Category: The Royal National College for the Blind

‘FACED BUG’ Some Results Day Rationale

This post is just a quick reminder that results are not the be all and end all of everything. Your life is not measured in single letters. Your friends will stop talking results surprisingly soon and start worrying about the next thing instead. The whole point of a goal is that it isn’t easy. YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO A LEVELS IN TWO YEARS. It didn’t work this time- slow it down, try again. You will get there if you have your heart set on it.

‘Faced bug’. ‘FACED BUG’ is the only useful phrase I can make out of the all powerful grades: A, B, C, D, E, F, G, U. So many have been given compartmentalised tentacles of FACED BUG as they opened the envelope on results day. But my friends, you have in fact FACED BUG. The bug being two years of bloody hard work, with a ton of stress and all when you are trying to bash in some fun and celebrate being 18. I ask you to look at the bug in question- mine has the face of Michael Gove- and ask “Have I beaten you yet?!”. If the answer is yes, picture yourself stamping on said bug. If the answer is no then get on UCAS of phone college and find a strategy for getting around it. FACED THE BUG. With PESTICIDE.

On a slightly more sane (ha!) note:

August the 13th marked a year since I was bundled off in an ambulance in Southampton; a year since my hospital journey began. I had no results to open but I worked hard at getting healthy and I am finally breaking out of *Cheery Lodge. I’m finally housed. Finally escaping. That’s enough for me! I’ll keep you updated.


A slightly strange but very happy photo of me.


An Empty Room With An Open Door – One Year at College

That’s it, my college room is empty and everything is packed up. I have officially left behind room A9 and all of its memories. This year has been the only academic year I feel I can look back on and smile. Why… I’ll tell you.

My college isn’t the biggest. We are a whole community made up of a minority- people with a visual impairment. It is a bizarre scenario where the minority becomes the majority, and it’s fantastic when even minorities within the minority are accepted with open arms. College is a plethora of different mother-tongues, religions, lifestyles and diversity. People are accepting, because we all know how it feels to be the odd one out.

Everyone is allowed to make mistakes. No one is mollycoddled or discouraged, quite the opposite in fact. You can burn your budget supermarket beans as many times as you like, as long as you don’t set the place on fire in the process there will always be someone to laugh with you about it. You mess up sometimes, and living in college is all about learning how to sort it out for yourself and avoid doing it again next time.

You can be naughty. This will never go in any college prospectus, but it’s true. Many of the students in college have been under the watchful eyes of teaching assistants for the vast majority of their school lives. The pressure this puts a student under is immense: your TA will always know when you didn’t answer question 8h of your algebra homework or misspelt ‘separate’ on page 6 of your essay. I remember the first time at college that I decided I wasn’t going to go to dinner, this is as naughty as I get I’m afraid. No one had previously said that dinner was compulsory but it was a convention I could break. Newly equipped with my new found skills in using the microwave (later advancing to hob, oven and grill techniques) I literally ate freedom for dinner.

People are a big thing. This year I’ve learnt something very valuable. I’ve learnt to let people in and to let them help me. Guess what? It is OK to need help sometimes! In college I feel safe and have established good relationships with staff and students. I feel I can go to them if something is wrong or when everything is falling to bits. I’m always being listened to. The friends who know how little sleep I am getting, so stay awake all night instead of moving me from their bed where I’ve dropped off to my own. The staff who come and sit in offices which smell like antibacterial gel with me and help me make thoughts into words. The ones who hug and the ones who have hope.

My college seems very good at taking in the people who have had it tough. There are a lot of people who have experienced things, discrimination and bullying, which no one should ever have to go through. But somehow everyone gets patched back together or at least get a few steri-strips. Watching people who had no mobility skills at the start of term fly around campus makes me buzz. Seeing people laughing and joking who at first sat silently makes me happy. Change is constantly in the air.

