I know I’ve reiterated it a few times now, but starting university - no matter who you are - is both an amazing opportunity and nerve-racking experience. It is very common to want to ask questions and learn as much about your unfamiliar environment as possible, but when you are living with vision loss, just knowing where to start can be tricky
When you factor in adaptations on top of the usual learning curves, the reality is that there are very few people that can tell you how to organize yourself so that you have prepared as best you can for success. I have spent these past few months in my first semester of university, and although it hasn’t always been easy, I can say with confidence that I have learned a lot.
I’m hoping that by sharing my experiences, others can learn some of the tricks and shortcuts I have as a legally blind student to make their own transition to university successful and stress free.
Any student – but especially those with vision loss - often find time management a difficult skill to master. Entering post-secondary education means that you need to work long and hard to keep your G.P.A. up. If you’re a low vision student however, there are additional factors to consider.
For example, extra time must be spent reviewing material that you visually couldn’t follow in class. Assigned readings and projects take longer to complete, and finally, commuting to and from school on public transportation is also lengthy. In these instances, there are some effective strategies that help those of us with low vision keep up with our studies.
First, it is important to invest in some sort of audio recording device. It is possible to use one’s phone for this if they have adequate space and it records in good sound quality. I have found that a book port plus - which I am renting from my disability resource center - works best for me personally. Not only can I listen to audio versions of my textbooks with this device, but I am also able to read my notes out loud or record lectures and listen to them while traveling.
This doesn’t just save time but can also be done without vision; A useful function that helps those of us who can easily develop eye strain. Other useful strategies include contacting the university’s disability department and requesting accommodations like note takers, testing adaptations, and if need be, extended time on projects.
I have found that a mix of all these accommodations has helped greatly as I work through my semester. Even with the extra help though, putting in the many hours of studying every night is always going to be the most important key to success.
Another important tip for visually impaired students just starting university is to keep in touch both with teachers and with their disability counselor. If you are using services offered from your disability department, you will be assigned a counselor, and the one on one time you get with this person will be invaluable to you. There have been many times this semester where things have not worked out properly for me.
Digital book copies have been late being sent to me, testing accommodations have been overlooked, teachers have been uncooperative, and even some of my technology has been glitchy. On each of these occasions, it is completely up to the student to work out the issues themselves, which is a significant difference from high school where you always have someone checking up on how effective accommodations are.
If you don’t address the problems, they simply won’t be fixed. My advice is to never let problems that pop up go unresolved. The instant something happens that is effecting your school work, contact your counselor. Their job is to sit down with you and talk about all your accommodations.
It is again, your responsibility to fill them in on problems you are having and what you need to happen so that they can fixed whatever is not working. It was hard for me at first to be so upfront about addressing these issues, but something I have learned is that this is exactly what the disability department of your university is for.
It is their job to make sure that your disability is not holding you back. So, make sure to use all the resources given to you so that you can succeed and enjoy your time in post-secondary education.