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

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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

How I Balance Blogging and University

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well.

As you can tell from the title, today’s post is about how I balance blogging and university.

It can be tough and I don’t post as often as I’d like to but that’s due to a lack of time, but I am always working on my blog, a lot of it being behind the scenes so you may not see or read it.

Being a third year student in the last few weeks of my degree, and also working for a wonderful sight loss charity, the pressure is well and truly on and the stress levels are high! On top of that my visual impairment can add extra stress and pressures like resources not being accessible, organising support and things like that. That’s all part and parcel of having a visual impairment, but it can take a lot of time up and can be a lot harder compared to sighted people.

I have come up with ways in which I balance university and blogging which work well for me so I wanted to share them with you all. I hope some of you find today’s post useful!

 

Plan ahead

Everyone says ‘plan’ but it is key when you’re a third year student and blogger. Personally, I use the calendar app on my phone to plan and organise things coming up such as deadlines, meetings for work, tutorials, social events and basically everything that I’m doing. That way, I can plan ahead and know what I’m doing when and where I need to be at specific times.
Prioritise

Whether you’re a student, blogger or neither, this tip is so important for everyone. It’s so easy to get caught up in the stresses of university and life in general that we don’t often know where to start. University will always come first for me, so if I have any deadlines looming then those are my priority!

To prioritise, I write myself a to-do list every night so that I can wake up the next morning  knowing exactly what I need to do. I then go through this list and work out which things are my priority and make sure that they’re at the top of the list. My to-do lists include things such as dissertation and assignment goals, other work that I need to do for my job or just in general, blog posts that I need to write or schedule etc. It’s a great way of prioritising what is most important and what needs doing when. I use the notes app on my iPhone to write these lists, it’s nice and simple.

(photo of iPhone)

Have a routine

I’ll be completely honest, I have days where I feel extremely unmotivated and exhausted that I don’t feel like doing any university work or writing blog posts but I try to stick to a routine.

For me, I like to get university work done during the day and spend my evenings writing blog posts and taking some time out for myself. Blogging is a hobby that I enjoy so I like getting some university work done, then sitting down and doing something that I enjoy afterwards.

 

Prepare blog posts in advance

When I have an idea for a blog post, I write it down in the notes app on my phone so that I don’t forget it and can come back to it.

I also try to write blog posts in advance so that I don’t have to rush them, especially if I have deadlines coming up.

I also use an app called Buffer to schedule tweets in order to promote my posts, if I know I won’t have time to sit and promote them on social media myself. Work in bulk.


(photo of the app Buffer)

This can often be quite hard to do if you’re like me, and run out of hours in the day to get everything done that you need to! Working in bulk means that you don’t have to rush posts and write content that you’re not happy with. If you work in bulk, you can post content when you have time or schedule it and it’s extremely rewarding knowing that it’s ready for you to schedule or post.

 

Take time out for yourself

This is definitely something I have been guilty of not doing and I’ve got to the point where I’m extremely exhausted and stressed because I’ve been doing too much and working beyond my limits. I try to take time out for myself and do things like have a catch up with a friend, listen to music, read a book, have a long bath and generally do things that I enjoy doing. Taking time out for yourself means that you can recharge and relax so that you don’t burn out quickly! Since I’ve been at university, I’ve really started to realise that self care is so important.

 

So there you go, that’s how I balance university and blogging. I hope you enjoyed reading and that it helped some of you out there.

Holly x

The University Tag

Hello everyone,

Today I have a tag post for you all, I love a good tag post! This one isn’t exactly visual impairment or disability related but I thought as it’s the start of a new academic year and I’m going into my third year of uni I’d complete it in the hope that it gives you a bit of an insight into my university life and hopefully will be of use to some of you. Today’s post is The University Tag which was created by one of my favourite YouTubers Alice Thorpe. Make sure you check her YouTube channel out!

I haven’t done many university related posts so if you like this one and would like me to do more posts on my experiences of different aspects of university or guides for disabled students then do let me know.

