National nonprofit program offers peer mentors, specialized curriculum and resources, at no cost to students with visual disabilities
PRINCETON, NJ -- Students entering college and institutions of higher education face many challenges, like being away from home for the first time, navigating through an unfamiliar school and city, and especially dealing with a new academic workload. Starting out on the college journey can be daunting at times for any student -- and for those who are blind or visually impaired, it can impose monumental difficulties.
According to the National Federation of the Blind, of the 1.3 million legally blind individuals in the U.S., only 29 percent go to college, while only 12 percent earn a Bachelor's Degree or higher. While the Americans with Disabilities Act requires institutions and educators to offer accommodations to blind students, these statistics suggest that accommodations alone are not adequate in helping these students succeed in their college experience.
With these challenges in mind, Learning Ally, a national nonprofit organization serving students with learning and visual disabilities, recently launched its College Success Program (CSP) specifically for students attending institutions of higher education who are blind or visually impaired. The program comes at no cost to enrolled students, through the generosity of foundations and private donors.
Based on extensive research around the specific needs of students with visual disabilities in school, Learning Ally has developed its College Success Program Core Curriculum, a specialized curriculum providing resources for self-advocacy, academic achievement and a well-rounded college experience necessary for success on and beyond campus.
Components of the program’s Core Curriculum for enrolled students include:
Communicating with Your Professors
Making Connections (campus life and activities)
Partnering with the Disabilities Services Office
- Career Development and Readiness
Additionally, the College Success Program provides specially trained peer mentors for enrolled students. These mentors are blind or visually impaired themselves, and have succeeded in college and beyond. Now they are giving back, serving as advisers to currently enrolled students, helping them navigate the college journey and learn to advocate for themselves.
The College Success Program mentors have a wealth of experience and knowledge, having gone on from college to achieve remarkable goals. Learning Ally mentors have flourished in unique pursuits such as teaching music, travelling the world, working with the famous Coppola vineyards while running a camp for blind students, and even finishing the Boston Marathon.
"For some of our students, their mentors are the first successful blind people that they’ve met," says Abigail Lanier, Learning Ally College Success Program Mentor Coordinator. who is visually impaired. "The College Success Program is effective because students are able to connect with a person who has been there and done it."
Mary Alexander, Learning Ally’s National Director of Initiatives for the Blind describes the CSP mentors as articulate, intelligent and compassionate individuals who are not defined by their vision impairment. “They want to give back by helping students who face similar challenges,” she says. “We believe that with their guidance and our research based curriculum, students who are blind or visually impaired can join a supportive community that leads to success.”
"A caring peer who believes that 'I can do it' is magic for many young people who are blind," agrees Andrew Fisher, President of The Lavelle Fund for the Blind, one of the chief funders of the program since its inception. "Part of the magic of the College Success Program is the mentorship component where a student recognizes, 'Oh, someone just like me has been this brilliant success.’ There is no reason why persons who are blind cannot both have and achieve the American dream."