It is that time of year when college bound high school seniors and their families begin to be filled with excitement, nervousness, and anticipation. College decision letters are being torn open by trembling fingers; families are having long talks and debates about which college is better or cheaper or closest to home; and eventually, students are making the final choices that will determine the next step in the rest of their lives. It is scary and stressful, joyful and exhilarating all at once. When the college bound student also has a vision impairment, these feelings can be intensified. While students may be thrilled to strike out on their own, to develop and prove their independence, parents and teachers may feel some anxiety about how their child or student will fare without the steady supports she is used to getting at school and home. They may find themselves up at night wondering, have I taught her enough? How will we know that she is ready? What if she gets lost, or she breaks her glasses, or some college kid takes the tactile markers off the washing machine and she can’t wash her underwear?
Worrying is a natural part of the transition process. It is also a completely normal part of being a parent and a teacher. However, as you prepare for your high schooler to head off to college either this fall or in a year or two, there are a number of things you can do to ensure she is well prepared. In this post I have developed a list of concepts specific to college readiness skills for students who are blind or visually impaired. This is not a post about necessary skills to be ready for college—in that realm I would strongly emphasize orientation and mobility, assistive technology and computer skills, and self advocacy. Rather, this post is centered around what college is like, and developing a sound understanding of what the next step will entail. College readiness skills are undeniably important, but having a strong conceptual grasp of the challenges, expectations, and opportunities to come will help a student with a vision impairment proceed with intelligence and confidence. Check out the list below for ideas on preparing a student for college academics, dorm life, campus activities, and financial aid literacy.
Concepts for Academic Life
- What might a weekly college course schedule look like? How does it differ from a high school schedule?
- What is a full course load?
- What is a syllabus?
- How are various college classrooms set up? Lecture halls? Seminar rooms?
- What are your rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act?
- What are various ways of taking notes in class?
- What are various alternative formats for accessing printed materials?
- Who is available to help if you are having trouble accessing course materials?
- Who is available to help if you are struggling in a class?
- What might a typical college reading assignment involve? (I.e. how many pages/night?)
- What happens if you skip class? What happens if you do not complete your work or if you hand in a late assignment?
- What is plagiarism?
- What resources are available in a library and how can you access them without vision?
- How is a library typically set up? What kinds of individual and group study spaces are available?
Concepts for residential life
- What does a dorm room look like? What furniture does it include and how does it differ from a bedroom at home? How big is a typical dorm room?
- What kinds of options are available for dorm room storage and décor? (A trip to a place like Target or Bed Bath and Beyond during the summer is a great way to get a feel for college dorm storage bins, lamps, etc.)
- What is a public restroom/shower like and how is it different from a bathroom at home?
- What are typical hygiene protocol for college dorm bathrooms/showers?
- What is it like to live with a roommate in terms of logistics? What are some ways to share and respect shared/divided space?
- What are some snacks and meals that can easily be kept and prepared in a dorm room?
- What are some ways to read food packaging labels, microwave buttons, etc. so as to prepare food independently?
- What is the safety protocol for exiting a dorm building during a fire alarm? (Burnt popcorn leads to many fire alarms, often at very inopportune times of day!)
- How do coin or card operated laundry machines work? How might public laundry machines differ from washers/dryers at home? What are some ways to make public laundry machines accessible?
Concepts for campus life
- What is the typical set up of a dining hall?
- What is the typical routine in a dining hall (i.e. getting tray, buffet lines, what to do with uneaten food and dirty dishes)
- What are some strategies for making a dining hall accessible (accessing menus, getting/carrying food, finding a seat)?
- How is mail sent or received on a college campus? How do you open a mailbox? What are accessible alternatives to using combination locks?
- What kinds of events happen on college campuses? What are ways to learn about events without the ability to see signs and posters?
- What are some ways to access printed materials from a club or other extracurricular activity? (Hint: the ADA applies to extracurricular activities, not just coursework!)
- What are strategies for if you get lost, need help, or feel unsafe?
- What are ways to feel and remain safe in loud, high stimulus events like dances or parties?
- How does alcohol affect senses, thought processes and behavior? (This is not meant to scare students or parents, but is an important concept to grasp when you have a vision impairment. Understanding the potential effects of alcohol can help students put themselves in safe situations when they or those around them are drinking.)
- What is a work study? What kinds of jobs are available on campus?
- What is the FAFSA and why does it matter?
- What is an expected family contribution (EFC)?
- What are grants?
- What is a scholarship?
- What are loans? Subsidized versus unsubsidized? Private versus government sponsored?
- What is the role of a state vocational rehabilitation agency in college financial assistance?
Do you have more ideas for college readiness concepts to add to this list? If so feel free to share them in the comments below!