When I was in college, I had the opportunity to meet another person my age with low vision for the first time. Since I had been the only student identified with low vision in my school district and I wasn’t familiar with any local organizations for vision loss in my community, I had never met anyone else living with a similar eye condition to me, so the idea of meeting someone else who also has low vision was incredibly exciting to me. Since then, I have easily met hundreds of people with low vision through in-person and virtual experiences, and have learned countless things about assistive technology and vision loss through these conversations, and have also been honored to talk to several students and their TVIs through my website as well. Here are some of my favorite questions to ask other students with low vision and other ideas for guiding questions when setting up meetings between two students with vision loss.
How I facilitate introductions
A lot of these conversations take place at social events that revolve around assistive technology or school-based environments where I might be with a small group of students or teachers. Alternatively, I have also approached people in my college dining hall that I noticed also use blindness canes and have asked if I could sit with them, saying my name and mentioning that I have low vision and use a blindness cane too. When I meet with younger students, I find it helpful to have them introduce themselves to me and tell me something they want to learn or are working on learning, like if they are getting ready to go to college, learning to use a new application, or thinking of taking band.
- How I Talk About Disability With New Friends
- Blindness Canes and Dining Halls: Navigating College Campuses
Who was your favorite teacher/favorite class at school?
One of my friends had the opportunity to meet with an older student with low vision from the high school they were planning to attend before the start of their freshman year, and said that the most valuable part of the conversation was learning what teachers followed their disability accommodations and which classes were the most challenging so that they could get tutors set up ahead of time or have additional resources in place. The Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) for their school district set up this meeting and it was valuable not only for my friend, but for the older student that was able to share what they had learned.
What app do you use for that?
I discovered my favorite application for listening to EPUBs by asking someone what app they were using to read a book, and first learned about using an Apple Pencil in my classes through another conversation with a low vision friend by asking them about how they use a stylus for their notes. People love sharing their favorite applications, so I love asking people how they read books or do other tasks on their phones, tablets, or computer. In addition, it also helps to see what devices people are using if someone is considering upgrading their assistive technology, and asking questions about operating systems or device specifications can be helpful for the acquisition process.
What did you study/are you studying?
Since a lot of the students I talk to are in the college transition stage, college majors come up frequently as they often want to learn more about what college is like, both in the context of general education courses and in major-specific courses. Younger students might prefer to ask questions like “what is your favorite subject?” so that they can talk about shared interests or ways they use assistive technology in different classes.
Are you part of any clubs/activities?
Extracurriculars are a great way to make friends, and talking to someone else with low vision about an activity might inspire someone to try something new or something they might not have thought was possible. This is also a great way to learn about inclusive local activities or events- one of my friends introduced me to an adaptive sports program in their area, while another friend inspired me to check out a museum that had recently added audio description.
- Requesting Extracurricular Accommodations
- Ways To Support New Accessibility Advocates
- Seven Tips For Adapting To Newly Acquired Vision Loss
How did you learn about that/to do that?
Someone I follow on social media shared that they were entering a ballroom dance competition and I sent them a message curious about how they had learned the choreography with low vision, and this started an interesting conversation about dancing with low vision that I later used to help a younger reader who was interested in taking dance classes as well. This question also works for more mundane activities that students might struggle with, such as learning to use public transportation to navigate places or for other independent living skills like cooking-I actually learned a better technique for assembling lasagna while talking to another college student with low vision.
Pass along contact information
Staying in touch and networking with other people with vision loss is helpful for helping to avoid feelings of isolation and can allow conversations to continue. Since I run a public website, I often give people my business card that has my email listed so that if they want to talk more or have another question later, they know where to reach me. Other students may prefer to exchange phone numbers or social media profiles instead, though I prefer email because it is easier to send longer messages and some of my friends with low vision struggle with texting.
Other tips for meeting with students that have low vision
- Write down the names of applications that you are interested in trying or take notes of other strategies. It might help to announce to the other person that these are being written down for reference. TVIs can also write down information in the background of the conversation to give to the students for later reference.
- Parents and other professionals should avoid inserting themselves into conversation topics or sharing their own opinions on topics, though they are welcome to ask the other student questions they are interested in- I have no problem with parents asking me questions that their child might not think to ask, but feel uncomfortable when they answer questions on behalf of their child or try to correct their language
- Students may want to write a list of questions in advance that they want to ask. This doesn’t mean that they have to read questions from the list, but the brainstorming process can help them think about how they want the conversation to go.