As a student who is blind or visually impaired, you may notice that you invest significantly more time than your classmates in reading your assignments, completing research, and studying for tests. But even though your primary focus may be completing all of your schoolwork, the importance of social connections for you can’t be emphasized enough.
There are many reasons why social connections are important. First, they help you make deep and meaningful friendships that are forged together by common interests. These friendships can ease the loneliness everyone sometimes feels when adjusting to a new environment or set of expectations. Second, these social connections often bridge the recreational with the academic; they can give you a community not only to have fun with but to study with as well. Finally, social connections may lead you to some of the most meaningful coincidences and happenings of your life. Never underestimate the importance of knowing people when you look for an internship in your field or when you’re applying for a job.
As you think about meeting new people at school, your visual impairment may seem like a barrier when you’re faced with the possibility of social situations. Something as small as not noticing when someone speaks to you because you can’t see very well or he or she doesn’t know your name can seem frustrating and embarrassing. Other issues may seem problematic too, such as finding out about different things to do: Even with the advent of both the Internet and social media, information about sports, clubs, and other activities may still be posted in ways that are inaccessible to you. Therefore, you may actually need to remind yourself to take part in at least one social activity that connects you to your college community.
The resources that follow are designed to help you to figure out ways to connect to your communities. For example, “College Social Life” by Ellen Trief will give you some great tips to start the process of deliberately connecting to people you don’t know. Cindy Bennett’s “ExTriCurricular Theory” offers a framework for prioritizing different types of connections once you’ve established good academic and study routines. In addition, there are some techniques that you can try to ease your way socially into the new environment in which you now study and live.
As you begin the process of making connections, don’t be afraid to reach out to the resources you have. Your disability services office (DSO) and academic advisor may be able to alert you to academic, philanthropic, or recreational opportunities to connect with. Readers, human notetakers, and other student assistants can tell you what they’re seeing around campus as they come across what’s going on. But keep in mind that none of these people will be able to offer you the information you seek unless you ask them!
Another great way to connect socially to the world is to join a local or national blindness advocacy group. Doing this can help you make social connections in all cases, but it can be particularly helpful if you take all your courses online or study on a campus where you don’t live. Joining a local group can get you involved in projects “on the ground” in which you’ll feel immediate connections to people in your area, while working nationally can broaden your connections based on your field of interest or the career you’d like to pursue. Check out the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)’s CareerConnect site, the National Federation of the Blind (NFB)’s student division, or Learning Ally’s College Success mentor program for more ideas about connecting to other students who are blind or visually impaired.
Finally, remember that everyone, sighted or not, feels some degree of isolation when adjusting to the different demands of college life, but if you feel particularly overwhelmed, anxious or depressed, don’t hesitate to reach out to family and friends from home, your academic advisor, the disability services office, or the counseling services your college offers. Talking out the feeling may be all you need to help you move forward into the exciting and challenging task ahead of you—connecting with all of your communities.