Case Study – Biosciences and Visual Difficulties

Case study A: A science student seeks a way to participate in a course that requires him to draw maps. Case study B: An science student describes what opportunities he uses to meet and get to know other students. Case Study C: A human science student describes her support needs.

Case Study A is taken from the University of Washington DO-IT website

Case Study B is taken from the Royal National Society of the Blind website

Case Study C is taken from the Oxford University website

Case Study A 

My name is Imke and I am blind. As a first-year graduate student in atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, I was required to enroll in a quarter-long credit/no credit synoptic meteorology lab. Most of the lab time was spent plotting meteorological data on weather maps, and drawing contours in the process of learning about the development and structure of mid-latitude weather systems.

Access Issues

I needed to find a way to participate in the class and learn the necessary material without having to draw and contour weather maps.


I was unsure of the best way for me to participate in the class so I approached the instructor of the course, who happened to be my Ph.D. adviser, and asked if he had any suggestions. It appeared that he had already thought about this issue. He immediately proposed that instead of attending the weekly classes, I visit his office once a week at a time convenient to both of us, so that he could explain the relevant concepts to me. I also received the instructor’s class notes in an accessible format from the university’s disabled student services office. This arrangement worked well. I was able to gain an understanding of mid-latitude weather systems without participating in the map drawing activities that were central to the course.


This situation illustrates that it is not always necessary for a student who is blind to directly access the visual material of a course. In cases where it is impractical for the student to participate in a visually oriented activity, it is often possible for the student to learn the accompanying concepts in another way.

Case Study B

Mark is an Environmental Science student.

Seeking out opportunities to socialise is the best piece of advice. It sounds common sense but you can’t make friends if you aren’t in situations where there are people! I can’t use eye contact, walk up to people, or easily position myself where groups of people are in a room, so a lot of it is about waiting for people to approach me.

Although this isn’t ideal it has made me more determined to use opportunities when I do talk to people to find out about them. I have had great conversations in shopping queues, at the bus stop and when ordering meals and have even made a couple of good friends that way.

I also started up short conversations with the students who sat in front and next to me in lectures, by doing that I started being invited to things when lectures were over, and even had plenty of opportunities to turn down invites too! In the end if you can share ideas and opinions, you will make friends with people like you and they will warm to you. But don’t feel bad when you don’t hit it off with everyone you meet, not everyone is going to get on with one another – that is a fact of life and isn’t anything to do with you or having a sight problem!

Case Study C

Kate Pounds, Year Human Science, St Johns College

I am a blind student, with a very small amount of light perception. I arrived at Oxford with my new guide dog, Olga, who lives with me at St John’s. I chose to use a guide dog instead of a white stick as I find they are less alienating – at times, in fact, Olga’s universal appeal can become a liability – (people rarely stop to pat and feed white sticks!).

The College IT Officer organised the purchases and the College funded the bulk of them. During my first year I applied for disabled student’s allowance and bought more essential equipment, having visited various equipment fairs to find out what was on offer. It is important to access any and all grants that may be available to you.

My initial concerns on coming to Oxford were that people wouldn’t understand the effects of blindness. Initially, there were some misunderstandings, but this was a learning curve for both sides. One instance of this was that in my first year I was encouraged to go into accommodation specifically designed for special needs students, which had great wheelchair access, a shower big enough for a barn dance but nowhere to store the vast quantity of Braille books which I was accumulating! I also felt rather isolated there as I was away from other first year students. In my second year I shared a house with friends, which was great. I then moved back into college, and have been here for two years, in a large room with space for dog and books.

In my first year I relied on other students for reader support, and this was difficult as they had their own commitments. In my second year my tutor arranged for a part time assistant to scan and braille texts for me. This helped, but the volume of texts was so great, that I was finding I could not get material processed fast enough. In addition, I had difficulties getting reading lists far enough in advance for me to get the books into Braille. The result was that I was advised to repeat the second year, in order to catch up on reading that I had missed. Unfortunately, however, some of the courses changed, so we were back to square one!

For the most part, I organised my own support, going to my tutor if I needed additional help. For example, I organised support in the libraries and made my own arrangements with staff about taking texts out for brailling. At that time I liaised directly with college and my department.

Laboratory Work has never been a problem as we always work in pairs, and I was used to this method of working from school. The lab. technicians have always treated me just like any other student, which was really good. For lectures I use my note-taking equipment, and only receive handouts on disk from a couple of lecturers. Using E-mail is a great way to keep in touch with lecturers and tutors.


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