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Struggling Without Support
“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.”
Ramneek Kaur Ahluwalia is now an undergraduate studying electrical engineering in London. She talks about the hurdles she had to jump to find her way through the educational system without the support she needed.
A lack of access to technology
Ramneek studied Mathematics, Further Mathematics and Physics and Seven Kings Sixth Form College.
She now knows there is a whole raft of accessible technology that would have supported her through college. But she did not know about it nor was given access to it.
It forced her to come up with her own solutions, especially when she needed to access course materials and exams. Ramneek managed through college with a basic laptop and iPad which was provided by her local authority.
She said: “Course materials and resources were given to me in paper copies, which did not meet my access arrangements. I came up with the solution of using the iPad to view textbooks and other materials.
“I had very little awareness on how everyday tech and specialist equipment could have helped my learning.
“There are so many things now that I wish were suggested to me at the time. For example, the various pieces of assistive technology and magnifiers. I was never recommended anything of this sort but rather basic things like font size of resources and sitting at the front of the classroom.
“I do not believe my exams accurately reflected my ability because from the teaching and resources leading up to and preparing you for the exam, to the exam itself, things just were not accessible.
“Every which way you look at it I simply did not have the same opportunity as my peers to do well in this education system.”
Not having an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP)
The local authority commissioned Joseph Clarke to deliver outreach services from primary school to sixth form. This involved a visit every half term to check if Ramneek was getting the support she needed.
Ramneek said: “Now I look back at it there was really no accountability as to whether these actions were actually carried out by the school. This became more and more apparent as I progressed throughout the various stages of education – especially in sixth form.”
She believes things would have been different if she had had an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP).
She said: “My parents regretted not putting an EHCP in place. They were reassured so many times by the school that this was not needed. But they now wish they’d done so. It would have provided a more rigorous and thorough process about what support would be best for me. And we would have had a leg to stand on.
“The support I received was predetermined by the lack of knowledge and awareness of the support for visually impaired students by Joseph Clarke.
Learning about assistive technology late
Ramneek now struggles to balance learning how to use specialist equipment while studying at university at the same time.
She said: “I had never used assistive technology until at university. And because I have been introduced to it so late, I am now struggling to integrate assistive technology into my workflow.
“More emphasis must be put on training blind and partially sighted students to use assistive technology, especially from a young age. So that, as they progress in their education, it doesn’t become a burden to learn.
“I also believe that whilst assistive technology is important, mainstream technology should also be introduced early on. The idea that the student should be able to explore and pick which technology is best for them and their needs, is for me, the most important consideration of all.”
Developing skills and experience outside of education
Ramneek has developed an impressive portfolio of skills and experience from her activities outside the classroom.
She said: “My escape and how I developed my experience and skills has been through outside opportunities. I’ve been involved in competitions from year seven until now. They have shown me what I want to do and enabled me to create this portfolio around me.”
Ramneek was crowned the 2022 winner of Samsung’s tech for good competition Solve for Tomorrow. She was one of more than 450 young entrepreneurs who entered and won with her MyVision invention.
MyVision is a tech-forward mobility aid that allows users to navigate their surroundings via Ai, LiDAR and GPS technology. The ground-breaking mobile device was created as an advancement of the white cane.
Advocating for other blind and partially sighted students
Ramneek attended the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) discussion on support for visually impaired students in education.
She said: “To improve the experience of visually impaired students 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.
“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.”
What should happen next
“It has taken me a lot of resilience, determination and perseverance to reach where I am today. There were days where I have considered saying enough is enough. I know many other young people lost faith in the education system to adequately support them.
“From examinations and how your ability is shown to the support you receive – there is so much to do. But we are moving in the right direction. And students need to be at the heart of it.”
Daniel faced an uphill battle during secondary school and college. Read about his challenges, tears, successes and his advice for other visually impaired young people.Find out more about '“You Shouldn’t Have to Fight This Hard Just to Get an Education”'
The Association of Colleges and TPT hosted an event to discuss accessibility for visually impaired learners in Further Education.Find out more about '“If You Get it Right for These Learners – it Will Support All Learners!”'
When Aleksandr started at Walthamstow College, staff had little understanding of vision impairment. But once the right support was in place, his experience was hugely positive.Find out more about 'When Colleges Get Support Right'
James Fitzgerald from Surrey County Council shares the role and importance of delivering specialist support in further education.Find out more about 'The Role of Specialist Support in Further Education'