By Susan Riddell
Making the leap from high school to college or the job market can be tough. For students with visual disabilities, it can be even more daunting.
But thanks to the INSIGHT Post-Secondary Preparation Program, blind/visually impaired students have an opportunity to experience ahead of time some of the challenges of college life and develop some of the skills they need to conquer those challenges.
“In the program, we take sophomores to seniors whose intent is to go to college,” said Kristin Hammond, the program’s coordinator. “These kids learn about dorm life, study skills, what it’s like to be on their own. For some of them, everything has been done for them. Some have never done laundry.”
About 20 students participated in the 10-day program last month at Morehead State University. It began with the basics of learning how to navigate campus and included information about testing and other accommodations they may be able to take advantage of in college. Students also brushed up on the use of screen readers and other technology devices, and they discussed the differences between rights and privileges.
“We have a certified teacher of the visually impaired who works with the students teaching them specific skills they need,” Hammond said. “Each student receives an Orientation and Mobility assessment geared to help students with visual impairments travel safely within their environment and completes an action plan to take with them.”
The action plan is developed from a survey each student completes that describes their previous school and work experience and what they have learned from taking part in the INSIGHT program. The plan is designed to provide some next steps for students to work on so they will be better prepared for college and career.
As part of the program, students have the opportunity to sit in on summer college classes in subjects like mathematics, English and science. They also took professor-led classes arranged just for them.
This year, Morehead State Geology professor Jen O’Keefe taught the INSIGHT students a plate tectonics lesson using modeling dough and wooden blocks.
“This is a good experience for them because we can show them what a college class is really like,” said O’Keefe, who is certified with the International Association for Geoscience Diversity that promotes access and accommodations for students and geoscientists with disabilities. “What I teach are lessons identical to lessons I would teach in a class with no students with vision impairments. It’s all the same, and it’s important as a confidence booster that these students know they are getting that same instruction.”
Olivia Slade, who will be a senior this year at Highlands High Schools (Fort Thomas Independent), really liked the program.
“I’m the only blind student at my school, and that’s fine, but here I get to be around others like me.”
Slade also appreciated the INSIGHT class that taught students about practices they will need after high school.
INSIGHT instructors worked with students on some of these real-world skills, like how to write resumes and prepare for and be successful at job interviews. Students then practiced what they’ve learned during mock job interviews.
“We went over things like being open and honest about impairments to bosses and how to discuss ways businesses can accommodate our needs. We also learned it’s important to not let our sight issues dominate the interviews. That’s just a small part,” Slade said.
Hammond said while some students have attended the Kentucky School for the Blind (KSB) 12-week short program, most of the students do not attend KSB full time. She said since their needs are met well in their home school district, they stay there and attend INSIGHT as a way to further prepare for college/career and socialize with other visually impaired students.
Time is set aside each day to allow the students to socialize and hang out together, whether it’s in the dorms or Morehead State’s bookstore.
The program also has an invitation-only Facebook page for students, and Hammond said many students stay connected through e-mail and texts during the school year.
Several of the students who attended this year’s program in June are repeat participants. Hammond said return trips are encouraged so students can continue to strengthen friendships and expand their skills.
INSIGHT recently received a donation that allows the program to offer students who attend the program two years or more a $1,000 scholarship along with a laptop computer and software.
“Those scholarships will continue as long as the money is there to provide them,” Hammond said. “There really are a lot of key people and key partners who make this program a success. We’re really proud of how we can give these students a glimpse of what’s out there for them.”
MORE INFO …
Kristen Hammond, firstname.lastname@example.org, (502) 897-1583, ext. 220 or (859) 339-5747