ACT Accommodations For Low Vision

Even though I took the SAT, it was recommended that I also take the ACT (plus writing) test, as colleges liked to see that students took both exams.  While getting my SAT accommodations for my print disability was fairly easy, since I had taken an AP exam in the past, getting my ACT accommodations was extremely stressful.

I was denied my initial request for large print, however was approved for triple time, and received notification about this eleven days prior to the test.  Following that, my mom and I contacted the ACT organization, who requested more documentation for my disability, so we sent them my IEP and certification of low vision from my opthalmologist.  We also got the school testing coordinator involved in the process.  Nine days after I was initially denied accommodations, and two days before the exam, I was approved for everything I needed.

Like my SAT, I took the test in a small group setting in a different classroom than the rest of the students.  We went to the school I would be testing at the day before my exam to fill out forms as well, so when I got there, they could immediately start my exam.  Since I had triple time on each section on the test, the sooner I started the exam, the sooner the exam would be over.  I had triple time for all of my sections, and while I was approved to take the exam over the course of several days, I chose to take it all in one day.

I received a large-text test booklet with 18-point Arial font, and the testing coordinator transferred the responses from my booklet to the answer document.  I was allowed to mark in my test booklet, and use my colored pens and highlighters for the test.  I had two desks that I used to spread out materials, and the lights were replaced with lamps in the testing room to reduce the risk of flickering fluorescent lights.  I took a break between each section, but never left the classroom.

I was approved to use the myScript calculator app on my iPad with guided access enabled, so I couldn’t access the internet or any other apps.  I also was permitted to use a magnifier and a blank 3 x 5 index card for tracking text.  The index card was especially helpful when tracking math and science text.  I was not allowed to use a computer for any section except for the writing section- I used Microsoft Word and had spell check and the internet disabled.

I received my scores about six weeks after everyone else, as is typical for most large print exams.  One thing I liked is that I was able to see how I did in individual sections, and it was relatively easy to send scores to the colleges I applied to.  Overall, I would recommend taking both the ACT and SAT tests, and filing for accommodations several weeks in advance, and submitting every piece of documentation you could possibly think of.


 

Amazon Echo Dot Review

Last month, a new device joined my technology collection, and has quickly become one of my new favorites. I don’t have to worry about making it accessible, because it is perfect right out of the box. I can control it with my voice and get more information about the world around me. This little device is the Amazon Echo Dot, with Alexa technology. Here are some ways it has helped me as a college student with low vision.  This post is in no way sponsored by Amazon, and I received no compensation for writing about it- I just genuinely love this product.

What is Amazon Echo?

The Amazon Echo ($180) and Amazon Echo Dot ($49) are two devices that use Amazon’s voice assist technology, called Alexa. The only difference between the Echo and Echo Dot is that the Echo has a large speaker built in, while the Dot does not. When the device is summoned by saying the name Alexa (or Echo or Amazon, depending on the set wake word- my brother uses the word Computer), the user can request it to complete several different tasks.  I have the 2nd Generation Amazon Echo Dot in white.

How do you set it up?

If you are using the device at home, simply connecting to the wifi hotspot is sufficient. However, if you are setting it up at college, where the wifi requires a username and password, the setup is a little different. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Amazon Echo app, the Amazon Echo can be used on a college campus. I keep my Dot across from my bed, on top of my printer, and it can easily pick up my voice no matter where I am standing in my dorm room, without picking up on my suitemates’ voices in the hallway.

What common functions do you use the most?

I’m constantly asking Alexa what time it is, as I don’t have to worry about focusing to read numbers on a clock. I also can easily set timers and alarms, though it isn’t as easy to get the alarms to turn off, which I think is a good thing because I am prone to sleeping through alarms. I also have found the weather forecasts to be very accurate and helpful. In addition, I have used the Echo to add items to my Amazon Fresh shopping list and place orders through Amazon, or just add a product to my wishlist, something that’s especially helpful when I am reading something. I also love Amazon Music and have that on frequently.

How do you use it as assistive technology?

The talking clock has been a great feature, but the Amazon Echo can be used for other assistive technology purposes. I installed a calculator function on it from the Alexa App Store, and can use it to perform basic calculations, much faster and less frustrating than a traditional calculator. It can read daily news stories from several different news outlets, sometimes with a live feed of the news channel, so I don’t have to worry about reading or flashing lights on the TV. I can also perform simple Google searches and other tasks.

