University students studying together in a library.

Making university life better for visually impaired students

Research participation opportunity

Developing university guidance for the socio-emotional needs of students with vision impairment


You are invited to take part in a research project conducted by the Institute for Mental Health, the University of Birmingham. This research work is led by Dr Ifigeneia Manitsa, Research Fellow in Youth Mental Health.

Before you decide, it is important for you to understand why the research is being done and what it will involve. This Information Sheet will tell you about the purpose of the research, along with its potential risks and benefits.

If you agree to take part, we will ask you to sign a Consent Form. If there is anything that you are not clear about, we will be happy to explain it to you. Please take as much time as you need to read it. You should only consent to participate in this research study when you feel that you understand what is being asked of you, and you have had enough time to think about your decision.

It is up to you to decide whether or not to take part. If you decide to take part, you are still free to withdraw at any time during your participation in this study and without giving a reason. If you have any further questions, please contact Dr Ifigeneia Manitsa at [email protected]. If you have any medical/other problems which make it difficult for you to read this information, please contact Ifigeneia for a verbal explanation of the research. If you choose not to take part at all or decide to withdraw your data, you will not be paid for your participation.

When you are happy that you have all the information you need to be able to decide whether or not you would like to take part in the study, please complete the enclosed consent form and return it to Dr Ifigeneia Manitsa at [email protected].

Current Study

The Institute for Mental Health at the University of Birmingham in collaboration with the Vision Impairment Centre for Teaching and Research (VICTAR), Kingston University, University of Edinburgh, Abertay University and Bristol Sensory Support Service are conducting research to understand more about the university experiences of individuals with vision impairment who are currently enrolled and pursuing a university degree (undergrad, masters, and doctoral students) and/or have recently (within the last five years) completed a university degree in the UK. This research project is also looking at the experiences of professionals from national organisations (e.g., consultants and habilitation officers) and university staff (e.g., academics and disability officers) supporting students with vision impairment in Higher Education. This project is funded by the Thomas Pocklington Trust Grants Programme.

What do I have to do?

This study will consist of two phases. First, we would like you to complete a short demographic questionnaire and participate in an online interview with us via Microsoft Teams in September/October 2023 (Phase 1). The online interview will last approximately one hour, and you will be asked to talk about your experiences in Higher Education and what type of support you are receiving (or received) during your university degree. We would also like to hear your ideas and suggestions for how universities might better support students with vision impairment in the future. Then, our research team will need some time to analyse the data that we will collect during Phase 1.

In Phase 2 that will run from February to April 2024, we would like to conduct three online 60-minute sessions with 4-6 students with vision impairment. Researchers will ask some questions and you will be able to share your thoughts and experiences about the support you receive with others in these online sessions. You will also be asked to discuss the findings of Phase 1 and discuss the socio-emotional support that should be provided to people with vision impairment in Higher Education. In addition, during these online group sessions, the research team may ask you to discuss the mental health and wellbeing guide provided by Thomas Pocklington Trust for students who want to go to university ( The transition guide “Your future, your choice: bridging the gap” developed by RNIB and VICTAR ( and some of its online resources may also be used and discussed during these online sessions. You may also wish to follow up comments that other people have said and to ask your own questions. You do not have to answer every question, nor should you feel pressurised to talk.

Considering we can only recruit up to 4-6 students with vision impairment for our online group sessions, we will have to give priority to the students who contact us first. Furthermore, you can decide to only participate in Phase 1 if you do not wish to participate in Phase 2.

We will also be conducting focus groups with people with professionals who work in UK universities to support students with vision impairment.

How will the things I say be used?

Overall, this research project aims to explore the lived experiences of students with vision impairment in Higher Education and to identify the lack of holistic and person-centred approaches to the socio-emotional needs of individuals with vision impairment wishing to attend HE in the UK. This project also aims to initiate the development of university guidance that will address their socio-emotional needs and educational inclusion.

After each session, a summary report with the main findings will be sent to you. Descriptions of research findings will be published in newsletters of the professional support groups and educational institutions involved. In addition, we will publish the findings from the study in scientific journals and will present the results at relevant conferences. No names and identifying information will be published in any reports and future publications. A full report will be submitted to the Thomas Pocklington Trust who may wish to upload it on their website. All of your personally identifiable information will remain anonymous and confidential.

We will video record the focus groups so that we have an accurate recording of the discussion.

