Elevation Within Uncertainty by Megan Hale and Rachel Pavone

From the Editor: Summer is starting, and many blind students across the country are engaging in internships, spending time with family, and hoping to return to their respective high schools, colleges and universities come fall. However, it is noted that the beginning of summer marks the end of a unique academic year for many. In congruence with the announcements and celebrations of members finishing their academic programs in spite of the pandemic, the National Association of Blind Students is interested in the journeys of members that have weathered the storm and enriched their academic and social confidence. This month’s blog post focuses on two blind students that have very different views of how their past academic year progressed. Our presenters, Megan Hale and Rachel Pavone, are at the beginning and end of their undergraduate journeys, respectively, and their experiences in the preceding testimonials depict the diversity in learning experiences with the similar outcome of success. Please enjoy!

Megan Hale
Hudson Valley Community College
New York Association of Blind Students

The first year of college can be hard on anyone, and my first year of college was no different. As a blind individual pursuing a degree in Physical Education, I naturally came across many challenges. The first semester was full of educating professors and other faculty at my college. It wasn’t easy, but after much struggle I was able to get the accommodations I needed from all parties. I finished my first semester at Hudson Valley Community College with a 3.8 GPA despite my many battles.

Next was my second semester. The second semester went a lot smoother now that everyone knew what accommodations I needed. This semester was also full of educating professors, but it wasn’t as stressful as the first semester was. I collaborated with my professors and I was able to get through my PE activity classes just like everyone else. I joined the track team at HVCC, but by the time we were able to go to our first meet , the virus broke out. My track season was canceled, and things were about to get challenging once more.

I have heard some students say that going online was terrible and they don’t want to do it again. However, for me that wasn’t the case; I loved being online. I wasn’t handed pieces of print papers and told by the professor that they couldn’t make an electronic version. I didn’t have to ask for the PowerPoints ahead of time since they were already on Blackboard for everyone to view. I didn’t have to make sure that tests were brought to the disability office on time. For me, college was a lot more accessible, and I made sure to tell the professors how grateful I was that accessibility was not overlooked in this time of uncertainty. Despite the virus, I finished my second semester with a 4.0 which I didn’t expect. Not only did I finish with good grades, but I also won one of the most prestigious scholarships from my school, got my photography photos published in the schools magazine to earn the title of published photographer, and was inducted into the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society which is the world’s most prestigious two year honor society.

Even though these times can cause a great deal of uncertainty, I know that my fellow NABS members and I pushed through the semester and faced each challenge head on. This experience reminded me that our own doubt is the only thing truly standing in the way of living the lives we want.

Rachel Pavone
Western Michigan University
Michigan Association of Blind Students

I am a vision rehabilitation therapy master’s student at Western Michigan University. During the past few months, like others, I have had to adjust to the changes that came with COVID-19. Some of the challenges that I had to deal with were learning with distance education, finishing up a thesis for the honors college at my university, and adjusting to not seeing friends and love ones.

In March, like everybody else, our university closed, and we transitioned to distance education. I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree during this time. Our online system was inaccessible, and I had to talk with my teachers to figure out a plan to complete the semester. One of the lessons from this was that you need to know how to advocate for yourself. By communicating with my professors, I was able to finish the semester with all A’s.

Next, I had to present my honors thesis on assistive technology in the field of vision rehabilitation therapy. Finishing was not the hard part but figuring out how to use WebEx and share my screen was the challenge. The lesson here was that working towards a goal is so rewarding. Even though it may require a lot of work, it will eventually pay off in the long run. With some help from the professor that I was working with and by doing some of the research and technical things myself, I did amazing with my presentation and graduated with my honors chords.

The final aspect is that when all of this happened, I was having a hard time because I couldn’t go and hang out or visit with the people that I love and care about. I was depressed at first because I am a very social person. The lesson from this is to use all of the tools in your toolbox and always have a plan from A-Z on how you can do things. Using the modern technology that we have in this day and age, I was able to still keep in touch with people, even though I couldn’t physically go and see them.

So through all of the tough times that we are going through, remember to never give up and use all of the tools in your tool box. You will get through this hard time, and you will come out on the other side better than when you started.