What To Bring To The Disability Services Testing Center

At my university, the Office of Disability Services has its own testing center that students can use to take quizzes and tests assigned in the classroom, as well as midterms and final exams.  There are single rooms with CCTVs and long tables, small cubicle-style areas, as well as other small-group testing rooms.  This is an awesome service for students who need a modified testing area, and I am really grateful that I have access to such place to take my exams.

Over the course of the last four semesters, I have learned a lot about what to bring to the testing center, and what to leave back at my apartment.  I’ve gone from bringing an entire backpack worth of materials to just carrying a few items.  Here are five of the items that I always bring to the testing center with me, and five items I leave in my apartment.

What to Bring

Student ID and Government Issued ID

For all exams at my school, the student must bring their student ID so the instructor can verify their identity and student number.  For a couple of my classes, I have been required to bring a government-issued ID card in addition to my student ID.  Since I don’t have a driver’s license, I obtained an under-21 ID card from the DMV and use that.

Colored Pens/Scented Markers

I use colored pens instead of pencils when taking my exams, since gray pencil lead on white paper provides very poor contrast.  I like to bring several colors with me, typically blue, pink, orange, green, and other bright colors.  I also bring four different colored highlighters with me for marking multiple choice questions.

I started working with scented markers while studying for my math exams and found that I was able to see numbers more clearly than when I would work with the fine-tip pens.  Another thing I noticed is that my brain would recognize the scents from the markers and help me remember things I studied, which is actually a proven study tip.

Cardstock Paper

When working with pens and markers, it’s easy to have ink bleed through to the other side of paper- or worse, transfer to a surface.  I request that my test be printed on single-side paper, and use cardstock paper, sized 8.5″ x 11″, in order to do scratch work.  I attach all of the materials that I wrote on at the end of the exam.

Earplugs

While my testing center provides these for students to use, I like to bring my own pair of comfortable earplugs that help cancel out random noises outside.  The pair I use feels very similar to earbuds/headphones without wires.  Here is a link to them on Amazon.

Professor Contact Info

I bring a small index card to each exam with my professor’s name, email, office location, and phone number.  The index card also has my name, student ID number, class name, and class section.  This has come in handy many times when the test wasn’t in its correct location, or the proctor had to call the teacher for further instructions.

What Not To Bring

Cell phone

While cell phones can be stored in a locker at the testing center, I prefer to leave my phone in my apartment.  Since I live a two minute walk from the area, I don’t find it necessary to carry with me.  Why would I carry something just to lock it up?

Backpacks

Backpacks, purses, and other bags can be difficult to store at the center and locate after the exam is over.  I prefer to get out of the testing center as quickly as possible, so I don’t bring anything that I have to check in.

Pencil Pouches

One time, I organized everything nicely in a pencil pouch to bring to the testing center.  For security reasons, it all had to be dumped into a clear plastic bag once I got to my exam.  It’s okay to bring these to exams, but don’t expect that you will be allowed to keep it with you in the testing center.

Portable CCTVs

I have been advised not to bring my own portable CCTVs because of the potential that the devices can store screenshots of the exam.  The testing center provides their own assistive technology devices for students to use.  I have never had any issues using their devices.

Personal Computers

While it makes sense to take an exam on a familiar device, personal technology is not permitted in the testing center.  My recommendation is to write down all of the common settings used and show it to the testing coordinator, who can enable those settings on a testing computer if needed.

For more testing-related information, check out these posts below!

Testing Accommodations

Surviving Midterms/Finals

Accommodations For Print Materials

How To Create A Disability Services File

Accessibility Settings For Windows 10

 

 

 

 

Why To Take Virtual Classes in College

Living with chronic illness, it can be very difficult to get out of bed, let alone get to class. While I am able to push myself to get to a majority of my classes, sometimes I just want to be able to do school work without having to move too much. Because of this, I have chosen to incorporate virtual classes into my college schedule, and it has helped me a lot in managing my time and improving my grades. Here are some of the reasons I appreciate virtual classes, and my tips for success. As of spring 2017, I have taken 13 virtual classes in four semesters of college.

Better scheduling

I’ve found that there were a few classes that either were held extremely early in the morning or late at night. Since my vision fluctuates throughout the day, these class times are not a good fit for me. With virtual classes, I can work on assignments while my vision is doing well.

Get ahead easily

Many of my professors post several weeks of class work in advance, so if I am feeling well, I will complete the assignments early,  in case I wind up feeling not-so-well later on. Professors also seem to be more flexible about students turning in late work if an emergency comes up- I was able to easily get extensions on assignments when needed.

Take classes from anywhere

The only reason I got credits my first semester was because of virtual classes. I had two separate medical emergencies happen in the span of November 2015 and spent over six weeks at home (several hours from school) recovering. Basically, I disappeared right after midterms and only came back to school because I had to take a final exam. While I was recovering at home, I was able to continue with my virtual classes and stay on track, and I didn’t even tell my virtual teachers how sick I was until after the class had ended. With the flexibility to take classes anywhere, I was able to do very well that semester.

Use your own assistive technologies

With virtual classes, I can use all of my own technology which is fine-tuned to my preferences. I also can learn which devices, applications, and extensions work best for certain classes and how to create accessible documents. Bonus- I don’t have to balance five devices on a small desk.

