Disability is no barrier on the way to partially-sighted Ruby becoming a lawyer

Ruby Blyth-Smith, 21, who is visually impaired, with her guide dog Ziggy. She wants to raise awarene

Ruby Blyth-Smith, 21, who is visually impaired, with her guide dog Ziggy. She wants to raise awareness of blind and visually impaired people being denied access to certain services due to their guide dog. Photo : Steve Adams - Credit: Steve Adams

As her eyesight narrows into near total darkness, Ruby Blyth-Smith has refused to be defeated by her condition and aspires to rise through the ranks of the legal profession despite her blindness.

Diagnosed at 13 with a genetic degenerative condition, retinitis pigmentosa, the 21-year-old from Norwich battled against isolation and depression to beat all the odds.

She has begun a degree in law at the University of Essex, and has recently returned to speak to students at City College Norwich's MINT employment service, which helped her find her feet.

She has lost around 85pc of her vision, but lives independently with the help of guide dog Ziggy.

'When I was 13 I didn't really cope with it,' she said. 'I just ignored it was happening and because it wasn't affecting my life in the day to day it wasn't such a big thing.


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'I would never use my cane, and I didn't tell all my friends I had a problem. I just acted normal, and because my eyes didn't look like there is anything wrong with them it was easy to pretend nothing was happening.

'When I was about 19 I thought, 'this is getting a bit ridiculous' and I had to start doing something about it.'

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But when Miss Blyth-Smith began walking with Ziggy she says she has faced abuse and discrimination.

'Because I do not look blind people assume I do not have an issue,' she said. 'When I am out with Ziggy they either walk into me, are rude to me, or make ignorant comments. Bus drivers especially are quite rude, and I have been refused taxis.

'I want to be a lawyer and being from a low income background it is hard enough doing all this, but adding the disability sometimes it seems really impossible when the world doesn't meet your needs.'

Law was an unexpected career path for Miss Blyth-Smith, who wanted to be a hairdresser when she was in school.

'I do not think I would be doing a law degree if I had my sight,' she said.

'I picked law as a career I could do with or without sight. The big thing I wanted to do at college was be an aid worker in the Middle East. I had it all planned out.

'Then I thought my eyesight is getting worse and I have a guide dog, it's probably better not to be in a war zone and stick to home soil.

'Going to uni just seemed so out of reach. I didn't have any skills and didn't even know how to do a CV. I just wanted to build my confidence back up to the point where I could go to an interview and not crumble.'

Ruby was 18 when she first attended MINT, and soon found a job. Within a year decided she wanted to study at City College, where she gained two distinctions and a merit.

After her degree she wants to enter environmental law with the Governmental Legal Service, and add some diversity to the legal profession.

'Before I had issues with my sight I was just another blonde white girl who faced no issues in terms of society,' she said. 'Having one thing change in my life made a shift in the way the world looks at me, and I realised how many other people must feel like this.

'There are not currently any blind judges or blind people at a high level in the legal world. The judiciary is dominated by old men at the moment, and they need some more variety.'

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