And me? I’ll be back in September, and I can’t wait. College is the first place I’ve been accepted as just being me and where I learnt a bit about how people work, myself included. It’s where I finally got the medical treatment I so desperately needed and where I learnt that I love to learn. Sure, AS didn’t go too well, but I have learnt a lot outside of academia which will support me next year as I focus even more on my studies. I remember my droopy self a week into the new term panicking and being comforted by residential support officer, R. He said “All people come here with baggage. It’s just a case of what’s in the bags and how best you can put them down”. Wise words, and if all I’ve done this year is learn to lower the bags then I am very happy. They are not dropped yet, far from it, but they are now more of a wheelie trolley than a 1000L backpack strapped to me. This way I can walk much further.

Thank you everyone who has been there for me this year.


Partying and The Like

Whether it is a ‘leavers ball’ or ‘prom’ parties are the talk of every school when it comes to summer. My college is no different! Everyone dressing up, dancing and drinking- is there a better way to spend one of the last nights of term?!

I dressed up with everyone else and found myself, possibly for the first time in my life, feeling comfortable in a party scenario. My girlfriend Z made the trip down to come with me and everyone looked lovely. The prom was in the Arts College across the road which (ironically) is being leased to them by my college. So we reclaimed the territory for the night.

There was lots of cheesy music and I danced with people I love, new and old. Seeing lecturers all dressed up and slightly tipsy was hilarious and I danced until I had to abandon my heels… Then carried on dancing.

The night ended with myself and Z driving good friend, M, home in her electric wheelchair as she seemed to have suddenly become intoxicated at the wheel. The event really showed the togetherness of our college and how tight-knit our community really is. All the leavers will be sorely missed. I’m sure they will all do well in their blindingly bright futures… (Ha!)


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Not a Nerd, A Linguist

I love languages. I haven’t always. My language learning was somewhat limited in secondary school as PowerPoints made me peeved and speaking exercises were sickening to me. I have always felt that there is something so incredibly embarrassing and frustrating about trying to speak a foreign language. It is almost like you are a toddler again, crying with frustration about how you can’t tell people what you really think with the limited words at your disposal. It’s yet more embarrassing because it is easy to feel when talking to a conversation partner in a foreign language that you are incredibly boring. Where in English you would usually launch into an elaborate story about how the coffee machine scalded your hand and how the dog was sick in your slippers this morning, when asked how your day is, in a different language you resort to saying ‘It’s ok’.

However when you do eventually get past the point of being horrendously embarrassed with every decibel, you can start to enjoy yourself. You start to learn phrases which you like and which are fun to throw into conversation (my particular favourite is ‘it’s a storm in a teacup’) and then you feel pretty smart. Yes I said it. You feel smart. Why is there a big taboo over acknowledging when you have learnt or done something which represents a high level of intellectual skill? Everyone likes to feel smart, and that is one thing that you do feel with languages.

Taking you back a few weeks to my trip to the Touchdown Dance event in Birmingham; we were waiting at the tram station when a Japanese couple approached a friend of mine. Between them the couple had determined how to ask how to get into ‘Centre town’. My friend explained to them that they needed to get the tram from the other platform. The couple did not understand this, and I found myself trying to explain it to them. My friends tried to keep their laughs internal as I told the couple in a thick Japanese accent exactly what my friend had said, occasionally throwing in one of the only relevant words I know in Japanese ‘Ryoko – Travel’. The couple got it though, the accent and that one word of their mother tongue had earnt understanding, and the laughs of my friends turned to surprise. It was a pretty good feeling.

I have the confidence of a spoon. I don’t like compliments and have to work hard at not getting angry at those who try to give me them. In fact until the trip to France in march this year I wouldn’t even admit that I would like to do a degree within languages because I was so adamant I was rubbish at it. In my classes I don’t feel that confident, because my colleague and lecturer obviously know a lot more than me, I’m learning though. But just occasionally, completely out of the blue, my knowledge takes me by surprise and makes me smile. So now I have just decided that smiling is as good a reason as any to take a degree in a subject.

This week I have done work experience in the languages department of my college and I have really enjoyed it. Particularly today when I delivered a lesson to an NVQ class.

