How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Prom?

It seems like every year, a news story circulates about how a student with a disability and a student without a disability go to prom together.  It’s usually touted as something inspirational and kind, since the students with disabilities are perceived as not having many friends or being the outcasts of the school, and the student without a disability is considered a completely awesome person just because they are spending time with the other student.  I was talking about this phenomenon with a friend who jokingly asked if my prom date made the news for going to prom with the only girl with low vision in our school.  Thankfully, we were just treated like every other couple at prom, and had a blast.  Here are some tips that can help ensure everyone has a good time, without winding up as the center of attention for having a disability.

Make sure you can easily move around in your clothing choice

This applies more for the ladies, but make sure that it is easy to move around and walk without falling in whatever clothes that you pick.  At the two dances I attended in high school, many of the girls would take off their shoes the moment they got to the dance floor, but would often trip over their long dresses.  I chose to wear flats the entire evening so I had traction and reduced my risk of falling- as my date put it, I trip over enough flat surfaces as it is, so there is no need to put me in high heels.  If you use a blindness cane, make sure it can’t be caught in your dress or shoes either.

Taking pictures before the dance

Before the dance, the parents in our group took photos of all of us.  If it is an issue, make sure to notify them that you are sensitive to flashing lights so that they know to turn the flash off.  Also make sure that there are no obstacles in the picture that could pose an issue- for example, falling down a flight of stairs or into an open body of water.  Also, make sure the photographer tells you where the camera is located so you aren’t staring into space.

Have your date familiarize themselves with being a human guide

While I didn’t use a blindness cane in high school, I had a habit of frequently running into walls, people, objects, and generally missing visual cues.  Luckily, my prom date was my best friend who had gotten used to guiding me to all of my classes and alerting me to obstacles.  It never hurts to remind your date that you have trouble seeing and may need additional help navigating at prom.  Check out my post on how to be a human guide here.

Figure out the layout of the dance floor

At the beginning of the dance, my date described to me the location of the stairs leading to the dance floor, where we were sitting, the entrance/exit, and where poles were located.  While I never was further away than arm’s reach from them, this was still very helpful information to remember in the event we got separated.

Request that photographer avoid your area

If bright, flashing lights in your face are a concern, talk to school administration and the photographer prior to the dance, and remind them again at the dance, to avoid taking photos of you or pointing the camera directly in your face.  With the way that the dance floor was laid out, it was easy to avoid the flashing lights that were used, and the photographer was more than happy to accommodate our request.

If possible, ask for the event to not use blue and red flashing lights

This wasn’t a problem at my school, but a prom that another friend attended had pulsing red and blue lights that they described as seizure inducing- they had to sit out for a few minutes because of the lights, and they’re not even migraine or seizure prone.  This is another good thing to talk about with school administration, as many students can get migraines or seizures triggered by these lights.

Have a place to hide out

There was a period of time at prom where a lot of unfamiliar, loud music and dancing was taking place, and my prom group and I decided to go hide out in the lobby of the hotel we were at.  This helped prevent sensory overload and also gave us a break from dancing- since I couldn’t navigate to the tables near the dance floor easily, it was much easier for everyone to meet in the lobby.

Handling rude comments

I had a few people crack jokes about my date going to prom with someone who was visually impaired, and a few others asking me if I could even see what was going on.  My best advice for this is to ignore the weird comments, or just laugh them off.  It is not worth getting into an argument over.

Don’t be afraid to have fun!

Before the dance, I was very nervous about what to expect and was worried that something would go wrong.  Luckily, my date was a totally awesome person, and my prom group was filled with awesome people as well.  Prom is about spending time with your high school friends before you all graduate, and it’s a wonderful way to make memories.

I hope your prom is lots of fun!

 

How Do People With Low Vision…Participate in Easter Egg Hunts?

I didn’t realize how bad my vision was when I was younger.  I assumed that everyone saw two of everything, the world was blurry, and small items were difficult to see.  Because of this, I assumed Easter egg hunts were very difficult for everyone and not just me.  I never attended any special events for kids with low vision, and didn’t learn that there were beeping Easter egg hunts for kids with low vision until I was in high school.  Here are some of the ways I participated in Easter egg hunts when I was younger.