Let’s get on with the tag!

  1. Where do you study?

I study at York St John University.

2. What do you study?

Children, young people and families (a long course name I know).

3. What year are you in?

I’m starting my third and final year! It’s quite scary but exciting!

4. Do you live at home or at uni?

I live at home. When I applied for university I didn’t have the confidence to live away from home. I’m glad I do live at home though as I can have home comforts at the same time! It’s surprising how many people do live at home and commute to university as when I started, I thought I’d be the only one.

5. How old are you?

20 years old.

6. What are your 3 uni essentials?

This is a hard one but I’m going to do this on a blind student’s perspective. My first uni essential would be a laptop with a screen-reader or magnifier whichever you require. You’ll use a laptop for all sorts of things, it’s a must have! My second uni essential would be any other specialist equipment that you may need. This could be a magnifier, braille display, kitchen equipment…whatever suits your needs but if you use it every day then it’s definitely a uni essential! You may be put off by getting such specialist equipment for whatever reason but if it’s something that you need then it will make university life so much easier. My third and final uni essential would be a decent sized bag! If you’re like me and have a lot of equipment to carry around with you then you need about 4 arms to do so. So a decent sized bag to fit everything in is a lifesaver! I have a lot more uni essentials so if this is a post you’d like me to do then do let me know.

7. What is your favourite meal to cook?

I do live at home so I’m very lucky to have home cooking but I’d say something quick and simple like a pasta meal.

8. What is the latest you’ve been to the library?

I like to be organised and do my work before it’s due in so I don’t have a last minute rush so I usually go to the library during the day or after lectures. Consequently, I haven’t been to the library extremely late.

9. Ever done an all nighter to finish work?

As I’ve said in the previous question I’m rather organised so I can happily say that I have never done an all nighter. It would stress me out way too much!

10. Your favourite university moment so far?

This is a really hard one as I’ve had some extremely good memories whilst being at university but the one that springs to mind would be going to Pizza Hut with my friends at the end of the first semester of first year; it was so lovely to celebrate our first semester together.

11. One piece of advice for a fresher

I know everyone says it but the most important piece of advice that I would give is to be yourself. If you don’t want to go out drinking or to a specific event all your flatmates are going to then you don’t have to. There’s no point following the crowd, peer pressure is definitely not the way to go! You will find people with the same interests as you so just be your own person and you’ll find people that love you for the real you.

12. Something you worried about for no reason?

My biggest worry when starting university was making friends. This was something that I struggled with in school so this really worried me. People always used to tell me that there’s people from all walks of life at university so you aren’t alone and this is most definitely true. When you start everyone is in the same position which makes it a lot easier to make friends and get to know people.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Remember if you’d like me to do more university related blog posts then do let me know!

I nominate Beauty With Rach and Elin from the blog See My Way to do this tag! If you are a current university student or have been to university then feel free to join in with this tag yourself!

Holly x

My University Experience

Hello,

I hope you are all well.

After last week’s post on my mainstream school experience, this week I thought I’d follow on from that and do a post on my university experience. A lot of you requested this so I hope you enjoy! I love it when you suggest post ideas to me so keep them coming!

 

I applied for university towards the end of 2013, ready to get everything into place when I started in September 2014. The applying process went quite smoothly with a couple of minor hiccups along the way but nothing that couldn’t be sorted. Once I applied and everything was in place, it was a matter of just waiting for my A-level results, this was probably the worst waiting game of my life! To cut a long story short, I got better A-level results than I expected and got into my first choice university!

 

September finally came, I’d got all my DSA equipment, met my head of programme and done my orientation training round campus so that I at least had some idea of where I was going. Fresher’s week arrived and I was both excited and nervous, excited for a new chapter of my life to start but nervous because I had no idea of what to expect.

