Welcome to my Navigating College Campuses series, where I talk about all of the different ways I use Orientation and Mobility (O&M) techniques and my blindness cane as a student with low vision at my large public university. After spending four years living on my college campus, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating in several different conditions and situations, and am so excited to share my tips and tricks with other students and future students. Today, I will be sharing my experiences with blindness canes and sidewalks and how I navigate my college campus through these obstacles.
My favorite blindness cane for navigating construction
If I’m going to be navigating a particularly bumpy area, I prefer to use my large ball tip blindness cane whenever possible. The ball tip cane provides lots of feedback for me, and I can use the tip for long periods of time without it wearing down too quickly. This is especially important when it comes to construction, as I once had to replace a marshmallow tip on my cane after less than a month due to extremely rough terrain on campus- though I haven’t had to do that since.
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Learn at least two different routes to get to each building
There’s nothing more frustrating than starting to walk to class and discovering that construction is blocking my path, so I make sure to learn at least two different routes to get to each building on campus. Since I’ve been on campus for so long, I can easily figure out alternative routes based on surrounding roads, but other helpful methods include asking friends and the Disability Services office for the best ways to get to certain buildings with a mobility aid. Another thing I like to note is the nearest campus shuttle stop to my favorite buildings, so if needed I can easily hop on the campus shuttle which stops right near my building.
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Follow campus construction websites
By monitoring my college campus construction website, I can easily be alerted about current and future construction information so I can plan my routes appropriately. I typically check this information once a week, though I have been known to check it more often if I hear rumors about expected or emergency road closures from others. This is also helpful information to know when choosing housing, as it’s important to ensure construction will not be blocking your daily routes.
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Sign up for construction alerts for information on alternative routes
Recently, my college started sending out construction alerts for people who request them. They provide information about expected closures and alternative routes for students to take, and ensure that there is always a stair-free route available. I found out about this from one of my college’s assistive technology specialists, though many colleges offer a similar service for students. If no such service is available, I highly recommend contacting the campus facilities management or construction offices and requesting this information be sent out.
Use disability transportation services, if available
I tend to get tired pretty quickly if I have to walk around a lot, so having access to disability transportation services helps me to conserve my energy and not have to worry about planning a route to class. At my college, this means a golf cart (driven by a student staff member) picks me up at a pre-set location and drops me off at my class building. Even if you use this option, you should still learn how to get to your classes on foot or by shuttle (or ideally both) since transportation may not always be available, especially at night.
Try to get to class during off-peak times
Instead of trying to push through a gigantic crowd of students and risk getting pushed around, I try to get to class during off-peak traffic times so that I can hear my surroundings better. For me, these off-peak times are the 15 minutes before classes get out. For example, if I am heading to my 10:30 class, I will leave at 10 so that I can beat the rush of students leaving their 10:15 class. Of course this isn’t always an option, especially for back-to-back classes, but it does help me to leave earlier for classes when I can.
Take advantage of your phone to assist with navigating
I frequently use Google Maps on my Android phone to let me know about road closures on my college campus, or if there is a significant amount of construction on my route. I have found that Google Maps provides me the most helpful information when my destination is near a major road on campus, so it isn’t as helpful for navigating in the center of campus. In addition to Google Maps, I also like to use remote visual assistance services such as Aira or Be My Eyes so that I can navigate obstacles that may come up in real time.
Navigating college campuses can be tricky, but I’m so grateful to have my blindness cane to help me every step of the way. My blindness cane provides me the independence I need as someone with low vision and allows me to go all of the places I want to go on campus, all while keeping me safe from obstacles and safety hazards along the way. Whether you are new to using a cane or have used one your entire life, I hope this post is helpful for learning how to navigate your college campus, no matter what gets in your way!