Andrew Bullen has a vision impairment called retinitis pigmentosa that makes it difficult for him to see from far away. For example, the blackboard and transparencies in class appear fuzzy to him. The condition is a degenerative disease that may eventually lead to blindness.
Bullen grew up in the province of New Brunswick. His family moved many times and he attended seven schools within the francophone system for blind and visually impaired students. He always received very good support services and had opportunities to learn Braille and typing, and keep current on new technologies.
Within the francophone system, meetings amongst students with disabilities from different regions are organized during the school year as much as possible, Bullen said. Within the anglophone system, students have similar sessions; however, they take place in the summer instead.
In high school, Bullen had many helpful friends and accommodating teachers who were always available for questions and readily provided any notes and photocopies that he needed. He never had to take notes and only had to listen in class. He became interested in computers after receiving a laptop on a full-year computer loan through a government-sponsored high school program, and attended a camp called SCORE, for blind and visually impaired students interested in technology.
Bullen had a successful transition to university. With the help of the university's accessibility service provider, he was able to complete all his forms and schedules before the school year started and write letters to all his professors to make them aware of his visual impairment. He was the recipient of the new $8,000 Canada Study Grant for Students with Permanent Disabilities, which helped him acquire the technological devices he needed, including a computer, document-enlarging equipment, telescopes for mounting on his glasses, and a digital recorder. The first week at university was the scariest, he recounted. The hours of consultation with professors are quite strict, and the workload is much heavier than in high school. However, he is able to take notes for the most part through listening, obtaining graphs and photocopies after class, and attending special tutoring sessions. He also recognized that the small size of the university and the small size of his department helped make his transition easier.
Bullen concluded by saying that anything is possible. He encouraged the student delegates to always keep their eyes and ears open to opportunities.