Veronica With Four Eyes

Falling Down (With Style): College O&M

Shortly before my second year of college, I received a few orientation and mobility lessons for learning how to navigate with low vision and a blindness cane. These lessons were helpful for learning general travel skills, but I noticed they didn’t get into specifics about navigating college campuses or using university resources available for students with vision loss. One lesson that would have been really helpful is for handling trips, falls, and falling down “with style”, so I’ve created the College O&M series to share my most-used tips and strategies for learning about this topic and others. Here are my tips for dealing with slips, falls, and bumps, as well as my tips for falling down “with style” or at least without embarrassment in college.

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 sure that all 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
  • While walking with a professor who also has low vision, we both hit our heads on an overhanging branch, and I lost my balance
  • 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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Setting up my dorm to mitigate fall risks

Students with vision loss may also have additional balance issues due to comorbid medical conditions- for example, my vision loss is partially caused by a neurological condition called Chiari Malformation, which also causes balance issues. I set up my dorm to help reduce my risk of a fall in a few different ways, including keeping walkways clear, having various aids in the bathroom for balance, avoiding lofted furniture, and adding padding to the sides of furniture in the form of Pillow Pets.

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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 if I end up stranded somewhere in the dark.

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.

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What if a student runs into me?

When I was walking on campus during my second year of college, another student was looking at their phone while walking and ended up running into my cane and tripping/falling. Once I realized what happened, I immediately stopped and asked if they were okay, and they apologized profusely for tripping over my cane. It was easy for me to feel guilty about what happened, but one of my friends reminded me that it wasn’t my fault this person was walking while distracted, and I hadn’t deliberately tripped them with my cane.

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 hurt a lot after I had fallen down, and felt even worse after I had continuously used it during band practice- I later found out I had actually sprained it. 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 make a large map of all the places I have fallen 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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More tips for falling down with style on college campuses

  • While this isn’t explicitly related to vision loss, I had a serious fall on campus due to undiagnosed POTS- I write more about this condition in Classroom Accommodations For POTS
  • Want to learn more about my favorite shoes for walking on campus? Read My Favorite Shoes For Chiari Malformation
  • No students have ever made fun of me for falling or laughed at me falling down, and I’ve never had any issues with students pushing me either
  • The title of this post comes from a line in Toy Story, which says “This isn’t flying, it’s falling with style!”

I had a few falls on campus while using my blindness cane. Here are my tips for falling down "with style" and handling slips and bumps with vision loss