Veronica With Four Eyes

AIM For College With Low Vision: A Free Webinar On Transition

A couple of weeks ago, I had the opportunity to give a free webinar alongside one of my best friends, Mckenzie,  about attending college with low vision. This webinar is part of a new series with AIM-VA, an organization that provides accessible textbooks and classroom materials for students with print disabilities across Virginia, and explores how students with different print disabilities can aim for college success and get accessible materials. I’m linking the webinar below as well as a transcript- feel free to share this with others as well!

Transcript

Introductions

Welcome everyone to our AIM for College webinar.

This is Cindy George and I’d like to welcome Veronica Lewis and McKenzie Love as our guest
speakers today for the Low Vision presentation.
I welcome you and if you have any questions, I’d like for you to put it into the CHAT,
which is to the right of your computer screen, and at the very top of your computer screen,
if you move your mouse up there, you’ll see some of the ways that you can open up your
CHAT screen if you need to.
So, other than that, I believe I’m going to let them begin and turn on their screen – and
I think that this is Veronica that you see now.
Yep, hi!
And then McKenzie should be on soon; you’re there.
Great!
There you go.
Awesome!
So, let’s get started.
Welcome to our presentation for AIM for College with Low Vision.
AIM for College is a new webinar series that encourages students with print disabilities
to prepare for transition to higher education.
This webinar is broadcast live from the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, VA
— and now we’re having some technical difficulties.
Here we go.
So, we’re going to start with the introduction to the two of us.
So, me and McKenzie have been awesome friends for the last few months and this is a photo
that we took in a, outside of a classroom building a couple of days ago.
Notice how the image looks here.
Now to the next slide… alright, Mckenzie, you want to give yourself your introduction?
Yeah.
Hi!
I’m Mckenzie Love.
I am a current junior communications major in media production at George Mason and I
was born with congenital cataracts.
And at the age of four, I was diagnosed with aphakic glaucoma.
So, that, all those terms pretty much mean that I have blurry vision and I have zero
depth perception, zero peripheral vision, and that’s what is indicated in the picture
in front of you.
Alright, and I am Veronica Lewis.
I am a senior at George Mason University studying data science and assistive technology.
I am a 2015 graduate of Virginia Public Schools and I’m also the writer and blogger behind
the website Veronica with Four Eyes; which is a vision impairment and assistive technology
blog.
I’ll be sharing links throughout the presentation from my blog which will be able to be accessed
in a Sway document which I will link to at the end of the presentation.
I have an eye condition called accommodative esotropia, which means my eyes turn inwards.
I was diagnosed with that at age three and identified with low vision.
And then normally the condition goes away at age nine but for me, it got rapidly worse
and I was also diagnosed, at age fourteen, with Chiari malformation; a brain condition
that causes my brain to be smashed into the bottom of my skull.
So, this is a good representation of how I see on a normal day.
My vision does fluctuate a lot though, because I do have dual eye and brain condition.
So, I see double and blurry and I also have very limited peripheral vision and no depth
perception.
I use the blindness cane to navigate around campus.

Alright!

Main presentation

So, now that our introductions are out of the way we’re going to start the main part

