On being visually impaired at Goucher.

By: Theyen Kile

Hello, my name is Theyen Kile, and I am a visually impaired student at Goucher College. This brief essay will endeavor to discuss three of the main problems that the visually impaired face every day on campus, and their current solutions. This essay is mainly to put into perspective the things visually impaired students deal with every day that no one ever thinks about.

College life can be challenging, even for those “normal” students, let alone for those who struggle with visual impairment every day. The first among these daily challenges of the visually impaired is small print. Small print is a problem, but what counts as “small”? The average text on a professor’s door is only large enough for me to read at a distance of two feet as an example. College maps or signs constitute another another challenge.

The library catalog system is nearly impossible to read, especially when the text has faded due to age. In order to read those kinds of signs or labels, one must get extremely close, or bring out magnifiers. To use these methods is awkward and time-consuming at best and maddeningly unproductive at worst.

Reading the board is nearly impossible, whether it is blackboards or word documents shown on a projector. Professors like to think they don’t write a lot of things on the board in this day and age, but they do. There are ways around this problem as well; having the professor email you the notes, requesting a note taker, and recording the class via audio are just a few options. While these are more than acceptable accommodations the constant need to keep track of all of these various sources is just one more thing a visually impaired person has to do. The struggle to “accommodate” for small print is one that continues every minute of every day.

Text size is not the only problem for the visually impaired on campus, the external steps themselves can pose a hazard if one is not careful. To the visually impaired, the steps surrounding the outside of Van Meter hall can blend in with the rest of the paving stones, which creates¬†steps that cannot always be seen. The internal steps are marked with a steel band which makes them easier to see. It is a shame they haven’t been placed on the external ones. Stairs and maps aside, navigating the campus is pretty easy because of its layout, the online map, and the numerous people that are nice enough to point one in the right direction. All things considered, even with these problems, getting around campus is quite easy.

Participating in class discussion and referencing specific material in class can be a problem. The citing of material in class, let alone the act of sifting through new material introduced in class can prove a challenge to those students who have visual impairments. Scanning text using magnification is an option, but it can be slow, and the use of audio is not always an option. During class discussion, remarks are usually kept to more general terminology as bodies of text can prove slow to sift through in real time.

This is combated through careful note taking and highlighting of the text while at home, in anticipation of the following class’s discussion. However, this usually leads to a lot of highlighted text and extra note taking on the part of the student which then takes up more of the student’s time at home, merely so they can participate in class later in the week. Visual impairment can also affect one’s ability to read out loud effectively, and exercises where one reads their own work out loud can prove painful. These are just some of that visually impaired students face in order to participate in class on a daily basis.

The daily challenges of students with visual impairments are far reaching and ever present. The challenges of overcoming small text, low contrast stairs, or the struggle to reference material in class merely represent the tip of the proverbial iceberg. These problems are small, but they add up and make every extra or new task that much more of a struggle in the daily life of a Goucher student.

(Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photography)

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