College/Higher Education Frequently Asked Questions
1. Q: What are my rights as a blind student in post-secondary education?
A: Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act protect your right to access public and private institutions respectively. These provisions include equal access to all higher education for which you otherwise qualify, and under this legislation, you cannot be discriminated against on the grounds of your disability.
2. Q: What is a reasonable accommodation.
A: When seeking accommodations through your institution, note that you should request reasonable accommodations to obtain equal access to your materials. The university must grant your requests, unless they qualify as an “undue hardship.” Under the ADA, this is loosely defined as an action that will have a significant cost or difficulty, considering the size and nature of the employer, or, in this case, academic institution.
A reasonable accommodation may take the form of tactile graphics, alternatively formatted textbooks, a lab assistant, etc.
3. Q: How can I make sure my college has accounted for my accessibility needs before I arrive?
A: It is very important that you initiate contact with your college’s office of services for students with disabilities well before you begin your first term. The process will look different for each school, but you can start by browsing your college’s main website for contact information for this office. You can then request an initial consultation, either by phone or by email, to discuss your accommodations. Being proactive about making contact in this area will ensure that you have the appropriate structures set in place in order to make your transition as smooth as possible.
4. Q: What should I do if my school’s online learning management system is not accessible?
A: Advocating is very imperative in this situation. As a first step, communicate with your office for students with disabilities, along with your professor, to brainstorm alternate ways to submit assignments while you are researching a solution. Also note that many learning management systems are constantly being updated for accessibility, so it is possible that your experience will improve over time.
NABS has put together a list of brief guides for commonly used learning management systems. You can find these at the following link:
5. Q: What are helpful tips for using Google applications, such as Google Docs and Google Slides, for group work?
A: It is becoming more and more common for colleges and universities to use the Google suite of products for collaborative assignments. These applications are very powerful, and can make it much easier for you to interactively complete projects with a group. Note that Google Slides and Google Docs are accessible with JAWS, NVDA, and Voiceover for MAC.
You can find a brief guide on the use of Google Slides with a screen-reader at the following link:
You can find a brief guide on the use of Google Docs with a screen-reader at the following link:
6. Q: When and how should I begin mapping out the locations of my classroom buildings?
A: Navigating a college campus for the first time can be daunting, especially when you are facing the pressures of a rigorous schedule. If possible, explore your campus, and in particular, the areas in which your classes will be held, well before you officially arrive on campus. Some schools may grant requests for early move-in dates and access to buildings, where necessary. If you have access to orientation and mobility services, create a plan beforehand to target your classroom buildings, being sure to find the most efficient routes to save time. If you do not have access to these services, bring a friend or family member along to brainstorm your routes.
7. Q: How can I get an on-campus job?
A: The best place to begin is your college’s career center, where you can get advice about what specific jobs could fit your skills and interests. You can also reach out to your school’s office for students with disabilities to discuss accommodations you might need on the job.
8. Q: How should I prepare for my college orientation?
A: Speak to your orientation coordinators about accommodations you may need on the various tours offered, including verbal descriptions of locations, if needed. Be sure to contact your office for students with disabilities as well, as they can provide accessible copies of the orientation materials.
9. Q: How can I obtain accessible textbooks?
A: Your office for students with disabilities should be an integral resource in obtaining accessible textbooks, either by scanning hardcopy books or contacting publishers to provide copies. There are also several known platforms that provide accessible textbooks, including Learning Ally, Bookshare, and Vital Source. Additionally, you can convert sections of your textbooks on your own through the use of OCR software, if it is available to you.
10. Q: How can I tour campus virtually as a blind student?
A: Virtual touring can be very beneficial if you are not able to tour the campus in person. Where possible, utilize textual descriptions of the campus. For detailed descriptions of photos, you can use a service such as AIRA.
It may also be possible to request audio descriptions for virtual tours through your college. This process would have to be initiated well in advance, and results are not guaranteed.
11. Q: How can I manage having a guide dog and a roommate?
A: There have been many guide dog users who have successfully had roommates in college. The key is to assert appropriate boundaries with your roommate and your dog.
For further resources and support, visit the National Association of Guide Dog Users’ website.
