It is Monday. It is cold. I am running late. I haven’t had time for any breakfast. I am, in short, in a right mood.
Now although these opening statements may give the impression that our tail is doomed, there is one saving grace to this story. Being blind means that I have kindly been granted a taxi which takes me to and from school. This is funded by the disabled students allowance (DSA) provided by Student Finance England. (A brief note, I believe our oh so benevolent current government are doing away with this allowance at the end of this year. If you are reading this post after 2016, funding is still available however I believe that universities themselves will now be asked to foot the bill, contact the disability adviser at your university to ask about this). Anyway, access to this makes my life so so so much easier as I don’t have to spend months prior to placement navigating public transport and learning a potentially complicated root. I simply call the contracted taxi company, quote my account number and await for my chariot to arrive. Brilliant!
This particular Monday, my chariot arrives in the form of a green Skoda. I hear it pull up, move forward towards the engine sound and await the driver’s greeting.
“Ya can’t take that f**king dog in here!”
I would like to say that this is the first time I’ve been received in this manner. however, unfortunately this is a fairly common replacement for the more traditional “hello” which one may have come to expect by way of a greeting. Indeed, this has happened so often that I am now prepared. . I explain to the driver that it is illegal to refuse a guide dog unless he is in possession of a certificate of exemption due to a severe allergy or similar medical condition. After a good few minutes of arguing on the pavement and a phone-call to the taxi office, he most graciously, with use of minimal expletives, finally agrees that Maggie and I can get inside the car.
i get comfortable and settle myself for the 20 minute drive ahead. I am confident that the interchange on the pavement will have secured me a journey passed in surly silence. I am wrong!
“You must be devastated!”
I spend a few moments trying to make sense of this statement. “I’m sorry? Devastated about what?” I ask.
“About being blind!”
Again, I wish I could say this is the first time it has been assumed that I spend my life wading threw the inevitable sea of tears which acts as some sort of permanent moat around me. Unfortunately not. I explain to the driver that I spend most of the time feeling positively elated at what a wonderfully great life I have. He doesn’t believe me.
“Nah! You’ve got to be devastated! Do you live at home?”
Again, I don’t quite understand this. “I live in my home.” I offer.
“Nah, nah, with ya ma and da.” He clarifies and Again, having become used to this question I explain that I’ve not lived with my parents for some time now. Unfortunately, this doesn’t provide the answer he is after.
“How?” He asks incredulously.
Toying with the idea of going into the ins and outs of student accommodation allocation, the packing of bags and the signing of housing contracts ten years ago, I settle for saying “I moved out.” He is not satisfied.
“Have you got a nurse then” he enquires.
Now I do not wish for this blog post to take up to much of your time, so with this in mind I will provide a summery of the chat that follows. I explain to the driver that I am not in need of constant medical attention: yes I have a boyfriend and no he isn’t blind: Yes, I would be able to tell if he charged me substantially more than the metre reads: yes, I do get out and about, in fact I’m traveling to placement now: it is a PGCE placement.
“What?!” The driver nearly crashes the car. “You’re going to be a teacher?! How bloody dangerous!”
Now you must understand that, unlike the previous interactions I’ve described above, I am not yet used to this particular assumption. I must admit that many people have expressed confusion at the prospect of me becoming a teacher, however my newness to the profession means that I am still shocked by it. Indeed, this particular taxi driver is not the first person to express alarm at my career choice. I have spent a great deal of time over the past seven months justifying myself and reassuring members of the public that their children, as well as their friends / neighbours children, are not going to be put at risk due to me becoming a teacher. Indeed, some course colleagues and teachers themselves have, with varying degrees of well-meaning curiosity, asked me to explain how on earth I am going to effectively and safely educate children.
Now, I do not want this post to suggest that I have faced nothing but negativity with reference to my career choice as this is completely inaccurate. I am constantly grateful for the overwhelming support and warmth which has been demonstrated by most people. However, I feel that if this blog is to give an accurate account of the barriers blind trainees may face, it would be negligent of me to fail to acknowledge that some people possess an inability to imagine a teacher to be anything other than sighted. And why is this? My instinct says that the sheer lack of blind educators has created a public perception that a teacher needs to be able to see. There are certain jobs which traditionally have always been considered to be occupations suited to the visually impaired and if, on the Monday morning described above, I had told the taxi driver that I was a piano-tuner or telephonist, I doubt that would have prompted much of a response.
So, if you have stumbled across this blog and you, like many others are unsure as to how a blind teacher may be able to successfully operate, I invite you to read on. I understand that visually impaired educators are pretty thin on the ground and I hope the posts that follow will provide some insight as to how it all works.