See where everyone else runs

I’d sit at the end of the start line with the rest of the kids, and then watch them fan out.  I then would walk out and see where the most kids were, and just sit down and start finding eggs in the grass.  After that, I would just follow the same group of kids from section to section and find a handful of eggs.

Have a partner

I would request to be partnered up with a friend or my brother, and they would help me find eggs.  Since all of my friends and brother had near-perfect vision, the partnership worked very well.  This also helped me avoid not slipping and falling on eggs that I might not have noticed.  No one seemed to care that I was working with someone else.

Use your cane

I have attended more Easter egg hunts in college than I ever imagined.  Since I started using a blindness cane when I began college, I found myself using the cane to help me search for eggs in the grass.  This helped tremendously, and I found myself getting more eggs than before…though it still wasn’t a lot.

Bright colored eggs

It’s a lot easier to find eggs that are bright neon colors than it is to find the more washed out pastel eggs.  One of my friends told me that their family used to put dots at the top of eggs with safety/fluorescent tape to help them find the eggs easier, without it being too easy to find the eggs.

 Attend special Easter eggs hunts for kids with low vision

If available in your area, the beeping Easter eggs are an activity that allow everyone to be at a level playing field.   In addition, it’s a great way to meet other kids who have low vision and practice with locating objects.  Contact your local department for the blind/visually impaired or other low vision/blindness organization for more information.

 

Worst case, if you only find a couple of eggs, there is almost always candy at the end of the activity that no one has to go search for in the grass.  Enjoy your candy, and enjoy Easter!

How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Restaurants?

I went out to dinner with one of my friends several weeks ago.  When we got to the restaurant, they requested that we get a large print menu, so that way I would be able to read it.  The server looked at us like we were absolutely insane, and told us just to hold the menu closer to our faces.  My friend was very surprised that there were no large print menus, or even Braille menus available, and figured it would be illegal to not have these menus available.  Truth is, restaurants aren’t legally required to provide accessible menus, and I’m yet to encounter a large print menu anywhere.  Here are some of my tips on how I navigate restaurants.

Read the menu online

Websites tend to be very good about accessibility and have PDF files or simple webpages for the menu.  If I know where I am going ahead of time, I will browse the menu online and pick a few dishes I might want.  For websites with poor contrast, I copy and paste the menu into a notepad or word processing program and increase the font.

Bring assistive technology

I often bring my SmartLux or use a magnification app on my phone to read menus on the go. The only pitfall is that lighting conditions can be less than ideal, or the fonts may be difficult to read, so this is not always reliable.

Have someone read you the menu

This is most discreet at places where the menu is printed on boards high off the ground.  Have a staff member or friend read items off the menu.  Alternatively, you can take a picture of the boards and then zoom in on the text.

Order the same thing as your friend

I tend to order the same thing as my friend if I find reading the menu too tedious or too frustrating.  No one has ever found this weird, and we also haven’t worried about confusing plates or things like that.  Luckily, a lot of my friends are used to me doing this.  Sometimes they will even just scan the menu for me and order me something they think I will like.

Always get the same thing

While he doesn’t have low vision, my brother will often order the same thing every time he goes to a restaurant.  Be it a burger, macaroni and cheese, or pizza, he says he never has to worry about reading a menu or being disappointed by trying a new thing.  If you develop a rotation of a few dishes at a particular restaurant, you can order easily and not have to worry about menu drama.

Think about silverware

One of my friends has said that one of the most amusing things to watch is me attempting to cut food and cutting either very large pieces or weirdly small ones.  When possible, I try to order foods that aren’t difficult to eat or that can’t easily spill.  At a restaurant that my friend and I go to often, the server will make a note to cut food ahead of time so that way I am not so frustrated.

Advocate for accessible menus

With the aging population increasing and low vision becoming more common, the demand will only continue to grow for accessible menus.  Encourage your favorite restaurants to print out a large print copy of the menu, or even order a Braille copy.  All patrons should be able to order with dignity and order what they want.

How Do People With Low Vision…Take Gym?

