Rich Cook teaches mobility and ILS (independent living skills)
“In 1991 the onset of partial vision loss was very sudden and life changing for me, particularly as I was aware that my vision impairment was due to an hereditary eye disease, which meant prescription glasses were unable to correct my vision. The initial adjustment period was distressing because my current employment was terminated and I no longer could play eleven-a-side football for two local teams. I was employed as a plasterers mate for five years, a job which had good prospects but it soon became evident that I could not do the job with the same efficiency and safety. It also became apparent that this sudden life changing experience affected my confidence and my ability to find employment.
In 1993 I became a full time residential student at the Royal National College for the Blind (RNC) in Hereford. The initial settling in period was difficult, as I still wanted to become a plasterer and continue with the way my life was prior to attending the college. However, I soon realised that I was not the only person dealing with vision impairment, it actually made me feel rather humble when I realised how other students were coping with more extensive life changing experiences than that of my own. I started to embrace the social network of friends I had made through peer and staff support, extra curriculum activities and academic studies, although the latter more difficult. I became part of the college’s’ five-a-side football team, and at a level of which I could hold my own, something I had missed and never thought I would be a part of again. This gave me the opportunity to travel to tournaments nationally and internationally when I trained with the England partially sighted squad. I also represented the college in an international swimming competition, a sport that I had not previously competed in. I started to regain my fitness and confidence being a part of so many sporting activities.
I was introduced to using a computer and was trained to touch type (without this skill I could not function in my current job) and the use of magnification software. The teachers were highly qualified and experienced in teaching visually impaired people. Correct resources were provided and students were treated as equal and not discriminated against in anyway.
Personally I don’t think you can under-estimate the importance of extra-curricular programmes the college provides. Without the sporting opportunities, fitness classes and social activities I would not have regained my self-belief and confidence. I have played a supportive role and at the same time was supported by my peers, this is perhaps not given the recognition it deserves and is a hidden quality of residential life. I realised that, from my own experiences, I can support people who are blind and partially sighted, particularly people with adventitious sight impairment. This influenced me to change my career path and look at training to become a Rehabilitation Worker.
I trained in 1999/2000 to become a rehabilitation worker and started full time employment at the RNC in 2000. I have now worked at the college for 16 years and supervised a trainee Rehabilitation Worker, who is also visually impaired and now working at RNC. As an employee at RNC I have continued to support students with fundraising events and forged close links with Hereford Council to improve accessibility in urban areas of Herefordshire.
If I had not attended RNC my circumstances may have been very different. Would I have been given the same support in much larger classes, or provided with the expertise in my local college? Would I have been made to feel an equal member of the class? Would I be working at the same rate as my peers? Would I learn from my peers or would they learn from me? And would my confidence and self-belief have grown with the same extra-curricular opportunities? There are so many positive aspects that I have experienced and continue to do so. I continue to support students and college with fundraising events and make use of ThePoint4’s excellent gym and fitness classes.”