Lost in Transition? Supporting young people with vision impairment for post school transitions

In June 2021 the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research at the University of Birmingham hosted a free online conference to mark the conclusion of the Longitudinal Transitions Study.

During the event, which was supported by Thomas Pocklington Trust, delegates had the opportunity to learn about the findings from this research study. For over ten years we followed the post-school transition experiences of 80 young people with vision impairment. This unique study in the field of vision impairment  included investigating the participants’ experiences in further education, higher education, apprenticeships, gap years and entering the labour market. 

During the four-day event delegates had the opportunity to attend a series of workshops focusing on a range of important topics relating to supporting post-school transitions. These were delivered by experts in the field of vision impairment and incorporated personal experiences from young people.

Programme overview 

Main conference: 22 June, 1.30 - 4.30pm


Overview of the sessions and speakers for the half day event

Dr Rachel Hewett and Professor Graeme Douglas are based at the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research, University of Birmingham. The centre was established in 2001 with the underlying belief that 'through education, through research, and through access to appropriate resources, the barriers to learning and participation that may be experienced by people with vision impairment can be better understood and reduced'. Rachel and Graeme will highlight the key findings which have emerged through the Longitudinal Transitions Study, which they have led together since 2010. 

Elin Williams is visually impaired and one of the participants from the longitudinal study. She now works for LOOK UK, a small national charity empowering visually impaired young people and their families to thrive through a tailored peer-mentoring service and transformational events www.look-uk.org. In her talk, Elin will share her reflections on her personal experiences of transitioning through mainstream to specialist school, then to university and on to employment, and on participating in the longitudinal study. She will also share insight into the most common challenges around transition for VI young people that emerge through the LOOK Mentoring Project, and some ideas on how voluntary sector organisations can support specialist services.

Geena Vabulas is Policy Manager for Assistive Technology at the cross-party think tank Policy Connect, which provides the secretariat for the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology. She also works as a technologist on the Nuvoic project, which aims to improve access to voice recognition technologies for people with dysarthric or non-standard speech.

Geena is concerned with how technology can both enable and disable people, with a particular interest in neurodiversity.  She received her Master's (distinction) in Education and Technology from the IOE at UCL, where her research focused on the remote design of extended realities (XR) with neurodivergent adults. In this presentation, Geena will provide an overview of the disability employment policy landscape and share details from Policy Connect’s soon-to-be-published commission on Assistive Technology and Transitions into Employment.  The commission, co-Chaired by Lilian Greenwood MP (Labour) and Lord Shinkwin (Conservative), examines the challenging intersection of disability, technology, employers, education and training providers, and government.  The report makes recommendations for how we as a society can best take advantage of technology to break down barriers to employment, and will be available to read in full in early July. 

Workshops: 23 - 25 June.

Further and Higher Education


(using a live Google document)

Careers Education Information and Guidance 


Mobility and Independence

Each workshop lasted between 60-90 minutes and will be held on Zoom. We aimed to make the session’s interactive, allowing opportunity for engagement with other colleagues. 

Overview of the Workshops and speakers


Wednesday 23 June 9.30-10.30am: Further and Higher Education workshop

Moving into post-16 education: a student’s journey, led by Tara Chattaway and the Student Support Service at Thomas Pocklington Trust

Join us to explore the journey of blind and partially sighted students as they move on to post-16 education and beyond. This session will look at the experiences and barriers faced by blind and partially sighted students in college and university and will explore what we can do to support this journey and what policy changes are needed.

The session will hear from the Student Support Service at Thomas Pocklington Trust and students including Mentors from Look UK.

Tara Chattaway manages the Student Support Service which supports blind and partially sighted student to enter into and get the most out of post-16 education. Tara has worked in the sector for 14 years and is an experienced campaign and policy manager.

Thursday 24 June 9.30-10.30am: Technology workshop

Tech after school: collaborative working for successful transition, led by Kellie Mote from JISC with personal reflections from Holly Scott Gardner

How do we work together to facilitate successful learner journeys from school, through to further or higher education, and into employment? What do students and the people who support them need to know? This interactive session will explore some key considerations for young people thinking about college and university. During the session, delegates will have opportunities to connect with one another to spark ideas for effective student-centred solutions.

Kellie Mote is a subject specialist for assistive technology at Jisc, where she provides strategic guidance to colleges and universities across the UK, and facilitates large communities of practice. She sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Assistive Technology, and the Department for Education AT Experts Group. 

