Answering Stranger’s Questions- College Edition

As college decision day approaches, prospective students and their families have been touring my college, trying to decide what school will be the best fit for them. Often times, college is the first time people are exposed to a large, diverse population, and it can seem overwhelming. Naturally, people are inquisitive and like to ask questions, sometimes not thinking about how to phrase them.

Because of all of the visitors on campus, I have been using my blindness cane more often for identification purposes, so I am less likely to be hit by a car. With low vision, it can be difficult to navigate campus when there are so many visitors driving around. As I have been walking on campus, I have had many families approach me or loudly talk about me using a blindness cane, sometimes in a very rude way. It can be difficult to answer these questions, especially when they have negative or offensive tones, but education is one of the best ways to combat ignorance. Here are some of the questions I have been asked over the last two weeks by visitors, and how I answered them. I have been requested to add a trigger warning for what may be considered ableist slurs/language and offensive terms.

Whoah! Are you totally blind?

No, I have low vision and poor peripheral vision, meaning I have trouble seeing what’s around me. I use my blindness cane to help me analyze my environment and as a cue to other people that I can’t see very well.

Can you see me?

For some reason, I often hear this when people are standing right in front of me.  I usually respond with “sort of” or “yes.”  If it is someone who is convinced I can’t see anything, I usually find some feature that I can mention to them, for example a blue shirt or green backpack.

Look kids, a blind girl!

I was walking with a friend when someone yelled that in our direction. We didn’t want to yell back that I had some vision, because that would waste time. Instead, my friend yelled back”check it out, a sighted person!”

What’s with the sunglasses inside?

I wear tinted glasses to help with light sensitivity and glare. No, they aren’t transition lenses, they always are this color. And yes, I guess I do wear sunglasses at night, like the song.

What’s your major?  Oh, that’s not a real major

I’m studying assistive technology and software engineering, which is a fairly uncommon major but there are many different careers available, so I will not have an issue finding a job after graduation.  I have learned to give an example of what I will do after college, so when I say my major, I add that I am “studying to create tools for people with disabilities.”  Often times, people then think my major is really cool!

How come she can see but uses a cane?

Another friend was asked this by an employee while we were at a restaurant. My friend explained I have some sight, but still rely on the cane frequently. A different friend responded by saying “she runs into less walls this way” or “it’s easier to figure out where she is based on the taps of the cane.”

You’re too pretty to be blind!

While I’m not blind, I have low vision, my favorite response to this statement is “apparently not!”

You’re too young to not be able to see!

See above- apparently not!

Why do you disableds think you can just parade around campus?

This was said to me earlier this afternoon, and I just wanted to shove my post “You Belong” in their face. People with disabilities fought very hard to be able to attend college, and we deserve to be here, just like everyone else.

I didn’t know blind people could go to college!

I’ve answered this a couple of ways. For people that seem pleasantly surprised, I say that there are laws that make this possible, and I am grateful for the opportunity. When someone seems surprised in general, I just say “here I am!” And when someone seems greatly upset that someone with low vision can attend college, I just smile and move as quickly as I can from the situation.

You’re taking education away from someone who can see!

I got into this college not because of what I have, but who I am as a student. It had nothing to do with my low vision- my essay to admissions wasn’t even about my eyesight, it was about volunteer work. I’m not here because I can’t see.

Hey, can you give us directions to…oh nevermind

I’ve had several people approach me for directions, look at the cane, and quickly try to move away. I actually know this campus extremely well, and would be happy to help you find your way to wherever you need to go!

How bad is your eyesight?

I used to explain a lot more, but now I just say “it could be worse, but it’s still not great.” This question doesn’t really bother me, as often it is how people start conversation when they first meet someone with low vision, but it still can be an interesting question to answer.

I hope these answers help you when dealing with questions of strangers. Feel free to add more questions/answers in the comments below!

How To Prepare for Extreme Weather on Campus

On President’s Day weekend in 2016, a large amount of snow came to visit my college campus right outside of Washington, DC. I wasn’t prepared in the slightest for the incoming snow- sure, I had a small amount of food in my dorm room, but since I ate at the dining hall all the time, it was mostly snack foods. I wound up trapped inside of my dorm room for two days, eating peanut butter and jelly crackers and daydreaming about what I could be eating, if only I could walk out of my dorm building. Believe me, once the snow melted, I was beyond thrilled to be eating normal food again. Here are some other tips I’ve learned to help students who are on campus during extreme weather.

