Over the years, I have given over a dozen college tours to visually impaired middle and high school students, and have created a list of places every visually impaired student should visit on college tours. For me, no tour is complete without stopping at these buildings, and I love watching prospective student’s faces light up when they see these places. Here are my tips for places every visually impaired student should visit on college tours. Some of these places may not be covered on traditional college tours, so I recommend either finding them yourselves or reaching out to Disability Services in advance.
Many of the students I give tours to will eventually be living on campus, so I take them to my freshman dorm building and show them where their housing would be in relation to other buildings on campus. Since I can’t go inside buildings that I don’t live in, I typically will describe the layout of my freshman dorm and talk about how I was able to request disability accommodations for housing. Alternatively, I might use the dorms my friends lived in as examples of typical freshman housing, because I happened to live in one of the nicest freshman buildings at the time.
While I have shown some students what my dorm room looks like, I don’t like to bring students to my dorm for security reasons and because there isn’t room for a lot of people to stand in my dorm room at once. Plus, my upperclassmen dorm is rather different from my freshman dorm, and I don’t want students to get confused.
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Department building/main class building
One of the first questions I ask on the tour is what the student is planning to major in, and I take them to the main class building or department building for that major. If the student tells me in advance what they are interested in, I will encourage them to set up an appointment with their future advisor, as this can be a great opportunity to ask specific academic questions. If this isn’t possible, I bring them to the building and show them what the classrooms look like and my tips for finding classrooms with visual impairment.
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Disability Services office
I strongly suggest that high school students make an appointment with Disability Services before coming to campus so that they can talk about creating a Disability Services file. One of the main points I emphasize is that IEPs expire the moment a student graduates high school, so it’s important to create a file so that students can continue to receive accommodations in college. If the student is unable to make an appointment, I still will take them to Disability Services so they can ask general questions or pick up an accessible copy of the campus map.
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Student health center/Campus urgent care
While we don’t go inside, I like to show prospective students where the student health center is, since it’s right across from Disability Services. Since many of the students I give tours to also have chronic illnesses, it’s helpful to know where to get medical attention or to get vaccines on campus if needed. In addition to sharing information about student health, I will also give the name of the local medical system as well as the nearest hospitals and urgent cares if the student is not local to the area.
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Campus assistive technology labs
My college has an awesome assistive technology department, and I always stop at the assistive technology office on my tours. Many of the students are familiar with using assistive technology, so I show them how they can get access to different devices and software in the campus assistive technology labs, as well as get accessible textbooks and class materials. One of the assistive technology specialists will also come talk to the student and answer any questions they may have about using a screen reader or accessing campus technology resources (shoutout to K for always talking to the prospective students I bring to their office, typically with zero advance notice!), or I will ask questions the student had asked me before.
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Fun fact- I spent so much time in the dining hall my freshman year hanging with my friends that my phone’s GPS automatically marked the dining hall as being my home address. I’ve also met about half of my fellow blind and low vision friend at the dining hall, so I consider it a must-stop place for students who will be living on campus. This also gives them the opportunity to practice asking for help or using assistive technology to identify food, which is highly useful. I tend to take students to whatever dining hall we are closest to at lunchtime, and show them how to check the menu in advance with the campus dining app.
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It may seem strange to take someone who has trouble reading standard print to the library, but I like to show students where the main library on campus is, since a lot of people use it as a landmark when giving directions. Librarians are also happy to talk to students visiting campus and give them information about interesting events and resources for various topics. I use the stop at the library to tell students about digital accessible library resources and other online resources available to students, and also talk about the time I got so lost in the library that librarians called campus security to come find me. I share the second story to reassure students that I did not walk onto this campus knowing where everything is, and it’s also a great way to talk about how to call campus security when there is an issue.
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Central campus area
Regardless of if the student uses a blindness cane or not, I recommend walking around the central campus area where students walk to and from class to see what the path is like and see how they will be getting to class. While it is helpful to see how busy campus is during peak rush times, I recommend waiting until after class changes to walk around, since that’s when I typically walk to my classes anyway.
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I’m always excited to give college tours for prospective students, and I am even more excited when they also have a visual impairment like I do. I never met any other visually impaired students until I got to college, so having the opportunity to be a role model and share my experiences at my wonderful college is very exciting for me. While I am not currently available to give tours at my college, I hope that students are able to use this list of places every visually impaired student should visit on college tours to create their own amazing tour!