Within the last year, DonorsChoose has made it easier for teachers to create projects and add tags to help highlight projects that benefit students with disabilities, including students with visual impairments (inclusive of blind/low vision). As a donor, I often seek out projects that are specifically centered around visual impairment since this is an underrepresented area, and today I will be sharing my tips for how to create a DonorsChoose project for visual impairment and students with disabilities.
What is DonorsChoose?
DonorsChoose is a nonprofit organization that allows teachers and other approved school staff to post funding requests for classroom materials and similar related items. Teachers can share their projects online or on social media, and donors can filter projects by criteria such as geographic location, subject area, types of projects, or other keywords. Donors can also filter projects that have a matching offer, which can increase the impact of their donation- I hosted a match offer in January 2022 for projects related to visual impairment.
To be eligible for an account on DonorsChoose, the user must be a full-time employee of a school district or Office of Head Start. They must also be a “front line educator” who works directly with students at least 75% of the time at a United States public school, public charter school, or Head Start Center. In some school districts, educators may need additional permission from their building administrator.
PEOPLE THAT ARE ELIGIBLE:
- Classroom teachers
- Guidance counselors
- School nurses
- Teachers who also act as coaches at the school where they teach
- Educators who work primarily in a single school (but no more than three schools)
PEOPLE THAT ARE NOT ELIGIBLE:
- Administrators, principals, or assistant principals
- Instructional coaches/teacher developers
- Parents/PTA Members
- Teacher’s assistants/paraprofessionals
- Student teachers
- Substitute teachers
- After school teachers
- Early Head Start classroom staff
- DonorsChoose: Support a classroom. Build a future.
- Dear Elementary School Teacher
- Dear Middle School Teacher
- Dear High School Teacher
Choosing what item(s) to request for a project
Instead of having teachers purchase items directly, DonorsChoose has the teacher choose product(s) from online vendors and have the items delivered to the school. Teachers can choose items that will benefit the entire class, or items that will specifically benefit an individual or a smaller group of students. There are several types of projects that can benefit students with low vision as well as be useful for the entire class.
When I assisted with a funding project for video cameras on a school news program, one of the main qualities I looked for when choosing equipment for the DonorsChoose project was items that could withstand drops or small amounts of damage, or that had screen protectors or other protective equipment available for purchase. Reading product reviews was helpful for this, as was talking to other teachers who ran school news programs about what equipment worked well for them.
When it comes to mainstream or specialized assistive technology, teachers can talk to the Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) or school assistive technology specialist about what tool(s) will work well for their student or get recommendations for specific brands/device models. I have an entire post series dedicated to choosing mainstream technology for low vision users linked below that covers many common device features.
- 20+ Visual Impairment Project Ideas For DonorsChoose
- Mainstream Technology Archives | Veronica With Four Eyes (veroniiiica.com)
- Classroom Technology That Benefits Low Vision Students
How much should projects cost?
There is no fee for teachers to add a project to DonorsChoose, but each project will cost one point to be posted- new points will be added once projects are funded and other tasks like impact letters and student thank-yous are sent. Some teachers prefer to split up large funding requests into several smaller projects over having one large project, since donors often prefer to fund smaller projects that have a lower cost to complete. The majority of DonorsChoose projects I have encountered were less than $1200 total, and many of them were less than $700.
- Five Myths About Assistive Technology
- How To Embrace Assistive Technology With Limited Funding
- Services Provided By State Department/State Unit for Visual Impairment
- Vocational Rehabilitation for College Students
Taking photos for DonorsChoose
Student privacy and safety is something to take very seriously, as students with vision loss are often at a higher risk for having personally identifiable information shared online. For this reason, I strongly recommend that teachers avoid sharing pictures of student faces, name tags, or similar photos.
Some examples of photos I have seen that respect student privacy include:
- Pictures of student hands using items, i.e reading braille or holding up a video camera
- Blindness canes leaning against a bulletin board
- Students standing/sitting around a banner or other item where only their hands or feet are visible
- Photo of an empty classroom with student work (make sure names are redacted)
- Picture of a student using items, with the photo taken from behind or at a distance
Use keywords for disability in the project description
When writing project funding requests for blind/low vision students, make sure to include keywords in the project description that indicate the project will benefit students with vision loss. Examples of keywords include
- Low vision
- Visually impaired (or visual impairment)
- Vision impaired (or vision impairment)
- Vision loss
- Blind student
When I am looking for projects to donate to, I will specifically look for these keywords as they indicate that they are being used for students with vision loss. I don’t search for the term “blind” by itself because it is commonly used in contexts outside of vision loss, and the same is true for braille since many teachers will request books about Louis Braille. This doesn’t mean that those words should be avoided, but they should be paired with other keywords or tags that indicate this project benefits students with disabilities.
