Blind pioneer's vision

October 4, 1996

The Disability Discrimination Act aims to encourage institutions to provide a better service for students with disabilities. Paul Brown, Scotland's national coordinator for students with special needs, has practical experience of the problems students with disabilities can encounter. When he began an MA in political science at Dundee University in 1988, he was the university's first blind student.

"I had to do a bit of pushing, but people were always pretty receptive," he says.

"I was quite positive I did not want to go to any university which set itself up as a centre of excellence for blind people, because I think centres of excellence can very quickly become ghettoes.

"I chose Dundee on the basis of the course I wanted to do. I sat down and thought about all the things I needed, and I came for a pre-application visit almost with a shopping list."

Mr Brown's post, funded by the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, is based at Dundee, and his office adjoins the Paul Brown Unit for Visual Impairment, which includes a Braille printer, and talking computers and scanners.

He believes staff training is crucial for student support. "One of the major problems is dealing with individual lecturers, not because they're necessarily disablist or awkward or uncaring, but they just don't know about disabilities," he says.

"And it must go wider than academic staff. University is about more than access to the curriculum, and for most people, the first point of contact is the switchboard operator, the janitor and the catering staff."

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