College Life Begins! Preparing for College as a Visually Impaired Student

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The summer before your child enters college is a transitional time. While she's still living at home, she needs to get ready for her life away. An important part of the preparation is making sure that the services she'll need will be ready when she arrives on campus.

Getting a Head Start

One of the first steps is to contact the college's Office of Services for Students with Disabilities to find out what special services are available to help your child during her first days on campus. While the staff may not be able to help with everything, they'll be able to advise your teen about the kinds of services she can expect and what procedures to follow for making arrangements, if possible, for:

  • Early registration for classes
  • Early check-in at her dorm
  • Test accommodations
  • Texts and other course materials in accessible formats

Many colleges allow early registration and check-in for students with special needs. Those two accommodations can go a long way toward reducing the stress and busy pace by making it easier to get around physically and become familiar with the campus before the entire student body arrives.

Before Arriving on Campus

If your child requires an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor, another essential step is to contact the state commission for the blind or her rehabilitation agency to make arrangements for O&M instruction as soon as she gets to her college. The state commission or rehabilitation agency may also be able to help in other ways, such as:

  • Providing some of the equipment your teen will need at school
  • Providing your child with information about other possible sources of financial aid
  • Connecting your teen with the appropriate state agency if she'll be attending college in another state

What to Bring to College

Your child may be wondering about what to bring with her and what other arrangements need to be made in advance for moving in and getting settled before classes begin. The college itself is the best source of that information and should be contacted at least a month before the school year begins. Your child should also start to think about what she needs to make her dorm room comfortable—keeping in mind that dorm rooms are usually small, so she'll have to use the space wisely.

Anecdotal Information Can Help

Another way for your teen to prepare for her new way of life is to talk with friends, siblings, other relatives, and other visually impaired college students and adults about their experiences in starting college. What was moving in like? Were they scared? How did they handle getting acclimated? Having some sense of what to expect in the months ahead can help your child—and you—look forward to the new experience with greater confidence.

But no matter how much advance planning and arranging has been accomplished, as the first day of college approaches, you and your child will most likely feel a range of emotions—excitement, anxiety, and everything in between. This is a big event in your child's life.

When your teen arrives on campus, she'll have a lot to do. In addition to meeting roommates and finding out everything she needs to know about her living, eating, academic, and social arrangements, she'll need to:

  • Move into her dorm or apartment
  • Get acquainted with her counselor at the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities
  • Gain confidence in getting around the campus independently

The list above covers the bare minimum. Therefore, being well-organized and planning ahead will help her to make this transition as smooth as possible. Here's an overview for you in case your child needs a little help from you along the way to her new life as a college student.

Campus Orientation

One of the very first things your teen will need when she arrives on campus is orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction for getting around the campus. Depending on how large the college is, she may need several sessions. She may also need to schedule additional O&M instruction once she's registered for classes and knows which buildings and classrooms she'll be going to.

She should contact the information center at the college to get an accessible campus map and more detailed information about specific buildings. She should also ask for a print copy of the map to give to her O&M instructor, who will probably start with a general orientation to the campus and the surrounding areas.

Arrival at College

You and your child should plan to arrive on campus as early as possible. If she's received clearance from the college to move in a week before the check-in date, it's a good idea to use the entire week to settle in and get familiar with her new environment. There are many different buildings and areas on campus that she'll need to access.

Learning the Ropes

The following is a list of important buildings and areas, in addition to the general layout of the campus, that your teen should get familiar with as soon as possible.

  • Information Center
  • Her dormitory, including her room, the cafeteria, laundry room, bathrooms, showers, emergency exits, and any special features
  • Office of Services for Students with Disabilities
  • Office of the Registrar for tasks such as registering, paying tuition, dropping or adding classes, and other administrative details
  • College bookstore
  • Library
  • Student center, including restrooms, lounges, study areas, and cafeterias
  • Academic advisor's office
  • Local shops, restaurants, convenience stores, pharmacies, delicatessens, and so forth

Once your child is comfortable with getting around this new environment, there are a couple of other key points you might suggest:

  • Get involved in various activities to meet friends and perhaps develop new interests.
  • Get comfortable about advocating for herself!

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