by Jessica Minneci
Now, more thanever, many blind or visually impaired high school students are consideringcollege as the next step in their academic careers. Like any new chapter inlife, the prospect of college may seem daunting or scary. Bearing some of thesetips in mind can help ease your anxiety as you attempt to find your next homeaway from home.
First, be awarethat it is never too early to start the college search. Blind and visuallyimpaired students need to find schools that will fit their majors, but willalso have appropriate accommodations to fit their needs. The earlier you start,the more schools you will get to learn about and the more likely it will bethat you find the right school for you. During your freshman year of highschool, begin thinking about your major and what schools you may like toattend. Start by compiling a list of 10 majors and 20 prospective schools thatoffer those majors. Correspond with the schools and do your best to visit them.If the school is far away, you can always make a vacation out of it!
When you reachyour junior year of high school, narrow the list of majors and schools down.Select two or three majors along with two or three schools that offer thosemajors. Next, don’t be afraid to be your own advocate for your disability. Talkor email with the disability services office and ask them questions. Their jobis to support you in any way that they can which includes your accommodationsin class and also helping you adapt to college life. Having a good relationshipwith the staff is key as it may make or break your decision to attend thatuniversity.
In yourconversations, find out if the schools’ disability services office has workedwith a person who has your visual impairment before. Make sure they understandwhat your vision impairment is like for you and what supports and technologyyou have used and will need. If they have worked with students with a visionimpairment and they ask good questions, odds are that they will know how toaccommodate you. Then, let the offices know that you are planning on attendingtheir schools. That way, the staff can start preparing for your arrival.Lastly, immerse yourself in your intended majors. Most colleges or universitieswill offer a day or overnight program where you can shadow a student in yourmajor and attend classes with them. Not only will you be able to decide if thisis the right major for you, but you can also decide if you like the professorsand the academic program.
College quad full of students on a sunny day. As you continueyour college search, work more closely with the staff at the disability serviceoffice. Provide them with documentation of your disability. Written by adoctor, this paperwork includes the nature of your disability and how iteffects your academic performance. Based on the documentation, schools willgive you a list of accommodations that they are willing to offer you. Under theAmericans with Disabilities Act, the school is required to provide you withaccommodations that give you equal access to the material and facilities oncampus. Institutions may interpret theADA differently and you may receive varying answers as to what accommodationsthey provide. Examples of accommodations include course substitutions, priorityregistration, note takers, and recording lectures. It should also be noted herethat disability service offices are not responsible for giving you personalservices like orientation and mobility training, help with laundry, orsupplying you with a cane. You will be responsible for covering these areas ofcampus life.
After assessingwhat accommodations are offered, be sure to ask, “What classes areessential for my major and what learning objectives in these classes areessential?“ For example, if you enter as an art major, will you be able to takea clay class and succeed at making sculptures or will you be required to takepainting and welding which may be out of your skill set? If the latter coursesare essential for your art major, the disability services office can not wavethem. They are only able to adapt or modify them by meeting with you and theinstructor. If many of the courses have components that are not essential ornot feasible for you, pick a different major or school. For instance, ifyou are interested in a major incommunication, one school’s emphasis may be on visual marketing. Odds are thatthis program and this school is not a good fit. By looking at your major andcourses ahead of time, you can figure out if the school’s program is right foryou. Plus, you can determine what classes are essential for your major and howthey can be adapted.
One finalquestion to ask the disability services office is, “What skills do I needto be successful here?” Answers may include advocating for your needs bothin and outside of the classroom, navigating the campus with your cane, andbeing proficient in technology. As many colleges have online learning systems,being able to use a computer with a screen reader is a very important skill.Make sure you know what platforms the school uses. If they use Windows insteadof a Mac, learn Windows or be able to switch between the two platforms if theneed arises. Colleges can also tell you about new technologies that they areimplementing into their curriculum. Be open to trying them out.
Beginning the search for a greatcollege is often overwhelming and time-consuming. Through following thesesimple tips, prospective blind and visually impaired students will have aneasier, smoother time as they transition from secondary school on to highereducation. Reach out and ask questions to ensure that you find the right schoolfor you.