This week, I had the awesome opportunity to be a guest on the AT The Heart: Assistive And Inclusive Technology Stories podcast, which is hosted by one of my Twitter friends, Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles. I had a lot of fun getting to talk about the importance of assistive technology and how my approach to using it as a student with low vision has changed over time, and today I will be sharing links to the podcast episode, as well as a transcript for the interview.
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At The Heart Episode 4- Veronica Lewis
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 0:02
Welcome to at the heart Assistive and Inclusive Technology Stories. I’m your host, Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles. Today I have Veronica Lewis with me, who I’m so excited is here today to talk about assistive technology and share her story, Veronica, welcome to the show today.
Veronica Lewis 0:23
Thank you for having me.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 0:25
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself Veronica, who you are, what you do and share your website your blog and what your goals are as a fellow assistive technology lover and user?
Veronica Lewis 0:41
I’d love to. Well, my name is Veronica Lewis, and I am a student at George Mason University in Virginia studying data science and assistive technology with a special interest in visual impairment. I also run the free website Veronica with four eyes. The URL is veroniiiica.com. So literally Veronica with four I’s. On Veronica with four eyes, I have over 550 different blog posts about topics related to low vision, Assistive Technology, Education, design, and a lot of other topics that show that you can live an awesome life with visual impairment and be able to achieve whatever you want. My ultimate goal, though, is to be able to take over the world with assistive technology, first by ensuring that everyone has access to the tools that they need to be able to do whatever they need or want to do, and then achieving world domination with large print and screen readers. I’m not sure which order I’ll do it in.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 1:47
I love that. So how what- you talk a little about the assistive tech on large print. So tell us a little bit about what current assistive technology you use and how that has that empowered you to have equitable access to curriculum materials and assessments.
Veronica Lewis 2:07
Well, you’ll notice besides saying large print. I also said screen readers because I have a vision impairment that wildly fluctuates sometimes several times a day. So my access needs change a lot depending on things like eye fatigue, lighting in the room, and even things like allergens in the air- my eyes will swell shut if I’m around a lot of pollen.
On a given day, I typically use large print across all of my favorite devices, such as my Windows computer, iPad, and Android phone. I have a large print keyboard and a couple of other large print input devices as well to help me. I use a screen reader to read longer pages of text I like to use, select to speak or other on-demand screen readers because sometimes I can generally see the layout of a website and can navigate it with my mouse, but can’t necessarily see the text that’s in it. I also use a blindness cane whenever I am outside, I love my blindness canes they help me so much with independence. And I also use a variety of other apps, depending on the situation. so I use a lot of different Microsoft Office applications. I love Microsoft Seeing AI as well as other visual assistance like Google Lens, Google Lookout, Aira, BeSpecular, and Be My Eyes. I use all sorts of different things I love trying out new assistive technology and seeing what will work best for my needs.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 3:37
I think you said it so eloquently Veronica- the importance of how my assistive technology needs change as my visual needs change or as just your overall needs change that variability of you. And having those supports, when you need them, and being able to shift as you are is really exemplifies that notion of variability. So with that, let’s take a second and kind of think about your college classes and being a student. What assistive technologies do you use for you to access your college classes, and how do they help empower you?
Veronica Lewis 4:19
So a lot of the assistive technology tools I use are screen mirroring so that I am able to see whatever my professor is showing on the board on my smaller device, since I can’t necessarily see what’s on the board, even from the front of the classroom because of the overhead lighting. I have large print activated in all of the different applications that I use in my classes so whenever I’m writing code., it is in print that is large enough you could probably see it from 10 feet behind me. I also use some other devices like my iPad and things like that for taking notes and documenting information, although since a lot of my classes have materials posted online, it’s fairly easy for me to turn those into accessible formats, whether it’s using a screen reader to browse a website, or just good old fashioned copy and paste.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 5:13
Awesome. So you mentioned liking different applications and different systems- I’ve heard you say Google, Microsoft, Apple. Would you say that your platform-independent, or is there a reason why you have different platforms? Talk a little tell us a little bit more about that.
