Veronica With Four Eyes

What’s In My Backpack: Program Management Intern With Low Vision

In 2019, I interned at Microsoft on the Excel team, where I helped outline the redesign of a feature that makes it easier for users to locate patterns in a given dataset. Someone had asked me about what I bring to work as a program management intern with low vision (vision loss not corrected by glasses), and if I am using different tools than I did in college. Here are the contents of what’s in my backpack as a program management intern (also known as a PM intern) with low vision at Microsoft, written while cleaning out my backpack three weeks into the internship.

Two-strap backpack

On my first day at Microsoft, I was given three different backpack options, including a messenger bag, a two-strap backpack that goes over my shoulders, and a lightweight backpack. Since I had to walk to a shuttle stop from my intern housing and then a short distance to the building I was working in, using a rolling backpack wasn’t a good option because that would leave me with zero free hands when walking outside- my blindness cane was always in my other hand.

Every day, I use a Microsoft-branded The North Face Connector backpack for all of my items. I like that it provides a lot of padding for my laptop, which was helpful when my backpack fell out of the back of a moving shuttle. Since the backpack is solid black, I added some colorful keychains and ribbons so that it was easier for me to find the backpack if it was sitting on top of another dark surface. Plus, it kept me from accidentally grabbing someone else’s backpack.

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Company-issued laptop

I didn’t have any say in what laptop I was given for my internship, but I did get to set up how I use it at work. I was given a Microsoft Surface Book with a 15″ screen, and at work I connect it to a Surface Dock which has an external keyboard, mouse, and large monitor. If I had the option to choose my own laptop, I would have chosen a smaller model because I cannot carry the laptop in my hands due to poor hand strength, which means I have to bring a backpack if I want to use the laptop outside of my office. I always bring the external mouse with me because I find the trackpad frustrating to use, but the keyboard generally stays at my desk.

My laptop has a few different accessibility settings enabled, such as options for accessing text-to-speech, large print/display scaling, large cursors, and other helpful low vision tools. I also use a few different accessibility settings that I don’t use on my computer at home or college, like High Contrast.

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High contrast pens and markers

I can’t read anything that is written in pencil, so I always carry high contrast pens and markers if I need to write something. I often use fine point markers for writing notes, drawing outlines, or adding labels on sticky notes because they are easy for me to read, and show up clearly in photos or scanned images. If I’m in a meeting with my feature crew and they want to write or draw something on a piece of paper, I ask them to use my markers or pens so I can see what they are doing.

I also keep dry erase markers in my backpack- more on those in a later section.

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Two different notebooks

I have two different notebooks that were given to me at my internship. The first notebook is a small 5 x 7 unlined notepad, which I use for making quick notes or drawing a diagram. Everything I write is in large print, equivalent to size 36 pt font. I don’t used lined notebooks because I have trouble seeing light blue lines on white paper, and my handwriting extends beyond the small lines.

The other notebook is a Rocketbook reusable notebook, which requires special pens for writing that can be wiped off with a cloth. My notebook has Microsoft branding and is awesome for creating notes that I can scan with the Microsoft Office Lens app, or for writing to-do lists that I can easily erase later. I can’t use the other markers in my backpack, but I prefer this for drawing diagrams or organizing other thoughts.

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Dry erase board

I find it easier to write neatly on a dry-erase board because of the slanted surface and thicker markers, and because it is easier to correct mistakes as I go along. I have a larger whiteboard in my office, but also have an 8 inch by 10 inch board in my backpack that I use all the time at my desk.

Even though it isn’t in my backpack, the Microsoft Whiteboard application is another helpful tool for creating a virtual dry-erase surface.

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Two pairs of headphones

In full transparency, I forgot that I had two pairs of headphones in my backpack, but I do use them for different things. Headphones set number one is a pair of bone conducting headphones that connect to my phone or laptop via Bluetooth, and make it easier for me to use a screen reader or GPS applications without blocking out other sounds around me. Headphones set number two is for music or blocking out sound around me so I can focus better- these plug into a headphone jack and are great for listening to my iPod or streaming music.

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Badge with retractable clip

Instead of keeping my badge on a lanyard or in a pocket, I clipped it onto a retractable clip that another intern gave me, which can attach to a jacket or pair of pants. I put the badge in my backpack before leaving work so that I don’t forget where it is or accidentally put it in the laundry.

Printed copy of meeting schedule with room numbers

I have my meeting schedule in a digital format, but I also handwrite or print a copy with the meeting times and room numbers, as well as a note on which floor they are on. During my first week, I got lost trying to find a meeting that I thought was on the second floor, but was actually on the third, so I started adding the floor numbers to help with this. Having the printed copy is helpful if I have to charge my phone or for serving as a physical reminder of where I need to be going.

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Personal smartphone and iPad

I don’t use my personal devices for writing out work related documents, but I like to use my smartphone and tablet to make a few different tasks easier, including:

  • Using my phone as a video magnifier to enlarge items
  • Reading websites or large amounts of text on my iPad, which can be adjusted under the bifocal in my glasses
  • Paying for lunch in the cafeteria with a digital wallet application like Google Pay or Apple Pay
  • Ordering a shuttle to/from work or to different buildings
  • Keeping a to-do list that synchronizes with my Microsoft account. My manager introduced me to the Microsoft To-Do app and it is super helpful
  • Checking out locations for after-work events

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Other things in my backpack as a program management intern at Microsoft

  • I have a few different water bottles, which are great for the filtered water stations- I’ve collected five so far in my internship and bring a different one every day. At any given time, I might also have a few other drinks in my backpack from the drink cooler, like nondairy milk or lemonade
  • All interns received a zip-up hoodie on their first day, and I always bring mine in case it gets cold. Some of my coworkers also have blankets in their office
  • I don’t bring my laptop charger with me in my backpack- I have one that I leave in my intern housing and one that is in my office, since the charger is pretty heavy. I also keep a phone charger at work.

Here is what is in my backpack as a program management intern with low vision at Microsoft