Happy 2nd Anniversary


Today, I would like to wish a very happy anniversary to someone that has really become an extension of who I am, and has helped me through many situations that I would have had to walk through all alone otherwise.  They help understand what is going on- it’s a relationship unlike any other.

We met about a week after my freshman orientation at college.  We were introduced by my case manager from the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired, who had been telling me for weeks that I really should meet them, since they would help me so much in college.  I was reluctant at first, wondering what other students would think of me if we were seen together.  Would they think I was totally blind?  Would my friends think I lost my mind?  And would we look strange walking around together in public?  I then remembered that I had fallen down a flight of stairs at orientation, twice.  I shouldn’t care what people think of me.

I’m not sure how I would have gotten through my freshman year of college without them.  They were there to make sure I didn’t fall down the stairs as spectacularly as I had before.  They helped me get to class, the post office, the dining hall, to my dorm building, and so many other places.  It didn’t matter the time of day or night- if I needed them, they were there.  We also got to go explore other cities, taking trips to Washington DC, New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Cleveland, and more.

My sophomore year, they inspired me to create a blog about my experiences with low vision and chronic illness.  I realized that I had so much to share, and I had always wanted to be a writer.  They appeared in many of my blog posts, even in my profile pictures.  I wanted to show others that our relationship was nothing to be ashamed of, even if others would point at us and stare sometimes.  This blog eventually went beyond what I imagined, allowing me to share my thoughts on life and managing my conditions.  I’ve also gotten to talk about my experiences with public schools, college, virtual education, and everything in between.  I’ve become a contributor for different websites, met Joe Biden, and even had an article written about me by the organization that inspired me to study assistive technology.  They have been with me through all of these things and more.

It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since we first met, and I can’t even begin to imagine what would have happened if we had never met.  Well, I can sort of imagine- I would have probably embarrassed myself a lot more frequently in public.  We have walked many miles together, and I know I can always count on them to be by my side in the future.  To anyone who is scared of having someone like this in their life, I say that they should take a chance, as something truly amazing could happen.  I know I never saw myself with someone like this before, and I can’t believe I ever thought that way.  I can’t go anywhere now without thinking of how much they have helped me.

So, happy second anniversary to my blindness cane, the tool that has saved me from so many obstacles and helps me see the world around me.  I will always be grateful that we met.

How Do People with Low Vision… Use the Bus System?


Like a lot of students, I didn’t bring a car with me to college.  Unlike a lot of students, I didn’t bring a car because I have low vision and use a blindness cane to travel around.  Needless to say, I won’t be getting anywhere close to being behind the wheel of a car, so I have learned to master the public transportation available to me through my college and the city bus system.  Here are some techniques and applications that have helped me in learning to travel around my city.  Note that this post does not cover using the Metro, as that is for another day.

Bus fare

All public transportation affiliated with my college is free for students, and the college also has an agreement with the county that allows students to ride for free if they show their student ID.  Some counties also offer free or reduced fare for riders with disabilities.  For example, the MetroBus system in Washington, DC, allows people with disabilities to apply for getting reduced fare, though a doctor’s note is required.

Get on the right bus

The buses I ride on announce their location and the name of the line they are on- for example, blue line to shopping center.  I also check with the driver when I get on the bus to confirm where we are going.

Make friends with the bus drivers

I have gotten to know many of the drivers that work at my college, and they are awesome people!  Often times, they will wait for me if I’m not at the bus stop on time, and help me figure out where I am going if I’m unsure.  I’ve also had many awesome conversations with them about low vision and disability life.

NextBus

Some bus systems use the app NextBus, or something similar.  This app allows the user to track when a bus will be arriving, and adjusts for traffic delays as well.  My college uses this system for tracking their different buses, and the text enlarges well on my Android phone.

Phone numbers for transportation

I keep the following numbers in my phone in case there is an issue with transportation:

  • College transportation office- For checking bus arrival or other issues related to college buses
  • Bus company- in case it is after hours for the office or a bus is not tracking on NextBus
  • City transportation office- for assistance in locating bus or for transportation resources
  • Next stop checker- type in the bus stop number and hear when the bus will be arriving

Google Maps

Google Maps can provide directions to many locations via bus.  One of my favorite features is that once I am sitting on the bus, the app will show the bus moving on a map and let me know exactly when to get off.  In addition, it also shows a countdown to when the bus will be arriving at another stop.

