I am vision impaired, I have retinitis pigmentosa which was diagnosed in my teens. My brother and sister also have RP. When I was at high school I began to wonder what sort of work I could do.
I loved my science classes and dreamed of going to university and studying for a BSc. When I approached the university science faculty and the career advisors they advised me against this and said I would never be offered a job. They suggested I become a masseuse or take up another practical profession. I began to explore alternative careers including music, another of my passions. One day my father met another blind student who was studying for a PhD, she became my mentor and friend.
I gained my BSc, have done a Masters in Leukaemia research at Auckland Medical School, and am embarking on my PhD. I was offered a place at Oxford University to do this, but made a decision to continue my study in New Zealand. I am going to Oxford to do a three month course in Bioinformatics. I am hoping I may be offered a place as a research scientist on a world-renowned retinal research team there. I would also like to lecture at a university.
My journey would have been very different if I had listened to the career advisors at school and university. I think they, and university faculty, need training to understand the types of career paths that people with a vision impairment and other disabilities can follow. They should be reaching out to students in secondary schools discussing career options and providing links to websites and social media for inspiration.
An accessibility act should include a requirement that young disabled people are provided with a wide range of options and choices for their education and career path. Careers advisers and university staff should have to undertake training to ensure they encourage and support disabled students to pursue a career path of the student’s choosing. Their roles should be monitored and reportable.
This is my access story, it is one of many. I'm sharing it because I want a law that puts accessibility at the heart of an inclusive Aotearoa New Zealand.