Preparing for student life with vision impairment

Post date: 
Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Three older students studying.

Francesca Marley is in her first year studying French and German at the University of Birmingham. She talks about the support she’s received to manage independent life on campus as a student with visual impairment.

How does support from a habilitation specialist help you at university?

Mobility training has taught me how to get to and from campus, and I’m in the process of learning how to make my way around the campus and from building to building. As I have no vision, I have a sighted guide, but that will finish at the end of my first term.

Did you have sessions before term began?

I had my first session in late August, and then five or six before term started which was perfect for me because I’d just about learned the essential routes and didn’t have time to forget. In fact I spent two days with my dad as well, literally learning the route from one way to another, on top of my formal mobility training. I’ll have 90 hours in total, funded by Disabled Students’ Allowance.

How can schools make sure young people gain the independence skills they’ll need?

Habilitation lessons for the basics are important. Make sure you can cook a meal, and you can strip and remake a bed – I’ve always struggled with this and it’s those basic things that are the most embarrassing. And learn to wash up! If you’re living with loads of people it can become a huge issue and create unnecessary problems.

But you also need to be able to ask for help, and most people are really happy to help you; it sounds odd, but knowing how to ask – and when to ask and when to try something yourself – is a skill in itself. The good thing about being on a campus is that there are always people here.

Is it important to keep explaining what you need?

Yes. In July, I had a big meeting with the key members of my department to discuss my needs. They were quite relieved that I was prepared to use a laptop with an electronic screen reader.

Make sure you discuss the way you access texts too – usually the lecturers send me mine as a document and I use the reader to read them. Keep in constant communication. It’s worth it.

What’s the most challenging aspect of getting around at university?

A busy crossing means I don’t walk in – as I’d originally planned – so I go by bus to my lectures. Without mobility training early on, I’d have had to rely on taxis.

What would you say to other young people with visual impairment who are off to university?

Don’t expect too much of yourself too soon. Even though I went to boarding school where I had mobility help, and I lived with other students with vision impairment in Germany during my gap year, university does bring its own challenges. You will be at a disadvantage, at least for a while – it is going to be a bit harder to get to grips with and you have to be prepared for that. Don’t be afraid to come home for a weekend. Sometimes you have to acknowledge your own limits: you just have to pull through.


Check out our Young People's webpages, which are packed with advice for young people about planning their move to further study or work and living away from home.

Watch our transitions videos about young people’s experience of moving on from school.

Download our transitions guide to help your learner prepare for their next move.

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