Construction hinders mobility of visually impaired students

By Jean Volz

For people unfamiliar with the winding walkways of NIU’s campus, getting around could be quite difficult.

But imagine being visually impaired and having to deal with not only the plight of being blind, but also with the campus construction which produces obstacles that hinder the assurance of safe walkways.

A campus office exists to assist blind students with any difficulties they might have while adjusting to the environment at NIU and its surrounding areas.

Linn Sorge, coordinator of Services for the Visually Impaired, said there are about 30 students on campus with severe visual impairments that utilize the program.

The services Sorge’s office coordinates focus around lending guidance and a helping eye to blind students, she said.

According to Sorge, one of the first services visually impaired students will request is campus orientation.

At the beginning of each semester, the office provides individual route training to familiarize blind students with the paths on campus. The guides work one-on-one with the students until they are comfortable with the routes they are shown, she said.

The office also coordinates community bus trips via the Freedom Mobile, Sorge said. This vehicle provides door-to-door service for visually impaired students wanting to go any place in the area.

Services for the Visually Impaired also provide sighted guides for persons needing assistance once they reach their destination, she said.

Sorge said an average shopping trip to Jewel for a sighted person can be extremely difficult for a visually impaired individual.

She said the regular bus service used by sighted students drops off passengers on Sycamore Road, leaving them to walk across a very busy parking lot. For a blind person, this could be extremely hazardous, she added.

In addition to providing guides and bus trips for students without sight, the Services for the Visually Impaired also works with several NIU departments to ensure that campus routes will be safe for students, she said.

Sorge praised Pat Bell of the Physical Plant and Tom Anderson of the Grounds Crew. She said they do a very good job of alerting her office to obstructed routes.

She also said the contractors around campus are conscientiously keeping the Services for the Visually Impaired informed of pedestrian obstacles that may come about as a result of their construction.

Despite the knowledge of where the hindrances from the construction are, Sorge said, “It’s so hard for the visually impaired and handicapped as it is. They (NIU) should do one part of campus at a time.”

Sorge, who also is visually impaired, said students should watch for blind individuals around campus and help them in potentially dangerous situations.

For example, she said, assistance crossing Normal Road would be greatly appreciated by blind students since it is a high traffic route on campus.

Sorge said, “A quick pair of eyes may help them a little bit.”