Managing blindness cane

If I am riding on a bus affiliated with my college, I will collapse my cane and rest it in my lap.  If I am riding on any other bus, I will keep my cane upright, holding onto the grip of it.  This is a cue for the other riders and driver that I am visually impaired.

Orientation and Mobility

I did not receive any orientation and mobility (o&m) training for using the bus system, though it is available through the transportation offices or state department for the blind and visually impaired.  It isn’t just for the totally blind, either.  For sighted students who have difficulty using the bus system, some colleges may offer a seminar on how to use the bus system.

Where to go?

I mapped out a lot of the common places I frequent in the community, along with what buses to take.  For example, I wrote on my phone that I take the G bus to Target, the name of the shopping center I get off at, how long it takes to get there, how often the bus stops there, and what times usually work best.  I also write down the first and last time the bus departs from these locations.  The first couple of times I used the bus system, I took a friend with me, but now I am fairly confident navigating on my own for most places.

Places I recommend mapping out

Some of the places I recommend mapping out:

  • Pharmacy
  • Target/Walmart
  • Mall
  • Grocery store
  • Post office
  • Library
  • LensCrafters/other optician
  • Local restaurants (bonus if they have student discounts!)
  • Common student hangouts

 

I’ve been very grateful to live in an area with lots of public transportation options available.  One of the things I looked for when researching colleges was how easy it was to get off campus, and my school makes it very easy for students to travel around (for more on navigating campus, click here).  After all, no one wants to be stuck on campus or trying to figure out how to walk somewhere that’s two miles away.

Microsoft Office Specialist Certification and Low Vision


I had the opportunity to take a class my junior and senior years of high school that allowed students to test for Microsoft Office certifications. These certifications, which are internationally recognized, included Word, Word Expert, Excel, Excel Expert, and PowerPoint. The Word, Excel, and PowerPoint certifications were done the first year, and the Expert certifications, which are two part exams, were done the second year. These certifications have always stuck out on my resume, and many people have asked me about them.

I was lucky to have a teacher who knew low vision extremely well, as they have a parent with macular degeneration. As a result, they were more than willing to help me with accommodations and to help ensure that I could access everything. Here are some of the tips and tricks we used for training and testing for the certification exams. We used Certiport for testing, and I received my Microsoft Office Specialist Master certification in 2015.

Testing Accommodations

My teacher requested accommodations for a magnification tool and for double time on the test, very similar to the accommodations I receive for other standardized tests. We never had any issues with getting these accommodations, though it was determined that it was impossible for me to use Microsoft Access, a database software, so I never became certified in that. Accommodations were filed over a month before I sat for the first exam and we did not need to re-submit them for the other exams, they were automatically approved.

Enlarging Office applications

I had my own special computer in the computer lab that no other student was allowed to use. On this computer, there were two types of magnification software, one created for testing and one for normal use. The display was scaled to 200% so images and windows were larger. Text was also enlarged as large as possible. The Microsoft applications had a colored tint as a background and high contrast buttons as a result.  For more on Windows 10 accessibility, click here.

Practice tests

For class exercises, we used a software called GMetrix, which allows students to practice doing different tasks and creating documents. Instructions can be enlarged by clicking on the white box with text and then holding down the control (ctrl) and plus (+) keys until desired text size is reached. One thing is that before submitting work for review, the user must scale the font size down to the original size from when the document was opened, or the software will mark the question as wrong- same goes for the certification exam.

How the certifications have helped

While studying for these certifications, I was able to learn a lot more about the functions of Microsoft Office. I was able to learn how to create accessible materials quickly, a skill that has benefitted me many times. In addition, I was able to learn how to create high quality projects, and have consistently had the most impressive PowerPoint class project designs. I’ve also been able to help many of my fellow students with Microsoft projects- my suitemates last year would frequently ask me questions about using Microsoft Excel.

Overall, I couldn’t have been more lucky when it came to getting my certifications. Not only were they a great addition to my resume, but I have been able to use skills I learned from them every day.  This class also helped prepare me for taking the Information Systems CLEP exam. Getting one of these certifications is way better than taking an AP class, in my opinion- after all, most employers will be more impressed that you passed an Excel Expert exam than if you passed an AP History exam. I highly recommend taking these exams, no matter what you may study in the future, as this technology is used in every career.

