When I was sixteen years old and in the tenth grade, I decided that I didn’t want to have an IEP anymore and that I was tired of having low vision. This was the result of several months of frustrating experiences in the classroom where my IEP was treated as an inconvenience or as a burden for my teachers, and I was frequently told that it was easier for me to not participate in things or to implement my own accommodations in the classroom instead of relying on others to make things accessible for me. I remember wondering why I had to justify my right to an education or make a big deal out of getting assignments that other students were handed by default, no questions asked, and felt frustrated with how I was held to a seemingly higher standard than other students. Today I will be sharing more about how my family and I handled my experience of not wanting to deal with an IEP and how I was able to get rid of these negative thoughts.
Listing the reasons why I was frustrated
I remember sitting in study hall one day and typing a Word document listing all of the reasons I was frustrated with having an IEP and what I imagined life would be like if I didn’t have one.
Some of the reasons I listed for being frustrated include:
- Teachers treat me differently and say that it is annoying to have to enlarge assignments
- If I don’t do my homework, (my teacher) makes a big deal of it and says that if they’re going to enlarge my assignments, the least I can do is do them. None of the other students get told that they’re wasting the teacher’s time by not doing homework
- Another teacher said that if I can see my phone, then I should be able to see small print, and they don’t realize that I have large print
- I missed an important school event because I had to take an adaptive PE class
- Everyone else got to go on that cool field trip, and I had to stay behind because it wasn’t safe for me to go too
- Everyone says it would be easier if I didn’t have a disability, and that it’s easier for me to not participate in something than it is to include me
- I’m the only one using technology in the classroom and I don’t like it when random people stare at me or ask questions about why I can’t see well
I also made a list of what I imagined my life would be like if I didn’t have an IEP, which included:
- Getting assignments at the same time as everyone else
- Reading the small print in books and on worksheets
- Being able to use a pencil
- Taking notes in a spiral notebook
- Walking through the halls without crashing into a trash can
- Not having my eyes burning from lights
- My Phone Isn’t Paper
- Six Word Horror Stories for Students with Low Vision
- Ten Spooky Inaccessible Assignments and How To Fix Them
Telling my parents I didn’t want an IEP
After I came home from school that day, I announced to my parents that I no longer wanted to deal with an IEP and I wanted to have my accommodations terminated. They were very confused but listened as I told them about how my teachers felt my IEP was difficult to follow and an inconvenience, so it would be easier if I just got rid of it entirely. My parents then asked me what my plan was for accessing classroom materials in non-accessible formats, and I shared that I thought I would be able to read them if I just tried harder, which was a suggestion from one of my teachers.
Am I faking my disability?
When I started making a list of how I imagined what my life would be like if I didn’t have an IEP, a more accurate title would have been “what it would be like going to school without low vision.” This led to the even more frustrating experience of me questioning if I actually had low vision or if I was exaggerating my vision loss like one of my teachers had accused me of. Even though I was diagnosed with low vision at the age of three, my vision loss should have theoretically improved as I got older, but instead had gotten worse- this would later be explained by a secondary medical condition that was undiagnosed at the time.
I decided to test if I was “faking” my low vision by grabbing a copy of my (sighted) brother’s homework off the table and trying to read what it said. I told my parents that I would prove to them that I could read smaller print if I just tried harder, and spent the next several minutes staring at the homework assignment, wondering if it had been intentionally printed with several blurry and out of focus lines, and if the assignment had even been completed- the gray pencil on white paper provided poor contrast and I was unable to see any of the writing.
I then went to the computer and adjusted the font size of a document until I could read it, and discovered I couldn’t read anything smaller than a size 22 font… just like my IEP said.
- Having An Undiagnosed Chronic Illness In High School
- How I Respond To Questions/Comments About My Eyes
- Low Vision Accommodations For Print Materials
Am I disabled enough?
So I realized that I definitely have low vision, or vision loss not corrected by glasses, but wasn’t sure if I was “disabled” enough to be using certain types of assistive technology, and shunned the idea of using certain types of aids like a blindness cane because I felt I wasn’t visually impaired enough to benefit from them.
My vision has changed a lot since then, and now I use assistive technology that sixteen-year-old me assumed they would never need, the most notable item being a blindness cane. One of the things I tell people who feel they are not disabled enough to use assistive technology or that other people have it worse is that many assistive technology users want others to use these tools if they are helpful. It doesn’t bother me if someone with more usable vision than me is using a blindness cane or getting large print books- if these things are helpful for them, then it’s great they are using them!
