College Success Series – Part 1. Getting Ready for Transitioning to College

This is part 1 of 4 in our college success series.

Aired Date: November 05, 2019



Hello. And welcome to Perkins eLearning to Go. Each week, our hope is to provide you with an inside look at special education topics– in particular, visual impairment. Through a series of interviews with leaders in the field and a fresh look at our webcast series, we know you will learn something new when you are on the go. Now it’s time to sit back, relax, and let’s here what this week’s podcast is all about.

Hello. And welcome to Perkins eLearning to Go. This is Valerie. Today, we are bringing you the first part of four episodes dedicated to transitioning to college. Leslie Thatcher and Kate Katulak, representing the College Success program at Perkins, are here to discuss what is important for a student to focus on during their high school years that will better prepare them for a transition to college.

You’re able to listen to the introduction to this series in a different podcast. During the introductory podcast, Leslie and Kate explain their backgrounds and what has led them to college success. For a short recap, Kate is the Associate Director of college success and a certified teacher of students that are visually impaired. As Kate is vision impaired herself, she is also able to provide a firsthand account of her experiences in transitioning from high school into a college setting.

Leslie’s journey has included being an educator her entire career, teaching secondary history and social studies. As she wanted more connection with students– the one-on-one work– she started working in a college admissions office, where she obtained her master’s in education and set her focus as a learning specialist. She has made her journey to Perkins and is the director of College Success.

These two women are extraordinarily knowledgeable about this topic. Let’s take a listen.

Leslie and Kate, thank you so much for joining me on this podcast, this new series– four parts on college readiness.

We’re psyched to be here. There’s so much to talk about.

So let’s look at this by year. So we’re talking about what it would look like for grades 9 through 12 to get ready for college. So could you provide some advice to a parent or professional educator to help assist the student in getting ready?

Oh, wow. So that’s the $64,000 question. So there’s a lot to think about. And I think I want to start by saying, you need to start earlier than you think you might need to– like in elementary school. I think Kate and I would both argue you can’t start early enough. But we could certainly start by thinking about middle school.

That said, I want to talk about the big picture for a second, as we think about college. There’s a lot of layers of skills and self-awareness that are essential to be a successful college student. That involves self-awareness, knowledge of your strengths and your weaknesses, understanding of how you learn best and what tools you learn best with. And that takes a long time to kind of figure out. And it also requires authentic feedback from teachers and parents and the opportunity to try new things, to learn how to be independent, from early childhood on.

But in our case, we’re really thinking about as students are becoming able to be more independent, giving them opportunities to practice that independence with orientation and mobility, independent living skills, academic things, and maybe mess up every once in a while. So I want to say at the outset that I want us all to think about a mindset– that they need to try things and they need to learn how to do things by themselves as early as possible. And I’ll explain why in a little while.

But the other part I want to acknowledge is, we know in this world of visual impairment, there are so many different combinations of both strengths and challenges in a student and different diagnoses and different comorbid conditions that may impact a student’s ability to get ready for college. And so it’s really hard– and I think Kate and I have struggled with even how to articulate, well, what does college readiness mean?

Because it looks so different with each student to attend to each one of those skill sets that there is no one single answer except to start super early so that you can make an adequate assessment of a student’s readiness for college– whether they have those internal drives, the internal curiosity, the internal self-regulation to manage strong emotions and uncomfortable situations and to really engage with what is a rigorous experience in the best of circumstances. Does that make sense?

It does.

I don’t know. Kate, do you have something?

Well, I’m just thinking about how every person who’s part of a student’s life should really begin to question, what does college readiness look like for someone? For many parents and even teachers, it was a long time ago that we were in college. And things have changed. And so when you’re thinking– especially if it’s a first-born child heading off to college– when you’re wondering, is my child ready, do you even really know what college readiness looks like for an individual these days? Because it could be different.

And so that information can be researched by going online and talking with the team and people who really get this stuff and finding out, what does that mean? And what should I be looking for in my child to know whether I think they’re ready?

That’s helpful. So as you consider college readiness, there may be a couple of phases. And the first one would be really to begin to help a student be as close to grade level in their reading and their ability to access information as possible, through whatever appropriate medium there is. That’s literacy, to me. And that’s learning vocabulary. It’s learning concepts. It’s learning to wrestle down hard and complex sentences and really getting students comfortable with that.

If you think of learning to read and then reading to learn, in that sequence– baiting a hook, and handing the fishing pole to a child, versus going out and looking for the worm. Those are– we need to begin to think about going to look for the worm with the student and teach them how to go find that worm, if you will, because learning requires that kind of initiative.

