Independent Living Tips for Young Adults

by Jessica Minneci
As a blind or visually impaired young adult, taking that first step toward independence can be both exciting and nerve-racking. Whether you are transitioning into living the college life or moving out of your parents’ house and working, you are responsible for taking care of yourself without much assistance from others. Drawing from my own experiences as a college student, I have compiled a few tips that will help ease your nerves as you transition into an independent lifestyle.

Four people at a restaurant,
two using print menus and two using braille menus
Grocery Shopping
Shopping for food and other amenities is the first thing a person should learn how to do when living on their own. Here are a few strategies that have made my trips to the grocery store successful.• If you are looking for a specific product or brand, call the store ahead of time to see if they have it. This way, you won’t waste your trip.• Get to the store by asking a friend to drive you or paying for an Uber or Lyft ride.• Go to the same store every time you shop.• The first time you go, learn the lay of the land from friend, relative, or orientation and mobility specialist. • Memorize the locations of certain sections of the store like produce and dairy.• If you have a guide dog, use clicker and food reward training techniques to teach them to target your favorite foods.• For further assistance, go to the customer service counter and ask for a personal shopper.• You can also use the AIRA app. After calling in, an AIRA agent uses your phone’s camera to tell you what is around you. They can read signs, help you search for different brands of food, and help you find an employee if you have questions. The app is free, but the consumer does have to choose a plan and pay for the monthly minutes.• Alternatively, you can order groceries online through places like Target or Walmart. If you have a dog, consider ordering their food from Chewy.com.
Going out to Eat

Eating out with others is fun but can sometimes be stressful for those of us who are blind or visually impaired. Follow these tips to make your dining experience more worthwhile.• Call ahead to the restaurant and see if they have a Braille or large print menu. If they don’t, go online and use your screen reader to read you the options.• Make your choice ahead of time. This way, you know how much money to bring with you to the restaurant.• If you are going to a restaurant as part of a date or job interview, don’t order something messy. Nothing is more embarrassing than spilling food on your shirt and missing a spot when cleaning it off because you couldn’t see or feel it.• Order for yourself. This shows that you are an independent person with the confidence to order for yourself. This will also stop the server from looking to your companion for your decision instead of looking at you.• When your food comes, ask the server to state everything that is in front of you to make sure that it is what you ordered.• Ask the server to indicate using the face of a clock where your food is located on your plate.• When the check comes, ask the server to read your bill to you.
Flying Independently
My home is far away from the university that I attend. When I am on break from school, I often fly home. Whether you are flying somewhere for work or for vacation, I hope that these tips make you feel more confident and prepared as a blind or visually impaired traveler.• Check in to your flight online 24 hours ahead of time.• Memorize all of your flight information so that you know where you are going and when your flight should be taking off and landing.• If your family and friends cannot drive you to the airport, use the SuperShuttle app to book a ride. If the airport is far away, SuperShuttle tends to be cheaper than an Uber or Lyft. Shared rides help to further lower the cost.• Check your bag so that you have less stuff to carry with you around the airport.• Once checked in, have the person at the counter read your boarding pass to you so that you know that it has the correct information. Also, confirm that you have priority boarding.• Ask for an escort through the airport. Explain to him or her that you or your dog can follow them as long as they keep talking. Ask them for specific verbal directions like “Keep going straight” or “turn left in ten steps.”• Alternatively, use AIRA to navigate through the airport. If available, you can also use Indoor Explorer. It is a feature of the Nearby Explorer mobile app that uses Bluetooth beacons and reads you what is around you. It will state gate numbers and restaurant names.• Use your mobile app to look at the status of your flight. Confirm that it is correct with the escort as he or she reads the screens on the wall.• Never give your boarding pass or ID to the escort as they may accidentally walk away with it.• Memorize ahead of time where the dog relief areas are in the airport. If your dog has to go, you can ask your escort to direct you to the relief area and remind them of its location.• After arriving at your gate, have your escort direct you to the counter and remind the employees that you have priority boarding. Ask them to come and get you when boarding begins.• Once on the plane, ask for a meet and greet at your destination so that your escort can assist you to baggage claim and to your ride.

As you make that final leap toward living on your own, keep these tips in mind. Hopefully you’ve learned something new. More than that, use this new knowledge to build your confidence and ability to do things independently. Many blind and visually impaired adults work hard to achieve independence and with a little practice, you can, too.

Stan Greenwood
A humble human, who is always found working on something or drinking coffee. A perfect introvert who talks barely anything but shares a lot through his blog posts at FredForum.

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