Second sight: Maddie’s story

Photography student Maddie Beach shares her experience of working with a partially-sighted student.

How did you start working with Jane?

I chose to do the Health and Wellbeing add+vantage module ‘Helping students with additional needs’. I thought, why not help people? I first had lessons with Debra Jackson, the University’s disability co-ordinator, to understand what to do and expect. I had four two-hour sessions, covering all kind of disabilities including dyslexia, autism and physical disabilities etc. Debra told me I’d be working with Jane, a third year student who had limited sight.

Did you have any previous experience with disabled students? 

My mum works with disabled students at secondary school, although I had never actually met a visually impaired student. Jane was the first. I didn’t know how visually impaired Jane would be, so I came in with a completely open mind. I sat down and met Jane, and she instantly told me exactly what she was capable of and what she needed help with. It was great!

Do you work with multiple students or just Jane?

I’ve worked on open days but I mainly work one-to-one with Jane. We’ve been working together since September, we do academic stuff but we do also chill out together. It hasn’t affected my own studies at all.

Describe a typical day for the two of you:

We meet up in the wellbeing centre, it’s a great resource – there’s always space for us. For about half an hour, we go through Jane’s emails and sort out queries and any printing needs. We then work on her dissertation, I’ll be typing it up as Jane dictates, and we’ll do research for it together. We can be quite loud though. I have to read everything out whilst we’re researching for her dissertation. Her topic is domestic violence so we do get a few weird looks when talking about some of the cases we come across!

What have you learnt from working with Jane?

I learnt that even if someone doesn’t have sight, they can do most things and are still capable. It made me think differently. I do photography and it really made me think about that experience, and how people view things. I’ve heard they are now creating blind photography, incorporating 3d and physical touch, which is amazing.

Working with someone who can’t see the same things as you makes you sit and look more. You have to realise how lucky you are. With digital photography, you quickly take photos and forget about what you’ve been doing and how lucky you are to be able to do it.

Maddie is a talented photography student with an outstanding portfolio

What is the best thing about doing the module?

I know it sounds corny, but the best thing about the module is meeting Jane, she’s a complete friend now. When I’m with her, I will forget she’s blind; she’s just so capable! I often have to check myself and think ‘oh yeah she might need help with this!’

What would you say to students considering this module? 

Do it, you’ve got nothing to lose. It’s so different to whatever subject you’re doing, it also makes you feel good.

Jane adds: If you want to do it, be open-minded. You don’t know what you’re going to end up with, or who you’ll end up with. But, it might change your life, it might change the way you think; you might even appreciate life more.

In 2012, Jane underwent chemotherapy for Leukaemia. Whilst the disease was cured, the treatment was wrongly administered – causing her to go completely blind overnight. Read more about her story, her work with the Health and Wellbeing team and her invaluable friendship with Maddie.