What about those other devices you can hook up to the Alexa?

I haven’t tried any of the lightbulbs, thermostats, or other environmental control devices yet, but I’m hoping to set some up in my room next semester!  They look awesome.

Can you create your own Alexa functions?

Yes! Stay tuned, I will have a separate post on this soon. By using the app If This Then That (IFTTT), you can sync the Amazon Echo with several other apps and devices. I have mine hooked up to my Android phone and iPad.

When do you mute the Amazon Echo?

I mute the device when I will be leaving the apartment for more than three hours or when I’m on a voice or video call with someone who enjoys summoning the device (shoutout to my friend that frequently asks Alexa to add bananas to my shopping list while we are on voice calls together). From where it’s sitting, the Dot can’t pick up on anything going on in the hallway or any other room, only in my room. It can hear if someone on speaker says “Alexa.”

Does the Amazon Echo Dot use strobe or flashing lights?

I have never seen the device use strobe light effects. It uses a mild flash effect when processing information, but not one that is intense enough to cause a migraine or seizure- it’s similar in frequency to a car blinker. Sometimes it may cycle through the color gradient at a slow speed when loading information or syncing, but it will not flash.

Aren’t you worried about the device spying on you?

Not really. My other devices are spying on me anyway. I have taken cybersecurity classes and understand that the device is always listening to me, but I don’t say anything that would cause alarm, or anything particularly exciting.

Overall Review

I love this device and it has greatly helped me with accessing information. Almost anyone can learn to use it in two minutes or less, and it has many great functions that can replace more expensive assistive technology devices, such as talking clocks. I would recommend it to anyone, especially college students and people with low vision.

My Phone Isn’t Paper

Back in high school, I had teachers who didn’t believe that my vision was as bad as I said it was. They believed that I was like the rest of my friends- texting, reading, and driving around. These teachers would often ask me, my friends, my parents, and even my case manager why I could be texting (or doing some other task) but not able to see what was on the board or on my non-enlarged classwork. And honestly, it was very frustrating to explain time and time again.

I have many accessibility settings enabled on my phone and also use third party apps in order for me to see my phone clearly. The font size on my phone is the same as the font size I receive for print materials, and I have a high contrast filter applied. As a result, I am able to text my friends easily and use my phone as much as anyone else.

I also use an eReader to read books,enlarging the font size to the largest one available. I have a print disability, meaning I cannot read small text, which is why I had an IEP in school with accommodations that included large print. Comparing my ability to read accessible materials and my ability to read inaccessible materials is unfair.

As I’ve gotten older, more and more teachers have asked me if I drive or have a learner’s permit. Since I could barely see the board even with visual correction, I was always confused when teachers were surprised that I don’t drive. One teacher went as far to ask my friend sitting next to me if I was able to drive, trying to see if they could trick my friend into telling what they believed was the truth. Of course, my friends often laughed at the idea of me behind the wheel, saying I would have six casualties before I even pulled out of the driveway.

The most frustrating comments of all were when I was asked why I couldn’t see perfectly, even with glasses. Just like crutches don’t make someone walk perfectly, glasses don’t make someone see perfectly, it only gives them the maximum correction. That may not mean perfect eyesight, and they might need some accommodations to ensure they are able to see things. Never doubt that someone could have low vision just because they are wearing glasses, and don’t compare their sight loss with correction to someone’s sight loss without correction. Also, if someone has an IEP, chances are they need the services they are provided, and it is a bad idea to argue that they don’t, especially when it comes to low vision. Assistive technology has come a long way, allowing people with disabilities to seamlessly integrate with their friends, and I will always be grateful for the technological advancements that have helped me succeed.

How To Choose a New Phone When You Have Photosensitivity

I have been researching getting a new phone for some time.  I thought I had thought of everything, studying all of the technology specifications and comparing over a dozen phones side by side.  Ultimately, I chose the Motorola G5 Plus, which had the newest version of Android and lots of other interesting functions.  I had been a Motorola customer for nearly four years, so it seemed like a great fit.  Unfortunately, not even ten seconds after I turned it on, it started flashing uncontrollably and gave me a migraine- strobe and flashing lights trigger migraines for me.  It wasn’t just the opening screen that strobed either- there were several other ways that this phone was capable of triggering a migraine for me.  After an hour on hold with Motorola customer support, I was told there was nothing I could do to disable these functions and I should just return the phone.  All of the new Motorola phones also have this strobing display, so now I am left to research another phone.  Here are five things I will be looking for in this new phone, things I didn’t even think to look for before.