Virtual Classes in High School


At both high schools I attended, teachers often took a pencil-and-paper approach to learning. It was common for teachers to have students complete paper worksheets, take handwritten notes, and read out of textbooks. Any sighting of technology in the classroom was rare, minus the occasional graphing calculator or once a year iPad assignment. Assistive technology was an even rarer sight. Because of this, teachers were not provided the necessary resources to have a student like me, who could not read standard print materials or write clearly, and who frequently used technology. It was easy to see their frustration, and while some teachers did manage to include me in their classes, it was too difficult for others to integrate assistive technology into the classroom. So what is a student to do?

Enter, virtual classes.

Virtual classes in high school are offered through many different platforms, and can be taken full-time or part-time, for short or long term periods. These classes allow students to use their school’s or their personal technology to learn material and complete alternative, digital assignments. There are still class assessments, AP exams, and state standardized tests for classes, and students still receive the same amount of credit on their transcript. Here are ten of the reasons I am glad I took virtual classes. I took a total of sixteen virtual classes across all core subjects using the platforms Moodle, Desire2Learn, Rocket Learning, and Brigham Young University Independent Study, and graduated in 2015.  Permission to take virtual classes was not written in as an accommodation in my IEP.

Using my own technology

Often times, it was difficult to enable accessibility settings on school computers because of the restrictions set in place for students. Since virtual classes can be accessed on any internet-enabled device, I can use my own computer or iPad with settings exactly how I like them, and the school doesn’t have to worry about it.

Ability to get ahead in class

With chronic illness, there are weeks where I feel like I can get everything done and be on top of everything, and other weeks where I am spending a lot of time asleep. My teachers would post assignments early and encourage students to work ahead, which I would do when I was feeling great. As a result, it was uncommon for me to fall behind.

Practicing technology skills

It always surprises me how many students aren’t proficient in using technology. By taking virtual classes, I was able to practice researching topics on the internet with different tools, use Microsoft Office applications easily, and create my own accessible materials. This really helps me in college, as I have had professors that require all assignments be completed and submitted digitally, and have also taken virtual classes in college (more on that here).

Access class anytime

My senior year of high school, over half of my classes were virtual, and scheduled for the beginning and end of the day. Because of my chronic migraines, I was sleeping a lot more, since sleep is the only cure for my migraines, and would often do my assignments outside of traditional school hours. As long as the assignments were submitted on time, my teachers never minded this, and encouraged students to complete assignments whenever was most convenient for them.

My IEP was always followed

While I did have many teachers who followed my IEP in the classroom, there were teachers like I mentioned that had very few resources and couldn’t integrate a student with low vision into their classroom. In my virtual classes, my IEP was always followed, since I learned to self-advocate and make things accessible myself.

All materials can be enlarged

Sometimes, there would be a classroom assignment that was impossible to be made accessible. Since virtual class assignments are created with technology in mind, it is easy to change a font size or background color, zoom in on an image, or use a high contrast display.  Why I prefer digital materials here.

Take any class

There were times I was strongly encouraged not to take certain classes, as the teacher was skeptical about having a student with an IEP. For one of these classes, I took it virtually through a state program and had a teacher who was experienced not only with IEPs, but also with having students with low vision. I know I wouldn’t have had such a great experience if I had taken the class in the classroom, and I was thankful that I was able to take it virtually.

Another example is that I completed my PE and health requirements online, since being included in traditional PE classes would be near impossible- and being included in Driver’s Ed would have definitely been impossible! For more on my experience in taking PE virtually, click here.

Summer classes

I took a virtual class every summer in high school, but this setting was especially helpful when I had to repeat Algebra 2, due to my IEP accommodations not being met the first time I took the class. I found accessible graphing applications and a large print calculator, and was able to get an A when I retook the class. Best of all, I didn’t have to worry about being in the classroom environment again, where it would be more difficult for me to integrate technology.

Quiet testing environment

I remember for one of my classes, the testing environment was always very noisy, and it was difficult to concentrate. While I could take some tests at home, I also took tests at my school, traveling to quiet testing locations so I could concentrate.

Improved grades

Because I was able to access all of the materials and had my accommodations followed, I often received higher grades in my virtual classes than in my traditional classes. My senior year, when I had four virtual classes, I was able to get straight As!