Most participants enjoy taking part in research however if this brings up unwanted feelings and you wish to talk it over potential sources of advice are:

The Samaritans – phone: 116 123; email: [email protected]

Citizens Advice –

RNIB Helpline – 0303 123 999

Will what I say be anonymous?

In our publications and reports your responses will be anonymised but in rare cases where someone knows you very well others may be able to recognise you. Also, the other participants in the online group sessions will hear your responses. We will remind participants that what is said during these sessions must not be discussed outside these online group sessions; however, this relies on everybody sticking to this rule. Further, if you choose to use your camera during the teams call, you may be visually identifiable. You can choose not to turn on your camera if you prefer.

If, during the course of the interview, you inform us that you or someone you know is at serious risk of harm, we will take the appropriate advice and act accordingly.

What should I do if I change my mind?

During the course of the online group session, you can leave at any time by clicking on the ‘leave meeting’ button. Your data will not be included in the research.

If after taking part in an online interview and/online group session you decide that you no longer wish to take part in the project, please email the project lead Ifigeneia Manitsa ([email protected]) and we will remove and permanently delete your data. You must do this within one week of taking part in both tasks (online interview and online group session) otherwise we will not be able to remove your data as we will have begun to analyse it.

Where will data be stored?

The data collected will be kept in locked or password protected storage at the University of Birmingham or held on a password protected database. All information gathered about you will be stored separately from any information that would allow someone to identify who you are (this is known as personal identifying information, e.g., your full names, your address, your contact details). Your personal identifying information will be stored on a local password-protected server and only members of our research team will have access to it. We will only be able to trace the information we have collected about you back to you using a special reference number which we will store in a password protected database held at the University of Birmingham. Only members of our research team will have access to that database. Personal identifying information will be treated as strictly confidential and handled in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 2018 and the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018.

Do I get anything for taking part?

In Phase 1, as a token of appreciation for your time you will receive a £20 payment.

In Phase 2, you will receive a £20 payment after each online group session (three payments in total).

If you need a carer present during the interviews to support you, then an additional payment of £10 will be offered to your carer for assisting you during the interview process.

What will happen to the data afterwards?

The information that you provide will be stored on a local password-protected server and only members of the research team will have access to it. All personal details will be kept separately from the information collected. Participants will be identified by a unique number so that it will only be possible to connect results to individuals via this number. This will ensure that results are kept anonymous.

At the end of the study, your personal details will be destroyed unless you tell us otherwise.  This means that we would no longer be able to trace the results of your assessments back to you. It is optional for you to be contacted by the same research team for future ethically approved research of similar nature. If you agree, the research team will contact you according to your preference via phone or email. If you agree to be contacted for future studies, you do not give consent to future studies. This option does not impact on the participation of this study or any future study. This database is password protected and only approved members of our research team have access to your details.  We do not share your details with anyone outside the research team.

What happens if I decide that I no longer want my details on the database?

All you would need to do is contact Ifigeneia, the Principal Investigator of the study, at [email protected]. Your details will be removed from the database immediately.


After having read all the information and having received appropriate responses to any questions that you may have about the study you will be asked to give your consent to participate in the study if you decide that you do wish to participate. We need to receive consent from you in order for you to participate.


You are free to withdraw from the study within 7 days from taking part in the one-to-one interview (Phase 1) and each online group session (Phase 2). Should you choose to withdraw from Phase 1, you can also request that any data collected from your participation be withdrawn from the study. If you request this, any data collected from you will be located and destroyed. However, once each online group discussion is complete (Phase 2), we will be unable to destroy any of your data. However, we will exclude them from the analysis. Even if you decide to withdraw from the study, you will still receive your compensation.

What if there is a problem?

If you have a concern about any aspect of this study, you should ask to speak to the researchers who will do their best to answer your questions. Please contact the Principal Investigator Ifigeneia Manitsa at [email protected] in the first instance. If you remain unhappy and wish to complain formally, you can contact: Professor Ed Wilding; Head of School; School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, B15 2TT, by email: [email protected] or by phone on 0121 414 4931.


The study has been approved by the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Ethical Committee.

Further information

If you would like any more information about the study, please contact the Principal Investigator Ifigeneia Manitsa at [email protected].

