One of the questions that I received at a talk I gave recently asked about study tips for low vision students, and how to help low vision students study for college exams. While I don’t take a lot of exams in my upper-level college classes since my professors prefer to assign projects, I’ve had to take plenty of exams over the years and have harnessed the power of several high-tech tools to create accessible studying materials that work well for me with low vision. Here are some of the best study tips for low vision students, from a college student with low vision.
Use a tinted background for study materials
I am very sensitive to lights, especially bright lights, and have found that reading text on a white background can cause eyestrain for me pretty quickly. One of the ways I deal with this is by using a tinted background for study materials so that I don’t have to look at a bright white background. Some examples of how I use a tinted background and avoid bright white light include:
- Copying text into Microsoft Word and changing the page color to something that isn’t white
- Turning on dark mode/inverting the screen for studying applications
- Enabling a blue light filter on my screen
- Reading long pages of text on my eReader
In addition to all of these things, I also wear tinted glasses which help to some degree but are not the only tool that I use to deal with bright lights.
- Seven Accessibility Features You Didn’t Know Existed In Microsoft Office
- Black Or White: Choosing Dark Mode For Low Vision
- Ten Ways To Reduce Eye Strain From Screens With Technology
- How I’m Using My eReader To Support Virtual Learning
Ask for a copy of the notes
Many of my friends that are blind or that have low vision have an accommodation listed in their Disability Services file that allows for students to get copies of notes from the professor or to download notes from an external course website. I typically take my own notes in Microsoft OneNote or a notepad app and then compare them against the notes or video lectures that the professor posts on the course website or that they send to me so that I can make sure I copied down everything correctly, or that I drew graphs/visuals in a way that makes sense.
- Creating Inclusive and Accessible Video Lectures For Visually Impaired Audiences
- My Favorite Tips For Attending Live Video Lectures
Consider using a simplified reading display
I love using simplified reading displays to read text! For a lot of the websites and study materials that I access from my college website and other research sources, I can use web browser extensions that change the display of the webpage so that the page is well-formatted and the font size can be adjusted- though many of these simplified reading displays can be accessed offline as well. This is my preferred method for reading research sources with assistive technology, as they are easy to activate and often include built-in text-to-speech. I’ve linked several free options below for using a simplified reading view across different devices.
- My Talk At I’m Determined Summit: Crash Course In Immersive Reader
- Pocket App Accessibility For Visual Impairment
- Five Ways To Simplify Reading With Technology
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader
Create digital flashcards
I’ve used two different tools to create digital flashcards for my classes- Quizlet and my Amazon Echo Dot.
Quizlet is a free website that allows users to create flashcard sets and share them with others, and the app works really well with large print and VoiceOver. I used Quizlet frequently when I was an IT major, as a lot of students in my class used it to study and it was helpful to find flashcard sets that had been created by other students at my university.
Another option for creating digital flashcards is through the Amazon Alexa Skill Blueprints website, which allows users to create their own custom Alexa skills with no coding required. The flashcard skill was created to help people study and master comments by voice using audio-based flashcards. Users can create multiple different topics, though they must use a different skill name for each category. I have an entire post about creating flashcards with Amazon Alexa linked below.
- Quizlet And Low Vision
- Creating Custom Flashcards With Amazon Alexa
- How Amazon Alexa Can Help With Online Learning
Search for study materials from other colleges
Looking for study materials on a specific topic or from another college/website? There are a few different options for running custom web searches to find study materials and practice tests.
- Whenever I am researching information for papers, I prefer to use websites from other educational institutions or government resources so that I can make sure I am finding credible searches. In these cases, I will type the phrase site:gov for government sides or site:edu for educational sites, followed by my query, so that I can make sure the results come from a specific type of website.
- To find files that are in a specific format, use the phrase filetype (all one word) followed by a colon and the file format that is being requested, followed by the search query. For example, to find Word documents related to Python, I would search filetype:docx “python” either with or without the quotation marks.
- Besides using the site tool to search for specific types of domains, use the phrase site followed by a colon to search for results from a specific website. One example of this would be searching site:veroniiiica.com “transition” to find my posts related to college transition, or any of my posts that contain the word transition.
- If I am looking for similar resources to another page I am looking at, it’s helpful to find pages that are linked to other pages. This can be done with the link tool, which is the word link followed by a colon and no spacing between the URL. If I wanted to find pages that link to my website I would run a search for link:www.veroniiiica.com. This also works for more specific pages- I can search for a link to a specific post or page and get results back if others have linked to them.
Take regular breaks away from screens
All of these study tips for low vision students involve lots of time spent in front of screens, and it’s important for students to remember to take regular breaks so that they don’t hurt their eyes too much or get fatigued. Some of my favorite ways to take breaks from screens involve going to get food with friends, taking short naps, going to a club/extracurricular meeting, or attending another event that encourages students to step away from technology.
Bonus- ensure that testing accommodations are in place
It’s frustrating to spend hours or days studying only to find out that there is an issue with testing accommodations and that the exam can’t be taken as planned. Check with professors to make sure that they have sent the test over to the testing center or that the physical/digital test is in an accessible format- I typically ask professors to post a sample test ahead of time so I can ensure that I’ll be able to use my assistive technology with a given test, or give them a document that explains my accessibility preferences such as preferred font size.
- Testing Accommodations For Low Vision Students
- What To Bring To The Disability Services Testing Center
Summary of the best study tips for low vision students
- Use a tinted background for study materials to avoid bright white light
- Ask for a copy of the notes from the professor or check the course website
- Consider using a simplified reading display to read large amounts of text
- Create digital flashcards with Quizlet or with a custom Amazon Alexa skill
- Search for study materials from other colleges
- Take regular breaks from screens
- Ensure that testing accommodations are in place prior to test day