Whenever I move into a new dorm, the first two things I always set up are my bed and my desk. Between taking classes, doing homework, running my own website, and talking to friends online, I spend a ton of time at my desk working on various projects, and how I set up my college desk is important so that I can do all these things without having to spend too much time looking for things or being uncomfortable. Here is how I set up my college desk as a student with low vision, and how my desk set-up has changed over the years.
About my desk
At my college, all on-campus students are provided a desk in addition to a bed, a set of drawers, and access to a closet, and students are generally not allowed to change furniture unless they have a disability accommodation (which I did not need). The measurements for my college desk are as follows:
- The desk tabletop measures 22″ x 43″
- The desk itself is 30″ tall, excluding the hutch
- There is a bottom opening that is 24″ wide, and three drawers on the side (note that they do not have drawer pulls).
When I lived in emergency/transitional housing, I had two desks which were pushed against each other for additional table space, though the other desk did not have drawers for some reason.
Removing the desk hutch
Originally, my desk when I was a first-year student had a hutch screwed on the top of it that had additional shelving. However, I couldn’t fit my desktop computer underneath the hutch, so I asked my brother to unscrew the hutch from the top of the desk and put it in a closet. I didn’t need a disability accommodation for this and didn’t get in trouble, though I did request that there be no hutch attached to my desk in the future.
Adding contact paper
When I lived in the same dorm for three semesters, I decided to cover my desktop in contact paper to protect against spills, since I would frequently have food or drink at my desk. I used an entire roll of marble-patterned contact paper I got on Amazon on my desk surface, which took about ten minutes for me to apply on my own. An additional bonus is that this turned my desktop into a dry-erase surface, so I could easily write notes on the top of my desk or create a to-do list I could read with the bifocal in my glasses.
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On the desk
The center of my desk and the item that takes up the most space is my desktop computer, which I use for various tasks related to my classes and other side projects. My HP Sprout computer has a non-traditional two monitor set-up, where the first monitor is a 24″ touch screen, and the second monitor is a 22″ TouchMat that sits on the surface of my desk. I also love that my computer has a built-in video magnifier, 3D scanner, and other accessibility tools, though many of my other friends prefer to stick with a traditional desktop computer or laptop docking station.
Several of my online classes require headsets for interactive classroom sessions or recording audio, and I would store my headset on a stand behind my computer when not in use. During my senior year, I stopped using a headset in favor of using a microphone and setting up my computer speakers to avoid echoing audio, as headsets were painful for me to use with chronic neck pain.
Small stuffed animal
I keep a small stuffed animal on the top of my webcam so that I have something to focus my eyes towards when I am giving a talk or doing an interview. The exact stuffed animal has changed over time, though the current iteration in my senior dorm is a Target Bullseye dog that I received at the Grace Hopper Celebration.
While it is not visible on the desk, I have a fifteen-port USB hub that plugs into the wall and powers a lot of the electronics on and around my desk. This includes:
- Headset dock
- Amazon Echo Dot
- Headset receiver/microphone cable
- Other miscellaneous charging cables
When I was a freshman, I had a remote-controlled lamp that I kept on top of my desk because the overhead lighting in my dorm hurt my eyes. I would keep the remote in the attached pocket on my fitted sheet, and my dorm was so small at the time that I was able to use the lamp as an alternative to overhead lighting.
Amazon Echo Dot
I keep the Echo Dot either on top of the printer or diagonal from my computer mouse so that I can hear/talk to it from anywhere in my dorm.
Some colleges have requirements for what brands of surge protectors are allowed, or how many outlets that the protectors can have. I used a surge protector that I already had at home, but one of my friends decided to buy the surge protector from the campus bookstore so they could make sure it was one of the approved models. It’s also worth noting that many colleges ban the use of extension cords, mine included.