It should be no surprise, but I am not very good at sports, and if you throw a ball at me, there’s a very high chance I won’t catch it, or alternatively I will catch it with my face. Because of this, I needed accommodations in my gym classes, or took adaptive PE. Here is how I got through gym and health in the public schools I attended.

Elementary school

My first gym teacher was awesome about creating activities every student could participate in, and I never had to worry about being left out or being criticized for not being able to see. Our school received a new teacher my fifth grade year, and they used a curriculum that had a heavy emphasis on team sports. Instead of ask for accommodations, I just would strike out first so I could sit out for the rest of class. On the last day of fifth grade, I was hit directly in the eye with a volleyball, and the incident caused my family and I to rethink how I would take gym when I got to middle school.

Sixth grade

I had eye surgery that October, and needed to be exempt from gym before and for months after my eye surgery. Because of this, it wasn’t practical for me to take gym. Originally, the principal suggested that I take the health course with my class, and when they were in the gym, I could come to the main office of the school and file papers. My parents thought this was a terrible idea, especially because I have a print disability and can’t see to file. After I completed a county-mandated unit in the health class about gangs, I switched into elective classes. Instead of having two elective classes one day and gym the next day, I had two different elective classes each day- in my case, they were band, art, drama, and Latin.  No kids ever noticed that I didn’t take gym.

Seventh grade

Over the summer, my school installed what they called a fitness lab, which had exercise equipment. Students would spend three class periods there, three class periods in the gym, and three class periods in health. While I would often sit out in gym, I was able to participate in the other sections very easily. Something that helped tremendously was that our class was extremely small, with only about fifteen students (normal classes had thirty), and I had friends in the class.

Eighth grade

My teacher had to take a leave during the school year, so we had lots of different substitutes, most who weren’t familiar with vision loss. I also got prisms in my glasses, and moving quickly would give me vertigo. I had to sit out constantly, and because of this, I stopped changing clothes for PE, with my logic being that if I wasn’t going to do anything, why should I change clothes? Because of this logic, I received a D in PE, something my parents weren’t very happy about, but we didn’t fight the grade because it wouldn’t carry over to high school.

Ninth grade

An adjacent school district had a virtual physical education class that they offered in the summer months. Students would learn about the history of sports, health, and keep a fitness log. We had to fight for permission for me to take this class, but it was ultimately granted, and now other students are able to take it. This was also my first of what would be many virtual classes!

Tenth grade

I couldn’t take virtual PE again, or PE in the classroom, because it tied in with Driver’s Ed, a class that I definitely couldn’t be accommodated for. While doing research, my mom discovered there was an adaptive PE program in our school district. I previously was not referred because I briefly didn’t have an IEP in middle school, and my teacher didn’t believe that I qualified for adaptive PE without an IEP. I got a referral and then met with the adaptive PE instructor once or twice a week for a semester and would do exercises. I took the health component of the class through the Independent Study program at Brigham Young University (HLTH 042), a self paced online class. I only needed two PE/health credits in high school, and my college does not require a physical education class- though another friend with low vision who did need a physical education credit took rowing.

Someone asked me if I felt left out because I didn’t take PE like everyone else, and my answer is definitely not. I am still nervous about being around people playing sports today, and I have a feeling I would have many more stories about broken glasses had I taken PE. 

How to Deal With Being Sick in College

I seem to get sick once a semester, and because of my existing chronic illness, I am more miserable than a majority of my friends, who just have whatever sickness is going around. One of the main reasons I am so miserable is because with Chiari Malformation, my head pain gets worse every time I sneeze or cough, and my vision also becomes extremely difficult to control. Thankfully I’ve already been sick once this semester, so I shouldn’t have to worry about getting sick again. Here are some of my tips for dealing with being sick in college.

Have a pre existing file with Student Health/Campus Clinic

My file contains information like my drug allergies/intolerances and a summary of my low vision and Chiari Malformation, as well as other chronic conditions. I also have a list of medication I am on and an abbreviated medical history. This helps the doctors because they don’t have to ask for a lot of information from me.

Skype into class

Since no one else wants to get sick either, ask to Skype or phone call into class for the day. If this is not an option, ask the professor for guidance on class attendance.

