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.

Google Chromecast Review

Occasionally, I have trouble focusing my eyes to read text on my phone or tablet. In these cases, zooming in is futile, and I find it easier to focus through the top half of the bifocal in my glasses. Instead of bending my head at weird angles or holding my device up higher, I use a Google Chromecast to project my screen onto the TV- no wires or cables necessary.

The Chromecast is a $35 device that allows the user to connect their computer, tablet, or phone to their TV. The device is plugged into a HDMI port on the TV, and it also uses a power outlet. By using the same wifi hotspot as the other device, the Chromecast can project internet tabs, apps, and more onto a TV. My family has at least three of these devices in the house, and I even brought one to college with me. Here are some of the ways I have used it, both as assistive technology and just as a useful resource with my various devices.

Setting it up

To set up the device, simply plug one end into the wall and the other end into the HDMI port of the TV, which is best described as a rectangle with a smaller rectangle on top. After that, go to the Chromecast set up website or app to finish the process, which includes connecting it to a wifi hotspot and giving it a name.

If you are setting it up at college, you may need to register the MAC address first, as I explained in my post about the Amazon Echo Dot, since chances are you have to use a username and password to log on to the school wifi. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet hotspot. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Chromecast app settings, it can be used on a college campus without any complicated networks to set up. I found that I am able to easily use the device no matter what wifi hotspot my other devices are connected to.

Android phone

With most later versions of Android, 6.0 and up, the user can easily cast their entire phone screen by swiping down on the status bar and selecting cast. I use this late at night when I have trouble focusing my eyes on text messages, or when I am using an app that has small font. This is also useful when I am demonstrating a function on my phone to someone, as it is more practical to look up at a screen than to look over my shoulder.

iPad

Many apps on the iPad support streaming to Chromecast, including Netflix, YouTube, Google Chrome, Google Video, and others. I use Google Chrome the most out of those three apps to broadcast tabs I am working on, watch videos, enlarge files, and more. YouTube has also been very helpful when I have to take notes on something at the same time- the video or app doesn’t have to be open on the iPad in order for it to broadcast. With the Google Video and Netflix apps, I have been able to watch movies with my friends who live in other states and iMessage or talk about the movie at the same time.

Google Chrome

With my desktop and laptop computers, I have been able to mirror tabs open in Google Chrome onto my TV flawlessly. Because some websites are impossible to zoom in on, I often will broadcast them to the TV to read information better. Extensions such as Adblock are still able to be used on the screen. Most recently, I broadcast a PDF file that I opened in Google Chrome to the TV so I could see it better.

Bonus offers

At times, the Chromecast will have special offers available for users. Some offers have included free trials, free movie rentals, and even Google Play credit which can be used to buy apps, movies, books, games, TV shows, etc in the Google Play store.

Overall review

In the two years I have been using it regularly, I have found this device to be incredibly useful and an affordable alternative to a smart TV, and it’s incredibly easy to use- my parents who describe themselves as technology challenged are able to use the device with ease. With all of the bonus offers, the device has paid for itself, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who benefits from a larger screen.

I received no compensation for this review and purchased this item on my own.  This is a completely unbiased review.

Amazon Echo Dot Review

Last month, a new device joined my technology collection, and has quickly become one of my new favorites. I don’t have to worry about making it accessible, because it is perfect right out of the box. I can control it with my voice and get more information about the world around me. This little device is the Amazon Echo Dot, with Alexa technology. Here are some ways it has helped me as a college student with low vision.  This post is in no way sponsored by Amazon, and I received no compensation for writing about it- I just genuinely love this product.

What is Amazon Echo?

The Amazon Echo ($180) and Amazon Echo Dot ($49) are two devices that use Amazon’s voice assist technology, called Alexa. The only difference between the Echo and Echo Dot is that the Echo has a large speaker built in, while the Dot does not. When the device is summoned by saying the name Alexa (or Echo or Amazon, depending on the set wake word- my brother uses the word Computer), the user can request it to complete several different tasks.  I have the 2nd Generation Amazon Echo Dot in white.

