Visually impaired and blind students: transition tips and a case study

By Dr Melanie Thorley, *AccessAbility Team Coordinator, University of Greenwich

Going to university can be a scary (but exciting) thought for the majority of new students. Possibly moving to an unknown area; meeting hundreds of other students and staff; getting to grips with the academic workload; and navigating around a campus can be unsettling. This can be further complicated if the potential student is blind or visually impaired (VI).

We have developed a few transition tips for VI and blind university students to hopefully ease some of the anxiety and worries. Feel free to share these tips and get in touch if you have questions or would like more detail.
 
Top tips for transition:

  • You need to decide whether to stay at home and go to a local university, or move away to study at a university elsewhere.
  • Apply for Disabled Students’ Allowances (DSA) as soon as you complete your UCAS application. This will hopefully ensure the funding is in place when you start your course.
  • Visit each university you have applied to – this will enable you to get a feel for the campus and/or surrounding area. Some university campuses are compact, with everything from classes to accommodation being in close proximity whilst other campuses can be sprawled over a wide area.
  • If you have a guide dog, ensure there is access to outside space for exercise and toileting.
  • Meet with the disability team before you enroll to gauge their knowledge of your requirements. They will also act as your advocate should you need support, for example, academics refusing to provide PowerPoint slides before the lecture.
  • There is much assistive technology which can assist VI and blind students at university. We suggest you learn how to use the most appropriate technology before you start. This will give you time to practice before lectures begin and assessments are due.

A VI student case study: Dami at the University of Greenwich

In terms of preparing for university, I did a few things. I spoke to the University and the *AccessAbility Ambassadors and got some amazing advice about how to prepare for the university experience. I think one of the best ways to prepare is to make sure you have an idea of what the university has to offer and what they can do for you because it’s no good just turning up to a university and not having much information about them! I think some online research into a university is good and also allowed me to find out where everything is so that when I started I could find my way around and quickly.
 
When I was approved for DSA (Disabled Students’ Allowances), I received a laptop and larger screen that I used to work on. This made it more effective for me to work. In addition, I also received an audio recorder so I could record lectures to listen to later. This meant I could recap what was said in a lecture if there was a large amount of information to take in.  It also meant that I could use the information during assignments and therefore have better knowledge of a subject. In addition, I had software on the computer which helped increase the size of what was on the screen to make it easier to see (Supernova software) and this was very effective.
 
I was very involved within the Students’ Union. I was the Disabled Students Officer for the first half of 2017 and this was amazing because I had a big opportunity to represent disabled students and ensure that their experience was smooth, positive and effective, so for me that was really exciting! I also got to attend the Disabled Students Conference which is organised by the NUS every year. Now, I am working with the Students’ Union  during the Freshers’ period, which is now known as Welcome 2017, and helping students to settle into university and making sure they have a smooth start by assisting in any inquiries or problems. I was also employed as an *AccessAbility Ambassador which gave me even more experience, including speaking at conferences in a variety of universities. All of my work at Greenwich was challenging to say the least but it was a fun and exciting experience.

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