My Random Musing’s Guide to College

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.

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Traveling alone even though I’m blind

There was that one time when I didn’t convert to the 24 hour time system, so I almost missed my train to Vigo. And there was that one time when I didn’t want to leave my hostel because i was so exhausted, but I was in Spain, so I chose to make some mental effort. And there was that one time when some employee almost didn’t let me take my train to Barcelona because I was traveling by myself, so I drew upon my Spanish and did some fast convincing. And there was that one time when I thought I understood the metro, so I didn’t ask which direction it was actually heading. And there was that one time when I sent my friend my current location and asked her to please just come get me. And there was that one time when I fell asleep on the metro and completely missed my stop and had to sleepily orient myself again in Spanish. Last but not least, there were that many times when people called me “valiente.” If I had a euro for every time someone said this to me, I’d be able to afford another plane ticket to España my heart.

Traveling alone as a blind person is a lot of fun, provided you have good mobility skills and good communication skills in the primary language spoken in the country. So go ahead, see the world if you really want to. Book a getaway for just yourself. You won’t regret it. There are so many foreign things for your palate to savor; there’s a whole host of wonderful sounds to hear; there’s so much fresh air to smell. Seriously, even the cars sound strange. I would describe them to you, but descriptive writing is not the purpose of this blog post.

How did I do it?

First, I had no expectations. I already knew that I was going to get lost. I knew that it was highly unlikely I could cram activity after activity into my day. I already excepted the fact that I was crazy for flying to a different country sola. I thought, “I have my cane, my Spanish, my sense of fun; what else do I really need?”

Second, I was pretty confident in my language and mobility skills — both of these skills made it possible for me to have a great time. If you can’t communicate in the primary language they speak in the country you want to visit and you don’t possess decent orientation and mobility skills, I would recommend not traveling completely on your own.

Third, I just really wanted to go back to Spain. When you desire something so much, you push yourself out of your comfort zone. I wasn’t ready to wait around for people to travel with me, so I just went on my own. I don’t think i would ever travel to, say, Africa by myself because I don’t feel compelled to see Africa enough to make the extra effort.

I would recommend traveling by yourself to anyone. First, you learn to really appreciate your creature comforts. You appreciate how many services exist to make your daily and professional life easier. You also realize what is most important to you when you’re strolling around Las Ramblas by yourself and wondering whether it’s too excessive to learn the location of both the metro and bus stops.

If you decide to viajar solo, accept that there will be stressful moments that make you think longingly of your own city. However, if you can successfully get around and enjoy yourself, the payoff is absolutely worth it.

What do I consider a valid or appropriate question to ask a blind person?

What do I consider a valid or appropriate question to ask a blind person?

Wow, this is actually a pretty complicated topic. Some blind people are offended when people as questions ranging from “where’s your helper?” to “how do you get dressed in the morning?” to really anything you can think of if you can’t imagine living in a world without sight. Fun fact: blind or visually impaired people do what they have to in order to be an active member of society, just like you do.

Before I continue with this post and eventually get back to the topic at hand, I just wanted to point out that my answer is going to reflect the things I’ve experienced when studying abroad this summer. Likewise, most of my examples will draw from this experience because I was less offended, and therefore, less likely to give a snappy retort. My usual disclaimer applies here: I am only one voice. My opinion is not shared by the entire blind community, okay? Please refer to the title and subtitle of my blog. Gracie mile!

To start our discussion, let’s address the most obvious and grating question: “where is your helper?” “¿Por qué no tienes a alguien para acompañarte?” Do I consider this an obnoxious question? No. I consider it an unnecessary one. “Am I offended by the question?” Kind of. “Is it a valid question?” Umm. Well. That’s complicated for me — yes and no.

As I mentioned several times in prior posts, I decided to do some traveling yo sola when I studied in Spain mostly to prove to myself that I could. You can imagine the reactions. People would look at me and exclaim, “¡imposible! ¡Es muy peligroso!” Even some 9-ear-old told me that it was dangerous to be alone during my first night in Madrid. I was thinking, “dude, what do you know? You’re nine!” But he is absolutely right….

Instead of letting those strongly opinionated Spaniards affect my study abroad experience, I did whatever the hell I wanted, and I showed them that traveling solita is not impossible. Do I regret this? Only the traveling-around-Madrid-at-3-alone-because-that’s-stupid-for-everyone.

Also, I’d like to think that I brought back a more tolerant attitude towards people and their prying questions.

As I noted earlier, I learned a lot of valuable lessons from my time abroad that will shed a lot of light on my current viewpoint.

