Case Study – Education Studies and Visual Difficulties

Case Study A describes an Education Studies student with visual difficulties. He describes the support he received. Case Study B describes the experiences of two vision-impaired lecturers on a PGCE programme, in particular their difficulties obtaining course materials.


Case Study A is taken from the St Mary’s University College Belfast website: accessed and extracted June 2008)

In 2006 Declan (18) secured a place on the BEd (Hons) Secondary Education degree in Religious Studies at St. Mary’s University College Belfast.
Declan attended St. Paul’s High School in Bessbrook where he completed ‘A’ levels in Religious Studies, English and History. Declan worked hard and achieved A grades in all three subjects!

What makes Declan’s achievements more outstanding is that he experiences a hereditary sight condition and is registered blind. He has recessively inherited optic atrophy with visual acuity of 6/60 in each eye. He can read text minimum font size 14. At school he received extra time for essays as it took longer to read, write and complete tasks.

Declan describes his disability as a motivating factor in his current studies. He is determined to succeed in everything he does and this is reflected in his focus and commitment to his studies and to his hectic social life at St. Mary’s university!

Declan had always been interested in a teaching career although he had considered both bricklaying and journalism. He opted for the BEd (Hons) Secondary Education in Religious Studies [ with history as his subsidiary subject ] as he enjoyed studying both subjects at school and felt they would give him flexibility in his chosen career.

He arranged a pre entry visit to St. Mary’s so that he could familiarise himself with the environment. Declan says

“I remember hearing all about St. Mary’s close knit community, I believed it was a marketing gimmick however when I started studying at the College I knew exactly what it meant to be part of that community, socially it’s great!”

Surprisingly Declan did not apply for Disabled Student Allowances (DSA) until November 2006. Upon reflection he would encourage students with additional support needs to disclose their disability at the outset and to apply for support earlier (August/September) as the DSA assessment and application process can be time consuming.

Declan only sought support when his workload started to pile up. He approached the Student Affairs Staff at St. Mary’s, presented medical evidence from his G.P. and applied for Disabled Students Allowances.

He received the support he needed; this included a laptop, software training using Dragon Dictate voice recognition software, printer and dictaphone. He was provided with extended library loans, flexible assignment deadlines, reading lists and lecture notes (in large font) in advance of lectures. In addition he was allocated extra time, rest breaks and the use of a computer or a scribe (if preferred) during exams. Declan was reassured to know he could avail of this support.

Declan says “St. Mary’s is a great place to be and this is where I chose to be. For a long time I wanted to be a bricklayer and then changed my mind, I don’t know why! The point is, everyone is different and the decision is yours. I think if you have the potential to succeed in Higher Education, you can at least try it rather than regret your choice later in life


Case Study B is taken from "Making Reasonable Adjustments with Disabled Students in Higher Education Staff Development Materials: Case Studies and Exercises ",
Margaret Herrington (ed) with Dawn Simpson, June 2002: (information accessed and extracted July 2008)

Presenting situation

This article considers our experiences as ‘participants’ during a PGCE programme. One of us has no sight, whilst the other has some useful vision but has considerable difficulty in reading printed matter. These experiences occurred six and three years ago respectively. Accordingly, we acknowledge that services to PGCE students with a vision-impairment may have improved during the past two years or so.

In essence, the main difficulty we experienced related to the inaccessibility of course materials. For all participants, course materials were usually provided on the day of the relevant taught classes. In most cases, this approach did not prove to be problematic. For us, however, this was to create a range of considerable difficulties, despite our attempts to inform and negotiate with the programme presenters before the start of the programme.

Course response

Initially, as agreed, some materials were provided on floppy-disc at our request. As the course progressed, the amount of materials supplied diminished until no accessible materials were supplied by the later stages of the programme. Furthermore, the period of time between the provision of materials and the class date also decreased from perhaps one working week at the beginning of the course, to the actual day of teaching mid-way through the programme. In addition, more difficulties were encountered due to the excessive use of OHP materials in class. Whilst the use of such materials is not problematic in itself, the inability of presenters to describe and explain their content was problematic.

As a consequence, we were obliged to access most of the course materials through a personal reader service. Generally, due to the ‘late’ delivery of course materials the process of reading was not completed until after the teaching of the relevant subject matter in a classroom setting. As a result, our ability to engage and participate in small and large group activities was frequently impeded. Moreover, the excessive use of OHP materials consolidated this ‘disabling’ experience. By the end of the programme both of us were frustrated at the whole learning process and disillusioned about the ‘equal opportunities’ commitment of the course presenters. Furthermore, whilst we did not feel we were a burden on the programme presenters, there were times when we believed we were regarded as being burdensome. Our collective experience has also caused us to consider seriously the accessibility and suitability of other learning opportunities.

In order to gain something constructive from this process we believe that several issues need to be addressed on all teaching programmes. These include:

  • essential course materials should be provided in the preferred format of students with disabilities;
  • the use of OHP materials should be kept to a minimum, and should be duplicated in a format accessible to students with disabilities;
  • essential materials should be provided in advance of taught session, permitting sufficient time for students to assimilate the information before taught sessions;
  • non-essential materials should be dispensed with.

Finally, as a result of recent legislation we believe that educational establishments will be placed in a situation of having to provide ‘in-house’ materials in an accessible format to staff and students with disabilities. Consequently, good practice regarding the provision of course materials should include:

  • reviewing all course materials to identify and establish their importance and relevance for teaching; 
  • enhancing the quality and presentation of written and diagrammatic materials for students with vision-impairments and other difficulties relating to accessibility of text;
  • consulting with course participants before the programme begins in order to identify and meet individual needs; 
  • supplying accessible materials at least one week in advance of taught sessions; 
  • supplying a prioritised list of essential textbooks well in advance of the course to permit students the opportunity to arrange for transcription or recording; 
  • reviewing the situation with participants regularly throughout the Programme and amending provision as required.

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