It’s that time of year again where in New England the mornings are getting cooler, and many people are going back to school. People suggested I make a post sharing my tips about going to school so let’s get into it. This is going to be long (Surprise right? Haha.) because I want to be accessible and real with people. If you only read this post and decide a different blindness blogger is for you, that’s okay. But please, please, read this one. Break it up into sections if you need to because it’s that important for you to read this entire post. For that reason, I’ve broken this up into section headings so you can read what you have time for and come back to read more later when you’re not so busy. I’ve decided I’m not going to hold back on this post, so I hope and pray this doesn’t offend anyone. If this is too harsh for you, then maybe think about why that’s the case. If not, awesome. I hope that this post inspires people to help make the educational system better for people with disabilities, and a whole lot better for blind people who made the crazy, yet rewarding choice to go to college.
Whether you admit it or not, while school can be great, whether you’re just starting out, coming from public school, or a blind school, it can also be pretty scary. I have learned it is perfectly okay to acknowledge your feelings out loud to people. I’m not saying tell everyone your business, but find a few people to share them with. As blind people we know our school stress gets pretty confusing and complicated for those who aren’t around disability, but I promise if they care, they’ll learn how they can help. I know, I know. You’re already not accepted. People won’t talk to you and people think you’re weird, right? You don’t want to share about that professor who won’t accommodate you, you’re struggling to get your state person to support you, that your books aren’t accessible and you might need a reader or a note taker. You want sighted people to know you for you and not all this stuff right? I felt that way, too. But sighted people talk about horrible papers, awful boy stuff, everything. Find a way to talk about and deal with your disability related stress. If you’re happy and you have great teachers and professors and students willing to help, celebrate that! Go ahead and talk about that awesome experience! Not many people who are blind graduate college and as blind people I personally believe we need to share our stories with other people who can’t see to show them that if they want a degree, they should go out and get it. We hear so often about horrible services, but we need to share with people that yes, people are helpful and want us to do just as well as those who have sight. I am not here to speak for every single blind person, but I know that many of us feel that when we get real and share how we really feel, (Despite what the feel good stories tell you, blind people aren’t always bubbly all the time.) lots of times those feelings are used against us. That’s a whole different topic about services for a different post. The thing to remember is that everyone gets overwhelmed. Sighted students, teachers, it happens. You’re not alone. I’ll say that a few times in this post because my story is proof you can walk through hell and come out the other side. You’re not alone. Because we have so much to deal with as blind people going to school in a system often meant to fail us, it’s a little too easy to feel very alone. As blind people we almost always have to prove ourselves and why we belong in the classroom, but believe it or not, you’re going to eventually find those people who know we are just as smart as people who can see.
Taking Notes and Introducing yourself
First let’s talk about introducing yourself and taking notes. Before every semester, I would find my professors emails, email them and tell them who I am, what course I was taking, and that I am blind. I explained that I would need book titles sent to me so I could see if they were in an accessible format and that I would need handouts or anything they shared with the class emailed to me so I could read them. Once class started, I would have someone guide me to them or find them by listening for them. Show your professors or your teachers you are interested in the material and that you want to make being in their class work for the both of you. If you need someone to take notes for you, you won’t know what to expect right away and neither will they. After a few weeks, you’ll learn what is important for each course. You might find different parts of the course important than the person taking notes for you, so exchange contact information with them if they are willing to do that so you can be clear about what you need from them.
It’s Okay To Get Lost
If you get lost, it’s fine. One time I thought I made my way to one of my English classes and I ended up in a Spanish class I had no clue how to get out of. Thankfully the professor helped me figure out where I needed to go. Sighted people get lost too. When you have mobility challenges that make it difficult for you to leave a place you got yourself to, you’ll be okay. You’ll eventually get yourself out of the situation you got stuck in. I found it helpful to record routes to my classes. My mobility teacher (for more on mobility, see my blog called So What Is Mobility Anyway?) recorded directions to my classes on my recorder and I also Brailled them as another way to get them stuck in my memory. When I was in college, the RA’s liked to mess with freshman and purposefully send them the wrong way because they found it funny. I told them to never do that to me and thank God they didn’t. Tell your RA’s! Do not send a blind person the wrong way with other freshman because you think it’s hilarious. It’s not. And while we’re on the subject of not messing with a blind person and their mobility, if they or someone helping them places markings on something to help them navigate, LEAVE THEM ALONE.(in caps) Really. Don’t touch them. I had felt on the wall when I started my Freshman year so I could find my way from my room to the RA office, and students thought it was funny to take it off even though my RA friend, Chelsea, told them not to take it off. I eventually learned my way and could walk there with or without my cane.
