The Alternative Format Suite: Kat Lawlor

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Katherine (Kat) Lawlor is from Spokane, Washington State in the US. She is about to start her third year studying an honours degree in International Relations and is a class rep for IR. Once she has graduated, her ambition is to work in international development or on Capitol Hill.

She describes why a positive response from the Alternative Format Suite and Disability Services at St Andrews played a huge part in her decision to study here.

“I was born with albinism. That means that I can’t see fine detail – so reading textbooks with small print is really difficult for me, and I’m incredibly light sensitive – anywhere there’s a bright light around I tend to see the light but I can’t see anything else. In the States I’m considered legally blind so I use a white cane in unfamiliar situations or if it’s sunny outside.

“So a big consideration for me when I was looking at universities was would they be able to accommodate me?

“I had a lot of trouble in high school with institutions that weren’t able to support me: I ended up taking my PSAT exams [equivalent to National 5 exams or GCSEs] a week late in a Trinitarian convent with a bunch of nuns and a couple of boarding school students because they couldn’t get me a large print test in time to take it with my classmates. It was bizarre! The College Board (the organisation which administers the SATs) was less than accommodating about finding large print textbooks for my SATs [equivalent to Highers or A levels and used for college entrance].

“So I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest. I considered St Andrews originally because it was a small town, and small towns are easier to navigate. When I was accepted, I emailed disability services and said: ‘These are my issues – what can you offer?’ And they were much more responsive than any other university – and I emailed many. Some didn’t even respond, or said: ‘We’ll deal with that when you get here’ which didn’t fill me with confidence!

“Student Services told me they could enlarge text and that they would talk to my professors, and they put me in touch with Paresh when I arrived. He’s been a godsend. Just having access to the same textbooks as everyone else has been a huge help. I can get them all in pdf format on my laptop. Paresh uses an image-to-text technology that allows you either to have your laptop read it to you or to enlarge the text.

“My vision has become worse since I’ve been here – I don’t know the reasons for that – but the Disability services and the AFS have been wonderful in accommodating that as well. For example, I had to switch from writing my exams to typing them last year and that was no bother at all – little things like that would have been difficult at home.

“I can’t thank Paresh enough and the volunteers are wonderful, too. They do so much. It’s been an invaluable resource.”

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