Dream degree: Blind student graduates from Sunderland with honours

Blind Student Aiden Gardiner who has graduated from Sunderland University with a Degree in network systems pictured here with his dad Neil.
Blind Student Aiden Gardiner who has graduated from Sunderland University with a Degree in network systems pictured here with his dad Neil.
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A BLIND student who refused to give up on his dream of achieving a computing degree graduated with honours in front of his proud family.

Inspirational Aiden Gardiner has been awarded a 2:1 degree in Network Systems at Sunderland University, after overcoming challenges few others would contemplate.

The 22-year-old, of Pennywell, was born blind, suffers epileptic fits, and his hip bones are not properly aligned.

However, this has never stopped his unfailing dedication to achieving the best in the subject he loves.

But what made the occasion even more special for Aiden was being the first person in his family to get a degree.

When Aiden was a teenager, it was suggested he was not capable of accomplishing as much as he thought. But he became one of the most successful students in his year group at Sandhill View Community School, gaining six A grades, three Bs and a C in his GCSEs.

He achieved a B-tech National Diploma for IT Practitioners at Usworth Sixth Form College, then began his foundation degree at Shiney Row College before finishing his final year at Sunderland University.

“Being blind has never held me back. I was born like this, and it’s part of who I am,” said Aiden.

“I’m delighted with my grade. I did find the work challenging, and there were some adaptations which were required. But I did exactly the same coursework as everyone else. It was just a case of extra equipment and sighted guidance from the staff, so I could accomplish the work.”

Aiden is one of thousands of students taking part in the university’s graduation ceremonies this week at the Stadium of Light.

Aiden’s condition is caused by a genetic disorder, known as Norrie Disease, which primarily affects the eye and almost always leads to blindness.

But asked if he would have surgery to correct his sight if it became available, Aiden, who uses a cane and reads Braille, said: “I don’t think I would do it. Why should I change who I am, just to please someone else?

“This is the life I have always known. With sight, I would have to learn everything from scratch. I would have to learn how to read and write again and identify objects.

“I am happy with the way I am, and my next step is living independently.”

Mum Nicola, a shop owner, attended the graduation alongside Aiden’s dad Neil, a lorry driver, and sisters Courtney, 19, and Bethany, 15. She said: “I just don’t know how Aiden does it. He’s so incredibly motivated by education and has never let his blindness get in the way of his ambitions.”

Aiden’s tutor, Dr Susan Jones, said: “I think through all the challenges and difficulties that Aiden has faced this year, it has been his sense of humour and ability to see the funny side of things that has helped him keep on track and stay focused so that he could achieve his best.”

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