How to start college if you’re blind or visually impaired

How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

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.

Use College Raptor’s free match tool to discover personalized net price estimates, college matches, acceptance odds, and potential financial aid from schools across the country!

Set yourself up for success by visiting schools, signing up for the SATs and sharpening your skills

How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

Add “preparing for college” to your summer to-do list.

It’s almost summer vacation, and that means beach days, barbecues and a break from the dreaded alarm clock. If you’re blind or visually impaired and plan on going to college in the next few years, the summer months are also the perfect time to work on your applications and boost your resume with internships or volunteer experiences. The more you prepare now, the more likely you are to be accepted into the school of your choice, and have a great college experience when you get there.

Below are five steps you can take to start preparing for college this summer, and still have time for fun. Get started today: check out the College [email protected] program.

1. Visit large colleges in your area

Most larger colleges and universities hold summer classes, which means their campuses will be just as vibrant in July as they are in September. Before you visit, make a list of amenities that matter most to you – large dorm rooms, an informed campus accessibility office, a robust theater program – and then write down your initial impressions as soon as possible. You’ll likely be touring many colleges before making any decisions, and this will help you remember what you thought of each one.

2. Look into internships and job shadow opportunities

The summer is always a good opportunity to bolster your resume with an internship or other type of job experience. Reach out to family contacts and check in with your state commission for the blind to see what openings are available in your area. If an internship isn’t an option, ask if you can visit a worksite for a day of job shadowing. Either way, you’ll gain a better sense of your career interests, which will help you maximize your college experience for future success.

3. Start your Common Application and prepare for standardized tests

Even if you don’t know where you want to apply, chances are at least one of your selected schools will require the Common Application. Summer is the perfect time to get working on the essay portion of the application. Once you’ve finished, pick two trusted people to read it over and give you feedback. If you haven’t taken the PSATs, ACTs or SATs yet, sign up for a late summer or fall test date now. Give yourself time to request any accommodations you need, like a large-print or braille version or extra time. The accommodation request process can be lengthy, so the sooner you study the requirements, the better.

4. Challenge yourself

Have fun this summer, but also commit to a few activities that help you develop skills for college. If you’re nervous about making friends at a big university, join a club that forces you to improve your social interaction skills. If you’re already part of an organized activity, consider taking on a leadership role that will help you strengthen your communication and advocacy skills. Even little things like preparing lunch independently or doing your own laundry will help you enter college with confidence.

5. Attend a Perkins workshop and learn more about College Success

Sign up for one of Perkins’ College Success workshops designed specifically for college-bound students with visual impairments. Our first workshop, College Application Strategies for Blind and Visually Impaired Students, will be held September 28 from 6-7:30 p.m. on our Watertown campus. Look for an email invitation this summer and check the College Success website for more workshops this fall.

These five tips are a great starting point for college readiness. To continue the journey, consider applying for the nine-month College [email protected] program, where you’ll have a chance to dive deeper into these topics, take college courses for credit, maximize your mobility and technology skills and emerge fully prepared for college success.

Tovah Miller is the director of College [email protected]

By Molly Clarke; reviewed by Gary Heiting, OD

How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

Being legally blind or visually impaired not only poses physical and psychological challenges: it also can be financially burdensome.

In addition to direct costs — such as those associated with doctor visits, medications, nursing home care and guide dogs — there also are indirect costs, such as the inability to work and generate an income. Lack of income, combined with ongoing medical expenses, can cause financial difficulties to spiral out of control.

Fortunately, in some cases, Social Security Disability benefits can alleviate some of this financial strain. The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers two programs that people who are legally blind or visually impaired may qualify for:

Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

The SSDI program pays benefits to you and certain members of your family if you have worked long enough and paid Social Security taxes.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI).

The SSI program pays benefits based on financial need and is intended for low income individuals and families.

The Social Security Administration’s Definition Of Legal Blindness

The SSA defines legal blindness (also called statutory blindness) as best corrected visual acuity

of 20/200 or worse in the better eye; or a visual field limitation such that the widest diameter of the visual field, in the better eye, is 20 degrees or less.

When you apply for Social Security Disability benefits, the SSA will compare your condition with a listing of conditions known as the Social Security Blue Book. Legal blindness and visual impairments are covered under Section 2.00 of the Blue Book under “Special Senses and Speech.”

Section 2.02 covers loss of visual acuity.

Section 2.03 covers contraction of the visual field.

Section 2.04 covers loss of visual efficiency.

The Blue Book listings appear on the Social Security Administration website, and they include information on which tests are used to measure visual acuity, visual field and visual efficiency.

Applying For Social Security Disability Benefits

You can apply for Social Security Disability benefits online at the SSA website or in person at your local Social Security office. When applying in person, make sure you bring copies of all your medical records related to your disability.