Turn the phone off and back on again

What does the startup animation look like?  Is it a flash of lightning, or rapidly changing colors?  What about fast moving images?  Any of these can be a trigger for a migraine, seizure, or other medical issue.  I would have someone else who knows your condition check this for you so you aren’t hurt by the display.  After I first saw the flashing display yesterday, I had two of my close friends who are familiar with my condition look at the animation, and they agreed it was very unsafe for someone with photosensitivity.

Strobing notifications

One of my friends has a phone where the flash on their camera creates a strobing effect whenever they receive a call, text, or notification.  If you purchase a phone with this function, make sure it is not enabled by default to start strobing for notifications.  Also, if you have a friend who uses this function, kindly ask that they disable it when you are around, because it can cause you to have a medical issue.

Does the screen flash when you zoom in?

When you double/triple tap the screen to magnify, does the screen do a short strobe animation?  Most animations can be disabled on a phone, but some models may not allow this strobe effect to be disabled.  It’s also worth checking to see if the phone screen strobes for other gestures, or when apps are opened.  Sometimes you can change what animation displays, so you can choose something that isn’t a strobe effect.

Color filters

If your eyes have trouble processing bright lights or colors, check to see if the phone display supports adding a color blindness mode or light filter.  I have a filter on my current phone that filters out very bright lights without affecting the color display.  I also use night mode on my phone when I am dealing with a migraine- this is a red-pigmented filter designed to block out the blue light from the phone display.

 

Does the keyboard flash?

When typing, does the phone keyboard create a strobe or flashing effect?  Luckily, keyboards and other third party apps can easily be replaced- check out my post on how to make Android accessible here.  However, it may not be worth the hassle if there are so many other flashing lights on the phone.

 

It’s rather unfortunate that an increasing number of phone manufacturers and companies have been adding flashing lights to their designs.  With more and more people being diagnosed with migraines, epilepsy, and other photosensitive conditions, it is more important than ever to remember one of the most important rules of web design- don’t create anything that can cause a seizure.  I hope in the future, companies will stop using strobe and flashing lights in their designs, but until then, the search is on for a new phone.  As sad as I am to leave Motorola, I can’t risk triggering a migraine just by using my phone.

SAT Accommodations for Low Vision

I remember when I walked in to take my SAT.  The day before, my mom and I, along with the testing coordinator for the school I was taking the exam at, spent at least an hour filling out a variety of pretesting forms and filling out my information on what seemed like several dozen pieces of paper.  Keeping track of all those forms seemed to be more stressful than taking the exam.  When testing day came, the testing coordinator gathered all of the forms and signaled for my mom and I to come to the front of the line so I could be escorted to testing.  As my mom and I walked forward, a bunch of parents started yelling at us for cutting the line and seeming like we were more important than everyone else.  They started asking what was wrong with us as I was walking away with the testing coordinator.  To answer their question, there isn’t anything “wrong” with me, I was just a student who received accommodations for my vision impairment.

We filed for my accommodations at least twelve weeks in advance.  While I had taken an AP Exam in the past, the College Board had us resubmit my accommodations because we had to make some minor changes.  My accommodations were approved in a reasonable amount of time, and I didn’t have to worry about rescheduling.

I took my test in a small classroom where I was the only student, with at least two staff members present.  The overhead lights in the classroom were turned off and replaced with lamps to help with my light sensitivity.  I had a giant table to work on my test, and there were computers in the classroom for when it came time to type my essay.  I received short, frequent breaks to stretch my legs and walk around the classroom, since I was prone to leg spasms.

The test itself was in 22 point Arial font and came in a spiral-bound book on 8.5″ x 11″ paper.  The paper was thick so I didn’t have to worry about the colored Sharpie pens I used bleeding through and obstructing my view of answer choices.  Images were enlarged 250%, and math notation such as exponents were enlarged as well.

As for assistive technologies, I used my personal iPad with the app myScript calculator, a calculator that calculates equations that the student writes with their finger and that supports large print.  There were no graphing capabilities on this calculator.  Guided Access was enabled for the duration of the exam so that I could not access the internet or other apps during the test.  I also had access to Microsoft Word 2013 with the dictionary, encyclopedia, and internet functions disabled, for the essay portion of my exam.  The essay was printed after I finished typing.  If I could go back in time, I would have also used a CCTV device as an extra support during my exam for when I had trouble seeing smaller items.