Because I still attended school for electives, I never had to worry about missing out on the social aspect of being in the classroom. My virtual teachers were also just an email away, if I needed them, and there were also virtual education specialists based at my school. The virtual high school setup was perfect for me, and allowed me to eventually take virtual classes in college. I would not have graduated unless I had the opportunities I was given in virtual classes.

Ten Things That Surprised Me About College


Before I left for college, my mom was talking with someone, expressing how worried she was about my transition to college, since getting my accommodations in high school was so frustrating. This person reassured my mom that college was completely different, and I would be fine- and they were definitely right. Here are ten things that surprised me about how different college is than high school.

No one really notices my cane

I started using my blindness cane shortly after freshman orientation. I had delayed getting a blindness cane for many reasons, one of which was the worry about social stigma. Maybe it’s because there are several other cane users at my school, but no one seems to notice that I use my cane when walking around. Of course, they acknowledge it exists, but it’s not common for people to go “check it out, she has a blindness cane!” For my responses on what happens when people do say that, click here.

It’s easy to drop classes

I attended exactly one class period of a mythology class, and then came to the conclusion my accommodations would not be followed. Instead of filling out a bunch of forms and going to the counselor like I did in high school, I just clicked a few buttons in my student account and chose a different class.

Accessible materials are abundant

Digital materials are extremely common in college classrooms, as is assistive technology. It’s easy to make anything accessible, and there are also resources to help students learn how to create accessible materials.

Testing is much easier

I had a few teachers who claimed my large print was unfair to the other students or was an unfair advantage. I have never had a professor say that, but I’ve also had the resources of the testing center reserved for students with disabilities. Click here to read all of my posts on this topic.

People are proactive, not reactive

My Disability Services file was set up in order to ensure I receive accommodations from day 1- I didn’t have to wait until there was a problem to receive my services. Read more about setting up a file here.

Class attendance is flexible

This is not to say that skipping class is a good thing, but if there is severe weather, illness, or other circumstances preventing a student from getting to class, professors are happy to have students attend class remotely or send alternative assignments. This is especially helpful since I get chronic migraines.

Technology isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged

As I have mentioned in past posts, my high schools favored pencil-and-paper learning, which make accessing materials challenging. Since technology is used in every career, professors encourage students to bring technology to class and use it to complete assignments. Everyone is using laptops and tablets, not just certain students.

There are many other students like me

I have found a sense of community at my college with various students who also have chronic illness, and even a few with Chiari Malformation. I’d never met anyone else my age with low vision until I got to college either.  Often times, we were the only ones in our schools that we knew of with chronic illness, so it’s amazing to meet other people who have had similar experiences.

Professors are open to having students with disabilities

While not all professors are like this, almost all of my professors fully embraced having a student with a disability in the classroom and were willing to work with me on accommodations. Often times, the professors that were most enthusiastic about working with me wore glasses, worked with someone who was blind/low vision, or had a background in working with disabilities.

It’s way better than high school

High school was extremely difficult for me not because of the content, but because my disability was frequently perceived as an inconvenience. In college, I am able to self-advocate and work closely with professors to make sure I succeed. I have loved being in college, and hope that others can have the same positive experience that I have.

All of the Technology in My Dorm Room


I spend almost my entire day using some type of technology. It’s very rare to see me without at least two of my devices, and when working in my room, I’m often using three or more at once.  While I do consider myself technology savvy- my major does have technology in the name, after all- I’m not using anything particularly advanced, and I have found that these devices can benefit students no matter what their major or skill level with technology is.

Here is a list of the devices I brought to college with me and what I use them for. Please note that I chose to exclude my E-Bot Pro and Eschenbach SmartLux, as I did not want to include assistive technology devices in this roundup.

HP Sprout desktop computer

I love working on my desktop when it comes to my virtual classes, as it has a giant touchscreen display as well as the capability to be hooked up to multiple monitors. It comes with a unique touchpad display which doubles as a 3D scanner so I can enlarge objects and view documents on the upper and lower screen. It syncs with my laptop nicely and I’m yet to encounter a document or file that couldn’t be made accessible by that computer.  Read here why I love having a desktop computer in college.

