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How to Be Independent in the U.S. as a Blind Visitor

African exchange participant touching a tactile wall while visiting FDR Memorial in Washington DC
African exchange participant touching a tactile wall while visiting FDR Memorial in Washington DC

If you are blind or low vision, you will find Americans friendly and helpful but you may also notice that no one will assist you if you don’t ask.

Reasonable Accommodations to Increase Independence

  • U.S. laws and community resources create opportunities to support your independence.
  • You are allowed to bring dog guides into places that typically do not allow pets.
  • You are entitled to braille and audio materials or other accessible formats.
  • You might have access to free or low-cost training for independent living skills such as housekeeping or computer training.
  • Extra time on tests is also something that you may qualify to receive.

Independent Daily Living Skills

  • You will be expected to perform your own household tasks and prepare your own meals.
  • Using braille labels, tactile stickers and other assistive aids can help you use home appliances.
  • Local independent living centers and organizations of blind people  like the American Council of the Blind and the National Federation of the Blind might be able to assist in providing you with the skills and tools you need.
  • Your U.S. school’s disability Access Office might also be a good resource for this purpose.

Traveling in the U.S. without Assistance

  • Public transportation is often accessible though limited in rural areas.
  • Amtrak trains, long-distance buses, and domestic airlines provide economic regional transportation options.
  • You can get a ride in a friend’s car when public transit does not meet your needs.

Orientation & Mobility (O&M)

  • Academic institutions and other organizations sometimes provide access to an O&M instructor or arrange for a blind visitor to enroll in O&M training a few weeks or months prior to the start of their international experience.
  • O&M instructors typically don’t stay with you throughout the whole day.
  • Routes you will go over include bus and train stops, routes between classes, and other important destinations.
  • You will also learn safety in traveling across street intersections and through crowded areas.
  • Blind people’s organizations, community programs for the blind, schools for the blind, vision specialists and blind people themselves teach O&M skills.

Mobility Aids

Long cane/white cane

  • Extends in front of you to alert you of your path and obstacles in your way.
  • You can receive training, which can range from a session lasting a couple hours to a more intensive long-term arrangement.
  • Training is not always available for free to international visitors, but might be offered through your exchange program.

Dog guide

  • Might not be eligible to travel overseas with you or may have quarantine restrictions in Hawaii and requirements if coming from countries affected with screw worms.
  • Dog guide training schools are free or low cost, but you will need to inquire if the school accepts foreign students.
  • Guide dogs must meet the same requirements as pets when brought into the United States.
  • The U.S. Air Carrier’s Access Act, which covers foreign carriers entering U.S., say that airlines shall permit dogs used by people with disabilities to accompany them on a flight.
  • Read more details and other tips for deciding on if and how to prepare for travel with a dog guide at “Dog Guides and Service Animals When Traveling Overseas”.

Other aids

  • Human guides as well as electronic devices can also be useful when other methods alone are not enough to travel independently.
  • You can contact the local public transportation agency to find paratransit services for routes that are not accessible through mass transit.
  • You might require a personal aide to take notes or explain visual materials. The exchange program, workplace, or school can either hire aides to work with you or use a volunteer or classmate.
  • You might also wish to use a reader and/or a scribe for certain situations like filling out forms or taking exams. Someone will read materials out loud to you and write down your answers based on your dictation.
  • High-powered reading glasses and magnifiers can provide additional support for some people who have stable usable low vision and may be available low cost from community service clubs and associations.
  • Assistive technology and learning contracted braille and the services that provide accessible formats of print materials can be helpful in independently reading, writing and communicating. Learn more on the Assistive Technology for Blind or Low Vision tipsheet.

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