Ten Things That Surprised Me About College


Before I left for college, my mom was talking with someone, expressing how worried she was about my transition to college, since getting my accommodations in high school was so frustrating. This person reassured my mom that college was completely different, and I would be fine- and they were definitely right. Here are ten things that surprised me about how different college is than high school.

No one really notices my cane

I started using my blindness cane shortly after freshman orientation. I had delayed getting a blindness cane for many reasons, one of which was the worry about social stigma. Maybe it’s because there are several other cane users at my school, but no one seems to notice that I use my cane when walking around. Of course, they acknowledge it exists, but it’s not common for people to go “check it out, she has a blindness cane!” For my responses on what happens when people do say that, click here.

It’s easy to drop classes

I attended exactly one class period of a mythology class, and then came to the conclusion my accommodations would not be followed. Instead of filling out a bunch of forms and going to the counselor like I did in high school, I just clicked a few buttons in my student account and chose a different class.

Accessible materials are abundant

Digital materials are extremely common in college classrooms, as is assistive technology. It’s easy to make anything accessible, and there are also resources to help students learn how to create accessible materials.

Testing is much easier

I had a few teachers who claimed my large print was unfair to the other students or was an unfair advantage. I have never had a professor say that, but I’ve also had the resources of the testing center reserved for students with disabilities. Click here to read all of my posts on this topic.

People are proactive, not reactive

My Disability Services file was set up in order to ensure I receive accommodations from day 1- I didn’t have to wait until there was a problem to receive my services. Read more about setting up a file here.

Class attendance is flexible

This is not to say that skipping class is a good thing, but if there is severe weather, illness, or other circumstances preventing a student from getting to class, professors are happy to have students attend class remotely or send alternative assignments. This is especially helpful since I get chronic migraines.

Technology isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged

As I have mentioned in past posts, my high schools favored pencil-and-paper learning, which make accessing materials challenging. Since technology is used in every career, professors encourage students to bring technology to class and use it to complete assignments. Everyone is using laptops and tablets, not just certain students.

There are many other students like me

I have found a sense of community at my college with various students who also have chronic illness, and even a few with Chiari Malformation. I’d never met anyone else my age with low vision until I got to college either.  Often times, we were the only ones in our schools that we knew of with chronic illness, so it’s amazing to meet other people who have had similar experiences.

Professors are open to having students with disabilities

While not all professors are like this, almost all of my professors fully embraced having a student with a disability in the classroom and were willing to work with me on accommodations. Often times, the professors that were most enthusiastic about working with me wore glasses, worked with someone who was blind/low vision, or had a background in working with disabilities.

It’s way better than high school

High school was extremely difficult for me not because of the content, but because my disability was frequently perceived as an inconvenience. In college, I am able to self-advocate and work closely with professors to make sure I succeed. I have loved being in college, and hope that others can have the same positive experience that I have.

15 Addresses to Memorize in College


Recently, a sighted friend at my college asked me how I was able to navigate campus with a blindness cane better than they could without one. I have gotten lost several times on campus, but I have found that having important campus addresses input into my phone, as well as memorized, has helped me tremendously with learning to navigate. Here are the fifteen addresses I keep immediately for reference. This is also a great list of places to go over during orientation and mobility instruction.

General campus address

While this isn’t very useful for navigating around campus or getting to a specific location, having the general address is helpful when trying to find where campus is, or for filling out forms that ask for a generic address.

Dorm building

This is your home away from home, and it’s very important to know how to get there. There is a huge sign in the lobby of my building with the address, which is necessary for contacting emergency services. It’s good to have a list of instructions on how to locate the dorm- for example, 1411 is located on the fourth floor, right side, next to the trash room.

Neighboring buildings

Whenever the fire alarm goes off, I often navigate to neighboring buildings so I don’t have to deal with the flashing lights. I also put down my delivery address for Amazon PrimeNow and Amazon Fresh as a neighboring building, as it is easier to locate those buildings from the street.