I first learned to not shove everyone into several broad categories, such as ignorant people, offensive people, and informed people, etc. Not everyone has the same background, and not everyone lives in a world of privilege, and not everyone has access to a good education. They look at me and say it’s impossible because they’ve never met someone like me. Honestly, I love Spanish people, but some of the people I’ve met are so ensconced in their pueblos they’ve never felt the need or desire to venture outside them. They love their established routine. Some people I’ve talked to like to compare me to their local blind person living in their respective pueblo. I personally get bored to tears because I’m not them and I have not had their opportunities, nor them mine, so it’s useless to compare us. What I can do, however, is make an impression and show them that I’m just a normal girl excited to be in Spain for the summer. And that’s exactly what I did.

The second thing I learned was to not overanalyze every intention. It was beautiful music to my ears when my host mom told me flat out that I wasn’t really that special. The context of that statement was that my host dad wanted to take me to Atocha in Madrid, and I just did not feel comfortable with that.

The other thing I learned was to not be offended by every question that came out of someone’s mouth. My Spanish friend’s best friend had, once again, never met another blind person, so she started asking me questions like, “so how do you get dressed?” and “Do you go clothes shopping by yourself?”

My favorite part of this conversation was that she was not afraid to ask me; neither did she begin with some Spanish variation of “well I don’t want to offend, but…” My second favorite part of this conversation was that since it was in Spanish, I really had to think about how to frame my response. It is for this reason I realized that this is actually a pretty valid question. A lot of people get offended by thethis question and explain that blind people label their clothes or organize them in some manner like it’s an obvious solution. Personally, I think this method is too much work. I only separate the really colorful skirts and leggings. But do I really walk around department stores by myself, scan price tags, take pictures of clothing in an attempt to identify the color, or whatever insufficient other thing? Absolutely not.

I explained that I use my sighted friends to a point, but I also know what I like. I put a lot of emphasis on how we all are dependent on people, sighted or no, and I think she walked away with a new appreciation of a different perspective.

Fun fact: I received a bunch of Spanish clothing as a gift from my host family’s friend, and I skyped my Spanish friend so that she could help me plan together an outfit — I knew nothing about Spanish styles. I always shy away from wearing really colorful skirts because I have to put a lot of effort in finding the perfect matching blouse with something that hopefully complements the skirt’s main color scheme and pattern. That’s not what my best friend taught me about clothes, and to this day, she and her mom still influence my classy and elegant style whenever I choose to not roll out of bed and throw on something. I personally favor black pencil skirts because they are elegant, professional, versatile, and they look good on me.

Now that I’ve succeeded in rambling about study abroad for several unnecessary paragraphs, can you see where this post is going?

What do I consider a valid and appropriate question? First, I judge the intent of the question. Most people are curious, and they do not have the imagination to think outside the box. Or they don’t realize they do some of the same things I do, but to a lesser degree. Second, I choose my battles when it comes to being offended. I think years of crying over every insult, whether deliberate or unintended, has helped me realize what’s important. I may think a lot of people ask baffling questions, but that’s because I live my life every day, so all this stuff is second nature to me. Try to look at it from my perspective. I feel baffled that you understand all those squiggly lines called letters, and I didn’t understand why you’re restricted by one-way-streets when driving. But I understand now. Fun fact: I’ve tried for years to learn how to produce print, but I’ve never been able to overcome that particular challenge. I think I just haven’t made the necessary effort.

That being said, in my view, a question is valid if the person asking genuinely wants to know the answer. If you are asking me this question because you are looking for an “inspiration porn” response, don’t bother. If you’re asking me a rhetorical question that implies an assumption, don’t bother. You’re already assuming that X is true, and if X is not true, then your question doesn’t have an answer. Nothing I say is going to change your preconceived notion of me.

I’m delighted to answer your questions because I want you to see me as a person. But please, treat me as a person first, and at least wait until you get to know me a little. I don’t want our first conversation to be something like, “hi. You’re blind. Can I ask you all these questions?” If your questions are downright inappropriate, and you wouldn’t even dream of asking a perfect stranger/professional this question, then don’t ask me.

Note: If a group of drunk guys is yelling at you all the way down the street and suggesting that you should have an assistant, keep walking. Don’t even give them more seconds of your time to feel bad for the poor blind girl. To my sighted friends, if someone wants to stop you and tell you how much they appreciate you hanging out with your blind friend, do not give them a chance, and don’t even bother explaining that hanging out with your friend isn’t, in fact, charity. They’re probably drunk, and if they’re not, you have parties to attend and things to do — none of which include trying to change their mind.