For anyone that doesn’t know what fresher’s week is, it’s a way of settling new students in by holding events and having introductory lectures. I didn’t really get involved with the events because they weren’t that accessible for me 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 that wasn’t the case.

 

Once fresher’s week was over, it was time to start proper lectures. For those of you that don’t know, I’m studying Children, young people and families at York St John university.

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 has not repeated itself and I hope it doesn’t in the future.

 

My university experience has overall been a positive one so far. I’m starting my final year in September and I hope things stay that way. In terms of academic stuff, the support is great, I’m given things in an accessible format and usually in advance. If I do encounter any problems then they are usually sorted rather quickly. There are sometimes minor issues like a lecturer thinks my screen-reader is magic and will read images when in fact it won’t and it’s their job to describe them. There have also been quite a few times where lecturers have forgotten to send me materials in advance which can cause problems but I guess it’s a matter of remembering and getting into a routine.

One of the things that I didn’t really consider when I started university was how hard it would be for me to access books. I knew there were ways around this such as electronic formats but I didn’t anticipate the challenges that would come with these. For a while, I had huge problems in accessing electronic formats of books. The system that my university have is I request a book, they scan it, put it into a pdf and then send it to me. When they first started doing this, my screen-reader refused to read the PDF’s and no one could figure out why this was happening. I eventually got it sorted and I could access the PDF’s. However, one problem of this is that it is very time consuming and when you have three 5000 word essays it is very hard to read books for all of them and write the assignments, especially with a screen-reader. I’m still very much in the learning process of this and trying to work out what method works best for me. But we don’t learn if we don’t try!

 

The support that I receive is note taking support and library support. The note taking support is great. It is very helpful in lectures because my note taker writes down the important bits from the powerpoint that the lecture uses. However, there was one instance where the note taker I had wrote my notes on paper rather than on a laptop so had to type them out after the lecture..don’t ask me why, I have no idea either. The only thing I don’t like about note taking support is that sometimes I don’t feel as independent as everyone else because I’ve got a note taker but everything has its pros and cons I guess.

 

The social side of uni is so important. As you will have read in my Mainstream education post I didn’t have the best experiences of friendship groups and especially in sixth form I felt very isolated which had a huge impact on my confidence and me as a person. I’m very glad to say that university has been the complete opposite of this. I’ve got an amazing group of friends that understand my disability but more so, look beyond it. I don’t feel isolated because of it, there’s people from all walks of life at university. It’s surprising how many people there have some sort of disability. For example, I’ve heard there’s more visually impaired people at my university but I don’t actually know them. When people get to university, they start to act more grown up and don’t think “it’s not cool to hang around with a blind girl”. I think they start to look towards the future and learn to accept people no matter what. Being at university has definitely helped me become more comfortable with my disability. A few years ago I refused to pick up a cane but now I will happily do so. I’ll leave the cane story for another post! I believe that university has really taught me that having a disability is really okay and there are people out that will accept it, as long as you love yourself.

 

As you can gather, my university experience has been for the most part, positive. There’s been slight issues but nothing near as bad as when I was in mainstream education. I’m probably the happiest that I’ve ever been and that’s all down to the people that I have in my life. Having people around that love you for who you are is so so important and I’ve definitely realised that over the last couple of years. No matter if you’re in work or education, personally I think there will always be some issues because being disabled isn’t the norm and often people don’t know what to do. But if you help to resolve the issues that you face, then both you and others will learn from this and help other disabled people in the future.

 

I hope you enjoyed this post, if you have any questions please comment below or contact me.

 

Hol x

My Mainstream School Experience

Hello,

Today’s post is a long one so grab a cuppa, get comfy and enjoy!

 

“How did you cope in mainstream education?” is something I get asked all the time. I attended mainstream school all the way through education and continued on to university. This blog post is to no way brag about what grades I got, or anything like that, I simply wrote it to highlight the challenges and difficulties that I faced in the hope that it might help others in a similar situation as me. I also want to discuss some of the positive aspects of my mainstream education experience because by no means was it all bad.