Less “fluff” work

One of my friends was often complaining about having to do group projects and other frustrating assignments in one of their classes. I took the same class virtually and only had to worry about reading material, answering three questions a week, and writing a total of two essays. That was it! I didn’t have to worry about investing a ton of energy into a general education class, and I could spend more time on my other classes.

Get used to working independently

One of the common complaints about virtual classes is that there is no one to reinforce deadlines and other materials. This is actually a good thing, as no one is going to be around to remind you of every little thing in the real world. Learning to budget time and research topics online are important skills to have.

You won’t be seen as a disability

While it is important to share your disability services file with your professor, you don’t have to worry about sticking out in class discussions because of your disability, if you are worried about that. In one of my classes (that I dropped immediately), lots of students and even the professor were staring at my blindness cane like it was some type of foreign object and asking a lot of strange questions. In virtual classes, no one can see you.

Take tests in your own environment

Not all virtual classes are like this, but being able to take tests and quizzes in your own testing environment is an awesome advantage to taking these types of classes. I always appreciate being able to take a quiz from the comfort of my own desk, or to take a test with one of my pain relief wraps on.

Adjunct professors

Professors can teach from anywhere in the world, and this is often beneficial as the student is able to learn information from someone in the field, or get a global perspective on a topic. For my global understanding requirement, I had a professor who had travelled to many different countries and was able to educate the class on many different topics related to global health and policy. Another one of my professors was popular at another university from halfway across the country, and we got to take a class with them. I’ve even had professors living in other countries.

Learn more about yourself

This may seem weird, but I have learned a lot about how I access materials and learn through taking virtual classes, probably because I rely on technology a lot. With the ability to take a variety of different classes, I have been able to learn how I process information best, and which technologies are most helpful. I know that virtual classes will help me a lot in the future as well, especially since I want to work with accessibility.

Virtual classes have been an amazing resource for me. I am grateful that my college has really embraced virtual education and that I have been able to take almost any class that I want.

Answering Stranger’s Questions- College Edition

As college decision day approaches, prospective students and their families have been touring my college, trying to decide what school will be the best fit for them. Often times, college is the first time people are exposed to a large, diverse population, and it can seem overwhelming. Naturally, people are inquisitive and like to ask questions, sometimes not thinking about how to phrase them.

Because of all of the visitors on campus, I have been using my blindness cane more often for identification purposes, so I am less likely to be hit by a car. With low vision, it can be difficult to navigate campus when there are so many visitors driving around. As I have been walking on campus, I have had many families approach me or loudly talk about me using a blindness cane, sometimes in a very rude way. It can be difficult to answer these questions, especially when they have negative or offensive tones, but education is one of the best ways to combat ignorance. Here are some of the questions I have been asked over the last two weeks by visitors, and how I answered them. I have been requested to add a trigger warning for what may be considered ableist slurs/language and offensive terms.

Whoah! Are you totally blind?

No, I have low vision and poor peripheral vision, meaning I have trouble seeing what’s around me. I use my blindness cane to help me analyze my environment and as a cue to other people that I can’t see very well.

Can you see me?

For some reason, I often hear this when people are standing right in front of me.  I usually respond with “sort of” or “yes.”  If it is someone who is convinced I can’t see anything, I usually find some feature that I can mention to them, for example a blue shirt or green backpack.

Look kids, a blind girl!

I was walking with a friend when someone yelled that in our direction. We didn’t want to yell back that I had some vision, because that would waste time. Instead, my friend yelled back”check it out, a sighted person!”

What’s with the sunglasses inside?

I wear tinted glasses to help with light sensitivity and glare. No, they aren’t transition lenses, they always are this color. And yes, I guess I do wear sunglasses at night, like the song.

What’s your major?  Oh, that’s not a real major

I’m studying assistive technology and software engineering, which is a fairly uncommon major but there are many different careers available, so I will not have an issue finding a job after graduation.  I have learned to give an example of what I will do after college, so when I say my major, I add that I am “studying to create tools for people with disabilities.”  Often times, people then think my major is really cool!

How come she can see but uses a cane?

Another friend was asked this by an employee while we were at a restaurant. My friend explained I have some sight, but still rely on the cane frequently. A different friend responded by saying “she runs into less walls this way” or “it’s easier to figure out where she is based on the taps of the cane.”

You’re too pretty to be blind!

While I’m not blind, I have low vision, my favorite response to this statement is “apparently not!”

You’re too young to not be able to see!

See above- apparently not!

Why do you disableds think you can just parade around campus?

This was said to me earlier this afternoon, and I just wanted to shove my post “You Belong” in their face. People with disabilities fought very hard to be able to attend college, and we deserve to be here, just like everyone else.

I didn’t know blind people could go to college!

I’ve answered this a couple of ways. For people that seem pleasantly surprised, I say that there are laws that make this possible, and I am grateful for the opportunity. When someone seems surprised in general, I just say “here I am!” And when someone seems greatly upset that someone with low vision can attend college, I just smile and move as quickly as I can from the situation.

You’re taking education away from someone who can see!

I got into this college not because of what I have, but who I am as a student. It had nothing to do with my low vision- my essay to admissions wasn’t even about my eyesight, it was about volunteer work. I’m not here because I can’t see.

