Braille Monitor                          February 2019

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How the Louisiana Center for the Blind Helped Prepare Me for College

by Vejas Vasiliauskas

From the Editor: Vejas Vasiliauskas is currently a student at Loyola Marymount University and is a junior majoring in English. He says he will likely become a paralegal, and he knows that being able to write clearly will put him in a good position to pursue any number of careers. Here is what he has to say about his decision to attend the Louisiana Center for the Blind (LCB) and the affect training has had on him:

I graduated from high school with a strong academic foundation. The VI program for the most part gave me the support I needed to get Braille material, and my O&M instructor taught me the routes I needed to get to my classes on campus. But as I started applying to colleges, visiting university campuses, and as graduation day approached, I increasingly realized that I was lacking the real-life skills to live independently on a college campus and that I wasn't adequately prepared to succeed in a technologically-oriented academic setting. I also had to admit to myself that I just did not have the O&M skills to freely travel around campus and the community.

Having attended the buddy programs at LCB and BLIND Inc. in middle school and through my NFB affiliations, I realized that I needed focused blindness-skills training. I was thrilled to receive my acceptance letter from Pam Allen at LCB, and I am so glad I took that gap year between high school and college.

LCB is a comprehensive blindness-skill training center. Students attend from all over the country and even all over the world, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. But one thing is for sure: everyone attending the program will be challenged.

I would like to take a few minutes to focus on the different areas of training and how I benefited from them. Orientation and travel were quite honestly my biggest challenges, and LCB was the perfect place to work on this. I had the real fortune of being able to work with Roland Allen, whom many of you know, and who is considered by many to be the best blind travel instructor in the country. Like it or not, I got O&M practice every day because my apartment was about a mile from the LCB campus, and after learning the route, I had to walk to and from school every single day. Roland challenged me and was amazingly patient but had high expectations well beyond those of most O&M instructors. He certainly was not quick to jump in and help me by bailing me out of a tough situation but expected me to push beyond myself and really figure things out. Route assignments started kind of on the easy side and quickly became increasingly difficult and more complicated, but soon I felt confident enough to take a taxi to the grocery store on my own and go grocery shopping, meet friends to go out to eat, and go to church on Sundays. I quickly developed enough confidence in my travel skills that I was able to join in many of the activities in Ruston's Louisiana Tech University Catholic group, including singing in the youth choir and practices, and participating in retreats and weekend socials. In fact, my dad was floored when he asked what I was doing next weekend, and I told him I was going tailgating—you see, I had never even been to a football game before.

It is important to realize that good travel skills and the ability to socialize freely go strongly hand in hand. Fast forward to my first week on campus. The university had told me that they would provide someone to help me get to my classes the first month, but upon arrival, surprise! They said they could not do that. On top of that, the O&M instructor who was going to orient me to campus had the misfortune of breaking her foot that week and was unable to help me. But because of the training I received, I took a deep breath and took advantage of the first few days to practice my routes a lot.

Again, my training paid off. I've been making it to class on my own. I am traveling around campus, participating in my church choir and the campus youth ministry program, and meeting up with friends on and off campus.

Now on to Braille. To be honest, I am a very proficient Braille reader, so I chose to work on my weakness, my slate and stylus skills, while at LCB. I also helped other students with their Braille. Now on campus without a VI teacher to organize my materials, I am using my advocacy skills to make sure I get my materials in an accessible format.

With respect to technology, throughout my elementary education I relied heavily on my BrailleNote and later incorporated the iPhone, but my computer skills were lacking. During computer class at LCB, I dramatically improved my typing skills. I learned a variety of ways to perform the same tasks and used these skills to complete research projects, all skills that I lacked when I graduated high school and now am actively applying as a freshman. A big part of the LCB program focused on living skills, both during class time and after hours. Since you live in a real apartment with a roommate off-campus, and because there is no cafeteria serving food, all students are expected to make all three of their meals every day. I learned all the aspects of managing an apartment, cleaning, cooking, laundry, and sharing a living space with another human being. I now feel very comfortable living on campus, along with 95-plus percent of the freshmen at LMU. I manage my dorm room. I buy some meals in one of the cafeterias or eating establishments on campus, but it is frequently much more convenient to warm something up in the microwave or eat food that I have purchased at the grocery stores near my school.

While at LCB, we also took many trips that were designed to be fun, to facilitate comradery and to challenge us in new environments. We went rock climbing, horseback riding, ziplining, traveled to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras, and attended Louisiana state convention.

So as you can all appreciate, I grew immensely during my nine months at LCB, and my time there really gave me the skillset that I needed to live independently on campus this year, to take advantage of all the social opportunities that school has to offer, and to succeed academically. It was truly an invaluable experience. But it is important for me to point out that although it prepared me for college, there were also many older students there who benefited from the skills that they learned to more fully take advantage of their family lives, their social lives, and their work lives.

As a Californian, you must want the training and be prepared to fight for it. You will need to build your case. I visited the various programs in California, and I wrote a strong justification letter explaining specifically why LCB would best suit my needs. I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank Mary Willows for her assistance in helping me formulate the letter. Thank you so much, Mary.

Lastly, I would like to wrap this up with one very important additional consideration: remember, you are only going to get out of the experience what you put into it, so I encourage you to apply yourself 150 percent. It truly is a golden opportunity to get the skills you need to succeed and live the life you want.

Thank you.

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