When I look back and reflect on my experience in a mainstream environment I feel a mixture of emotions – a sense of anger, frustration, isolation, proud and most of all a sense of achievement.

The overall experience gave me a rather big insight to people’s perceptions on disability (in my case visual impairment), their lack of knowledge and understanding on how to teach a blind/visually impaired person in a mainstream school, making friends and growing up. I know that every disabled person that goes through the mainstream education system faces different challenges and in no way are our experiences exactly the same but many students will have similar experiences throughout their time in education. Whether you’re in mainstream education or specialist school it’s hard to balance the academic work alongside the normalities of growing up, even more so as a disabled person. Let me tell you why. You’re still discovering who you are, what your future goals and ambitions actually are, where you want to go in life, finding out who your friends are, how to adapt work so that it makes it easier for yourself and most of all, you’re more than likely still getting to grips with your disability. Do we ever really accept our disability, yes we learn to live with it and feel comfortable in our own skin, but that’s different to loving having a disability.

 

My time at primary school was enjoyable, there were a few hiccups but nothing major. I never felt isolated and I guess I didn’t really think about my disability, what young child does really? I felt like every other child in my primary school. However, my time at secondary school didn’t go as smoothly and it certainly wasn’t the same.

One of the main difficulties that I faced in mainstream education was the lack of knowledge that teachers had when teaching a person with a visual impairment. From my experience most teachers did not always understand that I needed materials adapting and putting into braille, I could not write in books – my work was either done on a brailler or on a laptop, I could not see images so they needed to be described to me clearly and I could not watch videos that did not have any spoken commentary. Teachers did not seem to understand that materials needed to be given to my teaching assistants in advance so that they would have plenty of time to prepare them for me and put them in a format that I could actually work from and most importantly, read. I wish teachers realised as a matter of fact it does not just take my teaching assistant 5 minutes to put a textbook or revision guide into braille/audio for me, it in fact takes hours. It sometimes takes that long that they have to be requested from the publishers or specialist companies. Work needed to be given to my TA’s in advance so it meant that teachers had to plan ahead. For example, giving a double lessons worth of work on the day the lesson is taking place does not help me as a student, my teaching assistant or the teacher. The amount of times this happened is crazy! I am not having a go at or criticising teachers, I am just highlighting issues that I encountered.

All of the above issues took place throughout my time in education so it was definitely a challenge for me. Despite all of this, I got a good set of GCSE’s, most of which ranging from A-C.

Many disabled people face bullying in mainstream education which really does make me angry. I was no exception to this. It could have been so much worse than it was but I think these issues really do need highlighting. When this happened I probably didn’t stand up for myself as much as I should have, and I think that was more a confidence issue but I did not let it bother me. I was worth than those that didn’t understand my disability and I stand by that, even today.

 

As I continued on to sixth form at the same school there were still the teacher issues, especially not getting resources to my teaching assistants on time. There were a couple of teachers that went above and beyond to ensure that I was included in every activity, had work prepared in time for me and that I felt comfortable when taking part in group work. I fully believe that they helped me get the A-levels that I did achieve. Although I put the work in, they helped me build my confidence dramatically and actually believed in me as a person.

One other thing that I personally believe that are taken for granted are teaching assistants. I was god damn lucky with the teaching assistants that I did have, they believed in me and one of them was more like my friend. She would fight for my work to be given on time so that she could make it accessible for me but one thing she did without realising was that she always lifted me back up whenever I was down due to my visual impairment. Even today, she still supports me in everything that I do. I know that not everyone has the same relationship with their TA’s as I did and I feel so lucky to have had their continued support. Just a note: never take your teaching assistants for granted!

