A Cheat Sheet to Help You Self-Advocate for Accommodations As a College Student Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

I don’t know a soul who isn’t nervous to make the leap from high school to college or a university. If this is you, you’re in good company.

A long list of changes is inevitable and exciting. Will you leave home to live on or off campus? Will you enjoy the company of your roommate(s)? Is the meal plan worth the money? Are you confident in your cooking skills? (Hey, let’s be honest—most college students aren’t known for their cooking skills.) How many classes can you handle in your first semester?

Then there are changes in accommodations as you enter college. If you are blind or visually impaired, you had an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) in high school. Your IEP team, hopefully with you as the lead, decided on necessary accommodations and the school provided the support in order to help you succeed. The school was legally bound and federally funded, thanks to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), to assess your needs and provide you with a free and appropriate education.

Enter college or a university. Your postsecondary education will not provide a team to write an IEP; it cannot even legally approach you and offer assistance. Here, you must self-advocate.

Whereas the focus of your IEP was to help you to succeed, the focus of any disability accommodation service at the university level is to provide access to learning materials. It is up to you to succeed or fail. I know this sounds harsh, but it is a gift, as it is good preparation for work life.

Here’s basic information to help you advocate for resources likely available at your college or university:

  • You must identify yourself as a person with a disability. Contact the school’s disability resource center and schedule a meeting to discuss services prior to the start of school.
  • You must be qualified to receive accommodations. Ask your university for the documentation they require. If you are blind or visually impaired, a recent eye report will be necessary.
  • Describe your functional limitations at the disability resource center meeting. Provide documentation, such as a recent Functional Vision Assessment and IEP.
  • Advocate for your accessibility needs, such as receiving handouts in braille or electronically, taking tests orally or with large print, accessing audio books, using a tape recorder or talking calculator in class, accessing tactile graphs, using a reader to read textbooks to you after class, etc.
  • Know that coursework and tests are not modified. You will have the same workload as the general population of students. Universities typically offer tutoring services (sometimes free of charge) that you can schedule.
  • Most colleges have a dedicated computer lab with assistive technology such as closed-circuit televisions, text magnification or text-to-voice software, dictation software, embossers, etc. Ask if these resources are available to you.
  • Ask the disability resource center to recommend community resources, such as a local agency that provides orientation and mobility services.

Learn now to assertively self-advocate. Entering post-secondary education is an opportunity to practice requesting reasonable accommodations, just as you will continue doing throughout your career.

If you are blind or visually impaired, go to APH CareerConnect and scan the message boards to connect with peers and find out how others advocated for their needs in college and beyond.

If you are a teacher or professional working with youth who are blind or visually impaired, prepare your students to assertively self-advocate by utilizing CareerConnect’s Assertiveness Training lesson series.

Check out APH CareerConnect’s College-Ready Challenge audio piece for a fun and educational list of the differences in attending high school versus college or postsecondary school.