Moving on from high school to a four-year university can be a hard transition for anyone. Now imagine being blind or visually impaired and having to do the tasks of a typical incoming college freshman, tasks which gets the student ready for this new journey. Having to learn the ins and outs of a totally new campus, navigating through an unfamiliar city, engaging socially with the strangers around you to make friends, and so much more, but with minimal to no sight.
VISIONS, a nonprofit social service and rehabilitation agency that has based itself around the inclusion of all people since 1926 and that provides its services free of charge, will be holding its annual pre-college program for the legally blind. This summer living and studying program held by the agency’s Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired group located in New York City will take place on Manhattanville College’s campus in Westchester County, New York. The one month long experience is meant to aid students with key skills that would help them adjust to college life more efficiently due to their disability.
Full of co-curricular activities, such as a festival, athletics, movies, music, games, and off-campus outings, this program aims towards enhancing soon-to-be college students’ independent living, social, writing, research, and computer skills while also giving the students an idea of what to expect in the Fall by providing the enjoyable atmosphere of a real college campus.
This state-funded program, which has been around since 2013, has typically featured 25 legally blind students who were selected to enroll based on applications they sent in taking two noncredit courses in past years, along with the other activities and excursions.
The two courses are Introduction To College Life, which is taught by university faculty, and another class taught by the New York State Office of Children and Family Service’s Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped, the group that awards the grant for this opportunity. For the students and their counselors, all expenses are covered by the program, too. That includes housing on the 100-acre campus, transportation costs, and three meals per day.
Sammi Damin, a junior studying public policy at New York University, who is also blind, will be entering his first summer as a counselor for VISIONS’ program this year. As a blind, third-year college student who left home for school and had to become acquainted to an open campus in the streets of New York City, a task that can be a major challenge for those with sight, Damin knows what it takes to set yourself up for independence and how important it is to get a head start on that before the real moment arrives.
“I know how anxious students in our position can be heading into college. Serving as a mentor to these bright high schoolers and ensuring that they’re ready for common things that might come as a struggle at first to those who are blind like finding their classrooms, getting food at the dining hall, doing laundry, and being sociable, is really important to me. But I do it because it’s even more important for them, for them to be able to handle these daily independent living skills when Mom and Dad who have been around them their whole lives aren’t there to help anymore,” said Damin, who himself attended similar programs as a teen, including New Jersey’s Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Determination (LEAD) program.
“This is a part of life for everyone, blind or not. We’re no different, some of us just need to be trained for life differently.”
“I want these students to be ready for what is coming. College is supposed to be a great time in one’s life, but there is going to be that unavoidable stress from academics and from making friends, on top of how their sight might make school a little unorthodox. Knowing that they make it the full four years and get that degree while having enjoyed their time and transitioned to taking care of themselves is what I want to see and be a part of,” Damin went on to say.
When asked what makes VISIONS and this program different, Damin, to conclude, said,
“Doing this work six days a week is going to be great for all of us involved. Searching for a job or internship as a person with a disability, especially one so easily identifiable like blindness, can be really hard because of stigma, but here’s a program in VISIONS that helps those of us on both sides, the student and the teacher, really paving a way for the visually impaired community.”
This summer’s program is set to start in early July, with counselors reporting for duty on July 3rd.