Veronica With Four Eyes

Model UN Disability Accommodations For Low Vision

When I was in middle school, I participated in a local Model UN conference that was held at a nearby college, representing the country of Belarus. The conference was a super interesting experience and helped me to learn valuable research and debate skills, as well as how to talk about receiving disability accommodations in an extracurricular setting. One of my TVIs later asked me to write a list of tips for another student attending Model UN, so today I will be sharing what I thought was the most important strategies and ideas for attending Model UN with low vision.

Use CIA World Factbook before the conference

I use the CIA World Factbook when researching information on other countries because it is a US Government website and has to meet accessibility requirements. With these requirements, the website has to be accessible for users who read large print, use a screen reader, or other assistive technologies such as a braille display. Of course, there are some parts of the website that do not work perfectly, but I was able to get a lot of research done and partner with a friend to help with navigating difficult-to-read parts of the site.

Another helpful study tool would be the Amazon Alexa or other virtual assistants, which hadn’t been invented yet when I attended the conference. Echo devices are a great way to look up information in a nonvisual way or ask questions.

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Bring a magnification aid

I was so happy that I remembered to bring a magnifying glass to Model UN as a student with low vision, since I often had to read handwriting or other materials in standard/small print. I wasn’t allowed to bring a cell phone or other high tech devices, but if I was going to a Model UN conference today I would bring both a standard magnifying glass and my video magnifier, which does not connect to the internet.

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Disclosing disability to staff

When I was in middle school, I disliked having to talk about my disability or admit that I had trouble seeing, but after getting lost between room transitions and trying to find the dinner location, I realized that it was safer for me to disclose my disability to staff and ask for additional assistance. I didn’t use a blindness cane yet and didn’t know the term “human guide”, but I asked if someone would be able to walk with me during some of the room transitions until I made friends with other students who could serve as my guides instead. Staff were happy to accommodate this, and I made new friends who could serve as guides on the second day of the event.

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Don’t expect digital materials

I normally read digital accessible materials, but since there were no electronic devices allowed at the conference, I had to use physical large print and printed materials. This is typically requested by the school sponsor, but my sponsor forgot to submit this request so I approached staff on the first day and shared that I have a visual impairment and need to read items in at least size 18 font- I can’t remember if I mentioned having an IEP or not. Since this event was on a college campus, they were able to enlarge materials in a timely manner, but definitely would have preferred having advance notice.

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If possible, request preferential seating

Countries are seated alphabetically, so I was able to sit towards the front of the room without having to make any special requests- admittedly, this is one of the reasons I chose Belarus, because I didn’t want to “stand out” by asking to sit near the front. If I had chosen another country, I would have asked to sit near the front because I have trouble seeing, or used a distance magnifier- my E-Bot Pro was not invented yet when I was attending the Model UN conference, but I used this device a lot in college for enlarging information.

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Ask people to read information out loud

Small group handouts were not typically provided in large print, so I would ask people if they could read information out loud so that I could still participate and share my thoughts. This also made it easier for me to follow along in conversations and reference different parts of the text, since I tend to read more slowly when using a magnifying glass.

If I was attending Model UN with low vision today, I would have loaded digital files onto my eReader so that I could flip between pages more efficiently- since my eReader cannot access an internet browser, this would have been permitted. I wouldn’t have as many options for notetaking or writing on the page, but it would have been easier to read and carry around the room.

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Ask for a scribe

I have dysgraphia, and when I was in middle school my handwriting was especially poor- it would be hard to tell if a note or memo was written by Belarus or by penguins (which is what someone thought my memo said when I first wrote it). Following that experience, I had another student serve as my scribe and I would dictate what I wanted to say, and also took my time with writing- I didn’t want it to look like penguins had actually written my notes!

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What about social events?

The second night of the conference, there was a huge social event for all of the students participating that was reminiscent of homecoming or a middle school dance. I get disoriented in spaces with loud, pulsating music and strobe lights, so I left almost immediately because I didn’t want to have a headache on the last day of the conference- for longtime readers of my website, this is before I started experiencing chronic migraine and symptoms of Chiari Malformation, but it did serve as a precursor to symptom onset later on. For students interested in attending social dances and events like this one, I included a few related posts below about how I’ve attended similar events with low vision.

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More tips for attending Model UN with low vision

  • Since the conference was held locally, I didn’t stay in a hotel or travel more than a few miles from my house. Learn more about going on field trips with low vision in School Field Trips And Low Vision
  • Students had to dress business casual for the conference- I talk about clothing tips for people with sensory processing issues in College Interview Tips For Disabled Students and Clothing Shopping Tips For Sensory Processing Issues
  • I had a few students ask me why I wore dark glasses at the conference, and I answered their questions using tips I include in How I Respond To Questions/Comments About My Glasses
  • All of my Model UN disability accommodations were approved and implemented on site, but students should reach out to event organizers in advance to ensure that they will be able to focus on participating and not on trying to figure out assistive technology- my sponsor had forgotten to do this, so that’s why I had to request everything myself

Here's how I received Model UN disability accommodations and participated in Model UN with low vision when I was in middle school