and Responsibilities in Higher Education
Waegele © 1999
Published by The Student Advocate and The Sixth Sense
Going to college is an exciting
experience. Despite the constant
struggles with financial aid, roommates and cafeteria food, millions of college
students learn valuable life experiences that will enrich their education.
However, students who are blind are often deprived of these enriching
experiences due to access barriers that block the road to an equal education.
The American’s with
Disabilities Act (ADA) and The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
(IDEA) promote equality in the work place and a free and appropriate education
through high school, but what is offered for college students who are blind? Section 504 of the Rehabilitation act of 1973 is one civil
rights law that has included this population into the college environment.
According to Section 504, “No otherwise qualified handicapped
individual in the United States…shall, solely by reason of his handicap, be
excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to
discrimination under any program or activity receiving financial assistance.”
Colleges receive federal aid, which is what qualifies them to fall under
Any person who is blind can attest
to the lack of respect for civil rights legislation for people with disabilities
and as you will read, laws can have vague language and are difficult to
implement. Therefore, it is up to
the individual student to self-advocate for him or herself.
During an interview, Dr. Diane Bassett, professor of special education at
the University of Northern Colorado, commented that “self determination and
self advocacy skills” are the two key factors for any students’ success in
higher education. Although
IDEA legally requires each student to begin a transition program at the age of
fourteen, which may include college preparation, these plans will not do any
good if students are not determined to succeed and also work on some of their
own adaptations independently. In
college, “students cannot rely on someone else to do it for them”.
need to know how to ask for the things they need in an appropriate way” Dr.
Bassett also commented. Aggressively
demanding services or threatening to sue professors who do not accommodate a
student’s needs will not do that student any good.
Section 504 outlines some of a student’s responsibilities that are
essential starters for self-advocacy in college education, they include:
-Providing notification of a
disability, including the cost of documentation of a disability, such as an
optometrists report indicating blindness.
-Providing adequate notice of the
need to receive accommodations to the proper office and professors.
(By law, colleges may not tell professors they will have a student with a
disability in their class.)
-Providing information that will
assist the proper people in accommodating a student’s needs.
-Any personal equipment or readers
used by the student at home is also the students’ responsibility.
According to Section 504, a college’s responsibilities
-Delivering accommodations in a
timely manner, providing the student gave adequate notice.
-Providing adaptive equipment at
school for school use, which does not have to be the newest or most
sophisticated on the market.
-Any services that are provided to
students must be made available to a student with a disability.
This includes the health and recreation centers, sporting events and
other activities. Assistance in
filling out federal financial aid papers is also covered by section 504.
According to section 504, colleges may not:
-Limit the number of students with
disabilities on campus
-Give admission tests without equal access
-Deny admission based off of disability
-Limit financial assistance
-Advise a student to major in a
more permitting career for a person with a disability
-Measure achievement by means of a
Several other areas are covered
under section 504, such as attendance at private schools, treatment of non-U.S.
Citizens and students not seeking a degree.
Based off of Section 504, Dr.
Bassett’s valuable information and my own experiences in college as a student
with a visual impairment, I suggest the following:
-Visit prospective colleges one and
a half years prior to desired start date. During
this visit, evaluate the campus’ accessibility and visit the Disabled
Students’ office. Visit
dormitories, are they close to class buildings, are there laundry facilities and
other necessary places near by? Is
there close off campus housing, if so, how far are grocery stores?
Is there a bus line in town, if so, how reliable is it?
-Find a support network of people
in this town, such as Vocational Rehabilitation, and an Orientation and Mobility
instructor. Get into contact with
other students who are blind attending that college, they can provide you with
any other information you may need concerning the college.
Inquiries, such as these, will
assist you in narrowing down your college application selections.
-Apply to college at least one year
before you intend on beginning. This
allows time to apply for financial aid and scholarships, which are usually due
in February or March of each year.
-Several months prior to your first
semester, talk to the director of the Disabled Students’ Office.
Books in Braille or on tape take several months to order.
Therefore, you may be able to register for classes early, which allows
books in your preferred format to be ordered and arrive on time.
-Schedule sessions with an
Orientation and Mobility instructor weeks before your first day. Have your class schedule ready, along with a list of places
you will need on campus. Provide
this list for the instructor a head of time so he or she may locate these places
and help you learn routes to them.
-When at school, approach
individual professors assertively when discussing your vision impairment.
Tell your professor what accommodations you make for yourself and what
you may need from them. Telling the professor the types of adjustments you make for
yourself will not make it seem as if you are placing all of the responsibility
on the professor. Explain to the
instructor how to make accommodations for you.
(For example, if you need large print handouts, explain how to enlarge
font sizes on a computer or copy machine.)
Collaborate with the professor and disabled students’ office on how to
accommodate other situations you may not find a solution to.
You will encounter professors who
will not make accommodations for you, or treat you differently than your peers.
This is when appropriate and assertive self-advocacy is most important.
-Set testing accommodations well a
head of time to avoid added stress during midterms and finals.
You may think you are going to
college to get an education, however, you are providing an education to all of
your peers. Like it or not, other
students will watch how you take notes, read, get around campus and socialize.
This is your chance to break stereotypes they may have about blindness.
Get involved in campus activities.
Learn about other cultures, take electives outside of your major,
volunteer to speak to teacher education classes about their future students who
may have vision impairments, your presentation may be the only lesson they have
Adapt these basic guidelines to fit your own needs and find what works best for your own individual self. In either case, my final, and most important advice: enjoy your college experience and HAVE FUN!