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Lived experiences the key to university support

06 July 2017

Ben Page hopes his experiences at university can help others from the blind and low vision community to successfully navigate their way through tertiary education.

Ben is legally blind due to an undiagnosed condition that has some similarities to Retinitis Pigmentosa and recently completed a Bachelor of Science with a Major in Genetics at the University of Melbourne.

After some recent reflection on his time studying, the 24 year-old joined Vision Australia’s Tertiary Peer Support program in the hope he could support people who may be facing a situation similar to what he experienced.

“Over the past few years I’ve come to terms a bit with my vision loss. I was about 10 years-old when I was diagnosed with vision loss and over the years I have struggled with a few different things,” Ben says.

“A little while ago I was reflecting on my journey through university and that sort of thing and I recognised that I actually had been relatively successful. That helped me with a bit of realisation that being blind doesn’t have to be the end of the road and there are ways to do whatever you want,” he says.

Ben has already supported one tertiary student who is blind or has low vision and said he immediately saw the value of the peer to peer relationship. He was also somewhat surprised about how much he was able to assist his peer.

“When it comes to mentoring and that sort of thing I think a lot of people believe they aren’t qualified to help somebody and I used to feel a bit that way myself.

“Speaking to the peer I was matched with really gave me a better idea of what helps. I think just having somebody to talk to who’s gone through the same sorts of thing as them and can relate to their situation can really make a huge difference.”

While being able to empathise has proved to be an important part of his experience in the Tertiary Peer Support program, Ben said he has also passed on some more specific ways for his peer to improve his university experience.

“One of the biggest things that helped me was talking to my lecturers and explaining to them that I was legally blind. Almost all of the time they’d be more than happy to make changes to help me, for example my degree had a lot of assessments where we’d be asked to draw a diagram but I was able to produce written descriptions of where everything should be.

“I know for some people it can be hard to ask for help because they don’t want to be seen as different. I could’ve hid my white cane before lectures and hide that I was blind, but that would’ve just made things difficult to me and I never saw a reason to disadvantage myself.”

As well as assisting with the academic side of things, Ben said being a mentor in the program is also an opportunity to help his peer with issues they may be facing outside of the lecture hall.

“The first peer that I had did mention that he felt isolated at uni, unfortunately for people who are blind that can be a common thing. I think just having me to talk to helped, but I was also able to pass on some other ideas.

“One thing I suggested was joining a Vision Australia Quality Living Group, but I also passed on some of the things I put in place myself at uni to motivate me to get out of the house and meet people and enjoy uni like everyone else.”

Vision Australia’s Tertiary Peer Support program is conducted over the phone, with the level of interaction between peer and mentor decided on by the two parties.

If you think the program could support you, click here or call our helpline on 1300 84 74 66 or email info@visionaustralia.org.

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