Perkins School for the Blind, located in Watertown, Massachusetts, serves thousands of children and young adults with vision impairment worldwide. As part of an eLearning program for teachers of the visually impaired, Perkins created Paths to Technology — an online community and resource for teachers, students, and their parents to support children and young adults with technology and their transition to adulthood.
Preparing for college when you have a vision impairment is a unique experience. Like many of my other peers, I had to learn how to fill out a college application, navigate my future college campus, and choose a laptop for school. But unlike my peers, I had to figure out which colleges would welcome students with vision impairment, how to create accessible materials, and learn how to use assistive technology software and devices that would help me to be successful in the classroom. These are skills my teacher of the visually impaired, or TVI for short, assisted me with developing so I could thrive once I got to college.
My TVI frequently reminded me that I needed to learn important transition skills for college on my own and that I couldn’t just rely on my teachers for help. They taught me to ask questions about how I get my accommodations and accessible materials, so that way I wouldn’t be left wondering where to find large print textbooks or what font sizes and styles I can read. By the time I left high school, I could confidently hold a conversation about screen magnification, using colored backgrounds to reduce glare, how to make accessible documents on my computer, and even how to program the copier to enlarge classroom materials. I also could explain why I needed these accommodations and could identify what factors made things difficult for me to see, which was an invaluable skill for college.
When I was looking at colleges, my TVI encouraged me to develop an explanation for how I see, and describe the specific barriers I face with my sight loss. Instead of just sharing a diagnosis and expecting people to understand it, I was able to talk to staff at potential colleges about my issues with reading small print, walking through areas with bright light, and similar barriers. I also shared how I get around these barriers by using assistive technology devices such as video magnifiers, tinted glasses, and even blindness canes so that I can access the world around me, since the world isn’t in large print with an inverted display.
The biggest gift my TVI gave me before I left for college was the ability to self-advocate and the knowledge that I would be able to face any situation I was given. More than 50 percent of college students with vision impairments stop attending college after the first year, mostly for reasons related to their disability, but my TVI ensured that I would have the confidence to speak up if I ran into an issue in the classroom or workplace, and find a way to solve the problem. No matter how intimidating the situation may be, I know that I can find a solution and continue to be successful with whatever I do.
Writing for Paths To Technology has allowed me to share the impact my TVI had on me, and how developing strong transition skills today can create strong and confident college students for the future. I’ll be thinking of my TVI and everyone else that supported me when I get my diploma in May!