 

One of the main challenges that I faced was isolation from peers. There were the usual fallouts but I especially felt isolated when I was in sixth form. Everyone was learning to drive, going out partying and I obviously wasn’t included in any of this. I remember finishing year 11 and feeling so excited to start sixth form and truthfully, it was definitely not what I expected. The A-levels that I took were sociology, English language and music. At the end of year 12 (the first year of sixth form) I ended up dropping music because I felt that it wasn’t fully accessible for me and it was not what I thought. I tried other subjects such as RE but had no luck with that either. I ended up doing an extended project which is a bit like a university dissertation, I was able to write about a topic of my choice which did help me prepare for the university style of writing. I ended up leaving sixth form with 2 full A-levels in sociology and English language and 2 AS levels. But I didn’t let that phase me because I still got into my first choice university!

As I previously said, I felt rather isolated throughout sixth form. I had a couple of friends but that was it. I felt like the rest of my year thought “we’re too cool to be friends with the blind girl”. This probably did affect my confidence more than I realised at the time and that has become more apparent to me now. I remember counting down the days until I left that school and dreaded getting up each morning for sixth form. I have honestly never been so down and low before. But I got back up, moved on when I went to university. I believe that sixth form was just the bridge that I had to cross before my life got better when I started university. At one point I thought that I was going to fail my final exams and I even started thinking that if that was going to happen I couldn’t stay in that school any longer, I’d fully prepared myself to try and get a place at a specialist school for the visually impaired.

 

There’s so much assistive technology out now that enables blind and visually impaired people to become much more independent. When I was in school I didn’t have the most amazing technology as I’ve seen others have but the technology that I did have enabled me to be independent and complete work on my own. As I have previously mentioned I completed work on a laptop or a brailler. I didn’t use an iPad, braille display or braille notetaker in school, not like many blind and visually impaired people do now. I relied on Jaws screen-reader and masses of braille paper in folders. I think this had it’s advantages and disadvantages as using braille gave me the opportunity to extend my knowledge, I learnt braille in three languages: English, French and german and also learnt braille music as well. However, it did mean that when it came to revision the amount of folders I had was rather overwhelming. I could have benefited from something like a braille display as I have one now and find it very useful.

 

However, it wasn’t all doom and gloom, my mainstream school experience did have it’s positive aspects as well, there were many of those in fact. One of which I have previously mentioned, my teaching assistants who definitely helped me get through mainstream school. Another advantage of mainstream schools that I think is very important is mixing with non-disabled people. Not everyone is going to like you, you’re not going to like everyone either, people won’t accept your disability and others will so hold on to those people that do because they’re special. It fully prepares you for the outside world and being a minority in a majority of nondisabled people really does give you a backbone. It makes you stand up for yourself and speak up when things aren’t going right or something needs changing/adapting.

One other positive aspect of mainstream education is that you get to take part in the majority of activities just like everyone else. I took part experiments, school trips and all sorts of other stuff. Mainstream education made me independent in many ways., I wanted to work on my own in many lessons and nearly every lesson in sixth form I didn’t have my TA sat by my side. This may shock some people but I felt that I wanted to be independent and work on my own because no one was going to sit with me in university and in the workplace. My TA’s were absolutely fine with this as it allowed me to mix with my classmates but it also allowed me to work independently just like everyone else. Many of the teachers were fine with this arrangement, however there were a few that did panic and often wondered if I could cope on my own. For me, independence wasn’t just about learning to use a cane, yes that’s important but it was also about learning to stand on my own two feet, not relying on anyone being by my side. These for me, were the positive aspects of mainstream education and although I didn’t always love school (who does?) I will always value my time there because it definitely contributed to making me the person I am today. I’m not as bothered anymore if someone says something harsh about my disability or asks me questions, I believe that mainstream education allowed me to grow up just like every other sighted person and that’s what I’m most thankful for.

I haven’t pointed out significant events or experiences in this post because it’s rather personal, confidentiality and all that I guess but there are many good and bad ones that I have experienced.

