Everyone’s experience in college is a little bit different. Large schools, small schools, city colleges, rural colleges, different majors, party schools, college sports, 4-year schools, community colleges—no matter where you go, the experience of school means something different to every student. But one thing that is true no matter where you go: during your college years you’ll be meeting tons of new and different people. And when meeting new and different people it’s important to learn how to be more inclusive and understanding of people from different walks of life than your own.
I should know. I’m blind and use a white cane (whose name is Dean by the way). My experience might be a little different than other people that are blind or visually impaired. In my experience, walking into a classroom as a blind person on the first day of the semester is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I’m not sure how students or instructors will react to me when they see me walk in with my white cane. I’ve had students ask if I need help finding a place to sit. I’ve had instructors say hello and welcome. I’ve also had experiences where no one knew what to do, so I had to speak up and ask if there’s a place to sit. The first day is tough for everyone, especially if you can’t see as well.
From my experiences, these are some ways you can be more inclusive:
Don’t be shy, I’m pretty friendly. Say hello and introduce yourself just like you normally would. Tell me your name, and maybe ask if I need help with anything.
Finding a Seat
If it looks like I need help finding a seat, the best thing to do is ask if I need help. If I say I need help and you’re close by, let me take your arm, above the elbow.
Given Descriptive Directions
You can also help by giving descriptive directions, left, straight, right, etc. Avoid using phrases like “over there,” or “this way.” That could mean anything to a person that’s blind. If you’re a student, and you’re sitting beside me, most likely I don’t realize you’re sitting there.
Announce When You Leave & Arrive
If you walk away, let me know casually like, “I’ll be right back,” so I don’t start talking to my invisible friend. Same thing when you return, “I’m back!”
Add Your Name
If we pass each other in the hall and you say hi, also add who you are. For example, “Hey Tiffany, it’s Bob.” It really helps a lot.
Tips for Instructors
Another way to be more inclusive, especially during the first day and beyond, is if you give handouts. Emailing them ahead of time is particularly helpful. I’ve had instructors email PowerPoints to me, or articles that will be gone over later in class.
No PDFs Please
A pro-tip for instructors, PDF’s don’t work for me since I use a screen reader. Quick lesson on screen readers, basically it’s a voice on the computer, tablet, or phone. You use keyboard shortcuts, or touch screen gestures to move around the screen. Anyway, if you’re not sure what kind of format to use, just ask, but mostly Word documents work best.
As Part of the Lesson, Get Used to Describing Things
Let’s say you didn’t have time to email the document. That’s ok, it happens. There are other ways around it. I’ve had instructors that, without being asked, describe the images that are on PowerPoints. They do it so naturally like it’s part of the lesson. Maybe they do that for the people in the back of the room, but it’s still appreciated. Most just read what’s on the PowerPoint or summarize is a better word for it. They also mention that it’s on Blackboard, so I’m able to take a look at it if I need to. I’ve had an instructor that reads handouts out loud if he forgot to send it. Some instructors do the same thing as they’re writing on the board. However, I’ve had instructors that don’t do this, and I have to ask.
Remember, everyone’s experience is different! Nothing is a one size fits all, but when in doubt of how to make someone feel more at ease or included the best thing to do is to just ask. Never assume anything. We all want to feel included and any step—large or small—can make a difference in feeling included.