One of the things that happens, we know, in school, is that there’s a great desire to get that student through and to do whatever it takes to get them through. And we’re finding that that can have some really negative consequences long-term on a student’s sense of what it realistically takes to be successful in school. So we’ll talk a little bit about that.

But again, the thing that we’ll be exploring today is what we can do and maybe shift in how we approach the challenge of preparing a student– to move it from what we’re finding is sometimes a social passing through, so that a student is making grade-level progression, yet they may not have the same skills that their peers are having moving from one grade to another. And this happens across many different components of students in schools with different challenges.

But we really want us to begin to consider that we need to give them authentic feedback on the quality of work they’re producing. We need to help students create work that is consistent and similar to that work of other students in their same class.

I couldn’t agree more. Authentic feedback is so important. And I want us to come back to that. But you said the words, as the student is moving grade to grade. Let’s talk a little bit about what that looks like? What should parents, teachers, paraprofessionals– what should they be looking for in their potentially college-bound students as they move through high school, from year to year?

Well, I’m going to keep pushing this back to middle school. So I’m going to be pushing them back to demonstrating curiosity. That could be in demanding that they learn those tech skills or that they learn how to manipulate the book that they’re reading by themselves– that initiative, that drive, that desire to do it. And we know that young people in middle school may or may not developmentally be all that interested in hard work.

But having seen some of those signs, we know that a lot of young people don’t sit and read every day, even though we know that that’s good for them. So we’re not talking about that so much. But we’re talking about a drive to learn, a curiosity to learn, a willingness to sit and work hard on something to get better at it, having that kind of internal locus of control– and helping move them to that, not doing things for them.

I would suggest that a couple of areas to look at would be reading level– making sure that a young person is having regular and consistent evaluations about their reading level. They should be minimally reading on grade level, if not ahead, in order to be able to, by grade 12, be reading at a college-level reading level.

Everyone who’s listening to this is gasping.

I know. I know. I’m holding the bar high. But if a student is struggling to remain on grade level in middle school at a reading pace, when are they going to? And when are they going to begin to catch up? And I think that’s one of the challenges we have in this field right now, is there’s not enough time.

Yeah. And that’s why it’s so important that we make sure students know they’re learning medium from a very early age and practice it and just keep up and read and read and read as much– whatever they like to read. It doesn’t always have to be academic. Just get text in their hands, in their ears, so that they can practice those reading skills that will then help them in so many years to come.

So Kate, that’s interesting. So let’s talk about what that would look like for a sixth, seventh, eighth grader, because I’m hoping by the end of grade eight that a student is fluent in their preferred reading medium, whether it’s Braille, whether it’s audio books, whether it’s– and knowing the different tools within those mediums to read. So like what would that look like? Voice Dream Reader, BrailleNote– what would that look like?

Well, one thing I want to say is, so often, I hear learning reading medium. And I find myself saying those words, too. But I think there should be an S at the end of that. There oftentimes needs to be more than one way that a student accesses written information, especially if they have low vision or are going to be losing vision.

If they’re dual readers– and that’s tricky to work with students where you’re unsure, they’re kind of in a gray area. Are they going to be print readers? Are they’re going to be Braille? Are they going to use text to speech? Why not all of them? And I know there’s never enough time in the day.

But we should be teaching Braille. We should be teaching print. And we should be teaching accessing information digitally, because realistically, they’re all possibilities that can aid the student in doing the best they can in an educational environment.

So I can’t answer the question, what does it look like for a sixth grade student, seventh grade student, and beyond, because it’s so individualized. I can say that, for many print readers, people who use large print to read– once they enter high school or college, especially, those reading demands are going to increase by so much that if the student ever experiences eye fatigue, strain, headaches from reading, they probably need to switch over to text to speech or Braille, because they’re going to need to get through a lot of text fast.

And it’s not practical to take breaks all the time from reading. And the curriculum is not going to be modified. They’re not going to have to read less. They’re going to have to read more. So it’s an important consideration when thinking about, what is the best reading medium? And are there are multiple ways that are going to enable the student to be successful?

OK. So then, what I’m hearing, then, is we need to help set up– and this is all about college readiness. Right? This is helping a student early on master several different reading tools– reading mediums, I’m sorry– different ways of accessing material.


Right? And it may be, to read the sports page, it’s going to be on a person’s phone and scrolling through it with voiceover. And then, to read a textbook, it might be a different tool.

Yes. And maybe a history textbook, for instance, is best accessed, you know, by listening. But that’s really tough with math. So that student needs Braille.