Hey, can you give us directions to…oh nevermind

I’ve had several people approach me for directions, look at the cane, and quickly try to move away. I actually know this campus extremely well, and would be happy to help you find your way to wherever you need to go!

How bad is your eyesight?

I used to explain a lot more, but now I just say “it could be worse, but it’s still not great.” This question doesn’t really bother me, as often it is how people start conversation when they first meet someone with low vision, but it still can be an interesting question to answer.

I hope these answers help you when dealing with questions of strangers. Feel free to add more questions/answers in the comments below!

How To Prepare for Extreme Weather on Campus

On President’s Day weekend in 2016, a large amount of snow came to visit my college campus right outside of Washington, DC. I wasn’t prepared in the slightest for the incoming snow- sure, I had a small amount of food in my dorm room, but since I ate at the dining hall all the time, it was mostly snack foods. I wound up trapped inside of my dorm room for two days, eating peanut butter and jelly crackers and daydreaming about what I could be eating, if only I could walk out of my dorm building. Believe me, once the snow melted, I was beyond thrilled to be eating normal food again. Here are some other tips I’ve learned to help students who are on campus during extreme weather.

Get food in advance

Now that I use Amazon Fresh, I have a small stockpile of frozen dinners and other healthy foods in my fridge at all times, in addition to non perishable foods I can have in case the power goes out. However, I still enjoy utilizing my meal plan to stock up on food prior to a weather event. I bring containers in my backpack to the dining hall and fill them with things such as salads (dressing in a separate container), wraps, peanut butter and jelly, grain salads, soups, pasta (sauce in separate container), fruit, pizza, and whatever else I can. I just put everything in my fridge when I get back to my room and reheat it as needed. My school does have a rule against taking food outside of the dining hall, but they tend to be more relaxed about this rule before and during extreme weather.

Call your professors before leaving for class

During Superstorm Jonas last year, I attempted to walk to my class halfway across campus. I wound up making it about halfway before falling down on the ice and having to call a police escort to take me back to my dorm. My professor later asked me why I attempted to walk to class, and said I could have just called him and said I couldn’t make it, and I would have been exempt. So, before leaving for class in extreme weather, call your professors and see if conditions are stable enough to walk to class. Another benefit is that the call can serve as a timer to see how long it takes to get to class.

Contact Environmental Health Office for guidance

While they can’t tell you to skip class, the Environmental Health Office can tell you which areas of campus may still be covered in ice or that may be difficult to navigate. They also can provide alternative routes to buildings, if needed.

If you must go outside, use a human guide

To avoid injury, walk with someone if you must go outside. This reduces the risk of injury. If no friends are able to walk with you, ask for an escort from campus security. As someone once told me, it is much easier to help a person than it is to have to find a person when they are reported missing.

Protect important items in sealed plastic bins

While this wasn’t related to weather, my friend had to deal with a pipe bursting in their dorm room and water getting everywhere. Luckily, they thought to put all important items in plastic bins so they wouldn’t be ruined if the dorm room turned into a swimming pool. For larger technology such as a desktop computer, I balance an umbrella over it in case of damage.

Have someone verify that all windows are closed

It helps to have an extra pair of eyes make sure that everything is secure. I often can’t tell when something is closed all the way, so having someone confirm that for me is reassuring. The last thing I want is a winter wonderland in my room!

Block windows, if necessary

Lighting is nature’s strobe lights for me, and strobe lights trigger migraines, so in the event of a severe storm, I prop things against the window to make sure I can’t see any lightning. I normally use an inflated air mattress or cardboard.

If the power goes out

Because of my vision impairment, I am used to navigating areas that I can’t see very well. In order to make things easier, have a flashlight or other handheld source of light that is not on a phone (the flashlight drains battery). Contact the resident advisor and/or resident director to notify them that you are in the building and may need assistance in case of evacuation. My school often utilizes their emergency alert system if the power goes out in more than two buildings, so watch for text messages, phone calls, or emails for further instructions.

Go to an off campus location

If extreme weather is likely to last more than a few days, I have my mom come pick me up and drive me home. My home is about three hours from my college, and I am very grateful that my mom is able to help me. For students who may not be so close to home, find a friend who lives locally and go stay with them. A couple of my friends have even stayed in a hotel near campus when there was no heat in their dorm room.

While extreme weather can be very stressful to students living on campus, hopefully these tips will help you be prepared for the next hurricane or blizzard to come your way!

How To Survive Midterms/Finals

Midterms week is finally over, and I couldn’t be more happy about that. It’s been a long week of studying and taking tests, while trying to keep eye fatigue and migraines at bay. Here are some of my tips for surviving midterms and finals week. While this information can be helpful to any college student, I have specifically written it with students who have low vision or chronic illness in mind.

Use a tinted background for study materials.

White paper and screens can provide a lot of glare and cause eye fatigue. One way to lessen eye fatigue is to use tinted backgrounds in a shade such as gray, blue, or yellow to reduce eye fatigue. You can enable a colored tint on your Apple device using these instructions, use one of these free apps on a computer, or simply print study materials on colored paper.

Request notes online

Take terrible notes? You have options to receive quality notes at little to no cost. The best way, of course, is having an accommodation in your Disability Service file to request notes directly from the professor. There are also many websites where students upload their notes from a specific course- ask someone at your college which website most students use, or web search your college name and course name/number. These websites often will allow you to download notes at half price or even free if you have a Disability Services file. Also check with Disability Services to see if any of their student note takers have notes from your class.

