Choosing a School

The Disabilities Office

My academic experience was greatly defined by the willingness and ability of the disabilities office to work with me. I visited the disabilities office whenever I toured potential schools. After I was accepted into a program, I would meet with the disabilities office again to discuss my support needs in advance of moving to the school and beginning classes. I would talk about which accommodations and supports have been required in the past, and clearly express what I felt I would need as a student in my program.
During the time I was evaluating grad schools, one stood out to me as ideal in every area until I spoke to the disabilities office. When I met with them, I was informed that their access assistant hiring process would not involve me at all. I asked if an adjustment could be made, and the response I received was essentially, “This is what we have. Take it or leave it.”
In my opinion, this is not an appropriate attitude for the disabilities office to have towards its students. Every student’s situation and needs are different. This ought to be recognized. The attitude should be one of conversation and flexibility, rather than one size fits all, take it or leave it. To any disabled student evaluating schools, I urge you to prioritize a disabilities office that agrees to listen to your unique needs.


Another big consideration when choosing a school is livability of the area. It's important to make sure that the area is accessible and that you can live within the lifestyle. One of the important aspects for me was access to public transportation. Because of the importance of public transport, a school in a rural area was not a good option for me. You may also want to consider the state's services for the blind (if any)—having a relationship with them is helpful to access resources that you need to make a life for yourself. Lastly, reaching out to the city may also be helpful to make sure they are willing to make accommodations for you. (See my Working with the City page for more information).
Foremost, it is important to seek out an advisor who is willing to support you and help you access resources. But, it is also important to me to look for someone who values intellect and work in its own right. Some advisors have difficulty holding visually-impaired and blind students to the same standards as they hold someone who is fully sighted. I wouldn't want to work with someone who takes me on for any reason other than respecting the work I can produce.
On a final note, you should also consider the research group itself. Be sure to speak with the other members of the group before choosing an advisor. It's important to make sure that you feel included in the group and that your contributions will be valued.