How do you set it up?

If you are using the device at home, simply connecting to the wifi hotspot is sufficient. However, if you are setting it up at college, where the wifi requires a username and password, the setup is a little different. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Amazon Echo app, the Amazon Echo can be used on a college campus. I keep my Dot across from my bed, on top of my printer, and it can easily pick up my voice no matter where I am standing in my dorm room, without picking up on my suitemates’ voices in the hallway.

What common functions do you use the most?

I’m constantly asking Alexa what time it is, as I don’t have to worry about focusing to read numbers on a clock. I also can easily set timers and alarms, though it isn’t as easy to get the alarms to turn off, which I think is a good thing because I am prone to sleeping through alarms. I also have found the weather forecasts to be very accurate and helpful. In addition, I have used the Echo to add items to my Amazon Fresh shopping list and place orders through Amazon, or just add a product to my wishlist, something that’s especially helpful when I am reading something. I also love Amazon Music and have that on frequently.

How do you use it as assistive technology?

The talking clock has been a great feature, but the Amazon Echo can be used for other assistive technology purposes. I installed a calculator function on it from the Alexa App Store, and can use it to perform basic calculations, much faster and less frustrating than a traditional calculator. It can read daily news stories from several different news outlets, sometimes with a live feed of the news channel, so I don’t have to worry about reading or flashing lights on the TV. I can also perform simple Google searches and other tasks.

What about those other devices you can hook up to the Alexa?

I haven’t tried any of the lightbulbs, thermostats, or other environmental control devices yet, but I’m hoping to set some up in my room next semester!  They look awesome.

Can you create your own Alexa functions?

Yes! Stay tuned, I will have a separate post on this soon. By using the app If This Then That (IFTTT), you can sync the Amazon Echo with several other apps and devices. I have mine hooked up to my Android phone and iPad.

When do you mute the Amazon Echo?

I mute the device when I will be leaving the apartment for more than three hours or when I’m on a voice or video call with someone who enjoys summoning the device (shoutout to my friend that frequently asks Alexa to add bananas to my shopping list while we are on voice calls together). From where it’s sitting, the Dot can’t pick up on anything going on in the hallway or any other room, only in my room. It can hear if someone on speaker says “Alexa.”

Does the Amazon Echo Dot use strobe or flashing lights?

I have never seen the device use strobe light effects. It uses a mild flash effect when processing information, but not one that is intense enough to cause a migraine or seizure- it’s similar in frequency to a car blinker. Sometimes it may cycle through the color gradient at a slow speed when loading information or syncing, but it will not flash.

Aren’t you worried about the device spying on you?

Not really. My other devices are spying on me anyway. I have taken cybersecurity classes and understand that the device is always listening to me, but I don’t say anything that would cause alarm, or anything particularly exciting.

Overall Review

I love this device and it has greatly helped me with accessing information. Almost anyone can learn to use it in two minutes or less, and it has many great functions that can replace more expensive assistive technology devices, such as talking clocks. I would recommend it to anyone, especially college students and people with low vision.

My Phone Isn’t Paper

Back in high school, I had teachers who didn’t believe that my vision was as bad as I said it was. They believed that I was like the rest of my friends- texting, reading, and driving around. These teachers would often ask me, my friends, my parents, and even my case manager why I could be texting (or doing some other task) but not able to see what was on the board or on my non-enlarged classwork. And honestly, it was very frustrating to explain time and time again.

I have many accessibility settings enabled on my phone and also use third party apps in order for me to see my phone clearly. The font size on my phone is the same as the font size I receive for print materials, and I have a high contrast filter applied. As a result, I am able to text my friends easily and use my phone as much as anyone else.

