My name is Aliza, I am 18 and I have been living with sight loss since I was born.
At the age of 6 months, I was diagnosed with a rare genetic eye condition called Leber’s Congenital Amaurosis. When I was younger I used to have some peripheral vision; which was a great source of comfort to me. However, at this stage in my life, I only have light perception and see firework flashing lights in geometric shapes and patterns.
The pandemic and GCSE exams.
In January 2020, I felt like I was about to start on a clean slate; which made me feel positive about sitting my final GCSE exams. All my hard work and effort would be submerged into those papers.
However, 3 months later; all the hope I clung to slowly ebbed away from me. It all started when I was having breakfast on a miserable morning when the latest headlines drew my attention, all I could register was “Pandemic” and “schools closing down”, which resulted in GCSE exams being cancelled and being assessed on mock exam results.
I found it hard to accept that my grades were going to be based on work that may or may not be perfect! I struggled a lot with my mental health and found my anxiety hard to control.
I got in contact with the Royal Society for Blind Children; where I was able to virtually meet other blind and partially sighted people and participate in many interesting activities. I especially enjoyed the sisterhood sessions!
I was also able to get in touch with their technology advisor Alex; who helped me gain confidence in using technology such as voice-over on iPhone and braille note touch plus. He was extremely helpful and I still work with him to this day.
I didn’t like using a screen reader; I felt it wouldn’t benefit me as I had some residual vision. However, Alex worked with me and showed me how amazing it is; and now I can’t navigate a smartphone without a screen reader.
I also ordered audiobooks from the RNIB Talking Books library which was a great means of escapism for me.
Results day approached quickly bringing back the anxieties that I had buried.
I went to school and collected my results and surprisingly I had achieved good grades in my subjects, the relief flooded my body. I felt proud of myself, even though I had barriers standing in my way. I could breathe freely again!
Fortunately, a place at my school’s sixth form was secured to study health and social care and the Silver Arts Award qualification, this took a huge weight off my shoulders as I had built strong bonds with my teachers and knew my environment well.
I was given mobility training around the sixth form building as the lower school students weren’t allowed in that area. I also learnt to navigate using my long cane, I was reluctant to use my long cane as my vision was strong enough for me to see my surroundings but I knew that my teachers had my best interests at heart.
Sara, my teacher for the visually impaired was able to get my textbooks for health and social care brailed. This allowed me to read the content in advance making me feel more confident in class. It also meant that I was able to complete assignments without much difficulty because the resources were brailed.
My class teachers were told that if they wanted to get material in braille they needed to send this out two weeks in advance. This would allow enough time for the work to be formatted correctly which worked quite well.
It allowed me to become more independent in class and make me feel like I belonged with the rest of my peers.
The Silver Arts Award qualification allowed me to show how I view creativity as a visually impaired woman. I completed a project based on my surroundings of my home, school and Pakistan the country of my heritage, showing other people how I use my remaining four senses to navigate the world around me.
My practical assistant who worked with me in art was amazing and just as passionate about Art. She was able to draw images and emboss them using the swell machine so that I could explore them. I struggled a lot with tactile observation as I relied quite heavily on my sight and liked to use a handheld magnifier to look at images. However, in time I learnt that my fingertips were the equivalent of my eyes.
The challenges I faced.
Due to the pandemic, I could not attend my regular eye appointments at Moorfield Eye hospital, but two months after joining the sixth form I felt that my vision was starting to become very blurry.
One day at school a blurry patch appeared making me trip over a chair. After this incident I felt concerned for my safety; and found it difficult to explain to the people around me what was going on.
When my parents came to collect me from sixth form I told them about the incident that occurred at school. They were immediately concerned so we visited the accident and emergency department of Moorfield eye hospital which stated that the pressure in my eyes was extremely high. They also suggested that I ask for assistance when navigating.
Between November 2020 and March 2021, I was forced to face a testing time. I learnt other ways to navigate with my long cane that were more tactile. Fortunately; my teachers were very understanding of my present circumstances and I was able to complete missed work easily.
I am grateful that I learnt how to read and write braille at nursery, as it is a skill I relied heavily upon. knowing how to use a screen reader also meant that I have been independent when navigating my technology.
When I visited the eye clinic in March 2021 they found out that my retina was deteriorating and that my further sight loss was due to my condition.
For a few months, I felt very low despite having supportive family and friends around me. I found it hard to express my emotions verbally, but by throwing myself into my studies I was slowly able to find a more positive outlook on life.
Aliza Top Tips for transitioning into Sixth Form or College.
- Ensure that you get mobility training to navigate your education environment before collages or sixth form starts. This will ensure that you can move around your campus with confidence.
- If you experience a deterioration in your sight as I did, ensure that you meet with your teachers so you can work together to make any adaptations to your needs.
- Get in touch with external organisations who organise social events for people with sight loss such as RNIB (royal national institute for the blind) or the RSBC (Royal Society for Blind Children), as it will help you to meet new people and learn things about each other.
- If you are experiencing issues with mental health after further sight loss, it is important that you talk to someone you trust or find other ways to work through the negative emotions you have.
Aliza was part of our 16+ Transitioning to Further Education social media take-over and live Q&A with LOOK mentors and education specialist.
To listen to our live Q&A session click on the video below:
We’d like to thank all of our mentors and guests who gave up their time to share their stories.