To celebrate DeafBlind Awareness Week (24-30 June 2020) we are profiling one of the University’s alumni – Molly O’Brien (2016).
Molly has a severe hearing and visual impairment and currently works as a researcher for a small local charity supporting deaf women. During her time at Nottingham she embraced a wide number of different sporting and fitness opportunities – demonstrating that her disability was not always a barrier to experiencing new things.
Molly kindly took some time out of her day to answer a few questions for us on her experiences.
How did you find your experience of University?
I really enjoyed my experience of University, it was challenging and there were many difficulties but also many positives and triumphs. There were many opportunities to become involved with various societies and sports, which I was able to access with support.
Outside of your studies, what else did you get involved with when you were at Nottingham?
When I was at Nottingham I was involved with various Students’ Union activities, societies and sports. I was heavily involved with the Disabled Students’ Network and I was the Disabled Students Officer in my final year at University - a role I’m very proud to have held. I was also involved with various sports and fitness activities.
I have never really thought of myself as a “sporty person” before University. There were so many opportunities available at Nottingham, so I decided to access as much as I could. I discovered my love of yoga through going to regular yoga classes. I also had a sports membership, regularly going to the gym and swimming. Through being part of the goalball club, I was able to take part in a team sport for the first time, as so many team sports are not accessible or adaptable for me. I loved being part of a great inclusive team. It was also great to have the opportunity to be able to try new sports, like horse riding in an inclusive way.
Can you tell us about the challenges that you faced in trying to get involved?
Particularly at the beginning of University I had low confidence and self-esteem, so did not feel completely comfortable or confident enough to get involved. As my confidence and my access to support increased I was able to become more involved. I had difficulties in being able to find my way around, find places and rooms – I like to try to find my way as much as possible. The sports buddy scheme was really helpful with this, as another student “buddy” assisted me in finding places and going to exercise classes, yoga and the gym with me.
I often struggled with communication in various fitness classes, as I tried a few before finding the ones that worked for me. I did find it difficult explaining to fitness teachers about my hearing and vision loss and the best way for them to communicate with me – some just did not understand and did not adapt their classes whereas others were fantastic and I felt fully included.
What benefits do you feel that you gained from getting active at Nottingham?
For me it was incredibly important to be active at University. I really enjoy fitness activities. The inclusive opportunities at Nottingham were fantastic. I enjoyed my studies, but it was equally important to me to simply move and be active. Fitness and being active had so many positive mental, psychological and emotional benefits for me.
Being active at University also had many social benefits, it was a great way for me to socialise with others, especially at goalball and horse riding. Most of my fantastic friends from University are from my involvement with the Disabled Students’ Network, various sports and fitness activities.
What has been a highlight of University life for you?
That’s so hard, there’s so many highlights!
Academic highlights are the great feeling of succeeding at writing difficult essays and dissertations. I was very proud of completing my Masters dissertation. University really developed my academic and political interests and views.
Social, sports and fitness highlights definitely are having the opportunity and access to trying new sports and fitness activities. I really enjoyed being part of a goalball team and competing. Developing a great interest in yoga. A highlight has to be holding the role of Disabled Students’ Officer and being able to make a difference at University.
What are you doing now and how do you think that being active supported your journey?
Since I left University, I have started running, with brilliant guide runners. It still amazes me that I started running, I always said “I don’t do running!” and now I run.
I returned to ballet, I have attended classes throughout my childhood and wanted to return to this. I even started running, with brilliant guide runners. It still amazes me that I started running, I always said “I don’t do running!” and now I run.
As I do quite a bit of exercise and particularly ballet and yoga I find that it has improved my balance so much. Having sensory impairments I know I’m more likely to have difficulties with my balance, but so many aspects of ballet and yoga rely on balance, I find I’m able to use other muscles and weight placement to gain good balance. Having good balance is so useful.
In my job, although I’m a Researcher I also contribute to the overall work of the whole charity in organising various events. I always get excited about anything fitness related. I also organised an accessible yoga workshop for deaf women, which went really well.
Currently most of my exercise and fitness is at home through online classes. The lounge is now a lounge/ballet/yoga/fitness studio! I connect my laptop to the TV, so I can see as much as I can and then I connect my hearing FM system to my laptop so that sound is streamed directly to my hearing aids, so that I can hear as much as I can. I think I access most of the class that way, but it is a good challenge exercising remotely at home.
What advice would you give to students coming to University with sensory impairments?
Know your own support and communications needs and what support you will need and how best to explain this to others on your course and in any activities you’re interested in becoming involved in. This can be hard, but you know your own sensory impairment best so it’s important to know your own needs and work on explaining how others can assist and makes things more accessible for you. It can be very empowering.
If you’re interested in becoming involved in societies and sports, you’ll probably have to try a few before you find what works for you and what you can access depending upon you sensory impairments. Focus on what works for you and what you enjoy. Make the most of accessible inclusive opportunities available to you at University.
University will be a challenge, but there will be so many positives too.
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