Back to School O&M Style
by Jessica Eichfeld, COMS Instructor
1. Go through your schedule before the first day! Get in contact with your O&M instructor and see if they can take you over to the school, if not find a friend or ask your parents. It is so much easier to find your class locations when the hallways are clear, then you can identify landmarks that will be useful when the hallways are crazy busy. If there are classrooms that are difficult to locate and you are a visual traveler, ask the teacher to put a colorful sign outside their classroom door and tell them that if they change it to let you know beforehand. Most teachers are more than willing to help in any way.
2. Identify different routes to your classes. Your friends may use one route that is okay when you are walking with them, but may not be the best way for when you are alone. Stay after school and wonder the hallways, get to know the layout like the back of your hand.
3. Ask for an end locker and bring in your own accessible lock. It is embarrassing to always go to the wrong locker and then not be able to use the combination locks. So our low vision pals, please swallow your pride and ask; nobody but the teacher will know that you needed the end locker and most students are not even going to notice your lock is different. If you have gym make sure to bring an extra lock for the locker room.
4. Have a bus plan! How are you going to locate your bus after school? Do they park in the same spot? Do you have any friends that are on your bus and can help you out? For our Low Vision friends that can see color, would it be helpful for your bus to put a red (or another color) sign in the window? Also practice the route to and from the bus stop at home!!! Are there any street crossings involved? Get your O&M instructor involved and PRACTICE PRACTICE PRACTICE!
5. The cafeteria can be very overwhelming! So it is important to have a plan. Find out what friends are in your lunch beforehand and ask them to either sit around the same area they did in the previous years and/or look for you. Disposable trays are common in school cafeterias, they are flimsy and typically difficult to carry with a cane; so ask for rigid tray they usually will have a few. And most importantly make friends with the lunch ladies; they will always hook you up!
6. Very important tip that you should ALWAYS remember, do not over use your friends for help! Friends are a great resource and you are encouraged to be open and honest with your friends about your vision and what you may need help with. But do not always rely on the SAME friend every day, they will get burnt out and they may begin to avoid you. Learn how to do daily tasks on your own, so that you do not need assistance. And network, let a few people know how to help you and only ask for help when you REALLY need it. You may be surprised at how many truly helpful people there really are!