On July 7th, I had the opportunity to attend a virtual event with the West Virginia affiliate for the Association for Education and Rehabilitation for the Blind and Visually Impaired (also known as AERBVI or simply as AER). During the event, I shared some of my college transition resources, talked about a policy I had created to improve access to higher education resources for students who are blind and low vision, and answered questions from audience members about a variety of different topics. Here is a list of resources and blog posts that I mentioned during my presentation- please note that some questions have been slightly edited to remove identifying information.
Part 1- Preparing for college transition
For me, it was never a question over whether I would attend college or not, but rather what college I would attend and what I would study. My parents had me start thinking about college and what I might want to study shortly after my 13th birthday, and I was full of different ideas that ranged from dietetics to English to something with computers. I didn’t think about how my low vision might influence my career choice or where I would go to college, as I figured that my vision would improve as I got older. As a result, a lot of the questions I asked about colleges weren’t particularly constructive- I would ask about the food on campus, simple questions about the dorms, or the school music program. I walked away from my first college tour with no meaningful information about whether this college would be a good fit for me, and I discovered this when I went back to visit the same school four years later and was actively discouraged from applying by a staff member that said they had no resources for low vision or assistive technology.
This is one of the many experiences that inspired a policy I wrote as a student member of the Roosevelt Institute in 2018 called “Seeing The Future”, which establishes a website run by the Department of Education that helps students with vision loss figure out how they can access higher education. One of the components of “Seeing The Future” focuses on things that students can do before they graduate, which includes getting SAT and ACT accommodations, figuring out what question to ask when choosing a college, learning how to get accessible materials, and others.
- Seeing The Future: A Proposed Resource For Students With Vision Impairments
- Ten Questions to Ask When Choosing a College
- Ten More Questions to Ask When Choosing A College
- Blindness Canes and College Tours: Navigating College Campuses
- Places Every Visually Impaired Student Should Visit On College Tours
- Why I Study Assistive Technology
Question- what assistive technology do you use in the classroom?
The assistive technology I use in the classroom depends on the class I’m in- my classes that take place in a computer lab will have different needs than my classes that take place in a lecture hall. I typically use a few different apps on my iPad and Android phone to interact with materials in my classes:
- Microsoft Office Lens is a free app on Android and iOS that allows users to scan in copies of documents, photos, whiteboards, business cards, and similar content using their device’s camera. After scanning in the content, users can further edit the image or keep it as is and export it in the format of their choice.
- Notability by Ginger Labs is an iPad productivity app that allows users to draw, write, and annotate documents and photos. While the content of the original file can’t be altered from within the app, it’s a great solution for completing assignments in the classroom
- OneNote is a free Microsoft Office software that allows users to create multimedia notebooks filled with text, images, videos, files, and more. OneNote goes beyond the standard Microsoft Word document and allows users to create an interactive notebook filled with content that can be accessed from almost any device.
- Microsoft’s Immersive Reader is a free tool that provides a full-screen reading experience. It is designed to improve the readability of text in Microsoft applications through the use of assistive technology accommodations for people with print disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, vision impairment, and more
- Pocket is a free app that allows users to save articles, webpages, and videos from the internet for offline viewing at a later time. After saving an article, the content is sent to the user’s Pocket list which is synchronized across devices, and simplifies the visual display of articles so that they are easier to read.
A lot of the other assistive technology I use in the classroom includes built-in accessibility settings for my favorite devices, including screen magnification and text-to-speech across various operating systems, and web applications such as Beeline Reader. I also would use a digital to-do list so that I could keep track of assignments and write other short notes that I could refer to later.
- Notability and Low Vision Review
- How I Use Microsoft OneNote With Low Vision
- Five Ways To Simplify Reading With Technology
- My Favorite Web Browser Extensions For Virtual Learning
- How I Use My Phone As Assistive Technology In Class
- My Talk At A Future Date: What I Wish I Learned About AT Before Starting College
Question- what platform do you use for your virtual classes?
My college host virtual classes through the Blackboard learning management system. My favorite feature of Blackboard is the Blackboard Ally tool which allows me to download assignments in a variety of accessible formats. My professors also take the time to design their classes with accessibility in mind, organizing assignments in folders and providing videos with captions and transcripts.
For students that have difficulty with typing assignments in the text field for Blackboard, there is an option to upload documents that is located below the text field.
- Ten Questions To Ask When Choosing A Virtual Class
- Using Blackboard Ally With Low Vision
- 9 Ways To Customize Blackboard For Students
- Ten Tech Skills Every College Student Needs For Virtual Classes
Question- What are your suggestions for balancing a higher course load in college while staying involved with other activities?
There are a few options for taking additional credits during the semester that can help students that are trying to balance taking college classes with other activities.
College Level Examination Program (CLEP) exams are similar to AP exams in that they allow students to take tests and receive college credit. However, CLEP exams can be done after high school and students are guaranteed college credit, provided that they achieve a passing score on the test and their college accepts CLEP exams. I recommend checking out the course equivalency list or a college transfer matrix to determine which CLEP exams are accepted by your college and which ones make the most sense for your major- I tested out of an entry-level IT class by taking the Information Systems CLEP exam, which freed up room in my schedule for more interesting classes.
Another tip for balancing a higher course load is to take classes that are companions or connected to each other so that the materials connect, so that it doesn’t feel like a student is taking five totally different classes. For example, I took two required Python classes for my major during the same semester and found that it was easier for me to follow along with the classes since my professors were talking about similar topics applied in different ways.
