Starting in high school, students are allowed to bring their backpacks to class and put them underneath their desks, which gives students the opportunity to have more things with them when they go to class. As a high school student with low vision who was just beginning to start using assistive technology in the classroom, I carried several different items to help me with my classes, and the contents of my backpack continued to evolve as I transferred to a new high school and began taking half of my classes online. Here is a round-up of what was in my backpack on a typical day of high school, along with posts that go more into detail on each item.
At both of my high schools, students were allowed to bring their backpacks to class as long as they fit certain dimensions and didn’t hang out from the edge of the desk. Rolling backpacks were banned at both of my high schools as they were a tripping hazard, however, I received an exemption from this rule after I was diagnosed with chronic back pain and told that I needed to use a rolling backpack. I have an entire post dedicated to how I chose my backpack, but the most important elements are that the backpack is easy to open/close and that it can easily be located on the floor or in a locker- my current backpack is a bright pink floral pattern.
- Choosing A Backpack With Low Vision
- Choosing A Backpack With Chronic Pain
- How I’m Managing My Back Pain This Semester
I received approval to bring my laptop to school starting in the second semester of ninth grade, and my grades instantly improved as I had access to more accessible materials than I had ever had before. I had strong skills with Microsoft products and used Microsoft Office products in all of my classes- I would take notes in OneNote, watch PowerPoints on my own screen, and read/complete assignments in Word. Since my first school did not permit internet access for students, I would receive classroom materials via flash drive- my second high school had a shared online folder that I could use to access assignments from my teachers.
- My High School Laptop
- Questions To Ask When Choosing A Laptop For College
- How I Use Microsoft OneNote With Low Vision
- Designing Accessible Documents With Microsoft Word
- How To Create Accessible PowerPoints
Having access to an eReader was life-changing for me as a high school student with low vision, because I was able to read any books that were assigned to me in class without having to wonder if it would be available in a large print format, and also because I could find almost any book I could think of on Bookshare, which is a free accessible online library. I’ve continued using my eReader in college and while it may not be the most popular reading tool for students with low vision, I love it a lot!
- eReaders and Low Vision
- How I’m Using My eReader To Support Virtual Learning
- Fast Facts About Bookshare
Since my first high school did not have internet access for students, I rarely used my iPad at school until I transferred to my second high school, which offered wifi for all students. Since I was still learning about assistive technology and accessibility, it took me a while to figure out what apps worked best for me, but eventually I found tools that I could use for notetaking, browsing information in my virtual classes, completing assignments, and other tasks. I’ve linked a presentation that I gave during my senior year to several staff members in my school district about five apps that every student with low vision should use in the classroom, as well as a presentation on why I prefer digital materials that I gave to my school.
- Five Calculator Apps That Help Students With Low Vision In The Classroom
- Choosing Technology: iPad
- How To Make iPad Accessible for Low Vision
- Virtual Classes in High School
- Why I Prefer My Schoolwork Digitally
I frequently used my phone in class as a way to quickly magnify short amounts of information or to take pictures of items that I could zoom in on later. Using a phone as assistive technology helped me to feel a bit more normal, as all of my fellow students had phones and it wasn’t “weird” for me to use my phone in class. It’s worth noting that I was not a perfect student and would sometimes text in class, but this just shows that students with low vision are just like their sighted friends.
- How I Use My Phone As Assistive Technology In Class
- Low Vision Accessibility Settings For Android Phones
- My Phone Isn’t Paper
- Make Any Android Smartphone Accessible For $8
I carried a small magnifying glass in my backpack, but rarely used it as the viewing window was not very large and it would hurt my eyes after long periods of time. It still was helpful to have for fixing my clarinet or reading exponents though, and I used it on my SAT and ACT tests.
High school can be a very noisy place! While I don’t like wearing over-ear headphones since they hurt my neck, I definitely wore earplugs or unplugged earbud headphones so that I could muffle environmental noise and focus more easily. This was especially helpful during school assemblies or in particularly noisy classrooms.
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Navigate School Hallways?
- Five Common Technology Behaviors That Hurt My Brain
- Adapting Band Uniforms For Photosensitivity and Sensory Overload
I frequently had to leave my classes to enlarge classroom materials because my teachers would forget to create accessible materials for me, so my family and I decided to try having me bring a portable scanner that I could use to scan materials into my laptop. While this was a good idea, I had trouble fitting the scanner on my desk and aligning the paper so that it would scan correctly, and there were times that it was impossible to read the scanned text as well. While they were not around when I was in high school, today I use the ScanMarker Air and Microsoft Office Lens app as portable scanners, and those work much better!
- Ten Spooky Inaccessible Assignments and How To Fix Them
- ScanMarker Air for Print Disabilities
- Why Every Student Needs Microsoft Office Lens
I had a dedicated IEP accommodation to use Sharpie pens on classwork, quizzes, tests, and standardized tests as pens were not permitted at my school. I preferred to use colorful Sharpies because I could easily locate the pens in my backpack, though some teachers had rules about which colors I was allowed to use.
White paper can cause a lot of glare, so I received my assignments on off-white or colored paper whenever possible so that I would be able to focus on the page more easily. I actually did a science project at my second high school on how colored paper affects the readability of text, and I regularly use tinted backgrounds on my devices so that I can see them more easily. One of my friends jokingly referred to my backpack as a “pot of gold” because the inside of it was filled with a rainbow of different colors of paper… many of which would spill out because I was not always the best at organizing papers.
Summary of what’s in my high school backpack as a low vision student
- A backpack that can easily be located
- Laptop with Microsoft applications
- eReader with Bookshare books
- iPad with educational apps
- Android phone
- Magnifying glass
- A portable scanner
- Sharpie pens
- A rainbow of different colors of paper for assignments