At RNC (Royal National College for the Blind) every student starts here with a different story and different barriers that they have faced, here 18 year old Ben Sheppard from Rotherham tells us about his journey.
Starting at RNC
“My first visit to RNC was during a Have a Go weekend when I was 14, it was just amazing. I met a lot of people and straight away, I felt so comfortable and I just knew this was the place I wanted to come. It was good for mum too, because she was able to meet with the other parents and it gave her reassurance that it would be ok to leave me here.
I started RNC in September 2015 and have to admit that the first couple of weeks were tough, I did get really homesick but as soon as I started making friends I was fine. The time has flown by because I’ve been having so much fun. I try and ring mum every day but sometimes I don’t have time because I can get so busy!
RNC is everything that I thought it would be but so much more, it was definitely the right decision for me to come here. My advice to any parent or young person would just be to come and have a visit – you’ll be amazed!
The cause of my VI (visual impairment)
When I was 5 I contracted TB (tuberculosis), meningitis and had a stroke down the right side of my body, I went for a nap on Christmas day but mum couldn’t wake me up – I was flat lining and my heart stopped. When I woke up 3 days later I couldn’t walk or even talk and spent 3 months in hospital. When I was released, a doctor told my mum “Ben will be a lifeless lump for the rest of his life” and that there was less than a 1% chance that I would be able to walk or talk again. I was on medication and underwent loads of physio. After a year the doctors were amazed that I started walking again; knowing that I was able to defy all of their expectations makes me feel good.
What I have learned since being at RNC
Being at RNC has been the best 3 years of my life, I’ve developed so many skills to live my life as someone with visual impairment but adaptions have also been made for the fact that I basically only have use of one hand/arm. Because of the stroke I had when I was a child, I lost so much sensation in my right arm and the strength in it isn’t enough to do much.
During my IT lessons at RNC, I was taught how to one hand touch type and use assistive technology, I now use JAWS which is a screen reader. Before coming here I’d never even used a computer! The staff at RNC also taught me how to use a one handed Perkins Brailler and this supported me through gaining my BTEC Level 3 braille qualification.
My main course at RNC is NVQ Level 2 in Business and Administration – we work in a real life working office with everyday tasks such as typing up documents, customer services and operating the switchboard at the main reception. I am in charge of my own learning now; I don’t need a TA sitting next to me because I am in a class with people similar to me. I’m thinking for myself and using my own initiative and I know this will help prepare me for working in an office when I leave RNC.
My Student Ambassador role
As a student ambassador, I am there to help new students with any problems they might face when they start here. I help introduce new students to each other when they’re nervous or shy and help different social groups form. It’s a great experience for me to watch people settling in and making friends.
I only had one friend at school, he had a disability as well and we ended up sticking up for each other because we would both get bullied. There aren’t any bullies at RNC; we all know what it’s like. There are just loads of different friendship groups and it’s a really friendly environment where I get on with everyone.
Sport at RNC
When I was at school I was never allowed to join in sport with the others because they said it was too dangerous with my condition. I was never allowed to join in football, I just stood there listening at the side of the pitch and it was upsetting for me to be left out. It was either that or I had to sit in a tiny office with the TA and do extra work. When I came to RNC I was almost expecting it to be the same but I had so much fun during induction week and was encouraged to try whatever sports that I wanted.
I am now a member of the RNC cricket and goalball teams. My first goalball tournament was absolutely brilliant, there’s that feeling of exhilaration of ‘Yes, I can do this and we can win this!’ Mum came to watch and thought it was brill – she had never seen me do any sport before.
Since being at RNC I have completed my Level 1 Goalball coaching qualification and I am hoping to progress onto coaching for disability sport, I’ve really developed an interest in it since coming here. I love that at RNC everyone can join in; I’m not an outcast on the side of the pitch any more.
My new found independence
The best thing about being at RNC has definitely been the independence I’ve gained. Before coming here I had a mobility lesson for an hour a week so we couldn’t do much and it wasn’t often enough for me to actually practice on my own.
Here I’ve had mobility training so I know my routes around town and I can do it myself without any assistance. I have some sight so I’ve been taught to look out for landmarks, I can’t see detail but I can see outlines, recognise floor patterns and different tactiles etc.
At the end of my first term at RNC, I travelled from Hereford all the way back to my home town of Rotherham on my own and I was only 16! My mobility lessons helped with practicing getting to the station and booking assistance; I knew I had to change trains so needed their help with transferring to different platforms. Having all of this independence makes me feel fantastic.
It’s not bad for someone who was once called “a lifeless lump” that wasn’t ever expected to achieve anything!”