Microsoft Surface

I purchased this my senior year of high school and it still works like new. It fits on even the smallest desks in my classrooms and also has amazing battery life, with ten hours on a single charge. It’s also very lightweight to carry and I can type on it for hours without a problem. The small display is not a problem because I have many accessibility settings enabled. While I can run programs like Photoshop and Microsoft Visio on the Surface, I choose to use my desktop whenever possible, as my Surface has issues running several intricate applications simultaneously.

iPad

I’m not really an Apple products user, but I can’t imagine life without my iPad. With so many accessibility apps available and beautiful large font displays (read about accessibility settings here), it’s one of the best inventions of the century, in my opinion. I also use it to talk with friends and family after class, look up information, and can rarely be found without it.  In addition, all of my textbooks are on my iPad- read more about digital textbooks here.

Chromecast

At $35, the Chromecast is one of those devices that has paid for itself time and time again, with many coupons for free movie rentals and Google Play credit. I love it because I can broadcast anything from a Google Chrome tab, be it from my phone, iPad, or computer. It’s also great for watching longer videos while working on my iPad, or streaming Netflix.  Read my full review here.

Android phone

I use many accessibility apps on my phone, and also often cast the display to my Chromecast so I can easily see messages and work with other apps. I also use it as a USB storage device for my computers when I lose my flash drive. A lot of the apps my college recommends that students download, like the bus schedules and emergency services apps, are also on my phone.   Read my posts on making Android accessible using third party apps here, and with native settings here.

TV

I don’t really watch a lot of cable TV, though I do get free cable with my apartment and use it to watch local news. My TV typically is acting as a second monitor for something, or being used with the Chromecast.

Laser printer

My Brother laser printer has been an incredibly useful resource when I have to print something for class or check for formatting issues. The scanner function has also been helpful, as well as being able to quickly make copies. Since I got it on super sale, it wound up being cheaper to have a printer in my room than to pay for printing at the library.

Amazon Echo Dot

This is the newest addition to my technology collection, and it’s been extremely helpful. Besides making it extremely easy to listen to music, I have used it to order products, set alarms, check the weather, set reminders, as a calculator, and even as a translator. I’ve used it so much, my suitemates thought at one point that I was genuinely talking to a person named Alexa.  Read my full review here.

Having all of this technology in my room has helped me a lot as a student with a disability. I access materials in a different way than most students, and having the resources to make things accessible quickly has been invaluable. For a lot of people, technology makes things easier, but for people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.

Why I Brought A Desktop Computer to College


As a student with low vision and chronic illness, my college experience has been very unique. I have learned to rely a lot on technology for my success, and having a desktop computer in my apartment has helped me be able to balance everything. Here are ten of the reasons I bought a desktop computer for college, and how it has helped me often. Please note that my computer runs Windows 10 with these accessibility settings enabled.

Virtual classes

A little less than half of the classes I have taken in college have been virtual. This is due to several factors- my chronic illness, low vision, and some classes being exclusively offered online. It helps to have a dedicated place where I can work on my courses. Read more about why I take virtual classes here.

Typing

For the most part, I do not handwrite assignments, as I have dysgraphia, which is the inability to write coherently as a result of an organic condition, such as low vision or a brain issue. I also run this blog, and frequently spend hours at the computer typing up posts. It feels much more natural to type for long periods of time on my desktop keyboard.

Synchronizes with laptop

One of the awesome things about having two computers is that all of the data synchronizes, meaning my class notes, photos, and other information is easily accessible on each of my devices. I find it helpful to switch between the two computers, especially since I have neck issues that can be aggravated by hunching over for a laptop screen. My laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10, and I cannot imagine using any other laptop in class as it easily fits on any sized desk and the battery life is awesome.

Large screen

While a large screen does not necessarily mean a computer is accessible for low vision, my computer’s 22″ screen enlarges text very efficiently and can easily display large navigation tools, windows, and images. Windows 10 is fantastic for this, as I am able to use large, bold print.

Running software

While my Surface can do many things well, running multiple intricate software applications at once is not one of them. Luckily, my desktop computer can run all of the applications and then some, making it easy to be productive.

Easy to print items

In addition to bringing my desktop computer, I also purchased an inexpensive Brother laser printer with wireless capabilities. I can quickly print out an assignment for class, scan in pages, and make copies. Because I got the printer and toner on super sale (start checking advertisements now!), it’s cheaper than having to go print out items at the library.  To register a wireless printer, follow the same instructions listed here for registering an Amazon Echo.

