Whenever I speak about my experiences with working with a teacher of the vision impaired (TVI) in Virginia Public Schools, people are often surprised by how many lessons my TVI taught me in high school, even though I did not see them very often. They inspired me to learn so much about the world of vision impairment and assistive technology, and they are one of the main reasons I started my own website about those two topics. However, there were moments during my first year of college that I wish they had taught me certain things about transitioning to higher education, or at least given me some guidance about how to learn about them. Today, I will be sharing ten things I wish my TVI taught me about transition and preparing to go to a four-year college.
Questions to ask when choosing a college
I toured four different colleges in high school and came up with a list of several questions to ask when choosing a college. Some of the questions included information about on-campus housing, Disability Services, and on-campus navigation. Even though I feel like I covered a lot of information, I would have loved to have my TVI's input on what to look for in a college since they likely had several students in previous years that attended college and were successful in doing so. Even though they didn't help with the college touring aspect, they did tell me which college on my list was the most likely to follow my accommodations. The college they recommended was my top choice school and the college I attend today!
Orientation and Mobility skills
Back in high school, nobody really understood how bad my vision was and how it was going to change in the future, including me. As a result, I did not receive any orientation and mobility (O&M) lessons while in school. Due to my vision loss progressing, my DBVI case manager suggested I start using a blindness cane my first day of college with a cane I got off of Amazon and very little idea on how to use it. I found myself constantly wondering why no one had offered me O&M lessons sooner, and it took two years for me to learn to navigate confidently with my cane.
How to get disability services in college
My TVI told me when I was a sophomore in high school that once I graduated from high school, I would have to figure out how I was going to get accommodations in college and that they couldn't help me with that. This was surprising to several of my friends, since their TVIs had helped them get accommodations for college through their college Disability Services office, which can be a very confusing process. After learning about how helpful their TVIs had been in helping them gather documentation and selecting accommodations for the classroom, I was a little bit jealous of my friends who had received so much help, since I had to research everything on my own. On the bright side, I have since created a bunch of resources about navigating Disability Services in college that TVIs can share with their students and families.
Requesting accessible materials and textbooks
My school district had very limited resources for assistive technology and vision impairment, so there were many times that I didn't have access to accessible materials and textbooks in the classroom. In college, I have had plentiful access to accessible materials and textbooks through the assistive technology department, which is something I am very thankful for. I wish that my TVI had taught me how to request accessible textbooks when needed and which formats to ask for, because when I had first requested an accessible copy of a textbook I had no clue what to ask for. It also would have been helpful to know the process for requesting materials in advance and asking for audio description and captioning services when needed.
Selecting assistive technology
My TVI encouraged me to learn everything I could about assistive technology and would have me talk to them about things I read about online. Unfortunately, I did not have access to any physical devices such as video magnifiers that I could interact with in the classroom. When it came time for me to figure out what assistive technology I would need for college, I was very confused since I didn't know which devices would work best for me or what specifications I would need. This was especially true when I was researching text-to-speech software, since I had never had any experience with it before. If I had been introduced to different types of assistive technology in high school, it would have helped me prepare to use it in college so I could focus on learning new material, not new technology.
Disclosing disability in college applications
Should I tell my college that I have a vision impairment? This was a question I went back and forth about for several months. At the time, I did not have access to a TVI, so I wrote two essays for my college applications and submitted them both- one was on my vision impairment, and another was on an unrelated topic. I figured out how to phrase things on my own, but I definitely wish that my TVI had helped me figure out how to talk about my disability in a positive way.
- Disclosing Disability In College Applications
- Why You Should Submit A Video Essay
- How To Nail A College Interview
Using Protection and Advocacy organizations
Before I got to college, there was an issue that demanded my immediate attention but that I could not handle on my own. I had just learned about Virginia's Protection and Advocacy organization a few weeks after graduating from high school and decided to contact them. While I don't want to provide details about the exact circumstances that lead to their intervention, I can say that they were able to save the day and ensure I would be successful. I remember being surprised that my TVI did not tell me about this wonderful, free service that was available to me and how they could help me with more complicated situations, and have since told every vision impaired student I know about how helpful these organizations can be when handling discrimination, housing issues, or other situations.
Receiving vocational rehabilitation
Two days before I graduated high school, the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired called my house and asked if I was graduating. My mom and I were very confused until they explained that they had randomly found my file from freshman year and noticed that I would be able to receive vocational rehabilitation services during college. One of the main things I wondered was "why didn't I find out about this sooner?" Through vocational rehabilitation, I have been able to get assistance with purchasing assistive technology, ensuring that my college remains accountable with providing me services, and giving me access to a case manager who is knowledgeable about a variety of other state services.
- Vocational Rehabilitation for Students With Vision Impairments
- Seven Benefits of Having a Case With State Departments for Vision Impairment
Tips for gaining employment
I took a class in high school called Computer Information Systems that allowed students to receive Microsoft Office Specialist certifications as well as learn important skills for gaining meaningful employment such as job interview tips, how to fill out a job application, and practicing social skills such as making eye contact. Since people with vision impairments have a high unemployment rate, it is important for TVIs to ensure that their students are able to learn these important job skills and practice them before they go in for their first job interview or fill out an application.
How to connect with other vision impaired students
I was the only student identified with vision impairment in my school district and never met another student with low vision until I got to college. Since then, I have seen how valuable it is to hear another student's experiences with low vision in college, and I wish my TVI would have allowed me to meet other students around my age with vision loss. I can't exactly walk around the dining hall and find other students with tinted glasses or blindness canes, so I know that reading or listening to other student experiences would have been amazing. I hope that other TVIs will encourage their students to read more about college and transition from the perspective of other students going through the same thing.
During high school, my TVI encouraged me to self-advocate for everything, right down to justifying to teachers why they should give me accessible materials, and this skill helped me tremendously before coming to college. I do not blame my TVI for any problems I have had in college, as I have been able to be successful, but I know that my college experience would have been a bit simpler if they had taught me these ten things when preparing to transition. I hope that these lessons are able to help benefit other TVIs and their students, and help them to be successful with the educational goals they choose to pursue.