Blind students face unique challenges

Koran Addo

How does a blind person study anatomy?

By spending lots of time with the teaching assistant, John Lukanen said. Lukanen has low vision, which means he can see objects up to three feet in front of him.

Lukanen and other visually impaired University students said some tasks – including finding classes and getting around campus – are easier for them than others would guess, while simply crossing the street and taking notes are harder.

“I grew up in the area,” Lukanen said. “I get around just fine.”

For visually impaired student Jessie Wang, getting around campus is nothing compared to her other accomplishments.

Wang has been rock climbing, traveled alone to China and took a horseback riding class – all with low vision.

Classes, however, have been a challenge for both students.

“You have to be on top of things,” Lukanen said.

Visually impaired students are responsible for getting class materials in formats they can read and talking to professors, Disability Services officials said.

Students can use Braille or scan-and-read programs, which allow students to scan course materials into a computer that magnifies them or reads them aloud.

Lukanen said the programs he needs to do his homework cost more than the computer. Only five computer labs on campus are equipped with the software visually impaired students need.

“If I have an hour in between class, it’s not like I can go sit somewhere and read,” Lukanen said.

Making new friends on campus is also hard for visually impaired students.

“It’s kind of hard to meet people in a class with six hundred people,” Lukanen said.

“I might talk to somebody one day, but it’s not like I can find them the next day. Ö They would have to come find me,” he said. “Sometimes they are hesitant.”

Different things are frustrating for Wang.

“ATMs equipped with Braille – that’s nice, but I can’t see the screen,” she said.

Wang is also troubled when people open doors for her without telling her which way they open.

“Sometimes it ends up hitting me,” Wang said. “Sometimes people do more harm than good.”

In general, both Lukanen and Wang said the University is mostly handicap-accessible.

“For its size, the University does a great job,” Lukanen said.

Danielle Margenau, a University Disability Services specialist, said the University strives for accessibility.

“We do our best,” Margenau said. “Our goal is to have all services and facilities accessible to students no matter what their disability is.”

Traffic, however, is still a concern for the visually impaired.

Both Wang and Lukanen have been in car accidents, and Lukanen was hit by cars twice in the past week, he said.

“I got nudged coming out of the Fourth Street Ramp Ö (Drivers are) paying more attention to traffic than the pedestrians,” Lukanen said.

Lukanen’s second accident was with a bicyclist on the sidewalk.

“The guy ran into me, and then told me to watch where I was going.”