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12 Ways to Make Universities More Inclusive for the Blind

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Here are 12 ways universities can make their campuses more inclusive to the blind. It’s based off of what I have personally observed and experienced at my university.

1. Braille labels.

It’s imperative that universities put braille labels on classrooms, offices, mailboxes, etc. At my university, braille isn’t everywhere. The other day while I was trying to find a class, I was feeling the wall to try and see if the room number was marked in braille only to find out that it was not.

Braille is how blind people like myself navigate the world. It’s our way of reading something, and yet, the importance of it is still not recognized, nor is it respected.

2. Electronic course evaluations.

The only time an electronic course evaluation has been used at my university is for online classes. All course evaluations need to be distributed electronically to students at all universities. It becomes really awkward when I have something to say about a professor or teaching assistant and have to get someone else to fill it out. Really, that’s something I should be able to do confidentially myself.

3. Make textbooks lists available earlier.

Up until this year, the textbook lists at my university didn’t come out until approximately two weeks (if that) before classes started. But this year, the textbook lists came out at the very beginning of August. This is a very big deal. It help gives someone who is blind more time to get their textbooks in an electronic format through the accessibility/disability/development center.

I have mentioned this a few times throughout my years at my university to a couple of individuals, so it’s nice to be able to witness the improvement, and I think all universities need to follow suit.

4. The contrast of stairs.

Most people who are blind or have low vision use a mobility aid (I use a guide dog), so this really isn’t an issue. But I’m mentioning this for those who may have a bit of useable vision.

I know this was helpful when I was little and could see stairs. Having stairs that are either light on dark or dark on light is helpful for people with low vision because it provides some contrast in identifying steps.

I’ve been told by a friend that my university has contrast stairs in at least one building, but I wouldn’t be able to tell otherwise or know of any others. It’s just something for universities to think about when designing new buildings.

5. An accessibility reporting system.

I think all universities should have a reporting system that enables anyone to report an accessibility concern or issue quickly and easily. I also think that feedback should be given with regards to the status of that concern or issue.

To me, that puts greater accountability on the universities to attend to it, such as a broken elevator. I understand things won’t be fixed instantly or there may be some cases where nothing can be done, but nevertheless, a reporting system would enable any accessibility concerns or issues to be directed at the appropriate contact to have them addressed.

6. Provide descriptions for videos used in classes.

This. Is. A. Problem. Universities, in all aspects, need to plan an activity and assume that there will be people with disabilities involved. This includes professors and lectures.

My professors, for the most part, have been pretty good regarding videos. A professor in my first year, without being asked, went “above and beyond” in a sense by emailing video descriptions to me beforehand.

Then, in my second year, we had to watch a video in a different language, so it had subtitles and was rather lengthy. My professor sent it to my university’s student development center to have it transcribed into a document. It worked out fine. This is what all professors should be doing, not only for the blind but for the deaf, too.

If the video has good narration, it really shouldn’t be an issue from the blind standpoint. However, chances are your university’s student development center can provide guidance on descriptive video options (if there are any available for the said film) and transcribe it if it’s in a foreign language.

7. Student development centers need social media accounts.

Universities’ student development centers should really have a social media presence. My university’s student development center does not have a Facebook or Twitter page. To me, this is very problematic since all other university departments and associations do.

Instead, they get in touch with us via email or our online learning site. This is totally outdated, and I think if they expanded themselves on social media, more people would know of their existence and their services. Additionally, they would be able to reach out to more people and obtain greater feedback that way.

8. Mentorship programs through the student development center.

It would be good, especially for first-year students, to be mentored by other students who use the center. That way, they will get guidance and learn about the center’s services from someone who has had experience and is in a similar situation as them.

9. Accessible interactions.

Professors and teaching assistants, it gets really awkward when you don’t know my name or take no effort in learning it, especially when I always take the initiative to introduce myself. When you don’t, things tend to go a lot like this when you ask the class a question and I raise my hand:

Professor: “Yes?”


Professor: “Yes?

Me: (Thinking, “OK, yes. They probably meant me.”)

For some awkward reason, the second time an individual says “yes,” their voice always tends to go up an octave — or five — as if its my hearing that’s the problem, not my vision.

It’s our responsibility as students who are blind and visually impaired to tell our professors and teaching assistants our names, but it’s their responsibility to remember it.

Also, all university employees need to learn how to properly assist a blind person. What I mean by this is all university employees need to learn an assistive technique called “sighted guide.”

To my knowledge, this isn’t taught at my university during any accessibility training they receive. As a result, I’ve been “guided” when I didn’t even require assistance in the first place by people putting their hands on my back/backpack and “steering” me. Unacceptable.

Instead, the blind person actually takes the sighted guide’s elbow will then walk slightly behind you, so you can then “guide” them.

10. Location of the student development center.

I really like where my university’s student development center is. While it’s on the fourth floor of a building, there is more than one elevator that can be used to reach it. Once you get off the elevator, you have to walk a few feet, turn and you’re there. It’s very straightforward.

This may not be the case at other universities. It’s important to make sure students feel their center for disability and accessibility services is really “accessible” in a physical sense. If there’s only one elevator to reach it or if it’s in a complicated or hidden location within a building, then chances are it’s not.

11. Volunteers at social events.

My university has some pretty big social events. These tend to be primarily run by our students’ union. However, these really big events could be creating barriers for people with disabilities.

For example, my university has a vendor fair where a bunch of on-campus clubs, businesses and services at the university set up tables for students in a specific location for students to browse through at their leisure. It could really deter a new student who may have a disability from attending due to accessibility reasons. Having a couple of volunteers there to strictly help students with navigation and describing booths would be very helpful.

Not being able to participate in these events can be a big barrier in getting involved around the university. When I’ve been to events like vendor fair, I’ve had to ask each individual about their booth, which is fine for someone like me who is outgoing, but maybe not for others.

12. Accessible computer software.

Universities need to make sure all of the computers that they have available for campus-wide use have accessibility programs pre-installed. For Windows computers, this would mean, to my knowledge, Jaws and ZoomText. I strongly recommend that universities invest in Apple Mac computers, which have all accessibility features already installed, including a screen reader called VoiceOver and a very good zoom feature (speaking from experience).

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

Originally published: August 9, 2016
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