Sarah Blake LaRose (3kitties) wrote,
Sarah Blake LaRose

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college life of blind students now and then

I thought this may be of interest to some of my readers, both sighted and blind. It is a very common thing for sighted people to think it is amazing that I am carrying a full courseload considering all of the extra work I have to do to obtain access to materials. I am just old enough to remember when life was a lot harder; but it is very hard to describe the changes that have taken place over the last 20 years. There was once a time when a blind student could not access print at all without assistance, could not type a paper without employing someone else to proofread it, relied on braille or a tape recorder to take notes in class. Today I scan books ahead and can keep up if necessary by staying up late in the event that I didn't get the books done early. I can proofread my own papers and even have a choice of whether to do it using speech or braille output. I can choose whether to take notes in braille or on the laptop--and if I do it on the laptop, I am able to share notes with my classmates just as they often do with each other. I started college in 1990 and did not have access to much advanced technology during my first semester. I had a desktop computer with a very hard-to-understand speech synthesizer on it. For those of you who are blind, try loading Narrator and imagine using it as your screen reader, and that voice quality ia better than what I had available in 1990. I did not have access to a scanner until 1994. Looking at my transcripts, 1994 is when my grades began to rise. There is a definite correlation.

This article from a 1990 issue of a publication from the Royal National Institute for the Blind describes the experiences of a graduate-level theology student at that time. None of it surprises me; and it showcases the vast differences between then and now. These differences are very important to me. When I talk with blind people who have been in seminary in the past, our experiences can at times be so different that the mentorship relationship is difficult to establish. The difficulties they encountered and the difficulties I encounter are in many ways completely different. I was not sheltered. I attended public school, participated in all kinds of community affairs with mostly sighted people, and occasionally participated in activities with other blind children once a month or during the summer. My parents and teachers assumed that I would go to college and live independently. This is a vastly different situation from that which faced many people who went to college before me. They either attended schools for the blind or attended public schools with resistance or while pretending to function as sighted students. Expectations for them were low; and they struggled to prove that they could accomplish the same things as their peers. I never felt this kind of pressure. I think this is the reason why encountering low expectations and discrimination have been so humiliating to me during my adulthood. I have always believed that nothing was wrong with me except my inability to drive a car and read a printed book with my eyes. I never learned how to stand up to low expectations--I never thought that such a thing existed until I was quite far along in college. The experience was very confusing and sent me spiraling into a deep depression. I will write about it in more detail at some point--I do realize that I am being vague in this entry. I didn't know that I was going to write this much. I wanted only to give the link to the article and try to put in words why I thought it was such a good find. It was nice to see someone put in words what the state of things was back then.


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