I received time and a half on the exam, which was adequate for me.  I also did not fill out the bubble sheet for the exam, instead having a paraprofessional do it after I had completed testing and left the building.  It’s worth noting that I did not receive my scores at the same time as everyone else who tested on the same day as me- I believe I had to wait an additional 4-6 weeks, as is common with most standardized tests that are in an accessible format.

Below, I have outlined my official accommodations for the exam:

  • Large print, size 22 Arial point font
  • Graphics enlarged to 250%
  • Extended time- 150%
  • Use of pens on the exam
  • Word processing software
  • Extra/untimed breaks
  • Use of alternative calculator
  • Small group testing environment

Overall, taking my SAT exam went incredibly smoothly, and I was able to score very well and get into my top choice college, as well as my second choice.  I am grateful that it was a relatively stress-free experience in taking my exam…well, about as stress-free as taking a SAT can be.

Having an Undiagnosed Chronic Illness in High School

Back in high school, people often asked me why my vision was so bad, why I had frequent migraines, why I wore a leg brace several days a week, and how I simultaneously looked completely normal.  It wouldn’t be until after graduation that I could answer those questions, after nearly four years of asking the same questions myself.  Going through school with an undiagnosed chronic illness was a unique experience, and today I will be sharing answers to common questions and comments I received from fellow students as well as teachers.

Isn’t there medicine/glasses that can fix this?

WIth the medical model of disability, any type of imperfection is viewed as something that must immediately be cured, so that the person can be considered normal by society again.  Sometimes, there is no cure with today’s medical research, and people are left to try and manage their symptoms in the best way that they can with what they have.  I would have people without a medical background tell me that I should go on certain medications, and when I would respond that I have tried the medication and it was not helpful, people would dismiss me as not really having whatever symptom we were talking about.  Another factor is that it is fairly difficult to cure something when you don’t know exactly what it is.  Typically, the best answer to this question is that there is no treatment available yet, but who knows what can happen in the future.

You’re faking for attention

Ah yes, I must be faking my condition.  I love having lower grades because I had to miss class, and missing my band concert I looked forward to all year because someone chose to use flash photography when I was getting on stage.  I was beyond thrilled to get up in front of my entire freshman English class while spasming and slur my speech so that all of the boys in the class thought I was weird.  I adore having teachers refuse to assign me leadership positions because they’re worried I would be too sick.  And most of all, I love  not being able to do my classwork because I can’t see it, and having the teacher give me a zero!  All sarcasm here, but people say that a condition is fake when it is something they don’t understand.  What I don’t understand is why I would choose to have such poor health in what is supposedly the best years of my life.

I wish I had your condition, haha!

I wish I didn’t have this, but hey, things happen.  There is no reason for you to be jealous that I take naps during the day to get rid of migraines or that I get to sit in the hallway during a movie because of flashing lights.  Comments like this are always interesting to me because it seems like there is no stigma for chronic illness and that it is viewed as something normal.  I just laugh off the comment and drop the subject.

What do you even have?

If you can answer this question, then you would be a totally awesome person.  My condition baffled doctors for many years.  When I first started dealing with symptoms, my primary care doctor told my mom and I “don’t go looking for a zebra in a field of horses,” meaning to not go looking for uncommon or rare conditions.  About a year later, he looked at us and said “time to find that zebra!”  I’m sure towards the end of our search for a diagnosis it felt like we were looking for a unicorn.  Regardless, we always talked about my condition by mentioning the top symptoms, which is usually what I told people who asked me what I had.  Eventually, I would start telling people that my doctors suspected I had the condition I was later diagnosed with.  I felt comfortable doing this because we were running diagnostic testing at the time and I was also the textbook version of that particular condition.

If I were you, I would be in bed

Well, I would love to be, here I am at school regardless.  Since I deal with migraines and chronic pain every day, staying in bed all day isn’t an option, because I would never get anything done.  I have what my friends refer to as a superhuman pain tolerance because of my condition, since I can hold a conversation and participate in activities without collapsing, and I often don’t notice injuries unless they are pointed out to me.  While pain definitely is relative, I have learned to function through it and be able to continue living.