Dining hall(s)

I frequented the dining halls so often my freshman year that my phone recognized the dining hall address as my “home.” It’s very important to be able to find food, as well as navigate the halls themselves.

Disability Services

This is in the same building as a student center, but I have found myself getting lost several times when walking here. Having the exact location of the office is also helpful if it is a large building- though from my experience, staff are likely to notice a lost-looking person with a blindness cane and show them where Disability Services is.  Learn how to create a file here.

Neighborhood desk

Locked out? Learn how to walk to the neighborhood desk both with and without a blindness cane. Half of the time I’ve been locked out, my blindness cane has been in my room. The neighborhood desk also has free rentals for items like DVD players, board games, cleaning supplies, and rolling carts.

Library

Yes, libraries have so much more than just print resources! It’s a common meeting place for students and study groups, too.  The library often has free rentals for technology and quiet study environments, as well as assistive technology resources.

Class buildings

Knowing how to get to class is extremely important. I write out building addresses, followed by directions to get to the classroom. A lot of my professors keep the door open before class and listen for my blindness cane, or watch to make sure I make it to class. One professor started doing this after they noticed I would constantly walk by the classroom when trying to locate it.

Advisor’s office

While having my major’s department location is helpful, I have benefitted a lot more from having the address for my advisor’s office. My advisors have helped me frequently with navigating to other buildings, especially in mediocre weather conditions.  My advisor also has my dorm building name written down in case they have to help me navigate back to my apartment.

Stadium

I have had many band performances inside the stadium, and many school events are also hosted there. Some examples include freshman welcome week, concerts, graduation, department events, speeches, and sports events.

Dorms of friends

Knowing how to get to dorms of friends is great for when a friend can’t come meet you outside your dorm. I keep a mix of addresses, both for buildings close to me and further away. I also keep one address for an off campus friend that I can access in case of emergency.

Student center

Another popular gathering place, I often navigate to the student center for club meetings, food, and for meeting friends. I would say I’m probably there 3-4 times a week.

Mailing address

The mailing address for packages is often different than the general or dorm address. Make sure to write this down so you are able to order items online, as well as instructions on how to get to the post office.

Nearest parking garage

While I don’t drive, I give this address to visitors so they are able to easily find parking.  It’s important to be able to walk there for escorting guests around campus, or for making trips to and from the car.

Bus stops

Being able to navigate off campus is almost as important as navigating on campus. I keep the bus stop addresses, as well as their neighboring buildings, with a large print copy of the bus schedule.

I programmed all of these addresses as contacts in my phone so I can use Google Maps for walking directions. I also have the information stored on my iPad and other electronics. I found the addresses on a public document published by the college. This has been a fantastic resource in helping me make sure I don’t get lost every day….just every few days.

10 Staff Members To Meet in College


Before I even started at my university, I had already talked to almost three dozen faculty and staff members on the phone and in person to ensure that I would not have any disruptions in receiving my approved classroom and housing accommodations.  Because of this, I was able to learn what staff members would best help me advocate for myself and that would help me while I was in the classroom or in my dorm.  Here are ten staff members that I highly recommend talking to before move-in or the first day of classes.  Please note that some colleges might have more than one person in these positions.

Disability Services Coordinator

Before I even applied to my university, I interviewed the Disability Services office multiple times about how they handled students with low vision (read more about my questions here).  Luckily, the department is very proactive, allowing students to set up accommodations before any problems sink in, and I was assigned a coordinator that specifically worked with students who were blind or had low vision.  The first staff member I worked with was a wonderful resource and helped me write out an accommodation plan that ensured I would receive all of my services  I can’t say enough nice things about them.  Read more about my experiences setting up a file here.

Assistive Technology Specialist

Assistive technology will be your best friend in college, and it always alarms me when students don’t embrace it.  I was an unique case when I arrived at my university- as one of my colleagues puts it, “most college students don’t come in knowing what assistive technology is, let alone wanting to study it.”  The assistive technology department can help with assessments, scanning in textbooks, and providing access to labs.  Some assistive technology departments also organize testing centers for students with disabilities.

