. I really upped by blogging game in 2016 and really put my mind to it, trying my best to get my blog out there and noticed. I know I’m not one of the most popular bloggers and I doubt I ever will be but I’m really pleased with the progress I’ve made with my blog this year, it’s reached milestones that I never thought I’d achieve.

In this post, I wanted to write about some of my favourite memories of 2016, it’s been a pretty rubbish year with everything that’s gone on in the world and for me personally, but there have also been some good times for me too so I wanted to share them with you all. I’ve tried to do it in chronological order, I hope you enjoy!

 

Putting my blog out there

It was only at the start of 2016 that I created a Facebook page for my blog and it’s really helped get my blog out there and I’ve received some lovely messages from my readers.

I also started doing guest posts at the start of 2016 and received requests from sight loss charities and organisations asking me to write a post for them. I felt truly humbled and this was a huge achievement for me. You can check out all the guest posts I’ve written so far in my portfolio.

 

Volunteering on an Action for Blind Family Weekend

This was such a big step for me. When I graduate from university I am hoping to work in the sight loss sector so volunteering on this weekend really did give me some great experience. One of the things that I did was help run a talk on education for blind and visually impaired young people which allowed me to explain my own tips, give my own account and experiences and answer any questions that the families had. This was something that I thoroughly loved doing. It was something completely new but I felt that I gained many skills and valuable experience from doing so.

 

Passing my second year of university

Second year of university is such a huge jump from the first, anyone that’s been to university will know exactly what I mean! Back in 2015, during the first semester of second year, I wasn’t sure if I was even doing the right degree, I’d gone from wanting to be a primary school teacher to not having the first clue of what I wanted to do. But I figured it out, now I’m working towards getting that degree and working with other blind and visually impaired people when I graduate. I finished second year of university with a 2:1 which I worked so hard to get, it set me up nicely for my third and final year.

 

Celebrating passing second year of university with my friends

Everyone was together, we were all extremely proud of each other and it was just a great time.

 

Getting my first job

I’ve wanted a job since I was around the age of 16 and tried ever since to find a VI person friendly job if you get my drift! I started as a volunteer for LOOK UK in the summer and was employed as a Project Worker a couple of months down the line. It’s such a huge achievement for me as not only am I gaining experience in the field that I want to work in when I graduate university but I also can work hard and earn money just like my sighted friends. It’s given me so many skills and I am really enjoying it so far.

 

Attending Sight Village

I’ve never been to an exhibition like this before, it was an opportunity for me to see the latest technology and services that are available for blind and visually impaired people. I got passenger assistance for the first time when I was travelling down to Birmingham for the event and it didn’t go as planned, I have discussed this in a previous post. That experience really opened my eyes and possibly made me even more determined to not let my visual impairment be a barrier, even when things go wrong.

 

Being featured in RNIB connect Magazine.

This was a real shock for me as I read the Connect Magazine, so to be asked to be featured in it was wonderful.

 

Getting my OrCam.

The OrCam is a marvellous piece of equipment and it has had a huge impact on my life.

 

My family holiday

This was such a lovely holiday, I had time to relax and spend quality time with my mum and dad. It’s important to have family time with those that mean the most to you.

 

Meeting my best friend

Some of you will know her as Elin from the blog My Blurred World. This was by far one of my favourite memories of 2016, it was genuinely such a lovely day. We’d been speaking for over a year and finally got to meet in person. We got to know each other through blogging so that day was so special for the both of us. She lives over 150 miles away so you really do have to treasure moments like that. We’ve helped each other through a lot in 2016, the good and the bad and constantly stuck by each other whilst we’ve both had people we cared about walk away, helped each other through the rough times, given each other the kick up the bum when we’ve needed it and I think that’s true friendship. I’m so excited for more memories with her in 2017.

 

Becoming more confident using a cane

I wouldn’t say that this happened at a specific point but I feel that I have become more confident and comfortable when using my cane over the last couple of years, even more so in 2016.

 

My 21st birthday

I spent the weekend before my birthday with a close friend and my actual birthday with my family which was special to me. Family really are so important.

 

Reaching 10,000 views on my blog

This happened a few weeks ago, and it’s crazy to think that I have had over 10,000 views on my little corner of the internet!

