When I was getting ready to start my senior year at SHU, all I knew was I wanted to make it the best year ever. I was thinking about what I hadn’t done yet in college and the one thing that took over my thinking was study abroad. I had never left America, and it was at the top of my bucket list.
Italy was always the dream and when I heard a Catholic Studies course was going there during spring break I thought it was the perfect opportunity.
As the trip planning process began, the fact that I am visually impaired remained a top concern. I have other friends that have traveled abroad as blind students and they did just fine. I had been to 21 different states and traveling is practically a by-weekly occurrence for me. I advocated for myself in every way possible, but that didn’t change the trip. The act of me climbing a flight of stairs seemed to give the SHU faculty a lot of anxiety.
The Italians didn’t seem to treat me different and were very nice.
Italy is doing their part to try to make the country as inclusive as possible.
Most elevators had braille on the buttons, and if not, they had raised numbers that could be felt. I found one ATM in Sienna that had a headphone jack for audio instructions. In Rome there were more accessible entrances and elevators available, but I expected that. America may be further along with making buildings accessible and having the image of being an inclusive country, but we seem to have forgotten the attitudes that are needed to be considered inclusive.
I hope blind students that come after me will take the plunge to study abroad. It was a great experience, but I hope it is better for them. I enjoyed the trip a lot, but feeling smothered with other people’s worries put a little damper on the trip.
When I got back to campus, I felt free and like I could be me again, and I had hoped the feeling would’ve been different. I learned I am the first blind student to study abroad at SHU, but I hope I’m not the last. I hope my experience will serve as a trial run, and I hope other blind students don’t have to feel powerless and helpless in their dream destinations.
Veronica Gaspa is a senior creative writing major from Charlottesville, V.A. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.