Starting with Uncertainty

Starting with Uncertainty

By Logan Stenzel

(Editor’s Note: Logan Stenzel, one of our national scholarship finalists, will be starting his freshman year at the University of Minnesota this fall. Here is what he has to say about being a blind student beginning college during a pandemic:)

As I sit here wondering how to start this article, I've realized there is no better way to start it than to admit that I am uncertain of how to start. Beginning a new chapter in life is filled with uncertainty and college is no different. How will I handle college coursework? What if I get lost going to class? How will I make new friends? Those uncertainties are amplified by blindness. Will my coursework be accessible? Are my Orientation and Mobility skills good enough to navigate a college campus? How will I fit in with my sighted peers? As I prepare for my upcoming transition to college there is one additional aspect of uncertainty I cannot ignore: what will going to college during a global pandemic be like?

The coronavirus has everyone around the world wondering what the future may hold and rising college freshmen like me are no exception. The current public health situation amplifies all of the uncertainties that already surround transitioning to college as a blind student. The uncertainty of next fall has every student concerned and especially blind students. As blind students, we face more barriers then our sighted peers and those barriers create more questions. Will my newly created online course be accessible? How will I navigate campus with public transportation potentially being a virus hotspot? How do I build relationships with people as a blind person during a pandemic? These are all pressing questions that I and blind students across the country are grappling with.

The jump from high school to college is an opportunity for new levels of independence for all students, but it is also one that involves new levels of responsibility that are unique to blind students. As college students, we are responsible for taking our learning into our own hands. While we are entitled to accommodations that allow for equal educational access, we are also required to advocate for this access. As a high school debater, I look forward to the opportunity of advocating for my needs in college, but I also realize that advocacy and access will look different this year. As courses transition to online formats, there will inevitably be access issues that arise, and this is a cause for concern. But I also know that I can lean on the knowledge and experience of other blind students in the NFB to understand what platforms are inaccessible and how to proceed. I know that my school's Disability Resource Center will be scrambling to figure out how to handle accommodations during such uncertain times, but I also know fellow federationists will give me the strength and courage to make sure the Disability Resource Center fulfills my access needs.

It is not an understatement to say that the world has fundamentally changed over the last several months and it is unclear how that will impact the way we interact with each other going forward. Part of the college experience is meeting new people and forming meaningful relationships. Whether that be chatting with your professor during office hours or eating in the dining hall with a group of friends. These interactions are at the core of the college experience. As blind people, we are familiar with the intricacies and nuances of building relationships with our sighted peers. A situation that can be complex, involving deliberations about how and when to disclose blindness, strategies for finding people in crowds, and the well-intentioned but sometimes irritating questions about blindness. Now the question becomes how does the prevalence of social distancing and virtual events impact socializing as a blind person? While I don’t have the answers now, I know everyone will be in the same boat regardless of vision status during this social transition. Now more than ever, it is an important time to show the world that we as blind people can live the lives we want. While there is undeniably uncertainty around how this fall will go, I urge all blind students to continue to be involved with college activities and events outside of the classroom not only for personal benefit but also for the benefit of all blind people.

This fall is uncertain, but I am certain the blind community and the NFB will continue to fight to live the lives we want. And if all else fails, I can always count on MNABS Monday Night Trivia Madness to give me a boost of energy and to remind me it’s ok to be uncertain!