How blind and partially sighted student can cope with challenges they face
A Scotland-wide group for young people with sight loss is promoting ten top tips to help cope with the demands of adapting to individual study and navigating a new environment, while perhaps being away from home for the first time.
Haggeye is the award-winning youth forum of national sight loss charity RNIB Scotland. Its members, aged 16-27, campaign on a range of issues to highlight what it's like to be young and have sight loss in today's Scotland. Those who are currently in, or have been in, further or higher education are keen to share their own experiences.
"Engaging with your university or college's disability service and student union as early as possible is essential," urges Lewis Shaw (23) from Annan who has the condition Leber congenital amaurosis, and is a recent politics graduate from Stirling University. "Make sure you do as much as you can to push for the support that you require so that you can be included the same as everyone else. One mistake I made early on was not doing this."
Letting your tutors know you may need course materials in alternative formats such as audio or braille, and being confident in getting to and around your place of learning is also vital, especially if you've moved away from home.
"I had no clue which bus to get or where to get it to go to uni," says Eilidh Morrison (21) from Aberdeen who has retinitis pigmentosa and ocular molar apraxia, and is studying physics at the university there. "So I got another student to meet me off my usual bus to the city centre, and then we both took the bus together to university. I needed to do that about three times before I was comfortable getting it on my own. I wouldn't have been able to get to uni without their support."
James Adams, director of RNIB Scotland, said: "Embarking on a university or college course is both an exciting and daunting life event for every young person. But blind and partially sighted students need that measure of additional support to get the most from their time, academically and socially, in higher or further education.
"It can be a quite different experience from the smaller school community they have been familiar with over the past five or six years, where they have more direct contact with the same teachers, and have their course work more set out for you.
"Now they will venture further afield, perhaps away from home for the first time, and will encounter a wider, more frantic student-world. With support and encouragement, though, they can share and enjoy the same life-expanding experience as their sighted peers."
Top ten tips for students with sight loss:
- Talk to your university or college's disability service as early as possible - most offer really great support. Ensure your needs are known and make sure you ask for help if you are struggling.
- Engage with your college or university's accessibility and inclusion department to discuss what kinds of technology you might require, and about receiving course work in alternative formats.
- Make contact with your student union as quickly as possible. If you require specific support, make them aware of this. Find out if there is a disability students officer and, if so, get in touch to inform them of what you need. You might also contact your union president.
- Discuss with accommodation services what kind of support you require. For example, getting to the laundry room to do washing.
- If you don’t have a National Entitlement Card, which allows you free travel in Scotland, get one (especially if you’re commuting to campus from home).
- Learn the routes to classrooms and other important places before the semester starts. Your mobility officer or disability service can help with this.
- If you have a guide dog, explore places near your college or university that you could allow your dog to be off-lead.
- Make sure you know who to raise concerns to if you think you are being unfairly treated, or don't have the support you need.
- Ask your secondary school to pass on any information relating to your visual impairment, and ensure your disability service knows about any other medical conditions you have.
- Get to know your classmates. It can take a few weeks to settle in and make friends, and not all students are party animals. So if you don't want to go out at night, you could try chatting to classmates on social media or online game nights.