Thursday, May 08, 2008

Transitioning from high school to college; the LAMP model

I want to thank Tanesha Antoine the Special Populations Coordinator at
San Jacinto College (South Campus)
for inviting me to meet yesterday with a group of
Clear Creek ISD
high school students who are blind and visually impaired, and are considering college after graduation.

So the group could understand what qualifies me to speak with them, I began by giving them some background on myself. I described my personal history before blindness, the adventitious blindness, and my decision to go to college as a first step in doing something meaningful.

I emphasized that I had more than 13 years of great working experience that nobody could ever take away from me, but that this was not going to be enough for me to be seriously looked at for employment. I needed something to go with this experience, something else that, once earned, could not be taken away. That was an education.

I highlighted that my first contact at the college was at the DSO at the community college near my parents’ home, where I lived after the accident. I also highlighted to them how soon it became clear how important that office was going to be in my educational experience.

I continued by talking about my educational journey that took me On to the upper level university path and had me picking up two necessary classes, right there at San Jac South. I filled in about my three years as a Graduate Assistant experience in the university DSO and how it taught me so much more than just the student experience of disability services, which was augmented by the time I spent as a DSO Coordinator. I let them know I knew the experience from both sides of the disability service window-- both as a student receiving services and as a coordinator providing these services.

I strongly emphasized the importance of understanding the difference between students receiving services at the high school level and when going to college, outlining the laws governing these two domains. I really wanted them to understand how the onus was going to be on them for gaining accommodations when in college.

I’m one who finds acronyms a simple method of remembering more broad concepts. I also find that these make it an easy way to pass along information when speaking as well. After writing down the basics of what I wanted to discuss, I looked at the central idea of each point and created the LAMP model. Below are the basics of that model.

Limitations - Understand which limitations you truly have and do not set false ones for yourself.
If you cannot see to drive, then it is a true limitation that you cannot drive. However, do not use this as a cop-out and say, “I can’t drive, so I can’t get somewhere.” I illustrated this point by explaining the one-hour drive I had made that morning to meet with them. As another example, I pointed out that just because you’re unable to see doesn’t mean you can’t do algebra.

Advocacy - Self-advocacy is one of your greatest tools.
Nobody can speak up for you better than you about what resources you have at your disposal and what your accommodation needs are. Resources are not only the adaptive or assistive technology you have, but are also your skills, such as Braille or computer access with assistive technology, as well as your network of contacts. You know what works best for you and it is up to you to communicate these to your DSO Coordinator, professors, and classmates.

Meeting - Meet with your professors as soon as possible to discuss your accommodation needs.
This is critical for both the student and the professor. Meet with them in person, over the phone, or by email, but make it a point to meet with your professors as soon as possible. Do this before the semester starts, if at all possible. If you get that nasty old professor “Staff,” or otherwise do not know who your professor will be before the first class day, then by all means, stay after class that day and meet with him/her. Most professors are in this profession because they want to teach, but don’t always know what you need to learn. If you make the effort to learn and show them what you need, then most often you will develop a good working relationship with the professor. I emphasized that there will be some who might resist some specific accommodations, like recording lectures, but stand firm and call on the DSO Coordinator as your facilitator.

Planning - Planning to be successful means you must be successful at planning.
Planning has to do with everything from O&M to books, to how you’re going to address things like notetaking, projects, and any specifics of the class. You will need to learn the routes to class before the semester starts so that you can be at class on time starting that very first week. Communicate with your professors before the semester starts to learn which books are required so that you can, in turn, coordinate your needs with the DSO Coordinator so that accessible formats of the books can be gathered.

There was a good Q&A session following my presentation where a few final items were discussed. These subjects varied, but included the importance of registering with the DSO, advocating for your technology needs with the Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitive Services, owning your assistive technology versus using loaners provided by the DSO, and some aspects of the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, located in Austin. During this time, I also got to beam when demonstrating my Victor Reader Stream and showing some of the great features of this powerful piece of assistive technology.

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