Testing Coordinator

The testing coordinator helps make sure that students are able to take tests, quizzes, exams, and more in an environment where they can receive their accommodations.  Students can be referred to this department either by the assistive technology specialist or through Disability Services.  Testing accommodations are typically written in to the Disability Services file, but some testing centers develop their own student files.  It helps to talk to this person before the first day of classes because some majors may require a placement test for math, foreign language, or English classes.  Read more about my experiences with the testing center here.

Special Populations Housing Coordinator

This person is likely part of the committee that handles the special housing requests, and ultimately assigns students with special housing needs to their spaces.  When I had issues with not being approved for special housing as well as my first housing assignment, this person helped ensure that I received the accommodations I requested, and assisted me in finding an accessible room.  This was incredibly helpful with my housing this year, as I am able to stay in the same dorm room that I did last year.  Read more about my housing accommodations here.

Resident Director

This is the staff member that oversees the dorm building and actually lives there as well.  My resident director has been awesome about relaying important information and is a great person to talk to if there is a problem.  They also have helped me with navigating outside and preparing for inclement weather.

Academic Advisor

Each major has an advisor that assists students with picking out class schedules, and can also assist if there is an issue with the professor.  They also tend to be very honest about which professors embrace having students with disabilities in the classroom, and which professors are more hesitant.  Some departments may have advisors also be professors, while others have one or two people that are full-time advisors.

Student Support Specialist

For students who are apprehensive about a situation or potential situation, talking to a member of the Student Support staff can be a great help.  When I was worried about a situation with another student, the staff listened to all of my concerns and helped me develop a plan to ensure that I wouldn’t have to worry about the situation anymore.  This department usually has a confidentiality agreement in place, meaning that they do not have to report what is said in the meetings unless the student requests that they do so.

Security/Police

I made a note with university police that I use a blindness cane and have low vision, so that they would be able to assist me easier if I called.  I also made a note of what room I lived in on campus so if there was a fire alarm and I couldn’t escape, they would know where to find me.  One of my friends who has a severe medical condition gave police an abbreviated medical history, so they could assist emergency medical staff in administering care.

Student Health

While I didn’t work with them until I had my first visit, having a copy of your medical history and health insurance with the Student Health office can be invaluable, especially if you have a chronic illness.  I have a note in my file that I have Chiari Malformation, chronic pain, chronic migraines, and low vision.  Read more about my experiences with Student Health here.

Mail Services Coordinator

This may seem random, but talking to the Mail Services coordinator is very important.  With my low vision, I cannot use combination locks, so I contacted this person to ensure that the mailbox assigned to me would be one that uses a key.  Another one of my friends contacted them to ensure their mailbox would be accessible to someone using mobility aids that couldn’t bend over.  In the event that it’s impossible to go get mail, you can contact the coordinator to authorize someone else to pick up mail as well- I authorized my resident advisor to get my mail after I was in a car accident, and other friends have authorized me to pick up their mail while they were in the hospital.

While not everyone may need to talk to each type of person on the list, I have been grateful for the resources that each of these people have provided me with.  They all have helped, in one way or another, to ensure that I am thriving in the college environment.

What To Bring To The Disability Services Testing Center

At my university, the Office of Disability Services has its own testing center that students can use to take quizzes and tests assigned in the classroom, as well as midterms and final exams.  There are single rooms with CCTVs and long tables, small cubicle-style areas, as well as other small-group testing rooms.  This is an awesome service for students who need a modified testing area, and I am really grateful that I have access to such place to take my exams.

Over the course of the last four semesters, I have learned a lot about what to bring to the testing center, and what to leave back at my apartment.  I’ve gone from bringing an entire backpack worth of materials to just carrying a few items.  Here are five of the items that I always bring to the testing center with me, and five items I leave in my apartment.

