When I was in eighth grade, I had the opportunity to participate in a Model UN conference at a local college, representing the country of Belarus. Throughout the weekend, we debated ways to improve the global literacy rate, and it was a very eye-opening experience. Here are some tips for low vision students wanting to participate in Model UN. Note that I did not stay overnight for the conference, as I lived close by.
Use CIA World Factbook before the conference
When researching countries, use the CIA World Factbook as a resource. Because it is a government website, it meets or exceeds all accessibility standards. This means that it is accessible for users who read large print or use screen readers. While I have not tested this personally, one of my friends reported that it was accessible for Braille displays as well. Access it here.
Bring a magnifier of some sort
Not everything is going to show up in large print, so bring a magnifier- either a portable video magnifier or good old fashioned magnifying glass. You will be happy to have it. Here’s my review of the Eschenbach SmartLux.
Don’t expect digital materials
The conference I attended strictly prohibited electronics of any sort, and there are still many conferences where that is the case. So, expect accessible materials as print copies. Read more about my accommodations for print materials here.
If possible, request preferential seating
I was lucky enough to sit relatively close to the front of the room without having to request it. Talk to the sponsors before the event to ensure preferential seating accommodations will be met. Read my post on preferential seating here.
Ask people to read information out loud
When working in small groups, request that information be read out loud, as opposed to having people read to themselves. Often times, small group materials are not made accessible, and this ensures everyone has an equal understanding of the topic.
Remember your right to accommodations
Don’t let someone tell you that materials cannot be made accessible or that you don’t actually need them. None of the materials presented at the conference are actually classified or confidential, so there’s no reason that they can’t be made accessible.
Alert staff to low vision
I didn’t like to acknowledge my vision impairment back when I did the conference, but did decide to let a couple of staff members know I have trouble seeing and would need help navigating. They were more than happy to accommodate, especially after it took me fifteen minutes to find the classroom after dinner on the first day. Read my post on explaining extracurricular accommodations here.
Ask for a scribe
I had to write memos to different countries during the conference, and my handwriting is questionable at best. I requested that the person next to me assist me in writing memos to various countries so that way messages would be conveyed clearly.
On social events
The second night of the conference, there was a huge social event for all of the students participating. When I got there, there were strobe lights everywhere, and the music was so loud that people could feel the vibrations from outside. I promptly left and didn’t look back, since I didn’t want to give myself a pounding headache the next day. When the club sponsor did ask me why I didn’t go to the event with everyone else, I just said it was very overwhelming, and attending for thirty seconds was more than enough for me. For more on how people with low vision attend school dances, read this.
Model UN was a very unique experience, and I was able to learn a lot about different countries, as well as improve my public speaking abilities. If you have an interest in international studies, politics, debate, or public speaking, I highly recommend joining the group, or at least attending a conference.