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 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 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.