What to Bring

Student ID and Government Issued ID

For all exams at my school, the student must bring their student ID so the instructor can verify their identity and student number.  For a couple of my classes, I have been required to bring a government-issued ID card in addition to my student ID.  Since I don’t have a driver’s license, I obtained an under-21 ID card from the DMV and use that.

Colored Pens/Scented Markers

I use colored pens instead of pencils when taking my exams, since gray pencil lead on white paper provides very poor contrast.  I like to bring several colors with me, typically blue, pink, orange, green, and other bright colors.  I also bring four different colored highlighters with me for marking multiple choice questions.

I started working with scented markers while studying for my math exams and found that I was able to see numbers more clearly than when I would work with the fine-tip pens.  Another thing I noticed is that my brain would recognize the scents from the markers and help me remember things I studied, which is actually a proven study tip.

Cardstock Paper

When working with pens and markers, it’s easy to have ink bleed through to the other side of paper- or worse, transfer to a surface.  I request that my test be printed on single-side paper, and use cardstock paper, sized 8.5″ x 11″, in order to do scratch work.  I attach all of the materials that I wrote on at the end of the exam.

Earplugs

While my testing center provides these for students to use, I like to bring my own pair of comfortable earplugs that help cancel out random noises outside.  The pair I use feels very similar to earbuds/headphones without wires.  Here is a link to them on Amazon.

Professor Contact Info

I bring a small index card to each exam with my professor’s name, email, office location, and phone number.  The index card also has my name, student ID number, class name, and class section.  This has come in handy many times when the test wasn’t in its correct location, or the proctor had to call the teacher for further instructions.

What Not To Bring

Cell phone

While cell phones can be stored in a locker at the testing center, I prefer to leave my phone in my apartment.  Since I live a two minute walk from the area, I don’t find it necessary to carry with me.  Why would I carry something just to lock it up?

Backpacks

Backpacks, purses, and other bags can be difficult to store at the center and locate after the exam is over.  I prefer to get out of the testing center as quickly as possible, so I don’t bring anything that I have to check in.

Pencil Pouches

One time, I organized everything nicely in a pencil pouch to bring to the testing center.  For security reasons, it all had to be dumped into a clear plastic bag once I got to my exam.  It’s okay to bring these to exams, but don’t expect that you will be allowed to keep it with you in the testing center.

Portable CCTVs

I have been advised not to bring my own portable CCTVs because of the potential that the devices can store screenshots of the exam.  The testing center provides their own assistive technology devices for students to use.  I have never had any issues using their devices.

Personal Computers

While it makes sense to take an exam on a familiar device, personal technology is not permitted in the testing center.  My recommendation is to write down all of the common settings used and show it to the testing coordinator, who can enable those settings on a testing computer if needed.

For more testing-related information, check out these posts below!

Testing Accommodations

Surviving Midterms/Finals

Accommodations For Print Materials

How To Create A Disability Services File

Accessibility Settings For Windows 10

 

 

 

 

How To Pick 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.  Read more about my college bed here and my college desk here.

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!

How To Create A Disability Services File

I chose what college I was going to attend during my junior year of high school, a year before I even submitted my application (read more about how I made my choice here). The Office of Disability Services was/is very welcoming and answered all of my questions. They have a dedicated staff member that handles all the low vision/blindness cases, and they know exactly what accommodations I need and what to ask for. I am incredibly lucky to have so many resources available to me, and I was excited to be part of this university.

Since IEPs expire the moment the student graduates from high school, it’s important to meet with Disability Services before school starts to ensure that the student continues to receive services in college. Most of the accommodations listed in an IEP can continue to be used if the student adds them in their Disability Services file. One thing that does transfer to college is 504 plans, though you still will need to create a file to receive services. It is highly recommended that you convert your IEP to a 504 plan before you graduate, something I did two hours before my graduation (though giving your case manager advanced notice is a must). Here is how to create a Disability Services file with your school. This also applies to students attending community/junior colleges, though the plan might not transfer when the student moves.