OK. So wow. That’s a lot of time. But I’m thinking there’s some ways to help get students practice on it. If they want to go to a restaurant, they could begin to learn how to find the menu online. Would that be a way of just beginning to just practice looking stuff up or reading different types of material? Would that be a good way to–

Definitely. I mean, make it fun.


Yeah. Students– they want to be part of the world. And I love your example of going to a restaurant and having them read the menu. We all know it’s easier just to read it to them. But make it a game. Make it a game. Have them find something on the menu or find something that they want.

Well, and we do know, the way to acquire vocabulary is to acquire it by reading a lot and regularly and reading words in context. And so finding that stuff that’s interesting– I am often encouraging students to read whatever magazine about whatever thing it is that they’re interested in. For me, it’s going to be gardening. But for a young person, it’s going to be– maybe it’s about cars. Or maybe it’s about an athletic event or music or some social cause that’s really important and powerful for them.

Then you can begin– you’ll learn lots of things. And one of them is vocabulary and the way the world works. And that helps inform the next layer of reading and the next layer of reading. So as a message to parents and TVIs– what do you do? You try and make sure that’s nested in lessons, in IEPs, and that we’re not shifting or adjusting the curriculum in terms of the reading expectations. Does that sound right, Kate?

Definitely. And we certainly shouldn’t be lessening the amount of work that students output, because a job will not lessen the amount of work that they expect of their employee just because they happen to be visually impaired.

Hmm. OK.

So you have mentioned a few different sort of criteria or factors that a parent or an educator might look for in their student who is visually impaired when they’re thinking about being college-ready. You mentioned curiosity and reading level and other things. But let’s say there are students out there, as there certainly are, who aren’t quite there. How do we give them that feedback? How do we say to them, you know, let’s reconsider what your plans are?

Well, that’s a great question. Well, we can look at some of these concrete things I discussed, which aren’t measurable. You can’t measure that. But we can look at things as adults, from an adult perspective. As a teacher or a TVI, we can look at concrete things like that reading level. Typing speed is another great one. OK, you know, we’ve got to get your typing speed up, and helping a student tackle that.

If a student’s struggling to integrate how to tackle that and to connect the value of that, that’s something to kind of say, you know, this is something you’re going to definitely need to work on to be successful in college. Persisting at difficult homework is another good mechanism to have some of those more difficult conversations.

But we need hard homework to be consistent with the rest of their peers. And we need the students to be getting that homework and that expectation to remain the same as their peers and not reduced either by the amount of reading a student has to do, because there’s not enough time to make it accessible. And we don’t want to reduce the expectations for formatting, for quantity of writing, quality of writing because it’s difficult or a student may not be doing it well.

It’s in those ways we have to give them really authentic, accurate feedback early on so they can learn that those skills are critical and not have to figure this out senior year or possibly freshman year in college when they’re getting authentic feedback from a college professor, saying, your paper is not formatted. You need a name, date, class title, title of the paper, formatted in this way. It’s too late to be teaching those skills then.

And what we’re encouraging us all to think about is introducing those expectations earlier and having students graded authentically on that so that we can teach them those skills.

And that authentic feedback should be from the whole–

The whole team, right?

–team. Not just the team, but anyone who is around the student. I’m thinking about students I’ve worked with in public schools who, you know, for people who work in the cafeteria or in facilities, they will dote on the students’ ability to, oh my gosh, you found the trash can. Well, that’s great. But that’s not getting them to college. Students need to hear that they are capable of doing things that they’re really capable of doing. And we need to be celebrating the things that deserve celebrating.

And we need to be authentically telling students, step up. You should be, by now, doing XYZ on your own, because you have goals of getting to college. And the only way you’re going to reach those goals is if you work really, really hard. And I’m not seeing that today. I think you can do better. Let’s try again. Those are really hard words to say to students sometimes. But it’s the best gift you can give them.

So for example, let me put some concrete points on that. So by ninth grade, if we’re moving apace to being ready to be independent in college, with the appropriate support of a Disability Service Office, which we’ll talk about the differences in the type of support you’re going to get in high school versus college in a little while. But by ninth grade– walk through this with me.

If you you’re able to type by about 30 words a minute in ninth grade, with a goal of getting up to 60 words a minute by senior year, that’s a concrete goal that a student can and should be working towards through both some sort of keyboarding class, some sort of summer session where they’re learning these types of skills, and then practicing– typing their own papers, taking their own notes if possible, and moving them towards really authentically practicing that work. Using a computer or a laptop possibly in addition to an iPad, but I really want to see a computer, a laptop, a QWERTY keyboard to email and complete work independently.