Research team

Principal Investigator: Dr Ifigeneia Manitsa, Research Fellow in Youth Mental Health, Institute for Mental Health, School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, [email protected]

Co-Investigator: Dr Rachel Hewett, Associate Professor, School of Education, University of Birmingham

Co-Investigator: Dr Fiona Barlow-Brown, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology, Kingston University London

Consultant: Professor John Ravenscroft, Moray House School of Education and Sport, IETL, University of Edinburgh

Consultant: Dr Mhairi Thurston, Senior Lecturer, School of Applied Sciences, Abertay University

Consultant: Dr Joao Roe, Head of Sensory Support Service, Bristol City Council

Becky is wearing a yellow coat and stands beside a table with laptop and phone.

Parents and carers get together

Parents and carers of children and young people with nystagmus are warmly invited to our first Parents’ Get Together of the year. We are delighted to share that Becky Hyams will be joining us as our special guest. Becky is a second year university student, studying Advertising and Digital Marketing. She has nystagmus herself. She will be sharing her experiences of school, university and also how she wants to raise awareness of disability to help educate others.  Becky has created her own blog and social media accounts, ‘beckys.blurred.perspective’ to help achieve this. 

If you’d like to receive an invitation to the get together on Tuesday 21 February from 7.30pm, please email us at [email protected]

Look UK logo.

Get university ready with LOOK UK


 Saturday 08 February – 13:00 – 16:00


Thomas Pocklington Trust, Entrance D, Tavistock House South, Tavistock Square, London, WC1H 9LG
LOOK UK have teamed up with London Vision to run a free event for visually impaired young people considering university. Their ‘Get University Ready’ event is designed to empower visually impaired young people with the knowledge they need to make an informed decision about higher education.

Participants will learn about:

• Disabled Students Allowance (DSA)
• Support services available at university
• Reasonable adjustments 
• Accessibility of course materials.

If you’re visually impaired, 14 and above and considering going to university, you can apply online, to get in touch with one of the LOOK team, email LOOK Events officer Elin Williams on: [email protected]

or call: 07470 872782

Please book your place by 26 January.
Places are limited! Book now!

Apply online here

Going to uni with nystagmus

Today’s guest post comes from Ella, author of the blog, Life of Ella. Ella is a First Class Honours graduate and a civil servant. She also happens to have nystagmus.

Some people with nystagmus might think that university is not for them, but Ella is here to share her experiences of support and success.

I recently graduated (class of 2018) from Nottingham Trent University with a first-class honours in Health & Social Care. I have a mild form of Cerebral Palsy and I’m visually impaired (I have Nystagmus and Astigmatism). 


I went through the same process as everyone else as applying for a place at university – writing my personal statement and submitting my UCAS application, deciding on my potential choices and working for the grades I needed. 

When it came to choosing my five choices, (in the end I had four) I had to first decide the furthest away I wanted to look from home, and how easy it was to travel there and back home on my own. Reasons for this being I can’t legally drive so I rely a lot on public transport (mainly trains) to get me from A to B. 

My four choices in the end were:

  1. Nottingham Trent (NTU)
  2. De Montfort (DMU)
  3. Bradford
  4. Manchester (I never actually looked round in the end…) 

It was actually quite difficult to choose my first and insurance choices – for a long time, my top three choices were all being re-ordered, all for different reasons…the course, location, the campus, even the lecturers at the open day. Eventually, I settled on the list above, and I am so happy I went with NTU as my first choice, but more on that later. 

After having my place confirmed at NTU I was then able to apply for my tuition and maintenance loans from Student Finance England (SFE), and apply for the Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) alongside … let me tell you, this was not a smooth ride, and I encountered my first major hiccup.

I was told about the DSA when I looked around DMU for the first time, with my parents. We visited the Student Support department to see what support they had to offer, and I briefly explained my situation and my needs. I never knew it existed until that moment, so I looked into applying for it at the earliest opportunity.

Take a look at this post by Chloe which explains the DSA in more detail and type of support you can get from it. I will also try and cover the help I got too.

My DSA process – from start to finish

After filling out the form for both SFE and DSA, they were both accepted. I was invited to arrange a Needs Assesment to determine what support I would need to help with my studies. 

The assessment was pretty informal, a long chat so the assessor could find out more about my conditions (using non-medical jargon!) and chatting more about what could help with my studies.