Use digital flashcards

I love using the website Quizlet to create my own flashcards and review flashcards from other students in my classes. The quiz feature is also extremely helpful when testing material. I use Quizlet specifically because the animations do not cause vertigo or have strobing lights, something that is very critical for me, and the text can be enlarged easily.

Find a comfortable study location

Do not study in bed, no matter how comfortable it is, because if you are anything like me, you will fall asleep. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable. I have this back support pillow at my desk chair and it helps keep my back spasms from acting up while I am studying for long periods of time. I’ve also been using this heated shoulder wrap every hour or so to keep my shoulders from tensing up.

Move around during breaks

I try to leave my study area when I am taking a study break. Usually I go for a walk around campus or go to the gym so I can sit in the hot tub for a few minutes and make sure my muscles don’t tense up. Try not to spend study break time staring at a screen, as this is an opportunity to rest your eyes.

Don’t try to study with a migraine

For those who get daily migraines like me, do not attempt to study while you have a migraine. It will just take longer to recover. Likewise, if you have an exam in twenty minutes and a pounding migraine, call and ask to reschedule, preferably for the same day. Migraines and exams do not mix.

Ensure accommodations are in place at the testing center

Also make sure that your test is actually in the possession of the testing center before test day- I have shown up to take tests that weren’t at the testing center yet a few times. Filling out the testing form in advance is extremely important to ensure you are able to take the exam on schedule. I try to fill out the form a week before the test date.  For more information on my test accommodations, check out this post.

Scheduling tests

Keep your eyesight and energy level in mind when scheduling an exam day and time. No matter what time my class meets, I try to schedule my exams for first thing in the morning when my eyes are well rested and I am less likely to have a migraine. I also try to schedule the exams the same day the rest of the class is testing, or earlier if that isn’t possible. None of my professors have ever complained about me taking an exam early.

Make sure the testing environment is free of distractions or triggers

Even if you are testing in the disability testing center, there can still be distractions. Before taking an exam, I check for flickering lights, loud noises, and if I am testing in my own room, I make sure there is enough room to walk around if my legs start to spasm. Another thing to check for is air fresheners- this semester, I came down with a migraine halfway through my exam and couldn’t figure out why, and it turned out there was a bowl of coffee beans next to where I was taking an exam, and coffee is one of my migraine triggers, so sitting next to a bowl of them wasn’t very smart.

Celebrate after exams!

Plan something fun for after exams are finished- preferably something that won’t aggravate existing fatigue. Some things I’ve done include dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, a day trip to D.C. or Maryland, going to the movies, or simply spending time with friends.

UPDATE– Do not go out to eat with friends the night before your last exam, even if you have been to the restaurant many times.  I had the honor of taking a midterm with food poisoning, and I wish that experience upon no one.

 
Exam week can be hard on anyone, but it’s especially difficult for people with chronic illness or other disabilities. I wish you all good health days and good grades for your exams!

What I’ve Learned About Print Disabilities

Welcome to Print Disability Week, where I will be posting once a day about ways to receive services for a print disability, with a webinar on Thursday in collaboration with AIM-VA, an accessible educational materials provider for students with print disabilities in grades K-12 in Virginia. Today, I will be sharing things I wish I knew about having a print disability back when I was in high school, and things I have used.

I was at a doctor’s appointment this summer when my mom noticed that I kept confusing the letters B and D on the eye chart, as well as a few other letters. She asked me afterwards if those letters looked like they were the same to me when they were on their own, and I said yes. She then asked me if that’s why I always had issues with matching questions on tests, where the student writes a letter to match a word and a definition. Suddenly, it all made sense as to why I always seemed to miss questions that seemed so simple. While I could distinguish the letters B and D when they were in a word (since the brain doesn’t read every single letter), I had trouble distinguishing them on their own. My mom then jokingly told me I could have been valedictorian if we figured this out sooner, and I pointed out “it’s hard to be valedictorian if you don’t know the alphabet.”

Following this conversation, I started thinking about things I wish I would have known sooner about having a print disability, and tools that have helped me succeed in high school and college. Here are ten things I thought of, and how they help me.

Explaining what a print disability is

A print disability affects a person who cannot read normal materials because of a visual, learning, or other disability. I have low vision and cannot read anything smaller than size 24 point font, and have trouble with serif fonts such as Times New Roman. A great simulation to show someone how I see printed materials is to tell them to slant their eyelids with their fingers and look down. I also found that this YouTube video sums up what happens when someone hands me materials I cannot see, in a comedic way.

Portable CCTVs

How I wish I had one of these when I had to do chemistry worksheets, but this device has been fantastic in many of my college classes. Read my full review of the SmartLux here.

Use colorful language

No, this isn’t to say use swear words, but incorporating color into accessible materials has allowed me to really absorb more information. One thing that has really helped me in math is outlining letters and numbers in different colors- A is red, 2 is blue, C is green, 4 is purple, etc. This helps prevent me from confusing symbols and lets me easily see exponents and symbols that are traditionally smaller.

Colored backgrounds

It’s easier on the eyes to read things on a colored background as opposed to sharp white, since sharp white can cause glare. My backpack was nicknamed “bag of rainbows” because I used pink, blue, yellow, and purple colored papers for my schoolwork. It helped to reduce eye fatigue and I noticed I could read much faster than on bright white paper.