And that includes going on to assignment pages, if they’re accessible, teaching them how to find information online, searching for items online. Students should be able to do that by ninth grade. They’re typically-sighted peers are doing this in ninth grade. They are researching independently. They are creating Google queries independently. They are reading articles independently. They’re creating bibliographies independently. And our students must be doing the same thing to be ready, by senior year, to be doing that in college, at the college level.

They should be able to, by ninth grade, create and edit a Word document. I’m using “Word” as a generic term for a document in which you are writing a paper. It could be Microsoft Word. It could be Google. But this would include basic formatting, such as knowing how and where to place a name and a date, how to create paragraphs, where a title should appropriately be placed.

And they should be actively being taught how to independently create and conceive of a bibliography, which is a very complex task. And I know that will take a long time. But learning as a freshman in college is not the appropriate time to be learning that skill.

They should be able to, by ninth grade, to be pretty independent– and Kate, you can push back on this a little if you want– in being able to describe the best way they can access materials at this point in time. What is the size of the font that works best for them? Is it digitally? How do they need to receive the information? And in some cases, maybe even create it or access it themselves. What do you think about that?

I like that a lot, because This is very much in line with what’s happening with their IEP at this point. Transition planning is beginning around that time. So they should be part of those meetings. Students should be advocating for their needs. And the only way to do that is to be self-aware and know what accommodations work best for them. So absolutely, Leslie. I completely agree.

But sometimes, I’m guessing, in an IEP meeting, a parent might speak for that student.

Ha. Never.

Ha ha. So for parents and educators, we get that. We totally understand. We’re human too. But this is where we can begin a preparation before an IEP meeting to really work with the student to be able to begin to practice that– maybe even role playing what it’s like to describe their needs to help them reduce their anxiety or their worry about maybe getting it wrong. You know, they’re normal human beings. And they don’t want to get it wrong.

But practicing maybe might help a student begin to gain that confidence in how to talk about what their needs are instead of having another adult describe it for them. That suppresses their own sense of identity. It suppresses their own sense of voice. And what I will say, in helping a student get college ready, we have to grow their sense of voice and identity with real experiences. This is a great example of that.

I love that. Wonderful. I think there’s benefit in going through the main pieces of an individualized education program with a student so they have a deep understanding of, this is a document that represents my learning and my needs. And teach them. What are present levels of performance? I mean, they don’t need to know the terminology. But they should be able to help construct these pieces with the team, because that really is a demonstration of their insight on who they are and where they’re headed.

And so– by ninth grade. And that sounds in line with– I worked with ninth graders for a long, long, long time and that sounds very developmentally appropriate. Another area, I think, that’s really hand-in-hand with this IEP conversation is, by ninth grade, I think a student should be able to describe the functional limitations or implications of their visual impairment on their learning and how changes in their environment can best support them.

That could be things like preferential seating, lighting, test-taking in a private room, extended time, things like that. Does that sound–

Yeah. What is their visual impairment called, in layman’s terms, maybe? Medical, too. What’s the cause of it? What are the implications in their learning? And what are the accommodations that they need? Absolutely.

This is a time when they should be at least beginning to talk about these things with different audiences– to their family members, to friends. They’re going to talk about it with a friend of theirs or an acquaintance differently than they would talk about their vision impairment with an educator.

Hmm. So I would imagine, if I was a parent of a student who maybe had vision that is likely to decline over time– how would we help a student become aware of maybe the instability of their vision or the vulnerability of what vision they do have remaining?

That really depends. It depends on the individual. That is a difficult conversation, to say the least. And there are many factors, including the emotions, the mental health of the student. And many times parents kind of– they know their child best. And it can come from a doctor. But definitely, the caregiver should be present and informed themselves so that they can be the student’s rock.

And yeah, you might be losing vision, but think of what you’re going to be gaining with the future that’s ahead of you– independence and future careers and family life, if that’s what you want. So being there to provide that hope for something that might sound grim– like anything that is a loss, losing vision might not feel so great. But having that conversation is extremely important so that we’re not building up unrealistic expectations and hopes of the students. We’re setting them up for success by being real with them.


This conversation is fabulous so far. But we do need to take a small break to listen to a quick word from my sponsor.


Perkins eLearning to Go is a production of Perkins eLearning at Perkins School for the Blind. Perkins eLearning partners with school districts and agencies to provide customized training for educators of students with visual impairments and additional disabilities. Training agreements with Perkins eLearning give you the school-wide range you’re looking for without having to take on the logistics of managing your program.