These records should include a history of your diagnoses, a history of your hospitalizations, the findings of physical and mental exams and a personal statement from your treating physicians about the limitations caused by your condition.

You will also need to bring your employment history and financial records.

When applying online, you may be able to submit your medical documentation electronically.

You will receive a decision regarding your disability claim within three to six months of the date of your application. If you are approved for benefits, your notice of award will provide information about receiving your first disability payment.

Filing A Disability Appeal

If you are denied benefits, you have 60 days to file an appeal. The first step in the appeals process is to submit a request for reconsideration.

If reconsideration is granted, a disability hearing is scheduled to determine if you are eligible for, and should be granted, disability benefits.

Seeking Help

If you find the application or appeal process too difficult, or if you are denied benefits, you can always contact a Social Security Disability attorney or advocate. These professionals can make sure your application is correct and complete; and if your case is denied, they can help you understand why and what you need to do to strengthen your case to overturn the SSA’s decision.

Molly Clarke is a writer for Social Security Disability Help, a website owned by a for-profit marketing organization that offers its site visitors access to attorneys and advocates. All About Vision has no financial relationship with this marketing organization and cannot vouch for the accuracy of information found on its websites.

How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

Grants for Recovering Alcoholics

Losing your sight can be a traumatic experience, but grants, scholarships and awards are available for people who are suffering from visual impairment by providing financial assistance. Whatever your circumstances, whether you are partially sighted, totally blind or require glasses, help is available. Government agencies and charities provide funding to help if you are out of work.

Visual Impairment.

Visual impairment covers a wide range of visual problems, ranging from near or far-sightedness, which can be corrected with glasses, to total blindness caused by glaucoma or cataracts.

State Support

State government agencies offer several types of help, including support for buying eye glasses, eye exams, glaucoma screening and providing adaptive aids for the home. Contact your state’s aging agency directly. There is also a tax deduction for blindness and details of this are also available from your state’s agency for the visually impaired.

Lighthouse International

Lighthouse International recognizes outstanding students who have overcome their blindness and gives them grants to help fund their college or graduate studies. Applications are made via its website and must be submitted by an annual deadline. These require statements of visual status from your ophthalmologist, documentary evidence of your academic record and school status, plus two recommendations from people outside your family. You also need to write two essays summarizing academic achievements, career goals, study interests and extra curricular activities.

Charitable Aid

Several organizations help people with visual impairment. These include the National Eye Care Project, based in San Francisco, which gives medical and surgical assistance to financially-challenged people over age 65. It puts people in touch with an eye doctor who can treat them for free. The Knights Templar Eye Foundation in Chicago, is a charitable organisation which provides research into eye conditions but also pays for surgical treatment and hospital care for people who suffer eye diseases or injuries. New Eyes for the Needy is a charity that provides glasses for those who cannot afford to pay for them.

Getting Back to Work

Help is also available for those who have suffered visual impairment who want to get back to work. The Disability gov website provides links to Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) which allows people with disabilities to work and still receive financial help and medical aid. Tax credits are also available and more information is available at the website.

  • Full Circle Care: Financial Assistance for the Visually Impaired
  • American Council for the Blind: Sources of financial assistance for the blind and visually impaired

Lynne Milford has been a journalist since 2003. She trained at the “Scunthorpe Telegraph” before working as health reporter for the “Colchester Gazette” for three years. She has also tried her hand at magazine writing for “Full House.” Milford holds a Bachelor of Arts in politics from the University of York.

What support will I get at college?

The support you receive at college will differ from the support you received at school. You may not see your Qualified Teacher for the Visually Impaired any longer and you will be taught by a new team of staff at the college.

  • a support teacher or worker, or a sighted guide
  • materials in alternative formats such as braille or large print
  • assistive computer technology, for example closed-circuit television
  • computers with speech synthesisers and magnification.

Assessment of your needs at college

Attend a ‘taster’ session

The college environment is likely to be very different to the school environment you are used to so it may be worthwhile seeing if you can attend any ‘taster days’ in college to see if you like it and the course is right for you. Your teachers/QTVI may also be able to put you in touch with someone older than you who has been to the college and will be able to tell you about their experiences.

Funding support

Colleges receive funding in order to provide reasonable adjustments and make sure learners with a disability or impairment have the support they require. Find out more in our funding at college pages.

Technology support

  • Technology to support your reading (Word, 459 KB)

Donate now

Right now we can only reach one in three of the people who need our help most. Please make a donation and help us support more blind and partially sighted people.

