Veronica With Four Eyes

Blindness Canes and Building Identification: 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 blindness canes and building identification, and tips that helped me learn how to identify buildings on my college campus.

About my college

I attend one of the largest and youngest universities in Virginia, so my campus is filled with lots of buildings and a mix of old and new construction, with the oldest building having been built in the 1960s. While there are portions of campus that tend to look similar to each other, for the most part not all of the buildings are identical. It takes about thirty minutes to walk from one end of campus to the other.

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Memorizing different addresses on campus

When I started college, I input several different campus addresses into my phone. These included my dorm, classroom buildings, and many more. By having access to these addresses, I can easily look up buildings on the web and figure out what they look like, or take it one step further and locate them on Google Earth so I can see the surrounding area. Another one of my favorite tricks is to look at the virtual reality tour of my college so I can see high-resolution images of popular buildings on campus.

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Learning buildings by color

One of the things that helped me to learn how to distinguish different buildings was to look at their colors or other distinctive features. While I can’t see details of buildings very well, I can identify the engineering building by the large dark blue color, the design building with its white brick, and my other class building by the red brick. Many of the surrounding buildings also have similar colors, so I can learn the other building names with ease.

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Using landmarks to navigate

Every student on campus knows where the student center, campus statue, and dining halls are. By learning common campus landmarks, students will find it easier to learn to identify surrounding buildings and can use these landmarks when planning routes to class. For example, I know that if I am standing in front of the campus observatory, then my department building is directly next door, and if I am standing at the dining hall, then the library is directly across the street.

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Using a tactile map

I have trouble reading Braille due to reduced sensitivity in my hands, but several of my friends have benefitted from having tactile maps printed of different clusters on campus. I recommend printing out maps of small clusters on campus instead of one giant map of campus which can be overwhelming.

Some examples of areas to have on a tactile map include:

  • Dorm and surrounding area
  • Department building(s)
  • Student center and surrounding area
  • Other popular buildings on campus

Tactile maps can be purchased online through the San Francisco LightHouse or created with free tactile mapping software and printed elsewhere.

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Reading signs with virtual assistance

I love using my phone to help me with reading signs, and frequently use my Google Lens app to read short bursts of text. Many of my friends also use Microsoft Seeing AI to read signs on their iPhones, and it works really well. For students who feel less comfortable with technology or prefer a human touch, I recommend using remote virtual assistance apps such as Aira or Be My Eyes, both of which can be used for free.

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Recognizing major campus areas

The biggest thing that helped me with learning how to navigate buildings was to learn each major section of campus and make a list of which buildings were in each section. My college campus can be divided into several different areas, such as main campus, freshman housing, upperclassmen housing, science buildings, and international buildings. Walking around campus with a certified orientation and mobility specialist (COMS) is the best way to become familiar with each main area on campus, though many campus offices also offer tours of campus upon request.

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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 Building Identification: Navigating College Campuses. My tips for learning how to identify campus buildings, from a college student and blindness cane user with low vision