Start Early

I investigated what services were available to me before I applied to the school. While visiting other colleges, I planned my visits around interviewing staff members from the Disability Services offices in a one on one setting, spending thirty minutes or more at each interview. If your accommodations will not be met, this is not the school for you. The important thing for the student is to be proactive, not reactive, and that is also true for the Disabilities Services office. Some colleges won’t help you until you are in trouble, and it’s better to avoid the problem than to have to figure out how to solve it later (read more about scheduling here). Don’t wait until there is a problem in a class to open a Disability Services file. I opened mine while I was still in high school after I had received my acceptance letter and committed to attending in the fall.

Get notes from your doctor prior to the Disability Services meeting

If you bring a doctor’s certification that you have a disability, you can set up the file at your first meeting with Disability Services. Usually you can find the forms the doctor needs to fill out on the school Disability Services website. My school required a recent ophthalmologist report, which I brought with me. Some schools may also require a physical, but mine did not.

Bring all documents you think might be important

I met with Disability Services in April to set up my file that would be used starting in the fall semester. I brought in my current IEP, my prior 504 plan from eighth grade (since I wasn’t converting to a 504 until the last day of school), and documents from my ophthalmologist that described my diagnosis- read more about collecting documentation here. Other helpful documents to bring, if available, include Department of Blind and Visually Impaired case files, assistive technology evaluations, orientation and mobility files, occupational therapy assessments, medical diagnosis from other doctors (i.e neurologist) and similar documents. All of my papers were in a giant binder so I could easily reference them during the meeting (pro tip- get a rolling backpack to carry everything around).

Know what accommodations you need the most

For me, having access to my assistive technology devices, receiving digital copies of assignments, and preferential seating were the most important accommodations. I made sure those were the first I mentioned to Disability Services. Other accommodations in my file include time and a half on tests, extended time on assignments when requested, copies of notes, using a word processor for written assignments, large print on handouts, and the ability to attend class remotely if needed. Once I was on campus and worked with Disability Services, I added additional accommodations, such as noting that I would be using a blindness cane (yes, I did encounter a professor who was very confused over my cane).

Ask if your school has a disability testing center

My school has a multiroom lab where students are able to take their tests in a quiet environment with their assistive technologies. I had to fill out a separate form for these accommodations. I receive time and a half on tests, a laptop with ZoomText and JAWS, use of my E-Bot Pro, reduced light, and use of a word processor as well as a calculator app on my phone. An accommodation made available to everyone is the use of earplugs during tests as well as a white noise machine to help drown out background noise. This testing center is invaluable to students with a range of disabilities, not just sensory ones.  Read more about the disability testing center here.

Ask about other services for students registered with Disability Services

My school offers a writing center for students with disabilities who need extra help. I have not needed it, but students who struggle with writing have greatly benefited from these services. Ask if there are other tutoring opportunities or groups that help students with disabilities.

Request special housing, if needed

The sooner you request this, the better! Housing arrangements tend to fill up quickly. My freshman year, I lived in a single room that was adjacent to the resident advisor’s room so I could reach her quickly if there was a problem. This year, I live in a handicapped accessible apartment (on campus) with my own bedroom and I am able to navigate easily around the apartment, as well as being able to get to my classes and, most importantly, the dining hall. In order to get special housing, my primary care doctor had to fill out a form to certify my disability, which was in addition to the form to certify me for Disability Services.  Read more about disability housing here.

Get a referral to the assistive technology specialist or department

At my school the Assistive Technology department is different than Disability Services. By receiving a referral, you can access services such as enlarged textbooks, assistive technologies, computer labs with built in accessibility software, and more. This is the most important department for me because while Disability Services can identify a problem, Assistive Technology solves it.  Read more about staff members to talk to before college starts here,

Make sure your file is ready for the first day of classes

Get copies of your accommodations sheet (which Disability Services will provide) as soon as possible to pass out to professors, and know how to explain the accommodations as well (post on that here). Be sure all your testing accommodations are set before the first exam. Don’t wait until you fail to set yourself up with the tools you need to succeed.

