7 traits that help when you’re blind and going to college

Recently when we were talking about my goal of trying new things and going to more campus events this semester, someone said something interesting that resonated with me long after it was said: “People are scared to do things even when they can see. And then if you add your situation on top of that, it does make it a little more challenging. But it doesn’t mean you can’t do those things.”

This is my last semester at Northern Illinois University, and those words made me think of college as a whole and left me reflecting on my entire college experience.

I’ve had challenges because of my blindness. Let’s not sugar-coat that. Being blind does make college life a little more challenging. But this isn’t going to be a negative post where I talk about the negative aspects of being a blind college student. Instead, I want to do just the opposite. In this post I’ll look at the positives, the things I’ve learned. And who knows? Maybe there’ll be things you haven’t thought of!

  1. I learned a lot about self-reliance. When I was in high school (and even when I was at community college at College of DuPage) I was able to visit the campus before classes even started to get oriented. At Northern Illinois University (NIU), I have never had that luxury. The campus is a bit of a commute from my hometown for something like that, and orientation and mobility (O&M) isn’t provided by NIU’s Disability Resource Center. That means I have had to learned the routes to my classes by showing up early enough to wander the buildings myself. On the occasion I wasn’t able to show up early enough, I had to ask for directions and focus on exactly where I was, what turns I was making, and so on. Eventually I was able to memorize the routes.
  2. I learned to be resourceful. I take the bus from class to class, but sometimes the bus was late. Sometimes I had another obligation with no way to get there. Sometimes I resort to asking friends, but often times I just use Uber. My friends have their own schedule. Why should they go out of their way to lead me somewhere when I could find other ways of doing it? I learned to use other resources.
  3. I learned a lot about patience. This is still a work in progress. I am not the most patient person — I’ll admit that. But being in college has taught me that, as a blind person, I spend a lot of time waiting. Waiting for the bus, waiting for someone to ask someone else where a certain room is, waiting for an Uber, waiting to receive my list of accommodations for my professors. Things take time, and I learned early on that I needed to accept that.
  4. I learned not to rely on people too much…because they can’t always be there. I don’t mean this in a negative sense, like we don’t talk anymore or anything of the sort. I mean they’ll drop out, switch to another college, or they’ll graduate. I’m starting my last semester with very few people I know. My close friends graduated, Joe doesn’t go to school here anymore, and I lost touch with a lot of friends from past semesters.
  5. Again, I’ve learned a lot about self-reliance. While I do accept help once in a while, I know not to rely too much on it. When Joe went to school with me while we were still together, he helped me navigate the residence hall. My friends ran through routes with me when I’d get lost and asked them to teach me an alternative route, and they’d take me off campus to explore sometimes, too.
  6. I learned that in the end, it’s on me. It’s up to me to do these things, make new friends, and figure it all out.
  7. I have to work twice as hard. In high school, a teacher told me that as a blind college student, I was going to have to work twice as hard as everyone else. I didn’t know how to take that when I first heard it, but now I know it’s true. I get extended time on tests, I needed tutoring one semester, and sometimes, I need help from the Disability resource Center just to get assignments done. Let’s be honest. When you can’t see, Things take longer.

So yes, being blind can sometimes make it a little more difficult, but it certainly doesn’t make it impossible. I’m very excited to be going back to school in a few weeks and making the most of my very last semester.


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