Reforms Must Involve Students at the Heart of the Conversation

In March 2022 we attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG).

“Attending the APPG discussion on support for visually impaired students in education, was such an incredible experience”, writes Ramneek Kaur AhluwaliaShe shared her experiences and recommendations at the APPG and provides an overview of the meeting and what she thinks need to change.

The meeting was scheduled a day after the Green paper for SEND support was released, by the Government. Whilst the event highlighted some of the key points from the Green paper, the meeting emphasised the need in putting lived experiences at the heart of the conversation – something that the Green paper did not and could not address.

As a visually impaired student, I have first-hand experience of the challenges VI students face to receive the bare minimum of support for their vision impairment. From primary to secondary school, to the sixth form and even to this day at university, I am still facing the same barriers to achieving my best and thriving in this education system.

I have realised that my efforts have never been enough to make an educational institution realise they have an obligation to support all students with vision impairment. This was the main reason I attended the event – to make my voice heard and ensure the next young person does not experience the same challenges I have faced and am still facing to this day.

Being invited to speak alongside Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT), as one of its Student Voice volunteers, was an absolute honour. At the event some of the top UK charities supporting visually impaired and blind people attended, including TPT, RNIB and Guide Dogs.

Marsha De Cordova MP hosted the event and was ready to hear all our thoughts and start highlighting them to the Education Minister and to her colleagues in government.

The event was a time for me to not only reflect on how far I have come, but to also put recommendations forward for reforms that would help all students thrive in their education, regardless of their disability. These include:

  • To improve the experience of VI students in primary education or higher education. There needs to be guidelines in place for the institution to follow to ensure it is putting the correct support in place for students. There needs to be accountability by the institution that it is doing this in the best interest of the student and their needs.
  • There needs to be clear communication, between the student, any external support services, such as specialists, and the institutions internal support systems, to ensure that there is consistency across the board. Whilst everything is written on paper and handed to teachers, many are not aware what the specific diagnosis means for the student and how to best support them. It would be beneficial to connect with experts to explain this in detail alongside the student to ensure that specialist support is put in place.
  • Lastly, having had to find solutions to inaccessibility issues throughout my education I have come to realise that having Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) introduced much earlier on in my education would have significantly reduced the extra burden of financially supporting myself to acquire equipment and software to aid my learning.MP Marsha de Cordova, Ramneek and Rainbow during the online event

Sharing my experience and hearing other lived experiences made this event that much more special and meaningful. I left the event feeling not only proud that I could contribute towards positive changes that will help visually impaired students, but also a sense of validation, that I am not alone in the struggles I have faced.

I hope that this discussion continues with more students at the heart of the conversation and any reforms in the favour of students and their needs. I also hope that more support and emphasis is made on support provided for those in higher education – something that was not addressed in the Green paper.

I finished my speech with one final plea, which I think sums up my experience as a visually impaired student in the UK education system and highlights where students with VI stand today.

‘I would like to finish off by saying, it has taken me a lot of resilience, determination and perseverance to reach where I am today. However, there have been days where I have considered saying enough is enough and I know that many young people have lost faith in the education system to adequately support them.

‘So, I urge you all to please act now and give disabled students a fair opportunity to thrive in education and achieve their upmost best with no barriers in their way.’

by Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia

Pictured in the banner image (left to right): Ramneek Ahluwalia (Student Voices member), Rainbow Burgatti (Young Voices member),  Marsha de Cordova MP, Mrs and Dr Standish (members of the discussion panel)

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