3 Tips For Surviving Freshers Week As A Blind Student

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At this very moment, if you listen hard enough, up and down the UK you will hear the sound of a thousand teenagers desperately trying to fit in, pretend they find their new flatmates funny, and erase all trace of their past selves.That’s right, September is upon us, and with it brings Freshers Week for new university students all over the country; simultaneously the best, worst, longest, craziest, and most stressful week of your life so far.
I embarked on my university journey back in 2014 at the University of York and thought I would write a little bit about my experience of Freshers from a visually impaired perspective.

1. Preparation is key.

If you are a visually impaired or blind person preparing to start at university, I cannot stress how important it is to do your homework first. Contact the disability department to see how they can assist you, arrange tours of your accommodation, campus or local area to familiarize yourself with your surroundings, and make connections with important people before you start, such as the student union, college reps and support staff. Basically, make yourself known – and get to know – as many people as possible at the university, as this can make integrating into university life infinitely easier.

Before I started at York – a relatively small campus university for those who aren’t aware – I arranged to move in to my halls of residence a week before freshers week so that I could spend a few days learning my way around, getting comfortable, and most importantly, bagging the best cupboards in the kitchen.
In addition, in the summer leading up to starting uni, I spent a great deal of time learning how to cook basic meals, putting colour tags in all of my clothes so I could match outfits independently, and practicing how I was going to explain my eye condition to the people I met at uni.
This last task, while it sounds rudimentary, actually turned out to be one of the most vital bits of preparation I undertook. Over the course of Freshers Week, I met probably around a hundred new people. Thus, having a pre-planned idea of the key points to tell someone about your eye condition (in my case that I was night-blind and could not recognise people by face for example) was very useful. This way, from day 1, people knew that I would need guiding in dark places and that I was not being rude if I failed to say hi to them around campus. Establishing this at such an early stage not only made me feel more comfortable but also the people around me, as it decreased the amount of awkward attempts at high-fives and in fact served as a pretty effective ice-breaker.

2. There will always be ups and downs.

Freshers Week was without doubt the most bi-polar week of my life. One moment I could be feeling elated that I had successfully introduced myself to someone or cooked a meal by myself, and the next, I could be panicking at the foot of my bed wishing I could go home and hide forever. It’s an emotional time and absolutely draining for someone with a visual impairment with such an extreme amount of new information, people and places to process.
I remember getting back on the first night of Freshers and despairing that I wouldn’t be able to ever fit in at university. In that evening, I had struggled to get a word in edgeways in the crowded kitchen full of people who seemed to have nothing in common with me. I had also been left in the middle of a club – unable to see or hear anything – by someone who had been guiding me but had run off to the bar to get a drink with someone else. I felt that while my preparation had been good and useful, nothing could help me adapt to nights out, where everyone quickly got drunk and suddenly forgot that they had a blind flatmate who needed guiding around everywhere.

This feeling of despair however could not have been more short-lived. For the next four nights, I had incredible experiences in clubs with my new flatmates, forming the basis of strong friendships and finding my place and identity within the flat dynamic. As the people around me got to know me more and started to understand what I needed help with on a night out, they were more than happy to support me because they wanted me to be there and to enjoy myself. I stopped feeling like a burden and started really embracing the opportunity to re-invent myself and shape my own identity as a confident and outgoing visually impaired person.
This of course did not mean that my Freshers Week was plain-sailing from this point on, but for every negative moment of feeling like I couldn’t get involved in certain activities or visual jokes, there was a positive moment, whether it was achieving a new level of independence, making an acquaintance or just having a great night out.

3. Keep a record of what you get up to.

Seriously, you will look back on this week in the future as a complete and utter blur, so I would suggest keeping a note of what you do and who you meet.
It is the main reason why I can remember the following:

3 MOST EMBARASSING FRESHERS MOMENTS

• I spent about 20 minutes building up the courage to knock on my neighbour’s door and introduce myself as I could hear her unpacking all of her stuff. The moment I entered, I managed to step on a giant box of her plates and glasses which almost broke them all. Not a great first impression… On the plus side, we still laugh about this incident today.

• On Day 2, during a flat fry-up, I accidentally flicked a forkful of baked beans onto the girl sitting next to me, which she didn’t notice for a good ten minutes until she had stopped eating. (Tip: you can never practice basic cutlery skills enough).

• I introduced myself to the same person on three separate occasion. They didn’t have the heart to tell me they’d heard all of my pre-scripted banter before…

3 BEST FRESHERS MOMENTS

• On the fourth night, I tripped over in a club… definitely because of my bad sight, definitely not the vodka… I was roughly manhandled out of the club by a bouncer. Once the uni found out what had happened, they launched an investigation and ensured that my picture was given to every club in York along with an explanation that I was registered blind and was not allowed to be kicked out for stumbling around. Who said that sight loss doesn’t come with perks?

• I had my first ever club night where I felt totally comfortable and was never left on my own by the group I was with.

• I met a ton of new people and by the end of the week, I had friends to cook meals with, attend lectures with, and try out activities and societies with. Though the majority of friendships you make in Freshers will be lucky to last till the end of the term, I met a handful of people that week who I can confidently say three years later will be friends for life.
I hope you enjoyed this blog about my personal experience of Freshers Week. If you are visually impaired yourself and bricking it about the prospect of starting university life, I hope this proved a bit useful. If you would like any more advice, tips or information, feel free to drop me a message on here.

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