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Top drawer- Medical
My college requires that all medicines be kept in their original containers, and I keep a mix of prescription and over-the-counter medications in the top drawer of my desk. To figure out how many pills are in a dose, I added tactile labels to the lids of pill bottles so I would know how many to take at a time- for example, two dots for two pills. Some of the over-the-counter medications and medical items I keep in my desk include:
- Allergy pills
- Eye drops
- Band-aids of various sizes
- First Aid kit- this was a pre-packaged kit purchased from Target that contains additional items such as gauze, tweezers, wipes, and other helpful items
- Wrist brace and compression sleeves
Without my glasses, I have very little usable vision and feel uncomfortable going outside without them. In the event I break my glasses for some reason, I keep the spare pair in this top drawer so that I can easily find them, or so someone else can easily find them if I ask one of my friends to grab them.
I have various pain relief devices to help me with my chronic migraines and chronic pain. If there is one that I couldn’t live without, it’s my portable TENS unit, which can be purchased for $20-$30 at most nationwide stores like Target or Walmart. It feels like a massage and delivers powerful relief on my back, shoulder, and legs. I have two units because I thought that the unit for knees was different than the one for back pain, but it’s only the pads that are different.
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Middle drawer- Technology
I’m sure that every student has a cable drawer filled with extra phone chargers, their laptop charger, and assorted other cables. One of the ways that I organize my cables is by storing them in soft fabric jewelry bags so that I can easily throw them in a backpack or suitcase- I color-coded the bags so that I know which cable is which.
Assistive technology devices
As a student with low vision, I use a variety of assistive technology tools and keep a lot of the smaller devices in this drawer. This includes items such as:
- Video magnifier
- iPad case/stand
- Other smaller devices I receive from conferences
I store smaller pairs of earbuds in the same soft fabric jewelry bags in my desk, as well as my wireless headphones and my iPod.
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Bottom drawer- Assorted
Since this drawer is twice the size of my other drawers, it contains a lot of more bulky items. Two of these items are the paper used for the printer, as well as the thick cardstock paper that I use for writing or drawing. I prefer cardstock over traditional computer paper because my markers do not bleed through.
Bulkier assistive technology
I have a larger video magnifier called an E-Bot Pro which stays in the bottom drawer of my desk, though I previously kept it next to my desk when there was not enough space. I received the E-Bot Pro for free through the Virginia Department for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DBVI).
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Back support pillow
At my desk chair, I have a back support pillow that wraps around the back of the chair. The support level is amazing and I can type for hours without aggravating my back.
Next to my desk is a tall trash can. Not much special about it, other than that it doesn’t tip over easily.
I have one of the Urbio Perch magnetic storage systems hanging on the side of my desk. I have two of the “Bitsy” cups and one of the “Stumpy” cups. These cups hold my highlighters, sharpies, markers, and pens, and I’ve also had other Urbio set-ups that store notebooks and other papers- most of my classes are paperless, so I was typically just storing papers for one class at a time.
While this isn’t technically on my desk, I would store my printer on top of my mini-fridge next to my desk so that I could easily print or scan items as needed. When my brother started going to the same college, we moved the printer to his dorm so we could share it- at this point, I wasn’t printing out a ton of items for my classes so it made more sense for him to have it.
I keep all the items for band rehearsal/performances in a tote bag next to my desk so that I can quickly grab it and go. My instruments themselves are in the closet or underneath the bed.
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Summary of how I set up my college desk
- I did not ask for a special desk, though my brother removed the hutch with a screwdriver
- The desktop is covered in contact paper to avoid spills and create a dry-erase surface
- The desktop contains items such as the desktop computer, headset/microphone, USB hub, small stuffed animal, Echo Dot, and a surge protector
- The top drawer contains medical items such as medication, spare glasses, and pain relief tools
- The middle drawer contains technology items such as handheld devices, cables, and extra headphones
- The bottom drawer contains paper for the printer and a larger video magnifier
- Items around the desk include a back support pillow, trash can, Urbio Perch storage, a printer, and a music bag for band practice