LOOK Mentor Chris shares with us his journey from diagnosis to acceptance, finding his feet and his voice! and how self-advocacy led him to his dream career, in this fantastic letter to his younger self.
“Advo-, adv-, avocadocy? Hold on, advocacy?
Don’t give me that look. You know you are in the wrong. I know I’ve been in your class since Year 7, but things have changed now.
Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice to have been this confident 10 years ago? You might still have time to practice, but advocacy is a hard skill to develop. Especially as the only student in your school losing their sight – there’s no one really to turn to for advice. So you’ve got to do it yourself. Again, it’s advocacy, and if you didn’t know, this is the term where you speak up about a challenge you are facing – an important skill for a vision-impaired person.
I’ll take you back to April 2013, I was turning 15 and had my GCSEs the following summer. At this time, I hadn’t embraced the ‘Chris Can’t See’ life. I much preferred the ‘Chris Can See, Leave Him Alone and Yes He Likes Sport’ kind of view. Thank god I accepted my sight loss or else that would be a long name for my blog page and social media accounts.
I knew I couldn’t keep ignoring these faulty retinas. Or the fact I was ‘coping’ in school. Something clicked in my head saying “Hey if you don’t get the right support now, you are going to screw up the rest of your life”. I don’t know where it came from, but it was right.
As much as you think it’s rubbish, what your teachers say about GCSEs is correct. In order to do what you want to in life, you need these to continue to the next step.
It’s given that a summer of 21 exams in the SENCO room isn’t how I would have wished to spend it, nor the hours, days and weeks of revision required. Yet, here I am, in a job, where I can do whatever I want to do in the summer.
A document all about me. Yes, very self-centred. But, this document was the beginning of my sight loss acceptance, growth in confidence and my first step in advocating for myself.
This A4 document – size 18, Arial – listed the symptoms of my condition and the specific needs I had in my lessons. You may be thinking, ‘this is what my QTVI has done for me already’, and this is great. However, my school weren’t the best listeners, combined with my ability to ‘cope’ meant I was taught like everyone else.
Once this happened, it all kicked off. In a good way. Conversations were being had, adaptations were being made.
My teacher for vision-impaired students couldn’t believe I was the same person when I showed her the document and asked for more support from her. This made me realise what an idiot I was to deny myself the support, which included: a laptop linked to the interactive whiteboard, being sat at the front of every class, an iPad to access presentations on when whiteboards weren’t connecting, extra time in exams and a handheld magnifier with a light. To be honest, the latter was mostly used as a pretend memory-wipe device from Men in Black – come on, you have to have fun with it.
Support came in abundance – presumably, because the school was technically in breach of the Equality Act, shhh – and so did my confidence.
I was open about my sight loss – scary, I know – but everyone was quite accepting, intrigued and found all the technology rather cool. I spent all that time trying to be the same and as soon as I was different, people just wanted to ask questions and know more. Who knew a disability would bring you attention.
Advocating for myself was the best thing I could have done.
As a person with a vision impairment, it is a skill you need to use and practise. You are going to be challenged and support will not always be there.
Speak up. Get the support you have the right to. Push through that awkward feeling. I promise it will work out. If it doesn’t work, go again. You got this!”
LOOK Mentees Erica and Alex chat to Ruth, LOOK’s Mentor Project Manager about their experience of inclusivity at school, their transition into Higher Education and the importance of finding your voice and being heard.
“I just wanted to be part of the school, but they came up with ideas that excluded me from my year group. They looked at everyone’s needs and Ericas needs not; everyone’s needs including Ericas.” Erica
“Teachers need to listen to your voice not see it as an attitude issue.” Alex
Self Advocacy and Inclusivity Top Tips.
- Erica introduced #EyeInspire hoodies to the school playground. Peers who were happy to help provide support or direction to their VI classmates would wear a hooded top with #EyeInspire emblazoned on it so they were easily identified in the playground.
- LOOK at creating a fun resource about the practical descriptions and tactile elements needed to comprehensively show someone with a Visual Impairment around a new space or building.
- When Alex was diagnosed she wrote a letter to her teachers outlining who she is, what her condition is and why she has a new set of needs. She disclosed what her access needs are and how her diagnosis impacts her learning process. This helped some teachers to better understand how they could support her.
- Is there an opportunity in your school to do a group session with Sims Specs, getting students to blind taste different foods so they can experience some of the challenges young people with visual impairments have to negotiate?
- PE can be inclusive, develop an obstacle course and get your classmates to go around it blindfolded with a team member as their guide.
- Speak to your teacher about introducing goalball to the PE timetable.