We are an ACVREP certified provider and are approved for continuing teacher and leader education, CTLE, requirements by the state of New York, in addition to providing professional development points and continuing education credits. Certain titles are eligible for ASHA and AOTA credits. Contact us at [email protected] to discuss your training needs, both short and long term– [email protected].

OK. So then, Kate, if a student is able to describe their functional implications of their vision impairment, I would imagine there are some hard conversations but some important ones at some point in here, if a student’s vision might actually be declining over time. And how could a parent or a TVI begin to plan for that with an IEP and bringing a student on board with all that?

Well, that last piece you said is the most critical part of all– that you bring the student in. It can be an incredibly difficult conversation to have to have with any aged person– that you may lose more vision, you may lose all your vision. No one wants to hear that they’re going to lose anything.

But with knowledge is power. Right? So it’s a gift to give individuals an understanding of what’s going on and what might happen so that you can begin to plan for those things. And so we have a lot to consider here.

If someone is going to progressively lose their vision, either suddenly or over time, when we’re thinking about college readiness, just coming from the academic perspective, how are they accessing information? So if they’re currently a print reader, will that be realistic for them if they lose any degree of vision? Or should we begin to prepare now by giving them opportunities to practice using text to speech or by really loading on that Braille instruction and making it something that they do on a daily basis?

So then there’s O&M. Maybe they’re not a cane user. But why not begin to integrate sleep shade training so that they can get the experience of traveling without visual cues? We shouldn’t wait. We don’t have to wait. And we should not wait for the time when students need an accommodation before they can begin to utilize an accommodation and practice what it means integrate that into their routines and their daily lives, so that when we get to a point where it is a need, they’re more comfortable with it and it’s a habit to them.

Wow. So I’m thinking of a typical high school curriculum for a college-bound student, with four years of English, three to four years of math through algebra two or pre-calc, two to three years of a science with at least one lab science, world language, let me run down the list. Where exactly– I’m sitting here, and I know the answer to this, but I an imagine, if a parent hasn’t gone through this yet, they’re thinking, oh my goodness.

And when is that supposed to happen?

Yeah. And when is that? And we know that this is a real challenge in our field– is finding time for all of this and inventing a 40-hour day and letting a student also have fun. But what do we do?

We find the time. And that’s easier said than done, I realize– but having the student be part of that conversation. You know, ideally, they’re not missing– well, they cannot miss their academic classes. And I would even argue for students not missing PE classes or even art classes, even if the student is blind.

But we have to find time, whether it’s sometimes before the school day begins or after it finishes, evenings, weekends. I mean, I don’t have an ideal answer, because it’s tricky. And the days are already so packed. But it’s just the reality that, if we front load some of this stuff, students are going to be better off in the end.

Right. So I think learning Braille, we know, takes a very long time to learn it so that it’s your dominant reading medium. Right? That takes years and years and years to build up. When I think of text to speech, I think of the skills that go into that and the memorization of commands and becoming fluent.

I think of automaticity. Like when I type, I don’t think. My fingers are flying over the keyboard. Right? So what does it look like to teach a student who may need to learn text to speech, to identify the right text to speech tool on a PC or a Mac, and then learning– teaching and learning all those skills to become college ready? I mean, what does that look like?

Yeah. Well, any time of transition is a good opportunity for a student to have a technology evaluation completed. And there are lots of resources and different areas of experts who can provide that, including a [INAUDIBLE] certified person who really understands assistive technology for the visually impaired. So if a student is transitioning to middle school, to high school, or losing their vision, that is really an ideal time for them to have that tech eval done so that person can help identify the best tools to use.

And even text to speech– I mean, depending on the device, it can be pretty intuitive. But it can also be a rigorous process of learning gestures and different commands. And beyond just memorizing how to use the tool, it’s more than that. It’s also learning how to engage with it in really meaningful ways that allow you to access the information and then apply it in other ways.

So I can listen to voice-over or JAWS reading a passage. But that doesn’t mean that I’m engaged with that text. That doesn’t mean that I’m really processing what it’s saying, and I’m thinking critically about it, and then I’m applying it to my personal experiences, and I’m gathering data so that I could put that information into a report that I’m writing. You have to be an active and engaged reader. And it’s so easy, with text to speech especially, just to let something read out loud but not really be engaged with it. So it is a skill that takes time to develop.

Wow. And you’ve got me thinking about– and then I get a PDF in my email. And it’s a 25-page reading that I need to do for my history class. As a learning specialist, I’m thinking, wow, well you need to mark it up and take some notes. And maybe bookmark the passages that you think are going to get raised in the discussion tomorrow. So is that something pretty easy to teach and learn how to do?