Those are a few of my memories of 2016, I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. I would just like to thank you again for your continued support in 2016, it really does mean the world to me! I really hope you’ll stick with me as I continue my blogging journey in 2017.

I would like to wish you all a happy New Year and wish you all the best for 2017!

Once again, thank you.

Holly x

Embracing Your Disability

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

I’m sorry that I am not posting as regularly as usual but I am now in my third and final year of university so the majority of my time is taken up on that at the moment. I do have some posts planned though, so stay tuned!

As you can gather by the title, I wanted to write about embracing your disability. I’ve touched on this topic before in my how to become comfortable with your disability post but I feel like I’ve learnt a lot more about this topic since writing that.

I hope you enjoy this post and hopefully take something away from it.

 

When I was younger I used to refer to myself as being “visually impaired” or “partially sighted”, strictly speaking, this is not true as I am registered as “blind”/“severely sight impaired”. As I said, I’ve no idea why I did this, I wasn’t embarrassed about my disability, I guess I didn’t really understand the meaning behind the terms.

Whether you are disabled or not, one of the easiest things you can do is compare yourself to others. We are all guilty of it right? Remember that you are your own person so love yourself for who you are. You may not have achieved the same things as your friends, travelled around the world like other disabled people but that’s ok. Everyone wants to achieve different things. Who cares if you don’t want to travel around the world like others? You’ll have more than likely achieved something that’s just as great.

It’s very easy for us to say ‘there are so many people worse off than me’. Yes, there probably is, but everyone’s disability is unique and affects them in different ways. Every disability has its own sets of challenges but it’s important to point out that these challenges affect people in different ways. There are millions of people in the world with a disability each tackling it in their own, individual way.

Make your disability what it is, don’t let it make you. Do not identify yourself as “a disabled person”, you are the person with a disability, your disability is not the only thing that identifies you for who you are. You should always put yourself first before your disability as it doesn’t represent you as a whole and is only one small part of you.

Your disability is not your enemy. It may feel like it is at times, when you must fight for something so simple that non-disabled people take for granted but it should be an integral part of your life and something that you should learn to accept.

Having a disability can enable you to develop many valuable skills such as navigating using a long cane or a wheelchair, to give you the opportunity to learn ways of communication such as braille and sign language, it enables you to use your other senses effectively and become an independent individual despite having a disability.

 

I don’t love my disability, that’s rather strong but I like the person it’s made me become, I like how it’s shaped me as a person and my way of thinking. Personally, I think having a disability has made me approach life from a slightly different angle to my non-disabled peers; I don’t judge a book by its cover, I can educate people on disability, in my case sight loss and one of the most important things that it’s made me realise is that I can get to know someone for who they truly are. It’s also given me many skills: the ability to read braille (including music braille, French and German braille), use assistive technology such as a screen-reader, also the ability to navigate using a long cane to name a few.

Society can often have a negative view on disability but if you think about it, disability can be positive.

It’s important for us as disabled people to educate others on disability and help them challenge their perceived ideas. If we do this, we aren’t only putting our disability to good use but we are also tackling the stereotypes and stigmas that surround disability. Not everyone will change the way they view and perceive disability, but some will.

Let’s get rid of the idea that a disability disables us and start to embrace it. Having a disability makes us intelligent, mindful, strong and independent individuals.

In order for other people to accept your disability and get to know you for who you really are is first for you to accept your disability for what it is and learn to love yourself. Having a disability is nothing to be ashamed of.

 

We all have the ability to do something with our lives so let your disability enable you to do so, not disable you.

If you are a disabled person reading this, I hope that this post has helped you in some way. If you are a non-disabled person, I hope that it has educated you on disability itself and how capable and independent disabled people actually can be.

Guest post for Through Scarlet’s Eyes

I was asked by the lovely Charlotte who runs Through Scarlet’s Eyes to write a blog post for the ‘young person’s voice’ month. Through Scarlet’s Eyes is a website/blog where Charlotte documents aspects of her daughter Scarlet’s life and it has now grown to be a support network for families with a child living with a visual impairment. The site features blogs, useful resources and so much more so make sure you check it out!

Thank you to Charlotte for asking me to write a blog post, I feel very honoured.

In this post I discuss aspects of my life so far and also give an insight as to how my parents have helped me live with my disability and in life in general. You can view my post here.

Enjoy!