Get food in advance

Now that I use Amazon Fresh, I have a small stockpile of frozen dinners and other healthy foods in my fridge at all times, in addition to non perishable foods I can have in case the power goes out. However, I still enjoy utilizing my meal plan to stock up on food prior to a weather event. I bring containers in my backpack to the dining hall and fill them with things such as salads (dressing in a separate container), wraps, peanut butter and jelly, grain salads, soups, pasta (sauce in separate container), fruit, pizza, and whatever else I can. I just put everything in my fridge when I get back to my room and reheat it as needed. My school does have a rule against taking food outside of the dining hall, but they tend to be more relaxed about this rule before and during extreme weather.

Call your professors before leaving for class

During Superstorm Jonas last year, I attempted to walk to my class halfway across campus. I wound up making it about halfway before falling down on the ice and having to call a police escort to take me back to my dorm. My professor later asked me why I attempted to walk to class, and said I could have just called him and said I couldn’t make it, and I would have been exempt. So, before leaving for class in extreme weather, call your professors and see if conditions are stable enough to walk to class. Another benefit is that the call can serve as a timer to see how long it takes to get to class.

Contact Environmental Health Office for guidance

While they can’t tell you to skip class, the Environmental Health Office can tell you which areas of campus may still be covered in ice or that may be difficult to navigate. They also can provide alternative routes to buildings, if needed.

If you must go outside, use a human guide

To avoid injury, walk with someone if you must go outside. This reduces the risk of injury. If no friends are able to walk with you, ask for an escort from campus security. As someone once told me, it is much easier to help a person than it is to have to find a person when they are reported missing.

Protect important items in sealed plastic bins

While this wasn’t related to weather, my friend had to deal with a pipe bursting in their dorm room and water getting everywhere. Luckily, they thought to put all important items in plastic bins so they wouldn’t be ruined if the dorm room turned into a swimming pool. For larger technology such as a desktop computer, I balance an umbrella over it in case of damage.

Have someone verify that all windows are closed

It helps to have an extra pair of eyes make sure that everything is secure. I often can’t tell when something is closed all the way, so having someone confirm that for me is reassuring. The last thing I want is a winter wonderland in my room!

Block windows, if necessary

Lighting is nature’s strobe lights for me, and strobe lights trigger migraines, so in the event of a severe storm, I prop things against the window to make sure I can’t see any lightning. I normally use an inflated air mattress or cardboard.

If the power goes out

Because of my vision impairment, I am used to navigating areas that I can’t see very well. In order to make things easier, have a flashlight or other handheld source of light that is not on a phone (the flashlight drains battery). Contact the resident advisor and/or resident director to notify them that you are in the building and may need assistance in case of evacuation. My school often utilizes their emergency alert system if the power goes out in more than two buildings, so watch for text messages, phone calls, or emails for further instructions.

Go to an off campus location

If extreme weather is likely to last more than a few days, I have my mom come pick me up and drive me home. My home is about three hours from my college, and I am very grateful that my mom is able to help me. For students who may not be so close to home, find a friend who lives locally and go stay with them. A couple of my friends have even stayed in a hotel near campus when there was no heat in their dorm room.

While extreme weather can be very stressful to students living on campus, hopefully these tips will help you be prepared for the next hurricane or blizzard to come your way!

How To Pick Housing

Welcome! In this series, I will discuss how to start the semester off right, with all of the tools and tricks I have learned. Topics covered will include scheduling, navigation, textbooks, and more. If you have a specific request for a topic, please comment below and I will do my best to accommodate your request. Today, I will be showing how to select housing. 



I just finished filling out my housing application for next year to live on campus, and it was surprisingly easy. Now that I have learned a lot about what to ask for and what dorm is best for me, it’s been a painless process. Here are a few things I have learned about choosing housing. 

Note-  This post assumes that you already have a Disability Services file or will be creating one.  For more information on DS files, click here

Disability housing

Because I have a chronic migraine condition as well as low vision, I had my doctor certify that I have a disability and fill out a form that Disability Services and Housing requested. The questions ask if my disability is chronic, if it is a disability under the ADA (which yes, low vision and chronic migraines qualify as), and what housing accommodations my doctor would recommend. In my case, I have recommendations for a climate controlled dorm that is quiet and that can be made completely pitch black. It also requests I be in a single room, meaning no roommate, and be in close proximity to the Resident Advisor, or RA. 

Special housing area

My freshman year, my building had several students with disabilities and had extra staff available at all hours. These dorms also tend to be more quiet and staff are likely more experienced with handling medical emergencies. This housing is NOT considered discrimination, because it is to help students thrive in the environment that suits them best. Talk with housing about what dorm may be best for you.

Should I have a roommate?