- Dealing With Anxiety About Accommodations
- Blindness Canes and Imposter Syndrome: Navigating College Campuses
- Ten Lessons My TVI Taught Me
- Blindness Canes and Paparazzi: Navigating College Campuses
Trying to go without my IEP accommodations
While I accepted that I needed large print materials, I decided to try going without my other IEP accommodations for the rest of the week to see if I actually needed them. Some of the results included:
- My handwritten notes were nearly impossible to read due to my dysgraphia and the fact I had trouble writing at a consistent size, which is why I had been typing my notes for classes to begin with
- It took me much longer to finish assignments that were given to me in smaller print sizes because I had to use my phone as a magnification aid and think about how I would make an assignment accessible before I could focus on learning the material
- I strained my eyes a lot, which was futile because even when straining my eyes I couldn’t see the board or a lot of other visual information
- If I wrote something in pencil, I wouldn’t be able to read it later
- Did I mention I was taking notes that I couldn’t even read?
- Wearing glasses without a tint/with a lighter colored tint meant that my eyes were frequently burning and I had more headaches due to bright lights
- The increased eyestrain made it more difficult for me to navigate and I was running into walls and other obstacles a lot more easily due to fatigue
I was denying myself access to assistive technology and accessibility resources that were designed to help me focus on learning instead of focusing on my vision loss, because I didn’t want to be seen as an inconvenience to others, but I was really being an inconvenience to myself by not using tools and strategies that work well for me.
- Common Classroom Accommodations For Low Vision
- How I Respond To Questions/Comments About My Glasses
- Assistive Technology For Dysgraphia
- High School Hallways and Low Vision
Realizing how helpful my IEP is for low vision
After a few days of deliberately not using my IEP accommodations, I realized that having an IEP does not give me an unfair advantage over other students, but rather gives me access to the things I need to learn and earn high grades in my classes, including:
- Accessible copies of textbooks that I can read on my laptop
- The use of a laptop in the classroom for notetaking and completing assignments
- Large font sizes for materials that I can read without additional magnification, or adjustable font sizes in digital documents
- Extra time on tests so I don’t have to deal with the effects of eyestrain
- Use of colorful high contrast pens for writing so I can read what I wrote at a later time
- Large print versions of popular classroom tools like calculators, rulers, and digital copies of books
Part of learning to live with low vision involves accepting that I need additional help with completing certain tasks, whether that means using assistive technology or asking for help from someone else. While it would be nice to not have low vision and to be able to read standard print, it is more productive to focus on finding strategies for accessing information and learning to thrive with vision loss instead of thinking about a hypothetical cure.
- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
- High School Laptops and Low Vision
- All About Extended Time Accommodations
- Preferential Seating and Low Vision
Becoming more comfortable with my low vision
One of the things that helped me to become more comfortable with having low vision and needing an IEP was finding “fun” ways to use assistive technology in various hobbies, which helped me to feel more comfortable with using assistive technology at school. Some examples of things I did to become more comfortable with using assistive technology and living with low vision include:
- Downloading accessible copies of books on vegan baking and trying out new recipes- this was something I had been very interested in learning and is still one of my favorite hobbies many years later
- Getting recommendations for books from friends that I downloaded to my eReader from Bookshare
- Making my own accessible copies of sheet music I was interested in learning for clarinet, including adaptations of songs by my favorite bands
- Talking to my friends about living with a disability and being honest about what I can/cannot see- I often would tell people my vision wasn’t “that bad” because I didn’t want to admit that I had trouble participating in certain activities
- Going to an event at my future university that shared resources for disability and assistive technology
- Talking to my eye doctor to learn more about how to answer questions about my usable vision, and options for making tasks easier to complete
- Experimenting with Microsoft Word and other productivity applications to find a better way to write novels/short stories and work on design projects
- My Large Print Music Binder
- Fast Facts About Bookshare
- How I Talk About Disability With New Friends
- Learning To Explain Usable Vision
- Designing Accessible Documents With Microsoft Word
- Addressing The Trauma Of Sight Loss
Tips for dealing with negative feelings about IEPs or other disability accommodations
- Write an unfiltered list of reasons why you are frustrated with having an IEP. Don’t worry about censoring language or rephrasing things to sound better, write it all out in a document or journal
- Read through your disability accommodations list and think about how you use these accommodations in your classes. Think about the consequences of what would happen if you didn’t have access to an accommodation- for example, not being able to type my notes means that I take unusable notes that I can’t study from later
- Find ways to become more comfortable using assistive technology or strategies for living with a disability outside of the classroom or workplace environment. I liked baking because it gave me an opportunity to read new recipes and practice measuring ingredients/cooking for myself
- Instead of focusing on a cure or pretending a disability does not exist, focus on strategies for living with a disability and making the most of your usable vision