STUDYING WITH A VISUAL IMPAIRMENT / BLINDNESS

A GUIDE FOR STUDENTS

We are glad that you have decided to start a university course. With this guide, we hope to ease your way into this new chapter of your life. We would like to show you what to expect before and after you have started your chosen degree course, and we think that this information will help you to start well-prepared.

HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR DEGREE COURSE

Before they start a degree course, blind or visually impaired students have to consider their choice more carefully than students without a visual impairment. This means that you should inform and organise yourself before you enrol for a degree course.

Experience shows us that simply going ahead with one’s studies doesn’t work for disabled students. This usually leads to disappointing experiences first and eventually ends in frustration. Therefore, ideally you should contact us at least half a year before you enrol for a degree course. This gives you enough time to consult us and to plan and organise your course carefully and comprehensively.

 

Choosing your degree course, you should ask yourself the following questions first:

  • Why do I want to study at university?
  • Which aim(s) do I pursue?
  • Considering my strengths, capacities, and interests, which course is right for me?
  • Which skills do I already have, and which skills do I need to acquire in order to accomplish my chosen course?
  • Which university offers which kind of support for blind and visually impaired students in which degree course?

If you have answered these questions for yourself, discuss your ideas with your family and friends and the “Integrationspädadoge/Integrationspädagogin” at your former school.

 

Visit the websites of possible universities and get information about the following subjects:

  • Information about the various degree courses
  • Course descriptions
  • Information Centres at the university
  • Open Days and information events for prospective students
  • Entry requirements
  • Registration dates and deadlines
  • Centres offering support for people with disabilities and chronic illness (at the University of Salzburg, this is the disability&diversity Centre)

HOW TO DECIDE ON A DEGREE COURSE AND A UNIVERSITY

Before you finally decide on a degree course, it is also important that you address the following questions:

  • Which (technical) aids are available (e.g., refreshable braille display, screen reader software, computer screen magnifier, audio output, screen magnifiers with or without a telephote, text-to-speech audio readers, optical magnification technology, audio recording devices)?
  • Are the technical aids I already own sufficient for my degree course? Do I need additional technical aids?
  • Are my skills in operating these aids sufficient?
  • How competent am I using standard computer software such as, e.g., Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook, Windows Explorer, Internet browsers, e-mail software, Acrobat Reader, and PDF documents?
  • Can I manage my chosen degree course with my knowledge and my skills, or do I need additional training with my technical aids and/or my computer skills?

EXPLANATION OF TERMS

Refreshable braille display: a “screen” for blind persons which can be connected to a computer.

Screen reader software: the software which connects the computer with a refreshable braille display. A screen reader renders the text files on your computer as braille characters on the refreshable braille display. Some products are also supported by speech synthesizers which can read out elements of what is being displayed on your monitor. Blind users can operate the computer with the screen reader. Special adjustments can be made in order to extend user-friendliness. Graphics cannot be interpreted as long as they are not text supported.

Computer screen magnifiers: screen magnifiers enlarge screen content (graphics as well) up to 36 times (with exceptions, up to 60 times). Frequently, screen magnifiers are supported by screen readers.

Screen-reading device: enlarge normal print up to 60 times – with exceptions, up to 100 times. Depending on the brand, these devices can also be equipped with a telephote which displays distant objects on a screen. There are standalone appliances, portable devices, and devices which can be connected to a computer and function as a scanner as well.

Text-to-speech audio readers: display normal print on a screen and convert written text into spoken words. Optical magnification devices: e.g., magnifying glasses, magnifying spectacles, monoculars.

HOW TO MAKE A DECISION

1. If you are interested in studying mathematics and computer science, we recommend one of the degree programs at the Johannes Kepler University in Linz. It features an institution called “Integriert Studieren“ (Integrated Studies), which is known as a national pioneer in supporting blind and visually impaired students. The required training in LaTeX cannot be offered in Salzburg in the same form (LaTeX is an indispensable software for displaying formulas of several lines).

2. In many degree courses there is a compulsory course in statistics. Blind students have to put an extra amount of effort into studying statistics because they cannot operate software programmes such as SPSS. Therefore, blind students have to learn using the statistics software “R” (you need to know the commands and their parameters so that you can enter them along with the data that needs to be calculated into the input line). You need to consider carefully whether you can make the additional effort to do this. It is not possible to exempt students from parts of compulsory courses. However, we can support you. Due to the legislation on university studies, though, blind students cannot be exempt from the compulsory lecture course “Einführung in die Statistik” (Introduction to Statistics).

3. If you want to study Communication Studies: There are also a couple of challenges for blind students which you should not underestimate, e.g. using different kinds of media. If you have chosen a degree course and a university, you should also decide whether you need a “Training für Lebenspraktische Fertigkeiten (LPF)” (a training in everyday practical skills such as housekeeping, shopping, etc.) and a mobility training (e.g., how to manage distances with a mobility cane and how to activate acoustic traffic signs). You can get information about the application process and possible funding for these training programs at the “Blinden- und Sehbehindertenverband Salzburg”.

SUPPORT OFFERED BY THE DISABILITY&DIVERSITY CENTRE

We offer support before you begin and during your degree course:

  • We provide information and advice about technical aids
  • We can help you with PDF documents that you cannot or can only partly open / read
  • We offer help in using Primo, the digital library, PLUSonline, e-Learning
  • We offer support with scientific works dealing with blindness or visual impairment
  • We support you with textual research, digitalisation, and quotable editing in alternative formats

HOW TO REGISTER FOR EXAMINATIONS

The disability&diversity Centre needs to be noticed at least 14 days ahead of an examination date so that we can contact the responsible department (the Vice Rectorate for Academic Affairs) and organise the examination arrangements. According to the university’s legal department, only university members are allowed to be present at examinations. Bilateral oral agreements between lecturers and students, e.g. about the length and mode of an examination, cannot be accepted and, consequently, do not correspond with the laws governing university studies (Universitätsgesetz §59 (1) Z 12), which provides the basis for a compensation for disadvantages.

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