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Are Blind Students Being Supported Correctly at University?

Joanne’s Experience as a Blind Student

Female student in denim jacket holding books

I am registered blind and require additional support to carry out my studies. When I began at university, I was contacted by a disability advisor and received a needs assessment. This was to discuss all the additional support I would require during my studies. For example, I require a note taker, special computer software and additional study time as well as accessible learning materials.

This was all discussed at the needs assessment and I was advised I would receive all the support I required to carry out my studies.  I had been out of education for a long time and was nervous to begin a degree, however following my assessment it felt really positive and I was looking forward to it. I began by enrolling on the Pathways to Social Science and looked forward to beginning my degree.

However, I found very quickly that the reality of receiving support was very different to what was portrayed by my disability advisor and needs assessor. I was not informed that as well as studying I would be expected to case manage my own support. This is a mammoth task as most of the support is provided by outside companies recommended by the university. I found that the system of outsourcing caused a catalogue of problems, due to lack of communication. Some of the providers were not suitable, for example, the company the university recommended I use for assistive technology training were not able to train me sufficiently as the trainer was not familiar with the software they were supposed to train me on and had no knowledge of visual impairment.

Further problems with the taxi company, which was supposed to provide transport, arose when there was admin error and my name was spelled incorrectly. This caused a lot of confusion and meant that I was not able to attend lectures. Another time I paid for my own transport and collected receipts to be reimbursed on the advice of my disability advisor. However, I was not reimbursed as Student Finance decided the receipts were not filled in correctly which resulted in me being out of pocket. As I am visually impaired, I was not able to check what the taxi driver filled in on the receipt. The whole application and reimbursement process is inaccessible for visually impaired students.

Three years later and half way through my degree I am still case managing and fighting to secure adequate support which has had a detrimental effect on my mental health, as well as my studies. I am faced with the exact same issues, as I was at the start of my degree, despite numerous meetings with my disability advisor and staff from the university.

As a result of my experience I have seriously considered leaving my studies. However, I feel this would be a great disservice to myself and future disabled students.

I have heard from other students across the UK who have had similar experiences. Despite the Equality Act 2010, some universities continue to discriminate and make students case manage their own support when they have received funding for this.

Visualise Training and Consultancy can provide inclusive education  training. Please see here for more details. https://www.visualisetrainingandconsultancy.com/training/inclusive-education/