Veronica With Four Eyes

Blindness Canes and Paparazzi: Navigating College Campuses

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 having students at my college ask me questions out of nowhere, and what to do if someone takes a photo without consent of a blindness cane user- an experience that is unfortunately not uncommon.

Some background

I attend a large public university that has a large number of students with low vision and blindness, as well as several students that use blindness canes to navigate campus. However, for many students, I am the first person with a blindness cane or obvious visual impairment that they ever encounter, and some of them have walked up to me and said that I wasn’t using my blindness cane as they think I should be using it. I’ve even had students accuse me of faking my low vision because they saw me using a phone, though I was able to educate them about assistive technology and assure them that I was not faking my vision loss.

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Should I just ignore it?

One of the questions I receive from younger students with visual impairments is if they should ignore people asking them questions about their sight loss, or if they should ignore people who make comments or take photos of them. I tell the students that this is up to them, and they do not owe anyone an explanation of their visual impairment, medical condition, or other private information. Since I run a public blog about visual impairment and assistive technology, I am very open about my condition and am fine with answering questions and engaging with people who are respectful and willing to learn.

No matter what, if someone feels unsafe or threatened, they should report the person who is asking questions or making them feel uncomfortable and not feel obligated to respond if they do not want to.

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Formulate responses for common questions

One of the things that helped me prepare for using a blindness cane in college was formulating responses for common questions that people might ask me, since now my visual impairment was more obvious. It helped for me to write down the most common questions and practice with reading and writing different answers so that when the time came, I could answer questions with confidence and accuracy. I highly recommend checking out my ongoing series “Answering Strangers Questions” for examples of questions that people have asked me.

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Encourage people to do their own research

As much as I would love to tell people all about how I use my phone or operate the ice cream machine in the dining hall with low vision, I don’t have time to educate everyone. Instead of just telling people to look something up, I give them a brief explanation and tell them where they can learn more. For example, when a student randomly asked me in the dining hall how I would watch a movie with low vision, I said that I use audio description and suggested that they look up further information on the topic.

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Teach friends to be active bystanders

When I’m out with my friends and people start asking us questions about how I am able to do a certain task or how well I can see, my friends know how to answer these questions in simple terms and, if needed, help me move away from the person asking the questions if they are being rude. For example, when I was in a bagel shop with my friend S, the employee kept asking us if I really needed a blindness cane and how well I could see. S responded by saying I have some usable vision, and my blindness cane helps keep me from running into things. They also reassured the employee that I was perfectly capable of ordering and eating a bagel without assistance, and suggested that we go eat in another part of the building, which I later found out was because of the employee’s questions.

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If you feel uncomfortable, contact Disability Services

While I am lucky that a majority of my interactions with students on campus are positive, there have been a few negative interactions with others who feel that I do not know about my own condition. One of these people was a visitor standing in the center of campus who screamed at me that if I just followed their advice, my visual impairment would be cured. They then tried to grab my cane while I was walking and get my attention. I immediately reported the incident to campus security and Disability Services, as I felt that this visitor might target other students with vision loss and shout the same things at them. In that incident, I chose not to engage with the visitor because I didn’t want them to get the idea that this was an acceptable way to talk to people with blindness or low vision.

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How to report photos taken without consent on social media

My friend X (who goes to a different college) had their photo taken without their consent of them in a campus building using their phone and holding their blindness cane. They found out about this after their roommate saw the photo and they asked me how to get the photo removed. The exact process will depend on the website, but almost all social media websites allow users to report an image or post by saying it is sensitive and an unauthorized photo or video. There’s also an option to report it as being abusive or harmful towards a protected class, which disability is considered, though we chose to go the first route.

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Final thoughts

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!

Blindness Canes and Paparazzi: Navigating College Campuses. I'm not their biggest fan, but they follow me anyway- how I handle random questions about my vision loss and photos



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