Going to university is an exciting experience. Student life is an important part of this and you will find some helpful information and tips from other students about their experiences and how they made the most of being a student.
Moving away from home
One of your biggest considerations when moving to university will be where to live. Most students in their first year will live in university halls of residence, and then in later years move into private accommodation.
Halls of Residence
Depending on the size of the university, there will be various different options to consider when selecting what is best for you. If your vision impairment affects you in getting around and living independently, it would be beneficial to discuss with the universities Disability Support Office and accommodation office to consider which options would be most suitable for you. Here are some points to consider:
Location – if your vision impairment can affect you in getting around independently, it is worthwhile getting advice on which halls of residence have the easiest routes for getting to the university buildings (for example routes which avoid difficult crossings).
“...the university prioritised my choice, because obviously having a visual impairment, having a disability - they do that. That was fine.”
Type of accommodation – the type of accommodation available tends to range from ones with fully shared facilities (i.e. shared bathrooms and kitchens) to studio apartments (with private kitchen and en-suite bathroom), additionally, some universities also offer catered accommodation. Consider which of these types of accommodation would suit you best before making a decision. Some students report being directed by staff towards catered accommodation or en-suite accommodation because the staff had made the assumption this would be most appropriate type of accommodation for them. However, in reality the students would have preferred the opportunity to cater for themselves.
“It was just how it worked out. I put my first choice as self-catering, and then I got put in catered, and I got a phone call from someone in disability saying we think it will be easier for you if you go to catered, because it’s right next to the halls.”
Other students - some students shared that they were placed by the university with postgraduate/foreign students, which they found quite isolating as these students were older and at a different stage in their studies. When choosing accommodation, ask the staff which types of students normally live there.
Modifications – consider what modifications you might need making to your accommodation, and request these in good time for the start of the year. Modifications could include extra storage, a larger desk, different lighting, and tactile markings on kitchen and other equipment.
“The room wasn’t so much modified, it was more the living area, the lounge and the hobs and things like that. For instance, with the hobs, the dials were brailled, all the dials had braille symbols on them…I managed to arrange that with the accommodation management.”
Moving in early – it is worthwhile investigating whether you will be able to move into your accommodation early to get set up and start learning routes around the area you will be living in, before other students arrive.
“I would say moving in early and start familiarising yourself, make sure the room is big enough and that you have got enough space at a desk.”
Layout - it would help you to settle in more quickly if you to feel that you can access the facilities in your accommodation such as the bathroom, kitchen, laundry room and so on. You can contact disability services to ask if you can be shown around your accommodation so that you are familiar with the layout. You might also want to ask to be shown how to use certain appliances such as the cooker as these may be different from what you have used previously. It would be worth thinking about the above sooner rather than later and orientation around your accommodation may form part of the mobility component within DSA. Therefore you could also talk to your needs assessor for DSA to ensure that orientation in and around your accommodation is included in your needs assessment.
We asked some students what advice they would give to other students with vision impairment moving into university accommodation. They said the following:
“…make sure the room is big enough and that you have got enough space at a desk. Don’t to be afraid to ask for stuff like extra plug sockets, because I did – in my first year flat I needed one so I asked and I got. So don’t be afraid to ask, no question is too much”
“I think I’d say have the building in a location which is easy to point out from the rest. Like the way that the building is structured where I was is really confusing as nearly all the buildings are the same, so that area you could get really really lost in. And also at a place where… basically a place where you don’t have to cross as many roads, go through carparks and such. The problem with where I was, was the fact that the lights weren’t working, and I had to cross a bridge over water. There were no lights and it’s incredibly dark, no fencing so I could have easily fallen in. I think that’s one of the biggest things I’d say – make sure its somewhere they can find in the dark.”
Negotiations with flatmates – talking to new flatmates about your VI would be very useful in terms of ensuring that you are familiar with your surroundings. In the kitchen for example, you could ask to have a certain shelf in the refrigerator or cupboard so that you know where your possessions are. You may also wish to explain that it is very helpful to you if they return shared appliances to their original positions after use so that you are able to locate them easily and can also avoid these becoming potential hazards or obstacles.