Larger paper for math, science, and music.

When it comes to math and science, it is very important not to cut off any symbols, since that can dramatically change the information presented. The same goes with music, where having one note cut off can throw off the entire piece. As a result, I receive my math and science work on 11 x 17 paper, with a colored background, and my music on the same sized paper, requesting the paper be either off white or yellow because I wear sunglasses while playing.

Textures

I am not a Braille reader, however I have found that tactile labels and textured markers have really helped me with processing information on a page. Typically, I layer washi tape on top of graphics to provide extra contrast. Another cool trick I learned is to trace white glue over lines or graphs so that way I can feel what is on the page without it being overly obvious. This is especially great when it comes to working with items on a number line.

Patterns

When working with digital materials, I assign different patterns on lines (zig zag, dashes, squiggle) and have them in different colors so I can see where they intersect and what type of lines they are. This has been especially useful in my database programming class while working with Microsoft Visio, where different ends of lines give important information and lots of lines are intersecting.

eReaders

I was one of the first people to buy the Barnes and Noble Nook when it came out when I was in seventh grade. It allowed me to read almost any book I could think of, all in glorious large print. It had a cellular data connection too, so I could download a book in thirty seconds, which was extremely helpful when the teacher would randomly assign us books to read. eReaders are so inexpensive now that it would be insane not to have one. Here is the model I use now.

eBooks

I love Bookshare, but there are so many other services to read books for free. Here is a post I wrote about services at local libraries to help people with print disabilities. Using all of these tools, I have only ever encountered one book that I ever had to read in print in the last five years.
Another great resource is accessible instructional materials organizations. My state has AIM-VA, which will enlarge textbooks, classroom materials, and more for students with an IEP for print disabilities. 

Digital formats for assignments

I have an entire post on why I prefer my schoolwork digitally, and it helps to make sure materials are in an accessible format before giving them to a student. I request that teachers give me materials in .doc, .docx, .ppt, .pptx, or if absolutely necessary, .png or .pdf. I find it easier to have editing capabilities so I can quickly fix materials if I find them difficult to see, but have rarely had any problems with .pdf or .png formats, as long as I can see them clearly.

To answer a common question, I do not mind having a print disability, and I don’t necessarily feel like I am “missing out on the world” because I have one. I have never been able to read small fonts, so I don’t know life any other way. With all of these technologies and different techniques, I am able to access materials just like my sighted friends, and read alongside them.

Requesting Extracurricular Accommodations

I’ve never had much of a problem with students telling me that I can’t be a part of a club or organization, because they see me as a person who can actively participate and contribute to the group. However, there have been many adult leaders who have worried about how the group as a whole would be perceived if there was a student with a disability in it- they saw me as a disability. I’ve been told my large print book might stick out from the other books, my blindness cane would make me appear to be helpless, and that my sensitivity to flashing lights was super inconvenient for them. Luckily, I have been able to make many friends through these activities that help me in different clubs. Here are some ways I have been able to encourage inclusion in extracurricular activities.

Explain things as simply as possible

No need to go into detail about diagnoses here. Explain your disability as it applies to receiving accommodations. For example, I tell people that I have issues reading small font and require size 22 font and equivalent picture size on materials. I also mention I have a case with the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired, so that way no one tries to argue with me if my low vision actually exists.

Talk to students in the group

When I was in a play my freshman year of high school, I was surrounded by cast members I had known since elementary and middle school, or that were in band as well. Because of this, no one ever really acknowledged I had a vision impairment, because they were so used to me needing large print or running into objects. Encourage members of the group to ask you questions if need be, but don’t worry about bringing up your disability every thirty seconds. I’ve found that students tend to be more accepting of people with disabilities than adults are.

Avoiding flashing lights

Flashing lights are a migraine trigger for me, and it’s impossible to shut out all flashing lights in the world. In a music ensemble I’m in, I wear very dark sunglasses and a wide brimmed hat to block out most of the flashing lights, and tend to keep my eyes closed when not playing. In other ensembles I’ve been in, the director would request the audience to avoid flash photography for the duration of the performance. Some directors would even tell the audience it was a migraine or seizure trigger. Chances are, you aren’t the only one who is sensitive to flashing lights, so it shouldn’t be a problem to request that they be limited.

Isolation is not the answer

A leader of a group decided that my disability was inconvenient to the other students, and moved me so that I was all by myself while everyone else was allowed to talk with others. As a result, a lot of students thought I was “the weird blind girl” and I had lots of difficulty making friends because people thought there was some deep reason as to why I was stuck alone. This problem was solved when a group of students noticed I had been outcast and asked me to join them. They didn’t mind that I needed large print or had trouble navigating. After that, I became much happier and felt more like a valued member of said group.  If a leader is concerned about having a student with a disability, schedule a meeting where other staff members and students will be present so they can address their concerns.

Remember your rights

You have the right to be able to see, and to receive accessible materials. Do not let anyone say that the large print is too distracting or that they don’t think you need it, or that they don’t feel like providing it. It’s discrimination, after all, if they don’t let you be a part of a group because of your disability.

I have made many of my closest friends through extracurricular activities, and am grateful for the many things I have learned. With these tips, hopefully you will be able to succeed in whatever clubs interest you.

