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The information on the this page provides some guidelines and advice for people who are blind or visually impaired and are attending or on their way to college. Navigating college services for students with disabilities can be a daunting task. To succeed, students need to learn how to be independent and advocate for their needs.

Student Rights

K-12 education is an entitlement (Ideally, you get everything that you need all the time for free.). Higher-education, rehabilitation, etc. is based on eligibility (you must qualify for services); a completely different world for a freshman college student coming out of the K-12 environment. Students need to know their rights, how to advocate for themselves, and where to turn when they don't accept the answers that were provided by educational personnel. Forewarned is forearmed!

The Office of Civil Rights (the enforcement arm of the Department of Education) http://www.ed.gov/offices/OCR/ has a whole section on disability discrimination at http://www.ed.gov/offices/OCR/qa-disability.html.

Disabled Student Services (DSS)

Some universities require students to register with the DSS and make all arrangements for accommodations via these channels.

See if the DSS offers readers. If they do, take advantage of these people.

The accommodations provided by DSS may not be available to a student when they get a job. Students can prepare for "the real world" if they use Disabled Student Services as a "back-up" provider, rather than the main one. Students should be able to locate, interview, hire and even fire their own readers, know how and where to order their own books, be able to explain their needs for large-print, test accommodations etc. Unfortunately, most universities usually want to do far more for the student.

Orientation and mobility

One visually impaired student writes: "See if the Vocational Rehabilitator will authorize money for this. Also, maybe the college will pay for it. ... In my experience the agency that handles my college funding wouldn't authorize money for O&M services because I wanted someone certified."

Braille

You may find the college does not have the equipment or software you need to produce Braille material. Ask the professors to put their material on disk in a text format. That way you can translate the material to Braille yourself.

For students who use Braille, refreshable Braille note-takers/reading devices have been suggested. These devices may be cheaper and more flexible than other means in the long run.

Readers

Like technology, readers are a valuable tool and knowing how to work with them is a vital skill. See if your Vocational Rehabilitator authorizes money for this service. Below are some tips for obtaining, scheduling, and working with readers.

  1. Do not rely on only one or two readers, 5 to 8 is a much more realistic number.
  2. Find readers that are not a part of the college campus: retired folks, volunteers through Delta Gamma if there is a unit in the area. Lions Clubs might be another option. The purpose of using off campus readers, is that they are not affected by the finals and midterm exam frenzy and cramming.
  3. Do not schedule for more than one hour at a time.
  4. When scheduling the readers follow the schedule of the classes, on the hour or half hour whatever the school uses. This way student readers will be more likely to treat reading sessions like a class and will be less likely to miss a session.
  5. As part of the interview, have the prospective reader read aloud. This is a voice you are going to be listening to for a great deal of time; be sure it is an easy voice to listen to. They may be one of the smartest in the class, but they may not be able to read aloud.
  6. Be sure to interview thoroughly. You prospective reader may not be great reading aloud, but they may be much better at describing things, such as biology, chemistry, geography etc.
  7. Some peoples schedules may not match yours, but that doesn't mean that they can't read for you. Tape recorders are relatively inexpensive today. Purchase one along with several dozen 60 or 90 minute tapes. You can loan your reader the tape recorder, tapes and a copy of the syllabus. Indicate that you need the material say 48-72 hours before it is due on the syllabus so that you have time to listen to the tapes.

The next two suggestions are debatable, but worth bringing up.

  1. If you date your reader, be cautious. There is the potential that not as much reading will be done as you think. If you wish to date one of your readers, suspend the reading aspect of your relationship.
  2. Use your family members as your last resort for reading. We all know our own families too well; we have very high expectations, and conversely low patience with our family members. Plus, if you are living at home, going home should be somewhere to relax from the stress.

One student suggests to study with another student in the class. Choose one who is doing well. Then, your reader doesn't just read with you, they study with you. You can throw questions and answers back and forth, and your reader is as interested in covering the material as you are.

There is more information on readers and other skills students should have before heading off to college including a skill checklist for ordering tapes from Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic at Three C's to Greater Independence.

Articles

There is an article by Peggy Pinder entitled "The Care and Feeding of Readers" in the May, 1993, issue of the Braille Monitor. Get it at http://www.nfb.org/Images/nfb/Publications/bm/bm93/brlm9305.htm#7 (reprinted by NFB)

Working with Readers: Recruiting and Hiring - http://blindness.about.com/library/weekly/aa061300a.htm

Working with Readers: Your Job as the Employer - http://blindness.about.com/library/weekly/aa061300b.htm

Accessible Technology

Many students have found technology to be the most useful and dependable tool for getting through college.

A blind adult shared the following information - Not to rely on readers too much but to become very familiar with technology. She used a computer with JAWS and a PowerBraille display, a Braille Lite, and the Kurzweil screen reader to do most of her reading and assignment preparation in college and used readers (people) very little.

Another student used Type and Speak almost exclusively for notes and Jaws at home.

A student comments - "I also used a scanner heavily in college. It saved me a lot of hassles with readers and probably a lot of money which would have been spent over the limit which rehab could pay. Most of all, I had greater freedom in my study time and methods."

Regarding limited access to the assistive technology on campus, students should determine what hours are available for the campus computer labs, library, etc. and then advocate for the same options. The college may want to provide some supervision during "off" hours or have some assessment to determine your students' ability to use these items successfully.

If the needed technology equipment is in a room that is inaccessible, one possibility is to move it to the library. Or, somewhere on campus that is open 24 hours a day.

Difficulties to Expect

The biggest difficulties identified among a group of blind/visually impaired college students were:

  1. Planning ahead and organization of notes, etc.
  2. Study Skills - especially library work and writing a paper
  3. Using a reader effectively - recruiting, supervising, problem-solving, etc.
  4. Self advocacy with faculty and Vocational Rehabilitator
  5. Orientation & Mobility - adjusting to a new guide dog for some students
  6. Getting text books, and ordering books from RFBD (Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic) http://www.rfbd.org
  7. Studying from tape especially for students used to using large print.
  8. Advanced computer skills
  9. Social skills - getting along with a roommate
  10. Activities of daily living skills like laundry, matching clothes, and shopping
  11. Working effectively with their Vocational Rehabilitator - understanding the role of the Vocational Rehabilitator

Study Skills

Articles

Planning Your Courseload - http://blindness.about.com/library/weekly/aa052500a.htm

Organizing for Success - http://blindness.about.com/library/weekly/aa052900a.htm

Getting the Most From Lectures and Presentations - http://blindness.about.com/library/weekly/aa061900a.htm

Getting the Most From Reading Assignments - http://blindness.about.com/library/weekly/aa082100a.htm

Other Resources

Hadley School for the Blind offers a series of "Getting Started" college readiness courses called Transition to the American University (http://www.hadley-school.org/).

There are a number of other resources available at http://blindness.about.com/cs/collegestudents/index.htm.

Unanswered Questions

The following questions or topics have arisen and we need some information to address them. If you can contribute, please send email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

  1. What do new students need to know about extended testing, orientation to the campus, etc?
  2. What is the role of Disabled Student Services? What services are they to provide?
  3. If Braille is the preferred medium, how can students go about getting this from Disabled Student Services?
  4. What is the role of the Vocational Rehabilitator?
  5. What do you do if a professor refuses to accommodate you?

The information on this web page was gleaned from the AER listserv and edited by Christina Seay, with thanks to the authors. It does not represent any single, or official viewpoint, but rather a variety of opinions and is by no means complete.

Please send any questions or comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.