Helping to Remove Barriers to College

Nineteen-year-old William Slason is legally blind. He was born with achromatopsia, a congenital condition that makes him extremely sensitive to bright light. But thanks to Braille Institute’s youth programs, he has learned how to set high goals and expectations for success. William just completed his freshman year as an American Studies major at UC Berkeley. He is determined to go on to law school and, after that, he says, “I’d like to be a judge someday.”

William started attending Braille Institute at age 8. Supported by a knowledgeable and caring staff, he began to explore the wide world around him through activities such as kayaking, rock climbing, ski trips, and whitewater rafting. The outings gave him confidence and helped bring him out of his shell. “I wasn’t the most extroverted child, so it was a great, safely monitored way for me to gain a sense of self-reliance through exposure to nature,” he says.

But it was Braille Institute’s Independence University that proved to be the most life-altering experience for this adventurous young man. The unique, free program gives high school students who are blind or visually impaired a first-hand preview of college life. Participants are selected through an essay competition. Over four days during the summer, the students are provided with the knowledge and tools they will need to succeed in a college environment — from curriculum planning and financial aid information to adaptive technology resources, and more.

For participants like William, the impact of navigating a real college campus like Cal State Channel Islands, as well as visiting other nearby colleges, is dramatic. The intensive experience gave him an opportunity “to make first-hand comparisons between junior colleges, state schools, and private universities, rather than sitting at some computer miles away. It motivated me to pick a campus that’s the right fit for me.”

Independence University also helped William to understand the college application process and to learn how to access the services he would need to live on campus and get around as a person with a disability.

Today, William couldn’t be happier with his selection of UC Berkeley, one of the top universities in the country. This future judge credits Independence University with preparing him for the transition from a typical small high school to a full-blown university. “It inspired me to be more vocal, to communicate what I need, and to ask for help. “

This summer Braille Institute’s Independence University is being held at Cal State Long Beach and will no doubt inspire more students who are blind or visually impaired to fulfill their dreams.