I would argue that it’s not the easiest thing. I mean, it depends on the reading medium and the individual. But non-visually, it can be fairly difficult to mark up a PDF, for instance, and take notes in a margin of a document that you’re reading. The student needs to work with a team to figure out the best ways that they’re going to do those things. And it might be very untraditional methods.

Right. So we just started talking about ninth-grade skills that a ninth grader might be assumed to be developing. We know that ninth graders are in a time of transition. And they’re often– there’s a wide range of maturity levels, a wide range of intentions and motivation in ninth graders, and a wide range of ability to sort of independently problem solve these types of tasks.

Some, intuitively, can figure out how to take notes through whatever– both our typically-cited and our visually impaired students. And some need to be explicitly taught these skills over time to get really confident. But these are the skills that, once a student gets to college–

They’re essential.

–have to be fluent. And they’re essential. And to know when a document gets– to analyze exactly what’s going on with this document, assess the tools that they have to access that document, and then assess the way they’re going to interact with that document. Does that sound right?

They may need– they will very likely need to be able to use multiple tools, because there are so many different types of documents that exist out there– Word documents, Google Docs, PDFs, scanned images. And some are more accessible than others. But there are so many different tools out there now for making what used to be inaccessible documents readable. But they need to know how to do those things.

And a common confusion I hear from students who are transitioning from high school to college is, who is responsible for making those materials accessible? Because there’s this magic that happens in high school and earlier. Things just are presented to students in an accessible format. But Braille has to be made and large print has to be made large. But students don’t necessarily know that if they’re just given those materials.

They need to be instructed on the process of how that happens, because even though a disability service office is responsible for making things accessible, it’s impractical to expect that 100% of the time, in every case, things are going to be given to the office with advance enough time to put it in an accessible format for the student. So it’s to their benefit that they know what tools exist and they know how to use them so that they can, on the fly, make things accessible for themselves.

So there’s no para support that comes to college?


Because we should maybe talk about the difference between the services provided even more concretely, because there’s some really concrete things that a lot of families and students aren’t transitioned on to. So maybe now’s the time, Kate.

I definitely agree. There’s so many supports that are provided to individuals with disabilities in high school and earlier. And it’s wonderful, the inclusion movement that’s happened. More and more students with vision impairments over the last many years have been integrated into mainstream public schools.

And while that has benefits, some of the supports that have been put in place to ensure their success, when they leave high school, those same supports may not carry into the college setting. So let’s talk about some of those things that may be in place for a student in high school and in younger years that will certainly not continue in college.

So you already mentioned having the support of a TA or a paraprofessional. This may be news to some of you, but truth is, unless someone privately pays for a personal assistant, students going to college, they’re not going to have one-on-one support. They are going to have to rely on their own skills to do things.

And sometimes disability service offices can provide an accommodation of a reader or a note taker. But it’s very different than having a para sitting next to a student, walking with them to their classes, helping them organize their backpack, get things out of their locker. None of that exists. It’s the student’s responsibility in college to manage all– all– of their own materials, to advocate if they’re in a class and things aren’t being provided to them in accessible ways.

Another piece of information that I don’t think students necessarily realize is that professors aren’t typically trained on how to educate individuals with disabilities. Professors might not even necessarily be trained as teachers. They are experts in their field of study. But they might not know about best practices in teaching. And they may not know about disability-specific needs and accommodations.

So with that background knowledge, it may help you to understand why, in some cases, classes are not made fully accessible by a professor. So it is the case sometimes that the student has to know, you know, I need help knowing what’s being written on the board. And I need to have tools to access what’s going on in the front of a classroom. And I need to go the disability service office. And I need to say, hey, I have the accommodation that I’m going to get PowerPoint slides in advance. And the professor is not giving them to me. What do I do about it?

That’s helpful. And there’s two almost impulses. In high school, their job, as a team, is to support a student to graduate.

In high school, yeah.

In high school. And I’m going to challenge this term “success” a little bit. I’m going to kind of be a rabble rouser a little bit. To get them through high school successfully, I think, is sort of the language you used. And is it successful if a student isn’t doing the same exact work as their peer?

We’re all–

I don’t know.

Mic drop. Do you see how that just happened?


Yeah. I think that it’s in the eyes of the family and the school and the student. When the heights diploma is provided, in ways, that is success.


It’s measurable success.

And I get that.

Let’s celebrate that. But let’s also recognize if this student hasn’t been put on an equal playing field of expectations and they’re not ready for the next steps that are to come.