Veronica Lewis 5:34
So I definitely have my preferences for certain operating systems or platforms across certain devices. For example, I love my Android phone, I’ve been an Android user since 2009 can’t imagine using anything else. I love my iPad, it’s, I like it a lot better than the traditional Android tablets. And I love my Windows computer, but the thing is, all of these different applications are available across several different platforms, so I’m able to pull up my OneDrive on my computer and sync it across my devices or have a visual assistant on different devices that I’m using. I don’t have to worry about not being able to access certain functionality just because I have a specific device with me. I definitely do have my preferences for technology but overall, I’m probably pretty platform-independent because I know that a lot of people have different technology needs than I do. And I want to be able to ensure that whatever I’m talking about on my website can be used by as many people as possible.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 6:38
Fantastic, and make sure we’ll, we’ll put that link in our podcast description too to check out Veronica’s website. ‘ll have you share that again at the end- it’s rich full of information and it’s so easy to navigate and use very practical. It’s just wonderful stuff Veronica so thank you for sharing that because it’s so important that people who are using assistive technology sharing their stories help to empower others who might be reluctant to use assistive technology. So with that, what would you give what pieces of advice would you give to someone who’s maybe starting to explore different assistive technology options but maybe didn’t want to use them?
Veronica Lewis 7:21
So one of the things that I think of with assistive technology is that you’re not using it as a crutch you’re using it as sort of a pair of wings, for example with my blindness cane. When I was in high school, I assumed that only blindness canes were used by people who had no usable vision, you had to read Braille before they would let you have a blindness cane, all sorts of very strange stereotypes. It’s worth noting by the way that I never met a another person with a visual impairment, until I got to college.
Well, anyway, before I started college though I was falling down a lot more I was running into a lot of objects, I could not navigate my high school independently I always had to have a human guide with me. And it was really hard for me to navigate an unfamiliar environment. After I was in an accident where I fell off the school bus and broke my ankle and several places, and I also almost got hit by a Toyota Prius in front of my department of the blind case manager. We decided it might be a good idea for me to start exploring a blindness cane and at first I was very resistant because I’m like no I’m not totally blind. I don’t need this this cane, it’s, I don’t know my vision is not that bad.
Well the thing is, I didn’t know that at the time but my vision was going to be changing as I went through college, and I would start relying on my cane more and more. I’d always worried if I started using my cane, I had people around me telling me it might inspire me to be more visually impaired than I actually am, which was always a strange thing but with the nature of my eye condition, my vision has changed over time, not because I had my blindness cane. And because I had started using it fairly early on in my vision changes, I’m able to navigate a lot better than I would have if I had to try and learn how to use my newly usable vision, and how to use a blindness cane at the same time. To me, assistive technology, and knowing how to use it is incredibly important, because you might not think you need a certain device now, or maybe a certain accommodation, but there may come a time when you need it in the future. And it’s important to take the time to learn as many tools as you can and to have lots of options available as opposed to wondering, “well this isn’t going to work, what should I do now?”
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 9:43
I love that you said that Veronica, that is just so spot on the notion to have that options and and the tool to task so you have different tools that you use for different tasks. And that I think sometimes gets lost in that process that we’re just looking at one option, or one choice. But what if we gave several options or a couple of options and, and then you’re you are empowered to make those decisions you figured out what you needed, and, you know, made it happen and I think that that’s wonderful. On the flip side of that. Have you ever been told in your experience that the tools and supports that you’re using, particularly the Assistive Technology Supports, are a form of cheating and if so, how did you address that?
Veronica Lewis 10:36
Oh yes, I’ve had lots of people who interpret assistive technology as being technology that assists me to have an unfair advantage over other students. I had that a lot of times, especially when going through public school, not so much in college, where people wouldn’t understand the technology I was requesting to use or would think that when I was using my phone as a magnifying glass that I was secretly taking pictures of an exam or similar things.
To me, one of the things that really helps to overcome that barrier of people thinking it’s cheating is teaching people about the technology that you’re using, and being able to have dialogue about how the technology is used to help others. I typically will talk to my professors at the beginning of the semester and show them some of the different tools I’ll be bringing in the classroom. For example, this is my phone. I use it to magnify things I’m not texting in class (most of the time, I’m not perfect!) but this is what I’m using to help me with my education or here is a scanning pen that I use, so I can easily read in text. I’m not just mindlessly underlining tools, I’m actually using it to be able to read text in larger print on my devices. So having those conversations about how assistive technology is used is really beneficial.
