By Jonathan Zobek, Learning Ally College Success Program Intern
Once a month, the College Success Program (CSP) hosts a webinar on a topic of interest to high school or college students that are blind or have low vision, their parents, or professionals who work with them. On August 5, 2020, CSP Mentor Glenn Dausch moderated a webinar titled "A Crystal Ball for Blind/Visually Impaired Students: A Glimpse Into Your First Semester at College Part 2." Our guest panelists included CSP Mentors Maureen Hayden and Rashad Jones, and CSP student members Mikayla Gephart and Faizan Jamil, who all offered insight into the college journey based on their experiences.
In case you missed it, here are the top seven takeaways from this informative event. You can also view this webinar in its entirety by clicking here.
1. Preparation Is Important
Starting college is a huge step in your life journey, and it is essential that you prepare. Luckily, there are many steps you can take to do this. First, even when you are still in high school, you can have conversations about college with your TVI. Ask them questions and get their thoughts on various situations, technology, and more. Secondly, it is crucial that you meet with the Disability Support Services Office at your college. If you can, schedule a meeting as soon as possible. You and the staff will get to know each other. Starting conversations with them early also ensures that you can be a part of the process of writing your accommodations letter, the official document you generally must present to each of your professors during college.
2. Prepare For Your Living Situation
If you will be moving out of your home, it is important to prepare for your specific living situation. If your college is far away, travel lightly and only pack the essentials, such as assistive technology. You can always buy toiletries and other incidentals while at college. Also know that you will most likely live with a roommate, so keep your space limitations in mind while buying and packing.
3. If Possible, Have O&M Lessons On Campus Early
College is a new environment, and it is important to know how to navigate campus to ensure that you get to class on time. If possible, schedule O&M lessons early so you are prepared for the first day of classes. If you are unable to meet with an orientation and mobility instructor, try walking around campus with family or friends. It can also be helpful to go on tours with student advisors, RA staff, or peers. Older students can fill you in on more of the small details about navigating campus, such as the quickest routes to certain buildings or the times of day certain paths are most crowded. Also, learn multiple routes because your favorite route can change due to construction or other restrictions.
4. Fellow Students Are Willing To Help
If you are unsure about anything on campus, such as how to get to a new building, navigate a dining hall, or complete an assignment, your peers are an invaluable resource. They can point out where certain foods are in the dining hall or read menus. Friends will learn how to accommodate and best help you. For academics, you can form study groups with your peers. This allows for multiple perspectives on the material when available, and friends teaching one another benefits you all. You will not always be the person asking for help. Explaining material is just as valuable as having material explained to you.
5. You Are Your Own Team Leader
In college, you will be responsible for a lot more than you were in high school. Everything, such as ensuring that your professors are aware of your accommodations, coordinating testing and scribe services, and speaking up when you need help is up to you. While it may seem daunting, it is completely manageable. It is important to form relationships with your professors and DSO to ensure the smoothest process. You can email your accommodations letter to your professors before the semester starts, and discuss it during one of the first office hour sessions. This allows for a personalized conversation and will better ensure that your professor knows your needs. If the professor has never dealt with a blind or visually impaired student, you may need to do a little more explaining/self-advocating.
Another aspect of being your own team leader involves being proactive. It is up to you to ask for help. One great way to do this is to utilize your professors' office hours to the greatest extent possible. Professors are willing to help students who go the extra mile and seek help outside of class.
Get a record of the essence of every conversation in writing. Follow up every in-person conversation or phone call with an email noting what was said and by whom. Everything will be available in writing just in case there was a misunderstanding or if something goes wrong.
6. Keep Track Of Important Dates
In college, there are many important dates, most of which can be found either on the academic calendar or syllabi for class. From your syllabi, you will figure out when tests take place and when group projects are due. Knowing this information can allow you to set up testing accommodations, such as a different time and location and scribe services. For group projects, be the member who is constantly texting and keeping track of other members. Nothing will get done if there is no leader. Knowing the deadlines will allow you to remind other group members and get the required work done. If possible, try to look at syllabi before class starts.
From your academic calendar, you can figure out add/drop dates and registration dates. It isn't uncommon to drop classes, but timing is important. Also, know your registration date, make sure that all fees are paid and that you know what classes you need to take. This will ensure a smooth registration process and that you will get into required classes. Not every class is offered every semester, so it is important to enroll while you can.
To keep track of these dates, enter them into an electronic calendar, such as the one your phone and set reminders before the actual date. The academic calendar can be found online, so you can bookmark that page, or keep a copy of it at your desk.
7. Maintain A Work/Life Balance
College may be a lot of work, but don't let it overwhelm you. Taking breaks and creating a schedule is important. College is a time to redefine who you are and discover new interests and hobbies, so it is a great time to get involved in extracurricular activities and hang out with new friends. You may discover that you enjoy yoga, working out, or simply hanging out and playing games with friends. Maintaining a balance is important. Being proactive is also important and can be easier if you have connections to other people. One way to do this is to create a schedule with someone else, whether that be a friend or someone in Disability Support Services. The other person can hold you accountable to your schedule. Plus, it feels great when you accomplish a goal. Overall, it is important to find that delicate balance between work and social life to ensure the best college experience.