Students with Visual Impairments, College Is Different from High School!

college campus (image attributable to wikiwand)

Did you wake up in your dorm room during your first few weeks of college and think, "College isn’t anything like high school!" For many students with vision loss, this can be a rude awakening. You no longer have a teacher of students with visual impairments to adapt materials, make sure you have your textbooks on time, or intercede with your teachers when you need an accommodation.

It’s essential that you know your rights and responsibilities as a college student in order to be successful. It’s up to you whether or when to disclose your disability, but be aware that in order to receive accommodations, you will need to self-identify and provide documentation. Understanding the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act is essential. Lesson 16 of the Transition to College Program Activity Guide is a great place to start.

What Is Vocational Rehabilitation and Why Do I Need It?

To be successful in college, you may need additional support that vocational rehabilitation services can provide. What are they? First, you must know what you need, and second, you must find out what vocational rehabilitation offers in your state. You can inquire by meeting with a vocational rehabilitation counselor, but eventually, you will need to apply, be determined eligible for services, and develop an Individualized Plan for Employment in order to receive support for college. In general, vocational rehabilitation agencies across the nation provide:

  • Vocational evaluation (assesses your vocational abilities, limitations, aptitudes, and interests) to help you develop an employment goal
  • Career counseling and guidance
  • Work-based learning experiences
  • Counseling and guidance about training and education options after high school
  • Assistive technology assessment and training
  • Financial support for college or career school, including expenses not covered by financial aid
  • Training to learn or improve independent living skills, braille, assistive technology, etc.
  • Support to obtain an eye medical exam or psychological assessment
  • Orientation and mobility training
  • Other support services (vary by state)
A group of high school students standing outside against a brick wall with two students walking towards the group using white canes

Students who are at least 14 years old are eligible to receive services to help prepare them for college and employment. In other words, vocational rehabilitation will help you with what you need in order to go to college (if college is needed for the job you want to have someday). Check out Lesson 17 in the Transition to College Program Activity Guide to help you decide when applying for vocational rehabilitation services will assist you in achieving your goals.

Getting the Accommodations You Need in College

Requesting accommodations is your responsibility when you are in college or career school. An academic adjustment or accommodation gives you equal access to the same educational opportunities students without visual impairments have and may include, but is not limited to, extra time on tests or use of access technology. It is your job to know and follow the procedures for requesting the academic adjustments or accommodations you need as a student with vision loss. The process varies from school to school and ranges from a structured formal process to a less formal procedure, depending on the institution. It’s up to you to find out what your school requires and to advocate for your needs specifically. In Lesson 18 of the Transition to College Activity Guide, you can explore options and learn skills to use now and in the future as you need accommodations.

Print, Print Everywhere! What’s a Student To Do?

As a college or career school student, you are expected to access print materials of various kinds. Textbooks, handouts, tests, and library books are only the tip of the iceberg.

  • Do you have the resources you need to access the printed material required for success in college?
  • Are you connected and familiar with the organizations that typically provide materials in alternative formats to blind or visually impaired students?
  • Do you know what to do when you cannot find an accessible version of the materials critical for your success in a class?
  • Are you a proficient user of the access technology necessary for you to use the materials you acquire in a variety of formats?

If you answered no, or anything less than a resounding yes, to these questions, you need to work through Lesson 19 of the Transition to College Program Activity Guide. Your success in your classes depends on your knowledge of resources and your creativity when a new access to information challenge presents itself. Your need for access to print won’t end with college either. The skills you learn in college will be essential for your success on the job too.

Employing a Reader

There will be times in your college career when you need a live reader. It may be a last minute handout that is hand-written, a research project in the library, or a lab assignment that requires reading gauges or scales. Whatever the reason, being prepared with a plan to hire, pay, and even fire a reader is important. Lesson 20 of the Transition to College Program Activity Guide can help you! This article walks you through step-by-step and gives pointers to help you find the right reader as well as how to be an employer who is thoughtful and well-prepared. Find out why hiring your best friend might not be a good idea!

Resources for College-Bound Students with Visual Impairments

Transition to College: Program Activity Guide for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

The Degree I Need to Succeed in the Workforce

Admissions Requirements for Visually Impaired Students

Ask a College Graduate with Vision Loss for Advice

Skills for College Students with Vision Loss