When Colleges Get Support Right

When Aleksandr Tamasauskas started at Walthamstow College staff had little understanding of vision impairment. But once the right support was in place, his experience was hugely positive.  He shares his story.

Aleksandr moved to England from Finland and is now studying Marketing at the University of Middlesex.

To get to university Aleksandr studied an Access adult course in business at Walthamstow College. He graduated from this with full distinctions. But getting there wasn’t all plain sailing.

Due to a retinal detachment, which causes blurred vision, Aleksandr is unable to see distance or closeup.

He explained that the support he received at college was excellent but getting that support in place initially wasn’t so easy.

He explained: “When I first started at college there was a lack of understanding from staff. They said that they couldn’t support me because I did not have an Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP).”

Persistence by Aleksandr with the learning support team paid off. They sourced funding to pay for an assistant for his classes, they took notes for him and put together a support plan. The support worker also helped inform teaching staff of his needs, what adjustments needed to be in place and the best way to communicate with Aleksandr.

He said: “I had an assistant in class with me all the time. All my lecture slides were sent in advance.  Any paper materials were sent in a digital format and I had help with the proofreading.

“For my exams I had an assistant who read out the questions and then wrote down my answers. They gave me extra time and could sit my exams in a separate room.”

A picture showing Aleksandr studying in front of his laptop, sat on a desk in his bedroom.He explains that back in Finland he was exempt from sitting exams, even though he attended all his classes. He is delighted he can now fully participate in all aspects of his studies because of the support he got at college.

Citizen’s Advice Bureau recommended the college to Aleksandr to gain the skills he needed and get the right support. And this proved to be the case!

The college funded mobility sessions to teach him how to use a long cane and other mobility skills. This meant he could confidently navigate the college campus. And the support continued into the second year when he got an EHCP in place.

He said: “The EHCP covered my new laptop and Supernova Dolphin software with screen reader. They taught me how to use the software and helped me set up the new laptop.

“The Head of Business Department always tried to get all lessons on the same floor, so I didn’t have to move around the stairs too much.

“I even received support and help from security staff and café workers!”

The college used Moodle, a virtual learning platform, for students to submit assignments and access course content. Aleksandr found this to be inaccessible as a screen reader user.  He was unable to submit or access course materials on this.

Teaching staff listened and sent materials via Teams. He then submitted his assignments by email so he did not have to use the platform.

The pandemic threw up a few challenges and there were times when a support worker wasn’t available. Since his EHCP stated that he always needed a support worker with him, it meant he sometimes couldn’t attend.

He said: “This had an impact on my learning, but lecturers sent all slides for the day and explained what was done. They understood the situation.”

The dedication, knowledge, and resources of the Additional Learning Support staff enabled Aleksandr to get technology training to further develop his skills and prepare him for the next steps of his academic journey.

The college also supported Aleksandr’s transition into higher education. “My assistant at the college spoke to the disability support contact at the university. They helped arrange similar support that I received at college, essentially helping me progress into university.

“Mobility sessions helped me to be more independent and commute to the university on my own and the assistant also helped me get in touch with some sight loss charities.”

Aleksandr’s shared his perception that the entire college had a compassionate and understanding approach to his visual impairment. It ensured his experience of education remained a positive one and allowed him to thrive not just in his education but through developing his social and independent skills.

 

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