The following recommendations were put into the final report and put forward to help me with my studies:

  • scanner and printer – this would allow me to print out all the materials I would need (particularly useful for doing my dissertation and printing out/analysing papers)
  • Read and Write (text to speech software) – for me, the most useful piece of software and I wish I had known about it earlier. I mainly used this for when I was writing my assignments, as it would read aloud to me as I was typing so I could notice if there were any mistakes, which was extremely useful. There was also a feature for when I was researching for assignments to use different coloured highlighters. Read and Write would then store them all in one place, I could make each colour for particular subjects/ideas, and wouldn’t have to go back to find them each time. 
  • Dragon Naturally Speaking (speech to text software) – This bit of kit is amazing. Think Siri but smarter. You train Dragon to recognise how you speak and get used to your accent (coming from Yorkshire I was sceptical it would understand me…) but it came in handy when doing my work but I was feeling tired or didn’t have the energy to write out thousands of words in a short space of time.
  • MindView – this is a mind mapping software. It allowed me to create mindmaps on my laptop for assignment outlines. I was able to easily access them, and they were easier to read than paper versions. 
  • Audio recorder and software – mainly used for recording lectures so I could focus on the key points, but have all of it to listen back to if I needed to.

As well as these, I was given an ergonomic chair (to help with my posture and my pain if sat down for long periods – normal office chairs are super uncomfortable. The chair was made-to-measure)footresta laptop stand, and an external monitor

We initially thought the laptop I had at the time would be suitable to run all this new software on – but when the suppliers came to fit it all, they ran into a problem. My laptop wasn’t powerful enough to run some of the software I needed. Luckily, DSA meant that they offered laptops to those who needed them. The catch – they had just updated the rules, meaning everyone now had to pay £200 if you wanted a laptop from them. That aside, I had everything I needed to help me when studying.

I was able to keep everything I was given, so my chair and footrest now live at work.

Next, I was able to apply for my student accommodation. My parents spoke at length with Student Support and Accommodations services at NTU to assess my options. I was always going to stay on campus, as that way I was able to access everything I needed, have my own space and the staff were able to help if I needed it. I Was able to go back and visit the accommodation a few times and I even got to pick my specific room.

Months went by and results day had passed.  I kept checking my SFE online account to see that everything was in order. However, my tuition and maintenance loan application still said: “Awaiting confirmation” or something to that effect. Long story short, when I finally got to speak to a senior member of staff, it turns out my DSA application had somehow overwritten my other application. The whole process was a very stressful and inaccessible one, meaning I was considering dropping out of university before I had even got there, but they managed to sort it all out in the end.


I was able to move into my halls of residence a few days before others. This gave me a chance to settle in and get used to my surroundings before it was full of my flatmates. 

Freshers Week wasn’t the nicest experience. I don’t drink and haven’t really been around many people who have drunk a lot. The nights were very loud and I felt very anxious. I mainly just hibernated in my room watching Netflix or YouTube, trying to drown out the loud music. I know that isn’t what you’re supposed to do but it just wasn’t my thing, but that is what Freshers is geared towards. 

Throughout my time at university, I had an Access Statement which detailed my disabilities and what help I needed. This was given to my personal tutor(s) and lectures to help them understand what I needed and be aware of my situation. The statement also allowed me to gain deadline extensions (if I needed them) on assignments. 

I was mostly able to access the lecture and seminar PowerPoint slides to read beforehand on my iPad and laptop and during the lecture. 

If I was meeting new tutors, I took it upon myself to introduce myself to them and make them aware of my situation, regardless of them seeing my access statement. Most were extremely helpful and made my experience more positive.

My DSA allowed me to also have a non-medical support mentor. She would help me with planning my assignments and helping me with accessing materials and the best way to organise my work and proofreading. I found this extremely useful and would definitely recommend it. 

During my three years at NTU, I stayed in halls of residence. This was for my own safety and ease of access. Student houses are often old and inaccessible, so that wasn’t an option for me. My friend and I decided we would stay in halls of residence together, we were able to stay in the same flat and still be on campus. I enjoyed living on campus throughout my time at university. 


So…you might be wondering, what am I doing now?

I have a job working as an Administrative Assistant for a Civil Service department in Leeds. I have been in employment since November 2018. At the moment I am working part-time, as I was unsure of how I would cope with full-time work.

Reed in Partnership: Better Working Futures programme helped me in gaining employment. They not only helped me find a job but helped me massively with interview techniques and gaining confidence. 

I really hope this post has been useful. If you are at university or in employment with a disability, what advice would you give to others?

Ella x

You can follow Ella’s blog, Life of Ella, here.