How To Explain Accommodations

First impressions are more important in college than high school. Back in high school, teachers thought they could handle anything and everything, and then suddenly would express their worries about having a student with a disability, after it was too late for the student to transfer classes. Some teachers could handle IEPs and 504 plans really well, and other teachers preferred to focus on the class as a whole instead of accommodating one or two students. Legally, teachers must comply with these plans, but things happen, so students learn to work with it.

In college, professors are upfront about how the semester will go, and aren’t afraid to tell you if they can’t accommodate you. In order to figure out if the professor is open to having a student with a disability, I write an email before the first day of class, as well as talk to them on the first day to make sure we are all on the same page. Here is how I structure these conversations.


Email
– I begin the email by introducing myself by saying my name, my class year, and my major. Next, I inform them I have a file with the Office of Disabilities on campus, and that I also have a 504 plan. Then, I summarize my accommodations as simply as possible, and talk about any assistive technology I use. Finally, I sign off the message asking if there is any textbooks or class materials I need before class begins, as I want to make sure that I can get the materials in an accessible format. Here is a sample email:

Dear Professor Lastname,
My name is Veronica, and I am a sophomore studying software engineering and assistive technology. I have a file with Office of Disability Services and a 504 plan for low vision and testing accommodations. I need materials in a digital format so that I can enlarge them to a font size I can read, and I will be taking tests in the Office of Disability Services testing center. I use an iPad, Microsoft Surface Pro 3, and/or Android phone in order to access digital materials, in addition to my SmartLux magnifier and E-Bot Pro to access paper materials when needed. I also use a blindness cane with a rolling tip when walking to and from class as well as when walking around the room when obstacles are present.
Before the semester starts, may I get the name/ISBN of the textbooks and other materials for the semester? I want to make sure I can have them in an accessible format for the first day of class.
Thank you in advance, and I can’t wait to be in your class!
Veronica

The professor usually replies within a week, if not much sooner, with the textbook information and says they look forward to having me in the class. Some professors don’t respond, so I make sure to include extra details when I talk to them on the first day of class.


The first day of class-
On the first day, bring every piece of assistive technology that could potentially be used in the class (I typically bring a rolling backpack in addition to my normal bag) and read through the syllabus seeing what devices will be needed for future classes. Pay attention for phrases from the professor such as “I really embrace pencil and paper,” “I don’t like electronics in the classroom,” or “I will not allow any devices in the classroom.” If you hear these phrases, start looking for a new class to transfer to. If that is not an option, go to the teacher after class with your accommodation sheet from the Office of Disability Services, or a similar document that simply explains the services required. Try to explain everything in thirty seconds or less, as a long list of accommodations can be daunting. Here’s how the conversation usually goes.

“Hi, I’m Veronica. I have a file with Office of Disability Services for low vision. I need to receive materials digitally when possible. You can email me them at the beginning of class or post them on the class website. I also take tests in the Disability Testing Center. And in icy or extremely rainy conditions, I might be a bit late to class, but I will try to make it!”

Almost all of my professors have been surprised over how simple my accommodations are and are more than willing to work with me. If asked, I also do a brief demonstration of my devices that I use in the classroom- I put a piece of paper under the E-Bot Pro to show it enlarges on my iPad and can’t access the internet or other apps, or I run the SmartLux over a book to show how the text enlarges. I’ve only had one professor who seemed apprehensive over my technology, and I was thankful for their honesty, as I didn’t want a semester of frustration for both of us. I was able to transfer to a new class with a professor, who worked in disability policy prior to becoming a professor and embraced my assistive technologies, especially the SmartLux. It was a win-win for everyone.

This experience highlights another key thing to remember, which is to pick your battles. Yes, you can force people to follow your accommodations, but it may not be the best solution, as it can be stressful for not only the professor, but for you as well. This is especially true in classes that are in the core curriculum/general education requirements (i.e, not your major), as there are always different professors and different classes you can take to meet these core requirements. Find the professor that understands your accommodations and sees how simple they truly are, and that helps you to thrive in the classroom environment. They might even forget you have a disability.

