New College Worcester (NCW), Whittington Road, Worcester, WR5 2JX
Meet Robin, a student at NCW from 1999 to 2006, who moved on from NCW to University to study Mathematics and Statistics
Q: Describe your level of vision and the sort of challenges that brings to learning
I have no vision, and this has been the case since early childhood. While the availability of so much excellent assistive technology undoubtedly eases the process of education, there remain some outstanding challenges. I think this is particularly true of the sciences and mathematics, in which I have specialised during my undergraduate and PhD studies.
Q: What did you find useful about being at NCW in terms of educational achievement and preparation for life beyond NCW?
The academic education I was offered at NCW was excellent, and I am sure was crucial in enabling me to study mathematics/statistics at university level. Had I attended a mainstream school I feel confident that I would have still attended university, but it’s likely I would have studied a text-based subject. The teachers in the maths department were instrumental in ensuring my successful completion of Maths and Further Maths A-levels, which served me well during the early stages of my university studies. Beyond education, I was also able to compete in a variety of sports. I feel sure that this support was crucial in my selection for the London 2012 Paralympic Games as a member of the Great Britain blind football team.
Q: What have you achieved since leaving NCW?
My time since leaving NCW has largely been divided between studying and training for the England/GB blind football teams. I obtained a first class degree from the University of Exeter in 2010, and completed my PhD earlier this month. Aside from that I have played football at three European Championships, a world cup and the London 2012 Paralympics. I’m hopeful that with my PhD finished, I can find a bit more time to pursue some other interests!
Q: What have you found challenging since leaving NCW?
At undergraduate level, the main challenge was in obtaining accessible copies of lecture notes. While many lecturers produced their own notes, there were some that still relied on the blackboard. I found it was necessary to be proactive in ensuring that an accessible copy of the notes was produced, preferably prior to or, failing that, as soon after the lecture as was possible.
Pleasingly, I actually found my PhD studies easier from an accessibility point of view, as the majority of the literature is available electronically online. There are, however, too main challenges. The first is in dealing with graphical content such as diagrams which, having specialised in statistics, I found encountered frequently. There are various possible workarounds for this, such as producing tactile diagrams but, in all honesty, I was happy to simply collaborate with my sighted colleagues on most occasions as I found this to be the fastest way of working. I have recently been working with a colleague to develop software that can portray graphical content in an audio format, such as indicating the height of a graph by the pitch of a tone. We’re still working on this, and I hope our work might be of use to VI students at various levels of education. The other outstanding challenge is in obtaining copies of books in accessible formats. While PDFs are likely to suffice for text-based subjects such as English and history, they are inadequate for scientific work. I’ve found the best approach is to contact authors directly, who are more often than not happy to share their source files, sometimes subject to a copyright agreement. While the DDA might in principle guarantee an accessible copy of a book, I have found that in practice this is easier said than done, especially when working on a short time frame. Again, throughout all this, I found the best approach is to be as proactive as possible and not to expect other people to do the mundane work for me, even if technically they should.
I was pleased at university to find a good group of friends, some of which I am still in contact with. My main challenge has been one of time management, I have perhaps been guilty of spreading myself too thinly, particularly over the last few years, and sometimes there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything I’d like to do. That said, I don’t regret my decision to embark on a PhD at the same time as training on a full time basis – I hope that my hard work in recent years will pay dividends in due course.
Q: What are your hopes for the future?
At the moment I am working on a six month research post, while trying my best to maintain my position in the England blind football team. I am currently in the process of seeking employment after the completion of my current position. I would like to continue playing football, as I believe our team is good enough to win a major trophy in the next few years. I am also very much looking forward to marrying my fiancé next summer. I’d like to do some boring, `grown up’ things, such as buying a house, and to find the time to do some more travelling over the next few years before time runs away with me.