By Katie Ottaggio, College Success Program Engagement Operations Manager
Once a month, the College Success Program (CSP) will host a webinar on a topic of interest to high school and college students who are blind or who have low vision, their parents, and the professionals who work with them. On June 9, one of our CSP mentors, Stephanie Zundel, moderated a webinar called "Where's the Cafeteria? Orientation & Mobility on Your College Campus (Even if it is Virtual)." Our guest speaker was Chris Tabb, an orientation and mobility instructor who has worked all over the country with people from infants to adults. Chris wrote the majority of our CSP course, "Travel and O&M," which can be found in the CSP curriculum, and he serves on our advisory panel.
In case you missed it, here are the top takeaways from this informative event. You can also view the webinar in its entirety by clicking here.
Choosing a College
When visiting and choosing a college, consider the following:
- Think about your ability to travel independently and what that means on a small, medium or large campus. To get your food will you have to go to the cafeteria or the local grocery store?
- Think past your freshman year. How will you get where you need to go in your sophomore, junior and senior years? Will your living accommodations change from a dorm room to an apartment, for example?
- Tour large, medium and small campuses to get the feel for each type of location.
- Consider climate and weather conditions. If you're looking at a college in a cold weather climate, how quickly will the sidewalks be shoveled? Is there a shuttle to transport students during bad weather? For colleges in hot locations, will you have to walk long distances in the heat? Are some buildings connected so you don't have to go outside?
Practicing Travel on Campus
The best thing to do to prepare to travel on your college campus is to just try it out. Many campuses in a city follow a grid pattern for their walkways while more rural campuses may have paved pathways that intertwine like a web. Discover the format at your college and practice that.
When practicing travel in the community, pick a place that you find fun to go to like an ice cream or coffee shop. You'll be more likely to follow through on your practicing when you have a reward at the end. Having a destination you enjoy gives purpose to your practice. You can also learn timing. If you go to the ice cream shop, do you have time to bring it home or do you have to eat it there?
Traveling is not one and done. The brain needs time to assimilate, so practice, practice, practice.
Maps are available in many different formats so try them out and see what works best for you. Cognitive maps are mental representations of where you are and where you need to go. Visual and tactile maps give you the ability to see or touch a representation of an area. Sometimes you have to create your own maps. Utilize dry spaghetti noodles, beans, small rocks, anything that can help you create a sense of space.
Safety While Venturing Out
To help ensure your safety while traveling, be sure to be aware. Don't wear your headphones or daydream as this will distract you from noticing your environment. You may not notice subtle changes in terrain or unfamiliar noises.
Be sure to share your schedule with people - your friends, roommate, etc. When people know where you're supposed to be, they'll notice when you aren't there.
Consider adding the phone number of your school's public safety office to your phone contacts so you can easily get a hold of them if you need to. Also, utilize the "share my location" feature on your phone, which allows you to share your whereabouts with others in the unfortunate event that you may get lost.
Traveling with a Human Guide During COVID-19
COVID-19 presents unique challenges to the travel experiences of people who are blind or have low vision. How can you maintain social distance while still using guide techniques? Here are some suggestions for dealing with this scenario:
- Carry and use gloves, a mask and hand sanitizer and keep them with you at all times.
- Utilize your elbow or foot to do things such as open a door or push an elevator button.
- When using sighted guide, you can hold one end of a PVC pipe, relay baton or cord and your guide can hold the other, keeping some space between the two of you while still following their guidance.
- Instead of holding on to someone's elbow, which many people use to sneeze or cough into, put your hand on their back or shoulder for guidance. However, it is important to minimize contact as much as possible.
Practicing Travel While Social Distancing
COVID-19 has greatly limited the travel options available. To keep up with your O&M skills:
- Use virtual meetings with someone such as an O&M instructor or a person at your school's disabilities office to talk about transportation or travel planning.
- Spend time thinking through what information you need to travel. Go through the practice of planning your trip. Lay it all out in your mind or type it up so you're prepared to do it quickly when you're ready.
- Utilize available travel apps to plan out your trips. These include mainstream apps, such as Apple and Google Maps; travel apps, such as Uber and Lyft, and blindness -specific apps, such as BlindSquare, Seeing Eye GPS, Nearby Explorer and Soundscape among others.
Communicating with College Staff
Preparing for the fall on college campuses is full of uncertainty. It is even more important that usual to keep communication channels with college staff open and touch base with them frequently. They need to know that it is imperative for you to know where things are on campus and that you need the opportunity to practice travel routes in a way that is safe for everyone.