So… If nearly two-thirds of 300 UK firms have said that they prefer staff with language skills. Why aren’t more people learning them? French, German and Spanish were highly commended by the companies but Arabic and Mandarin are vastly growing in importance. Research shows that one in five schools in England have a persistently low up-take of languages, which in this job deprived environment is ridiculous. However, with most schools in England offering mainly European languages like French, German and Spanish the chances of even the most enthusiastic young people picking up highly sought after languages like Arabic and Mandarin are slim. Make it available in schools and make it exciting. Communication is never a bad thing.

At the news that in college we may get the opportunity of conversational Arabic next year with a volunteer I was very excited. Then I somehow felt the need to make a self deprecating phrase about how I am such a nerd that I embarrass myself sometimes. To which my teacher replied: “You’re not a nerd, you’re a linguist.”, and I guess I am quite proud of that.


Prompted by:

Hear us Roar – Right Not a Fight

If you have been following my musings for quite some time you may remember that I had the pleasure of attending the Natspec Student Conference way back in December.

Since then Natspec’s campaign to give choice to young disabled people in education has grown into a rather stunning campaign called ‘Right Not a Fight’.

The title (of course) is referring to the battle which many young people have to go through before they can gain funding to get into specialist colleges. I loved the december conference and I was honoured to be a part of the group which coined the phrase ‘Right not a fight’. On tuesday I headed out with a group of students from my college to the capital to take part in a protest with Natspec outside parliament.

The day started bright and early and myself and friend T found ourselves to be the only two students to travel the four hour journey in the car rather than the minibus with the others. The minibus goers bided us farewell and began the journey, while staff member and driver K was still contemplating where on earth we were going to put the umpteen lunch bags we had been left to transport. Encased in egg sandwiches with a distinct absence of cool bags on one of the hottest days of the year, we were off.

Within college, marketing is somewhat a mystical department. We see very little of the staff there apart from when they appear at college events to snap a few photos. With only a vague idea of where they actually worked on the campus it was really nice to get to know K and L. We had some crackers of conversations on the long drive down including; comedy nose breaking, mockery of Nick Clegg’s tweet announcing his love for apple crumble and a lot of staff/student myth busting.

It’s relatively rare that staff find themselves trapped in a vauxhall with a dog, two students and many heat festering sandwiches so K and L appeared to use it as a student/staff ice breaking exercise. As the hours ticked by myself and T kept a close eye on a very suspicious looking cheese and pickle sandwich that in the heat appeared to be haemorrhaging chutney- it was our version of a barometer throughout the day.

On arriving in London and being presented with our ‘Right not a Fight’ t-shirts we went in search of a cafe and a toilet. To get accessible facilities we ended up going through airport-like security to use the ones in the House of Commons. We felt very privileged, and in the Foyer I met a group of small children who asked me if Noodle the Guide Dog was an MP. “Yes she is” – I replied with a smile. Apologies to the parents who likely later had to explain to their child that dogs, bow-tie wearing or not, cannot be members of parliament.

We were meeting on Old Palace Yard, Westminster and though we were strictly prohibited from using ‘Noise Producing Objects’ myself and T decided to take the risk and bring out our ukulele and Guitar. If I was to be asked previously what I thought the first time I performed in public would be like, I would have never have guessed it would be singing ‘Roar’ along to my ukulele in front of the House of Commons. Several MPs popped over the road to see us, and now that the noise rule had been well and truly demolished the group began to chant too. Other colleges who are members of Natspec were there also and it was lovely to catch up with people from the December conference and meet new friends too. My personal highlight of the day had to be meeting a charming young man called L who I communicated with through Makaton. I have been learning makaton since september, but this was the first time I had used it in real life. He was lovely and even told me about his pet cat.

Many photos, videos, chants and renditions of ‘Roar’ later we were back on the road. It did feel like we had been travelling for an awfully long time for just an hour and a half protest, but it was completely worth it. On the way back myself and T reflected on what our college has done for us, and how close the campaign is to our hearts. L and K joked that they should have had a dictaphone running to take quotes from us. Overall it was a fantastic day and I of course will be supporting Natpsec 100% as this campaign flourishes.