 

So a note to any disabled person in mainstream education: you’re going to have to fight more than your peers in order to get what you want. But speak out and if something isn’t working for you then shout about it and make your voice heard. If you put the work in, there’s no reason why you can’t achieve excellent grades just like everyone else. You can go on to further/higher education, employment or whatever you want to do, mainstream education won’t stop you from doing that. You’ll have rocky patches, more than likely a lot of them but if you pull through them you’ll look back on them later in life and be proud of yourself.

Being a blind or visually impaired person in mainstream education is not uncommon so don’t think you shouldn’t be there. If you have the right support and equipment then you can go a long way!

 

I haven’t wrote this post to tell you my life story, I’ve wrote it because I know the challenges disabled people face in mainstream education so I wanted people to know that they’re not on their own, that there are people out there that have experienced the same or similar challenges and got through them.

If you would like to know any other significant aspects on my mainstream school experience or have any questions then please do ask.

 

See, I told you it was a long one! If you’ve read till the end then congratulations and thank you! I hope you enjoyed this post and it gave you an insight into my education as a disabled pupil.

 

Holly x

The Importance Of Having Blind And Visually Impaired Friends

Over the last couple of years, my circle of blind and visually impaired friends has grown significantly. I grew up not knowing that many blind and visually impaired people, probably because I was in mainstream education and the services for blind and visually impaired young people in my area were very limited. During my time at sixth form I felt rather isolated from all of my “sighted” peers, this time was definitely the lowest point that I have experienced so far. I felt very socially isolated because everyone was learning to drive, go out clubbing and I wasn’t part of any of that. Whether it was because it wasn’t “cool” to hang around with the blind girl we’ll never know but I believe that experience and feeling of isolation made me so much stronger and more prepared of what to face in the outside world. When I felt low and isolated, I could have done with blind and visually impaired friends in my life, even if it was just for reassurance that I wasn’t going through that myself and that in fact those feelings are completely normal. Now that I have blind and visually impaired friends, I am a lot happier, more comfortable with myself and my disability and I feel so much more confident. I’ve come to realise that having blind and VI people in my life really does make a difference. Having people in your life with the same disability as you is something that I believe is so important.

 

There are two ways in which how I met my blind and visually impaired friends. In 2014, I spent a week at a specialist school for blind and visually impaired people and this is where my friendship started with a few of my VI friends. Whilst I was there I enhanced my independent living skills and my mobility skills. I loved every minute of it and would definitely do it again!

For me, making friends there was one of the main highs of that experience. I never expected to stay in touch with any of them, let alone be so close but two years on and our friendship is still as strong as ever. They definitely made my time there even more enjoyable and have helped me grow as a person a lot over the last two years.

 

The other way that I have made blind and visually impaired friends is through blogging, through the power of the internet. I never expected that I would make friends through writing blog posts and commenting on others posts. My Blurred World Thinking Out Loud-Sassy Style and Yesterdays Wishes are three of my best friends and I couldn’t imagine my life without these girls.

 

There are so many reasons for why having blind and visually impaired friends is so important for me and I’m going to discuss those with you. Firstly, they know the everyday struggles, embarrassments and achievements that you face. Whether that’s completely embarrassing yourself at university, making a silly mistake in a shop or becoming more confident with a cane etc., they know and understand it all. You name it, they’ve probably been there. They’ll either laugh at your misfortune or be like “you know what, I’ve been there too, we’ve all done that and warn the t-shirt”

 

They can pass on useful tips and tricks. If I’m struggling with something to do with my disability, I always go to my girls because they more than likely know the answer.

 

They help you grow in confidence. The majority of my VI friends have had confidence and self-esteem issues just like I have and for most of us that’s often been due to our disability or people’s lack of understanding. We know how each other is struggling or what they’ve been through and we’re so proud of each other when they get passed that point even when they thought they couldn’t.

 

They’re always there to have a rant with! Whether that’s on skype/the phone, in person or via text…they get everything you’re saying and that sure does make you feel so much better!

