Many blind adults credit a portion of their success to the mentors who inspired them and helped them to address real-world difficulties. Read Joe’s story, and learn the best practice for initiating and maintaining a good dialogue with a mentor. Then use our website to reach out to one of Learning Ally’s mentors.

By Joe Retherford on Tuesday, Aug 23, 2016


Asking for help is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. The support that you receive comes in many forms, and you should never feel like you have to go through life by yourself. Some may think that seeking help is a form of surrender, but I argue that it is just staying smart and efficient.

One particular form of help is the relationship with a mentor. A mentor is someone who has already been on the journey you are undertaking who helps you through the hard times and provides support when you need it. Mentoring relationships can be formal or casual. Everyone can benefit from mentors, whether sighted or not, but mentors are especially helpful in the blind community.

 

It is very easy for you to feel isolated when you are blind or vision visually impaired. Teachers may forget about you, or other students may be scared to talk to students with disabilities.  You, because you have a disability. Making friends might be harder because you can’t see to quickly find the student you were talking to during your previous class. Isolation could take a toll on your confidence and you could feel like you are up against the world by yourself. This is where having a connection with the blind community comes into play. You should talk to someone who has experienced those bad days, so that he or she can help you to get through them. A mentor might remind you that there are better days to come, and he or she will also give you tricks to overcome those issues based on real experience and insight. Mentors can offer you emotional support, or they can help further your blindness skills. Most importantly, blind mentors can show everyone that it is cool to be blind.

I was lucky enough to benefit from having a blind mentor. I was sighted until I was seventeen and quickly lost most of my sight in an unfortunate accident. I didn’t have time to fully adjust before college, and I had no previous connection to the blind community. I didn’t want to be blind, and I didn’t think life could go on. On especially bad days, I wanted to sink into my chair and hide my cane so no one knew I couldn’t see. I felt like everyone was looking at my cane as I tapped my way down the street, like I was some abnormal circus attraction.

Then one day, I met this blind guy who came into one of my classes. He was the most positive and confident person in the room. He was also a student and had plans to get a doctorate. He was going to baseball games, had a job, flew all over the country; yet he was still blind. If he could do all of those things, then I figured out that I could, too. We began to talk about life, and he showed me by example that it was going to be okay. We had a casual type of mentorship, but it was important to me to understand that life could go on for me as a blind individual.

These five tips will help you get the most out of your mentorship.

Reach out.

Learning Ally has chosen a group of students with visual impairments who have recently graduated from college. They are eager to help you with whatever you need. Reach out to Mary Alexander, and she will facilitate your connection.  Or set up a consultation on our website.

Don’t be shy.

Your Learning Ally mentor is eager to get to know you. The mentor will ask questions to get the conversation rolling, so be open and honest in your answers, and don’t worry too much about what the person might think.

Ask questions.

Once you and your mentor have gotten to know each other, ask whatever questions are on your mind. You may find it helpful to write your questions down ahead of time. Our mentors want you to succeed in life, but if they don’t know what you are struggling with, you won’t get the most out of the mentorship. Your mentor is available to help you gain efficiency with technology, advocate effectively with faculty and staff, connecting with your communities or any other issues which might come up in college.

Listen and absorb.

Your mentor has most likely been through whatever you are dealing with. I spent many hours talking to my mentor, and I benefitted the most when we talked about self-advocacy issues. I had professors who didn’t want to work with me, because I was a blind student taking computer programming classes. Because they didn’t think such classes were possible without sight, they discouraged me from taking programming classes. My mentor was a blind student studying chemistry. He has dealt with professors’ misconceptions about what blind people can do. When I started to second guess, he gave me the confidence to stand up for myself and reminded me that blind students can study whatever they want.

Follow up.

Your mentor has given you a great idea to try or has taught you how to speak assertively and confidently to a faculty member. After you have tried it in the real world, be sure to let your mentor know how things went. Mentors want to celebrate your successes and to help you to learn from any problems you had. They can also help you to come up with alternative solutions if the first one you tried did not work.

Organizations, such as the National Federation of the Blind or the American Council of the Blind, are invaluable resources for connecting you with other blind individuals. After getting involved in various groups, I met other independent blind people who were succeeding in the world. These role models taught me not to feel sorry for myself and imbued me with the confidence I needed to succeed in the world.

Having a deeper relationship with a mentor in which you can truly share your feelings can help even more than having casual acquaintance with others. You are adding a resource to your network, which can ultimately make you more powerful.

Thus, to connect with a mentor, sign up for a mentorship consultation. A mentor can be one of your most meaningful friends and your most important resource for thriving in college.

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