My Note To Voc Rehab Professionals
Next, let’s talk about state services which is different from school services. They both can be great or your worst nightmare. Not many Voc rehab people are going to read this, but I’m talking about it anyhow. Voc rehab people. Ease up on the stress. I can’t tell you how many times I had to fight with Rhode Island to get technology I needed or readers for classes that weren’t accessible. This is already long enough so if you’re not educated about voc rehab and you are interested, feel free to look that up. Before each semester, they would expect me to have everything figured out. I would always have to tell them I didn’t know how many hours with readers I would need each week because classes hadn’t started yet and each semester was going to be different. They say they want to help people, but anyone in the blindness community knows they don’t often actually do that. This gets people going I know, but no matter how you feel, please be nice. The last thing I would say to Voc rehab people is don’t shame people for doing things differently. Because there are so few blind people going to college, the schools all talk to each other. This is good if they’re going to help get creative about working with students, but it isn’t good to compare them. To any school or state voc rehab professionals, don’t shame people for working differently than the way you might get work done. That’s right, I went there. Don’t shame me. Don’t shame her. Don’t shame him. Don’t shame them. Don’t shame us. Technology is great and I used it to do certain work myself, but if I chose to have readers along with technology, that’s what works for me and you shouldn’t always try and take them from me. If you are blind and you need a note taker or a reader, whatever it is, don’t be ashamed to do what you need to do for yourself.
My Note for Readers
Speaking of readers, if you make time to be one, thank you. If you decide reading assignments is too much on top of everything you have going on, treat it like any other job and give two weeks’ notice. I had people who didn’t, and you don’t want to leave the person behind because you know you don’t like that feeling either. Before you quit on that person you’re working with, give it a month to figure out if the job is for you or not. If it isn’t, that’s okay, but don’t waste time. It often takes a while to find someone else so the sooner you can tell the person you can’t handle it, the better it will be for both of you.
If You See Something, Say Something
This post is going to focus on students, but I’m going to make another post for teachers that will be shorter. That said, students. You’ve heard of the saying, “If you see something, say something,” right? Please, apply that to people with disabilities. Sometimes my reader used to ask me why people kept looking at me while we walked around campus. I told her I was used to it and people do it all the time so it really doesn’t faze me anymore. She said she didn’t want to start anything if she said something about it. If you call people out for staring, it isn’t going to start anything but a much needed conversation about why people of all abilities belong on campus. I know people who used to see it and openly, right in front of them say, “I see you staring at a blind person! Miranda, people are staring at you,” and that’s not rude to call them out for it. People liked to watch me like I was a tourist attraction. Whenever URI would have tours and I would walk with my cane, people would watch me like I was famous or like I was some kind of pretty, cute animal they could look at but not get too close to. People could watch whenever they were curious, but they couldn’t talk to me? I’m not a tourist attraction and neither is any blind person you come across. We have white canes or guide dogs, and like you, we’re people too.
The Need for Normalcy
The next thing I want to address is the need for normalcy. As students who can see, you have a heavy college load just like we do. Some of you take tons of classes, work a job or two, and are trying to pay off loans or your car, the list goes on. As awkward as you might feel talking to a blind person without it being your job to be around them, it also can be uncomfortable for the person who is blind because we’re the ones often excluded. Until you prove yourself to us, we’re often wondering things like, Are they actually enjoying my company or are they just being nice because they feel bad for me? People do that and no one is going to actually admit they spent time with someone because they felt sorry for them. I had a few readers in college who unknowingly brought a version of normal to me that was missing because people couldn’t get over my white cane. Lots of blind people have trouble with balance and there’s a time and a place to laugh about things. Thankfully when I worked with Gianna, she learned quickly that I’m still a person even though my eyes don’t work. She knew that I made a funny face once when I almost tripped during a recording we were working on for one of my audio classes and that it was okay to laugh about it with me. Then there was Kaylan and Selena, who would talk about guys, schoolwork, and concerts. Phillips would tell me about who is sister liked to listen to, that he was playing video games, or what he was doing with his weekend. It’s too easy to get caught up in services BS, so it’s good to keep things light for people who often have a lot of heavy stuff to deal with. Do your part to bring people with disabilities some version of normal and before you know it, including us won’t be weird anymore.
Learning To Speak the Language of College Students
As blind people, we need to be aware that we are scary to sighted people until they get to know us. We live in a generation where many people have a, “What’s in it for me?” mentality. Because of this, I believe it is important that we learn to speak the language of college students, that language being, “What’s in it for me?” Offering opportunity to people with disabilities is often rewarded with incentives and I believe we need to be doing that for students who do really well with people like us. Anyone who knows me knows the kind of person I am, but I believe in giving people, particularly college students, something to remember. Here’s why I believe this isn’t wrong. Readers can decide if they will get paid from school or if they will get their pay from the state which is a little more, employers get tax breaks for hiring people with disabilities, and students sometimes get extra credit for writing about a blind person. Not to mention, being a reader or saying that you helped a blind person looks good on your resume. I believe in being nice to people, but when we find young adults who treat us the way we should be treated living in a world that tells them they shouldn’t, we need to thank them for living out what the world isn’t. If you’re blind and have a helpful reader or classmate, write them a note, get them lunch sometimes, buy them a coffee, whatever. Find a way to find out what they like without making them feel like you’re getting too much in their business. If you are sighted, let the blind person you’re around know you’re friends or helping them because you want to, not because you feel bad, you’re bored, or because you need to pay for your car or your student loans. It’s good to hear every once and a while because going to school can be so intense at times. Find a balance between helping them and accepting little thank you gifts, but also don’t take advantage of them because they can’t see.
I know this post is really long, but the topics written about here are important and we can’t bring about change if we don’t discuss them. Thanks for reading and I hope this helps you, whether you are blind or sighted. Please share this with students or anyone you know who needs to read this.
My best to you,