Tuesday 21 November 2017

Don't let anyone tell you you can't achieve your goals - Meet Ireland's inspirational first blind teacher

Claire Shorten lost her sight when she was 20
Claire Shorten lost her sight when she was 20

Kathy Armstrong

Meet the inspirational young woman who is set to become Ireland's first blind teacher after losing her eyesight to a brain tumour.

Claire Shorten (26) graduates today with a Bachelor's Degree in Geography and History and is encouraging other blind people not to let anyone make them feel like they can't achieve their goals too.

Claire has enrolled in a two year Masters of Education course in the National University of Ireland Maynooth and has started getting classroom experience, something she thought wouldn't be possible when she suddenly lost her vision in 2011.

Claire, who is from Balinteer in Dublin, told Independent.ie: "After dropping out of UCD in 2009, I was in first year in NUIM studying Geography and History in 2010 when I started migraines for the first time, it was a bit weird because I'd never had them before so I went to my GP.

"She said that it could be college stress but I knew it wasn't, she did mention that 5 per cent of people who start getting migraines have brain tumours but I didn't think much about it when the figure is that small.

"A few months later I started to notice a dip in my vision, I'd miss steps or put a top on inside out, I'd worn glasses since I was a kid so I went to Specsavers, when I couldn't see the bright white light the optician straight away sent me to get a CAT Scan in Vincent's Hospital."

Claire and her dad were told that there was tissue in her brain and she would need emergency surgery.

Surgeons found she had a benign brain tumour and removed as much as they could, they said it had been pushing onto her optic nerve and damaging her eyesight.

Claire Shorten is set to qualify as a teacher in two years
Claire Shorten is set to qualify as a teacher in two years

A week later her eyesight was significantly worse though so Claire went back to the hospital.

She said: "I thought once the tumour was out things were fine but my vision got worse every day until I could barely see and the nurse said that wasn't right.

"My radiologist and surgeon didn't know what went wrong - I'd like to stress there wasn't any negligence on their part it was just one of those things and it was too delicate to try and fix.

"I told my family and friends this was my eyesight now, if technological advancements help me see again that'd be great but I'm not going to wait around hoping for it to be fixed somehow."

Claire says she was understandably "very upset" at first and had to re-learn how to do everyday tasks like using her computer or making tea, she was also sad to have to stop driving.

She said that one of the biggest issues for her was how people's attitudes changed, she explains: "People would come up to me and my dad and ask him how I was doing or if I wanted anything, as if I wasn't there.

"They'd also talk to me as if I was a child but I was still me, I think they just didn't know how to interact with a blind person but once I grew more confident so did they."
She started a training course with the National Council for the Blind Ireland in 2012, which she says gave her her confidence back.

She said: "I thought I could never be a teacher now but with the help of the NCBI I just thought to myself, 'Of course I can if I want to, I'm not going to let anyone tell me I can't.'

"I became headstrong and enrolled again in NUIM."

She started back in NUIM in 2014 and thrived there, saying: "I thought it would be awkward being and worried how people would react.

"Nobody treated me like a blind person, they helped me if I needed it and just treated me like me."
She's started her Masters in Education and two days a week she trains in a girls' secondary school, so far she has been observing classes but next week she will get to start teaching.

She couldn't be happier, saying: "I'm loving it so far, I've let the girls know I'm blind and try to have fun with it, they all seem very respectful and polite.

"I started college almost ten years ago and have been waiting so long to get to this stage, I'm so excited and I think in two years I'll still 100 per cent want to be a teacher.

"It might have taken me a little longer to qualify but I'll get there."
She also has some advice for other people who are struggling with vision impairment.

She said: "I'd say have hope and faith, your life hasn't gone downhill, it's just a little tumble.

"Contact the NCBI, speak to other blind people and don't let other people speak down to you."

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