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.