Could you tell us a little bit about your background?

Greetings, my name is Aleks, I am 23-years-old and I am studying marketing. Outside of studying, I volunteer in a couple of charities supporting causes related to the VI-community.

What barriers have you had to overcome?

I have severe sight impairment. I am fully blind on my right eye since early childhood, while the vision in my left eye has started to significantly deteriorate since 2017. Over the last 5 years, my vision has not been consistent with frequent drastic changes. My condition is not curable and cannot be corrected by glasses.

How does this impact on your learning?

Due to my disability, I cannot use any type of printed materials, I cannot see anything shown on the blackboard/teacher’s screen. When it comes to the digital materials, I am able to see them if I zoom in, however, it requires a lot of focus and squinting which causes pain to my eyes and head.

At what stage were you offered any low or high-level assistive technology?

While studying at the college, I was offered two types of assistive technology, however, none of them covered my needs. Additionally, staff there attempted to find alternative solutions, but, unfortunately, none of them specialised in assistive technology, which posed a detriment to the exercise.
Everything changed when a charity called RSBC offered assistive technology sessions. Their deep understanding and experience of assistive technology for VI served as a much needed helping hand, which supported me through some of my more difficult moments.

Back then, did you know what support was out there for you?

There is an overwhelming amount of support available, but without clear guidance it is extremely challenging to find the most appropriate support for your condition. Back then, I was aware that support is out there somewhere, but I did not know where to look for it and even where to start looking for it.

How did things change and how did you end up getting support?

My college linked me up with a charity called RSBC and, as mentioned above, they offered 1:1 Assistive technology sessions. I signed up immediately for the service as I had a feeling that it was what I was looking for.

What have you worked on in these sessions which has helped you?

The sessions were hosted by a VI-person who had a wealth of experience using assistive technology and even larger passion for the tech they used. Broad knowledge of the sessions’ host enabled us to promptly identify which accessibility features would be in use and which not, so we did not waste any time.
Moreover, the sessions were tailored for me and were based on the tasks that are more relevant to me.

Have you used any assistive technology?

On a daily basis. After the sessions, I cannot imagine my life without it. I use Apple VoiceOver and NVDA which kindly read out all the text and information I need on my devices. Additionally, I use Windows and Apple magnifiers which enable me to zoom in on needed buttons, pictures, etc.

What difference has this made?

It has made an enormous impact on nearly every aspect of my life. Most importantly, it has made a highly positive impact on the way I study. I am no longer required to overtly squint and cause my eyes further pain in order to read study materials, books or journal articles. This significantly enhanced my overall learning experiences, as well as the quality of my assignments. As assistive technology takes care of minor obstacles, I am able to focus my mind purely on the key goals of any given task.

What have you learnt about yourself as a learner?

Having easy access to assistive technology enabled me to understand my capabilities and things I am able to achieve academically and professionally. Because of assistive technology, I was brave enough to venture out and try something ambitiously new, getting out of my comfort zone which resulted in a variety of milestones and achievements I am proud of.

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