I also use an eReader to read books,enlarging the font size to the largest one available. I have a print disability, meaning I cannot read small text, which is why I had an IEP in school with accommodations that included large print. Comparing my ability to read accessible materials and my ability to read inaccessible materials is unfair.

As I’ve gotten older, more and more teachers have asked me if I drive or have a learner’s permit. Since I could barely see the board even with visual correction, I was always confused when teachers were surprised that I don’t drive. One teacher went as far to ask my friend sitting next to me if I was able to drive, trying to see if they could trick my friend into telling what they believed was the truth. Of course, my friends often laughed at the idea of me behind the wheel, saying I would have six casualties before I even pulled out of the driveway.

The most frustrating comments of all were when I was asked why I couldn’t see perfectly, even with glasses. Just like crutches don’t make someone walk perfectly, glasses don’t make someone see perfectly, it only gives them the maximum correction. That may not mean perfect eyesight, and they might need some accommodations to ensure they are able to see things. Never doubt that someone could have low vision just because they are wearing glasses, and don’t compare their sight loss with correction to someone’s sight loss without correction. Also, if someone has an IEP, chances are they need the services they are provided, and it is a bad idea to argue that they don’t, especially when it comes to low vision. Assistive technology has come a long way, allowing people with disabilities to seamlessly integrate with their friends, and I will always be grateful for the technological advancements that have helped me succeed.

How To Choose a New Phone When You Have Photosensitivity

I have been researching getting a new phone for some time.  I thought I had thought of everything, studying all of the technology specifications and comparing over a dozen phones side by side.  Ultimately, I chose the Motorola G5 Plus, which had the newest version of Android and lots of other interesting functions.  I had been a Motorola customer for nearly four years, so it seemed like a great fit.  Unfortunately, not even ten seconds after I turned it on, it started flashing uncontrollably and gave me a migraine- strobe and flashing lights trigger migraines for me.  It wasn’t just the opening screen that strobed either- there were several other ways that this phone was capable of triggering a migraine for me.  After an hour on hold with Motorola customer support, I was told there was nothing I could do to disable these functions and I should just return the phone.  All of the new Motorola phones also have this strobing display, so now I am left to research another phone.  Here are five things I will be looking for in this new phone, things I didn’t even think to look for before.

Turn the phone off and back on again

What does the startup animation look like?  Is it a flash of lightning, or rapidly changing colors?  What about fast moving images?  Any of these can be a trigger for a migraine, seizure, or other medical issue.  I would have someone else who knows your condition check this for you so you aren’t hurt by the display.  After I first saw the flashing display yesterday, I had two of my close friends who are familiar with my condition look at the animation, and they agreed it was very unsafe for someone with photosensitivity.

Strobing notifications

One of my friends has a phone where the flash on their camera creates a strobing effect whenever they receive a call, text, or notification.  If you purchase a phone with this function, make sure it is not enabled by default to start strobing for notifications.  Also, if you have a friend who uses this function, kindly ask that they disable it when you are around, because it can cause you to have a medical issue.

Does the screen flash when you zoom in?

When you double/triple tap the screen to magnify, does the screen do a short strobe animation?  Most animations can be disabled on a phone, but some models may not allow this strobe effect to be disabled.  It’s also worth checking to see if the phone screen strobes for other gestures, or when apps are opened.  Sometimes you can change what animation displays, so you can choose something that isn’t a strobe effect.

Color filters

If your eyes have trouble processing bright lights or colors, check to see if the phone display supports adding a color blindness mode or light filter.  I have a filter on my current phone that filters out very bright lights without affecting the color display.  I also use night mode on my phone when I am dealing with a migraine- this is a red-pigmented filter designed to block out the blue light from the phone display.

 

Does the keyboard flash?

When typing, does the phone keyboard create a strobe or flashing effect?  Luckily, keyboards and other third party apps can easily be replaced- check out my post on how to make Android accessible here.  However, it may not be worth the hassle if there are so many other flashing lights on the phone.

