Being a student is many things. Being a blind student adds an extra layer onto all of them. For me, it has been laughter and friendship, discovering new places, selfie’s and food with great people. But it’s also been a pretty stressful experience, thanks to a lack of organisation on the part of my university.
All of first semester I tell people I. can’t. read. And I still get work in a format I can’t read. Because you know, it’s really hard to realise I can’t read 😛
Then finally, after having to go to the head of the faculty because talking to this lecturer isn’t working, on the second to last week of the semester I get the bulk of materials from that one module in a format that…oh my god, I can read! But it’s all a bit too late by then.
So it’s agreed I’m not taking the exam, and nobody really knows what to do about the module.
I come back in January, ready to tackle second semester. The faculty know what I need now, I feel like they really get it. The one exam I have to do is for a module taught by a lecturer that I know understands, so I feel confident.
But then I go into the exam and I get a…print paper? What? A print paper? I’m not joking.
And all hell breaks loose, because I’m sat in this exam crying all over my lecturer, not my finest moment, and how will I ever even pass this semester?
And she is angry, she sent registry the exam paper electronically, so why don’t I have it?
I take a complaint out internally, and it is determined that someone within registry forgot to include the electronic copy. The university ironically sends me their apology as an image pdf (oops), and a meeting is scheduled.
January 20th. I, my disability advisor who is amazing, and registry sit down. What are we going to do? I have a whole module to complete, plus their disaster of an exam. So they tell me that I can take the exam in May, during second semester exam period. I’m in agreement, I want to pass this module, I was ready for it and felt positive. But nobody really knows what to do about the module where I received no accessible materials until the end, because I pretty much need to be taught it.
They say they will come back to me.
…and I wait.
I wait a bit more.
I ask my advisor what’s going on and it turns out she’s chasing them too.
Then eventually at the end of march we have a meeting…and they ask me when I want to do the exam. Say what? We agreed in january I’d take it in May. I say in may…at the end of my exams, and they tell me they’ll need proof of my plane ticket to show them I can’t take it during the usual resit period.
Essentially, because they messed up I said in january that I wasn’t going to cancel my holiday, and they were ok with it. I’m fine with giving proof, but why are they only asking me now, at the end of March when I agreed in January I’d do the exam in May.
It’s also decided I will atempt to take the coursework and exam of the module I got no materials for in May as well, with the help of my tutor. I privately wonder if anyone has considered that she is quite busy, or did they just assume she would help.
But I leave the meeting, and I send them my plane ticket info…and they tell me the manager is on anual leave for another week.
So I have to wait another week before someone will even decide if I can be granted permission to take this exam in May. Why has it been left until now? How long does that process even take? Why wasn’t it done in January?
I can’t change the past, but I can change how I handle things in the future. I’ve learnt that however well-meaning the admin department is I need to push them. I need to show up in their office and refuse to leave if that’s what it takes. Otherwise things will drag on for months when they need not.
I don’t think they are doing this intentionally, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that students can easily get left behind in the system. I consider myself to be quite vocal, and I’m extremely fortunate that I have a support system to help me. But what if I wasn’t. What if I was scared and alone, what if I didn’t know how to handle this kind of thing. I’m currently guessing my way through, but if I was someone else I might not be so lucky.
It still might not turn out ok for me. I might find out that it takes weeks to grant this permission, and I miss it. I don’t know what will happen then. I’m hoping that I won’t end up in that situation, but I wish I wasn’t in a position to fear it in the first place.
It’s sad that this is the norm, that my experiences aren’t even very shocking. I hurt for all the other disabled students who feel like they have to leave because they can’t fight anymore. Something is broken within our education system, if you don’t fit the idea of the norm you can easily fall through the cracks. I don’t know what I can do to stop this happening, but something needs to change.