 

They understand how important technology is. If you live in the same town or city as your VI friends then you’re lucky! But if you’re like me and don’t, technology is your only means of contact with your VI friends and this is vital.

 

They never take anything disability related to heart or too personally. Chances are, they’ve been in the exact same situation with their sighted friends as well.

 

They understand the smallest of things that annoy you and the larger things. Whether that’s just something silly like your sighted friends putting pictures on a group chat and you can’t see them or something major such as you not feeling comfortable doing something. Those things probably annoy them too!

 

They’re 100 % always, and I mean always there whenever you’re having a bad day or feeling low because of your disability. When you just want to curl up in a ball and cry but they always put you back on track and give you a firm talking to! And when it’s the other way around, they need that, you’ll always do that for them because that’s what friends do. They understand like nobody else.

 

Now you know the reasons for why I think having blind and visually impaired friends is so important, you’re probably thinking to yourself that you haven’t been to a specialist school or you aren’t a blogger, well don’t worry. There are various ways in which you can meet and connect with other blind and visually impaired people.

I’m going to tell you about an exciting project that is being launched and which I feel very honoured to be a part of!

LOOK-UK is a registered charity that supports blind and visually impaired people and their families. I am a volunteer for look and I feel so honoured to be part of such a wonderful organisation.

This summer LOOK is launching Skype chat groups aimed at young people with a vision impairment. These skype groups will be run by a facilitator and will give the young people the opportunity to discuss many aspects of sight loss such as technology, mobility, education, employment and so much more. The mentoring project provides help and support for children and young people living with a visual impairment. The facilitators have been in the same position as the young people so will not judge or dictate what the members of the group are saying. The facilitator can also pass on their tips or comments on any topics that are being discussed, supporting the young people even further. The mentor will be older than the members of the group but will still be young enough for the young people to relate to and possibly look up to.

Personally, I think this is a great opportunity for blind and visually impaired young people to connect with others just like themselves. Not only will it be fun, it will also be safe and secure. I will be a facilitator myself and I am so excited and feel so humbled that I can hopefully help other blind and visually impaired young people through this mentoring project.

If you think this is something you would be interested in then here is the advert:

Are you aged between 11 and 29?

Do you want to join one of our LOOK Skype groups and meet other visually impaired people your age?

Or, if you’re over 18, why not become one of our Skype group leaders. Now’s your chance. You’ll get lots of training and guidance all which will look great on your CV. And it will be fun.

You could join one of the following groups:

11 years old to 14. 14 years old to 16 16 years old to 18 and 18 years and over or further and higher education students

This is part of our new mentoring project which will be launched later this summer.

Please get in touch if you are interested. Please contact: information@look-uk.org

 

Or if you would like any more information before you contact LOOK then please feel free to contact me. I really do hope this is something my blind and visually impaired readers get involved in, I would have loved this when I was younger! The opportunity of being a facilitator gives young people the opportunity to enhance their teamwork and communication skills.

 

I would also like to tell you that LOOK will be launching a mentoring project later this summer which will give the chance for a mentor and mentee to connect and for young people to have more help and support from someone that’s been there and knows what it is like to be a blind or visually impaired person in a sighted world. This mentoring project will be one-to-one communication whereas the Skype mentoring is in groups. They will also be holding events throughout the year for different mentoring opportunities. Watch this space for more information on this!

Check LOOK’s Facebook page for more updates. They will also be launching a new website very soon! You can find their website here One of the main aims of LOOK is to improve young people’s confidence and skills through mentoring. Personally, I think a mentoring project like this would have definitely helped boost my confidence, self-esteem and given me the opportunity to enhance my skills when I was younger.

 

As you know, my blog is all about helping other blind and partially sighted people and I feel that this could really be beneficial to young people. I have discussed with you the importance of having visually impaired friends and I think that LOOK’s mentoring projects could really make a difference to young people’s lives.

Please share with anyone you think might be interested and spread the word about this fantastic charity and the work they’re doing!

 

Holly x