Shortly before my second year of college, I received a few orientation and mobility lessons for learning how to navigate with low vision and a blindness cane. These lessons were helpful for learning general travel skills, but I noticed they didn’t get into specifics about navigating college campuses or using university resources available for students with vision loss. One lesson that would have been really helpful is how to find classrooms and tips for navigating class buildings, so I’ve created the College O&M series to share my most-used tips and strategies for learning about this topic and others. Here are my tips for finding college classrooms and how I find my classes as a student with low vision who uses a blindness cane.
My favorite cane for navigating hallways and indoor areas is my rolling marshmallow tip cane. This is because I use the constant contact technique and always have my cane on the ground, and I also prefer having a collapsible cane that I can store in class – more on that later. Once I am in the classroom, I rarely use my blindness cane since I know how to walk around my classroom without running into people or walls- or at least without running into them too often.
The most important step for learning how to find classrooms is to first find the class building. Since I’ve been on campus for a few years, I know pretty much every building on campus and can easily locate them, but when I first started out I was incredibly confused on how to find my classes. I have an entire post below about learning to identify campus buildings with assistive technology as part of my “Navigating College Campuses” series.
Each building at my college has a slightly different numbering system. For example, room 1303 is on the third floor in one building, while room 1303 is on the first floor in a different building. My professors typically send out directions on how to find the classroom before the first day of class, though I also have walked through buildings prior to the first day or at off-peak times to figure out where my class is.
Sometimes, staircases and elevators are hidden, so knowing where to find them is important for learning how to navigate inside a building. This semester, the elevator for a building where I had three classes was impossible to miss as it was right next to the door, but for another building I had to ask my brother (who goes to the same college as I do) to help me find it. If I didn’t have my brother, I would have asked a friend or building staff member to help me find the elevator or flight of stairs. Alternatively, I would take pictures of signs and enlarge them or use a service such as Be My Eyes to figure out the directions to the elevator.
When I was learning how to navigate my summer internship building with low vision, I memorized different art decorations on the walls and different objects that I would pass along my route. I do the same thing when walking to my classes at college, and memorize different decorations and locations of items such as trash cans or vending machines. This is especially helpful when I am navigating larger buildings, as having distinct landmarks can help me ensure I am going in the right direction.
I love using assistive technology to read signs, and tend to use the short text feature in many visual assistance apps to read the room numbers. Some professors will also put handwritten notes on the door with important class information or just a larger version of the room number. In the past, I have also used Be My Eyes to read numbers on a door quickly.
I love using Aira on my college campus, because the Aira agents have access to maps of the entire campus and maps of the inside of buildings. I start each call by saying the name of my college campus and the building I am in so that the agent can confirm this information, and then they help me get to class. While Aira is a paid service, there are ways to get it for free or with a discount, such as through Vocational Rehabilitation programs. I was part of the Back to School program and did a video promoting the program in 2018 on my college campus, which can be accessed below.
Professors want students to show up for their classes and are happy to provide directions to class via email, or telling students how they get to the classroom. Many of my professors will actually wait near the door of the classroom and will say hello to me as soon as I am near the door, so that I know that I am at the right classroom. My advisor and department administrator are also great at giving directions as needed.
Once I get to class, I collapse my blindness cane and either put it behind me or zip it up inside my backpack. Since I very rarely have to get up in class and can walk short distances without my cane, I don’t need to have it out where it could potentially get stepped on- or in a particularly embarrassing case, where it could trip the professor!
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated October 2023.
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