Scholarships for the Visually Impaired
There are a Variety of Scholarship Sources for Blind Students
Major progress has been made and huge steps have been taken in the last few decades to make the world as easy to navigate as possible to the visually impaired: braille is ubiquitous, auditory methods of signalling are used in traffic and other common public situations, and hundreds of thousands of books have been converted to audio books. The collegiate world has also taken significant steps in opening their doors to students with a sight-related disability. Many college classrooms now accommodate the visually impaired through textbooks that can be listened to, touch-based navigation, and easy-access academic buildings and dormitories.
The visually impaired also have a leg-up at affording their college career if they choose to go the route of post-secondary education. Many scholarships are in place to provide a supporting hand to the visually impaired. Here is a selection of the financial aid possibilities available to blind students from a variety of national organizations, state councils, and singular universities.
National Federation of the Blind
The NFB has the largest scholarship program for legally blind post-secondary students in the country. The Federation grants 30 scholarships annually (ranging from $3,000 to $12,000) to legally blind persons in higher education from college freshmen to doctoral candidates. Federation scholarship winners also win a trip to the organization’s annual convention and the opportunity to develop mentoring relationships with the nation’s most dynamic leaders of the blind community. Winning a Federation scholarship is a lifetime distinction because winners must compete in a pool of over 600 applicants. Winning is also an honor since the selection process is performed by successful blind persons.
The American Council of the Blind
Legally blind, full-time students at the post-secondary level (in both academic and vocational programs) may be able to receive funds from the more than twenty scholarships offered by the American Council of the Blind (ACB). The news articles, public forums, and radio material that ACB produces are also a great resource for finding out about new scholarships and awards that may be available.
Most of the ACB scholarships range from between $1000 to $3000 in amount. To be eligible, applicants must be legally blind in both eyes and have achieved a GPA of 3.3 or higher, along with demonstrating involvement in their community or school. The deadline for these scholarships is March 1, and applications can be completed online.
In addition, the ACB provides one scholarship specifically to part-time students who are also employed full-time: the John Hebner Memorial Scholarship. This award comes with the same requirements as the aforementioned, and is awarded once per year.
Association of Blind Citizens Scholarship Program
Approximately $3,000 in college scholarships is offered by the Association of Blind Citizens each school year. The breakdown of funding is in three scholarships of $1,000 each. These funds can be used for tuition, accommodation, or expenses incurred as a result of the student’s blindness.
In addition to a completed application form, interested students must submit a transcript (high school or college), a letter or certificate confirming the diagnosis of blindness, and two letters of reference. A 300-500 word essay (submitted by e-mail and on disk) explaining how the receipt of these funds will help the applicant achieve his or her goal of attending a post-secondary institution is required.
American Foundation for the Blind Scholarships
Helen Keller was a driving force behind the American Foundation for the Blind, which offers around eleven annual scholarships ranging from $500.00 – $1,500.00. Interested individuals may use a single application form to apply for one or more scholarships. These prizes differ in specificity, scope, amount, and major requirements.
One AFB award is the Rudolph Dillman Memorial Scholarship. This award is $2,500 given out to four students who are doing either their undergraduate or graduate studies in rehabilitation or a subject related to education for those with disabilities. Another is the Gladys C. Anderson Memorial Scholarship, which is $1,000 given to a female student studying classical or religious music. There are several other scholarships given to students studying physical sciences, computer science, literature, and more.
In addition to a completed scholarship application form, proof of US citizenship and legal blindness is required. Also required is a personal essay outlining goals, work experience, how the student proposes to use the funds, etc. Official transcripts, documentation showing proof of acceptance to a post-secondary institution, and two letters of recommendation complete the list of necessary supporting documentation.
Georgia Council of the Blind
Funding of up to $1,000.00 is offered by the Georgia Council of the Blind to students who are legally blind or have parents who are legally blind. Students must be financially dependent to qualify. Each year, one or more of these scholarships are given out in an awards ceremony in Augusta, GA.
Georgia residents who wish to attend a vocational school, college or university (including Master’s or Doctoral program) in the field of study of their choice are eligible to apply. The scholarships are for one year; students can reapply for funding under this program for subsequent school years. Successful applicants will attend the annual GCB Convention to accept their scholarships.
All applicants are required to provide a current financial statement, official transcripts, a letter or statement verifying the applicant’s or applicant’s parents’ legal blindness, and two letters of recommendation. A written statement setting out the applicant’s academic goals and a list of extracurricular activities the applicant is involved in are to be submitted. Please note that a taped recording of the applicant reading his or her statement regarding academic goals is also required.
The Jewish Guild for the Blind GuildScholar Program
The Guildscholar Program awards scholarships of $15,000.00 each to a maximum of 16 high-school students each year. The goal of the program is to allow high-achieving blind students the opportunity to attend post-secondary institutions that they might not otherwise be able to afford.
The program is open to legally blind US citizens who have earned high marks in their academic programs. Academic transcripts, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation are to be submitted with a completed application form for review by the selection committee. Applications are due by September 15 of the student’s senior year in high school.
Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired
The AER sponsors the Ferrell Scholarship, which is given in the amount of $750 to two students who are legally blind and also studying in a field in which they will eventually pursue education or assistance for the blind. Students must be studying at the post-secondary level and included proof of their vision status along with their completed application. Applications must be submitted online and include letters of recommendation.
College-bound students who are located on the east coast and are visually impaired may be interested in the funding offered by Lighthouse International, an organization committed to the fight against vision loss through education, technology and prevention. Lighthouse gives away around seven awards of $10,000 each, including the College Bound Award, the Undergraduate Award and the Trinka Davis Graduate Award.
Applicants need not demonstrate financial need, but must display significant academic achievement and community involvement. Students of any level within undergraduate or graduate school may apply for these awards via the Lighthouse website.
George Mason University
George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia offers the Barry and Velma Berkey Scholarship. This generous award goes to a full-time student in the college who is visually impaired and is studying in a range of academic disciplines, including teaching, writing, nursing, and music. The George Mason Disability Resource Center is the financial backer behind this award. The award amount varies, and students must apply to George Mason and be accepted before becoming eligible for this prize.
George Washington University
This university, located in the nation’s capital, is home to the Barbara Jackman Zuckert Scholarship for Blind Part-time Students. Designed especially for students who are print-disabled and not attending the university full-time, this award is given to a student who strongly demonstrates financial need, as well as academic competence and motivation. The scholarship is also available to students who are attending George Washington University full-time.
More Opportunities for the Visually Impaired
The American Foundation for the Blind will be a great resource to you in your hunt for scholarships. They have a comprehensive database listing of many other scholarships that are specific to students with a disability. This includes scholarships for students with general disabilities, such as those from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation. Remember, the college or university you are interested in may have a scholarship devoted to an incoming student with a disability of some kind. It is worth contacting your financial aid office to see what extra funding they may have that is available to you, and take advantage of any visual impairment aids that the school may feature in the classroom.
Additionally, organizations like the Georgia Council of the Blind, the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired, and the Ohio Bureau of Services for the Visually Impaired exist in many regions, so make sure you are aware of any local or state associations that will be valuable resources to you as you search for financial support for your academic achievements.
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