How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Prom?

It seems like every year, a news story circulates about how a student with a disability and a student without a disability go to prom together.  It’s usually touted as something inspirational and kind, since the students with disabilities are perceived as not having many friends or being the outcasts of the school, and the student without a disability is considered a completely awesome person just because they are spending time with the other student.  I was talking about this phenomenon with a friend who jokingly asked if my prom date made the news for going to prom with the only girl with low vision in our school.  Thankfully, we were just treated like every other couple at prom, and had a blast.  Here are some tips that can help ensure everyone has a good time, without winding up as the center of attention for having a disability.

Make sure you can easily move around in your clothing choice

This applies more for the ladies, but make sure that it is easy to move around and walk without falling in whatever clothes that you pick.  At the two dances I attended in high school, many of the girls would take off their shoes the moment they got to the dance floor, but would often trip over their long dresses.  I chose to wear flats the entire evening so I had traction and reduced my risk of falling- as my date put it, I trip over enough flat surfaces as it is, so there is no need to put me in high heels.  If you use a blindness cane, make sure it can’t be caught in your dress or shoes either.

Taking pictures before the dance

Before the dance, the parents in our group took photos of all of us.  If it is an issue, make sure to notify them that you are sensitive to flashing lights so that they know to turn the flash off.  Also make sure that there are no obstacles in the picture that could pose an issue- for example, falling down a flight of stairs or into an open body of water.  Also, make sure the photographer tells you where the camera is located so you aren’t staring into space.

Have your date familiarize themselves with being a human guide

While I didn’t use a blindness cane in high school, I had a habit of frequently running into walls, people, objects, and generally missing visual cues.  Luckily, my prom date was my best friend who had gotten used to guiding me to all of my classes and alerting me to obstacles.  It never hurts to remind your date that you have trouble seeing and may need additional help navigating at prom.  Check out my post on how to be a human guide here.

Figure out the layout of the dance floor

At the beginning of the dance, my date described to me the location of the stairs leading to the dance floor, where we were sitting, the entrance/exit, and where poles were located.  While I never was further away than arm’s reach from them, this was still very helpful information to remember in the event we got separated.

Request that photographer avoid your area

If bright, flashing lights in your face are a concern, talk to school administration and the photographer prior to the dance, and remind them again at the dance, to avoid taking photos of you or pointing the camera directly in your face.  With the way that the dance floor was laid out, it was easy to avoid the flashing lights that were used, and the photographer was more than happy to accommodate our request.

If possible, ask for the event to not use blue and red flashing lights

This wasn’t a problem at my school, but a prom that another friend attended had pulsing red and blue lights that they described as seizure inducing- they had to sit out for a few minutes because of the lights, and they’re not even migraine or seizure prone.  This is another good thing to talk about with school administration, as many students can get migraines or seizures triggered by these lights.

Have a place to hide out

There was a period of time at prom where a lot of unfamiliar, loud music and dancing was taking place, and my prom group and I decided to go hide out in the lobby of the hotel we were at.  This helped prevent sensory overload and also gave us a break from dancing- since I couldn’t navigate to the tables near the dance floor easily, it was much easier for everyone to meet in the lobby.

Handling rude comments

I had a few people crack jokes about my date going to prom with someone who was visually impaired, and a few others asking me if I could even see what was going on.  My best advice for this is to ignore the weird comments, or just laugh them off.  It is not worth getting into an argument over.

Don’t be afraid to have fun!

Before the dance, I was very nervous about what to expect and was worried that something would go wrong.  Luckily, my date was a totally awesome person, and my prom group was filled with awesome people as well.  Prom is about spending time with your high school friends before you all graduate, and it’s a wonderful way to make memories.

I hope your prom is lots of fun!

 

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 Navigate Campus

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 is how to navigate around campus and not get horribly lost.

 
For my first day living at my college, the dining hall next to my building was closed so I had to walk halfway across campus. On my way there, I followed a group of students, but by the time I was ready to leave, no one else was going to my dorm, so I had to walk alone. I thought I knew where I was going, but thirty minutes later, I found myself a mile from my dorm with no idea where I was, how I got there, and when (or if) I would be able to find my dorm again.

