Preparing for College

Fall is a time for new beginnings–especially for students. This year’s college freshmen might be both nervous and excited, as they are not sure what to expect when it comes to the differences between high school and college. To ease this transition, the Council would like to offer tips on self-advocacy and obtaining disability services through campus resources.

Throughout K-12 education, students who are blind or visually impaired work from accommodations mandated by Individualized Education Plans (IEP) or 504 plans up until high school graduation. Colleges follow 504 and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements as well, but there is no mandated IEP. College accommodations are “leaner” and “less personalized” compared to high school. One of the biggest changes going from high school to college is the shift of the responsibility from parents and teachers to the individual student.

Three women talk inside the Council office.
Council Board Member Patty Zallar talking with scholarship recipient Mikeyla Mobley and Naomi Behm Hrdina, teacher of the visually impaired with the Madison Metropolitan School District, about guide dog use and advocacy.

The individual student is responsible for obtaining books and handouts in accessible formats, communicating with professors, taking quizzes and tests, and turning in papers and other assignments on time. Most colleges have disability services offices. Check a college’s website to find information about disability services, as schools use varying names for these departments.

Each school will have a specific process for getting accommodations. At the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, for instance, students who have been accepted to the school are asked to fill out a separate application to the Center for Students with Disabilities and provide documentation about their disability.

Amy DiMola, a Disability Services Coordinator at UW-Whitewater, says it is a good idea to fill out this application as soon as possible after receiving acceptance at the university.

The Disability Services Coordinator works one-on-one with each student to determine necessary services. Common accommodations for students who are blind or visually impaired include scanning of printed textbooks and converting to electronic files, receiving time-and-a-half to take tests, working with a reader or scribe to fill out worksheets, and having an In-Class Aide to communicate what the professor is writing on the board or displays in slideshow presentations.

Two men with white canes stand holding a device.
The Council’s Assistive Technology Specialist Jim Denham hands a high school student a refreshable Braille display which can be used to take notes.

The skill set needed to be successful in college is different from the high school skill set. College classes move very quickly, so more reading has to be done to keep up with the material. Better note-taking skills are advised as content might only be covered in class and might not be in the book. Students might also need additional assistive technology.

If a student is not sure about technology needs or feels a technology update might be helpful, they can work with a high school DVR counselor to get a referral for an updated assistive technology assessment through a local service provider. Jim Denham, Assistive Technology Specialist at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, can be contacted if students or parents have questions about setting up a technology assessment.

Call Jim at 608-237-8104 or email for more information.

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