How To Pick Housing

Welcome! In this series, I will discuss how to start the semester off right, with all of the tools and tricks I have learned. Topics covered will include scheduling, navigation, textbooks, and more. If you have a specific request for a topic, please comment below and I will do my best to accommodate your request. Today, I will be showing how to select housing. 



I just finished filling out my housing application for next year to live on campus, and it was surprisingly easy. Now that I have learned a lot about what to ask for and what dorm is best for me, it’s been a painless process. Here are a few things I have learned about choosing housing. 

Note-  This post assumes that you already have a Disability Services file or will be creating one.  For more information on DS files, click here

Disability housing

Because I have a chronic migraine condition as well as low vision, I had my doctor certify that I have a disability and fill out a form that Disability Services and Housing requested. The questions ask if my disability is chronic, if it is a disability under the ADA (which yes, low vision and chronic migraines qualify as), and what housing accommodations my doctor would recommend. In my case, I have recommendations for a climate controlled dorm that is quiet and that can be made completely pitch black. It also requests I be in a single room, meaning no roommate, and be in close proximity to the Resident Advisor, or RA. 

Special housing area

My freshman year, my building had several students with disabilities and had extra staff available at all hours. These dorms also tend to be more quiet and staff are likely more experienced with handling medical emergencies. This housing is NOT considered discrimination, because it is to help students thrive in the environment that suits them best. Talk with housing about what dorm may be best for you.

Should I have a roommate?

I don’t have a roommate because of my migraines, but I have three suitemates I share a living area with, and last year I shared a bathroom with the RA. I usually haven’t needed help with anything while I am in my dorm. Another one of my friends with low vision has a roommate, and says that they help locate things and be a human guide when needed. A different friend with low vision insists that they are fine being in a single room and just asking their suitemate if they need something. So, you don’t have to have a roommate if you have low vision, but if possible, I would have a roommate you already know as opposed to a total stranger that may not know how to help you, or worse, take advantage of you.  Some people are uncomfortable with a roommate that needs help, or come from a different culture where they don’t know how to interact with someone with a disability, or don’t want to interact with someone with a disability. It would be nice if everyone accepted each other, but that won’t always happen.

Different dorm layouts

Dorm buildings on my campus have several different layouts. There is the hall layout, where rooms have one or two people and the entire hall shares a bathroom area. There is the suite layout, where two rooms connect by a bathroom and each room has one or two people. And then there is the apartment layout, where there are two to four bedrooms that share a living room, kitchen, and bathroom.  
My friend lived in a hall style dorm last year and liked not having to worry about cleaning the bathroom, but said it was loud because they could hear people flushing the toilet and talking at all hours of the night. Their room was nicely sized and I was able to navigate easily.
I lived in a suite style dorm my freshman year, which was two single rooms and a bathroom. My room was freakishly small, to the point where I had three visitors and had to have one stand in the bathroom because there wasn’t enough floor space. The arrangement wound up being very helpful though- I had a medical emergency in the middle of the night and the RA was able to get to my room quickly by running through the bathroom.
This year, I live in an apartment style dorm, and like the wider layout and more space to move around. My suitemates don’t have me clean because they think I will just mess the apartment up even more- mostly because I spill things without realizing, and I tend to miss dirty spots. It costs the most to live in an apartment style dorm, and this is restricted to students in their second year and above, but it is very quiet.

How do you lock the door?

Check how the doors are locked and unlocked. I’ve always been able to unlock doors with my student ID, though some older dorms require a key. At another college, the doors are opened by putting in a number on a keypad that is difficult to see. Bottom line, make sure you can open the door. 

Locked out?

Locate the neighborhood services desk and learn how to navigate there with and without a blindness cane, since you never know the circumstances in which you will be locked out. For example, I was waiting outside the door for my brother when he came to visit, and when he came to meet me outside, he closed the door behind him, and didn’t grab the key on the table. So I got to walk with him to the neighborhood desk without my cane, and barefoot. Another friend got locked out after she took a shower and had to walk to the desk in a robe and with wet hair. It can happen at any time.
The best way to prevent being locked out is to wear your key. I am not talking about the freshman orientation lanyard, either. I wear mine in a lanyard that I got from Charming Charlie, and it’s just as easy to throw in a backpack or a pocket as it is around my neck.

Room location

My freshman year, I was offered the option of living in a dorm on the first floor of a building, right next to the door to enter the building. There was no elevator in the building, and it would be loud as most freshman housing was. Also, it was very easy to look into my window or tap on it from the outside. This was not ideal. Make sure that the dorm location makes you feel safe, and that you can get out quickly in an emergency.
I lived on the fourth floor of my building freshman year in the middle of the hallway. While no one could look in my window, I had lots of difficulty going down stairs and getting out in emergencies.
This year, I live on the first floor, but my window faces a secluded area. I’m also right next to the emergency exit, which doesn’t open often, so I don’t have to worry about doors opening and closing all the time. This is an ideal location for me.
Also check the building location in comparison to your classes. My classes are all within a three minute walk of my dorm, with one exception, which works well for me.

Furniture

My freshman dorm had a bed, desk, chair, dresser, and a closet with no door. My dorm this year has a bed, desk, chair, dresser, and closet with a door. I added furniture rounders to the sharp edges so I wouldn’t run into them. Ask in advance what furniture comes with the dorm so you can plan to make (temporary) modifications if needed, or request different furniture, such as a lower bed, wider desk, lowered closet rods, or small dresser.

