Shamima has recently graduated from Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Birmingham, where she “had an amazing time whilst studying”. Shamima joined the University from a widening participation background after being part of Access to Birmingham (A2B), a University of Birmingham scheme that supports students from disadvantaged backgrounds to discover more about studying at university.
Throughout her time at university, Shamima received Disabled Students Allowance (DSA), a grant that provides support to enable students to study independently and to participate fully in university life. However, Shamima highlights that her “student journey wasn’t one that the majority of students may relate to”.
In her final year, Shamima discovered she required eye surgery, which had a huge impact on her studies. “When I was studying, I didn’t necessarily identify as being disabled, but when I was on my study abroad in Dublin, I found out that I had a vision impairment after a very long overdue eye test”. Reflecting on this period of her life, juggling work on her dissertation on how welfare reforms affect disabled people whilst coming to terms with her impairment, Shamima expresses the challenges faced by herself and others with vision impairments on completing a degree.
In 2019, VICTAR and Thomas Pocklington Trust organised a roundtable event on DSA with Rt Hon Chris Skidmore MP, following the launch of the Our Right to Study report, which highlights the issues faced by students with vision impairment in England when accessing and using DSA. Shamima was keen to participate, “I volunteered for the roundtable as I was very keen on voicing my concerns about DSA, having experienced it from a long-term health condition point of view to someone with a physical, vision impairment and seeing a big difference and deficit in the provision.”
Shamima was one of thirteen students who took part, “I was really excited to see that someone so senior was so engaged in improving support for disabled students. It was really nice seeing students from different universities expressing the fact that they had a similar experience with the DSA and seeing that something was hopefully being done in changing and improving it.”
Since graduating, Shamima is looking for work in the equality and diversity field, an area she is passionate about after being actively involved in student equality and diversity politics. She explains that “the working world is starkly different to studying, there is a working scheme, which is similar to the DSA scheme but austerity cuts mean that it lacks what support is needed across the board for disabled people. That’s why VICTAR’s research is very forward-thinking and really on the ball with what is necessary”. The longitudinal study has found that young people with vision impairment are still facing a cliff edge when leaving education to find work, and that young people with vision impairment are at high risk of becoming NEET (not in employment, education or training) when they leave education.
Shamima thinks that “the research does absolutely reflect my experience and if the recommendations from the research were implemented, I think the situation for being in the workplace would be improved. I would absolutely agree that there is a cliff edge in terms of post-19 support.” Looking ahead her focus is on “encouraging other young people with vision impairment to get involved in disabled liberation and share their experiences to empower others to create a better environment for young people with vision impairment”.