Blind faith for Swansea

November 17, 1995

Shadow education spokesman David Blunkett launched Swansea University's 75th anniversary celebrations by opening the university's Recording Centre for the Blind.

The centre, the first such to cater wholly for the needs of blind and partially sighted university students, is financed jointly by the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and the RNIB.

Its three recording studios enable 200 students and local volunteers to record all the core texts and materials that Swansea's ten blind and partially sighted students need to undertake their degree courses.

Its "crucial" role was praised by Mr Blunkett, who wished such a facility had been available when he was a student 25 years ago. "I relied on a reading circle that read material for me. But this centre provides real equality of access for disabled students, and is one of the few good examples we have of practical equality."

He pointed out that Leeds University's recording centre, which provides talking books for the general public rather than students, is under threat of closure.

"Swansea could therefore become a resource centre for the whole of the United Kingdom," he observed, echoing the university's target of celebrating its anniversary by expanding the service.

Swansea plans to become the first-choice institution for blind and partially sighted students and hopes to be designated as the national higher education centre for the blind. It has the facilities, and is keen for more students to take advantage of them.

Swansea's material is available to students of other universities. The master tapes of all the recorded texts are sent to the RNIB library at Peterborough and from there they can be distributed around the country. The university is also working closely with international recording centres - particularly Princeton in the United States and the University of Marburg in Germany.

With Swansea's texts available in four languages (English, French, German and Welsh) it is not surprising that blind linguists such as 19-year-old Toby Fisher have been attracted to the university.

Reading French and computer science, Mr Fisher writes French in braille and is about to receive a lap-top computer to record his lecture notes.

"French spelling isn't too much of a problem as I've had to train myself to remember new words almost immediately," he says. "But I am concerned that facilities for blind students are not as good in France as here." He has to spend a year there.

Third-year philosophy student, 23-year-old Sukhita Wauters has spent her university career in Swansea. Accompanied by her guide dog, she attends lectures and takes notes on a braille keyboard but she recognises that she has to work harder and longer than her sighted friends.

"Just writing up lectures takes about eight hours a week and, when following texts on tape, it sometimes takes an hour to find the material I want, before starting to work on it."

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