Taking on college and getting around campus when you can’t see it

Girl with backpackYou might remember Alicia Krage’s guest post last February about the joys and challenges of being blind and dating someone who is blind, too. Alicia lived at home while attending her local community college. She transferred to Northern Illinois University in DeKalb this semester, and her post today is about her decision to make that change.

by Alicia Krage

I got accepted to Northern Illinois University (NIU) in January, and my excitement was at an ultimate high all summer long.

I struggled through the spring semester at my local community college. My courses at College of DuPage (COD) were difficult, and I was eager to be elsewhere. I lived at home while I was attending COD and felt ready now for more freedom and independence.

Northern Illinois University is located an hour away from my family. My boyfriend goes to NIU, and I have a lot of other friends who go there, too.

The knowledge that I’d get to see them every day and have face-to-face interactions with them instead of chatting online made me long for fall. I wanted to be surrounded by my closest friends.

However, contrary to the way that might sound, having a wonderful social life wasn’t the only thing that made me want to attend such a big school. What really attracted me was how well-known NIU’s Disability Resource Center is. As far back as my eighth grade year I can recall hearing about blind students attending NIU. I had considered going there myself after I toured the school seven years ago, but back then I was intimidated by the large campus — more than 20,000 students go to NIU.

My boyfriend is blind, and visiting him at NIU gave me first-hand knowledge of the resources and wonderful transportation services available for students with disabilities there. When I was still at COD, I’d take a train trip to see him every 12 days. I’d stay the weekend, get home on a Sunday, and
leave about 12 days later for another visit. After so many visits, I had a change of heart and applied. And am I glad I did!

When I arrived here in August I spent the first few days touring campus. I was amazed, impressed, and very happy with everyone’s reaction to a blind student walking around campus. When I attended my local community college, I’d get frantic apologies when I’d accidentally run into someone, and all sorts of unusual reactions to my white cane, too. Some people didn’t even understand what it was. It was clear I was one of very few blind students at COD.

Here at Northern Illinois University, things are different. When I walk around campus here at NIU, several people (often at the same time) stop me and offer to help. Many are very familiar with sighted guide techniques. Students here just seem very accustomed to seeing a white cane or even a guide dog.

The social aspect is fantastic. Almost all my close friends live in my building, and if they don’t, they are a five minute walk or a 10 minute drive. We use what’s called the husky Line Freedom Mobile, which is a free door-to-door Para transit service for NIU students with disabilities. It will take you anywhere in the area, and off campus after 5 p.m.

I’ve already found my favorite coffee shops and music venues, and I’ve been to pretty nice restaurants. I have yet to explore so much more!

Stay tuned for Alicia’s next post, where she’ll be describing what moving day was like and how she manages to get from class to class at such a huge college campus without being able to see.


 

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