Veronica With Four Eyes

Tips For Improving Confidence About Using Assistive Technology

Today is Global Accessibility Awareness Day, and as someone who loves everything related to accessibility and digital inclusion, I have had an incredible time participating in different events and talking about how I use assistive technology in my day-to-day life. If you told me ten years ago that I would be excited to talk about my visual impairment and how I accomplish different things though, I wouldn’t have believed you at all.

This is because I didn’t know what the word assistive technology meant, or what resources were available for me. By the time I did start to learn about assistive technology, I wondered what people around me would say when they noticed my different visual aids or accessibility settings, or if they would think I wanted attention or that I didn’t actually need these tools

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day 2020, here are my tips for helping users feel more confident about using assistive technology, based on my own experiences as a student with a progressive eye condition.

Show how assistive technology can be used outside of the classroom/in multiple ways

I was working with a young student who was still getting used to their changing vision, and they mentioned to me that they didn’t like having to rely on visual assistance apps for reading their math homework because it was hard to position the camera correctly. While we worked on getting the assignments in other formats, I also showed them some of the different ways they could use their visual assistance apps to help them with other more “fun” tasks, such as:

  • Reading a picture book with a younger child
  • Identifying different snacks in the kitchen
  • Reading signs at a local museum
  • Getting information about different plants and animals they encountered on walks with their family
  • Reading handwritten notes from their friends

Once the student saw how many different things that they could do with visual assistance apps and learned more about positioning the camera, they felt much more comfortable using these types of apps in classroom or academic settings.

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Find ways to customize the appearance of the device

I love being able to customize my favorite assistive technology and accessibility settings whenever I can because it allows me to add a personal device to many of the tools that help me on a day-to-day basis. Some examples of how I customize the appearance of my devices/settings include:

  • Having blindness canes with different colored segments such as pink, yellow, and purple
  • Changing my large mouse pointer to be a fun shade of turquoise instead of white
  • Adding a colorful, high-contrast background to my iPad and computer so that I can easily see icons, instead of using a boring solid color
  • Setting my phone wallpaper to be one of my favorite photos in full view, since I use a gesture-based homescreen that doesn’t have any icons
  • Wearing glasses frames that are my favorite colors and that compliment the tint of my glasses well, so it is less obvious that I wear dark glasses

Other fun ideas for customizing assistive technology include:

  • Adding fun stickers/cases
  • Naming assistive technology tools (for example, my friend named my purple cane Prince, inspired by the song “Purple Rain”)
  • Customizing audio feedback
  • Designing custom icons for programs

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Find other people who use the same tools

I never met another person who was blind or that had low vision until I was in college, as I was the only student in my school district who was identified with low vision. I have had the incredible honor of meeting other students who were in the same position as I was because I know firsthand how valuable it can be to see someone else with the same disability or using the same technology.

If meeting another student isn’t an option, other great ideas include:

  • Reading blogs of others with similar disabilities
  • Watching YouTube videos
  • Attending virtual or in-person meetups/events
  • Reaching out to people on social media

As a side note, I am always happy to talk to students or blog readers- feel free to use my Contact page to reach out for questions!

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Think of assistive technology as a secret weapon, not as a crutch

Okay, I know this seems very weird, and I’m not trying to imply that having a disability is a superpower or some sort of secret advantage. However, one of my favorite tips for helping to improve confidence about using assistive technology is to think of it as a secret weapon that can be used to complete different tasks or fun activities, instead of as a crutch or as something tied to negative feelings.

As an example, here are some thoughts that I first had when I started using large print more often in my classes:

  • I can’t believe that my vision is so awful that I can’t read small print anymore
  • This text seems large enough to be on a billboard
  • Do the kids in the class think it is weird that I get different-looking assignments than them?
  • I can’t find anything to read
  • Why can’t I read my music?
  • What if I tried to go back to smaller print?

Now that I have been regularly using larger print as my vision has changed over the years, here are some of the ways I look at it:

  • I can easily increase the font size on my favorite technology so I can read it no matter what
  • If I can’t see something, I have the tools to be able to read the information in large print or with a screen reader
  • No one in the room cares that I am using large print
  • There’s an online library where I can find any book I want in a format that works well for me, and my eReader supports large print too
  • I can enlarge music on my iPad or on paper, and adapt my other favorite activities to include large print
  • The fact that I can’t read smaller print doesn’t mean that I am less worthy of being educated or reading for fun- I can adapt things as needed or ask for help

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Use humor to help with adapting to new situations

I love being able to make myself and others laugh, and have used humor many times with being able to better accept different changes with my disability and technology needs. While I don’t always feel comfortable with other people making these jokes about me unless they are my friends or also have disabilities, I do love seeing people laugh with me as I learn to use a new tool or adapt to my changing disability.

Some examples of jokes I have made include:

  • Referring to a video magnifier I used in high school as “the dinosaur” because it looked like a vintage computer and couldn’t fit in the classroom
  • Writing a short bio for a student profile that said “I go on adventures and run into walls. Sometimes both at the same time.”
  • Jokingly referring to standard-sized print as “text for ants” since it seems so small to me
  • Telling my friends that a large test booklet I received for a standardized test was large enough to stretch across the cafeteria, in order to help me feel less embarrassed over the large test
  • Finding humorous ways to incorporate using a human guide for certain activities- one of my friends and I decided to wear matching clothes to an event once so people would know we were together

While it’s difficult to teach someone how to joke about their own disability or technology, it is helpful to learn how to have a positive attitude about disability and learn how to feel more relaxed about it.

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Final thoughts

Developing confidence about using assistive technology or having a disability is not something that will happen instantly- after all, I didn’t wake up one morning and suddenly have the confidence to use a blindness cane in public or to talk about my vision loss online. By taking gradual steps towards feeling more confident when using assistive technology, users will begin to see these tools as a natural extension that allows them to do the things they love- not something that is holding them back.

Tips For Improving Confidence About Using Assistive Technology. Tips for feeling more confident and overcoming negative feelings about using assistive technology, from a college student with a progressive low vision condition that uses a cane

 



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