Imagine being blind and heading off to college on your own. Visual ability is most people’s key to navigate the world. For me, my blindness is one of the obstacles of life that I have to overcome.
I am a blind student at Azusa Pacific University.
For the last three years, I have been living on my own. As a blind person, this has been an ultimate path of independence.
For starters, my mode of moving around is different from sighted people. A white cane is my tool to traverse different places like streets, campuses, shopping centers, outdoor open areas and so on.
As with any new student, orientation is necessary to navigate a new college campus.
Sighted people in college orientations tend to rely on their eyesight to navigate new places. In my case, my freshman welcome weekend was descriptive.
This meant that I was given special orientation guidance; each building was described to me while we walked along the campus.
Most colleges do not know how to handle people that are blind during orientation presentations or campus tours. Orientation is very visual, so a blind student needs sighted guide assistance.
Sighted guide is the form of assisting a blind person by either guiding them using the sighted person’s elbow or shoulder. In many cases this type of assistance is used when a blind person is not familiar with a place.
I am grateful that my mother was there to accompany me as my sighted assistant throughout the orientation process. This was a relief because we had traveled far from our home in Tennessee.
I would not know how to start off orientation if it weren’t for the sighted assistance of my mom.
Once I was settled into my living area freshman year, my nervous anxiety began to disappear.
Being away from home was new. My mom and dad were letting their blind son fly out to California for college from Memphis, Tennessee. It was hard for my them to even let me go in the first place.
It was not an easy task to convince my parents, but they knew that my independence was a key factor in me becoming a successful human being. Embarking to a new place like Azusa Pacific University was the right choice for me to make.
Since I grew up in a Christian family, coming to a Christian school made my parents calm because the teachings of Christ would be a part of my academic career.
As for accommodations for disability, APU did not know how to handle specific needs for blind students. This was a challenge for me in my freshman year since the faculty and staff did not have experience working with blind students.
I had the opportunity to let them know about strategies to aid my academic performance. For them, this was a new chapter of learning about blindness on a different level.
Additionally, they got to see the assistive technologies that I use for my daily tasks. This was a form of exposing them to how I functioned in society as a blind person.
Assistive technology is the form or functionality of an electronic gadget that meets the needs of those who require additional assistance in using the device. For example, a screen reader is an application that reads all the content of a screen to a blind user, and it is controlled by using key commands.
The navigating process of getting to my classes was smooth. I am grateful to the disability center for providing multiple workers to accompany me and guide me to my classes for two weeks.
I only requested two weeks of assistance, not because the disability center limited my access to sighted help, but because I wanted the full independence of traveling on my own to classes.
I was assisted by disability services for two weeks to learn how to get from my Engstrom Hall dorm room to classes, Cougar Walk, dining places on campus and other parts of the school.
My journey of meeting new friends was challenging. For one thing, as a blind person, it is not easy to put yourself out there with the lack of having eyesight.
Most of the world has the tendency to communicate by using eye contact or visual gestures. As for me, auditory senses must kick in for me to distinguish if someone is there on the spot. It can be a bit intimidating to meet new people if you cannot see them.
Fortunately, though, many peers in my classes were eager to meet me. Most of them came up to me and introduced themselves. This relieved me of searching around for friends freshman year.
I believe that maintaining confidence in myself made me more open to people in my college journey at APU. As a blind person, in many cases, low self esteem can hinder the potential of making successful friendships
I can say with all honesty that APU has been a community of love and care. I have no complaints about managing friends, living accommodations or the level of Christian values that the school offers.
In my experience, the disability services office has done their best to accommodate my needs to ensure the best education that I can possibly receive.
I know that it is not enough, but my journey of attending APU may have paved the way for blind students in the future.