Some lively discussions about managing the transition to college successfully are happening around our virtual editorial table. Ahmat is entering his last year of undergraduate work, and Nikhil is headed off to his freshman year. Both needed accommodations in high school. Here’s what they advise.
#1. Always think ahead. Know what you want and and advocate for what you need. Even before enrolling, make contact with your student accessibility services office, and once you’ve chosen your college, stay in contact. Tell them about your planned major and in what format you’ll need your class materials. The office may not have a lot of experience with students who are visually impaired and they often make the assumption that all students who are visually impaired will require the same accommodations, so move right ahead and request what works for you. Hopefully it won’t be necessary, but Ahmat shared a troubling experience and how he resolved it. “Last year I could not find an accessible textbook and the office was not willing to work with me to make it accessible.” Ahmat had to obtain legal assistance, and got free help through Disability Rights New York, which can provide an advocate or an attorney. The link is here.
#2. Communication is key. Once you have a class schedule, said Ahmat, “Send an introduction letter to your professors in advance to request the course materials (syllabus and the textbook) they will be using” then work with student accessibility services to get the material to your preferred format. Let the professor know how you access print and video. Some may react poorly – “I have a whole class to teach,” some may refer you to disability services, and some may get right on board like Nikhil’s high school Spanish teacher who sat next to him whenever she was showing a movie and described the film.
#3. Come with a solution. Nikhil says the best way to overcome classroom challenges is to have a solution in mind when you approach a professor or disabled student services. You know what hurdles you’re facing in class. You probably can think of some resources to get you over those hurdles. Share them with your professors and administrators and make it easier for them to help. They’ll appreciate it.
#4. Get organized. Organization is key to maintaining order in your new college setting. For students who write braille, braille labels can help identify your own possessions and can be used to label classroom materials and lab equipment. Labeling, whether Braille, raised letters or large print, makes hands-on activities easy and makes it safer to complete science and math lab activities. Braille labels are available from numerous vendors in two main varieties: full-sheet adhesives that can be cut to size and strip adhesives that can be embossed and cut with a dispenser-like device.
#5. Get your accessible texts. There are lots of choices here. Bookshare is an accessible online library with more than 800,000 textbooks and novels for people who can’t access regular print. Bookshare uses high quality electronic voices for narration. If your book is not on Bookshare’s list, just let them know what book you need, give them enough lead time, and they’ll get the book to you in time for class or give you a raw scan for starters. Student memberships are free so sign up here.
Have an iOS device? Use the Voice Dream reader to access Bookshare books. There is also voice dream reader.
If you do better with human voices, you may opt for BARD from the National Library Services for the Blind and Print Disabled. BARD’s free books are all high quality human narrated voices. Get some magazines, many fiction books, and non-fiction as well. Although it does not have textbooks, you’re likely to find everything else on BARD.
#6. Plan to live on campus? Make arrangements early. Think about requesting a single room if you’re going to need extra space for peripherals like a large monitor. Many colleges have only a few single rooms, so put your request in as far in advance as possible. When thinking about your dorm location, ask yourself these questions. How far from the campus do you want to be and how far from the cafeteria should your dorm be? Navigating the cafeteria can be especially difficult, Ahmat warns. “Cafeterias are open large spaces with many stations. Work with your student disability services office to make sure that you can easily access the cafeteria.”