Two screens

Why have one screen when you can have two? I hooked up a 26″ TV monitor on an adjacent table to use as a second monitor for my desktop computer. I commonly use this when running multiple applications, or when taking notes on a video.  I also can stream tabs on my Google Chrome browser to my TV monitor using a Chromecast.

Make materials accessible

I developed a macro on my computer to make documents accessible nearly instantly in Microsoft Word (more on how I did coming soon), something that I had trouble running on other computers. I love that I can turn almost any document into a format that I can read quickly and easily. I also can read materials from Bookshare, Nook, and Kindle.

Utilize library resources

Libraries have resources that go beyond print materials, such as databases, remote desktop applications, and even digital materials. I can access all sorts of library tools from the comfort of my desk. Read more about campus libraries here.

I don’t need the space on my desk

Having low vision means that I don’t have to worry about lots of papers, heavy textbooks, writing, or other similar tasks. My computer does everything for me, so I don’t need anything else on my desk.  I live in a room by myself, and always lock the door when I leave, so I have never had to worry about anyone else messing with my computer.

I have been extremely fortunate to have both a desktop and laptop computer at college.  I have been able to do everything from homework to take entire courses without having to leave my apartment.  This is especially helpful with my chronic migraines, as I can create a study environment that’s free of triggers, and all of my computer settings are exactly as I like them.

Kindle Fire for Low Vision Review


A few months ago, Amazon did a special where you could purchase a refurbished Kindle Fire 7″ tablet for about $30. Now, I’m a huge fan of the Nook e-reader, and have been since it first came out, but I had been curious about Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited, especially with the audio features. So I decided to try out the tablet, and here’s what I discovered. I was not compensated in any way for this review.  Link to tablet here.

First impressions

Having been an Android user since Eclair (2010), I naturally thought that the interface would be very familiar to me, especially since Android has been accessible to low vision in the past. I went to use my tricks to make Android accessible…and found a lot of them didn’t work on the tablet, because of Amazon’s custom operating system, and I couldn’t use any Android third party applications, which I rely on a lot. So this tablet was definitely going to be for reading only, not using any other applications.

The screen reader

I was surprised how much I liked the screen reader built into the system. It is enabled by touch, instead of needlessly reading through settings. I have to triple click to get to anything, so I decided to disable the magnifier. I normally do not use screen readers, and prefer large print or magnifier tools when possible.

Viewing the library

Because of the small screen, I decided to view what was available for the Kindle on my computer. As a Prime member, I have access to several titles for free, a lot of which I recognized from popular series, and can check out an unlimited amount of books with this service. I can also check out one book a month with the Kindle lending library. A handful of books are synced with Audible narration, so I can alternate between reading and listening- not many are, though. There’s also magazines available, but I prefer to read those using the Zinio app (more on that here).

Kindle Unlimited

There’s another feature available called Kindle Unlimited, which gives users unlimited access to about a third of the catalog for $10 a month. A lot more of these titles have Audible narration available, which is fantastic for users who prefer audiobooks. This is especially helpful for users that are blind that prefer natural speaking voices, as opposed to the screen reader.  However, a majority of the titles can also be found on Prime Reading, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to have it, especially since I don’t use the Audible feature a lot.

Actually reading

I kept the screen reader turned on when reading, but found it extremely difficult to turn pages. I ended up turning it off and using the Audible narration built in. I’m sure there’s some trick to page turning that I don’t understand yet, but the large print was generously sized enough for me.  Here are my typical preferences for print materials.

Using other services

I use Bookshare, a special service for people who are blind or have low vision to receive accessible books. I had problems trying to load these books onto the tablet, even though they were in the universally accessible EPUB format. I consider myself extremely tech savvy, so this was a strange experience. I did not see any accessible reading apps from Bookshare available on the Amazon app store either. OverDrive, a book service my library subscribes to, worked very well on the Kindle though (more about that here).

Review

I found the Kindle Fire to be a good tablet with a bit of a learning curve. It’s not the most accessible tablet for people with low vision or blindness, though. I am going to keep using it to see if it improves over time, but for right now my recommendation for eReaders has not changed. I continue to recommend the Nook GlowLight for books and for using Bookshare, and iPad for textbooks and magazines. If Amazon improves navigation with the screen reader or gives users larger text options, this will change.