Published on May 6, 2018 | Last updated on September 24, 2020

How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

Being blind or visually impaired presents many challenges throughout one’s life. There are many great associations and organizations that can help mitigate those challenges. Whether fighting for equality of opportunity and accessibility, removing barriers, providing resources, or educating about prevention and treatment, these associations and organizations are the best at what they do. If you are blind or visually impaired, you should never hesitate to contact them for assistance. If you know someone who is blind or visually impaired, you can use this list as a resource to help answer any questions you might have. Here are eight associations and organizations that help people who are blind or visually impaired.

Organizations That Help People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

American Council of the Blind (ACB)

Founded in 1961, the American Council of the Blind is made up of individuals who are blind and visually impaired, that want equality and independence. There are many sighted members as well. As stated on their homepage, their mission is “to increase the independence, security, equality of opportunity, and quality of life, for all blind and visually-impaired people.” To receive further information, click here.

American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)

The American Foundation for the Blind prioritizes the following; providing resources for those with vision loss and their families, making technology more accessible to those who are blind or visually impaired, and helping professionals with impaired vision, by augmenting the tools and quality of information available to them. The AFB, whose main headquarters is located in New York City, has been around for a long time, having been founded in 1921. It has offices in Washington DC, West Virginia, and Georgia as well. You can contact them here.

Blinded Veterans Association (BVA)

The Blinded Veterans Association was founded at an Army hospital by a group of World War II veterans in 1945. It currently stands at more than 11,000 members. Its services are available to any veteran who has become blind during or after active duty. Its mission is to “help veterans and their families meet and overcome the challenges of blindness.” Click here to learn more.

Guide Dogs for the Blind

Established in 1942, this guide dog school has campuses in California and Oregon. It was founded due to the need for service dogs to help those wounded who were coming back blind from World War II. Their mission to empower lives “by creating exceptional partnerships between people, dogs, and communities.” Click here for their contact information.

Foundation Fighting Blindness

This non-profit funds research relating to the prevention, treatment, and cures for all retinal degenerative diseases. These diseases include Usher syndrome, Stargardt disease, retinitis pigmentosa, macular degeneration, and more. Since its founding in 1971, it has raised more than $500 million. Click here to learn more.

Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

This charity offers support and information to nearly two million with sight loss in the United Kingdom. Queen Victoria was the first patron of this 150-year-old organization. More than 3000 volunteers support RNIB’s efforts. RNIB aims to challenge avoidable sight loss, improve eye health, and promote access to treatments. Click here for more information.

Lighthouse International

Lighthouse International is a leading worldwide resource in assisting the visually impaired overcome their challenges. Founded in 1905, Lighthouse International fights against vision loss by emphasizing empowerment, prevention, and treatment. You can help support them by becoming a volunteer or advocate. Click here to learn more about Lighthouse International.

National Federation of the Blind (NFB)

The National Federation of the Blind, headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, is the largest organization led by people who are blind in the USA, at about 50,000 active members. They participate in the World Blind Union, maintaining something of an international presence. They have a handy list on their website of products that make the world more accessible for those who are blind or visually impaired, including ones such as OrCam MyEye. Click here to learn more about this organization.

This is only a small sample size of the associations and organizations that help people who are blind and visually impaired. There are many more organizations that help people who are blind all over the globe. If there is a glaring omission on this list, please let us know in the comments section below.

Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB)

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind, also known as the CNIB, was founded in 1918. The organization’s initial objective was to provide people who are blind and visually impaired with clothing, shelter, and education.

At its foundation, the organization started off with only twenty-seven employees serving 1,500 blind people, mostly in the Toronto area. Today, there are over 1,100 professionals and over 10,000 volunteers who work with the CNIB in every region in Canada.

Services provided by the CNIB include education, travel advice, emotional support, social issues, housing, finances, and many others. More information about what the CNIB offers and how to contact them can be found here.

What support will I get at college?

The support you receive at college will differ from the support you received at school. You may not see your Qualified Teacher for the Visually Impaired any longer and you will be taught by a new team of staff at the college.

  • a support teacher or worker, or a sighted guide
  • materials in alternative formats such as braille or large print
  • assistive computer technology, for example closed-circuit television
  • computers with speech synthesisers and magnification.

Assessment of your needs at college

Attend a ‘taster’ session

The college environment is likely to be very different to the school environment you are used to so it may be worthwhile seeing if you can attend any ‘taster days’ in college to see if you like it and the course is right for you. Your teachers/QTVI may also be able to put you in touch with someone older than you who has been to the college and will be able to tell you about their experiences.

Funding support

Colleges receive funding in order to provide reasonable adjustments and make sure learners with a disability or impairment have the support they require. Find out more in our funding at college pages.

Technology support

  • Technology to support your reading (Word, 459 KB)

Donate now

Right now we can only reach one in three of the people who need our help most. Please make a donation and help us support more blind and partially sighted people.

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How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

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How to start college if you're blind or visually impaired

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