Myself and T playing our instruments and singing  The campaign group of all the students from different colleges and the staff

NATSPEC Student Conference

On tuesday I had the pleasure of being part of the group representing my college at the NATSPEC student conference. NATSPEC is the Association of National Specialist Colleges and it works to connect and support all the specialist colleges in the country. The conference was set up to give the students of the colleges a chance to give their opinions on the specialist education system and to meet each other.

Unfortunately getting into a specialist college isn’t as easy as enrolling in a mainstream school. Funding needs to be granted from the local authority for a student to be educated elsewhere, and a case needs to be made for why the funding is necessary. The funding application process is long and stressful, and a lot of hard work needs to go into it. This is something that every student at the conference had to face to get to their specialist college, and why NATSPEC are working to change the system for the better to give more young people the opportunity to benefit from specialist education. The new Children and Families Act is due to change the specialist education system again, and it is important that the views of the people it will effect are shown now.

The conference was held at the very impressive  National Star College near Cheltenham. The day started with introductions and we were put into groups with a few representatives of each college per table. On our table we were sharing with some lovely staff and students from Derwen College who we quickly got chatting with. The activities involved writing down our answers to some set questions on large pieces of paper. They covered a range of topics- from what we would recommend about specialist colleges, to what NATSPEC should do to improve the current system. With each question came very valuable discussions and ideas began to fly. Everyone on the tables, both staff and students, were passionate about the fact that specialist education is vital and needs to be protected and made available for more young people. As funding gets more and more difficult to obtain for prospective students the more these colleges struggle to stay open. I had never really thought about the effects of the funding system on the colleges themselves, and it was a real eye opener to hear about it. All over the room I could hear words like ‘Life changing’ and ‘Independence’ being used and so many more positive words being scribbled in big letters on each group’s sugar paper. It breaks my heart that every year so many young people get denied these opportunities because of the harsh funding process.

When asked what I would say to someone thinking about going to a specialist college I replied: “You can stop worrying about your disability and start learning and living.” and I mean it with all my heart.

It was an amazing day and NATSPEC is now in the process of planning it’s new campaign using the ideas students gave. You can read more about NATSPEC here, and see my thoughts on my personal move to specialist education here. I’ve seen the way specialist education can change lives, and I think it is something that we should definitely be fighting for.

Moving Forwards

As I write this I am at my desk in a room that I didn’t know I would be living in less than two months ago. There is a suitcase on the floor with stuff spilling out as I attempt to pack. My ever faithful guide dog is asleep in her bed, choosing to ignore the chaos. I have been at my new college for seven weeks now and it is nearly half term, and time to go home.

If I think about all the things that I have done in the last seven weeks it feels like I have been here for a lifetime. I’ve grown so much in independence, resilience and responsibility. I’ve done so many weird and wonderful things and formed closer friendships than I could have ever hoped. If I think about the the amount of time that has passed between nervously getting out of the taxi with my Mum and Dad on the first day to right now, it feels almost non-existent.

Moving to a specialist college was hard at times because in some ways it felt like I was giving up on myself and on ‘the system’. I want to live as a person and not as an impairment, and I was afraid that the move to specialist education would contradict this aim. But I am proud that I have made the decision, because now I can learn and I can have just a normal college experience. Normal meaning not having to justify myself, or fight for my access to the curriculum. My college isn’t so different from any other- there are a wide range of pupils with different personalities and abilities, we do lectures in the day and have fun with friends at lunch and in the evenings. At my old school I was constantly having to justify why I needed help, why I was doing things in a certain way and why it mattered that I couldn’t read things. It was exhausting. Now I barely have to talk about my sight because it is just a matter of fact that everyone has their own requirements for learning. On letters from school it used to state that things should be in my ‘preferred’ reading format, as if it would be nice if I could have it but it wasn’t pressing if I didn’t. Now my lecturers know what I need and it is waiting for me on the desk when I come into the classroom. I don’t worry anymore, because the focus at college is certainly on the person rather than the impairment.

On top of normal subjects most people here do additional lessons. Transitional support helps us to plan what we are going to do when we leave here and independent living skills teaches us everything from ironing to cooking. It’s not all about learning to get grades, it’s about learning for life itself.