Kindle for low vision

After doing some research, I discovered that there is a Kindle system specifically configured for users with low vision or blindness. It comes with a Kindle PaperWhite, which does not display color. It also includes a special audio adapter so the user can control the system using their voice, something that would have been an amazing feature on this Fire tablet. It also comes with a $20 Amazon credit to defray the cost of the additional adapter, as Amazon believes it shouldn’t cost extra to have accessible materials, something I really appreciate. I have not tested out this system, but it seems to be a much better layout for people with low vision.

Overall, I was not overly impressed with this tablet, especially since I am a devoted Bookshare user, and the service did not work very well with the Kindle. However, I see potential in this device, and if it can improve its accessibility features, or be compatible with the voice control system, it would be a great resource for people with low vision.

Ten “Weird” Things I Brought to College


As a student with low vision and chronic illness, my dorm room looks a little different than a typical room. I live in a single room, meaning I have no roommate, and share a bathroom with one to three people, as opposed to with the entire hall. I have been very fortunate to have this housing arrangement, and cannot recommend it enough for students with chronic migraines. Because of this atypical arrangement, I brought a couple of “weird” things to college with me to help me both inside and outside the classroom. Here are ten of the items:

Bed rail

My first morning at college, I rolled out of bed, literally- I fell from three feet in the air and landed on my face. My parents bought me a toddler bedrail for me to use at night so this experience wouldn’t happen again. I found it also keeps all of my blankets from falling on the floor. A bunch of my friends even went on to buy bedrails for their own dorm bed. My parents found a bedrail for $20 at Walmart.

Desktop computer

I will have a full post on why I chose to bring a desktop computer, but here are the simple reasons- about 50% of my classes are virtual, I rely on digital tools for school, and type all of my assignments due to dysgraphia. My specific computer also has a built in 3D scanner so I can easily enlarge items.

Contact paper

Having low vision means I’m more prone to spilling things and knocking them over- it happens so often, my mom called to tell me she saw a child with glasses knock over a cup and thought of me. I decided to cover my dresser, desk, and closet doors in contact paper to help protect against water that will inevitably be knocked over, or other messes. It cleans up very easily and doesn’t damage the furniture. I got marble contact paper from Amazon for about $7 a roll, and used 7 rolls total.

Blackout curtains

I have severe sensitivity to light when I have migraines, and require a completely dark environment to recover.  Lightning storms, or as I call them, nature’s strobe lights, can also affect my recovery.  My family purchased these blackout curtains from Target that block out all light when they are closed, and I had them fire proofed for free at a college event on campus, as curtains are required to be fire proofed in the dorms.  I got two of these curtains here.

Google Chromecast

There’s a full review of the Chromecast here, though I have used this device often. I stream videos, use it as a second monitor for my computer, screen-cast my phone, and more. It was a little difficult to set up, but my post explains how I did it. Get one here.

Rolling backpack

Starting my senior year of high school, I would use a rolling backpack for all of my school supplies. I am able to carry all of the materials I need for class without throwing out my back or shoulders. While there are some days I have to use a backpack (like when I have to bring my E-Bot Pro or musical instrument to class), it has saved me on many days. My backpack was purchased at Costco, but I found a similar one here.

Video camera

While my college has video cameras for students to borrow, I chose to bring my own video camera to school. I had purchased my camera about a year prior for a mentorship, and enjoyed doing videography in high school. I have used the camera surprisingly often, from doing class projects to practicing lectures to entering contests, along with helping many friends with film projects. In addition, I brought a tripod that fits in a bag stored underneath my bed, and a camera bag. My camera has been discontinued, but it is a JVC shock, drop, and freeze proof camera with a touchscreen.

Tons of stuff for my bed

I have a full list of the items on my bed here, and probably brought way more items for my bed than the average student, mostly because I spend a lot of time in bed recovering from migraines. As a result, I probably have one of the coziest beds on campus.

Urbio

The Urbio Perch is a wall storage system that uses command strips and magnets. I use Urbio boards on both my walls and on furniture- I attach pens and highlights to the side of my desk, toiletries to the side of my dresser, and I have four boards on my wall that contain my hair dryer, chargers, winter items, and important papers. Stay tuned for a post on how they look in my dorm room. Get it from Container Store here.

