Attending a University as a Person who is Blind or Low Vision 

temple university flags outside building

Preparing for my first year of going away to college was an incredibly stressful but exciting time for me. If you’re considering taking a step towards higher education, you, too, must prepare and start researching in advance. I’ve provided some specific preparatory considerations and tips for someone with blindness or low vision. 

Key Considerations 

  • Develop skills in self-advocacy. 
  • Identify necessary tools and access needs. 
  • Research accessible campuses. 
  • Contact disability resource offices with questions about your needs and the accommodations they can offer. 
  • Get your cane and braille skills up to par. 

These were a few key areas I needed to have covered and under my belt to start at university. These bullets might change from person to person, but the overall goal in figuring out whether or not you are ready and poised for success in college is to identify your weaknesses or worries and tackle them head-on.  

Develop Skills in Self-Advocacy 

I am enrolled as a Freshman at Temple University studying for a bachelor’s in science, focusing on general physics. The first step to get here was to build up my comfort level with self-advocacy.  

As I’m sure you know by now, your ability to speak up and ask for what you need to meet your specific needs is an invaluable skill. Since I was diagnosed with my visual impairment later on in life, this skill was entirely foreign to me, and it took some practice and uncomfortable situations to get it to where it needed to be. These might be good places to start if you need to build your self-advocacy skills. 

Start Small 

Take little situations, such as a friend or family member trying to show you something on their phone, to practice. Saying things such as, “I can’t quite make that out; could you describe it to me?” Or “I’m having trouble seeing that; usually, I need things to be bigger to see them.” The examples are great ways to practice self-advocacy. Any other applicable comments you feel would get your point across would also work.  

The point here is to begin getting comfortable voicing your needs. Since you’re talking to a close friend or family member, they’ll usually have an easier time understanding and will be easier to talk to. 

Attend Your IEP Meetings 

Since I needed specific tools and resources while in high school, I had an Individualized Education Program (IEP). IEP meetings are good places to practice self-advocacy skills. While you will not have an IEP in college, you may have access to a disability resource office. 

By showing up in person and making yourself known, you are giving the people in charge a face to the case, and you will also be able to answer any questions that come up or ask for things at the moment. Since you are talking to adults, knowing how you ask for what you need is important.  

Be Assertive 

For me, it was challenging to get the help and tools I needed from the school as the administration wasn’t the most willing. When you’re in these meetings, bring up issues, present possible solutions to start the conversation, and show that you’ve also thought about it. Saying something like, “I’ve been having trouble seeing the teacher and the board in class. Maybe it would be best for me to sit up front or for classwork to be in an accessible format.” (State what accessibility you are thinking of.) Be patient but stern when asking for what you need. You’re being assertive to help you and your education, so make it known if you need a specific tool or help with a certain problem. 

Identify Tools and Access Needs 

When you self-advocate, you need to know what you’re asking for and what would be most helpful. You may need a little help understanding what you need. A Teacher for Students with Visual Impairments (TVI), Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor, or staff at the disability resource office might be able to assist. These professionals have a solid understanding of what tools are most useful for different people and scenarios.  

You can advocate for vision or disability-related professionals to help you master the tools you already have, such as your white cane, braille, or a screen reader. While using these things in public may be uncomfortable, you must begin to work them into your daily life in ways that feel best for you. Training from professionals and mastering your resources will be incredibly important once you get to college, as you will be on your own, and you will need to get around and finish assignments without other people giving you the answers to problems you face. 

Become as comfortable as possible relying on your existing tools or becoming familiar with the ones you feel you will need while at college. With a clear understanding of everything in your tool belt, you can face far more problems and obstacles and easily solve them. 

Research Accessible Campuses  

When choosing a school I wanted to attend,  I had already decided I needed to be in a city. I’ve lived in rural Vermont for most of my life, and as lovely as it is, it wasn’t the most accessible place to live for me. I began looking at schools primarily in major cities to ensure ease of access regarding transportation and proximity to other needs in the community. 

Contact the Disability Resource Offices 

Once you have a list of colleges, contact their disability office and schedule a meeting. Go into this meeting with a list of questions you have.  

Questions may include: 

  • “What accessible technology do you have on campus, and what staff know how to use the technology?” 
  • “Do you have a braille printer or video magnification systems on campus?” 
  • “What additional supports do you offer to assist students who are blind or low vision to help meet various academic needs?” 
  • “Do you have people who could help me if I have trouble with my screen reader or other tech?” 

Work on Cane and Braille Skills 

Continue to work on your cane and braille skills. To help you know what travel skills will be necessary for your college years, tour prospective college campuses. It will help you learn more about where you will travel and walk. You will better understand any places you might want assistance from an Orientation and Mobility instructor in the future. Are there tricky streets? Would you need to plan alternative routes? Are there suitable landmarks? 

Final Thoughts  

Attending a university is a big step. While your friends will be working hard to figure out what college will look like for them, you will probably be working hard in other areas beyond academics, socializing, and adjusting. But don’t let this deter you! Getting into and then attending college can be an incredibly exhilarating and rewarding process if you prepare well for it. Setting yourself up for success when applying ensures that you know how to succeed once you’re in. Get excited, and good luck!