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A Historical Note: HE experience when living with a disability

A fresh perspective on lifestyle at a university when one has a disability. The academic journey, from one man's viewpoint, is outlined here to encourage others who are blind or vision-impaired. This is an anecdotal share of a person, living with a disability, and his tertiary education journey.

My first round of tertiary education started in 1971 when I enrolled for a two-year course at an agricultural college. I was not blind at this time; however, my eyesight was such that I could only read the top line of an eye chart. While blind and vision-impaired people, as well as others with disabilities, did tertiary education at this time, there was very little help given. I could take my own notes and sit the formal exams; however, I did have to speak to individual lecturers to get some concessions on such things as insect and grass collections, and got the requirement for a tractor license waived. There was no formal mechanism for disabled people to get any concessions and fortunately for me there was little opposition to my requests. No one blocked them.

My second round of tertiary study was for an Associate Diploma of Business Computing at a local TAFE college, this was in 1992. By this time, I was 'legally blind', and while I did not need a cane or a guide dog, my eyesight had deteriorated. There were now mechanisms in place for people with disability, although this was a job typically given to the counselling service. Teachers and lecturers were now more than willing to help, in fact at one point I had to request that they let me tell them what, if any, assistance I needed.

In 2000, I started a degree in Computer Science at University. At this time, I had a guide dog which made me stand out on campus. The changes apparent from my previous experience was quite marked, helped in no small part by the internet and computer technology. It is typical for disability issues to be dealt with by a specific person. The range of assistance available is quite extensive, including such things as note-takers, interpreters for deaf students and specialised computer software. Exams, the bane of all students had concessions available in the form of extra time, breaks and the option of an oral exam or scribe. You still had to put in the hard work!

The campus was also new, with multi-storey buildings with lifts, and at least one automatic door. One small computer lab was set aside for use by disabled students. This lab had computers with specific software and hardware needed by students with disabilities.

This is a summary that briefs you of some of my university experiences as a low-vision to blind person. The takeaway is that if you have the academic ability to attend University, then any disability you have should not be a barrier.

I am happy to answer any questions.

P.S. If you like reading autobiographies then I can recommend these two books. Both books are written by men who were born blind and who did things I could not dream of. They also went to University at a time when you had to help yourself.

The Blunkett Tapes: My life in the bear pits, by David Blunkett [Amazon link]

Thunder Dog: The true story of a blind man, his guide dog, and the triumph of trust at Ground Zero, by Michael Hingson +blind+man%2C+his+guide+dog%2C+and+the+triumph+of+trust+at+Ground+Zero

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