The following two case studies outline student experiences of undertaking courses associated with sports study with visual impairments. The information is taken from the Staffordshire University Strand 2 Project ITE-STeP (Staffordshire Inclusive Disability Education – Sport TEaching Practice) http://crwnpro2.staffs.ac.uk/sidestep/
Case Study 1 – A Student with a Visual Impairment who has Completed a Degree in Sport Study
S graduated with a degree in Sport Study. He began his studies in 1997 and in 1999 developed a brain tumour, which left him with permanent double vision. He returned to his studies in 2001 before graduating in December 2002.
He has experienced many difficulties associated with recovering from his illness, coming to terms with his double vision and returning to university after two years and meeting lots of new people on his course. S didn’t personally need any adjustments in his final year and a half of studies, after the tumour, as he had already completed a large part of the practical aspects of the course during the first 2 years. He says that if he had had his brain tumour prior to university then he would have experienced difficulties with coaching science he wouldn’t have been able to participate fully in activities such as football due to him needing to wear glasses and trying to avoid being hit in the head.
S believes that many lecturers are unaware of the individual capabilities of students and often don’t take the time to talk to the student to find out what adjustments can be made or if they are any alternative activities that can be undertaken. Many students don’t want to be singled out in front of their peers, particularly during sporting activities and team games. He believes that if lecturers took some time to talk to students more about what they are capable of then an alternative activity could be found that would be suited to all students within a teaching group. This could particularly be a problem to lecturers who have worked at an institution for a length of time and are used to teaching the same modules time and time again.
An example of a simple adjustment for a student with a visual impairment could be that instead of demonstrating a pass in football, the coach could spend some time describing the pass in such a way that the student can visualise this in their mind. They can then pass this onto their students when they are coaching themselves.
S makes the suggestion that it might be helpful to future disabled students who are making applications to have a member of the disability department who is a subject specialist for each school. That way the potential student is able to speak to somebody who can advise on the specific adjustments that are likely to be needed on the course rather than just at university in general.
Case Study 2 – A Student with a Visual Impairment who failed a HND in Sports Science
C started a HND in Sports Science but was unable to complete the course due what she describes as a lack of awareness as to her needs. She chose an institution that was close to her home rather than focusing on one that she felt could make the necessary adjustments to suit her learning requirements. She says she was unable to complete a module on sporting equipment due to the fact that she could not see the equipment and tutors were unable to explain the equipment to her in a way that enabled her to understand how it worked. She was unable to complete an IT module because she fell behind due to a ‘lack of understanding of IT’ and she also experienced difficulties obtaining copies of items on the reading lists in Braille format.
In undergoing a module on anatomy and physiology C had to draw a heart and explain her diagram. Although she understood the theory she could not complete the drawing and asked to be assessed according to her verbal explanation of the workings of the heart. She felt frustrated that her meetings prior to commencing the course had led her to believe she would be assessed in whatever method was most appropriate to her needs as long as it could be proved that she was meeting the learning requirements of each module, and yet she felt the inflexibility regarding the anatomy module contradicted this.
C also experienced difficulties during her practical coaching sessions, where she was expected to participate in sporting activities such as basket ball, volleyball and other sports in which she can’t participate. Instead of discussing with her tutor whether it might be possible for an assistant to describe the activity to her for her to comment on during the session, she was left to sit at the sidelines and didn’t attend further sessions. In the final examination she failed because she was unable to comment on the physical aspects of the sport. When she asked to participate in an alternative sport she was told that it might be a possibility depending on the opinion of the examiners. C also asked for extra time to prepare for the exam as she had more to learn having not had the experience of visualising or taking part in the sport. This was denied and in fact C had less time to prepare for the exam as she had to translate reading material into Braille format which left her with less time for the actual reading.
C was able, on one occasion, to attend an outward bound course with her peers from the institution. She felt this experience was highly valuable to her and helped people to get to know her as a person not just somebody who was blind and needed help in class. However, her confidence was lost on return to college when she continued to sit out of team games.
