This post is not intended to simply regurgitate the advice that your councilor will provide when you choose to make this transition. Rather, it is intended to emphasize why you should really plan ahead to ensure a successful college experience.
This is it. This is my last week of undergrad, and I’m only emotional because I’ve been through a lot. I am publicly reflecting on my experiences because I want at least one person to profit from them. So, without delay, this is My Random Musing’s Guide to college for all blind people. I will try to not give such abstract advice, but some lessons are hard to really grasp unless you learn them the hard way. I know that I’ve written this disclaimer in my post excerpt, but I need to stress that I’m only one blind individual. Some people are more prepared than I am. Regardless, if you find yourself entering college blind and have no idea what to expect, this post is for you. Similarly, if you feel like the stress of college is impacting your experiences, this post is for you.
Advice #1 Study hard, but not at the expense of your social life and well being.
Don’t be so focused on proving to everyone that you’re just as intelligent and capable as the rest of the students. Do your best, eat, get drunk with your friends once in a while, and have a great time. Perhaps get a job on campus, join an organization, do a service learning project. If you feel like you’re sacrificing activities that you love in favor of good grades and you need to prove something to everyone, it’s time to step back and evaluate what you are working towards.
Advice #2 Know how you travel and learn campus public transit
Can you believe that my ONM instructor did not teach me all the available bus routes running on campus?
I was taught routes that required me to think 24-7 about specific landmarks, counting how many blocks I’ve walked, and turning at very pacific angles. In this sense, my orientation skills failed me. I am much better at judging distance. I was paranoid that if I missed a landmark or something, I’d be so lost, and since my ability to concentrate entirely on my surroundings is practically nonexistent, I had to teach myself other ways to get around campus. Investing a lot of mental energy in traveling from place to place was really starting to take its toll, so I eventually inquired about the public transit system on my campus. If it seriously doesn’t occur to you to ask these important kinds of questions, ask questions such as, where does it run? Where will it drop you off? How frequently will it run? Is there a paratransit system on your campus and are you willing to rely on it? At first, I was really embarrassed to take paratransit because I assumed that people would judge me if I used a door to door service. The first time I took Paratransit, my driver idly commented that my final destination was five minutes away from my pickup destination. I initially did not realize how close my destinations were, so I was naturally embarrassed I had taken Paratransit at all. Needless to say, I avoided a door-to-door service for a long time.
⁃ But seriously guys. If you have a lot of studying to do and you find that you’re expending too much energy getting lost and trying to find your way, take a bus or use the free Paratransit service. In the end, it’s frankly a waste of time to insist on retracing your steps by yourself, and then stumble into class with little energy to spare.
Advice #3 The Alternative Media service is your best resource.
The Alternative media Center aims to provide course material in an alternative format. It is recommended that you request your accommodations accordingly in order to have course material in a timely manner. The Alternative Media Center staff will follow your requested accommodations to the letter. It is important to note here that they will present material in the most literal way possible unless you specify otherwise. In other words, if there’s a figure or image, the staff will describe all the details, which can obscure the objective learning goals for the class in question. It is for this reason you should contact your professor as soon as possible and discuss your requested accommodations. Your professors will respond positively with vague messages like, “please let me know if I can assist you in any way.” It is your job to send any image descriptions or really anything you don’t understand and inform them you’re overwhelmed by the details. Politely ask them to explain the significance another way; they will work with you.
In the same way your professor cannot help you with the content if you don’t ask your questions or voice your confusion, he also cannot clarify the content in a different way if you don’t tell him you don’t understand the presentation. My suggestion is to share with your professor how you best learn so he can help you focus on what’s important; you can make necessary adjustments, and then communicate them to Alternative Media. Let your professor collaborate with you. The professor can gain a valuable insight into your learning processes and can thus dedicate more time helping you productively learn. If you’re not comfortable spending so much time in your professor’s office or you feel like you’re emailing him or her too much, remember that he is getting paid to see you succeed. On another note, do not feel perturbed by comments such as, “I can’t slow down the class for you” because you’re not asking for help with the intention of “slowing down” other students’ progress. In other words, don’t feel offended by comments that are not even relevant to your questions and concerns because you need to learn this material somehow.
Advice #4 Do not, under any circumstances, succumb to peer pressure and define your limits based on what other people can accomplish.
Know your limits. Seriously. Just because you’re blind and intelligent does not make you a machine. My friend once casually mentioned that she felt lazy only taking 12 credit hours. Therefore, I decided to take 18 credit hours and work two jobs. I am a very anxious person and I work pretty slow, so that semester ended very badly for me. … I kept my jobs and that’s about it.
Don’t focus so much on fitting in with everyone that you try to spread yourself too thin. Some people can handle it. I’m not saying that just because you have a disability, you are incapable of taking a heavy course work and holding two jobs all in the same semester. What I am saying, however, is that I knew I was going to suffer that semester, but I chose to proceed anyway because I did not want to be perceived as lazy. To make a long story short, I paid for it… This goes for everyone: you should think carefully about overexerting yourself. Graduating on time, making a lot of money for an undergrad, or taking fun classes is great, but not if you mentally collapse from the strain.
Advice #5 Go out and leave your academic obligations back at your apartment.
Go to a party and drink with your friends because you will never be responsible for drive anyone home. College isn’t just about good grades. It’s about making friends, having different social experiences, discovering yourself, networking, and scrambling to find things to put on your resumé. 😉 As a blind person, I had a typical college experience. I laughed, I cried, I learned a lot about myself. I hope that you feel comfortable embarking or continuing your education, and I can only hope that my advice will help you be a success. Good luck with whatever you choose to study. Remember to never let an obstacle serve as an excuse for not following your dreams. That being said, be practical and keep your limits at the back of your mind.