Another thing I think that helps is being able to talk about disability as well. For example, every year there’s always a couple of people who will walk up to me on my college campus and accuse me of faking my visual impairment because they’re confused over why I’m holding a blindness cane in one hand and my phone and other or another funny one was, I had someone stop me because I was holding my blindness cane in one hand and an ice cream cone in the other. And they couldn’t understand how I was able to balance those two objects at the same time, because they thought that all blind people used a guide dog or a specific white cane, and I was able to have a conversation with them about how blindness canes can look different for everybody, and you’re able to use a phone with a lot of different assistive technology things. I actually wrote a Twitter thread about that, about two years ago, and I use my phone a lot to help me navigate my college campus. So, to me, education is one of the most powerful tools that one can use to change the world. And by having these conversations with people and being able to write my blog, I feel like I’ve helped a lot with spreading awareness about assistive technology and visual impairment, at least within my community.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 13:16
Fantastic. I remember when we were kind of pre talking and getting this set up you had shared a story about a teacher that you had with large print and what he did for you, wasn’t a form of cheating but he kind of flipped that. And how did that affect the whole class. Could you share that with us?
Veronica Lewis 13:35
Yeah, that’s actually one of my favorite stories to tell. In my geography class. I had to get large print for a lot of the different maps and tests and things like that. My teacher decided that instead of just giving me the special bold maps or large print he would give them to the entire class. And he later told my parents in the meeting that everyone’s grades went up like everyone’s grades I got them dramatically because they had larger print and two students came in the next week wearing glasses. So, to us, it kind of highlighted how, if one student is able to get these accommodations, they can benefit everybody.
And it also sort of highlighted for us, how many people might be going through school, who are not diagnosed with a visual impairment or other print disability, which is why I use the phrase, I was the only student identified with low vision, because you don’t know if the student who was frequently acting out in class secretly had a visual impairment that kept them from being able to see the board, or if the student that was consistently struggling to be able to read had to deal with dyslexia or something like that. So you never know what other students see. Looking at me, you might not necessarily think that I have a significant visual impairment. But that’s what I have!
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 14:55
Right, but that makes a part of who you are, it doesn’t. And what I mean by that is the notion of disability is not a negative, it’s not a bad connotation It feels like sometimes in the abled sphere that to talk about disability or to speak about it, there’s some sort of negativity around that so how do you suggest or how are some ways that you have these conversations with with people in the abled community in order to make some change around those notions of equity and access?
Veronica Lewis 15:33
So it’s worth noting that I didn’t actually have a lot of these conversations with people until I was in college. When I was in middle and high school, I desperately wanted to pretend that my vision impairment didn’t exist because I could see how it was frustrating for a lot of my teachers to get assignments in large print or for other students who see me run into them in the hallway, because I didn’t see them there. I saw a lot of those frustrations and I decided, Okay, maybe I can just pretend I’m sighted maybe that would be a good idea. Well, it wasn’t a good idea because it led to me, having a lot of just anxiety about my vision impairment and constantly wondering was I asking too much is asking for large print a bad thing, like, am I asking for unrealistic expectations for my education?
And, well, in my sophomore year of college I started Veronica was four eyes, so the joke was that I no longer was hiding my visual impairment, it was going to be part of who I was in my advocacy work, and because of a lot of my attitude about being able to approach things from a point of educating others as opposed to criticizing them for what they are doing wrong. I’ve been able to make a lot of positive change that way.