For students who need additional accommodations in classes or need to apply for a reduced course load, Disability Services accommodations can be adjusted to include accommodations such as extended time on exams or extended deadlines for assignments. It’s worth noting that colleges may not advertise all the accommodations that are available for students, so students can also have a meeting with their case managers to establish their own individual/custom accommodations.
Another option for students that cannot complete assignments or classes by the end of the semester is to file for a semester extension or incomplete, which is done for individual classes. Students will typically need to have a passing grade before they can file for an incomplete, and they will set a deadline with their professor for completing the remaining work (usually six weeks into the next semester, excluding summer). Grade changes are also available as an option in some cases so that students can complete work, though this depends on the department.
- The Ultimate Guide to CLEP Exams
- College Scheduling Hacks For Students With Chronic Illness
- How To Create A Disability Services File
- How To Get Disability Accommodations In Community College
- What If I Miss Assignments Or Classes In College?
- Seven Unexpected Disability Accommodations For Virtual Learning
Question- How can I find majors/careers that are a good fit for me? Can state resources help?
APH CareerConnect from American Printinghouse for the Blind has a wealth of free resources for finding majors or career paths for people who are blind or that have low vision, and there are also quizzes that can help people figure out what types of jobs or degrees would be the best fit for them.
In many states, there is a state-level office for blindness/visual impairment that can connect residents with resources such as vocational rehabilitation, career counselors, and job shadowing programs. I had a file with the Virginia Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI) that helped me figure out what accommodations would work best for me and provide resources for colleges in the state.
- APH CareerConnect website
- Seven Benefits of Having a Case With State Departments for Vision Impairment
- Vocational Rehabilitation for Students With Vision Impairments
Question- what are your favorite extracurricular activities?
I played bass clarinet in the Green Machine, which is the pep band for George Mason University. I created a large print music binder and modified my uniform so that I would be able to block out a lot of the bright and flashing lights- more information in posts linked below.
In addition, I was also a member of the student chapter of the Roosevelt Institute, a non-partisan student run think tank which encourages students to create policy ideas and solve problems at the university, local, state, federal, and international level. Being part of Roosevelt helped me tremendously with self-advocacy and learning how to advocate for issues that are important to me for my school in my community. My policy memo “Seeing The Future” won their national competition in 2018 and I have used the skills I learned from Roosevelt to help me interact with state and federal representatives.
My other favorite extracurricular is running my website, Veronica With Four Eyes- I love attending local events, meeting people, and learning more about accessibility in the world around me. Even though I no longer live on campus, I am still writing all the time and plan to continue to play clarinet and advocate for local issues long after I’ve graduated from college.
- Playing in GMU Green Machine Pep Band With Vision Impairment
- My Large Print Music Binder
- Adapting Band Uniforms For Photosensitivity and Sensory Overload
- Seeing The Future: My Feature in 10 Ideas
- Tips For Contacting Senators and Congress Members
- Ways To Support New Accessibility Advocates
Question- do you have any tips for getting a job or going through the interview process?
I will be answering this question more in-depth in the future once my job is finalized! One of my main tips though is to do an internship- I interned at a major technology company two years ago and it helped me to get a lot of hands-on experience and figure out if this was something I was actually interested in. I also follow people in the field I’m interested in and network whenever possible, and it has helped me a lot.
Another valuable tip is to practice self-advocacy and learn how to explain disability and what accommodations are needed. I researched ahead of time what companies were prioritizing accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities and sent in applications to those places, and also attended industry conferences to learn more about what companies were doing.
- Learning to Self-Advocate
- Ways To Practice Self-Advocacy In The Virtual Classroom
- How I Document Accessibility Preferences With Low Vision
- How To Create Accessible Workspaces For Chiari Malformation
Question- Do you use indoor navigation? Do you have any tips for navigating college buildings?
Yes, I have used them at some events like conferences and things like that. However, I typically use video assistance tools like Aira and Be My Eyes as I typically need to navigate through crowds of people or deal with environmental factors (i.e construction area) that beacons may not provide adequate information about. In addition, Aira has indoor maps for many buildings and can see individual room numbers for various locations.
When I had my internship, someone helped me with practicing how to get to my office and learning other landmarks in the building that I could use to navigate, and other friends I have used orientation and mobility specialists to help them learn the layout of their new building. Tactile maps can also be a helpful tool for Braille users who are learning to navigate indoor spaces.
Another simple tool that can help students with vision loss is to ask professors to put a small bump dot or tactile label on their door or classroom sign so that students can feel the sign to check that they are in the right classroom.
- How I Learned To Navigate My Internship Building With Low Vision
- How I Use My Phone For Orientation and Mobility
- Blindness Canes and Classrooms: Navigating College Campuses
Question- Can I get out of taking certain college classes?
While this isn’t a way to get out of any class, students have the option to file course substitution or waiver requests for classes if they have a documented medical reason for why they can’t complete a class, or if they wish to take a different class to fulfill the same requirements- I filed a course substitution form to substitute a math class I had taken in a different department. For course waivers, students will typically need to talk to the registrar, their department, and potentially Disability Services as they may need additional documentation.
Question- Veronica, are you a member of any blindness consumer organizations?
No, I have never been a member of any of the major blindness consumer organizations, though I have attended some of their conferences and events at the state level.
I founded an organization at my college called Vision Impaired Patriots that connects students and staff at my college with vision loss and while many of our members are part of these consumer organizations, our college organization is not an affiliate.
Thank you again to West Virginia AER for allowing me to come speak and share resources with others! As always, I can be reached through my contact page on my website or through Twitter @veron4ica.