In terms of lectures C experienced difficulties associated with background noise. She was frustrated by the fact that it was left to the students to make sufficient notes in lectures to ensure they understand the subject at a later date. However, there was no control over how much noise people made during the lecture and she often found she was unable to understand her notes, when she played them back, as a result. For some lectures C did have access to a support worker but she describes how the personality of this person could have contributed to forming a barrier to her social integration with the rest of the students. She also says she found it difficult to manage the working relationship with the support worker. During an exercise where C had the support of one of her peers for an assignment she felt that her supporter gained a better mark in the end due to the fact that they shared ideas and then her partner was able to add graphics and explanatory diagrams to her assignment.
Case Study 3 – Source: Quality and Performance Improvement Dissemination and Department for Education and Employment. October 1999. Modern Apprenticeships and People with Disabilities http://quality.wwt.co.uk/quality/qual_map/gpsrp1.pdf
Sector: Customer Services
Region: South East
Employer: Training provider, followed by contract cleaning company. About to move to utilities company
Disability: Visual impairment
Adjustment: Provision of large monitor and software solutions, use of large type face or enlargement for key documents, use of personally owned magnifier, extended health and safety induction.
Education Prior to MA
Trudy attended a school for the visually impaired as a boarding pupil, when she was of secondary school age. During her time at the school, Trudy feels that the academic standards deteriorated. She was only entered for 4 GCSEs, although she would have liked to do more, despite finding academic study difficult.
When Trudy left school at 17, she wanted to work with children and hped to undertake an NNEB at a mainstream FE college. At school she had helped to care for younger pupils with special needs during lunch times and had a good reference from the school. The college tried to push her towards business administration courses on the grounds that she would be unable to gain employment as a nursery nurse. When Trudy insisted that she wished to pursue a career in care, the college stipulated that she would have to come and work in the nursery during the summer holidays in order to prove her ability. This made Trudy very angry and she refused to be tested, when the same would not be required of other applicants.
Instead, Trudy undertook a GNVQ (intermediate) in Health and Social Care at a mainstream sixth-form college where she was given the loan of a lap top computer and had access to a classroom assistant. The small size of her tutor group proved advantageous and her tutors were supportive, for example by enlarging written materials. Starting at a mainstream college was nerve-racking for Trudy but she feels it was an important step in relation to her career.
Uncertain about what to do next, Trudy opted to take 3 ‘A’ levels at a special college but found it hard to keep up with her studying. She was not happy at the college, fell behind with the work and decided to leave after a couple of months.
Trudy then undertook an NVQ Level 1 in Business Administration. While she found the NVQ work easy, the experience was different compared to college and school and provided her with her first experience of telephone work. Despite a ‘fear of telephones’ she soon came to find that she enjoys this type of work.
Trudy has received careers advice, both during and since leaving school. However, she does not recall being informed about the MA route and only found out about this option after gaining employment. In Trudy’s experience, careers advisers are only helpful when you know what you want to do. She feels she would have benefited from advice and guidance from a specialist adviser with knowledge of her disability, particularly in relation to the range of jobs that might be suitable for her; for example, no-one ever suggested telephone work as an option.
Finding the Vacancy
On completing her NVQ in Business Administration, Trudy attended a Job Club and an interview was arranged for a tele-sales job with a private training provider.
Selection and Induction
The Job Club informed the employer of Trudy’s visual impairment and the implications were explored during the interview. Trudy was happy to discuss the limitations imposed by her visual impairment, preferring to get the issues out in the open. Trudy used to think she would not tell anyone about her bad eyes until she had got the job, but now believes that this can make matters worse and ca be embarrassing to have to explain at a later date.
Trudy underwent the same induction process as any other employee or trainee, with the exception that additional time was allocated to Health and Safety to ensure Trudy was familiar with the environment. She reports that it took some time to find her way around the employer premises, partly because it is “a bit of a rabbit warren”, but also due to the uniform grey and blue décor. The use of contrasting colours for doors would have facilitated Trudy’s movement around the workplace in the early days.
Starting the MA
Trudy started work on a part-time basis and, after a couple of weeks in the job, her supervisor encouraged her to register as a Modern Apprentice, although to begin with she was unclear about the difference between MAs and NVQs.