“As I had already moved into the flat two days before the start of term, I had already established a shelf in the fridge and cupboard and my flatmates were very understanding...they took the initiative in stating that they would try not to leave things lying around that may become an obstacle as for me, such as sharp cutlery on the counters...It wasn’t daunting to talk to them and they were very helpful.”
After your first year, you may choose to move out of university accommodation and into private accommodation. This option can offer a number of benefits, such as giving you the chance to move in with friends, cheaper accommodation and the freedom to live there over the holidays. Don’t forget to consider the same points as above in terms of adjustments, and other whether you will need extra mobility and orientation around your new area, and to learn the route to and from campus.
Many universities have small supermarkets on campus where you will be able to get everyday items. These can have a limited selection and be more expensive, but many students find them helpful.
“The other really helpful thing is, they have got a student union shop which is on campus, and that’s got most things.”
Some students with a vision impairment have found it helpful, first time, to go to the supermarket with friends, or to get a taxi using their Personal Independence Payment/ Disability Living Allowance contribution. Alternatively, some young people have found it helpful to do their food shopping online, and highlighted how accessible Apps can be for this:
“I am getting Tesco delivery at the minute. I did it once last term, because it was a four week term, so I did a shop when I got there with my parents, and I got Tesco delivery half way through the term, and that worked out fine, they go to campus and the main reception, and then reception calls me and directs them to my halls, and I meet them at the door and they bring everything into my room and they read out the like substitutions list or whatever they have got. So that worked out fine last term. I only did it once, but it seems fine.”
Starting at University can be a nerve-wracking experience. One piece of advice that is given year on year to prospective students is to make the most of Freshers’ week and relish the opportunity to meet new people and get involved in as much as you can.
Read our Freshers guide to find out about other people’s experiences of starting university and making friends.
It can be helpful to consider how you want to talk about your own vision impairment, if at all. Don't feel that you have to answer people's questions, if you feel they are just being nosey. But, sharing some information about ways that your life can be made easier, or giving some advice about sighted guiding, for example, might help you as you develop your independent life away from home.
Questions to consider:
Are there things around your accommodation that your flatmates should be aware of? Perhaps putting kitchen equipment back in the same place? Leaving lights on?
Do your friends understand when to help you out (in the dark, in unfamiliar places perhaps), and when to leave you alone?
“It is difficult because… probably one of the difficulties I found is learning how to tell people I was visually impaired, because you wouldn’t, by looking at me, because my condition doesn’t affect my eyes you wouldn’t know I was visually impaired. So learning how to tell people, and introducing yourself. You can’t really introduce yourself by saying ‘Hi, I am Andrew, I am visually impaired’. That’s not the way you make friends is it?…If we were out to eat for example, if there was a menu I clearly wouldn’t be able to see it, I would just say then, but it’s best to do it at the initial stages of the friendship rather than the late stages, because if by the time you are good friends with someone and they don’t know that you are visually impaired, then it can become quite difficult, because when you do say they will wonder why you kept it from them…. If someone had told me beforehand about the struggle, the big struggle which I had with telling people, learning to tell people that I was visually impaired, learning how to explain to people, if had people telling me that beforehand then I would have tried to practice. (Dan, 2nd year university student)
We asked some third year undergraduate students whether they had any advice for other blind and partially sighted students starting university for the first time. You can read their experiences of meeting new people in our Student life – Fresher’s guide.
Additional support (social services, volunteers on campus)
You may wish to make contact with the local social services department near your University to ensure that your needs are met. This usually consists of making a phone call and arranging an assessment whereby aspects such as mobility, independent living and so on can be looked at. Thus, a plan of action can be made ahead of your starting at University. If you feel you would require assistance from social services, the sooner you can contact them prior to starting University, the better.
