Below is an interview that was conducted with TheBlindJournalist Mohammed Salim Patel who graduated from the University Of Central Lancashire in 2015. Mohammed is registered blind and he has shared his experience as a disabled student studying for a degree. If you wish to view his blog and more of his work, go to http://theblindjournalist.blogspot.co.uk/
Q: Had you always planned on going to university?
A: Ever since I was in secondary school and doing my GCSE’s I knew that one day I would go to University. It wasn’t something I thought about in detail however, I just knew that my educational life would not end at school or college level.
Q: How did you decide which university to attend and what prompted you to apply for this University?
A: I attended a specialist secondary school for blind and partially sighted students. In Year 11 I was offered the chance to stay in specialist education and go to the Royal National College For The Blind (RNC). I immediately turned this down because I felt I would have no issues in coping in a mainstream college environment. I chose to go to Blackburn College and study a BTEC Level 3 Extended National Diploma in Creative Arts & Media because back then I wanted to be a TV Presenter.
During my time at college I found myself producing a lot of documentaries on controversial topics and doing a lot of investigative work. It dawned upon me that I was basically being a journalist without realising it. By this stage I was in my second, and final. Year at college. It was for this reason that I started looking into journalism degree courses.
UCLan in Preston was my closest university. I didn’t want to leave home again after spending five years in Liverpool at a bording school and this is why I looked into going to UCLan. Coincidently, UCLan had a very reputable status for journalism. It had been teaching journalism for 50 years and was respected by the journalism industry. It was for both these reasons that I chose UCLan. It was the only university I put down on my UCAS form because I was adamant UCLan was where I wanted to go. Thanks to my strong personal statement and predicted grades I was offered an unconditional offer to study for a BA Honours International Journalism degree.
Q: Did you experience any difficulties?
A: During the UCAS phase I initially was looking to do a BA in Broadcast Journalism. However, when I went to an opening evening at UCLan I was told I would struggle on the broadcast journalism course purely due to some of the obligatory technical requirements of the course for example learning shorthand and operating a camera. I was advised to look into the International Journalism course instead which didn’t have these requirements. Although, this was a little frustrating at the time it didn’t really bother me because I knew one way or the other I would be studying journalism. Looking back now this was a blessing in disguise because I actually ended up studying and producing more broadcast work than I would have done if I had done a broadcast course. Also, I can now work abroad too if I wanted because I studied an internationally focused course.
Q: How did you overcome these difficulties?
A: Despite the fact that I wasn’t on a broadcast journalism course, I was still trained to be a journalist. As part of my course we had to do a set number of mandatory modules but we also had the freedom to choose three of our own modules. I always knew radio was my passion so I purposely choose all three of my electives to be radio modules. Throughout life at university it is all about what you make it. I put the effort in and took every opportunity that was presented to me to learn as much as I could. It was for this reason that I managed to get a lot of work placements at the BBC and ITV during my time at university.
Q: What was harder than expected?
A: In all honesty I didn’t come across many problems. Even when I did I would constantly make my concerns known. I would not stop until the problems were solved. Sometimes certain textbooks wouldn’t be available in an accessible format but I would inform my tutor and disability advisor (which every university has) and they would make reasonable adjustments. Often I would offer a solution to the tutors e.g producing a podcast instead of designing the front cover of a magazine and they would amend the assignment brief accordingly. It was all about being proactive and making my concerns known at the earliest convenience.
I was offered to go on to do a Masters in Broadcast Journalism. The University even offered to pay for my course fees but sadly the government half the amount of support they give to disabled students doing post-graduate study. This would have meant that I wouldn’t have got the level of support hours required to be able to cope with the intensity of a Masters.
Q: What was easier than expected?
A: I thought it would be a challenge to make sure I was on a level playing field to all the other students but this was actually never a problem. It was often the case that tutors would ask me how they should do differently to make sure I could partake fully in everything. Usually this would be as simple as emailing powerpoints the day before class or amending an assignment so that it was doable. This wasn’t so that the work would be easier, it was just so that if there were any technical or timed assignments I wasn’t disadvantaged in anyway to the other students.
Q: What were your worries before you went and were they justified?
A: My only worries were about the support I would receive. When I applied for Disabled Students Allowances (DSAs) I made sure I had written down and researched all the types of support and equipment I needed in order to be able to complete my course. This was so that when I went for my DSA assessment I could state everything I required and provide justified reasons for my requests. I wanted to make sure I had everything covered so that further down the line there wasn’t something I would need but didn’t ask for in my assessment. Thankfully, my planning was rewarded and I got everything I asked for.
Q: How was the social life/student union life?
A: The best time of my life!!! You meet so many people from different walks of life who become friends for life. You don’t have to worry about people not accepting you because of your disability because everyone who is at university is mature and understanding. They are there because they want to be there and therefore there is an unspoken and unseen respect between all university students.
Q: What impact do you think it has had on you as a person now you have graduated?
A: It is a very satisfying feeling knowing I have graduated because it was something I always wanted to do. It makes all the years at school, college and university worthwhile when you graduate. The fact that I managed to get a First was the best feeling ever because all the sleepless nights and stresses had paid off. University life really does make you an adult and provides you with so many transferable skills that will help you through the rest of your life.
Q: What do you plan to do next?
A: Thanks to getting a First I have managed to get into a lot of trainee schemes in the BBC. Through these schemes I have the opportunity to show those in the industry what I can do and hopefully get a job. I have secured a four week placement working for Rip Off Britain after impressing the programme producer at a networking event so I am hopeful this opportunity will lead to bigger and better things. Even if it doesn’t it will stand out on my CV. I also blog as ‘TheBlindJournalist’ which allows me to showcase my work which I will always continue.