When I first started high school, one of the first things I noticed was how spread out all of my classes were. In middle school, my classes were all generally within a small cluster, and I could get from one class to another within a minute or two. High school hallways were an entirely different story though, as I often had classes in different sections of the school or on multiple different floors, and it took me longer to figure out where my classes were compared to before. Here are my tips for navigating high school hallways with low vision based on my own experiences. It’s worth noting that I didn’t use a blindness cane while I was a student in high school, though I’ve also included links to posts about how I use blindness canes to navigate hallways now that I’m no longer in school.
Look at the walls
The first high school I attended had beautiful, colorful murals that covered the walls of many of the hallways, and I would use these colors/patterns to help me figure out how to get to class- i.e turn left at the purple hills and follow the orange swirls to math class. My second high school was not nearly as colorful, but I was still able to use posters, different colored lockers, and other landmarks to figure out where I was going.
- How I Learned To Navigate My Internship Building With Low Vision
- How To Create Accessible Classroom Posters For Students With Visual Impairments
Speaking of school lockers
School lockers were optional at both of the high schools I attended, as most students would carry their backpacks from class to class. I still had a locker though so that I could store items, and asked for it to be in a location that was close to my classes and on a lower level, since I had trouble reaching the higher shelves in the upper lockers. At my first high school, my locker was located near the school entrance/exit, while the locker at my second high school was directly across from the library, which was an easy location for me to find. Students can also add tactile dots or colored tape to their locker to make it easier to identify.
Take note of obstacles, or ask to remove them
One of my friends jokingly told me that they associate our years in high school with me managing to knock over the trash can in the middle of the hallway at least once a week. My blindness cane is great at alerting me to obstacles (perhaps better than the friend who watched me knock over the trash can all the time), but it also helps to memorize where various items are located so that people are less likely to run into them.
One of my friends had a similar issue to me with running into a trash can constantly, but instead of getting annoyed or embarrassed over it like I did, they talked to their case manager and principal about moving the trash can to a location where it was less likely to get knocked over. Another friend had their Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) walk through their school before the start of the semester, and the TVI provided recommendations to the school for how to remove obstacles.
Use tactile guides
Two of my friends had tactile maps of different parts of their high school so that they could interpret the maps through touch and orient themselves to various locations. There are services that will create tactile maps on embossed paper, and I have linked a post below that covers how TVIs and O&M specialists can create tactile graphics with everyday objects.
Another option is to add tactile guides to the hallways themselves in the form of step nosing on stairs, textures for different hallway areas, and adding tactile dots to classroom signs or doors to make classrooms easier to identify for students with vision loss who do not read Braille.
- How To Create Tactile Images With Everyday Objects
- Fast Facts About Tactile Pavement
- Blindness Canes and Classrooms: Navigating College Campuses
Have a teacher walk with you
In some cases where I had to walk to the other side of the school or take an unfamiliar route to get to class, I would ask one of my teachers if they could walk with me so I wouldn’t get super lost and end up being late for class. My band director was awesome about helping me find my classes and we would often talk as we walked, so I never felt awkward walking around with them compared to walking with a paraprofessional who students associated with special education services. Of course, it shouldn’t matter who is walking with a student to class, but for students who are more self-conscious about their disability, having a familiar teacher is a lot better.
Figure out where hall monitors are
Another option for students who need assistance with getting directions or getting to class is to talk to the hall monitors, also known as the teachers who stand in the hallway during class changes. I’ve found that they are more aware of shortcuts and quick ways to get from one side of the building to the other.
Get a tour before school starts
Most schools offer an open house for new or existing students before the start of the semester so that they can become more familiar with the different hallways and locations of different classrooms. If this is not available, students with vision loss can talk to their case manager, TVI, or Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor to arrange a time to walk through the school before all of the other students arrive. In addition to finding all of the classrooms on the schedule, I recommend also practicing finding the cafeteria, library, student common area, and other popular areas.
- Blindness Canes and Building Identification: Navigating College Campuses
- Ten Lessons My TVI Taught Me
Use a human guide
I frequently used my friends as human guides so that they could help me find classes or get to areas in my school. At my second high school, my friend J ended up walking me to all of my classes because our classes were close together, and they were able to get permission from their teachers to show up a minute or two late for class since they were helping me to get around. I would hold onto J’s arm or their backpack and we would walk through the halls that way, or we would just try to walk closely together. If a student needs help finding a human guide of their own, I recommend reaching out to their case manager or guidance counselor who may know students that are willing to help.
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Use Human Guides?
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Guide Each Other?
Other tips for navigating high school hallways with low vision
- For schools with multiple stories, students with disabilities can request the use of faculty elevators if they have difficulty navigating stairs
- Students can talk to teachers about late class/tardy penalties and having extra time to get to classes- I was allowed to leave my classes a minute early and arrive up to two minutes late without penalty
- Wear shoes with good traction- slipping in the hallway is not fun!