The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has affected college students across the country. For students with disabilities, like Amy Rose Albin who has been blind since birth, the transition to remote learning comes with additional complications.
Albin, a senior psychology major at Montclair State University, suffers from a rare condition that includes a complete lack of vision or perception of light, color, shapes and specific details. She uses JAWS screen reader as a way to help her interpret emails, texts and messages from her computer screen.
“This condition that I have, I am the only one in my family who has it,” Albin said. “I guess the best way to describe it is, I see out of my eyes what you see out of your elbows. So, what can be challenging for me in particular is orientation, trying to actually find where things are.”
Albin does not let her condition get in the way of her academic success and hopes to get a graduate degree from Montclair State in industrial and organizational psychology. She says that her family, who she is close with, is supportive of her future goals and have remained closer during the pandemic.
“When everything was going crazy during [the spring], my family and I got really close,” Albin said. “We have always been pretty close, but we were really getting along with each other and we have intimate bonding moments when we [are] together.”
Nan Jacobson, an adjunct professor of psychology, considers Albin to be one of her best and brightest students.
“She has a really warm energy about her and I see the passion and potential in her as a student, despite her disability,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson began teaching at Montclair State in June of 2014 and met Albin in her intro to psychological research course. The only issue Albin experienced in Jacobson’s class was with visuals, such as interpreting graphs and picture charts. Due to this, Albin relied on an audio program that read to her when necessary. Despite this challenge, Albin turned out to be the top student in the class.
“[Albin] is filled with rigor, passion and competence,” Jacobson said. “She does not let her disability get in the way of her learning and it was a delight to know her.”
Outside of her academics, Albin is a social butterfly. She reflected on the good times she spent with her friends on campus prior to the pandemic.
“I did miss the freedom that I had, and I used to hang out with a group of friends every Wednesday night,” Albin said. “We’d go to the Red Hawk Diner and we’d do some things at the library, but now that stopped happening and I miss hanging out with them.”
Albin is best friends with Ilana Kaplan, a sophomore visual arts major. The two first met at the County College of Morris, before meeting again at Montclair State.
“It was a coincidence that we saw each other again at Montclair [State],” Kaplan said.
Kaplan said that she sometimes helped Albin walk to her dormitory, Freeman Hall, where they often ate together at the dining hall.
“Amy is very talkative and very nice,” Kaplan said. “I don’t see her any differently just because she is blind; I just see her as human.”
Meghan Hearns, the director of the Disability Resource Center (DRC), says the DRC offers services to help students and faculty.
“I believe that it is very important for all students to have access to services, programs and many facilities on our campus,” Hearns said. “Our main goal at Montclair State is to make sure that every student benefits from the quality of their education, as we prepare them for academic and professional success.”
Hearns described the services that the DRC offers for visually impaired students, like Albin, which include note takers, readers and textbooks on CDs. Even during the pandemic, Hearns and other DRC staff members are working to provide extra assistance for students with online resources and flexible availability hours. For residents like Albin, the DRC also provides housing accommodations and counseling.
Albin shared the tips that benefit her ability to recall information and navigate her way around campus, including using a cane and other techniques.
“I am able to take stairs, so I don’t need to go through ramps,” Albin said. “Once I learn where things are, I take mental notes of it and memorize it. Different people have different strategies for recalling certain information, so this is just my way of doing it.”
Despite the challenges that often come with navigating around campus, Albin says living on campus is a great experience for her because it provides her with freedom and independence.
“You know when you get to that age where you just want to be away from your parents and embrace your independence as an adult,” Albin said. “I enjoy living on campus and having the opportunity to be out on my own.”