of this webinar.
We’ve sort of structured it like a conversation.
So, hopefully you guys will be able to get a lot of information out of it.
We ask that you, please, save all questions to the end, if possible, though.
Alright!
So, we’re going to start with our origin stories and what questions we asked when we were choosing
a college.
So, for me, I was asking a lot of questions about the Disability Services Office.
One of the things that was most important to me was that I made sure that the office
would be proactive rather than reactive.
I wanted to make sure that I would be able to go to my professors at the beginning of
a semester and explain my disability and make sure I got accommodations to start with, instead
of going to Disability Services Office after there was already a problem.
Another thing I asked about was the availability of assistive technology and how widely accepted
it was in the classroom.
One of the colleges I toured asked me, “What is assistive technology?”
– followed up by, “Why would we let you have that?”
So, then, I knew that I probably shouldn’t go there.
Yeah, a lot of the questions that I asked when touring or choosing a college were about
campus layout; security, of course; and just accommodations that I can receive through
disability services; and how the professor’s may react to me asking for accommodations
a lot of times.
I know that’s very different compared to other professors but it’s still a question I was
worried about.
Yeah, I think another thing that was awesome about George Mason is they let us set up our
disability services file in advance.
So, I was accepted to the University with the early decision and I was able to start
setting at my disability services file in April, while I was actually still in high
school.
I brought in documentation from my ophthalmologist and neurologist because my condition was again
both eye and brain.
I also brought in a copy of my IEP and my file from the Department of the Blind and
Visually Impaired.
I set up mine pretty similarly.
I went to our spring preview, which is pretty much a more detailed tour for incoming students,
and I went to Disability Services office and asked, can I set my stuff up now – can I set
up my file now and I brought in just notes from my ophthalmologist, I brought in information
on what I got through my IEP in high school, and it was already set up and it was no stress
when I started to choose classes.
And, when I went through orientation, it was already set up and done.
I didn’t have to worry about it.
Yeah, going to events like spring preview is really helpful when you’re working on choosing
a college because it allows you to really get a feel for the campus.
One of the things that helped me the most before coming to college, when I was preparing
to receive my accommodations, was converting my IEP to a 504 plan; which was advice that
my mom had received from one of her friends.
We did that because we thought it would help me with figuring out what accommodations I
really would need in college and in the workforce and beyond.
Now, I was also able to take my 504 Plan with me to internships.
Did you do anything else to prepare before coming to college?
I think the other thing I did was take mobility lessons.
So, I could learn how to navigate around campus and how to navigate the city or using shuttle
services.
I didn’t really do much else academically, other than just graduate high school.
So hey!
That’s still a huge accomplishment!
Once you graduate high school though, you get to go into the college classroom for the
first time.
So, I remember my first major at Mason was actually applied computer science.
And one of the things I noticed once I got into the program was that I was going to have
to spend a lot of time learning to use assistive technology before I would start learning classroom
materials because I didn’t receive a lot of assistive technology training when I was in
high school.
So, I ultimately ended up switching my major to data science where luckily, there are accessible
materials galore.
A lot of the software’s we work with are screen reader and screen magnification accessible
and I feel like having the availability of accessible materials really helped me with
my decision to major in data science.
I – when it came to my major, a lot of my major is writing-intensive.
So, thankfully I don’t have to go through all those math classes.
I just have to be able to have the availability of reading a lot so I can then write seven-to-ten-page
papers.
So, my – the only worry I really had when choosing a major, was after college; because,
you’re only in college for a certain number of years.
But whatever you major in in college is going to ultimately, kind of, decide what you’re
going to do.
So, I wanted to make sure that whatever I majored in, I was going to be able to do throughout
my life; even if I did lose more vision.
So, that’s really good to think about – changing vision over time.
I feel like that also helped me when I was picking out my classroom accommodations.
I purposely wrote my disability services file in a vague way so that way I would be able
to adjust technology or accommodations as I needed it.
So, my classroom accommodation includes: preferential seating; large print, I think size 36 is listed
in my disability services file, but usually I just tell the professor what I need; I receive
digital materials and I also have the option to attend class remotely; which I did when
massive wind gusts had come through campus and my blindness cane flew up and hit me in
the face.
My classroom accommodations are somewhat similar.
I have preferential seating, extended times for quizzes and tests, and I also receive
PowerPoint lectures, if the professor uses them, so I can just pull them up on my computer
and zoom in and not have to worry about the professor going too fast and me missing something.
I can just go back and look at it; which is a lot easier than having to strain my eyes
to be able to see the screen.
So, do you receive a lot of your assignments digitally then?