As a provider of IT training, her employer already had several large computer monitors, two of which were made available to Trudy at her two main workstations. Trudy also uses her own magnifier at work and this, combined with access to a photocopier, has provided solutions to many potential barriers. Enlarging sales scripts and other frequently used information and instructions are ways in which Trudy can help to ensure her work is carried out efficiently.
The NVQ System
Trudy feels the NVQ system is an excellent way for her to gain qualifications as there are no traditional ‘exams’ and she can work through in her own time. However, the NVQ paperwork was not easy as Trudy cannot see to tick the self-assessment boxes and it takes her a considerable amount of time to check what has been completed. In her portfolio she uses large print on A3 paper to help her to review the work she has produced.
Travelling to work can present problems as Trudy has difficulty in distinguishing between buses (particularly at night) and locating the correct train, often relying on other people for information. The use of taxis is sometimes necessary, with her disability living allowance helping towards the cost of this.
Progressing in Employment
After only a few weeks, Trudy obtained a better paid part-time position following a referral by her employer/training provider. In both jobs, Trudy’s primary task has been telephone sales, in addition to which she has undertaken the management of a database and a variety of administrative tasks. In her search for full-time employment she has turned down an offer from a high street bank, realising the close work involved would have created significant difficulties.
Securing a New Job
Trudy has recently secured a new, full-time post and will continue to work towards her MA. Early contact with her new employer has been very encouraging. Trudy declared her disability in her application and, when invited to undertake an aptitude test, telephones to check that the test papers would be enlarged. Her request was granted although, due to the test papers being printed in grey and light blue, she still had to seek help and felt slightly embarrassed when working with oversized test papers. Without further prompting, the employer subsequently used a large type face in all written communication with Trudy.
Employer taking the Initiative
In her new job, Trudy will be required to use the telephones and computer screen simultaneously for the first time. Working with several different and, therefore smaller ‘windows’ on the screen at the same time is a concern. Prior to interviewing Trudy, the employer contacted the Disability Service Team at the Employment Service and arranged for an assessment to identify the best IT solutions, software and hardware, for Trudy’s needs. Trudy talked positively about the forthcoming assessment and was clearly excited at the prospect of software solutions that will help her in her work.
Unfortunately, a delay in the assessment process has resulted in Trudy’s start date being moved back, although she is hopeful that this will only be by a week. Her employer has also indicated that they will obtain enlarged versions of the paper-based forms Trudy will use in her work.
Settling in to a New Job
Trudy is a little nervous about starting her new job and anticipates some difficulties in settling in. she laughed about being unable to locate her own desk because her new office is so big, and about the need to paint her work station a really bright colour. Social integration is also an issue and Trudy is concerned that people will be offended if she fails to recognise or acknowledge them. She hopes that, without making a big deal of it, her colleagues will be made aware of her visual impairment at an early stage.
Trudy considers that achieving her new job on her own initiative and in the open market has been her greatest career achievement to date. She sees the biggest hurdle she has faced in relation to her career is herself. She has found it difficult to get used to telling people that she has bad eyes and used to feel awkward using her glasses and magnifier. Counselling has helped her to overcome this and she is no longer embarrassed, feeling it is much easier when it is out in the open.
Despite the challenges she faces, Trudy is hoping to compete her MA within a year or so, after which she would like to travel, starting in Europe and possibly going on to do VSO in future.
Points of Interest
The key points to emerge from this case study are:
For careers services:
- It is important to focus on the full range of possibilities that are open to a young person. Expertise in relation to specific disabilities may help the adviser to identify suitable types of work.
For training providers:
- The selection of appropriate teaching methods and the use of small group work can negate the needs for expensive additional equipment and support.
- Taking the initiative in seeking positive solutions can boost the confidence of the young person and forward planning can minimise delays in acquiring necessary equipment.
- Social barriers may present as much of a challenge to the young person as task-related aspects.
For employers and training providers:
- Young people are not seeking to undertake work or training that is beyond their capabilities. People with disabilities should not be required to provide additional evidence of ability compared to non-disabled applicants.
- Individuals are well placed to develop personal strategies for overcoming difficulties that often require minimal equipment or resources. Experimentation with solutions should be encouraged.
- The young person is well placed to identify minor adjustments that will facilitate progress, but may need encouragement to share their ideas.