What’s included

Is cable and internet included in the cost of living in your dorm? What about electricity? Water? Heating and cooling? Laundry? Is laundry in your building?  Luckily, all those things are included for me, but it never hurts to ask. Also ask if the dorm is climate controlled, or if you have to bring your own air conditioner to school. While my school has all climate controlled dorms, not all schools do, especially ones with historic buildings.

Tour the dorm

If possible, tour your dorm building or a model room before moving in so you can hear if there will be a fan constantly buzzing or people stomping on the floor above. Also check if the floor is even all around- my friend at another college had their floor randomly dip in the middle, and it causes several visitors to trip because they don’t see it coming.
With all of these tips, you will be set for move in day and ready to live in your new dorm! 

How To Navigate Campus

Welcome! In this series, I will discuss how to start the semester off right, with all of the tools and tricks I have learned. Topics covered will include scheduling, navigation, textbooks, and more. If you have a specific request for a topic, please comment below and I will do my best to accommodate your request. Today is how to navigate around campus and not get horribly lost.

 
For my first day living at my college, the dining hall next to my building was closed so I had to walk halfway across campus. On my way there, I followed a group of students, but by the time I was ready to leave, no one else was going to my dorm, so I had to walk alone. I thought I knew where I was going, but thirty minutes later, I found myself a mile from my dorm with no idea where I was, how I got there, and when (or if) I would be able to find my dorm again.

 
My school offers 24/7 police escorts for students that feel unsafe walking alone, are injured, are disabled, that are lost with no idea how to get back to their dorm, or some combination of the above. Since I was in the middle of nowhere, I called Campus Security and gave them my name, a vague idea of where I was located, as well as a description of myself. About twenty minutes later, a kind policewoman found me after tracking my cell phone (similar to a 911 call) and drove me back to my dorm in her police car. While it was interesting to step out of a police car in front of all my new neighbors and get escorted to my dorm room, I was incredibly grateful to be in a familiar area.

 
Since that experience, I have still needed police escorts, but they have been few and far between. Here are some of the tools I use to avoid getting hopelessly lost.

Input addresses

Make sure to have important addresses available and easy to access, programmed as contacts in your phone and listed on a document saved to all your devices. My college has a list on the Environmental Health and Safety webpage of all of the buildings on campus with their corresponding addresses. I also recommend inputting addresses of buildings in the vicinity of your destination in case there is an issue with the GPS and it can’t locate your building. Here are the addresses I have programmed into my phone and iPad:

  • My dorm building
  • Restaurant directly next to my building
  • Dorm buildings of friends
  • Housing office
  • Dining halls
  • Student Union Building(s)
  • Disability Services Office
  • Assistive technology office
  • Libraries
  • Campus security
  • Campus center
  • Performing Arts Center
  • Parking garage
  • Building across the street from me
  • Bus stop area
  • My advisor’s building
  • Class buildings
  • University address
  • Satellite campus

GPS Tracking

Most smart phones have the capability to pinpoint a user’s exact location and share it with others via a text message. By going into “attach media,” I can send my GPS coordinates to any of my contacts, and they can get directions to the location where I am, and wonder how I got there. This worked great when a group of my sighted friends got lost at the mall, and we were all able to meet up again. Location services must be enabled for this to work.

Trip Tracker

Available for Android, Trip Tracker is my new favorite app from Microsoft. It records how you navigated somewhere, and how long it took. I use it to track how I get to different buildings and if the shortcut I thought I was taking actually added five minutes to my trip. This app doesn’t drain my battery either, which is very helpful. It’s still in the testing stage, but I found it very easy to use. Location services must be enabled at all times.

Google Maps

There’s a joke at my college that the first time you visit, you drive in circles for an hour because the GPS isn’t helpful. My mom and I experienced this when trying to find the student center for a meeting. Our GPS decided we needed to experience the great outdoors, and took us to a forest outside of campus instead. Even I knew we weren’t in the right place, and that is saying something.
While it isn’t the best app for navigating campus while in a car, the Google Maps software built into Android phones has often helped me. It seems to work best for campuses with older buildings, as the GPS may not recognize newer buildings, or will lead you into the middle of a construction site (been there, done that).

O&M Instruction

Anyone with a case file with the state Department of Blind and Visually Impaired can request an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) instructor. You should contact the office as far in advance as possible, to schedule the session for once you arrive on campus, and preferably before the start of classes. Do not be surprised if your first session is short, especially if there are many other students in need of these services. You can request more sessions. The instructor will walk you around campus and to your classes, so you will know where you are going. A typical O&M student uses a blindness cane, though it isn’t required to receive these services.

Fitbit

Some Fitbits have GPS tracking built-in, other models use the function MobileRun within the Fitbit app. I found that this is a great way to track how I get to class, or to figure out how I got somewhere and retrace my steps. The app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows, but requires a Fitbit. I own the Fitbit Alta and find it works great for my needs.

