Transitioning to College: Nine Essential Tips for Students with Visual Impairments, by Pat Ryan

Students who are blind face unique challenges when preparing for college. Here’s what you need to know to make the process easier.

Reprinted with permission from the “Perkins Vision” blog, June 9, 2015.

(Editor’s Note: Pat Ryan is the supervisor of Outreach Short Courses at Perkins School for the Blind. To read this story online, visit www.perkins.org/stories/blog. To view a webcast version, visit www.perkinselearning.org/videos/webcast/transitioning-high-school-college.)
 
Transitioning from high school to college is both exciting and scary for every student. Having a visual impairment only increases the challenge. Here are some steps to help you pick the college that’s right for you and make the transition easier.

  1. Knowing what services each college offers is key: Every Disability Services office is different. So when considering a college, schedule an appointment to meet with them and review the services they offer. Ask how many students they serve that require accommodations similar to yours. Often a school’s services will be dictated by the population of students they currently have.
  2. Shop your options: Not every college experience is the same, and it’s worth examining some different types of experiences to determine which one is right for you. For some people the traditional residential college setting is appropriate, while for others it might make sense to attend a commuter college or even to take classes online.
  3. Familiarize yourself with the tools you’ll need: Technology has changed the way people engage at college, whether it’s through online courses or live classrooms. It’s very common for teachers to share their syllabus and class assignments online through websites like Blackboard.com, and they will often require that you post your assignments there as well. Make sure that you are familiar with the program most commonly used by your professors, and that whatever adaptive technology you use is able to access it.
  4. Put your resources to work for you: Another big part of college is the campus library. Many of your courses will require that you do research from time to time. Become familiar with the types of materials, especially the accessible materials, your college’s library offers. Do they have electronic and audiobooks?
  5. Own your education: One of the biggest differences between high school and college is the level of responsibility you have to take for your own education. Teachers might not even mention that an assignment is due and will just expect you to have read the syllabus. The same level of diligence is needed in terms of advocating for any accommodations you might need. Typically a school’s Disability Services office will be able to get you what you need, but they will expect you to come in prepared to advocate for those needs.
  6. Building relationships makes life easier: It’s important to develop a positive relationship with your professors and to communicate with them about your needs. They might not be familiar with your disability and will feel more comfortable if they see that you are proactive in trying to fully engage their lessons and materials.
  7. Academics are only part of the story: If you do choose a traditional residential college, remember that a huge part of the college experience has to do with social and extracurricular opportunities. Although many events will be listed online or promoted through social media, you should also be aware of where you can go to access flyers and other print advertisements. Consider joining clubs and attending events. It’s likely that you’ll find groups and clubs for activities you’ve never heard of before. Be adventurous and try new things! Don’t fall into the trap of staying in your room all the time.
  8. Preparing for tomorrow’s problems today: Traveling around a college campus can be difficult. They tend to be much bigger than a high school. Be prepared to ask people around you for help. Develop strategies so that you can do this in a way that is assertive but polite. It also helps to plan ahead, whenever possible. Make sure to find your classrooms before the first day so you can be on time. Also check out the cafeteria menu before you get there so you can get through the line more easily.
  9. Give and take is the key to healthy friendships: Having friends or even a roommate can be a good resource on a college campus. Find out when your friends are going to an event, and learn about different social opportunities from them. And while friends can be a great help, it’s also good to distinguish them from people whose job it is to provide you with assistance. Friendships work best when there is a balanced give-and-take, so think about ways that you can give back. For instance, if someone regularly gives you a ride somewhere, it might be nice to offer them money for gas.