 
My school offers 24/7 police escorts for students that feel unsafe walking alone, are injured, are disabled, that are lost with no idea how to get back to their dorm, or some combination of the above. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I called Campus Security and gave them my name, a vague idea of where I was located, as well as a description of myself. About twenty minutes later, a kind policewoman found me after tracking my cell phone (similar to a 911 call) and drove me back to my dorm in her police car. While it was interesting to step out of a police car in front of all my new neighbors and get escorted to my dorm room, I was incredibly grateful to be in a familiar area.

 
Since that experience, I have still needed police escorts, but they have been few and far between. Here are some of the tools I use to avoid getting hopelessly lost.

Input addresses

Make sure to have important addresses available and easy to access, programmed as contacts in your phone and listed on a document saved to all your devices. My college has a list on the Environmental Health and Safety webpage of all of the buildings on campus with their corresponding addresses. I also recommend inputting addresses of buildings in the vicinity of your destination in case there is an issue with the GPS and it can’t locate your building. Here are the addresses I have programmed into my phone and iPad:

  • My dorm building
  • Restaurant directly next to my building
  • Dorm buildings of friends
  • Housing office
  • Dining halls
  • Student Union Building(s)
  • Disability Services Office
  • Assistive technology office
  • Libraries
  • Campus security
  • Campus center
  • Performing Arts Center
  • Parking garage
  • Building across the street from me
  • Bus stop area
  • My advisor’s building
  • Class buildings
  • University address
  • Satellite campus

GPS Tracking

Most smart phones have the capability to pinpoint a user’s exact location and share it with others via a text message. By going into “attach media,” I can send my GPS coordinates to any of my contacts, and they can get directions to the location where I am, and wonder how I got there. This worked great when a group of my sighted friends got lost at the mall, and we were all able to meet up again. Location services must be enabled for this to work.

Trip Tracker

Available for Android, Trip Tracker is my new favorite app from Microsoft. It records how you navigated somewhere, and how long it took. I use it to track how I get to different buildings and if the shortcut I thought I was taking actually added five minutes to my trip. This app doesn’t drain my battery either, which is very helpful. It’s still in the testing stage, but I found it very easy to use. Location services must be enabled at all times.

Google Maps

There’s a joke at my college that the first time you visit, you drive in circles for an hour because the GPS isn’t helpful. My mom and I experienced this when trying to find the student center for a meeting. Our GPS decided we needed to experience the great outdoors, and took us to a forest outside of campus instead. Even I knew we weren’t in the right place, and that is saying something.
While it isn’t the best app for navigating campus while in a car, the Google Maps software built into Android phones has often helped me. It seems to work best for campuses with older buildings, as the GPS may not recognize newer buildings, or will lead you into the middle of a construction site (been there, done that).

O&M Instruction

Anyone with a case file with the state Department of Blind and Visually Impaired can request an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor. You should contact the office as far in advance as possible, to schedule the session for once you arrive on campus, and preferably before the start of classes. Do not be surprised if your first session is short, especially if there are many other students in need of these services. You can request more sessions. The instructor will walk you around campus and to your classes, so you will know where you are going. A typical O&M student uses a blindness cane, though it isn’t required to receive these services.

Fitbit

Some Fitbits have GPS tracking built-in, other models use the function MobileRun within the Fitbit app. I found that this is a great way to track how I get to class, or to figure out how I got somewhere and retrace my steps. The app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows, but requires a Fitbit. I own the Fitbit Alta and find it works great for my needs.

If all else fails…

Have the phone number for campus police so that they will be able to give you an escort back to your dorm building (this is where having your dorm address comes in handy!). Make sure to tell the dispatcher that you are visually impaired and require additional assistance. Don’t feel embarrassed asking for help, as even people with perfect vision can get horribly lost. I was told that it’s easier to give me an escort than it is to have to track me down when my friends report me missing. Besides, if it wasn’t for the police back on my first day, I would still be wandering around on the outskirts of campus, trying to find my dorm.