 

It’s rather unfortunate that an increasing number of phone manufacturers and companies have been adding flashing lights to their designs.  With more and more people being diagnosed with migraines, epilepsy, and other photosensitive conditions, it is more important than ever to remember one of the most important rules of web design- don’t create anything that can cause a seizure.  I hope in the future, companies will stop using strobe and flashing lights in their designs, but until then, the search is on for a new phone.  As sad as I am to leave Motorola, I can’t risk triggering a migraine just by using my phone.

All About Bookshare

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 talking about an organization that was the catalyst for my interest in assistive technology called Bookshare.

In 2011, my family took me to an assistive technology event at what would be my future university. We didn’t know much about assistive technology, and went there to find resources and answers to many questions we had. It was there that someone asked us if we had heard of Bookshare, and we shook our heads no, since we weren’t very familiar with assistive technology resources at the time. Little did I know, this service would revolutionize how I read. Here are some of the questions I had when I first started using Bookshare, and my personal experiences with it.

What is Bookshare?

Bookshare is an accessible digital library for people with print disabilities. There are over half a million titles available, from New York Times bestsellers to cookbooks and even textbooks, though there may be issues with displaying images. Materials are downloaded from their website instantly in the DAISY file format, which can be converted to audio, Braille, or large print.

How do I qualify for Bookshare?

If you have a diagnosed print disability from low vision, a physical disability, or a learning disability, you can qualify for Bookshare instantly. My mom faxed in a letter from my ophthalmologist certifying that I have low vision and require large text, however the process is now done online through a personalized link where users can upload documents.

Should my school create my account?

While a school can set up an account for multiple student users, I actually recommend that a student set up their own account. It is much easier to download content, since the user doesn’t have to worry about requesting downloads from their sponsor, and it also gives them an opportunity to learn how to access materials for themselves. Plus, you can continue to use the account even after you graduate, as the service is free for students in grades K-12 and college in the United States, and $50 a year after that.

How many books can I download?

A user can download fifty (50) books per month.

How do I read the materials on an iPad?

Bookshare has their own online web reader that works beautifully, and they also have other member recommended reading apps. While it is the most expensive, I prefer the app Read2Go and have been using it for years with no issues.

How do I read the materials on an eReader?

I purchased a Daisy to ePub converter from Don Johnson in order to convert books to an ePub format so that I could have them on my eReader. This works great for books with no images. The page numbers tend to be a bit off, so if I’m reading a book for school and have to cite page numbers, I have an agreement with my teachers that I can cite the first sentence of the page rather than the page number, and if the teacher told the class to turn to a certain page, they would give me the first sentence so I could search for it.

What titles can I find on Bookshare?

Almost any book you can think of is on there. It’s very rare that I can’t find what I am looking for, though it has happened. Typically I enjoy reading fiction and popular bestsellers.

Is this even legal?

Yes, through the Chafee amendment, which allows organizations to create materials for students with print disabilities without publisher permission and without violating copyright.

My testimony

I have been a proud member since December 2011 and have enjoyed being able to read the same books as my peers. At my local library, before they partnered with an ebook service, the only large print books available to me were romance novels, which I had zero interest in. Thanks to Bookshare, I have been able to read whatever I want and join in on conversations. I wasn’t limited by what the library had to offer, and could read age appropriate books alongside my peers.

Right now, Bookshare is in danger of losing a large amount of federal funding, and I can’t imagine going without this service now that I have used it for so long. My best advice for users is to write to their representatives and encourage them to preserve these services. I will be posting a sample letter here on my blog.

I have been incredibly grateful to qualify to receive these services, and the benefits I have received have helped me to read more than I ever thought I would, even though I have low vision. Bookshare also inspired me to pursue an interest in assistive technology, as I was amazed to see that I could combine my love of technology and helping others. I hope that this posts helps more people learn about this incredible service that I recommend to every person I meet who has a print disability.

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.

