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Supporting students: Rhiannon's story

17 September, 2018Rhiannon Quirk

Rhiannon QuirkRhiannon Quirk is an employee of Barclays Bank and has recently completed the Certificate in Retail Banking Conduct of Business. She’s also registered blind. Here’s her story of how she completed her studies, and the support she received.

“My name is Rhiannon Quirk. I am an employee of Barclays and have recently completed the Certificate in Retail Banking Conduct of Business (CertRBCB®).

I am registered blind, so when this course was rolled out in Barclays I initially wasn’t considered for it. I believe this may be due to lack of awareness regarding accessibility of courses and screen readers – software that can read course material on the computer.

Employer support

When I expressed an interest, Barclays was supportive and communicated with The London Institute of Banking & Finance to explore whether this course would be accessible. I knew it was going to be challenging. JAWS my screen reader, has a slightly robotic monotone voice and lengthy documents can become easily monotonous but I was determined to prove I was not to be overlooked.

Barclays offered support for candidates, holding weekly evening classes by Stewart Berrie. Understanding the difficulty I endured, Stewart offered 1-1 support if needed.  I met with Stewart in the closing weeks before my exam, by working through mock exams and learning areas I still had to work on. I believe this was integral towards me passing the exam.

Studying with JAWS

Studying with JAWS proved testing, as I expected, but for some reason JAWS wasn’t pronouncing words correctly making it further more difficult to understand. I contacted members of the Institute, Rob Thompson and Robert Booth, who was also a JAWS user, to explain my difficulty. Their response was great, they were very supportive and extended the time I had to complete the course and looked into sending the material in Word format which corrected the pronunciation issue.

It was strenuous to absorb the information about regulatory bodies and their regulation. I don’t have the advantage of colours or pictures in a book to stay stimulated or text that is in bold to highlight the important information. The only way I could absorb the content through the monotony was to retype it in my own words. I did this most nights after putting my 2 young children to bed.

Logistical problems

Near to the exam date, provisions were to be put in place. However 4 weeks before the exam, Pearson VUE informed me that my local test centre in the Isle of Man couldn’t facilitate my needs and therefore I would have to travel to Liverpool to complete the exam.

I approached senior members of Barclays who understood the additional pressure. To help, they said they would accommodate travel costs if needed.  However, as a blind person, the idea of travelling somewhere new, and figuring out the logistics for my guide dog’s needs and my family commitments, was very stressful. I felt I was set up to fail but quitting wasn’t an option for me.  

I then got in touch with Stewart for 1-1 support and so I could truly say I gave it everything.  When I expressed my fears, Stewart spoke with relevant people to explore another way I could complete my exam in the Isle of Man. It was agreed I could do a paper based exam at our local Barclays branch. Colin Peters would read and scribe for me and Rob Thompson from the Institute would invigilate the exam.

Thankful for the support which had been put in place, bad luck had one last attempt to foil my plans – by turning the weather. This caused Rob’s flight to be delayed, meaning the exam had to be moved by a day. This certainly had an effect on my mental preparation!

Exam support

At last, we were able to commence. Colin was brilliant. He read the questions slowly and very clearly and he was easy to work with. I felt comfortable asking him to repeat questions, to go back on certain areas of the case studies and he would write down any notes I wanted. Whatever answer I gave him, he would repeat back, reassuring me he was putting the answer I wanted. 

It was a very long 3 hours and I was so relieved but exhausted when it was over. I completely utilised the extra time allowed and was satisfied I had given everything; it was now a waiting game for the results.

Rob Thompson took the papers back with him and even went to drop them to the office on his time off to get the results processed as quickly as possible. To my amazement, I achieved a score of 78% for principals of retail banking and 90% for the case studies. I am over the moon and so proud I didn’t let complications and worries prevent me from achieving my goal. I’m so thankful for the support I had from Rob, Colin and Stewart to enable me to persevere and be successful. My next goal is the diploma!

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