How can college students who are blind get to class without being able to see the campus?

October 15, 2016 • Posted in blindness, guest blog, Uncategorized by
Ali and Joe.

Ali and Joe.

My young friend Alicia Krage was born blind. The guest post she wrote last week about going to a movie with her boyfriend Joe, who also is blind, got so much positive attention that I invited her to write another post for us.

Ali’s new post is about transferring from a community college, moving from home to a dorm and settling in to university life.

by Alicia Krage

Northern Illinois University (NIU) is located an hour away from my family. My boyfriend goes to NIU, and I have a lot of other friends who go here, too.

I couldn’t wait for this school year to begin. The knowledge that I’d get to see them every day and have face-to-face interactions with them instead of chatting online made me long for moving day to get here. I wanted to be surrounded by my closest friends.

However, contrary to the way that might sound, having a wonderful social life wasn’t the only thing that made me want to attend such a big school. What really attracted me was how well-known NIU’s Disability Resource Center is. As far back as my eighth grade year I can recall hearing about blind students attending NIU. I had considered going there myself after I toured the school seven years ago, but back then I was intimidated by the large campus — more than 20,000 students go to NIU.

My boyfriend Joe is blind, and visiting him at NIU gave me first-hand knowledge of the resources and wonderful transportation services available for students with disabilities there.

My move-in day was August 17. My parents, along with one of my sisters, helped me move in. .

I had requested a single room with my own private bathroom, and my wish was granted. It is a decent size, and I’m happy to have so much space.

The move took several hours, as did running through a few routes — from the lobby to the elevators, from the elevators to the dining hall. After all that, I was exhausted.

It wasn’t until my parents and sister left that it finally started to sink in: I was on my own. Instead of being nervous, I was unbelievably excited.

After my family left, Joe came over and offered to run through some routes with me, despite knowing my family had helped me earlier.

I declined.

But then he thought up a different task: How will I know the difference between my room key and bathroom key? My mother had already put a sticker on my room key to tell the difference, but Joe helped me figure out another method just in case the sticker we used might fall off –which it did a few days later.

He showed me the teeth on my room key and then my bathroom key and pointed out that the teeth were more curved on the bathroom key. that is how you can tell the difference. I was impressed! This method works perfectly.

Most of my classes are in one building on campus, but that building is big. It could have been intimidating — and confusing. Getting to classes isn’t as bad as I thought it might be, though. I often stop others in the hall to ask for assistance, and over and over again my fellow students cheerfully say, “Of course!”

I have been amazed, impressed, and very happy with everyone’s reaction to a blind student walking around campus. When I attended my local community college, I’d get frantic apologies when I’d accidentally run into someone, and all sorts of unusual reactions to my white cane, too. Some people didn’t even understand what my “white stick” was for. It was clear I was one of very few blind students at College of DuPage.

Here at Northern Illinois University, things are different. When I walk around campus here at NIU, several people (often at the same time) stop me and offer to help. Many are very familiar with sighted guide techniques. Students here just seem very accustomed to seeing a white cane or even a guide dog.

Now I often run into people who have already offered me their arm and led me down the hall somewhere or another once before. We might not be friends, but I’m glad I’m a familiar face on campus.

The dining hall in my dorm is a short walk from the elevator (which beeps for every floor). Someone is always at the front counter where your card is swiped, and they often greet me by name (again…I’m glad I’m a familiar face). A worker swipes my card, then uses a walkie-talkie to request assistance from a student worker. The student worker then leads me down the ramp and into the food court, where they ask me where I want to go.

There’s Traditional (which has a different menu every day), Pizza and Pasta, The Grill (which has the same thing every day), among other options. They fill my tray and seat me directly by the ramp. That way I can easily exit when I’m finished.

The social aspect is fantastic. Almost all my close friends live in my building, and if they don’t, they are a five minute walk or a 10 minute drive. We use what’s called the Husky Line Freedom Mobile, which is a free door-to-door Paratransit service for NIU students with disabilities. It will take you anywhere in the area, and off campus after 5 p.m.

I’ve already found my favorite coffee shops and music venues, and I’ve been to pretty nice restaurants. I have yet to explore so much more!

I’m sitting in my dorm room typing this, and it’s amazing to look back on all of this and realize that it’s only been a couple of months since I moved in. I’ve had the most amazing start here, and I’m so happy knowing there’s so much ahead of me – so many new experiences, challenges, and many more wonderful people to meet.

Mel Theobald On October 15, 2016 at 11:50 am

Alicia, reading your descriptions of college life is intoxicating. Whether you know it or not, you’re forming lifelong friendships which will carry you far beyond the NIU campus. It makes me smile to hear how two months have flown by. You’re just beginning a wonderful journey and I hope you’ll keep sharing your stories. They are an absolute joy.

Ali On October 15, 2016 at 12:35 pm

Thank you so much for this! I love writing for Beth and sharing what stories I can with all of you.

Mel Theobald On October 15, 2016 at 1:11 pm

Ali, you’re welcome. None of us need look any further than the example set by Beth to understand what I meant. She and Mike remind us all the time about how those friendships stay with us. So, yes, I look forward to hearing more. You are redefining how we as humans relate to each other and that is such a positive relief when seen against the backdrop of what is happening all around us. Please keep writing, but don’t forget to study, midterms are coming up. LOL

Ali On October 15, 2016 at 5:23 pm

Awww thank you! I enjoy writing for Beth and sharing stories, but I certainly will find time to study (already found my favorite study places). Lifelong friendships are great! I met Mike only once, but he’s such a friendly guy. Hope to see him and Beth son! Thanks for commenting!

Leslie Hamric On October 15, 2016 at 1:25 pm

hello. My name is Leslie and I attended northern Illinois university from 1994 to 1999. I too, impressed with butter Centerfarm students with disabilities. And I was able to learn all my rugs in a timely manner. After trying the campus for a year with the cane, I decided because the campus is so big that a guide dog would help. I got my first guide dog in the summer of 1995. And we literally flew across campus a lot of the time. I had to go to the music building a lot so I could practice since I was a cello performance major. I will always remember and enjoy my time at NIU.

Sent from my iPhone


Ali On October 15, 2016 at 5:24 pm

So cool that you are an alumni! NIU is such a wonderful school, I like it a lot. I am happy to know that you liked it here, too! 🙂

monna ray On October 15, 2016 at 4:49 pm

What an upbeat, inspiring blog. Thanks Beth. Monna

Sent from my iPad


bethfinke On October 15, 2016 at 5:09 pm

My pleasure –Ali deserves all the credit.


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