 

Have food delivered or ready to be picked up

 

The dining hall at my school has special prepackaged meals that can be picked up by a friend or RA for a student who is sick. If that isn’t possible, try to visit the dining hall during the off hours, and avoid touching things as much as possible.

 

Have over the counter medication delivered

 

I stocked up on over the counter meds when I got sick by ordering them using Amazon PrimeNow. At the time, everything was sold out on campus because so many students were sick, so this system worked. If you must travel somewhere off campus, try not to take the bus, and instead ask for a friend to drive you. Bonus points if this friend has already been sick and/or is the one that made you sick.

 

Spend time recovering

 

Don’t just mask the illness, make sure to treat it and spend time resting. The last time I was sick, I found myself sleeping for several hours, something that helped my migraines and eyesight tremendously. By spending time away from others, you will be able to relax and focus on getting better.

To anyone reading this out of necessity, I hope you feel better soon!

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 Approach Someone with Low Vision

While walking back from class one foggy night, someone recognized me and wanted to get my attention. In order to do this, they put their hand on my shoulder while standing behind me and started mumbling. Naturally, I screamed in their face and hit them, because I had no idea who they were, something they later got very offended over because they insisted I should have been able to see them. Following that experience, I have developed this guide on how to approach someone with low vision or blindness without terrifying them. I’ve written this post for people who may have a new friend with low vision or are not familiar with low vision in general.

State your name and where you are

When people approach me, they often say “hi Veronica, this is insert name here, I’m on your left.” That way, I know who it is and to turn and face them. For close friends or people who I am walking out to meet, they often just say what direction they are in and how far away they are- for example, when walking out to meet my friend who is right outside my door, she would say “three feet to the left!”

Use verbal cues

Many new friends have been upset that I didn’t notice them waving to me when I walked by. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but I couldn’t see them. Verbal cues are much more effective, as it lets someone know to look for you. Never use flashing lights to alert the person to your presence, as sensitivity to flashing lights is very common for people with low vision.

Do not touch

Especially if they are a new friend, do not touch or attempt to interfere with a person’s movement or blindness cane. Grabbing them from behind is another bad idea, as they barely have eyes on the front of their head, let alone eyes on the back of their head. Try to keep yourself in their line of sight.

When delivering something

If you have to deliver an item to a person with low vision, have them meet you at a predetermined area- I usually meet them at the Starbucks which is in close proximity to my apartment. Don’t have them approach a car, as they may fear getting hit or have difficulty navigating a parking lot or busy street. Clearly identify your name and your affiliation, and say their name as well so that they know you are talking to them. Walk over to them as opposed to having them walk over to you. Also, alert them when you are handing them something, because otherwise the item might fall on the ground.

If they are using a guide

Talk to the person with low vision, not their guide, and make eye contact. The guide may describe you to the person with low vision, or act defensive if they do not recognize you. Again, identifying yourself is key. If their guide is not human (for example, a guide dog), do not attempt to distract the guide dog or ask to pet it. To learn more about how to be a human guide, click here.

All of this information may seem overwhelming at first, but it can be summarized with this sentence- no one likes a sneak attack. Also, once you have the person’s attention, there is no need to continue talking loudly, as they can probably hear you just fine.

How Do People With Low Vision…Go to the Movies?

Back in tenth grade, my favorite way to spend time with my friends was to go to the movie theater at the local mall.  Even though I had a sensitivity to flashing lights, quick camera movement, and couldn’t always see the screen very clearly, I never really missed out on anything that was going on in the film.  Here are some tools and tips I have for watching movies in theaters.

Descriptive audio devices

Free of charge to use, the descriptive audio devices are loaded with a description of what is going on in a scene and also warns viewers of flashing light sequences or fast movement about five seconds before it occurs on screen, and also announces when the sequence ends.  With this device, I was able to watch Captain America: Civil War the night it premiered.  At most movie theaters, the device can be requested at the ticket purchase window.  One important thing to note is that some movie theaters require you sign your name and give your address when you borrow one of these devices, and the form to sign it out often isn’t in large print.  This information is just to make sure you don’t walk off with the device.

