When I was in middle and high school, many teachers and school staff members encouraged me to develop strong self-advocacy skills so that I could feel comfortable talking about my low vision and what accommodations I would need in the classroom. Talking to a substitute teacher was a great way to practice these skills, because I would have to request accessible materials from them during class and do a lot of things on my own without asking for help. Here are my tips for explaining disability accommodations to substitute teachers and ensuring there are no interruptions to normal accommodations in class. This post is inclusive of accommodations from Student Assistance Plans, IEPs, and 504 Plans.
Ask the teacher to add a note about accommodations if possible
If the teacher announced in advance that they would be having a substitute, I would ask them to put a note in the lesson plan that I would receive an accessible copy of assignments and any other relevant accommodations. I began to request this after an incident in middle school where the teacher thought I was stealing the large-print copy of the assignment from another student who needed it, and again in high school after a substitute triggered a migraine- more on that later. I also have them note that I can use technology such as my iPad for assignments if needed, so I don’t have to worry about assistive technology being confiscated.
If needed, mention photosensitivity and ask them to avoid triggers
Remember how I said I had a substitute trigger a migraine? A substitute teacher in my band class once flickered the lights rapidly to get our attention, and the flashing lights triggered a migraine for me. I wasn’t upset at the substitute for triggering a migraine for me, because there is no possible way they would have known this would happen, but the rest of the class came to my defense saying that they need to avoid flickering the lights from that point forward. After that incident, I would walk up to the teacher as soon as I got in the classroom and ask them not to use flashing lights to get our attention, or to alert me before they flicker the lights.
- How To Check Videos For Flashing Light Sensitivities
- Photosensitivity in the Classroom
- How I Talk To Professors About Photosensitivity
Request accessible copies of assignments, if available
When the substitute passes out assignments, I request the large print accessible copy which is normally on the bottom or top of the stack of papers. Since the entire class knows I receive large print, it isn’t the end of the world if someone else gets my assignment by mistake- we just trade once the teacher is done passing out assignments. During my junior year of high school, I would ask the teacher in advance for a digital copy of the classwork and tell the substitute I already have the assignment on my iPad or computer, and that I would turn it in digitally like my other classwork.
- Accommodations For Print Materials
- Colored Paper and the Readability of Text
- How I Organize Digital Files For My Classes
If accessible copies of assignments are not available
I recognize that my teachers are often thinking about a million other things when putting together plans for a substitute teacher, and that it can be easy to forget to make an accessible copy of an assignment. I used to refuse to do assignments if they were inaccessible, though the teachers would treat me the same as the other students and give me a zero for not completing it. If I received an inaccessible copy of an assignment and no accessible copy was available, I would request a hall pass to go to my case manager or the main office to enlarge the assignment, or ask if I could use additional assistive technology to complete the assignment. If there was absolutely no way I could get an accessible copy of an assignment within a reasonable amount of time, I’d just work on other assignments for different classes so I could still be productive.
- Ten Spooky Inaccessible Assignments and How To Fix Them
- Paper Size and Low Vision
- Dealing With Anxiety About Accommodations
Don’t be afraid to say no to inaccessible or dangerous activities, but propose an alternative
For a couple of my classes, teachers would have us watch a movie that had flashing lights or do other activities that were inaccessible or potentially dangerous for someone with low vision. Instead of giving the substitute a hard time, I would tell them that I am unable to participate in an activity due to severe photosensitivity or low vision (whichever one was relevant) and ask if I could go to a quiet area and work on an alternative assignment, the computer lab, or even the band room with director’s permission. Most substitutes actually appreciated that I was able to recognize activities that may be dangerous for me and remove myself from the situation.
- Computer Lab Accommodations For Low Vision Students
- Described And Captioned Media Program Review
- Learning to Self-Advocate
Have accommodations memorized
Remember how I mentioned that I would have to create my own accessible copies of assignments or explain why I needed something? I memorized all of my IEP accommodations so that I could clearly explain why and how I need something, instead of not knowing how I get accommodations in the classroom. This was also helpful for one particular day when the substitute teacher believed I was exaggerating my condition and that I did not need these accommodations- since I was telling the truth, my case manager and other school staff members were willing to back me up.
- Ten Words To Know Before Your First IEP Meeting
- Five Things Your IEP Case Manager Won’t Tell You
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your IEP
Understand that most substitutes are not familiar with disability
While I’ve had lots of teachers that have been very familiar with disability and how it affects different students, substitute teachers often are not overly familiar with disability. Even if they say or do frustrating things, I treat them just like my normal teachers and do not talk back or otherwise disrupt class. But I also stand my ground and do not let them take away things I need.
For example, a substitute teacher once asked me to remove my tinted glasses because students were not allowed to wear sunglasses inside. I told them that I was wearing tinted prescription glasses due to light sensitivity and that if I wear my glasses, that means I can complete my schoolwork and concentrate in class. Instead of giving in to their demands or telling them that I would not listen to them because they were not my real teacher, I was able to calmly explain why I would not be complying with their request, and how tinted glasses help me to be successful.
- Seven Myths About IEP Students
- How Tinted Glasses Help My Light Sensitivity
- Collecting Documentation
My school district had quite a few rotating substitute teachers, so I would often have the same substitute teachers in different classes or as long-term substitutes. This made it even more important to ensure that they were treated with respect, but even more important that they knew I would receive an accessible copy of the assignment and that they should avoid messing with the light switch. I hope this post is helpful for explaining disability accommodations to substitute teachers!