The summer before my freshman year of high school, my dad decided that I was going to be a registered dietitian and attend a state school in a small town in Virginia. This was before my vision got worse and also before I was inspired to go into assistive technology. At the time, we thought the campus was beautiful and that I would have so much fun there since it was such a big school. When we came back to visit nearly four years later, after I had decided to pursue software engineering and assistive technology, my family and I realized that the school was the absolute worst fit for me, and to top it all off, the disability services coordinator told me not to even bother applying because they didn’t know how to handle a student with low vision. This came as a shock to us, since it was such a large school that was very well respected, but overall I’m thankful for the experience because it taught me how important it is to ask questions before choosing a college. Here are some examples of questions I asked all the different colleges I applied to or visited:
Is on-campus housing guaranteed?
Surprisingly, it isn’t always guaranteed for all four years, or even the first year. Since I have low vision, I do not drive and while there is public transportation, it can be difficult to rely on. If possible, check if the school has their own public transportation services. My school has a partnership with city buses and also their own transportation service that takes students to places like malls, the Metro station, and to other campuses. Read my post on the bus system here.
How many students do you serve with low vision?
At one school I visited, the answer was zero, and they had no idea how to handle a student with a sensory impairment in general. I actually scheduled an appointment with the low vision/blindness coordinator at my college long before I even applied there, and she went over all of the different accommodations available to me. Read more about disability services files here.
What assistive technology is available?
One school asked me what assistive technology was, and that was a huge warning sign for me that it wouldn’t be a good fit. My school has a nicely sized assistive technology department that helps students find appropriate tools for the classroom as well as a disability services testing center equipped with CCTVs, ZoomText, JAWS, and more. If you need any particular tools, make sure to ask if they are available.
Are the campus buildings easy to get to?
I remember on one tour, the guide told us that in order to get to classes, you had to walk in a tunnel underneath the road, but that it was perfectly safe and you could walk there at any time. My dad, and every other dad on the tour, turned to their daughters to say “no, don’t go through that tunnel alone.” Another school had several winding staircases and no elevator in sight, or was on very rocky terrain. Make sure to walk to the buildings and/or get a tour to make sure it won’t be difficult. If the school offers it, stairs optional tours are the best!
For housing, can I get disability accommodations?
This one was rather tough for me. If you require it, make sure you can get a dorm with handicapped access, a single dorm, special lighting, or a climate controlled room. At first, I was denied housing services due to a glitch in the system, but after a few phone calls, everything was alright. Read more about housing here.
Can I bring my assistive technology to class?
At one school I visited, they touted having a “pencil and paper approach to learning,” which turned out to be code for “our wifi is awful and we didn’t invest in our technology.” My teachers embrace technology at my school and allow me to bring whatever devices I need.
How many people have gone through my major with low vision?
If professors have dealt with low vision before, you won’t have to deal with insane or insulting questions about your vision. Also check for general education requirements which professors are the best at following accommodations- I recommend checking www.RateMyProfessor.com
What services for people with low vision are available off campus?
Make a note of important places that offer services for people with low vision. I travel to libraries for people with disabilities often, and make a note of where places are like the Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired. I also go to places like Target and the mall to make sure I can navigate them easily and that there’s help available if needed.
How can I make my application stand out?
I did a video essay where I filmed a video about myself and why I was a good fit for the college. My slogan was “I hope you allow me to be a part of the class of 2019, even if I don’t see 20/20.” Throughout the video, I talked about my accomplishments in high school while poking fun at my vision impairment- for example, I mistake my mom for a tree. At the end of the video, I mention my vision is not that bad, but I still want to be part of the college community. It was a great way to show that I’m more than my vision impairment and that I don’t take everything seriously.
Is this college a good fit for me?
It may seem like a weird question to ask, but it’s very important. Two colleges told me that they would have no idea how to accommodate me and one said not to bother applying. Make sure everything is not doomed to fail from the start. However, if you ask these other questions, I’m sure that you are bound to find a college that is accessible for you and allow you to showcase your knowledge and talents for achieving higher education!