12. Q: Is the common app accessible?
A: The Common App is essentially accessible for screen-readers. Should you have any issues, contact
13. Q: What are some tips to make my lab experiences accessible?
A: When it comes to science labs, the best technology to have would be the accessible Talking Lab Quest by Independence Science (TLQ) from independence science. You can use this technology along with the necessary sensors to measure quantities such as temperature, PH, electrical pulses, and many others. Additionally, you can also contribute by being the timekeeper, as well as doing necessary calculations necessary to do the lab.
In more advanced lab courses, it may be prudent to ask the disability services office to hire a lab assistant for a particular lab course. The assistant needs to have taken the course previously, and performed well. This is important, since many lab experiments are delicate, and an experienced lab assistant can go a long way. In lab courses that require a large amount of microscopy, a lab assistant is necessary in order to make observations through the microscope, record necessary information, and send you that information after the week's lab session has ended.
14. Q: How can I best schedule my class exams, given that I may have accommodations for extended time?
A: At the beginning of the semester, all of your professors will give you a syllabus with a calendar of assignments and tests. You want to make sure that you come to your professor ahead of time to discuss the times and dates that mutually work, especially if the test overlaps with another class or test. Each school is different in how they want exams submitted to the testing center but you must have the appropriate forms completed at least a week in advance of the exam so that all parties are ready and prepared. It is in your right to take the exam at an alternate time within reason to accommodate additional time. However, this agreement should be made well ahead of time and not present concerns for having an advantage over other students.
15. Q: What tools and methods can I use to be successful in visual STEM courses?
A: The importance of braille literacy becomes apparent in visual STEM courses. Many classes require a large amount of mathematical content, and this can be a lot to process by listening to the output of a screen reader. Especially when looking at large or complex equations, being able to examine the equation one piece at a time is very important to understanding it. Reading and understanding formulas bit by bit is also necessary, and braille goes a long way in clarifying them.
Some additional strategies can be to request lecture presentations before the content is covered, in order to examine and learn a bit of the content before a particular lecture. In some courses, depending both on the content and a particular person's preferences, a classroom assistant could help with taking notes, and writing equations.
Very important! If homework for STEM courses is conducted through an online platform, the assistant can also provide homework help, in terms of reading the content, and submitting answers in the case of an inaccessible or unusable platform.
16. Q: What should I do if my teacher wants to exempt me from visual activities or assignments?
A: It is very important to advocate for equal opportunity in the classroom, and this includes full participation in all assignments and activities, where possible. Instead of simply being exempt, discuss alternative methods with your professor, so that you can get the full learning experience and value from the activities.
17. Q: What are useful tools for formatting papers and generating citations?
A: In Microsoft Word, you can use JAWS key + F, (Windows), and VO keys + T, (Mac), to hear the various font attributes for your selected text block. You can then use the ribbon to select different formatting and style tools as needed.
You can go to
For a fairly accessible citation engine.
18. Q: Does my IEP carry over to college?
A: No, it will not, but it can be a helpful reference to review when you are discussing accommodations with your Disability Support counselor, such as asking for extra time or how materials should be formatted that best fit your needs.
19. Q: Where can I get more information about standardized testing for graduate admissions? Have blind students successfully taken them before?
A: The National Federation of the Blind has put together a comprehensive toolkit for high-stakes standardized testing, which contains useful tips and strategies for navigating this process. Find the toolkit here:
20. Q: Should I go to blindness training at a NFB Center before starting college?
A: It is not necessary, but it can be very helpful if you are concerned about your ability to be independent and efficient on campus. Training equips you with the various skills for travel, technology, braille,cooking, etc. Most training centers also have a College Prep program to specifically help with this transition.
21. Q: How should I best advocate for accommodations in university clubs and other extracurricular activities?
A: Clubs and extra curricular activities do not fall within the jurisdiction of the university, as they are often student organized. However, in our experiences, approaching these opportunities openly and with a positive attitude goes a long way. Be sure to communicate clearly about your needs with the organization’s leadership, and try to come with solutions rather than problems. Although your disability office is not legally responsible for these experiences, they may be willing to brainstorm ideas for alternative techniques to stay involved.