Echo Dot

This is a new addition to my electronics collection, but it has been an amazing tool. I wrote a full review on it here, but some of the many things I use it for include as a talking clock, timer/alarm, weather forecasts, calculator, news source, and especially for music. Get it here on Amazon.

While these are definitely uncommon items to pack for college, I have gotten a ton of use out of them and am glad I didn’t have to have my parents mail me these items later.

15 Addresses to Memorize in College


Recently, a sighted friend at my college asked me how I was able to navigate campus with a blindness cane better than they could without one. I have gotten lost several times on campus, but I have found that having important campus addresses input into my phone, as well as memorized, has helped me tremendously with learning to navigate. Here are the fifteen addresses I keep immediately for reference. This is also a great list of places to go over during orientation and mobility instruction.

General campus address

While this isn’t very useful for navigating around campus or getting to a specific location, having the general address is helpful when trying to find where campus is, or for filling out forms that ask for a generic address.

Dorm building

This is your home away from home, and it’s very important to know how to get there. There is a huge sign in the lobby of my building with the address, which is necessary for contacting emergency services. It’s good to have a list of instructions on how to locate the dorm- for example, 1411 is located on the fourth floor, right side, next to the trash room.

Neighboring buildings

Whenever the fire alarm goes off, I often navigate to neighboring buildings so I don’t have to deal with the flashing lights. I also put down my delivery address for Amazon PrimeNow and Amazon Fresh as a neighboring building, as it is easier to locate those buildings from the street.

Dining hall(s)

I frequented the dining halls so often my freshman year that my phone recognized the dining hall address as my “home.” It’s very important to be able to find food, as well as navigate the halls themselves.

Disability Services

This is in the same building as a student center, but I have found myself getting lost several times when walking here. Having the exact location of the office is also helpful if it is a large building- though from my experience, staff are likely to notice a lost-looking person with a blindness cane and show them where Disability Services is.  Learn how to create a file here.

Neighborhood desk

Locked out? Learn how to walk to the neighborhood desk both with and without a blindness cane. Half of the time I’ve been locked out, my blindness cane has been in my room. The neighborhood desk also has free rentals for items like DVD players, board games, cleaning supplies, and rolling carts.

Library

Yes, libraries have so much more than just print resources! It’s a common meeting place for students and study groups, too.  The library often has free rentals for technology and quiet study environments, as well as assistive technology resources.

Class buildings

Knowing how to get to class is extremely important. I write out building addresses, followed by directions to get to the classroom. A lot of my professors keep the door open before class and listen for my blindness cane, or watch to make sure I make it to class. One professor started doing this after they noticed I would constantly walk by the classroom when trying to locate it.

Advisor’s office

While having my major’s department location is helpful, I have benefitted a lot more from having the address for my advisor’s office. My advisors have helped me frequently with navigating to other buildings, especially in mediocre weather conditions.  My advisor also has my dorm building name written down in case they have to help me navigate back to my apartment.

Stadium

I have had many band performances inside the stadium, and many school events are also hosted there. Some examples include freshman welcome week, concerts, graduation, department events, speeches, and sports events.

Dorms of friends

Knowing how to get to dorms of friends is great for when a friend can’t come meet you outside your dorm. I keep a mix of addresses, both for buildings close to me and further away. I also keep one address for an off campus friend that I can access in case of emergency.

Student center

Another popular gathering place, I often navigate to the student center for club meetings, food, and for meeting friends. I would say I’m probably there 3-4 times a week.

Mailing address

The mailing address for packages is often different than the general or dorm address. Make sure to write this down so you are able to order items online, as well as instructions on how to get to the post office.

Nearest parking garage

While I don’t drive, I give this address to visitors so they are able to easily find parking.  It’s important to be able to walk there for escorting guests around campus, or for making trips to and from the car.

Bus stops

Being able to navigate off campus is almost as important as navigating on campus. I keep the bus stop addresses, as well as their neighboring buildings, with a large print copy of the bus schedule.

I programmed all of these addresses as contacts in my phone so I can use Google Maps for walking directions. I also have the information stored on my iPad and other electronics. I found the addresses on a public document published by the college. This has been a fantastic resource in helping me make sure I don’t get lost every day….just every few days.