I don’t have a roommate because of my migraines, but I have three suitemates I share a living area with, and last year I shared a bathroom with the RA. I usually haven’t needed help with anything while I am in my dorm. Another one of my friends with low vision has a roommate, and says that they help locate things and be a human guide when needed. A different friend with low vision insists that they are fine being in a single room and just asking their suitemate if they need something. So, you don’t have to have a roommate if you have low vision, but if possible, I would have a roommate you already know as opposed to a total stranger that may not know how to help you, or worse, take advantage of you.  Some people are uncomfortable with a roommate that needs help, or come from a different culture where they don’t know how to interact with someone with a disability, or don’t want to interact with someone with a disability. It would be nice if everyone accepted each other, but that won’t always happen.

Different dorm layouts

Dorm buildings on my campus have several different layouts. There is the hall layout, where rooms have one or two people and the entire hall shares a bathroom area. There is the suite layout, where two rooms connect by a bathroom and each room has one or two people. And then there is the apartment layout, where there are two to four bedrooms that share a living room, kitchen, and bathroom.  
My friend lived in a hall style dorm last year and liked not having to worry about cleaning the bathroom, but said it was loud because they could hear people flushing the toilet and talking at all hours of the night. Their room was nicely sized and I was able to navigate easily.
I lived in a suite style dorm my freshman year, which was two single rooms and a bathroom. My room was freakishly small, to the point where I had three visitors and had to have one stand in the bathroom because there wasn’t enough floor space. The arrangement wound up being very helpful though- I had a medical emergency in the middle of the night and the RA was able to get to my room quickly by running through the bathroom.
This year, I live in an apartment style dorm, and like the wider layout and more space to move around. My suitemates don’t have me clean because they think I will just mess the apartment up even more- mostly because I spill things without realizing, and I tend to miss dirty spots. It costs the most to live in an apartment style dorm, and this is restricted to students in their second year and above, but it is very quiet.

How do you lock the door?

Check how the doors are locked and unlocked. I’ve always been able to unlock doors with my student ID, though some older dorms require a key. At another college, the doors are opened by putting in a number on a keypad that is difficult to see. Bottom line, make sure you can open the door. 

Locked out?

Locate the neighborhood services desk and learn how to navigate there with and without a blindness cane, since you never know the circumstances in which you will be locked out. For example, I was waiting outside the door for my brother when he came to visit, and when he came to meet me outside, he closed the door behind him, and didn’t grab the key on the table. So I got to walk with him to the neighborhood desk without my cane, and barefoot. Another friend got locked out after she took a shower and had to walk to the desk in a robe and with wet hair. It can happen at any time.
The best way to prevent being locked out is to wear your key. I am not talking about the freshman orientation lanyard, either. I wear mine in a lanyard that I got from Charming Charlie, and it’s just as easy to throw in a backpack or a pocket as it is around my neck.

Room location

My freshman year, I was offered the option of living in a dorm on the first floor of a building, right next to the door to enter the building. There was no elevator in the building, and it would be loud as most freshman housing was. Also, it was very easy to look into my window or tap on it from the outside. This was not ideal. Make sure that the dorm location makes you feel safe, and that you can get out quickly in an emergency.
I lived on the fourth floor of my building freshman year in the middle of the hallway. While no one could look in my window, I had lots of difficulty going down stairs and getting out in emergencies.
This year, I live on the first floor, but my window faces a secluded area. I’m also right next to the emergency exit, which doesn’t open often, so I don’t have to worry about doors opening and closing all the time. This is an ideal location for me.
Also check the building location in comparison to your classes. My classes are all within a three minute walk of my dorm, with one exception, which works well for me.

Furniture

My freshman dorm had a bed, desk, chair, dresser, and a closet with no door. My dorm this year has a bed, desk, chair, dresser, and closet with a door. I added furniture rounders to the sharp edges so I wouldn’t run into them. Ask in advance what furniture comes with the dorm so you can plan to make (temporary) modifications if needed, or request different furniture, such as a lower bed, wider desk, lowered closet rods, or small dresser.

What’s included

Is cable and internet included in the cost of living in your dorm? What about electricity? Water? Heating and cooling? Laundry? Is laundry in your building?  Luckily, all those things are included for me, but it never hurts to ask. Also ask if the dorm is climate controlled, or if you have to bring your own air conditioner to school. While my school has all climate controlled dorms, not all schools do, especially ones with historic buildings.

Tour the dorm

If possible, tour your dorm building or a model room before moving in so you can hear if there will be a fan constantly buzzing or people stomping on the floor above. Also check if the floor is even all around- my friend at another college had their floor randomly dip in the middle, and it causes several visitors to trip because they don’t see it coming.
With all of these tips, you will be set for move in day and ready to live in your new dorm!