What he set his sights on

28th September 2007 at 01:00
Dominic Everett was told during teacher training that his visual impairment would be a danger to pupils. Yet he has gone on to have a long and successful career in the profession, as Henry Hepburn discovered.

Dominic Everett was looking forward to life as a teacher. Born blind in his right eye and with cataracts, the eyesight in his left eye had deteriorated rapidly in his teenage years. He had been off school for a year and was forced to aban- don plans to enter nursing, his preferred profession.

Now, however, he had a degree under his belt and, having decided to pursue a career in the classroom, was well on the way to that goal.

So it was a shock when an assessor told him that, despite being an impressive student, he might not be up to the job. "He said, 'That was a great lesson, but I'm not sure this is the right profession for you,'" recalls Mr Everett.

Health and safety was apparently an issue what about fire exits? and how would he control an unruly class? But he went on to prove such doubters wrong, working successfully as a history teacher before going on to become a support teacher for the visually impaired, a job he holds to this day.

There were other hurdles along the way, usually born of ignorance more than malice.

After losing most of his sight in his left eye and missing a whole year of schooling as he went in and out of hospital, he returned to do his sixth-year studies at another school. This was the mid-1980s and Uddingston Grammar had recently opened a visual impairment unit.

For the first time he was among people who truly understood the needs of the visually impaired.

"I hadn't had that in previous schools the support wasn't there," he says. "It was just a lack of knowledge they didn't know what to do with me."

After abandoning hope of becoming a nurse, he set his sights on becoming a civil servant, not because of any burning desire for that line of work, but because it seemed a "safe" environment for him.

Uddingston Grammar gave him loftier expectations and he became the first person in his family to go into higher education, studying history at Glasgow University.

"I realised I'm better than I actually thought," he says.

At university, he found everyone helpful, but compared with today's standards there was a lack of knowledge about, and infrastructure for, the visually impaired.

He learned not to be too proud to ask for help, an attitude that got him a special study room where he could spread out the sort of bulky computer equipment used by the visually impaired at that time.

Even so, it was still hard work to keep up and he made a conscious effort to treat his studies as a job, coming in at 9am and leaving at 5pm.

"I had to work two to three times harder than those around me," he says. "Students would hit the bar, whereas I'd have to go to the library."

Mr Everett was allowed to hand in work later than other students, but pride ensured that he tended to submit before deadlines.

A 2:1 safely earned, he went on to gain a distinction from the then St Andrew's Col-lege of Education (since subsumed into Glasgow Uni-versity). He went into teaching in 1991 and quickly proved his pessimistic assessor wrong. "Discipline was never an issue I always managed to maintain order and, I think, to teach effectively," he says.

"I learned wee strategies. When children were sitting at desks, I would be more mobile and go to their desks the pupils did not realise that I couldn't see."

After two years, he returned to where he had gained so much confidence as a pupil the visual impairment unit at Uddingston Grammar.

"Marking was the main issue," Mr Everett recalls of leaving behind his job as a history teacher. "That was an immense problem it took a lot longer to do. That's why I left the classroom."

Now 37, Mr Everett works as a peripatetic teacher and is also a chartered teacher, helping the 20 pupils at Uddingston Grammar's visual impairment unit, as well as children from other schools in North Lanarkshire and South Lanarkshire. "I try to encourage them to be as independent as possible and not see the visual impairment as a significant barrier," he says.

He tells his pupils not to make excuses for their visual impairment and to get involved with community groups or extra-curricular clubs as much as possible, so that others look beyond their disability. But they should not be too proud to ask for help.

Mr Everett is not afraid to admit that having a visual impairment can be a struggle, even in the most everyday of situations.

"I'm not saying it's easy it's difficult to cope with at times," he says. "Someone who is sighted can go in a room and see instantly who's there. I have to ask who's in the room or work it out slowly.

"As visually impaired people, we sometimes have to work that wee bit harder, but we can do it."

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