Veronica With Four Eyes

Dear High School Teacher

Dear High School Teacher,

I’m one of the new students in your class this year, and I have a visual impairment- this can mean I am blind, have low vision, or otherwise have vision loss not corrected by glasses. You probably received a copy of my SAP, 504, or IEP in advance, and likely have an idea of who I am based on it. However, there are a few things that I would like to request of you, to keep in mind as the school year progresses. I might admit these things to you, I might be scared to say anything, or I might not even realize I want you to do these things. While every blind student or student with low vision is different, here are some strategies and tools that specifically have helped me:

Follow my disability accommodations

This probably seems like a very obvious and simple request, but it is important for helping students with vision loss to be successful in the classroom. Unlike elementary school or middle school, students in high school have the option to drop out and stop attending school, and students who experience academic ableism, repeated issues with having disability accommodations followed, or an undetected/undisclosed disability are more likely to drop out than students who have their accommodations provided for them. Chances are, I want to attend high school for the next four years and graduate with my peers, and having my disability accommodations followed can help me to achieve that goal.

Related links

Let me have a partner on assignments, when relevant

I had a teacher who once told me that it was unfair to other students in my class to have me as a lab/assignment partner because I had a disability, and another teacher once announced to the class that students could earn extra credit by agreeing to be my partner since I was disabled. Both of these experiences were very traumatizing, but I’ve had other teachers who let me choose my own partner for science labs and other paired assignments, which made me feel better because I was often able to work with friends who were already familiar with my disability. It’s worth noting that I didn’t need a partner for all assignments, but I shouldn’t be forced to work alone because I have a disability.

Related links

It’s okay to ask me questions about my disability

While asking specific questions about my diagnosis or medical information is against school policies, you can ask me how I use assistive technology or ask me to describe my usable vision, and ask how you can make things easier for me to see. I might tell you the name of my diagnosis on my own, but it’s important that you prioritize my lived experiences over things you might read on the internet about my condition, especially if I have a secondary medical condition or multiple disabilities/chronic illnesses.

Also, unless I tell you otherwise, it’s okay to use words like disabled or disability, it’s not a bad word. You can follow my lead on whether to use person-first or identity-first language as well- personally, I use a mix of both and refer to myself as either a visually impaired student or student with a visual impairment/low vision. Some people may prefer to use the word blind even if they have some usable vision, which is common and accepted within the vision loss community.

Related links

I use my phone and other tools as assistive technology

I use mainstream technology devices like my smartphone, tablet, and computer as assistive technology for accessing classroom information, magnifying text, and for other accessibility-related purposes. I prefer to use these types of tools over specialty devices that draw attention to my disability, which works out because the school district doesn’t have a lot of funding for specialty technology anyway.

I’m not going to pretend I am a perfect student who doesn’t ever text in class or use my phone for non-academic purposes, but having access to technology has been a game changer for helping me access information!

Related links

Have high expectations for me and what I can accomplish

One of my teachers said that they saw no point in providing me with disability accommodations because they assumed I was a C-average student (which was my grade in their class) and that as a student with low vision, I would not be attending college. However, I don’t want to just survive in high school classroom environments, I want to thrive and learn with other students. If you notice I am suddenly not doing well on assignments, talk to me and help me figure out if something like a larger font size or different format can make it easier for me to learn. My visual impairment should not stop me from succeeding in any class- well, except maybe Driver’s Ed, but chances are I’ve been exempt from that anyway.

Related links

Help me develop self-advocacy skills

My biggest IEP goals for high school involved developing self-advocacy skills, which is defined as “the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests.” In the context of disability and IEP goals, another definition that is frequently used is “the process by which a person controls their own life.” I have an entire post dedicated to how to develop self-advocacy linked below that breaks down ways that students can develop these skills, and how teachers can support them in the process.

Related links

Offer to help if I seem lost

High school hallways can be large and confusing, and a lot of classrooms and doors look the same. If you see me wandering around or looking lost, feel free to come over and ask if I need help finding where I’m going. You can offer your arm to act as a human guide, but don’t grab me without permission unless I am in immediate danger of being hurt, i.e slipping on a puddle or about to walk in the middle of a fight.

Another thing to consider is that I might not immediately recognize you in the hallway or an unfamiliar environment. Even though I might recognize your voice, it’s frustrating to have people say “guess who I am!” or “don’t you know who I am?” It’s better to greet me and identify yourself, i.e “hi Veronica, this is (name).”

Related links

Don’t tell me how unfair my disability is

I internalized a lot of comments from my teachers about how unfair or frustrating my disability and chronic illness is for them. I went through a phase where I wished I didn’t have an IEP and imagined life without a disability, and blamed myself for not being able to pass an inaccessible math test. A more accurate way to look at the situation was that I didn’t fail the test because I can’t see it, but the test failed me by being printed in small print. To borrow a quote from another disability area, “stairs make the building inaccessible, not the wheelchair.”

Related links

Encourage me to challenge myself

I might be tempted to play things safe and shy away from events or activities that are potentially inaccessible- I’ve been told in the past it is easier to not participate in something than it is to push for inclusion. However, this doesn’t have to be the case in high school! Encourage me to try new things or show me ways that I can participate in activities- for example, I had a teacher who found a way for me to attend the pep rally without being around flashing lights, and another teacher helped me figure out how to participate in marching band and other school clubs. I appreciate learning about school resources and other things I might not have heard about otherwise.

Related links

Other things I want you to know as a high school student with low vision

  • Some students with low vision may also have sensory issues and not feel comfortable eating in the cafeteria- I always appreciated when my teachers would let me eat lunch in their classrooms with a few friends
  • I appreciate it when teachers introduce me to other students that they think I would be good friends with, as I have trouble spotting people in crowds and may be more skeptical to approach people I don’t know. A few of these introductions have led to me making friends I still have 10+ years later
  • I can’t read small print sizes or pencil lead on white paper, which is why I receive large print and use high contrast markers. I also can’t copy assignments from someone who is sitting behind me. I was accused of cheating a few times by teachers, and these incidents were frustrating because if I was able to read standard print, then I wouldn’t need to receive accessible materials.
  • It’s great to hear about other blind and low vision students that other teachers have had in the past, but be careful comparing students to each other as visual impairment is a spectrum and two people with the same acuity can have wildly different levels of functional vision

Dear High School Teacher. Dear High School Teacher, here are ten things your new visually impaired student might want you to know, and they don't even realize it. Written by someone with low vision