Eschenbach SmartLux Review

I was at a low vision exam when I got on the subject of assistive technology with the ophthalmologist. He told me he had some “toys” that I could try out. At first, he brought out some colored filters to put on top of paper, and page guides. But then he brought out the Eschenbach SmartLux, and I told my mom that I didn’t want to leave that day without one of my own.

The Eschenbach SmartLux is a portable CCTV that’s about the size of a smartphone. It can zoom in up to 12x and has its own built in kickstand on the back for hands free use. It uses large buttons in order to control the device, with tactile labels to help assist users.

It has different contrast settings for the images, including natural light, white on black, black on white, black on yellow, and yellow on black. I typically work with black on white or black on yellow, unless I’m working with a photograph. In the white on black display mode, I am able to read even fine pencil marks, something I can’t do with any other device. It’s easy to operate since there are only four buttons- zoom in/out, change contrast, freeze image, and on/off. The display feels natural for me to read on, even in bright sunlight, but I also am used to reading on a screen for long periods of time.

This device is worth its eight ounce weight in gold. Last year for my literature class, we had to read a graphic novel that was not available digitally. Using the SmartLux, I was able to easily read the novel from a paper copy I got from the library. I’ve also used it in restaurants to read menus and to read forms, and it’s been fantastic.  Because of its ability to detect pencil in high contrast displays, I’ve also  been able to use it to view drawings from my highly talented friends.

Even though it was expensive, costing $600, this little device has been perfect in situations where my E-Bot Pro would be too large or too heavy for me to transport. I can’t use conventional magnifying lenses due to the prism in my glasses, so these digital magnifiers have given me the freedom to access print materials along with my peers, something I am very grateful for.

E-Bot Pro Review

Over the summer, I had the fun of visiting the assistive technology lab affiliated with the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired. The day I visited, a vendor was demonstrating a new CCTV that had been approved for use on standardized tests and that used my beloved iPad. I was super excited to see what it was.

E-Bot Pro system with iPad and projector with book underneath

The E-Bot Pro by HIMS inc., is a relatively new CCTV that looks like a projector. It can be cast onto an iPad screen via the E-Bot Pro app or plugged into a larger monitor, though I typically find myself using it on my iPad. It is controlled using either a joystick or on the touch screen of the iPad using familiar gestures like pinch to zoom in and dragging a finger across the display to move the camera. Speaking of display, it can accommodate several different color modes such as white on black, yellow on black, black on green, and more, as well as allowing the user to adjust for contrast. It takes up only about 12″ of space on a desk, though I would recommend having a two desk setup or a large table to use it on just so you don’t risk knocking it over.

I was blown away by how clear text reads on the E-Bot Pro, especially with fonts that tend to be blurry for me such as Times New Roman. The images are shockingly clear and the zoom (up to 50x) is very easy to adjust. The system also is able to OCR documents and use its own built in screen reader and voice guide to help the user. I did find it had some issues with images that were very light gray, like pencil, and also with fonts smaller than 6 pt. In cases like this, I just ask someone to trace over the image using a high contrast marker or pen. Other than that, the camera works flawlessly, and I appreciate the automatic scrolling mode that allows the camera to move while I read information on the screen. Another cool thing the camera does is rotate. I’m not limited to seeing just what’s directly below the camera- it rotates about 270°. I find this especially helpful when the professor is drawing on the board, and have also used the functionality to read signs outside my window. The camera isn’t loud at all and it doesn’t distract other students.

Teachers and school administrators alike may panic over having a wireless device in the classroom. However, the E-Bot Pro is not connected by Bluetooth, but by its own wifi hotspot. While the device is connected, the user cannot access any other internet sources, and if guided access is enabled, the device is restricted to only the E-Bot app. I used this device to take exams in the classroom for my geology class this semester, and my professor not only embraced it, but was fascinated with the technology. I was able to complete assignments at a large table with my screen facing a wall so people couldn’t see over me.

