Looking Forward To College, Start Now

It’s summer vacation for students of all levels. But, are all students vacationing in the summer? Of course, not. Colleges of all stripes offer summer term courses, which many of us have taken so our course loads might be lighter during the fall and spring. For us who are totally blind or who have low-vision, summer provides an excellent time to explore plans for the future.

Over the past few years, virtual college tours have made campus visitations much less expensive. Athletes narrowing their choice of schools who’ve been offered scholarships use them before making onsite appointments with coaches and future teammates. For us who are blind, the virtual tour can allow for parents, teachers of the visually impaired (TVI’s), and mobility specialists to team up for the upcoming transition. It’s a far cry from the map-making my mom and I did by using pipe cleaners or yarn for sidewalks, strips of construction paper for streets and fuzzy felt patches for parking lots. Now, thanks to screen reading software and virtual reality programs, a perspective student can begin getting the lay of the land before even stepping onto campus.

Your local mobility specialist can certainly construct a map with the relief features like I mentioned a moment ago while reminding his or her student of the basic cane techniques for crossing a street or parking lot. He can make notes of where stairs appear seemingly out of nowhere in a hallway or along a sidewalk. Together, students and those who work with them can anticipate how to manage an upcoming schedule depending on how much walking or taking on-campus transportation during an average day.

A virtual tour can help you form a to-do list of steps to cover from before your first college visit all the way through to matriculating into school. This article gives you a way to set priorities and identify those areas that a to-do list can cover.

It goes without saying that we who are blind or visually impaired have a lot to consider when going off to college. Yes, we’re excited or nervous about making new friends. We anticipate joining groups like a chess club or martial arts academy or student government like we did in high school. Colleges of every size will abound with these opportunities. But navigating the contours between making adaptations to dorm life, seeking test-taking accommodations, and showing our ability to manage even the most mundane tasks with little or no sight takes getting used to. That’s why it was so important for me to attend a summer program at the University of Evansville between my high school graduation and the first semester at Concordia College-Seward, Nebraska. Let’s say living in the dorms took a lot of getting used to and I had those few weeks to learn from a lot of mistakes while taking a study skills class, brushing up on mobility training, and enrolling in a couple courses with sighted peers. Now over thirty years later, several schools around the country offer similar college transition programs for high school juniors and seniors. To see how World Services for the Blind collaborates with nearby University of Arkansas-Little Rock, go here.

Perhaps, one of the most important considerations you will need to make when weighing college options is how the disabled services on campus communicate and coordinate with online portals and professors’ course expectations. While the Rehabilitation Act (1973) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) offer guidelines for colleges to follow, the shortage or abundance of student support services will augment your academic experience. On a smaller campus where everyone knows and sees each other on a regular basis, adjusting deadlines or reader schedules for tests goes much quicker than at a larger school. At the same time, directors of a campus’s disabled students office may not have much hands-on experience with adaptive technology. Maybe, he or she knows the laws for granting additional time to take a test but isn’t as comfortable relaying such needs to a newer professor or grad assistant. Add to that, let’s face the fact that some online portals are woefully more outdated than others when it comes to jiving with JAWS or NVDA software. No matter how the techie gurus tinker and tweak things, they don’t always interface well with our software. So our college choice may be contoured by these considerations. After all, not everyone comes to school with the same ability to use the adaptations we have. So getting in touch with other blind students will help you compare notes on how to approach difficult situations. Here and here are two groups that will prove beneficial in connecting you with other students facing many of the same challenges as yourself or your kids.

Finally, get acquainted with the local Commission for the Blind and any other organizations near your chosen school. You may even switch your coordination with Vocational Rehabilitation or your State’s Department of the Blind so as to better handle services like orientation and mobility, opportunities for personal adjustment and counseling, or acquiring the technology you need for school. For instance, not every State offers a specific technology distributor that works in a timely fashion with your needs minus the caveats and red tape. But, Missouri, for example, does have such a middleman that seeks to get computers, notetakers, and other devices into the hands of students and professionals alike. In the same way as a State agency does, this group takes the bids from three providers before authorizing the a purchase. If your school is in a mid to larger city, you may be able to get individualized training on JAWS or Zoom Text at your local center for independent learning.

Beyond that, look for recreational opportunities and sports teams designed with the blind in mind. Of course, on this blog, we feature a lot that the USABA provides throughout the country with regard to goalball, beep baseball, judo, and other sports. But, cities like Kalamazoo, MI; Fort Wayne, IN; Philadelphia, PA, and Los Angeles, CA have fitness locations where you can gain membership and support because of your visual impairment. Along with keeping yourself physically fit, you’ll be part of friendships that by their very nature cut through the have-to’s of explaining your capabilities.

In short, summer is a great time to plan for college whether you or your kids will be attending. Yes, the adjustment curb may appear different at first for you than for someone who’s fully sighted. With that said, each of us making the big transition will answer a lot of questions while being boldly blind on campus.

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