Future Reflections July 1982, Vol. 1 No. 4
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Leaving home to attend college is a time of excitement and apprehension for any young person and his parents. For a blind student and his parents, this moment may have some special concerns and arouse some fears and uncertainties. The student will be on his own (or should be) in handling classroom procedures such as taking notes, taking tests, finding readers, making sure he has the textbooks he needs when classes begin, etc. Your son or daughter may also be asking themselves, "Will people accept me? Will I be able to make friends and participate fully in college life?" Then, too, your son/daughter may suffer the humiliation and discrimination of being rejected, or subjected to special tests, solely on the basis of his blindness, by a college during the application process.
The National Federation of the Blind has two resources available to you and your child which can be most helpful from the moment you begin to plan for college, to the day of graduation. First, the NFB has published a book called POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT: A RESOURCE GUIDE FOR THE BLIND, VISUALLY IMPAIRED, AND PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED. This book provides guidance on everything from "Tips on Techniques" to "Use of Rehabilitation Services," "Financial and Employment Assistance ", "Resumes", "Getting a New Job and Working Toward Promotions" and many other topics. For information on how you may obtain this book, see Literature and Book Review in this issue. The second resource is the National Federation of the Blind Student Division. Below is a personal account of a young woman who found the Student Division helpful during her college days. Following that is a statement of Approach and Goals by the NFB Student Division. The statement is an excerpt from chapter 7 of POSTSECONDARY EDUCATION AND CAREER DEVELOPMENT: A RESOURCE GUIDE FOR THE BLIND, VISUALLY IMPAIRED, AND PHYSICALLY HANDICAPPED.
by Christine Roberts
When I left home in 1977 to attend the University of Colorado, I knew that I would have to fight to be accepted by my fellow students, and I felt there was something dreadfully wrong with a world whose inhabitants treated people like me as inferiors simply because we happened to be blind. However, at that time in my life I thought that I could do nothing to remedy this situation. During my sophomore year, I became involved with the Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind and things began to change. I met large numbers of blind students, some of whom were totally blind and others who had varying degrees of partial vision. These people were involved in all aspects of college life: Student Government, Politics, Social clubs, Community affairs, etc. In addition, they were working to ensure that blind students had the same opportunities and privileges as their sighted classmates.
I joined the Student Division and we talked about dealing with our blindness, and about helping those around us to deal with it as well. I learned that it is important to approach one's Professor at the start of each new term, and to discuss the practical aspects of being a blind student. The Professor needs to know that we should be expected to participate in each course to the same degree as the other students. We can answer questions in class, write papers, and deliver presentations. When taking exams, we will find it necessary to employ some alternative techniques but this will not present a problem. We might bring a reader to class to assist in reading multiple choice tests and marking the answers we give. The reader is not there to give us the correct answers and this fact must be made clear. When taking essay exams, we might Braille the questions before class and take them to another room to type the test.
As far as the blind student's involvement in campus life is concerned, the idea that it is more difficult to gain acceptance if one is blind is true to a certain degree. This is an unfortunate fact which the National Federation of the Blind is actively working to change. The NFB taught me that my own attitude could play a major role in helping others to deal with blindness. I learned that if I met each new situation with confidence and self-respect, if I spoke openly about my blindness, volunteered to work, hold office, and participate fully in group activities and the like, people would soon come to accept me as an equal.
There are two things which blind students should always remember: first, it is respectable to be blind; second, the thousands of men and women who make up the National Federation of the Blind are the most qualified resource available to anyone who happens to be blind.
Christine Roberts graduated from the University of Colorado in 1981. She now works at the Denver Public Library as a Kurzweil Program Director. She publicizes the Kurzweil Reading Machine and instructs blind persons in the operation of the machine. In regard to the change in her life after her experience in college and with the NFB Student Division, Christine had this comment: ". . . [In High School] I used Braille for reading only, and then just in the privacy of my room. I used my white folding cane when crossing streets, but upon reaching the safety of the opposite curb, I folded it away and walked on, staring at the ground and trying to appear sighted... [Now] my long white cane and my slate and stylus are with me at all times and I have the confidence which comes from the realization that it is respectable to be blind."
Our Approach and Goals Statement by the Student Division National Federation of the Blind
Perspective and needs of disabled students must be expressed by organizations in order to be effective and accomplish change. The Student Division of the National Federation of the Blind consists of blind persons throughout the country who are pursuing postsecondary education and planning careers. We are grateful to those who have preceded us for the work they have done and for the advances they have made available to us. We have a great deal of work yet to do. It is our responsibility to identify our needs and seek solutions to our problems. This we are actively doing.
But the future problems of discrimination in employment are not the only ones facing blind students today. A blind student must often submit to standards not required of other students. One midwestern university requires special medical and psychological evaluations before it admits blind students at all. After admission, it continues to control their lives through a disabled students' center which selects dormitory rooms, approves classes, hires readers, handles disciplinary problems, and generally dominates the lives of the students under its jurisdiction.
Beyond these, there are many other areas needing attention. A good public relations effort, pointing out successful blind people in academic achievement or campus affairs, will help pave the road to full employment. Another type of project concerns employment opportunities in various fields. Often these projects lead to discoveries of channels of employment for the blind. In addition, blind students should take the lead in improving educational opportunities for those yet to come. Continued improvement of federal rehabilitation laws can help, but much attention must now be focused on the stte agencies administering the laws. Many states could do much more than they are doing now to encourage blind persons to acquire a college education.
In most states, the library services are in need of upgrading, something which blind students should be prepared to assist with. Furthermore, educational opportunities for blind children require much attention in order to make them equal in terms of curriculum and course content. All of these matters must be faced squarely by the organized blind, and what better branch to carry the ball than blind students?
It must be emphasized that all blind persons have benefited from the work of the National Federation of the Blind. We students should be grateful to this organization for leading the way toward more adequate library and rehabilitation services, but the task is not yet complete. Of course, it will not be until we have the freedom to study whatever we want and the proper materials for studying it. Much of the responsibility for achieving this goal is in our hands. If we do not take positive action for the good of all, we will continue to be forced to justify our place in college.
The National Federation of the Blind Student Division hopes that many blind students will recognize this necessity for collective action and that they will work closely with state and local affiliates of the NFB. For information and membership, write to Student Division, National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, Maryland 21230.
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