Students from New College Worcester and the Royal National College for the Blind in Hereford attended a Visual Impairment (VI) Information Day, which was organised by the University of Worcester’s Disability and Dyslexia Service.

The day was aimed at students who are thinking of going to university, giving them the opportunity to find out what university is like before they begin applications.

LOOK Events Manager Elin and Mentor Project Officer Lacy chatted about LOOK’s University Mentoring Programme, a peer-to-peer scheme tailored to visually impaired young people who are at or thinking about university. They shared how the programme works, what to expect is you join the mentoring scheme and how to register to become a mentee.

Mentor Ussud shared his experience of moving into higher education, the challenges he faced, the support services available to him and the advice he would give his younger self starting university in September.

Image of Elin and Ussud sat down talking to the group.

Elin and Ussud Q&A on University Life.

Q. Tell us a bit about how you decided on your degree and why.

A. Ussud “I have always been passionate about filmmaking, I found a Professional Creative Practice course, which was a new course being offered at university, which covered everything to do with media and was multidisciplinary.”

Q. When choosing your uni and the course you would study, what were the most important things you were looking for?

A. Ussud “I had a list of what I needed. At first, I was afraid, but I had a great QTVI who helped with applying for my DSA and my needs assessment. It’s important to have an advocate there for you. You need to think about what you need and what you can do to prepare yourself. It’s also important to talk to your course tutor as they may have misconceptions about your needs.”

A. Elin “I had a rough idea in my head. I knew I wanted to attend a campus uni rather than a city university. Going to see the universities that offer the course you are interested in is very important. These visits also mean you learn the things that you do and don’t like, so you build your own checklist as you go. I went for a small campus as this felt safe. I also chose a university that was close enough to home so that I could visit easily, but not too close that my family were on her doorstep and could just turn up whenever! The university had a VI member on the Student’s disability team, which was reassuring.”

Q. What were your main questions or worries about going to university?

A. Elin “My main worry was that I felt very safe at NCW and didn’t have to do much advocating for the things I needed. University is a mainstream environment so I was aware that I would have to be responsible for myself and advocate for myself.”

A. Ussud “I felt overwhelmed by having to reach deadlines. Especially with having to apply for various aspects of university and then respond to the letters they send out. Organisation is very important, I made sure I had a routine for doing my coursework and life admin to keep on top of everything.”

Q.  What was the biggest surprise or learning curve for you during the first term of your degree?

A. Ussud “I was surprised by my peers on the course. There were only 11 students on the course with me. When I first used my cane and everyone found out I was VI, I was worried that they would treat me differently, but everyone was fine about it and it opened up conversations. I found people were very welcoming at university and my VI didn’t cause problems making friends.”

A. Elin “I learnt how to advocate for myself when speaking to different people. I had some lecturers who were lovely and would bend over backwards to help me and check often that I had everything I needed, other lecturers wouldn’t remember me from one lecture to the next and I realised that I had to be more direct with them to get the support I needed and was entitled to.”

Q. How did you find out about support services available to you?

A. Elin “I talked a lot about the different types of support available. I also found the student union useful as a source of information and support. There should be a disabled student rep within the student union. I also used the counselling services that were available to me at university. TPT have a student support service which can help with a number of issues and practical advice for being at university.”

A. Ussud “I got a lot of advice from my LOOK mentor, we discussed all aspects of going to university such as what university life is like and what support he had used. I also spoke with my QTVI about options and went through the support available so I knew what I would need.”

Q. What would you suggest to do if something is not going right at uni?

A. Ussud “You should have a key contact at university e.g. teacher or disability support advisor, the university will also have a support service and TPT also provides a student support service.”

Q. What would be your top tip for getting to know your local area when you move to university?

A. Elin “Contact the mobility officers at Disabled Students’ Allowance for mobility training. Make the most of this as soon as you can. If you have confidence, take the opportunity to go out with people you meet at university i.e. people on your course, in your halls, or in societies you join, and be guided by them as you become familiar with your setting.”

Q. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about meeting new people and making friends at uni, what would you say?

A. Ussud “Don’t question yourself. You should believe in yourself and your goals. I had a lot of doubt in myself and this led me to have multiple plans and backup options if something went wrong.”

A. Elin “The key is to remember that everyone is different and people have their own agendas. At university, there are so many different clubs and this is really valuable because if you find a club that you like then you can go to that and know that you already have at least one thing in common with the other people there. What you put in is what you get back. In my first year I was very nervous and I now realise that it made it harder for people to get to know me because of the anxious energy I was giving off. By my second year, I was more settled and comfortable, so I was able to get to know people more and open up a bit.”

Q. What are the negatives of university as a VI person?

A. Ussud “There is nothing bad about retreating from university space and into your own space to recap what you have learnt. I like to think of uni as the process of developing photographs, film always comes out in a negative format, you don’t need sight to develop it, you just need the chemicals and to know what you’re doing. Learning and developing yourself is like this; once you have learnt to develop yourself, you will see the positives.”

We want to say a huge thank you to the University of Worcester for inviting us to be part of your VI Students Day and to join the important discussion of getting the most out of university life as a visually impaired young person.

We also want to thank mentor Ussud for sharing his experience of university and the impact having a LOOK university mentor had on his journey through campus life.

If you would like to know more about our pioneering University Mentoring Programme please click here.