Back to School Tips for Older Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

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Irwin Ramirez at his desk

It is back to school season and thousands of students are returning to elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities. Many visually impaired students have to do special preparation to go back to school. As a graduate student I would like to suggest some tips in preparation for school. Preparation is very important for a student’s success in college but the most importantly in my opinion is your attitude about school. You have come this far in deciding or being enrolled in an institution—now with a little motivation and perseverance you will help yourself in the process of acquiring knowledge and skills that will help you succeed in your career. These are my suggestions for a visually impaired student in preparation for school.

- Request accessible books and materials. As part of your adaptability in school having the books in an accessible format is indispensable to perform readings and assignments. Find out if the book is already offered in an electronic format such as ePub, PDF, or audio recording. You may be able to request materials from the publisher through your services office. An alternative option is scanning the textbooks and converting them in accessible format such as word files or searchable PDF’s. However, this is time consuming and it should be done as a last resource if the materials cannot be found as an electronic format.

- Arrange accommodations in advance. The accommodations that a student needs are unique so therefore work closely with the service provider at your institution. Having the accommodations in place might imply several factors depending on your specific needs. Even though you might not need a lot of accommodations, it is important that the accommodations are in place to ensure you will not be at a disadvantage from your sighted peers.

- Introduce yourself to professors. Having good communication with your instructors will be highly beneficial for both parties. Professors might be able to better help you. In case issues arise, they will know how to better assist you.

- Research the courses you will be taking. There are advantages of picking the right classes. When you are aware of the classes you will be taking you only increase your chances of success. Not only can you discover if there will be any accessibility issues but you can also find out if you will enjoy those topics. Studying topics you are genuinely interested in is a motivator to keep you engaged. After all, school is about learning.

Develop a plan to perform tasks. An important tool is keeping a “to do” list. This will improve your time management skills and will help you meet deadlines.

- Practice time management skills. This involves scheduling your time accordingly. You can prioritize tasks. This is an important skill to have. This will help you keep projects on track and meet deadlines.

- Read the textbooks if possible. If you were able to manage to obtain the books in advance, it is a good idea to glance, read, or scan through them. This will give you an idea of what will be covered and required from you in the new semester.

- Get acquainted with the classroom location . It will be more convenient to be familiar with the classroom layout, location, and the most accessible way to get to a particular place in school. Knowing the location of the places in school will only make you more confident in navigating there.

-Find out how accessible the websites are. If the websites aren't accessible, plan accordingly. If the site isn't accessible, see if you can find a substitute for the class or work directly with professors to get the materials in an accessible format. Chances are that you will have a lot of interaction with websites. Many classes are offered online now. Not all educational sites are 100% accessible but it will be very useful to know what parts are or are not accessible. Make sure you can have access to the most important information such as announcements, handouts, or pages to submit assignments.

- Find out about the activities and events that your school offers. Time in school is a great opportunity to grow academically but also to develop socially as well. There are always many activities going on in schools, so try to find out about them. That is a good way to get involved with your school, get to know more people, and network.

- Get involved in clubs and organizations. An advantage of being involved in clubs is that you can build your resume. You can also get good connections for different careers in a particular field. It is a great opportunity to network. Many of the people in those clubs share particular interests. Thus, you can build your own network of friends that share a particular interests.

You might be able to identify many other tips to prepare for school. My list contains just a few sets of things in preparation for school, so please feel free to share your ideas and information with others.

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