I’m home for the holidays now, and although it is good to be in my own bed and away from work for a while I can’t help but think about college. This time last year I was struggling; ill, stressed and there was a question mark over whether I would actually complete my secondary education. Moving on, the changes are huge and overwhelming, but so very positive. I am so grateful to my parents for putting massive resources of time and energy into helping me get the funding to go to college, and to the college itself of course.

Obviously I know that we live in a ‘mainstream’ world and that I am not always going to be able to have the same ease of access as I do at college. However after my experience of studying for GCSE’s with very poor access to the curriculum there was no way that I could repeat the process for my A Levels. Whilst at college I am learning what technology can help me from other people, rather than doing my own research and being unsure of what I actually need. There are many people in the VI community who see going into specialist education as isolating yourself from the ‘seeing’ world. I don’t see it like that at all! In my opinion going into the specialist system is helping me repair almost. I am learning that it is possible for me to learn properly and achieve given the right resources, and I am also learning what those resources are. When I do end my time at college, and hopefully move on to university, I will know what I need and how to produce it. I will have had the time to try different things- technologies, printed formats and techniques to know what I like and what works best for me. Going to college has taken away the day-to-day emphasis on my sight, and it is truly allowing me to see myself, and develop, as an individual. This is something that I needed to do very badly, and I am so grateful I have been able to. It is definitely onwards and upwards from here.

I'm in repair

Off His Trolley?

Some of you reading this will know that I set off to a residential college on friday. From friday onwards I will be living at college during term time. It is all very exciting, and there is a room downstairs currently dedicated to the boxes, bags and cases that will be used for the big move. My family is just as excited as I am but my Dad, being a chronic worrier, tends to go overkill at times like this. My packing currently consists of three (fairly light) plastic boxes, one large case with wheels and a few assorted bits and bobs. This is why I feel that what happened next was a little over the top.

Dad ordered a large industrial haulage trolley from the internet a few days ago because it will ‘help with carrying things’. Like any teenager I began to squirm. I don’t mind being different however being the girl with the father ferrying things around in a steel trolley worthy of british rail, wasn’t in the least bit desirable.

Yesterday was the due date for the trolley’s arrival. We waited in and surprisingly promptly there was a knock on the door and a large parcel.  The first saga to unfold (or not) was the box. It was a strange triangular shape and appeared to be welded to whatever was inside. Dad -in his enthusiastic state- then had to resort to tearing the box apart to reveal a large amount of shiny metal. The trolley was a large platform with a foldable handle- and I hated it already.

“How will you get it up the stairs?” I protested.
“There’s a lift.” Said Dad, not looking up from his new toy.
“What if someone using a wheelchair is moving in and needs to use the lift?” I retried. I got no response for this pretty weak argument.
“Can’t we just carry my stuff like the other families will be carrying theres?” I sighed. I really don’t want to stick out as odd the second I arrive at college.
“All the other parents will want one! They will be like: ‘Hey, who’s that guy with the trolley, we should get one like that.'” He responded- slipping into the half fantasy world where things like this are cool. I could tell that this would probably escalate quite quickly if I kept arguing. Looking at it despairingly once more I asked- “But where are the wheels?”

This was a good point. The bottom of the trolley seemed to be just smooth metal, with no sign of wheels what-so-ever. It looked as if it had been made as a solution for removal men in Greenland as a half sledge- half trolley. After some more rummaging we found the wheels hidden in the box. They had no instructions enclosed and as far as wheels went; these looked like they were made for the tricycles of the trolley world- rather than this huge delivery lorry.

With disappointed mutters he turned the trolley back to being the right way up. That’s when he noticed the tear. At the platform part of the trolley -where my relatively light bags would sit- there was a large gash through the middle. It looked as if it wouldn’t be able to carry my teacup, let alone a case. Sadly he packed it back into the torn box (with great difficulty) and organised for it to be sent back as faulty.

I can’t say I am sad at this loss and I am more inclined to dance with joy over the fortunate death of the trolley. As Dad doesn’t work as a porter, or a delivery man, I make the assumption that the trolley was unnecessary: though he argues it just isn’t as clear cut as that. I suppose we will only know who was right on friday…!

A humongous orange case carried by two struggling men