Challenges I face as a blind university student

Post date: 
Wednesday, 18 October 2017
Image shows Keely laying on grass with her guide dog, Izzy

Being a university student can be hard, but Keely Grossman has to deal with more than most due to being blind. Keely opens up to try raise awareness of sight loss among her sighted peers.

I’ve just started my fourth year at university and I think it’s finally time to speak about what it’s really like to be a blind student, as it’s important that my sighted peers understand.

Here are seven challenges I face on a regular basis and how they could easily be resolved:

1. People who close doors on my guide dog

It happens all the time – usually because people aren’t paying attention. My issue isn’t that you’ve decided not to hold open the door for me, but letting it close on my guide dog, Izzy, is not okay. Since her job is to prevent me from getting hit by any obstacle (including doors), she tends to walk a little ahead of me to guide me around obstacles. So if a door closes on us, it really closes on her. This can lead to her feeling anxious or uncertain what to do. Either hold the door open, or don’t – but be mindful of when you close it.

2. Barriers that arise in social situations

Looking back on my earlier years at university, this memory especially hurts…
 

For some reason, people seem to think that when they’re out with a blind person, they are responsible for that person.

I’m here to kindly remind you that this isn’t the case – I am responsible for myself and am perfectly capable of looking after myself. During my first year, I was basically told that I wasn’t welcome to go to a party because I was a burden. The party was off-campus and my entire floor was going. I was reassured that they’d take me to one that was on-campus another time instead, but of course they never did.

People assume they know what I can (or can’t) do before they get to know me, and regardless of what I tell them. Facing “difference” with discomfort won’t make you a well-educated or well-rounded person. I used to think that those people had missed out on getting to know the real me and in turn I had missed out as well. I realise now this isn’t the case, because I’ve found a couple of close friends who treat me as an equal and couldn’t care less about my blindness. 
 

If you’re blind and experiencing this, hang in there – you’ll find true friends eventually too.

3. You knowing me, but me not knowing you

Whether it’s because of the student club I founded for people with disabilities or because I’m the girl with the dog, people at my university seem to know who I am and want to say “hi”. It’s great, but it’s also important you tell me who you are so I can learn to associate your voice with your name and say “hi” back.

4. Disrespect towards my guide dog and I

I’m not referring to a situation where a person approaches me to ask a question about my guide dog or my visual impairment. I’m referring to people who don’t announce themselves and just start either petting, talking to, or taking pictures of my guide dog without my knowledge or permission.

Always ask first! It’s important that when Izzy’s harness is on, you give her respect as a working guide dog and me respect as her handler.
 

Remember, your actions could put my life in serious danger if Izzy becomes distracted.

5. Formatting assignments

Every student knows the format that professors generally want assignments in: double spacing, size 12, Times New Roman font, and something to do with margins that I’ve never understood. My rule is that it’s my job to edit my work to the best of my ability and not to rely on a friend.

For those of you who might be in the same position, here are some of my strategies that might help when submitting work:

  • When I print my work, I always go to my university’s library to have it stapled. That way, the staff there remove any blank pages and put them in order for me.
  • If it’s an assignment I need to submit online, I find that Pages (the programme that I use to do my work) is horrible for screwing up the formatting when viewed on other people’s computers, so now I submit them as PDFs.
  • All of my professors are required to give me a word count (as opposed to page counts), since my computer can tell me where I am on a given page, but not how far down I am on that page.

6. Lack of braille

At my university, the room numbers and assignment submission boxes don’t have accompanying braille. It makes things unnecessarily difficult and I need to rely on help from others just to accomplish simple tasks. Braille is a form of communication and it helps people who are blind to navigate the sighted world – it needs to be kept up to date and appear everywhere it could be useful.

7. Feeling like I always have to prove myself

The truth is, I know I don’t need to prove myself to anyone, but sometimes I feel pressure to show my sighted peers that I can do what they can. I try not to fall into this trap – I do things because I want to, not because I’m trying to prove anything to anyone.

 

Source: This article originally appeared on The Mighty and has been republished with permission of the author.

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