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Visual Impairment & STEM

Lead Institution: University of Bath
Collaborating with: University of Southampton, Plymouth University, Royal Agricultural College, Loughborough University, London School of Economics

Project Outputs > Event - 'Inspiring Students with a Visual Impairment'

On 21st March 2012, 14 young people with visual impairments got to grips with science and maths at a special event hosted by the University of Bath. The aim of the day was to inspire young people to look at science and technology subjects in a different way and encourage young learners with disabilities to consider studying STEM subjects at university.

The event was organised by the University’s Widening Participation Office working in collaboration with Sensory Support Services for Bath & North East Somerset, South Gloucestershire, Bristol, and North Somerset.

Young people at the VI event

Young people at the VI event

The question of under-representation of learners with disabilities in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects in the UK universities is recognised as one of the important issues in the debate for fair access to higher education. National surveys in the UK suggest that learners with visual impairment are only a small percentage of those taking degrees in STEM subjects.


Agenda for the Day

During the day learners, teachers, and parents were engaged in collaborative ‘different-thinking’ about higher education. They got a chance to meet Paralympian Ben Rushgrove, as well as postgraduate computer science and second year psychology students who are visually impaired to hear from them about what university life is like.

The young people, aged 13 - 17, took part in a workshop to think about how maths can be applied to computer science and parents were shown the assistive technologies available to help visually impaired students at the University. The participants also were shown around the University’s electron microscopy facility and were given a tour around the campus.

An agenda for the day, alongside an associated flyer, can be downloaded below:

Programme Agenda

Programme Flyer

Students tackling a Maths challenge

Students tackling a Maths challenge


Event Feedback

The event was very well-received by the young people and their families and support workers:

Jake Wiltshire from the West of England School and College (Countess Wear, Devon) said: “My parents didn’t want me to go to university because of my disability but I wish I could be a student now. I thought I wouldn’t fit in but it is cool to be a student.

Sue Rogers, from Sensory Support Services, said: “It was a useful day and well-received. I hope that we can work together again in the future.

Iryna Withington, Widening Participation Coordinator at the University of Bath, said: “It was challenging and exciting to work on this project that brought together our University, schools, and community to deliver something wonderful and empowering for youngsters. It also allowed professionals to share good practice and increase our collaboration in the west region.

Isabelle Hellier of Redland Green School said: "Thank you very much for the great day we had in Bath. Our student found it most inspiring!"


What Next?

Dr Iryna Withington, who coordinated the event, has developed a case study that captures learning and that is available here. It is hoped that the event will become a regular one at the University of Bath and indeed, a complementary event for practitioners is being planned for October 2012.

Staff involved

EA Draffan
Project lead, University of Southampton

Judith Waterfield
Project lead, Plymouth University

Iryna Withington
University of Bath

John Conway
Royal Agricultural College

Sharron Sturgess
Loughborough University

Simon Hayhoe
London School of Economics