Also, anyone who charges for the use of these devices, or refuses to provide them, is breaking the law, specifically the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title III, Section VI.

Online flashing lights guides

I have had great luck finding out if a movie has lots of flashing lights in it simply by googling the name of the movie along with any of these phrases:

  • flashing lights
  • epilepsy
  • strobe lights
  • migraine triggers
  • trigger warning

I don’t use any specific website for this, rather just rely on whatever comes up in Google.  Often times, these guides will have scene markers and specific lines of dialogue to let the viewer know when the lights start.

Where to sit?

No need to sit in the very first row of the theater.  I found that sitting towards the middle or back in the center is best.  Because the stairs can be very awkward, I have a friend act as a human guide walking slightly in front of me while holding my hand, and I use my cane as well.

Asking questions

Yes, I am one of those people who asks a lot of questions during a movie, even when using descriptive audio.  Having a human guide is extremely helpful because they are able to tell me who is on the screen or what just happened in a movie if I ask.  When I saw the movie Birdman with my brother, I found that the descriptive audio was still very confusing, so having someone there to answer my questions was extremely helpful.

Sound sensitivity

I have a friend who is very sensitive to loud noises, especially low pitched ones.  In order to help with this, they wear ear plugs or earphones that are unplugged during the film to help cancel out some of the noise.  If using a descriptive audio device, moving the headphones slightly out of the headphone jack will create white noise in the form of static that may drown out more intense noises like explosions or loud music.

Dealing with strangers

There will always be strangers who are curious as to how or why someone with low vision goes to a movie theater.  Remember that you have the right not to answer their questions, and can simply ignore them.  If you choose to answer some of these common questions, I have written my typical responses below.

Are you totally blind?  Nope, I have low vision.

Are you able to see the screen?  Mostly, that’s why I use descriptive audio.

What’s descriptive audio?  It describes what is on the screen for me, like who is moving around, what is going on in the background, and who is talking.

Did you get a discount?  Nope, I paid the same price you did.

What’s the point of watching a movie if you can’t see it?  I can listen to it and I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

Look at that blind girl!  Usually a comment from well-meaning parents of little kids, I usually just ignore it.

Do you have (insert disease here)?  Unless they guess what conditions I have correctly, which someone is yet to do, I just answer no and move away as quickly as possible.

 

Hopefully with these tips, your next movie outing will go smoothly and you’ll be able to enjoy the film!

How Do People With Low Vision…Do Laundry?

One of my friends had seen a commercial featuring a woman who was blind, and she was emptying a basket of laundry into the washing machine.  My friend called me and asked how that was possible, and how clothes weren’t destroyed from having colors mixed together or shrinking from different water temperatures.  While I’m not entirely sure what the commercial was advertising, I’m going to assume it wasn’t anything actually related to laundry.  Here are some of the tricks I’ve learned from doing my own laundry in college as someone with low vision.

Labels on tags

For a majority of my clothes, my mom writes a large W or C , to distinguish warm and cold water temperatures.  She uses a special Sharpie marker, but raised dots and stickers are also an option.  I do not own anything that cannot be washed in the washing machine, so I don’t have to worry about throwing sensitive items in the machine.

Color reader

While I do not use one of these, a color reader is a device that announces to the user what color an item is when it is pointed at the item.  It is great for sorting laundry, and also can be helpful for putting together outfits- preventing someone from leaving the house wearing a mustard sweater and burgundy pants.

Detergent pods

These are absolutely brilliant.  Instead of trying to measure detergent, I just throw one of these pods in the washing machine and move along.  I use these particular pods and have never had a problem with them.  I do not use dryer sheets or fabric softener, but do add some white vinegar in with my clothes.

Working the washing machine

Because the buttons can be hard to read, I am often tempted to just push the first one I see and hope for the best.  Knowing this isn’t practical, I use my phone’s magnifier to read the buttons.  Another option is to use washi tape to highlight which button is needed to press, or where the dial on a button needs to be faced.  Washi tape is temporary and can be removed with no damage whatsoever.

Matching socks

I believe that life is too short to wear matching socks, so I have several very similar looking socks.  One of my friends with low vision swears by sock clips.  They clip the socks together in storage and then put the clips back on when they throw the socks in the laundry bin, and keep the clips on when washing and drying them.

