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Profile: Kirsten Edmondson
I began applying for my PGCE at the end of the second year of my English degree. I knew I wanted to go into teaching and had been looking into possible courses. On the General Teacher Training Registry website there was a course-finder facility and an online application form, and even my tutor’s references could be submitted online. Being blind, this saved me having to ask for someone else’s help to fill in a very long form. I could do everything myself. This was definitely something new and different.
It probably took a month for an interview offer to come through. There were lots of forms to fill in before I arrived at the interview, which the university kindly emailed to me. The English test we had to sit on the day had also been put into Braille for me to read. I wrote my answers on my own laptop and saved them to disk for them to print out for the course tutors. It all went very smoothly and though I rang them before the interview to make access arrangements, they were already ahead of me and had started to organise things.
Probably the hardest thing was filling in the Criminal Records Bureau check form, as it does not come in an alternative format or online. My parents had to fill it in for me.
My first choice was the university where I was completing my undergraduate degree, as I knew what sort of support I was likely to receive and how to get around the area too. I got to find out I had a place through the online system.
My course tutor and I met up to discuss practicalities the summer before I began. The university was aware that they would need to make accessible materials available in advance and that because I rely on public transport my placements should be relatively close to transport links. Things were going well until I found out that my first school placement was in another city. Because I had to get a bus, train and walk for half an hour, I was spending nearly 3 hours travelling. The school itself wasn’t for me. I found there was a lot of prejudice but I was supported through it by my family and the disability advisers in the university, as well as my coursemates.
My second placement, also on the same city, would have been even harder to get to if another coursemate hadn’t been able to offer me a lift. This school was much better. I was welcomed, encouraged and really given relevant help.
Through my Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) I had an assistant during lecture or placement hours. My intention was to use this assistant to help me develop methods of managing in the situation, with support if necessary. By the second placement, I was given more freedom to try things out. This was definitely the best part of the course. I felt more like a proper teacher as parents, students and colleagues accepted me for who I was rather than the prejudiced label of ‘disabled’.
Though I often found it difficult to work with my first placement mentor, and didn’t get materials in time to use them, I was very well supported by the disability coordinator and my departmental disability adviser when it came to completing the Literacy, Numeracy and ICT skills tests. You have to pass these before you can qualify. I was not able to sit them in the traditional way because the screen-reader I use is not compatible with the test programs. The alternative was for the university to fill in a form and get evidence to show that I could achieve these skills. This was very difficult, as I had to prove my disability. It took me a year to take them all and delayed my qualification by two months.
Getting a job was another challenge, but after 13 applications and four interviews I found the one for me. I am now very happy in that job and I am very lucky as I am very well supported by my colleagues, though there are now other challenges that I will overcome.
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