By Holly Tuke

My name is Holly and I am 20 years old. I am registered as severely sight impaired, I have the eye condition Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP) due to the fact that I was born at 24 weeks. I am currently at university studying Children, young people and families in the hope to work in the sight loss field when I graduate.

I am currently a volunteer for Action for Blind/RNIB and also LOOK-UK and have volunteered with many charities over the last few years including ones in my local area. I run my own blog called Life of a Blind Girl. One of the things that is on my blog is a useful resources post which I continue to update. For blind and visually impaired people like myself, we often have to search around for services, equipment, apps and a lot more information and it can be difficult and rather frustrating sometimes. I have tried to take this stress away from people, my Useful resources post tries to cover as many of these and they are all in one place and one of the most important factors is that they are fully accessible with a screen-reader. You can check out my useful resources post here.

On my blog I also talk about my life as a blind girl and discuss many topics relating to sight loss/disability such as education, assistive technology, beauty, lifestyle and so much more.

Growing up a blind person in a very dominated sighted world hasn’t been the easiest of rides but it’s shaped me as a person in so many ways. I believe that it has helped me be more open minded about people and the society that we live in. It’s also made me more determined to get to where I want to be in life and made me think more positively about life in general. The statistics of blind people in work, mainstream education and completing other daily tasks are rather shocking and I want to try and be in the few % that do achieve these things.

I wouldn’t call myself inspirational but I’ve worked hard to get to where I am today and achieve the things that I have. You can view my post about being inspirational here. I attended mainstream school all the way through my education, it wasn’t easy but I believe that experience gave me more of an insight into the wider world. I did have to fight for the appropriate equipment and support and constantly had to tell teachers if they weren’t doing things right or making work accessible for me. It was hard but I’m glad I went through mainstream school because I believe it did shape the person that I am today and it made me a more independent person. I left mainstream school with good GCSE’s and A-levels both ranging from A*-C. You can read more about my mainstream school experience on my blog.

After finishing school, I continued on to university. Going to university was definitely one of the best decisions that I ever made. It’s made me so much more confident and I am studying something that I am passionate about.

When I started university my main aim was to become a teacher. However, after a lot of thinking and a placement in a primary school I realised that teaching wasn’t for me. From then on, I knew that I wanted to help other blind and visually impaired people like myself. This is one reason why I started blogging, to help other people in the same situation as me and to also educate non-disabled people on what life is really like being blind and for people to know that a disability doesn’t define you. No matter what, if you put your mind to it, you can get to where you want to be in life. I struggled with self confidence for many years and felt isolated during my time at sixth form at my school. This knocked my confidence even more, I wasn’t happy with the person I was but when I got to university I no longer felt isolated and became a lot more confident and happier with myself and my disability.

Personally, I think that being independent doesn’t just mean being able to use a cane or have a guide dog, I believe it also means that you are able to stand on your own two feet and face this predominantly sighted world, no matter what life throws at you. In September 2015, I took a huge step towards being more independent by going on a plane by myself. I was going to visit a friend in Belgium and although it seemed a daunting experience, I am so glad I did it even today. It gave me a feeling of pride and a sense of achievement because I’d done something that a sighted person would probably take for granted. You can read my experience of this in detail here. I’ve never let my disability be a barrier and I don’t intend to start now.

One of the experiences I’m very grateful for is my week at a specialist school for the blind and visually impaired. When I finished my A-levels I found myself wanting to learn independent living skills and be more confident in using my cane. The services for these are limited in my area so I thought of other ways, one of which contacting specialist schools. For many years I was very reluctant to using a cane due to previous bad experiences and people’s perceptions which scared me rather a lot. The first time I ever used a long cane was in school. Personally, I don’t think that that was the best place to try a cane out as it’s foreign to the majority of pupils and like most things that are different or out of the ordinary, they’re going to make fun out of you. This put me off using one for quite some time but I finally realised that I had to put all of this behind me and move on so this is why I attended a specialist school for a week.

I remember going to the school and not really knowing what the week had in store for me. Granted, I knew that I’d be doing independent living skills and mobility but I didn’t realise that I’d make some lifelong friendships with other visually impaired people like myself. They understood the struggles that I’d faced, experienced those embarrassing moments like all blindies have and so much more. I knew I’d obviously learn new skills but what I didn’t realise is my week at that specialist school would really build my confidence as much as it actually did and that those blind and visually impaired friends that I made would be such an important part of my life. Since then, it has become more apparent to me that having blind and visually impaired friends is so so important. Only blind and visually impaired people will realise just how important they truly are.

They understand what you’re going through from the good points to the bad, can share tips and tricks and help you just as much or possibly more than sighted friends. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love my sighted friends to bits but they don’t fully understand my disability, and I never expect them too. You can read more on my views on this here.

Things haven’t always been easy for me, I’ve faced many challenges, a lot of them due to my disability but two of the people that have always got me through them are my parents. They’ve never let my disability define me, taught me to strive for what I want to achieve and they have supported me in everything that I do. One of the things that I am most thankful that my parents have done for me is they’ve never stopped me from living a “normal life” despite being blind. They’ve always let me do things that sighted people would do, even just everyday tasks such as going out with friends, to the cinema, out for meals etc. I think that their positive attitude has played such a huge part in the person I’ve become. If you don’t do normal activities just like sighted people, make mistakes and try new things then you’re not going to learn. My mum and dad have never wrapped me up in cotton wool so to speak and I am beyond grateful for this. They’ve allowed me to make mistakes but learn from them in order for me to grow as a person. They’ve always helped me fight for the things that will make me more independent and if something isn’t right, they’ll help me change that. I know from seeing other blind or visually impaired families that parents natural instincts are often to protect their visually impaired child and much as possible. Yes my parents have protected me, but I’ve lived a normal life, just like a sighted person (with a few adaptions) which has made me accept my disability. Just because a person is blind or visually impaired or has another disability it does not mean that they are any different to anyone else. Everyone has dreams and goals that they want to achieve. If you or your child has something they want to do, then strive to achieve that. Be yourself and don’t let your disability define you or your child.

If you have any questions about my blog or would like to ask me anything about my life as a blind person/student then please feel free to contact me.

Remember: you can live a life without limits!

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