Now I don’t believe that everyone should be immune to criticism by any means, but I tend to approach a lot more educational issues, instead of “Hey, are you not enlarging my homework because you don’t like me, well I’m not going to do my homework since you didn’t enlarge it.” That attitude gets you a zero- I learned to that lesson several dozen times in high school because I felt, if I didn’t have something accessible for me then I shouldn’t do it at all. Now in college, instead of just ignoring whatever I can’t see, I point out, hey, this print is really small, do you think you would be able to read to me or is it okay if I use my phone to magnify what this says, I promise I’m not going to take a picture. And I think being able to approach those situations has allowed me to talk about how I use assistive tech a lot more and to normalize using assistive technology for other students as well. I had a friend who told me that they never felt confident, using a blindness cane or a screen reader in their class, until they had met me and saw me using these different devices and we’re like, hey, well, she can use them, I can use them too.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 18:07
Awesome. I think that’s just sound advice, and a wonderful way to approach, advocacy, kind of, from an educational heart centered place where it is a teachable moment that quote from Maya Angelou kind of comes to mind you know what you know until you know better and when you know better you do better. And I think it’s great that you approach it that way and are able to make quite an impact in such a short amount of time. Veronica before we wrap this up is there anything else that you would like to share with our audience around assistive technology around you, anything like that?
Veronica Lewis 18:48
So, one of the first things that comes to mind is that the future is accessible, take the time to learn about assistive technology and how you can practice inclusion within your classroom. And within other environments and there’ll be so many wonderful benefits that will come from that as more and more students are able to learn things and be able to do things like go into higher education and obtain meaningful employment. So that’s one of the first things that comes to mind.
Second thing is don’t listen to my story and assume that you are unable to be your own Veronica with four eyes or as one of my friends jokingly called a Veroni-clone. So, I never had a lot of assistive technology, when I was going through school, I didn’t, I never even heard of the term assistive technology until I was a freshman in high school, it is never too late to start practicing these assistive technology skills, and being able to see how they can help you in the future. Assistive Technology has the power to change your life if you’re willing to learn how to use it. And to me it’s a totally magical thing.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 20:00
I’m gonna let that sit for a minute for everyone to let that soak in.
Veronica Lewis 20:05
Actually I have a cool story about that too where I was working with – I’m mentoring, a younger student and the student was expressing to me how they wished that they would be able to have their computer read things to them, or they wish that they would be able to look at a picture of a tiger up close. Well, we ended up playing this game called Veronica the magician basically where they would tell me, I wish I was able to read this thing, and then I would be like well here’s a screen reader or, here’s how we can enlarge a 3d model which was a recent post on my blog. And just exploring all these different ways that assistive technology could help the student with being able to do everything that they wanted so not only were they included with their peers, but they were able to explore stuff on their own. To me the assistive tech magician game is one of my favorite games to play because it’s so fun seeing the reactions of other students, or other people around me when I show that yes, this thing that you thought was impossible, it’s definitely possible.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 21:08
That’s awesome. Veronica. Can you tell us where people can find you the name of your blog and your website again? And I just want to thank you so much for your time today. I just love what you’re doing and you are definitely going to change the world for sure.
Veronica Lewis 21:26
Thank you so much. My website, again, is veroniiiica.com. So literally the name Veronica spelled with four I’s. I also have a shortened URL for V4ica.com, for people who have trouble typing. I also am on Twitter. You can find me @veron4ica, and I’m also on Pinterest with the same username, you can actually find me on several social media platforms with that username. But those are my two main platforms. If you ever want to talk more feel free to send me an email veron4ica @ gmail.com send me a DM on Twitter. I’m always here if you have any questions about visual impairment or assistive technology.
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 22:19
You know if you have not checked Veronica’s blog or site out or her social media feeds please do so, you will learn so much. And the best learning comes from the user experience, and sharing these stories. Veronica, thank you for sharing your story and helping to move the work of assistive technology forward and making it more inclusive and universally accessible.
Veronica Lewis 22:45
Thank you again for having me!
Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles 22:47
Thank you, everyone. This is another episode of At the Heart. Assistive and Inclusive Technology stories. You can find At the Heart episodes on buzzsprout.com under At the Heart, or you can also find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and I Heart Radio. Just look for At the Heart, and you will find us. Take care everyone.
Related links from Veronica With Four Eyes
- My Talk At A Future Date: What I Wish I Learned About AT Before Starting College
- Dealing With Anxiety About Accommodations
- Navigating College Campuses Series
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
- Assistive Technology For Fluctuating Eyesight
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
- How I Use My Phone As Assistive Technology In Class
- Online Activities That Help Prepare For College Transition
- Follow me on Twitter @Veron4ica
- Contact me