Veronica With Four Eyes

Blindness Canes and Falling Down: 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 how I handle slipping and falling on my college campus due to issues related to my visual impairment.

Don’t blindness canes help identify safety hazards?

Yes, blindness canes definitely help with identifying safety hazards, and I would have a lot more injuries and falls if I didn’t use my blindness cane. My blindness cane frequently alerts me to obstacles such as curbs, stairs, potholes, and other important information, and I can’t imagine not using my cane to navigate somewhere. Even though I have my blindness cane, I still encounter some unexpected safety hazards and have had a couple of falls on campus. Sometimes, I’m not paying attention to feedback from my blindness cane, my blindness cane does not pick up certain obstacles, or I have it temporarily folded or put away as I am in a familiar location.

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Real examples of ways I have fallen on campus

I’m pretty sure that all of my friends who are blind or that have low vision have funny stories of ways they have fallen on campus. Here are some of the real ways I have fallen down on campus as a student with low vision and a brain condition:

  • Embracing fall by slipping on a large pile of fallen leaves
  • Tripping in the dining hall and dumping an entire glass of cold water on myself in front of a new friend
  • Falling in the snow when trying to walk to class- snow is not very common where I live
  • Running into a door frame and falling down in front of half of my new department
  • Walking without my cane and falling down stairs at freshman orientation… twice

It’s worth noting that everybody is different, and not everyone with a visual impairment will have the same or similar experiences that I’ve had. I’m sharing these stories to showcase my own experiences and to make people laugh and feel better about their own fall experiences.

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Don’t be afraid to ask for help

While I have shared several stories of how I have fallen down on campus, there are countless other times that I’ve avoided falling down by knowing how to ask for help when needed. I frequently walk with friends or with other familiar people around campus, and I can request a campus security escort to help me get to where I need to go.

Another part of this is being able to ask for help after falling down, and not feeling too embarrassed to get assistance if you need it. Believe it or not, students of all sight levels tend to almost/actually fall on campus due to safety hazards or obstacles, and many students will stop to help if they think someone needs it.

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Find the humor in the situation

One of the things that helps me when I am embarrassed about falling down or getting lost on campus is finding the humor in whatever happened. For example, when I dumped a glass of cold water on myself in the dining hall, I immediately started laughing because it felt like this could be a scene from a movie, as I never expected this to happen to me. I think that if I didn’t laugh, I would have been much more embarrassed, especially since I was with someone I had just met, but being able to find humor and to be resilient helped me to increase my sense of confidence as a student with low vision.

Make sure to get any injuries checked out

I once fell down a flight of stairs on my way to band practice, and ended up playing my bass clarinet despite the fact my wrist really hurt. On the bright side, I ended up meeting one of my best friends that night, but at the same time, my wrist was really messed up after I had fallen down, and felt even worse after I had continuously used it during band practice. So make sure to get any potential injuries checked out at Student Health or at the local urgent care, especially if you hit your head.

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Learn how to identify safety hazards on campus

One of the things that helps me with avoiding falls on campus is knowing how to identify potential safety hazards on campus, such as large construction areas, stairs that do not have tactile markers, or places with uneven pavement. Walking around campus with a friend has helped me identify lots of these areas, though some colleges will also have a website with construction and accessibility information, which can be tremendously helpful for new students.

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Don’t let a fear of falling get in the way

Even though I could probably make a large map of all of the places I have fallen down on campus, I haven’t let a fear of falling get in the way of me participating in things that I am interested in. For example, I’ve been able to walk around campus with my friends at all times of the day and night, go to swing dance events with my friend S, learn to navigate the dining hall, and much more. While there is a chance I will fall while doing all of these things, they are too much fun to miss out on.

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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 Falling Down: Navigating College Campuses. Didn't see that pole? Here are my tips for falling with style, from a low vision student who uses a blindness cane