Because for me, I get stuff, in order of preferential for accessible materials, I get digital assignments
first, usually, that I can open in Microsoft Office.
Then, I’ll request large print and then I’ll also request audio formats when needed.
So, for example, back in April 2018, I went temporarily blind for an entire month as the
result of a freak pollen allergy and I found myself asking for a combination of digital
and audio-based materials because, due to my brain condition, I can’t read Braille.
I get…
I mainly asked for digital materials because it is a less eye strain and I don’t have to
worry about lighting.
So, if it is available the digital format, I will, I will ask for it as a digital format.
And if it’s not available as a digital format, I will just ask for it in large print – and
I am completely fluent in Braille code so if I really needed to take that step I could.
That’s super awesome!
So, what assistant technology and apps do you usually use in the classroom?
I use – a lot of my accessibility apps are on my Mac because I use Dark Invert to switch
the contrast so it’s not as blinding on my eyes.
And then, I use just the Zoom features, the normal Zoom feature, and I will also use my
phone’s camera for – if the professor writes on the whiteboard.
So, that’s just so I can zoom in, never delete the picture later and wonder why I have it!
You probably have a camera roll filled with lots of exciting information.
A lot of the assistive technology I use doesn’t necessarily involved image storage.
I use apps like Seeing AI Envision AI, and Google Assistant to take pictures of what’s
on the screen.
And those apps will actually extract the text or images that I need.
I also use Office Lens for the same reason.
These are all free apps I just mentioned, by the way.
I also use my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 in the classroom for Microsoft applications because
a lot of my classes are very technology heavy.
And, I also use my iPad with the app Notability; which allows me to annotate PDFs.
That app is $2.00.
And, I’ve also used, weirdly enough in the last couple days, I’ve been using the Amazon
Alexa app with the built-in Alexa functionality because it allows me to be able to use it
as a talking calculator or – and make sure that I’m copying down numbers correctly.
So, that’s been surprisingly, really helpful.
I also bring my phone with me to class and will take pictures of the board or scans if
needed.
And, I also use my phone as a portable scanner.
So, it’s been really cool.
I didn’t – I guess another thing that’s worth noting, is I talk to my professors ahead of
time about how I use assistive technology and I’m always very open to show them, Hey,
here’s exactly how I’m using them.
So, that’s really helped me with making sure my professors understand my accommodations.
Yeah it’s – I love to go to my professors before the classes start or on the very first
day of class so they kind of understand what I may need, what may be different from another
visual student with a visual impairment they had in the past, and, it’s just a lot easier.
I would either email them all of my information ahead of time, especially that’s what I did
when I started taking sign language because there’s a lot to explain, and then if I don’t
do that I always come with my faculty contact sheet for disability services and kind of
explain like, “Hey, this is what I may need…
This is what I will keep in touch with you on the future about because I’m not 100% sure
yet.”
And, I also utilize office hours as well, so they don’t have to deal with time constraints
or anything like that.
It’s just one-on-one, that’s it.
I send my professors emails in advance, too, and it is funny, on the first day of class,
because I only, usually try to find them after class or they’ll come find me because they’re
like, “Hey, you knocked over a trash can on your way in here and ran into the wall
– you’re probably my vision impaired student.”
 But, I mean a lot of college you’re not just sitting in the classroom all the time.
Unfortunately, you’re also doing homework and reading from textbooks.
Luckily, I didn’t have to worry a lot about receiving accessible textbooks in college
because while I was in high school I receive textbooks from AIM-VA here in large print
and digital formats.
And now when I’m in college, I use a lot of Kindle textbooks with the Amazon Kindle app
or I go to the Assistive Technology Initiative (AIT) at my University and they can scan in
textbooks, like actual copies of textbooks, and make them into accessible formats as needed.
Yeah, I get all of my textbooks from our campus bookstore and they all get sent to me and
depending on the publisher, it is on a different website, so I just have to make a bookmark
about where that textbook is.
It’s just a lot easier to do it that way, and, I just recently started utilizing the
Assistive Technology Initiative (ATI) here; which I think is going to be super helpful
with a textbook that has no digital format what so ever.
So, a lot of the books you get from the campus bookstore, they’re digital then?
Yeah.
If I have the option to have a digital book, they will, they will give me a digital book;
which is very helpful.
Oh, I’ll always ask when I go downstairs, “I need these textbooks and there’s a digital
format for them – I would like that format”.
They’re very helpful.
Yeah, having access to accessible textbooks what helped me a lot so one of the cool things
I used when it comes to assistive technology and apps to help with homework is that my
Amazon Echo Dot will actually read me my text books out loud.
So, I’m able to listen to my textbook while I take notes or I also can open up my textbooks
in a PDF using the app Immersive Reader, which is a free extension of the Microsoft Edge
browser and several Microsoft Office apps.
So, I’m able to read text a couple lines at a time using Smart Invert or other text settings
and it can also read things to me out loud if I need it.
Also, when I’m working on my homework, I’ll use a lot of different, well it really depends