- My View On The Word See And Other Disability Language
- How I Respond To Questions/Comments About My Glasses
- How I Respond To Questions/Comments About My Eyes
How should I talk about my student(s) in the project description?
When writing funding requests for mainstream or specialized assistive technology, it is important to remember that this information is being posted on the internet, and the project details can be read by anyone, including the student and their parents. For that reason, I recommend not listing the name of the student or their specific diagnosis/eye condition, since this information may make it easier for the student to be identified.
Statistics that are publicly available or that refer to the school itself are okay to share in funding projects. For example, one of the teachers I worked with would list that they were at a Title 1 School and share statistics about how many students did not speak English as a primary language, how many students were living in transient housing, and similar information. In another project, a teacher mentioned how they had 30 visually impaired students at their school, including two in their class.
Some examples of ways I have seen teachers disclose they have students with vision loss include:
- “I have a student with low vision who struggles to see the board, and would benefit from having a monitor closer to their desk”
- “This year, I have a blind student who needs additional help with navigating the classroom”
- “Three of my students are visually impaired, so I need to modify these activities so they can participate”
- “I run a video club for fourth and fifth graders, and we have a few members who are visually impaired and have trouble seeing the low resolution displays on our current cameras”
- “I have an awesome student this year who is legally blind, but doesn’t let their visual impairment stop them from participating in classroom activities”
- Learning To Explain Usable Vision
- How To Make Things On The Board Easier To See
- School News and Low Vision
Describe how the project will be used
How will the items requested in this project be used by students? Most donors are not overly familiar with assistive technology or other specialized products, so when requesting funding for projects related to vision loss, it helps to explain what the device is and how the student(s) use it. Here’s an example of a description I helped write for a project, with a few details changed:
“Having copies of books in large print and braille will ensure that all students, including our blind students, can find a book they can read in the classroom library and help to normalize the use of assistive technology and other aids used by students with vision loss or print disabilities. Dual media books allow students with low vision to read books with their peers as well as follow along in braille and develop critical skills related to braille literacy, which is especially critical given that over 85% of blind students lack braille literacy skills. Small font sizes are what makes a book inaccessible, not a student’s visual impairment.”
Add a tag for “Students with Disabilities”
The best way to filter projects on DonorsChoose that benefit students with vision loss is to add the “Students With Disabilities” tag, which makes it easier for donors to find projects in their given area of interest. This will need to be added to the project by the teacher and is not automatically done by DonorsChoose.
Promoting DonorsChoose projects
Like other crowdfunding platforms, DonorsChoose projects can be shared on social media, and donors will often get notified if a project matches a given criteria such as geographic location. One of my readers reported that they were able to partner with a local blindness organization to get the word out about funding their project, while another reader mentioned speaking at a PTA meeting and sharing links to their project in blog comments.
What happens when a DonorsChoose project is funded
DonorsChoose projects must be funded within four months of their original posting date. Once a project is funded, teachers will have six days to confirm they still want the materials for their project so that they can be ordered and delivered to the school. The exact delivery timeline may vary depending on the vendor used for the project, but most items arrive in two weeks or less.
Once the items are delivered, teachers again have six days to confirm receipt of the materials, and to post an impact letter/thank you note to the donors. Doing this will allow users to earn additional points that they can use to post more projects in the future.
Unless the project features materials that are specifically for students to keep for themselves, such as water bottles or other consumables, items funded through DonorsChoose are the property of the public school where the teacher is employed at the time of the project request per the Materials Ownership Policy.
Other tips for how to create a DonorsChoose project for visual impairment
- Eligible match offers for projects are automatically applied, so teachers do not need to opt-in to get additional funding opportunities, though some projects may require specific keywords or tags
- Project funding timelines can vary- some projects may be funded within a few hours while others may take months. The best strategy for getting projects funded quickly is to use keywords and make it clear how the products will benefit students.
- Items can be requested from vendors outside of DonorsChoose- these projects will cost six points to post