Folding

As one can probably guess, I am not very good at folding things.  My mom bought me this folding contraption and I use it often for my shirts, sweaters, pants, and more.  While I didn’t like to use it much in the past, I’ve now started using it more, and have been pleased with the results!

 

Hopefully this helps people who were curious like my friend about how people with low vision do laundry. 

How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Museums?

Being just a short Metro ride away from the Smithsonian, I have been able to go to many different museums with my friends.  My two favorite Smithsonian museums are the Natural History and the American Art museums.  People who don’t know me well are often surprised that I love those museums so much, because they are so heavy on visuals.  However, I have found many ways to enjoy those and other museums in the area, and learned a lot by volunteering at another museum in my hometown.  Here are some of the things I have learned.

Go with a friend

It’s far more fun to travel with a friend than it is to travel alone.  I tend to use human guides in addition to my blindness cane when traveling because it’s helpful to have an extra pair of eyes with me.  Some things my human guides do include reading signs, letting me know where exhibit boundaries are, and locating items such as elevators and stairs.

Ask for a large print guide

At the Smithsonian, all museums have a book in large print and Braille of all the signs in the museum.  Some museums may have a heavy book with every sign throughout the museum, and others might have smaller guides for that particular exhibit hanging on the wall.  Other museums may have Braille on their signs or high contrast labels- the museum I volunteer at back in my hometown has labels for all exhibits at a font size of 36, so large print is not necessary.

IMG_20170203_160513033 (2).jpg
Example of museum guide for traveling exhibit

Disability-specific museum tours

The National Portrait Gallery offers specific tours for people who are blind or that have low vision at least once a month.  The art is available on high resolution digital images and an interpreter helps guide the visitors around the museum.  Check to see if the museum has specific tours for people with low vision, or can give access to high resolution digital images.

Flashing lights or loud noises?

If this is a concern, ask if there are any exhibits that have a high amount of strobe or flashing lights or loud noises when you arrive.  If the front desk does not know, maintenance would be a good resource as well, since they often spend lots of time in these exhibits. When I volunteered at a sensory-friendly event, I warned parents of guests with sensory integration about some hidden buttons in exhibits that made loud animal noises, another machine that made loud croaking noises, and a light that was temporarily flickering in another exhibit.

IMAX/Museum Shows

Because I have no depth perception, I find IMAX shows to be weird because I can’t wear the 3D glasses.  However, many museums offer descriptive audio devices that can describe what is on screen without obscuring other dialogue.  These devices should be requested when tickets are purchased, and some may require a safety deposit.

Interactive exhibits

When going to exhibits where visitors can touch objects, it helps to specify that a visitor has low vision.  When I went to a museum where staff were throwing around an inflatable Earth, I didn’t realize what direction it was going in, and it hit me in the face.  Staff can help by describing items thoroughly before offering it to a visitor to touch, and also warning them of any sharp sides there might be.  If it is a live animal display, ask before grabbing the person’s hand, and then move their hand in the appropriate area.

Audio tours

Often free, museums offer audio tours that describe items around the museum from a certain perspective- for example, Civil War history.  These can be a great addition to other accessible materials, and often describe the exhibits well enough so that people can close their eyes and imagine what it looks like.

Lost?

I’ve heard friends say that getting lost in a museum is “so romantic,” but as a person with low vision, I find it incredibly terrifying!  In order to help prevent this, get a large print map, if available, from guest services prior to entering the museum.  If all else fails, try and find museum volunteers or staff, and mention that you have low vision.  At the museum I volunteer at, we have had many lost kids and people with disabilities, and as volunteers we are trained to bring them to a central point in the museum, the front desk, and then help them be reunited with their party.

Online tours

Want to go to a museum, but can’t seem to get there?  Or do you want to see high resolution images on your device?  Google Arts and Culture has virtual tours of many famous museums, and high resolution artwork that is easy to enlarge and search for.  Available on iOS and Android, it is an excellent companion when traveling.

With these tips, visitors of all vision levels will be able to enjoy the educational and cultural opportunities that museums provide.