Moving into student accommodation at university can be a big step. For many students it will be the first time living away from home. It’s a big transition for all students; getting used to a new living environment, learning to look after yourself and doing your own shopping, cooking and cleaning.
This learning curve can be particularly steep for someone who is blind or partially sighted. But despite the challenges, living at university can be an exciting and rewarding experience; greater independence, learning important life skills, handling responsibilities, making decisions and knowing how to look after yourself.
That’s why it is vital blind and partially sighted students living at university are able to make the most of this experience too. The good news is that often all it takes is the right awareness and support from the people around the student such as housemates and flatmates.
To help, we’ve put together some handy top tips, so keep reading!
Top tips for housemates and flatmates
If you are sharing accommodation with someone who is blind or partially sighted, you may not know how to help or be aware of the little things you can do which make a big difference for keeping the living space safe and accessible. Here are some top tips you can follow to support your blind or partially sighted housemate/flatmate:
- Introduce yourself! When meeting someone or when entering a room they are in, it can be really helpful for you to let your flatmate know that you are there and who you are. A light touch on their forearm can also help them know you are talking to them.
- Try and use specific language when describing things or providing information. Use phrases like “it’s on the coffee table” or “it’s about an arm’s length to your left” rather than “here” or “over there”. When describing things include textural characteristics and shape. When providing directions refer to key landmarks, direction of travel and distances.
- Don’t move someone else’s belongings. You may think it would be helpful or just being tidy, but it is vital items such as cleaning products and personal belongings stay where they were placed, so they can easily be located and identified.
- Keep shared spaces and pathways obstruction free and avoid moving items such as furniture without discussing and agreeing first. They can easily become trip hazards or may remove cues your flatmate uses to navigate the room. Ask what else can help in the shared parts of the living space, such as keeping washing up in a designated area out of the sink to avoid accidents with knives or glasses.
- Going somewhere? Ask if they would like to come with you. Whether it is to the local supermarket, the student union bar or a uni event, it can be really helpful to travel with someone – especially in those first few weeks.
- Share news and information. Often information about social opportunities, events and important route closures or room changes are communicated via posters which can be really inaccessible. If you see a new notice or ad, ask if your flatmate or classmate is aware of the information and if they would like you to read it for them.
- Be confident and start the conversation. You may be worried about saying or doing the wrong thing or asking a sensitive question, but it is much worse to ignore or exclude your housemate/flatmate. Though it is important to stay respectful, it is nice to be open to learning about how their condition affects them day to day, the things that can be more difficult and the little things you can do to help. And don’t forget to talk about fun things too, such as their interests and passions. Be a friend, not just practical support.
- If you are in a new situation together, check in to see how this might change things. They might be very confident cooking and eating independently at home, but eating out may be a different story. They might appreciate a description of where the different food items are on their plate or the layout of the restaurant for example.
- Respect their wishes. If they say they can manage the task themselves, trust them and allow them the space to do so. There is such a thing as being over-helpful, and this can do more harm than good. This is why it is important to ask first, and keep communicating rather than make assumptions.
Top tips for blind and partially sighted students
If you are a blind or partially sighted student living at university, here are some useful tips to help you make the most of the experience:
- Help your housemates/flatmates understand. It can feel daunting to introduce your condition to new people, but talking to your housemates/flatmates about how your condition impacts you can really make it easier for them to understand your perspective. Have a think in advance about the information that would be helpful for them to know and that you are comfortable sharing. Having a prepared plan in your mind is always helpful for overcoming any nervousness!
- Ask for help if you need it. People won’t know what to do or the way to help that is right for you unless you let them know. Explain what assistance you do and don’t like and a little about why. This will help them to understand your perspective. It is important you both feel comfortable in any situation that a housemate/flatmate might be supporting you with.
- How can you help? Suggest ways you can help your housemates/flatmates too. Is there a shared task you could take ownership of or something you could do for them regularly? This can be really empowering and help you feel more settled and connected with the people you live with.
- Reach out for more support. If your housemates/flatmates can’t help with something, don’t give up! Contact your accommodation provider, university or student union – there may be student volunteers that can lend a hand. Also, look for local organisations, such as the local Sight Loss Council, that could provide support or advice. And if you are still not sure where to turn, you can always reach out to us – email firstname.lastname@example.org or call our support line 0203 757 8040.
Here are some other handy resources for helping blind and partially sighted students get the most out of living at university.
If you are packing large suitcases and storage boxes before moving to uni, you might want to know what you should pack and what -maybe- not.
Technology that could help
Why not check out our Technology in Education pages, to find out how you can make your laptops and phones accessible with built-in features, accessible accessories, and more!