Mark McShane, the Vice Chairperson of the Ballymena User Forum has recently graduated with a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from Open University. Mark was born blind and has a rare form of eye condition called Riegar’s Syndrome. Mark has been a member of the Ballymena User Forum since 2012. During this time, he has been an advocate for people living with disabilities. Mark has developed a wide variety of skills through his experience with the User Forum such as public speaking, involvement in consultations and taking various viewpoints into consideration. As an Inclusion Works service user, Mark successfully completed a range of activities such as, training in Jaws software, cooking for the blind, making sense of the arts, and creative writing. Mark was also supported to apply for an Open University course and he received support throughout this course.

Mark said: “If it wasn’t for Cedar teaching me Jaws I wouldn’t have been able to start my Open University course.  It was my key worker in Cedar who encouraged me to think about undertaking a course and they gave me the confidence to do it.”  Mark described his Open University experience, saying: “I definitely believe the Open University has made me a better person. I have a lot more confidence in myself, I am more self-assured, and I believe my writing has improved.”

After gaining his qualification, Mark became more career-focused. He reflects, “Originally, I started studying out of personal interest. As time went on, I changed my mind and wanted to use my degree as a way of obtaining employment. I hope to use my degree to train as a solicitor, perhaps, with the possibility of specialising in property law or conveyancing.”

Mark says: “I loved every minute studying with the Open University and feel it has been one of the best decisions I have ever made and, having completed a degree, I feel like I can do anything.”

Mark is a vital member of the User Forum. He brings his experiences from using Cedar services and his skills from open university, combined with the challenges of living with a visual impairment, to his role as vice chairperson. The purpose of the User Forum is to be the voice of Service Users province wide and create an inclusive society for all. The User Forum is always recruiting current and past service users. Cedar’s User Forum has local groups in Ballymena, Belfast, Downpatrick, North Down & Ards, Enniskillen, Foyle and Newry. If you would like to find out more about Cedar’s User Forum programme please visit our dedicated page. You can also keep up to date with Cedar through Facebook and Twitter.