Thanks for reading this incredibly long and disorganized blog post. I apologize for answering this question in such a round-about manner. I figured this isn’t a formal piece, so *shrugs*

From my computer to yours: 5 unexpected advantages of being blind

The struggle isn’t so real afterall.

Sometimes I love being blind, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I can’t imagine my life with sight simply because I’ve never had it . Sometimes I do have sight in my dreams because my subconscious realizes that at one point, I could see. However, those visions, or whatever I want to call them, tend to trickle through my brain before I can really capture them. It’s too bad, really. But my imagination is so much more inventive.

So are there really perks to being blind — besides the societal and governmental advantages? Yes, yes there are. Please keep in mind that I am only one person, and I do not represent the voice of the entire blind/visually impaired community. What might be an advantage to me is a disadvantage for someone else, so take everything I’m about to write with a grain of salt. That being said . . .

1. I have to constantly be on top of things if I want to succeed.

For example, I have to chat with my college professors at least once and request accommodations (if I need them). The advantage of this is that I am actually forced to get things done, and since other people are involved in seeing me succeed, I’m less likely to put something off. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve considered skipping class, but I don’t because my professor sends me stuff in advance. Extra effort on my behalf guilts me in to doing my best. It’s a great strategy, especially if one is going through undergrad burnout.

2. I cannot rely on visuals.

We live in a world where most people are extremely dependent on sight. I feel like a lot of the pedagogical strategies are shifting towards visual learning these days, and it kind of makes me sad.

For example, I was once studying to be a classically trained vocalist, and I’m currently a language major in my last year of undergrad. Both of these fields can be extremely visual. When I was first learning basic vocal technique, my wonderful vocal coach could not rely on diagrams to communicate the idea of breathing properly to me. Therefore, she had to be creative and talk me through forcing my body to do some strange things so that I could feel what my diaphragm was supposed to do. In her words, “teaching [me] how to sing was an ‘intimate’ process . . . and very beneficial” because I learned breathing techniques more quickly and more thoroughly. I got to really know my body, and I learned that I was using muscles I didn’t even know I had to strengthen my core.

Similarly, in regards to my language learning, I couldn’t learn vocabulary via images; I had to really put in the effort of using it in context. I also couldn’t binge watch telenovelas because subtitles are not easy to acquire in text form. As a result, I had to improve my listening comprehension the hard way: lots of trial and error and scripted radio transcripts. Thank god for scripted radio transcripts!

Fun fact: Wandering Spain by yourself and trying to understand the metro system is not fun if you’re not speaking with people who are trained/patient enough to converse with non-native speakers. But I was pretty persistent and probably really annoying at first because I had to ask for clarification several times since they couldn’t just show me the colored lines that I should take from Barcelona Sants. #sorrynotsorry

3. I can’t always give in to my sugar cravings.

Since my shopping assistant has to help me grab the things I want, I always feel in check to not pass by the ice cream. Brilliant.

4. Bording a plane

I’ve seen people stress out about making their gate in time. I distinctly remember these guys telling me that they almost missed their flight from Madrid to Toronto because they misread their flight information. Luckily for me and my anxiety, airport employees take care of all those small details for me. It’s great because I’m a pretty anxious person, and it’s one less thing to worry about.

5. I will never be the designated driver.

… and nobody can say a word about it. I’ve tried talking people in to letting me drive their car. It hasn’t worked…. yet.

Being blind is really scary sometimes, especially when you’re not paying attention to your surroundings like you should be or if you get swept up in peer pressure bullshit and let everyone around you implicitly convince you that you’re never doing enough…. Sorry, personal rant, but I digress… I am not saying that everyone should give it a try. If I had vision, I’d probably hate it. But I’ve learned to stop lurking in the shadows. I still run into shit, but I’ve learned to laugh about it and accept that this will happen. But for me, it’s all about experiencing the world from a different perspective. Sometimes that perspective is dark and murky, but sometimes it is beautiful.

My Post Study Abroad Advice

This post is written for current/future blind people who wish to study abroad.

If you know me personally, you know that I have been dreaming and scheming of studying abroad ever since I chose my major or grado. This blog post probably doesn’t apply to you, but you can read it if you wish.

If you don’t know me personally, but would like to read reflections on a blind girl’s study abroad trip, I’m your girl.

If you’re just interested in inspiration porn, read at your risk. I make no promises my study abroad trip was that inspirational.