If all else fails…

Have the phone number for campus police so that they will be able to give you an escort back to your dorm building (this is where having your dorm address comes in handy!). Make sure to tell the dispatcher that you are visually impaired and require additional assistance. Don’t feel embarrassed asking for help, as even people with perfect vision can get horribly lost. I was told that it’s easier to give me an escort than it is to have to track me down when my friends report me missing. Besides, if it wasn’t for the police back on my first day, I would still be wandering around on the outskirts of campus, trying to find my dorm.

How To Create A Disability Services File

Welcome! In this series, I will discuss how to start the semester off right, with all of the tools and tricks I have learned. Topics covered will include scheduling, navigation, textbooks, and more. If you have a specific request for a topic, please comment below and I will do my best to accommodate your request. Today is a request on how to create a disability services file.
I chose what college I was going to attend during my junior year of high school, a year before I even submitted my application. The Office of Disability Services was/is very welcoming and answered all of my questions. They have a dedicated staff member that handles all the low vision/blindness cases, and they know exactly what accommodations I need and what to ask for. I am incredibly lucky to have so many resources available to me, and I was excited to be part of this university.

Since IEPs expire the moment the student graduates from high school, it’s important to meet with Disability Services before school starts to ensure that the student continues to receive services in college. Most of the accommodations listed in an IEP can continue to be used if the student adds them in their Disability Services file. One thing that does transfer to college is 504 plans, though you still will need to create a file. It is highly recommended that you convert your IEP to a 504 plan before you graduate, something I did two hours before my graduation (though giving your case manager advanced notice is a must). Here is how to create a Disability Services file with your school. This also applies to students attending community/junior colleges, though the plan might not transfer when the student moves.

Start Early


I investigated what services were available to me before I applied to the school. While visiting other colleges, I planned my visits around interviewing staff members from the Disability Services offices in a one on one setting, spending thirty minutes or more at each interview. If your accommodations will not be met, this is not the school for you. The important thing for the student is to be proactive, not reactive, and that is also true for the Disabilities Services office. Some colleges won’t help you until you are in trouble, and it’s better to avoid the problem than to have to figure out how to solve it later (see my prior entry on scheduling). Don’t wait until there is a problem in a class to open a Disability Services file. I opened mine while I was still in high school after I had received my acceptance letter and committed to attending in the fall.

Get notes from your doctor prior to the Disability Services meeting

If you bring a doctor certification that you have a disability, you can set up the file at your first meeting with Disability Services. Usually you can find the forms the doctor needs to fill out on the school Disability Services website. My school required a recent ophthalmologist report, which I brought with me. Some schools may also require a physical, but mine did not.

Bring all documents you think might be important

I met with Disability Services in April to set up my file that would be used starting in the fall semester. I brought in my current IEP, my prior 504 plan from eighth grade (since I wasn’t converting to a 504 until the last day of school), and documents from my ophthalmologist that described my diagnosis. Other helpful documents to bring, if available, include Department of Blind and Visually Impaired case files, assistive technology evaluations, orientation and mobility files, occupational therapy assessments, medical diagnosis from other doctors (i.e neurologist) and similar documents. All of my papers were in a giant binder so I could easily reference them during the meeting (pro tip- get a rolling backpack to carry everything around).

Know what accommodations you need the most

For me, having access to my assistive technology devices, receiving digital copies of assignments, and preferential seating were the most important accommodations. I made sure those were the first I mentioned to Disability Services. Other accommodations in my file include time and a half on tests, extended time on assignments when requested, copies of notes, using a word processor for written assignments, large print on handouts, and the ability to attend class remotely if needed. Once I was on campus and worked with Disability Services, I added additional accommodations, such as noting that I would be using a blindness cane (yes, I did encounter a professor who was very confused over my cane).

Ask if your school has a disability testing center 

My school has a multiroom lab where students are able to take their tests in a quiet environment with their assistive technologies. I had to fill out a separate form for these accommodations. I receive time and a half on tests, a laptop with ZoomText and JAWS, use of my E-Bot Pro, reduced light, and use of a word processor as well as a calculator app on my phone. An accommodation made available to everyone is the use of earplugs during tests as well as a white noise machine to help drown out background noise. This testing center is invaluable to students with a range of disabilities, not just sensory ones.

Ask about other services for students registered with Disability Services

My school offers a writing center for students with disabilities who need extra help. I have not needed it, but students who struggle with writing have greatly benefited from these services. Ask if there are other tutoring opportunities or groups that help students with disabilities.

Request special housing, if needed

The sooner you request this, the better! Housing arrangements tend to fill up quickly. My freshman year, I lived in a single room that was adjacent to the resident advisor’s room so I could reach her quickly if there was a problem. This year, I live in a handicapped accessible apartment (on campus) with my own bedroom and I am able to navigate easily around the apartment, as well as being able to get to my classes and, most importantly, the dining hall. In order to get special housing, my primary care doctor had to fill out a form to certify my disability, which was in addition to the form to certify me for Disability Services.

Get a referral to the assistive technology specialist or department

At my school the Assistive Technology department is different than Disability Services. By receiving a referral, you can access services such as enlarged textbooks, assistive technologies, computer labs with built in accessibility software, and more. This is the most important department for me because while Disability Services can identify a problem, Assistive Technology solves it.

Make sure your file is ready for the first day of classes 

Get copies of your accommodations sheet (which Disability Services will provide) as soon as possible to pass out to professors. Be sure all your testing accommodations are set before the first exam. Don’t wait until you fail to set yourself up with the tools you need to succeed.