Thursday 24 June 2-3pm: Careers worshop

Careers Education Information and Guidance workshop led by Gareth Brydon from Thomas Pocklington Trust, Kelly Dillon from Careers & Enterprise Company, Dr Oliver Jenkin from CSW Group, and Phoebe Bonser (student voice representation)

This workshop will give an overview of findings from CEIAG research conducted by TPT and VICTAR in summer 2020. It will draw upon the direct experiences of vision impaired children, young people, their families and QTVIs of CEIAG provision in England. The focus will be the period since the legal duty for delivery was transferred to individual schools and colleges and the former national Connexions service was effectively decommissioned and replaced by National Careers’ Service in 2011/12.

The workshop will also consider challenges that lie ahead nationally in terms of government skills for jobs and careers’ policy, outline work being done by TPT and generate discussion about how sensory services have and might influence positive change locally with and for VI CYP in this context.

Gareth Brydon is the Children and Young People Manager at Thomas Pocklington Trust (TPT). Gareth has 48 years lived experience of sight loss and 20+ years working in the sight loss sector. He has worked in a variety of roles including as a ROVI and Transitions team leader at the Royal National College for the Blind, managing regional employment and post compulsory education outreach services at RNIB East Midlands and East of England, and before joining TPT as national lead on employment and strategic partnership development with Action for Blind People.

Kelly Dillon is a qualified Teacher and previous Head of Post 16 and Careers Lead across various educational establishments.  Her particular specialism is now around inclusion and ensuring all young people are supported in their next steps.  Kelly works closely with CECs network of SEND, Alternative provision and Pupil referral Units to support their young people in their careers education and transition.  Kelly also manages the Resource Directory for The Careers and Enterprise Company which supports Career Leaders when planning an effective careers programme. 

Dr Oliver Jenkin is a Senior Career Development Consultant with CSW Group. He has 13 years’ experience of delivering tailored careers education and guidance services to many different client groups, including young people with a range of different types of Special Educational Need.

Friday 25th June 9.30-10.30am: Employment workshop

Employment: The Ultimate Transition, led by Callum Russell from CrystalEyes

Employment is the ultimate goal for all and the blind and vision impaired are no exception. But the national statistic of 1 in every 4 blind and vision impaired adults being unemployed indicates that this final stepping stone is the most challenging of them all.

In this workshop, we will explore the barriers to success for blind and vision impaired young people and ask what we as a sector can do to equip those we support with the attributes that employers today are seeking.

Callum Russell is founder and director of CrystalEyes, a bespoke consultancy that helps broaden the horizons of people living with sight loss, allowing them to fulfil their potential. He supports young people who are transitioning to further and higher education, as well as adults entering the world of work. He also works with employers to ensure best practice in embedding equality, diversity and inclusion. Callum is an expert in employment support for the blind and vision impaired and has lived experience of seeking and maintaining sustainable employment with a vision impairment.

Friday 25 June 2-3pm: Mobility and Independence workshop

Preparing vision impaired people for their own future: mobility and independence, led by Suzy Mcdonald and Terri-Ann Bent from Birmingham Education Habilitation Service

What building blocks of independence does a vision impaired young person need to have put in place in order to be able to stand on their own two feet when moving from statutory education into higher education, training or employment? We will discuss topics such as travel, self-advocacy, banking, shopping and food preparation and acknowledge some of the challenges faced when moving away from home.

Suzy Mcdonald and Terri-Ann Bent are both habilitation specialists working for Birmingham Education Habilitation Service - between them, they have over 25 years experience in the hab field, as well as having worked in the wider field of vision impairment before joining the Birmingham team.

Who was the event aimed at?

The event was aimed at anyone who has involvement in supporting young people with vision impairment into or within post-school settings. This includes QTVIs, habilitation specialists, teaching assistants, SENCos, disability practitioners in FE and HE, careers officers, providers of employment services such as Job Centre plus, policy makers and charity workers. Families of children and young people with vision impairment and young people themselves were also very welcome to join us. 

How can I get more information about the event?

We will be continuing to update this webpage with details about the event, including an introduction to the speakers and the outline of their sessions. If you have any further enquiries, please contact Dr Rachel Hewett via email r.g.hewett@bham.ac.uk


If you have any further enquiries, please contact Dr Rachel Hewett via email r.g.hewett@bham.ac.uk