Could I ask you a question? You were talking about advocating for themselves when they get to college, which I think for someone who might be an extrovert might not be a problem. Or if you’re not shy, that might not be a problem. But if you are like myself– I’m an introvert. And when you say, you know, you’re going to have to go and say, well, my professor is not giving me my PowerPoints, I died inside, because I wouldn’t be able to do that.

So how would you handle or prepare someone in ninth grade, you know? Is that an addition– obviously, it’s an additional thing. How would you prepare someone?

Well, it begins with helping them understand their needs, as we’ve talked about. Recognize what their accommodations are. Recognize the limitations that they may have and how their vision impairment impacts them. And then with that knowledge, giving them practice opportunities to say, these are my needs.

And Leslie mentioned earlier– role playing. That is such a great idea. Have that TVI and others just role play those types of situations. And with time and experience, those situations are going to be more comfortable for the student.

And there’s a wonderful model called a coaching model that I love, I use a lot when I teach executive functioning skills, which I think is going to be one of our topics coming up. But this is a great opportunity to practice coaching. Instead of solving the problem for the student, which we all have this strong urge to do– solve the problem. Reduce the stress. Make it less anxiety-provoking.

But we need to help that student, just like Kate said, begin to see that it’s– well, I’m putting words in your mouth now, but I know this is behind what you said– to see that that anxiety-provoking situation is manageable. And the role playing and coaching them through that anxiety and getting over it and getting to the other side and seeing they can do it and that there was a successful– often, not all the time– outcome. That is part of our task as growing adults.

And we need to help create these opportunities for them to learn that these obstacles are out there. Life is not a smooth ride. And we need to help them practice the skills of encountering those bumps, getting over them, and carrying on, because that is the rest of their life.

And if we don’t help exercise that muscle now, we know that there’s an epidemic of anxiety, for example, in college-bound students and young adults around anyhow. And so creating these opportunities to address it, to generate the strength and the tools to overcome that– and the script– is very helpful. Sometimes behind the scenes, we can do a little social engineering and help an adult know something’s coming so that it’s a positive experience, and back away from that. That’s called scaffolded intervention. That’s a very effective technique to intentionally move a student towards increased independence. And we can talk a lot more about that later on.

So as you can see, there’s a lot of things that go into creating college success or college readiness. And I think, Valerie, your question about an introvert versus an extrovert is actually a superb and really fair question. Every student is different. They bring different experiences and different traumas from their own learning experience to these additional, increased challenges we’re giving them in high school as we’re preparing them to go off and be independent.

But as Kate and I keep saying, if not now, when? If we don’t start helping them see they have the capacity to do this work on their own as early as possible, how on earth do we expect them to do it at 18 years old all by themselves on a different college campus with none of us around? We know we’re human beings. And these are human beings we’re talking about. They need to be coached and guided towards that independence and that confidence.

But what’s the timeline look like? You know, we’re thinking about college readiness. Is it 9th 10th, 11th, 12th grade? How do we know when a student has sort of reached this place of, OK, we got to make the decision. It’s time to call it. You’re ready or you’re not.

I would say, if a student is mainstreamed in college-prep, honors, or AP courses; independently working four academic courses by junior year; they’re typing at least, I’d say, by junior year, 40-plus words a minute; and they’re independently managing their curriculum, they have pretty independent skill or a knowledge of how information is being created to be accessible for them, and they’re demonstrating increased ability to do that by themselves.

And here’s the kicker. They’re reading and doing homework, I would say, two to three hours a night minimally, independently, reading independently, about, in high school– it’s going to vary so much depending on the class and the high school and the rigor of the curriculum– 20 to 40 pages a week independently. We can begin to have a conversation, it sounds like, you know, you’re beginning to demonstrate the persistence, the resilience to look at college.

If a student struggles to get an hour or two of homework done, is struggling to get to school on time– those are signs of some larger concerns that I would certainly encourage you to look at. But we should be demanding that our students are being given that level of rigorous homework.

And that is true whether students are in public schools or whether they’re attending private schools, like schools for the blind. Leslie, you mentioned students should be receiving mainstream education. And I think what we’re talking about there is not necessarily that they are enrolled in a public school, but that they are receiving rigorous education.

And so to me, what that looks like for a college-bound student, by 11th grade, they should be able to read that quantity, take notes independently, take the same exact multiple choice test, essay test that every single one of their peers is taking in that class with appropriate accommodation, such as extended time. If a reader is an appropriate accommodation, that’s great, so they have practice in utilizing those particular tools.

Because we know, by college, if you’re in even a reduced course load so that you’re onboarding to college effectively and managing all the skills, you’re between 120 to 180 pages a week of reading. We tend to eyeball, in our estimates, 150 to 200 pages a week for college-level reading is sort of a normal expectation. And if you haven’t stretched that muscle out pretty effectively in high school, that will quickly become an overwhelming demand that a student is going to really struggle to catch up on.

