A common question I receive from parents of kids with low vision or people who are losing their sight is about the most common classroom accommodations for low vision students. Even as my vision has changed over time, my accommodations have stayed fairly consistent from middle school to high school and then to college. Here are the most common classroom accommodations for low vision students, and how these accommodations can be helpful for Student Assistance Plans (SAPs), 504 Plans, Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), and college Disability Services files.
Having access to print and digital materials in large print is incredibly important for me, as I am unable to read standard print sizes, and is a very common classroom accommodations for low vision students. Over time, the exact font size I need has increased, though I have always had a preference for Arial font. When I was in middle school, I asked to have assignments in 18 pt font, then changed it a few years later to be 24 pt font. Now that I am in college, I receive paper assignments in 36 point font so I can ensure I don’t miss any details.
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While I haven’t taken many large lecture hall classes in college, having preferential seating has been very helpful in ensuring I don’t get stuck in the back of the classroom. I also appreciated having preferential seating in middle and high school so I could find the best place to see the board or the projector, and I didn’t have to worry about moving around when the seating chart changed.
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I’ve used both screen magnification and physical magnifying glasses in the classroom to make things easier to read or to magnify smaller text items like exponents. I also use a desktop video magnifier/CCTV for taking tests in the testing center (more on that later) and find it extremely helpful for magnifying printed instructions or math tests. Since I use a mix of different magnifiers, my accommodations just list that I am allowed to use magnification devices and does not list any specific tools or brand names.
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Extended time on tests/assignments
When I am taking timed tests or doing timed assignments, I receive 1.5x time, or time and a half to complete the tests. This means that for a 60 minute test, I am allowed to have up to 90 minutes to take the test. I don’t have to use my extended time if I don’t need it, but I find it’s helpful for helping to combat eyestrain or surprise technical difficulties with assistive technology. Some of my other friends who receive classroom accommodations for low vision receive double time or triple time on assignments as it takes them longer to read information with assistive technology.
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Use of a screen reader or text-to-speech
When I had temporary blindness/no usable vision as the result of an eye infection for a few days, I had to find a way to access information nonvisually. To accomplish this, I used a screen reader in the classroom to follow along with notes on the board, read my textbooks/assignments, and to take tests in various classes. I like to use bone conducting headphones for listening to my screen reader because I can still hear other people around me and follow along in class, though I have other friends who prefer to have one earbud in to listen to their screen readers.
It’s worth noting that even though they are two different things, my accommodation sheet considers text-to-speech to be the same thing as a screen reader. I use text-to-speech and on-demand screen reader tools much more often than a traditional screen reader, though they aren’t considered separate accommodations.
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Copies of notes
My data science professors are awesome about giving me copies of class notes so that I can ensure I didn’t miss anything when copying down information on the board, or let me have a closer look at diagrams or graphs. I prefer to receive typed or digital copies of notes whenever possible so I can read them clearly, though I also have had teachers that would give me handwritten notes to copy down so I didn’t have to look at the board.
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Alternative testing environment
In college, I take tests in the Disability Services Testing Center, which is an approved accommodation for students with a variety of disabilities, and a common classroom accommodation for low vision. The testing center is quiet and close to my dorm, and gives me more space to take tests than a traditional desk. I can also use approved assistive technology devices and receive extended time that would be difficult to have in the traditional classroom environment.
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Other assistive technology accommodations
Besides having low vision, I also have a neurological condition that can impact how I access technology or read information. Because of this, I have approval for other assistive technology accommodations such as modified keyboards, adapted calculators, speech-to-text input as needed, audio description for videos, and scanning devices. Whenever I use a new device, I show it to my professors and let them see how it works, and they are fine with me using the different assistive technology tools in the classroom.
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Accessible file formats for course materials and standardized tests
I receive my textbooks in a digital accessible format, and when I was in Virginia Public Schools I took the Standards of Learning tests using a large print paper-and-pencil booklet. Even though I have large print listed as an accommodation for my class materials, an additional accommodation for tests and textbooks had to be listed in my high school IEP.
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Adaptations for certain assignments or classes
In high school, I took adapted PE classes to satisfy the gym requirement for graduation, and I’ve also received other adapted assignments for classes where my low vision would put me at an unfair advantage. Some examples of this include being exempted from activities that involved flashing/strobe lights or flying objects, as well as modifying science labs for safety reasons.
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List of common classroom accommodations for low vision
- Large print
- Preferential seating
- Magnification devices
- Extended time on tests and/or assignments
- Use of a screen reader and/or text-to-speech
- Copies of notes
- Alternative testing environment
- Other assistive technology accommodations
- Accessible file formats for course materials and standardized tests
- Adaptations for specific activities or classes