Open book with braille on pages

Being a blind student in 2016: A far cry from accessible

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.

  1. Kyle Cogan left a comment on March 31, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    When I was studying IT at TAFE the teachers didn’t have a clue how to teach a blind person. One particular task we had to do week upon week was reinstall an operating system on a computer and do you think I could remember the sequence in which it had to be done? NO. it’s a task I was having to rely on sighted assistance until I got speech on the computer and I was expected to remember it every time but could never remember. The teaching staff at the time felt I was a problem to teach and when there aren’t many blind people in a country town it makes it difficult and because there weren’t many choices as to courses I could do I was stuck and if ever a TAFE course ever comes up for me to do within my line of work I’m going to make damn sure that history doesn’t repeat itself again as if it does I’m going to making it very clear that it’s unacceptable. These issues were more so around 2011-12. There was no way I was going to go to uni simply because it would have meant I would have to travel quite a lot and at the time I was connected to a dialysis machine 3 times a week for 4 and a half hours each time so was more or less at the hospital for at least 5 hours each day and who feels like doing anything once almost the whole morning is gone and there’s not much afternoon left to do anything except go home and have a long afternoon nap? I did have a good disability liaison officer at the TAFE I attended at least better than the one I first met back in 2008. and I feel now that I was rushed into making a decision about life and my plans because I didn’t know where life was going to go at that stage as I wasn’t sure how long I would’ve had to wait for a kidney transplant which in itself fills one with uncertainty do you gi ahead with study then have to take extended absence when that call comes to say you have a kidney? I don’t think so I was very particular about doing stuff and getting it done or doing my utmost to get it done understanding that there were issues beyond my control that put me behind but I’m thankful I’ve had that transplant and am in a job now I couldn’t be happier with the final outcome.

  2. Natalya D left a comment on April 2, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    Oh I wish I was surprised. But I’m not. Great blogpost.

    Just writing my MA essay on whether disabled students’ access to Higher Education is limited or not. Damned right, cos of disablist nonsense like what you’ve experienced. There is no excuse for the kind of failings you have been subjected to.

    If you’ve got the cope, I’d be inclined to ask the uni to compensate you for distress and discrimination over this year so you can at least spend the money on something nice! The Office of the Independent Adjudicator and courts would frown on the failings you describe!

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