Case Study – Physiotherapy and Visual Difficulties

Case study about a physiotherapy student with a visual impairment. She describes adjustments made to the assessment process and her experience of lectures.



Well, luckily I have managed to escape written exams this year (in fact, I don’t do them ’til the third year. Let me hear you say YYYYEEEESSSSS!!!). However, in their place, we do get to experience the terror that is PRACTICAL EXAMS – and trust me they aren’t easy, because you have to reel off a whole load of information on demand.

One exam that could have been a total nightmare but wasn’t (thanks to the imagination and thoughtfulness of my neurology lecturer) was ‘Movement Analysis’. The standard version of this exam is done on a computer with a tiny little video clip of someone walking. Totally inaccessible to me, I think you’ll agree!

Well, for this spectacular show of equal opportunities, myself and the other visually impaired student on my course were whisked away to the delights of a Brum hospital for an alternative and more accessible version of the exam where we got our hands on some real patients.

We physiotherapy students didn’t do end of year exams this year, which was marvellous. But I have to say that I am a little bitter about it. Whilst all the other students were lounging around doing the odd exam here and there (with perhaps a smidgen of revision), I was sent to work in a hospital for four weeks – 8.30am til 4.00pm, Monday to Friday.

It was a shadowing placement; we worked alongside a physio on a neurology ward and in intensive care. I did some hands-on too: spinal assessments, passive movements for patients who have been in bed for a long time and can’t do it themselves, and assessing patients to make sure they are safe before they are discharged. Generally good, and the physio had worked with visually impaired people before so wasn’t phased and nor were the patients. And why should they be anyway, right …?

Lecturers and lectures

Well, apart from there being rather too many lectures for my liking … I don’t have many complaints. Shock horror, a disabled student that isn’t whinging? Well, OK, even I’m not perfect – there are a few creases that need a good steam iron on them.

My main peeve is patronising lecturers. I would like to point out that they are in the minority and for the most part my lecturers are fabulous (that covers my back if any of them are reading this, anyway).

I think the main problem is lack of understanding and perhaps, in some cases, feeling burdened by my presence in class. OK, so the equal opportunities manual states that they can’t feel this way, but I can’t say I blame them: it is an extra hassle having me there at times, and they do have to put extra effort in to include me. It would be nice, though, if they could at least slightly disguise their sighs or irritated faces!

I have to say that one of the most important things in making lectures – particularly the practical ones – accessible to me is my friends. They are all so helpful and don’t bat an eyelid when I ask them to describe what’s going on or tell me what it says on the overhead projector. In many respects my classmates are more understanding and helpful than my lecturers. The other day, a friend of mine, almost subconciously, leant over and traced a finger down my arm to show me what nerve a lecturer was talking about, for instance. The lecturer had forgotten to use me as the model.

One thing I do want to stress at this point is that I am genuinely talking about the minority. The physio school here at Brum has been fantastic and incredibly supportive throughout the year. I don’t think I could have realistically asked for anything more.

I think the only change I may make in my approach to study next year is to perhaps have closer contact with the university’s disability team. This year I have only seen them twice, right at the start, and I think they could have been far more useful than I let them be. My fault entirely. They have tried to get in touch with me, but I didn’t feel the need to see them. I’m still not entirely sure what they have to offer, if I’m honest.

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