So, hypothetically, you’re blind and you want to travel abroad but you’re nervous and intimidated? Yes, I felt the same way. I felt like I needed multiple reassurances that I was going to be successful and able to cope with the abrupt change of cultural and geographic scenery as well as the added challenge of overcoming a language barrier. I was afraid that I was going to be crippled with fear and, as a consequence, be too afraid to leave my room solita. I was afraid that I was juggling too much, and I constantly worried I wasn’t ready for this leap. My track record for adjusting to new environments was not promising.

But I made it in one piece relatively unscathed. Not only did I learn to lay my previous fears to rest, I learned a lot about the Spanish language and culture – in fact, I was practically integrated into family life and Spanish customs; I learned what it is to be a nicer and more considerate version of myself; I learned more about professional development; I made lots of friends; and while doing all this, I had a fabulous time.

The question, then, is always, “how did you prepare yourself to ensure a successful study abroad trip as a blind person?”

The answer isn’t really that simple. A lot of it depends on you, and not all the prep work is directly relevant to adapting as a blind person. The key is to trust that you’re confident you are capable. Trust me, there isn’t much room for self-doubt. You also need to remind yourself that studying abroad is something you really want to do. It makes the process a lot smoother.

Below is a brief list to help you prepare and adjust. This is a list I wish I had read, so I hope you find it useful!

Pre-departure.

1. Contact university or agency

This is an obvious step, so I’ll keep my comments brief. Clearly articulate your needs. After, make your accommodation requests. What can the agency provide to help you adjust quickly? What services can the agency offer? Etc. These questions vary from person to person, so use your judgement.

2. Talk to a supportive family member, friend, or professional

You won’t always think of everything on your own, so it’s always helpful to talk to a couple of people you trust. I probably don’t need to spell this out explicitly, but I will because I think it needs to be said. Talk to someone you know will help you plan and strategize productively and give constructive recommendations. We all have those friends who are fun, supportive, and we love them for it, . . . but at the end of the day, they think you’re a walking inspiration….. In other words, “you’re going to be great” will not suffice.

3. Know your limits.

This piece of advice is pretty self-explanatory. Be aware of what you are capable of doing on your own, and don’t be shy to ask for assistance. In addition, be prepared to have flexible limitations; you never know what will occur when abroad. On another note, if you’re confident enough to travel and explore on your own, go for it! Those memories will stay with you forever.

Departure

4. The flight

Flying is the easy part. The airport employees briskly escort you through security and to your gate. Enjoy the freedom of not thinking while it lasts 😉

Alone and abroad, or are you?

5. Don’t be afraid to ask

This doesn’t just include services you just realized you’ll need. When you’re living and hanging out with locals, you should do your best to live like a local. They probably won’t say anything to you until you ask. No question is trivial. They’re happy to explain and show you how to gesture (and not gesture) like a Spaniard. When in Spain, guys!

6. When you don’t need help, but people think you do

I don’t know what differences you’ll encounter in other cultures. In Spain, I let Spaniards help me some of the time. It is in their nature to help.

Here are a couple of situations with examples:

a lot of people have lightly touched my wrist and walked me across the street. That’s it. You can’t really object because you don’t have time and you’re in the middle of the street. Let it go. Thank them and move on.

A lot of people have just grabbed my arm and asked if I needed help. Maybe the person in question had no qualms invading my personal space in this manner, but I did, obviously. I didn’t care if this was Spain or America; suddenly grabbing a blind person like this is clearly not acceptable. Happily, you can handle this kind of situation like you would in the states. Politely ask them to not grab you like this and show them how to assist a blind person.

It’s not so different and overwhelming, is it? 🙂

Conclusions

Everyone is adjusting

When studying abroad, everyone is adjusting to a new language or culture. If you think about adjusting in this way, studying abroad as a blind person really isn’t that intimidating, is it? You have to prepare, but you have to prepare for everything, such as job training, college, moving, and even day-to-day tasks. why should study abroad be any different?

The most important thing is to commit to whatever you want out of your study abroad experience and have a great time!

¡Suerte!

¡Hola! Ciao!: Or a more extensive look at what inspired my blog title

Dear Readers,

I am so glad you discovered my blog. I like to write about the random musings that filter through my head. These posts usually feature examples pulled from my life. Please keep in mind that I am not a disabilities advocate. I just write how I view the world. I am only one blind girl, and I do not speak for the entire blind community. For this reason, you should read my blog with a grain of salt.

I hope you enjoy reading. Please do not hesitate to contact mevia the contact form if you have any questions about what I write.

Best,

My Random Musings