Unlike with wheelchair-accessible colleges, you might not be able to Google which college campuses are the most suitable for visually impaired students. Because of the spectrum for those with visual impairments—visually impaired, legally blind, and totally blind—there is likely no surefire thing universities can do about their campuses being easily navigable. In addition, each student is going to have different needs when it comes to note-taking, testing, and studying in general. While normal things—tuition costs, how far from home, the quality of the program you’re looking into, etc.—should be taken into account while searching for your perfect college, students with visual impairments should also keep these things in mind.
Start with the School’s Website
While a well-designed website is not necessarily indicative of a school that will fit your needs, it certainly is a good start. If a school is conscious enough to make the website easier to read—whether that means making larger fonts available or streamlining the text for a text-to-speech reader—that might mean they are trying to make themselves more available to visually disabled students. Jon Gunderson reviewed 183 institutions to judge their websites’ text-to-speech capabilities. He ranked Missouri State University, the University of California at Northridge, and California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo as the top three websites (for the other 180 rankings, click here).
Contact the School’s Student Services Office
Colleges and universities must make learning accessible for their students. This goes beyond making buildings and living accommodations suitable for students with disabilities. By contacting the student’s services team, you can inquire what assistance is available for visually impaired students. This can change depending on the school, including having a dedicated note-taker, supplying Braille versions of readings, allowing you to tape-record lectures, and staff/instructor training. If the school doesn’t offer what you need, see if they can accommodate your specific needs.
In addition to asking what the college or university can supply, ask your department if they can do anything. Departments have the ability to be more close-knit; even if the school cannot provide you a note-taker, for example, the department might be able to work something out with you.
You should also ask what documentation the school needs from you in order to prove your need for accommodations. This process, along with how easy it is to request services, says much about a school.
The Surrounding Environment
Some colleges are so small, it only takes five minutes to cross campus. Others sprawl out and about, making campus bus services almost essential to get anywhere. Some universities are in their own little bubble, while others have integrated themselves with the surrounding town or city. These are important factors to consider. Are the crosswalks built with visually impaired people in mind? Is campus a maze? Are there buses you can take instead of walking all the way there? Being able to navigate campus and the surrounding areas easily is only going to improve your experience while at college. It’s always a great idea to go and visit a college before making the decision to study there.
Your Personal Needs
Do you need a text-to-Braille converter for your classes? Do you use a cane or service dog to navigate? How much the school is willing to work with you on personal items you will be bringing with you says a lot. For example, service dogs go with their humans because of the service they provide, and a school should not be able to dispute that. This includes possibly having the dog in the residence hall with you, walking around campus, and going to class. Is there an easily accessible place for your dog to do its business? Some professors don’t like their lectures recorded, either audibly or speech-to-text. However, you should access what you need in order to learn successfully. This includes any extra materials or time you might need for assignments and exams.
Online Material Availability
More and more, college classes post materials online. Scanned PDF readings, lecture notes, charts, research clippings, assignment instructions—you name it, it’s been on an online class site or been attached to an email. Much like the school’s website, this material should also be considerate of those with visual impairments. Talk with the school as well as professors. Make sure that you will have easy access to these materials or an alternative version of them.
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