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.

How Do People With Low Vision…Handle Fire Alarms?


They can happen at any time. It can be 1:30 in the morning the night before a major exam. It can be pouring rain outside when someone burns popcorn. Or sometimes, it can just go off for no real reason at 5:30 in the evening, which is the exact circumstances that inspired this post. Regardless, whenever the fire alarm goes off, everyone needs to know how to evacuate and get out safely, but that is even more imperative for people with low vision. Here are some tips I’ve gathered from being in more than my fair share of fire alarm incidents.  While this post can be helpful for several other types of disabilities, I am focusing on blindness and low vision.

Have all your key things ready to go

I keep a winter coat and robe hanging next to my door, right by my blindness cane and key card, with a pair of slip on shoes underneath. That way, I just quickly unhook items and throw them on as I go. I also recommend taking these items into the bathroom with you when you take a shower, as well as a quick change of clothes in case the alarm goes off while you shower!

Know how to navigate stairs safely

This year, I only have to walk down three stairs to get out of my building, but last year I lived on the fourth floor, so I had much more stairs to walk down, and I’m not known for walking particularly fast.  I would practice walking up and down them early in the semester, with and without my cane, to make the navigation process easier.

Have an escape buddy to help you get out of the building

I had my neighbors last year help me down the stairs and let me know when to turn to get to the next staircase, and everyone on my hall knew how to help me if the normal people weren’t able to. My roommates this year guide me down the stairs and across the street to wherever I need to go.  If you’re trying to explain to someone how to be a guide for you, check out my post on how to be a human guide.

Report to building staff that you are safe

I usually text my resident advisor that I got out of the building and to let me know when it is safe to return.

Have a safe location you can go to while the incident is dealt with

Last year, I would walk down to the campus 24 hour Starbucks. Right now, I’m in the library across the street, but I’ve also hidden in the convenience store next door to my building, depending on the time of day.

Talk to friends about letting you come to their dorms during an emergency

I have gone to dorms of friends during fire alarms as well, since they know I don’t like sitting outside surrounded by flashing lights. Have a couple of backup places you can go as well.   Here are fifteen addresses to memorize on campus.

Ask about a fire safe room in the building

If you can’t evacuate, some colleges have a fire safe room you can stay in until you can receive help. While my building does not have one, I know of at least one college in Virginia that has this available for students. Read more about disability housing here, and more about questions to ask when choosing a college here.

If you can’t evacuate, call for help

If for whatever reason you can’t evacuate, call your local emergency number (911 in the United States), campus police, and building staff. When calling, state your name and your building name as well as your room number and what floor you are located on. Mention that you have blindness or low vision, and are unable to evacuate, and listen to the authorities for further instructions. If applicable, mention you have a case with your state department for vision loss (called Department of Blind and Visually Impaired in Virginia) or disability. Also contact building staff to let them know you are still inside and have called for help.

If the fire incident originates from your living area, make sure you are able to talk to the fire department

One time, the fire alarm went off in the kitchen adjacent to my dorm and I was woken up by the fire alarm. When I came back, I was believed to have been the one to have caused the problem. Do not let people try to blame you for causing the alarm to go off, and remind them of your vision loss. It also helps to remind them that you were doing something else when the alarm went off- sleeping, for example

Conversely, if you are the one to set it off

Make sure to talk about your vision impairment and work with the fire department to figure out a solution to prevent more incidents like this from occurring. Having your case manager might be helpful here.

Fire alarms are great at alerting people to emergencies, even if they can be an inconvenience at times. No matter what, do not tamper with or modify safety equipment in your dorm, as this can be dangerous as well as against state law. However, with these tips, hopefully your next fire alarm experience will go smoothly and you won’t be the person running out in their underwear with no idea where they’re going. And if you are…well, it happens.