Finding My Way in a Visual World
Five years have passed since my sight has deteriorated into blindness. In those five years, I have at times struggled to find my way through the highly visual realm of college. But now, my learning techniques have become solidified to the point that sometimes I forget about how different my experience really is.
Like any other college senior, I know the campus pretty well and finding classes on a new schedule is fairly easy. However, I was completely lost when I arrived on campus two years ago. There is a common misconception that a cane can replace the eyes of a blind person and that the cane transmits various elements of the environment. In actuality, the cane can only tell whether the next step I take will be on grass, pavement, or into a wall. In order to find my way to class, Edna Gehring, director of Pacific's Learning Support Services (LSS) or one of her assistants spent time walking the campus with me, showing me each pathway to be memorized. Pacific University is striped with a myriad of criss-crossing paths and it took three weeks and several explanations from Edna until I could find my way from Marsh Hall to the music building. But with each passing semester, a few new pathways are added to my memory and now I travel with confidence.
In the classroom, I have done my best to be an independent learner. Professors and other students never hesitate to support me by offering all the help they can. But by being responsible for my own comprehension of the material, I do not have to rely on those around me to make an extra effort in order for me to learn. I use a mini disc recorder to take notes and I scan handouts into my computer where a screen reader can speak the information on the page. LSS also scans my textbooks so I can access them with the computer. The technology available to me is crucial to my ability to function in the classroom like any other student.
The exception to this is in the Pacific University Jazz Band, where I have been the guitarist for most of the past two years. Since it is impossible to scan chord changes into the computer, I have to rely on my decade of guitar experience to pick out the tunes by ear. It usually takes a couple of runs through, but I am fairly successful. Then again, Professor Michael Burch-Pesses, who directs the group, is usually more concerned with the horn players being out of tune, so I can get away with bad chord changes here and there.
My plans after Pacific are still up in the air. Though graduate school may be in my future, like many college grads, my first concern is finding a job to pay off my student loans. The high percentage of unemployed blind people honestly frightens me as I begin to start the job search. But with the resources at my disposal here at Pacific and with help from the Oregon Commission for the Blind, I hope to find a position where I can put my education to good use.