They don’t have the skills or the tools to manage that quantity of work. You’re behind one week, two weeks, that is difficult to catch up on. That requires a layer of executive functioning skills, of time management, of project management, of chunking out assignments that is quite an advanced skill. And if you haven’t figured out how to do that in high school, college is a really rough time to figure it out while you’re also figuring out how to accommodate to college-level expectations with a vision impairment with the other skills you need to have pretty robustly developed by that time.

So let’s move forward with that scenario a little bit.


What does it look like for a student who has been on a college-bound track, and they begin their first year of college, and they realize, my gosh, this is harder than I thought in a whole lot of ways. What can a parent do? What can some of the previous supports that a student has had– what can they do to help the student move forward and not fall in the crack of, you know what, I just can’t do this, and all that negative self-talk that starts happening in, I would say, mid-semester first year of college.

Yeah. So try to make a deal with your student when they enroll in college, A, have them sign the FERPA form so you have some access to what is going on at school. You won’t have much access as a parent, but that does allow some support. I’d encourage you to have a frank conversation with your students about the expense of college, certainly, but the value of sharing what is and isn’t working for that student, both in terms of the academics, getting to class, managing the homework, managing output– some classes won’t have much gradable output. Students may have zero feedback on grades till a midterm. So there’s very little guidance on how a student is doing.

But agreeing and having your student kind of sign on for, yeah, I’m going to be honest with you about how that’s going, if they’re really truly keeping up with their reading, if they’re beginning to make connections socially with friends, if they’re going to office hours, if they know how to do that, if they’re eating. Are they sleeping? That will help you all have a more honest conversation about what’s working and not working.

The disability services office is the first stopping place that I would send your student, as well as the writing center and the math skills center, depending on the area a student might be struggling with. And also, the student counseling office is a really good place to learn coping skills, stress-management skills. Many colleges are creating stress reduction classes and things like that.

But our students, when they arrive at college, need to have the skills to read about these appointments in their emails or on a college website. They need to have the skills to get to those appointments or to those sessions or mindfulness meditations independently or the confidence to engage with a group of students to go together. And these are really sophisticated skills. But having that open line of communication may help.

If they don’t, it’s not uncommon for students to take leave of absences from college to do many things, to achieve many things. And often, it’s skill development. And I would encourage you all to have the courage to say, time out, before a student’s confidence goes down the drain. There are so many programs out there to help support college readiness skills through various agencies in your home area– commissions for the blind, Lighthouse Guild, Learning Ally, there’s college mentors. Our program is another program–

College Success at Perkins.

–College Success, which is a nine-month holistic approach, which really kind of takes a 360 look at all of these skills. But there’s other shorter-term programs as well. Each student is different. And they’re going to benefit from a different combination. But being able to be honest with your student– which can sometimes be hard with a young adult, I know– or having another adult who they are more comfortable talking honestly with about their struggles– sometimes an aunt or an uncle, a peer– is a really good resource.

But trying to get in agreement that we’re going to talk about this. And it’s OK to be worried. And let’s be open about this so we can set you up for success.

And sometimes, I think even a few small changes can make a world of difference. You know, you mentioned sometimes students take some time off. But also, maybe they’re just taking too many classes.

We have seen that a lot.

We have. Yeah.

With students being– either they don’t want to miss an opportunity or they want to take advantage of the opportunity. And it’s a naive assumption that that’s a good approach. I strongly recommend a reduced course load for many students.

At the beginning.

Yeah, at the beginning of college, to onboard and engage with classes that play to their strengths so that they can onboard successfully. Get that confidence up. Learn the systems that are there in that college, which are radically different than high school. Learn how to do this independently with something that might be slightly more either interesting, familiar, or in their wheelhouse before you start taking on something that is super different. That’s a very typical accommodation. And you can get some financial aid adjustments, in some cases, if that’s an appropriate accommodation.

We could obviously talk forever about this. And I know we are talking about tech requirements and orientation and mobility. And there’s layers. And so we do wonder if there’s enough time to get ready. And there are those students who really are able to put all these pieces together. And we know that. And that is awesome.

But we also know, for many students, there isn’t enough time. And we’re having this same wonder I think our audience might be having too– is, oh my goodness. How do we do this? And I think starting the conversation is the first beginning step. And we want to have this conversation more deeply across the board. So we’re really excited to be here and having these conversations.

Yeah. Thanks for having us, Valerie.

Thank you.

You’re welcome.


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