Visually impaired Derrick Goodwin from the Rhymney Valley was told he wouldn’t last more than a month doing anything. Now the 60-year-old from Cefn Fforest in Blackwood is speaking out to help others realise they can overcome challenges.
Derrick was born with congenital cataracts and nystagmus, uncontrolled movement of the eyes, which causes blurred and reduced vision. By the age of two, he had undergone five operations to his eyes, and was sent to boarding school in Bridgend aged seven where he struggled with his education due to his fluctuating eyesight.
His employment officer at the specialist college in England which he later attended told him “you won’t last more than a month in a job”, but Derrick proved him wrong, spending the next 25 years working full-time in factories. After being forced to give up work due to being registered blind, Derrick set about picking up a new skill.
Now Derrick is inspiring others to make a change by learning a new skill, as part of New Year, New You - a Welsh Government campaign part-funded by the European Social Fund and run in partnership with NIACE Dysgu Cymru (the Welsh arm of the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education).
New Year, New You is being launched at a time when people traditionally resolve to improve certain aspects of their lives, such as a change of career or taking up a new course. The campaign has been designed to make people in Wales more aware of the importance of having good skills, encourage them to think seriously about what training they need to improve their career prospects, and highlight that learning doesn't have to be expensive.
Derrick lives with his wife Jill who is also visually impaired, and their two guidedogs Alisha, a black Labrador and Shane, a golden Labrador. Derrick said: “The factory doctor told me 17 years ago that I shouldn’t work anymore. A friend gave me a computer and I started teaching myself, learning how to use a word processor and eventually building computers.”
Derrick enrolled on a community ICT (information and communications technology) class at the local community centre, using a Jaws screen reader which translates what’s on the screen into a spoken voice.
After gaining OCN qualifications in Word processing, Access to the Internet, Letter Writing, Spreadsheets and Key Skills, he signed up for a mainstream course at the Ystrad Mynach Campus of Coleg y Cymoedd and was accepted onto the full-time ICT Systems Support course.
He now studies at Coleg y Cymoedd three times a week and is hoping to use his new skills by volunteering with the RNIB, the charity which supports blind and partially-sighted people.
“Because of my sight, getting a job would be difficult but I love being busy and I love a challenge. Maintaining and fixing computers is my passion and I want to use it to help other people who can’t afford shop prices.
I want to tell people there are ways around the challenges. Starting a course is a good first step, and there’s so much help available.”
Ken Skates, deputy minister for Skills and Technology, said: "The New Year, New You campaign is about celebrating the enterprising individuals in Wales who take it upon themselves to learn a new skill, whether later on in life, following some adversity or simply because they want to make a change. Whether you’re learning for fun, looking to meet new people or thinking about a new career, picking up a new skill could take your life in an entirely new direction."