January 31, 2017

Giving Blind and Visually Impaired High Schoolers a Head Start on the College Experience

Guest Blog by Tovah Miller, Perkins College Success Program Director

There’s no place more energizing than a college campus. However, many colleges fall short when it comes to accessibility for students with visual impairment. That’s why college can be challenging – physically, socially and academically – for these young adults.

In fact, according to the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2), 6 out of 10 visually impaired students do not graduate.

Perkins - Grousbeck Center at nightCollege is a whole new world – and, in many cases, it’s the first time a young adult is away from home and on their own (i.e., without the day-to-day support of parents, family and a network of educators). That means arranging for necessary accommodations, signing up for their own classes, managing their own schedules – plus the added responsibilities of laundry, shopping for food, cooking and cleaning, as well as the rigors and realities of everyday life.

“You’re responsible for yourself – there’s no one to fall back on.”

Meet Adam. He’s a current college senior who is visually impaired. Adam is doing well in school now, but acknowledges that he faced some challenges along the way. When asked about what it was like early on – and some of the things that surprised him – he shared this insight:

Advocating for the proper accommodations

“In high school, it was easier for me because my parents worked things out with the school – they were the ones to push to get what I needed. When I got to college, they were no longer there. It became my responsibility. I had to figure out quickly what I needed and what I needed to say. Sometimes you’ll hear ‘no’ for something you need and think they shouldn’t be able to tell you no. You need to work your way through – it’s another hurdle you need to overcome.”

Balancing free time and academic responsibilities

“College is different – you have two or three classes a day, maybe four if you have a really tough schedule. Then the rest of your day is free to manage your time how you want to manage it. It’s much less structured. You’re more independent… but you also have a lot more homework and you’re the one managing your time. There’s no teacher emailing you or calling your parents to say you’re not doing well or completing assignments on time. You’re responsible for yourself – there’s no one to fall back on.”

Living with roommates

“Living on my own in a dorm was… interesting at first. I definitely was pretty shocked by the amount of independence you really needed – especially learning to live with other people and learning to be independent while adapting to those other people. I wasn’t prepared to have to accommodate for them as well as explain to them how they could be accommodating to me. Just living all together in harmony like that was something I was not ready for.”

Preparing the Foundation for Success in College

The statistics are sobering and there are certainly challenges – but with the right approach, a solid plan and the right resources, a successful outcome is within reach.

Perkins - students in classWith that in mind, Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Massachusetts just launched College Success @ Perkins, a selective, nine-month residential program for college-bound high school graduates – as well as students who have spent time in college and want to hone their skills so they can return ready to succeed. The program provides a solid path for these students to continue their academic success while preparing for success in college, career and life.

College Success @ Perkins, which kicks off in September 2017, is designed to help young adults who are blind or visually impaired make the most of their time in college. Participating students will have the chance to experience campus life in Boston, take college courses for credit, refine self-advocacy and essential independent living skills, navigate the social aspects of dorm living, master the latest mainstream and assistive technologies, create meaningful connections, and get exposure to influencers at top local companies.

The program was specifically designed with an emphasis on:

•         Giving students an edge: Students will earn credits, become accustomed to the daily routines of campus life – and enter their freshman year fully prepared.

•         Building the foundation for a successful college experience: A defined application process and individualized support will ease – and ensure – the path to college admission.

•         Focusing on the individuals: The program will be tailored to each student’s unique needs.

•         Availability of financing: Perkins is working closely with state vision rehabilitation agencies to ensure this program qualifies for Pre-ETS funding.

A True College Experience – Both On Campus and Off!

Students on the subwayThis is an experience for the student, driven by the student. The curriculum encourages both academic and personal growth – in addition to core classes, students will have a wide selection of fun elective courses and seminars to choose from.

With Boston’s highly accessible public transportation system (including buses, subways and even ferries) just steps away from Perkins, students will also have the run of one of America’s best college towns – from afternoons at Fenway and evening concerts on the Charles River to shopping at the local mall and making quick latte stops at Starbucks.

As part of the program, every student also gets a membership to Boston Sports Clubs – providing access to basketball, swimming, running, cycling, Zumba, yoga and more…whenever the urge strikes.

The Bottom Line: With Preparation, the Sky is the Limit

The potential for an amazing, successful college experience is there – and College Success @ Perkins is built to help young adults who are blind and visually impaired tap into that potential.

College is the next step they’ve been waiting for – the chance to make new friends, pursue studies that will lead to careers and live on their own. It’s all about new beginnings, exciting opportunities and breaking free to discover who they really are. College Success @ Perkins will make that experience worth the wait.

Want to learn more? Program details – as well as an application – can be found at www.Perkins.org/College. For additional questions, please contact Tovah Miller, program director, at CollegeSuccess@Perkins.org or 617-972-7728.

Want to check it out for yourself? On Saturday, March 4th, Perkins will be hosting an open house reception from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. All are welcome to attend for an opportunity to tour the living spaces and state-of-the-art campus, as well as meet with students, faculty and administrators. To register for the open house, click here.

Learning Ally is a partner of Perkins School for the Blind offering audiobooks and support. The national nonprofit also offers it’s own College Success Program for blind/visually impaired college students nationwide. To find out more about Learning Ally, log onto Learning Ally.org.

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– Jules Johnson


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