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See who I am – part two

2 September 2011

Seventeen-year-old Alys Wall from a small village on the outskirts of Cardiff has a rare condition that has left her partially sighted.  Yesterday and today she describes what it has been like growing up with the condition, her hopes and fears for the future and the impact the Big Lottery Fund will make on disabled young people through the new £12 million Bright New Futures programme that she helped launch.

I genuinely haven’t got the foggiest when it comes to my future – it’s hard enough for anyone to predict their future let alone someone with a disability like mine.  My future is uncertain. I have to face this uncertainty and fear of what amount of sight I’m going to be left with in a few months/years time every day and how my life is going to turn out due to the result.

The next step in my life is managing my A levels next year.  Over the years, school has been a huge battle.  I get a lot of banter in school from friends for my shockingly low attendance record because of illness, and as a result of this my school work and exams have suffered a bit along with it.

But, I guess I’m lucky that my high school, Ysgol Plasmawr has a special needs unit that supports any pupils with any disability or specific needs.  I’ve got to give it to the teachers and support teachers there; they must have patience of saints when it comes to me and my coursework!  When I get asked where do I see myself in 10 years time, I joke and say “…finishing off my Welsh and English coursework!”

I’ve found school to be pretty naff especially when it comes to friends.  I feel I am a bit of an annoyance around them asking for help. I’d much prefer to leave them to it and spend time with my best friend Mared who is also visually impaired.

We first met through a mutual friend of ours when we were very young.  At that time we both didn’t have a clue that in a few years’ times we would both have our worlds tipped upside down by developing a visual impairment around the same time and ending up being the best of friends, knocking on 6-7 years now.

In school, we’re known as the married couple.  Whenever we’re not together we each get asked “where’s your wife today then?”  We also go by the name of ‘The Buy One get One Free offer’ which sums us up perfectly. If you want one you’re going to get the other whether you like it or not!

We both deal with our impairments by making one big joke about it.  We constantly joke about each other doing stupid things or not being able to see.  It’s just the way we deal with it.

For example, my best eye is my right one, and Mared’s is her left, so I joke by standing to her right when about to cross a busy road and say, “I’ll do the job of your right eye and you do the job of my left and maybe now we’ll be able to get across!”

My biggest worry at this point is passing my AS and A level exams.  A normal exam lasts about two and a half hours for a fully sighted pupil, but add on the extra time that’s needed for me to complete one exam you’re looking at between a five to a five and a half hour exam straight! I can safely say that I’m completely zonked afterwards!

If a miracle happens and I manage to pass my exams, I’d like to go to university to study music journalism, or have a job in the media.  Well, that’s the plan anyway, no doubt that I’ll be dropped like a sack of spuds along the way by some employers because of my disability, but I suppose every disabled person will be faced with rejection at some point along the line.

I’m also a bit nervous about leaving the comfort and support that I have here at home in Cardiff.  Like every teenager I can’t wait to leave home, go to university, party hard most nights and love finally being an adult, but there will always be that fear sat in the back of my mind of not being able to manage on my own.

But I try not to think too much about it and just get on with it.  I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.  Let’s just deal with A levels first shall we…and well, what will be will be at the end of the day won’t it?

I think the stigma disabled people have needs to be dropped.  I personally think it’s a joke that people, especially employers, freak out when they see the word ‘disabled’ and don’t really give disabled people a chance to show what they’re capable of doing.

I believe that any disabled person can do anything any able bodied person can do (within reason) as long as they have the right support according to their needs.

This was underlined this week when, along with around 40 other young partially sighted people from the Cardiff performance arts group UCAN Productions I attend, launched a £12 million Big Lottery Fund programme, Bright New Futures, aimed at funding projects that will support disabled young people and young parents.

The main part of the launch was our flash mob dance routine to Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’ and Lady Ga Ga’s Born This Way. Everyone threw some mean shapes in the centre of the busy Millennium Centre just before the matinee of the Sound of Music.

It showed people that partially sighted people can be a laugh and creative with the best of them, even in large crowds, when our vision is most impaired.

The £12 million will make so much of a difference to people’s lives by creating opportunities that should be, but are not always there.  Opportunity is something that most of us want and people who are determined enough like me whether they are disabled or not should be able to make the most of it.

Fingers crossed.

 To find out more about the Big Lottery Fund’s Bright New Futures visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/brightnewfutures

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