This is a conversation between Charlene, who has experience of the My Sighted Guide service run by Guide Dogs, and Ally from The LUNA Project. Charlene has been blind from birth. Her experiences with education started way back when she went to boarding school for visually impaired people to learn braille when she had just turned 6, all the way through to now where she has been a student in Glasgow for the past nine years and is currently completing an MSC in Gender Studies at the University of Glasgow. This conversation explores Charlene’s experiences of being a student, the impact of the pandemic, and the support Charlene has received from the My Sighted Guide volunteers.
A – Thank you so much for talking with me today Charlene. Your degree and experiences of education sound really interesting so I would love to start there and hear more about it and your time as a student.
C – When I first moved here from France it was to a city I didn’t know with people I didn’t know so that was pretty scary. A lot of things are quite different here than in France and it took me a few weeks to adjust. When people were speaking to me I was like ‘is that English they are speaking to me?’ The Glaswegian accent is strong to say the least! On the actual studying side, it has been a lot of adjusting and some lectures etc are more accessible than others. On top of studying there are the other things you have to cope with, like making sure you have things to eat and cooking them etc. I started by living in a flat by myself but I quickly realised that wasn’t for me. I just couldn’t cope with being alone so much and having to worry about all the things that come with independent living. It was really overwhelming. I now live with a host family which is so much better because it takes away some of those worries and means there is always someone to talk to.
A – I think often when people think about studying and university they think just about the academics but, as you talked about, there is so much more to it. How have you found things have changed over the past year or so with the pandemic? It seems that for some Disabled people things have become way more accessible, and for others things have become way less accessible.
C – I think for me it has been a double edged sword. Having classes online has been good because it means I don’t have to worry about things like how to get to uni etc. On the other side though I have found it really isolating, which has been really difficult. I think things are getting a bit better now but I think it will keep being harder to see people, and harder to see people and actually feel relaxed.
A – For anyone reading this who has been experiencing similar challenges, both before the pandemic and now, is there any kind of support you would suggest?
C – I have used the My Sighted Guide partnership which is run through Guide Dogs UK. It is great because sometimes you don’t want to ask friends because you don’t want to have to rely too much on your friends. I have had two partnerships. We tended to see each other once a week and do something like go into town, go to the cinema, or get lunch. That kind of thing. It was really great. I have also received some great support from the RNIB.
A – The My Sighted Guide partnership sounds like it was a really positive experience! What would you say to anyone who is reading this and considering volunteering with the scheme?
C – I think it would be a good experience for people because it is all about meeting new people, and it would give you a good insight into what life is like for someone with sight loss on a day to day basis. It is also very friendly and relaxed so after a while it just feels like seeing a friend because you see each other so often and chat about lots of different things.
A big thank you to Charlene for being so open in this conversation. If you are reading this and would be interested in finding out more about the My Sighted Guide partnership scheme, either because you think that support would be helpful to you or because you want to volunteer, then have a look at this link to the Guide Dog’s website.
(Originally published 7/10/21)