In addition to the above, student volunteers may also be able to help with different aspects of student life i.e. students have asked volunteers to assist with sighted guiding and campus orientation. Others have asked for assistance when taking their guide dogs for a free run or when using sports facilities. Don’t hesitate to explore how volunteers may be useful for you – or indeed, to become a volunteer yourself if you wish! Enquire to your Disability Support Office about whether your university have student volunteers.
“Social wise I have joined a few new clubs and societies and I have got a buddy, they have set up a new scheme, like a peer mentoring system, so I have got a buddy to come with me to one of the societies, because it’s like a volunteering society, so I have got a buddy coming there to support me when I am volunteering”. (Aimee, 1st year university student)
Coping with stress
University can be a very exciting time for many people but studying may also be stressful and this is a common concern for University students. In a recent study by UK Healthcare (2015), 41 per cent of students reported feeling stressed at some point during their studies. Stress can occur as a result of money worries, pressures of coursework and examinations, relationship or housing worries, and so on.
Hayley’s Story - Hayley shared her experience of a stressful event and how she dealt with it.
"All was going so well for me; I settled into halls and found some great mates but then half way through it all changed! Due to flooding in the halls I was living in I had to change houses and starting again was very stressful. I found myself sharing with new people, discovering I could not easily find my friends or lectures anymore and struggled to find my way around. On top of the pressures of my coursework I couldn't cope with all the extra things to think about - then I got flu, missed a deadline and ended up really stressed. To cope I turned to my school friends who I emailed lots, I also made an appointment with my tutor, and got in touch with the Student disability adviser who easily sorted out some mobility training so I felt confident in my new routes around campus. I can now look back knowing I survived the experience and even feel proud of the skills I learned along the way but at the time it was really hard going."
Tips for handling stress
With multiple deadlines approaching, we offer some tips for dealing with stress and some sources of support for those of you who find you can’t shake off that stressed feeling.
Get informed – Finding out about the most common problems associated with student stress can aid in dealing with the problems that are getting you down.
Talk to your Disability Support Office – they may be able to make suggestions of support that you could draw on, or help you negotiate some adjustments with your course leader to take off some pressure
Talk to your friends and/or personal tutor – You will not be the only person who may be stressed and it will be comforting to know that you are not alone in feeling this way.
Use your University’s counselling service – This is a free and confidential service which can be very useful, particularly if you are facing new challenges associated with University or when assessments are approaching.
Talk to your GP – If you feel that your stressed feeling is not to do with everyday events, but rather is connected to issues surrounding your physical or mental health, chatting to your GP about your feelings of stress can help to work out the root cause(s).
Contact the RNIB Emotional Support Service (ESS) - This is a confidential telephone support service which can support you to identify what you need and the best way to get it as well as one-to-one telephone counseling. You can contact ESS through our Helpline (0303 123 9999) and ask to be referred to the Emotional Support Service or you can email us at email@example.com.
Panic attacks are also very common around examination time. If you are concerned about this or want to know a bit more you can find further information at www.mind.org.uk or visit your university counselling service.
Sometimes, stress is unavoidable but there are numerous ways that you can alleviate stress and Michelle has this suggestion:
Michelle’s Story - "Writing down how I was feeling often helped me. I keep a journal everyday and sometimes I would write letters to my friend about how I was feeling. I also took up yoga and made sure I was eating a good diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables. Deciding to stick to activities I enjoy whatever else was going on in my life really made a difference. Whatever else was going on, nothing would interfere with my weekly de stress swimming session."
Health and Wellbeing at University
Whilst at University, you should ensure that you are looking after yourself, both physically in terms of academic studies, and emotionally. Vast numbers or organisations are available for you to utilise whilst at University.
Our guide to Health and Wellbeing provides useful information on a number of these organisations with information about what services they provide and details of how to contact them.
Our Helpline is your direct line to the support, advice, and products you need to face the future with confidence. If you or someone you know has a sight problem, our specialist advice workers can help.