If you find yourself not being able to afford the E-Bot Pro (after all, it is $3500), there are still opportunities for you to be able to use one. I received mine at no cost to me as part of my vocational rehabilitation services through the Department of Blind and Visually Impaired, since it helps me succeed in school and achieve my goal of employment. Another option is to talk to your school district’s assistive technology or vision impairment coordinator about buying the system, and say that you and other students to benefit from. Alternatively, look at other school districts or organizations that may have one for you to use, like an accessibility library, state assistive technology system, or similar.

Overall, the E-Bot Pro is one of my favorite high-tech devices, and I would recommend it to anyone who is semi-proficient with technology, or at least with the iPad. 

Note- This post is not sponsored nor was I paid to write it, I just genuinely love this device!

  

Ten Ways to Reduce Eye Strain With Technology

I don’t watch any TV, proudly says a person who spends her entire day on her computer, iPad, phone, and other assistive technology devices. When I first meet someone who doesn’t understand vision loss, they often are confused as to how I can see my devices, shortly followed by how I can use them for such long periods of time. Here are ten ways I help to fight eye fatigue when using my devices. While this is targeted towards people with low vision, anyone who uses computers for a long period of time can benefit from these techniques.

Blue light filter guard for Google Chrome

This extension helps to remove blue light, which can cause fatigue, eye strain, and blurry vision. It puts a warm tint over the page allowing the user to look at the screen for long periods of time. This has never affected my ability to see pictures, as images look very natural against this background.  I use this extension.

Computer glasses

I found myself in the computer lab all day with virtual classes in high school. My low vision specialist recommended computer glasses, which have a special progressive bifocal, for helping to prevent me from bending my head funny as I try to read through my bifocal. I got mine through LensCrafters, and they took about seven business days to receive them. One downfall is that it’s impossible to see when the user looks away from the screen- when there was a fire alarm one day and I got up without changing glasses, I walked into the wall next to the door.

Non prescription tinted glasses

One of my friends likes to use these when using electronics, and it helps them to see with a high contrast display. These have a yellow tint to them and help to reduce eye strain further. I have not tried wearing them over my thick glasses so I’m not sure how they will fit, but I do like the wraparound design. Here are the ones they have.

Anti-glare screen filter

This is a glass filter that hangs on the outside of the computer monitor. This is not helpful for touch screens, however for desktop computers that don’t use touch, it’s a great way to further filter out light and glare, making text easy to see. My mom has this on her home computer and it really helps. We use this model.

Reducing white point on iPad and iPhone

To do this, go to settings, then accessibility, and then display accommodations. It can be found on the bottom part of the menu. Mine is reduced to 50°

Color filter on iPad

This helps to filter out blue light on iPad. It can be enabled in display accommodations and then the color accommodations menu. I have a color intensity about 1/3 down the line and the hue at 100%.

F.lux

This free application is available for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac, and even Linux. Simply tell it what area you live in and what lighting you have and it does the rest, intelligently blocking out light, especially at night. You can download it at www.justgetflux.com

Eye pillow

Eventually, my eyes do get tired and I like the feeling of compression on them and total darkness. My eye pillow is one of my favorite purchases from Amazon and has a hot and cold side to it depending on what kind of relief I’m looking for. I find leaving this on for twenty minutes is invaluable.  Find it here.

Microsoft Office backgrounds

My friend taught me this when I was in tenth grade. If you find the background behind the document you’re working on to be too bright, you can go into options and change the color of the background to dark gray/black.

Automatic brightness

What is better, a super bright screen or a super dark screen? For me, I prefer to use the automatic brightness settings across my devices to decide for me. Naturally, I prefer slightly darker to avoid triggering my photosensitivity, and I can adjust the automatic settings when needed.
Despite popular belief, you will not go blind by looking at a screen too long or too closely. This was true with the first cathode ray televisions, although with LCD/LED displays, it is no longer true. So use your devices for whatever you need them for, and avoid developing eye strain while doing so!

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