Feel free to link to my posts on the E-Bot Pro, SmartLux, and education apps in order to explain the technologies to your professors. Remember, your disability is not to be viewed as an inconvenience, rather just another component of the student you are.

How To Schedule College Classes


When my friend had to sign up for her first semester of college classes, they came to me saying that there were only 7 am classes available and they weren’t sure how they would be able to start her day that early, and that several classes met on the same day, at the same time. I then explained that they was just looking at the first class listing, and that there were other times and days available for them to take the required classes, as it would be insane for there to only be one time that a foundation class would be offered. After that, we came up with a nearly perfect schedule for them that didn’t involve classes so early in the morning. Here are a few tips I shared with them about scheduling that can help you get the perfect schedule for the next semester.

 Know when you can register

 Many colleges have priority registration for students in honors college, specific learning groups, and students who receive classroom services through Disability Services.  This can be anywhere from 24 hours ahead of the other students to up to a week beforehand.

Know when your vision is best

For me, I do best in classes offered mid-morning or after lunchtime, as my eye fatigue tends to be lower and I am less likely to get a migraine. If you know you aren’t going to have enough energy to make it to a 4:30 class, then don’t sign up for one and expect you will suddenly have enough energy

Check where buildings are located

If a class building is in an area that is not easily accessible, see if there is an alternative location where the class is held. For example, I have trouble walking down a steep hill to a building on my campus, and one of my classes primarily takes place there. I signed up for a less popular section later in the day at a building right next to my dorm to reduce the risk of me falling as I try to navigate.

Research professors on a website like RateMyProfessor

I always write reviews at the end of the semester for my teachers, and other students do the same. Check to make sure the reviews are for your specific class (for example, Geology 101), especially when it comes to negative reviews.  Some adjunct professors may not have reviews available, so talking to other students is helpful too.

Get contact information for professors

I usually look up their names in our school email database right after I sign up and tell them that I receive accommodations and use assistive technology. If a professor seems tentative about having a low vision student and/or assistive technology in the classroom, you can switch to a different professor.  I’m working on creating a section on my website that describes all the devices I use so that in the future I can just send my professors the link to my blog, and other students can use links that describe what the technology is used for.

Check wifi connectivity in the classrooms in advance

If you rely on internet based services for your accommodations, test the wifi in the building, or even better, the classroom, prior to the first day of school. Make sure it doesn’t drop randomly!

Schedule classes in the same building back to back

I did this second semester of freshman year and it worked out beautifully. I had an hour and a half between classes where I would eat and read material, or when the weather got nicer, I would go for a walk to get food and fresh air.

Don’tleave yourself ten minutes to race across campus to your next class

I tried this once and wound up switching classes because not only was I super stressed, but I also nearly face planted because of the icy conditions.  It’s okay if you attend a small campus or if the building is close by, but trying to run nearly a mile with a blindness cane is not good.

If possible, schedule one day during the week when you don’t have class

For me, this day is usually Friday, and I use the day to meet with professors, write, go to appointments, or just get off campus for a bit. It helps to have a day where you know you can schedule something and not suddenly have a class conflict.

Once you’re all scheduled, try and find the syllabus

 I just googled my class name, teacher name, and then type “site:” along with my college website. You can usually find a fairly recent syllabus along with textbook information.  Some departments have copies of all of the class syllabi on their website.

Remember, you are no longer in high school.  You can drop or add a class with a few clicks, find out lots of information about professors, and you don’t have to put up with professors who don’t follow accommodations.  With these tips, I have had amazing success with having professors not only accept my assistive technology, but have me thriving so much in my classes that they forget I’m a student with low vision.

Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing a College


The summer before my freshman year of high school, my dad decided that I was going to be a registered dietitian and attend a state school in a small town in Virginia. This was before my vision got worse and also before I was inspired to go into assistive technology. At the time, we thought the campus was beautiful and that I would have so much fun there since it was such a big school. When we came back to visit nearly four years later, after I had decided to pursue software engineering and assistive technology, my family and I realized that the school was the absolute worst fit for me, and to top it all off, the disability services coordinator told me not to even bother applying because they didn’t know how to handle a student with low vision. This came as a shock to us, since it was such a large school that was very well respected, but overall I’m thankful for the experience because it taught me how important it is to ask questions before choosing a college. Here are some examples of questions I asked all the different colleges I applied to or visited:

Is on-campus housing guaranteed?

Surprisingly, it isn’t always guaranteed for all four years, or even the first year. Since I have low vision, I do not drive and while there is public transportation, it can be difficult to rely on. If possible, check if the school has their own public transportation services. My school has a partnership with city buses and also their own transportation service that takes students to places like malls, the Metro station, and to other campuses.  Read my post on the bus system here.

How many students do you serve with low vision?

At one school I visited, the answer was zero, and they had no idea how to handle a student with a sensory impairment in general. I actually scheduled an appointment with the low vision/blindness coordinator at my college long before I even applied there, and she went over all of the different accommodations available to me.  Read more about disability services files here.

What assistive technology is available?

One school asked me what assistive technology was, and that was a huge warning sign for me that it wouldn’t be a good fit. My school has a nicely sized assistive technology department that helps students find appropriate tools for the classroom as well as a disability services testing center equipped with CCTVs, ZoomText, JAWS, and more. If you need any particular tools, make sure to ask if they are available.

Are the campus buildings easy to get to?

I remember on one tour, the guide told us that in order to get to classes, you had to walk in a tunnel underneath the road, but that it was perfectly safe and you could walk there at any time. My dad, and every other dad on the tour, turned to their daughters to say “no, don’t go through that tunnel alone.” Another school had several winding staircases and no elevator in sight, or was on very rocky terrain. Make sure to walk to the buildings and/or get a tour to make sure it won’t be difficult. If the school offers it, stairs optional tours are the best!

For housing, can I get disability accommodations?

This one was rather tough for me. If you require it, make sure you can get a dorm with handicapped access, a single dorm, special lighting, or a climate controlled room. At first, I was denied housing services due to a glitch in the system, but after a few phone calls, everything was alright.  Read more about housing here.

Can I bring my assistive technology to class?

At one school I visited, they touted having a “pencil and paper approach to learning,” which turned out to be code for “our wifi is awful and we didn’t invest in our technology.” My teachers embrace technology at my school and allow me to bring whatever devices I need.

How many people have gone through my major with low vision?

If professors have dealt with low vision before, you won’t have to deal with insane or insulting questions about your vision. Also check for general education requirements which professors are the best at following accommodations- I recommend checking http://www.RateMyProfessor.com

What services for people with low vision are available off campus?

Make a note of important places that offer services for people with low vision. I travel to libraries for people with disabilities often, and make a note of where places are like the Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired. I also go to places like Target and the mall to make sure I can navigate them easily and that there’s help available if needed.

How can I make my application stand out?

I did a video essay where I filmed a video about myself and why I was a good fit for the college. My slogan was “I hope you allow me to be a part of the class of 2019, even if I don’t see 20/20.” Throughout the video, I talked about my accomplishments in high school while poking fun at my vision impairment- for example, I mistake my mom for a tree. At the end of the video, I mention my vision is not that bad, but I still want to be part of the college community. It was a great way to show that I’m more than my vision impairment and that I don’t take everything seriously.

Is this college a good fit for me?

It may seem like a weird question to ask, but it’s very important. Two colleges told me that they would have no idea how to accommodate me and one said not to bother applying. Make sure everything is not doomed to fail from the start. However, if you ask these other questions, I’m sure that you are bound to find a college that is accessible for you and allow you to showcase your knowledge and talents for achieving higher education!