the class I’m working in, so, for data science you’re working with a lot of different programs
such as Python, Net Logo and things like that.
So, I will use screen magnification and text-to-speech software as needed, to ensure that I’m understanding
everything.
Another cool thing is, one of my professors is testing out 3d printed models, for one
of my classes, and helping for me to understand different gradients in images.
So, no word on how that’s gone yet because I’ve only had it a couple times, but it seems
like it’d be a really cool way to you work on homework.
Yeah, definitely!
A lot of my homework accommodations, or accessibility features that I use, are pretty similar to
my in-classroom accessibility features.
I still used Dark Invert, I still use Zoom; it’s just, I take it slower now because I’m
not on a time constraint.
I also use my Amazon Alexa or especially since, like I said, it’s a very writing intensive
major.
If I can’t figure out how to spell a word, I’ll just ask , “Hey, how do you spell this?”
or “What does this word mean?”
So, I don’t look crazy in my papers.
It’s very fast, and it’s very helpful.
I don’t have to worry about opening up another tab or having to just take that extra time
and, I can just stay on one page.
I also like Cortana for that, as well.
I use a lot of voice assistants because I’m still kind of new to the world of text-to-speech
and I just love being able to have information just, just by me asking a question.
It’s like talking to a person.
Yeah.
So, another thing I was thinking about was the most helpful skill I learned before coming
to college.
For me, it’s also a skill in wish I developed more, and that was: self-advocacy.
I remember back in high school, my teachers and other staff members, who worked with me,
would have me constantly justify why I needed something.
“Because I have low vision” or “because I can’t see this” was never enough.
I was able to thoroughly explain my brain condition, my eye condition, what accessible
materials looked like to me, and what people can do to make accessible materials for me.
And I feel like after having to constantly advocate for myself, I was prepared for literally
any situation to come up in college.
From having to talk about accessible housing to one time, I was accidently de-registered
from all of my classes.
And, I was able to handle that situation by knowing; who do I go to, what do I say?
And, I was able to get the matter fixed within a couple of days.
And by you kind of developing that skill, it also shows self-confidence and it helps
you; it helps you show off to your professors in a way that, “This is what I need” and
they’re going to take you more seriously – instead of just saying, “I don’t know, I might need this, I don’t know.”
But, if you say, “This is what I need, this is what has helped me in the past, and this
is why,” then they’ll be like, “Oh, this is what she needs.”
I – the skill that I also wish that I had learned more was self-advocacy, but I kind
of got to a point where I realized I had developed as much as I could in high school.
And then when I got to college, I could develop it even more in a different way.
Other than that, I also did mobility lessons, like I said, and that definitely helped me
going from a small town to a bigger city.
But, with the self-advocacy part, it’s just something that without it, you are not going
to be as successful as if you have it – and it’s just one of those things – or it’s going
to be a constant, all throughout your life even through after college, you are going
to have to continue to develop it in a different way and you’ll be a better person from it,
as well.
I think having the mobility lessons is helpful too, with encouraging students not to have
to worry about isolation or also making sure that they were able to know how to get around
campus.
I have friends that will only go between three buildings because they do not feel very confident
and I would be talking to them about how to get accessible materials from other areas
on campus and they’re like, “Well, I don’t know how to get there so, I’m not going to
use that.”
Friends!
You know having the ability to be able to navigate across campus is so important.
That’s also why I helped to start the Vision-Impaired Patriots Student organization here at George Mason; which I’m hoping will serve as a model for other organizations at other colleges in Virginia.
So, I will actually be linking to our website in our, in the final presentation document
so if you guys are curious to learn more about what we’re doing to help encourage college
student to receive accessible materials and other life skills, you can check out that

link below.

Conclusion

Everyone, so, thank you so much for tuning in and watching us.

This presentation will be available as a recording on the AIM-VA website.
If you are interested in contacting us, so my contact information is listed here.
My twitter is @veron4ica and my website is http://www.veroniiiica.com.
You can also reach me by email at veron4ica at gmail dot com.
My twitter is listed here: it’s @kenzlie100.
Yes, and we’re also ending this with a fun picture of us taken last night at a game from
the Green Machine where we are both members.
It’s actually how we met… so, it just goes to show how awesome these social things can
be for helping people with vision impairments.
So, to connect with each other we all set the link for our document with things which
will be found at the bottom of this post.
Alright, so now we are going to be taking questions from the audience.
So, if you guys have any questions related to transition or anything like that, please
write in the CHAT box.
Okay, if you have any questions for either McKenzie or Veronica at a later date, you’re
more than welcome to email AIM-VA’s Helpdesk and ask the questions and we’ll get with the
girls and find that information for you.
So, thank you very much for coming and we look forward to seeing you the third week
in March at our AIM for College for the disability blindness.
See you later; have a great day.
See ya!
Bye!


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