Megan Adams, Student Mentor Project Officer at LOOK has created this useful roadmap to uni for visually impaired young people.
1. Research universities
Step one in your university journey is research. If you are thinking about going to uni, the best time to start researching is Year 12 or at least a year before you want to start. It can take a long time to decide which course you want to study and even longer to decide on the right university. Keep an open mind about this, you might discover somewhere you never imagined studying.
“You can tell a lot by how welcoming the disability services are, whether you get a good feeling from them, if they seem knowledgeable about reasonable adjustments etc.
Check if the university you’re interested in offers a foundation course. This will let you get used to your new environment, campus and get a head start on learning how to write academically, research and make friends.”
One of the best ways to research universities is by going to their Open Days.
Here is a list of questions to keep in mind when you visit:
- Have there been any VI people on this course before?
- What software do you use on the course?
- How can they make the course accessible?
- Is there a disabled student society?
- How busy is the disability team?
- Are societies accessible?
- Do they have accessible sports facilities?
- How good is the public transport near the campus?
You can also arrange to visit the university by getting in touch with the disability services.
2. UCAS application
This info is coming soon! Check back in at the end of October 2023!
3. Student finance and DSA application
The key link you need:
From the DSA website:
To apply for DSA, you need:
- A copy of a report or letter from your doctor or consultant. You can also fill in the disability evidence form.
Important note on timings:
DSA Applications can take a while to be processed so the sooner you apply the better.
You will get confirmation of whether your application is successful within 6 weeks. It can take up to 14 weeks to get your DSA support in place as this is done separately.
Some students struggle with the ID and evidence part of the DSA application. Try to prepare this in advance. You might need help from a sighted person to scan and photocopy documents
If you don’t have a Certificate of Visual Impairment, you will need to get a doctors letter to prove your visual impairment.
4. Home or away?
Moving away from home
- You will meet new people in student accommodation that you might not meet otherwise.
- You will gain independence away from your family home.
- You will learn new life skills that you may not think about at home.
- You will have more social independence.
- It can be scary to move somewhere new but remember everyone is in the same boat – everyone is somewhere new and nervous.
- You will spend a lot of money on rent that you could otherwise save.
- You will have less new routes to learn.
- You will have to learn new routes and get to know a new area.
- If you stay at home you will have the support of your family nearby.
Interview with two LOOK Mentors
Two LOOK Mentors share about their experience of moving far away from home for uni:
Applying for accommodation
When looking at university accommodation, here are some things to consider:
- Catered vs self-catered?
- Accessible rooms?
- Does it have a laundrette?
- Types: studio, shared bathroom and kitchen, catered?
- How far is it from campus?
- Is it near a good bus route?
You may be entitled to an accessible flat. These are bigger so will have more room for mobility aids or assistance dogs. However, this may mean you have a studio flat so you won’t have housemates.
5. Needs assessment
Before: research equipment and support
- Ask which software you will be using on your course. Some software will need a certain kind of laptop.
- Ask your college or sixth form for a list of provisions they offer you and use this as a template for what you will ask for. This is a good idea because it is easy to forget an accommodation if it’s part of your everyday life.
- You can book a at home demonstration of assistive technology through Vision Aid here.
- Things to remember: Don’t use up your budget on things you don’t want or need, do some investigation first and try to be smart about what you will realistically use.
Meet a Specialist Support Provisional for VI (SSPVI)
What happens in a Needs Assessment?
- You will talk to a Needs Assessor about your vision, your course and your needs.
- They will make recommendations for provisions and can advise you on what to ask for.
- The meeting is confidential and informal.
- Be honest with the assessor about what you need.
6. Get specific with your two preferred choices of university
Contact your two preferred choices of university and request two key meetings, and make a visit to the departmental buildings you would be studying in.
The key people to contact at both of your two preferred choices are:
1. Your course director
Depending on when you do this, you may have already been assigned an academic tutor. If not, your course director is the person who oversees the subject for your year group. It’s important that you establish a relationship with this person as they can help to make your course as accessible as they can.
2. The disability team
These are the people who will be organising your support so the better they know you, the better your support will be.
Read this short Q&A with a university Disability Advisor to understand more about their role.
This is a draft letter / template which you can customise and send to the course director and disability team. Click here to view and edit it.
Visit the buildings specific to your course at your two preferred choices
Look around the uni building you will be working in and ask to see the likely classrooms you will be assigned. If the room is not suitable for you then you can ask for it to be moved. For example, if you are very sensitive to light and the room has floor to ceiling windows which will hurt your eyes, you can ask not to use this room.
7. Settling in!
Once you have your offers, the next stage is studying hard, taking care of yourself in the final months of school or college. Do the work, and then relax… Results day will arrive, and if you meet your offer requirements, you’re onto the next stage. We’ll have more resources to share with you in the lead up to results day. For now though, some top tips from some of our Mentors:
- Learn to touch type, even if you are a braillist!
- Brush up on your computer literacy (sending attachments, making an online timetable, using a USB drive or a cloud…)
- Look out for our upcoming series: university studies focused Screen Reader lessons with Mentor Ben.
- Join your university’s freshers Facebook page.
- Visit the place you’re going to be moving to. Get ready and excited about this new step!
Freshers Week is the week (or more) when new students are welcomed to university life.
Charlotte Milburn, university graduate and LOOK Mentor Project Officer has made this great video on how to make the most of Fresher’s Week as a visually impaired student:
Other relevant videos made by our LOOK Mentors:
What is the Student Union?
Every university has a Student Union. You can get in touch to ask for advice and support about anything that is affecting your student life. They represent the student body and aim for students to have the best experience possible.
- Societies and social clubs. This can be a great way to meet people outside of your course mates and housemates. If there isn’t a group that caters to your interests, you can start one!
- Part time job opportunities, often including help writing CVs.
- Study Spaces
- Volunteering opportunities
- Academic advice
- Finance issues
Your university may have a disability officer, sometimes called a wellbeing officer. This person is an elected representative of the student union who you can go to for advice and support or can sign post you to someone who can help.