Why can’t you do this anymore?

As my vision has gotten worse, my need for accessible materials has grown exponentially.  I’ve also found it more difficult to participate in activities like dance.  It can be sad to remember the things I was able to do before I got sick, but it’s important to remember there is still so much that can be done.  I got more into writing and playing instruments after I got sick, and took up several other interests as well.  This may be said a lot, but it is true- don’t focus on what can’t be done, but focus on what can be done.

Have you tried essential oils?

I have had several people tell me that my symptoms can be cured by essential oils.  I do believe that they can help with certain symptoms, since I use peppermint for nausea and lavender for restlessness, as well as a few other oils, but none of them are able to completely cure my symptoms.  I tell people that while essential oils are wonderful, they are not a cure and should not be talked about as such.

Aren’t you a little young to be dealing with these medical issues?

Yes, yes I am.  Another favorite response to this question is “apparently not!”  Chronic illness can strike at any age, it does not discriminate.  While I have had low vision almost my entire life, I have only had my condition since I was around fourteen, and people are frequently surprised by that.  Someone once even asked me how I am supposed to be a teenager when I am so sick- since my condition did not stop my aging process, I still got to be a teenager, but not in the same way as a lot of my friends.

Why can’t you do this, but you can do that?

The environment I am in greatly influences whether I am able to perform a certain task or not.  If I am in a room with strobing or flashing lights, I will not be able to function as well as I do in a room without them.  Other factors include my use of assistive technology, my fatigue level, the time of day, the weather, and how much pain I am in.  Just because I can do something one day doesn’t mean I can repeat the same task the next day.

It would suck to be you

Actually, no.  Although my chronic illness has made me miss out on many experiences, I still have been able to do a lot of things and learn about topics that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I’ve also developed a greater sense of empathy and kindness towards others, because I understand what it is like to be in large amounts of pain and feel like the entire world is spinning.  As I like to remind myself, I wouldn’t be studying assistive technology if I never had this condition.  It’s important to be grateful for the opportunities I have.  My illness will always be something I have, and never who I am.


 

How Do People With Low Vision…Participate in Easter Egg Hunts?

I didn’t realize how bad my vision was when I was younger.  I assumed that everyone saw two of everything, the world was blurry, and small items were difficult to see.  Because of this, I assumed Easter egg hunts were very difficult for everyone and not just me.  I never attended any special events for kids with low vision, and didn’t learn that there were beeping Easter egg hunts for kids with low vision until I was in high school.  Here are some of the ways I participated in Easter egg hunts when I was younger.

See where everyone else runs

I’d sit at the end of the start line with the rest of the kids, and then watch them fan out.  I then would walk out and see where the most kids were, and just sit down and start finding eggs in the grass.  After that, I would just follow the same group of kids from section to section and find a handful of eggs.

Have a partner

I would request to be partnered up with a friend or my brother, and they would help me find eggs.  Since all of my friends and brother had near-perfect vision, the partnership worked very well.  This also helped me avoid not slipping and falling on eggs that I might not have noticed.  No one seemed to care that I was working with someone else.

Use your cane

I have attended more Easter egg hunts in college than I ever imagined.  Since I started using a blindness cane when I began college, I found myself using the cane to help me search for eggs in the grass.  This helped tremendously, and I found myself getting more eggs than before…though it still wasn’t a lot.

Bright colored eggs

It’s a lot easier to find eggs that are bright neon colors than it is to find the more washed out pastel eggs.  One of my friends told me that their family used to put dots at the top of eggs with safety/fluorescent tape to help them find the eggs easier, without it being too easy to find the eggs.

 Attend special Easter eggs hunts for kids with low vision

If available in your area, the beeping Easter eggs are an activity that allow everyone to be at a level playing field.   In addition, it’s a great way to meet other kids who have low vision and practice with locating objects.  Contact your local department for the blind/visually impaired or other low vision/blindness organization for more information.

 

Worst case, if you only find a couple of eggs, there is almost always candy at the end of the activity that no one has to go search for in the grass.  Enjoy your candy, and enjoy Easter!

How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Restaurants?

I went out to dinner with one of my friends several weeks ago.  When we got to the restaurant, they requested that we get a large print menu, so that way I would be able to read it.  The server looked at us like we were absolutely insane, and told us just to hold the menu closer to our faces.  My friend was very surprised that there were no large print menus, or even Braille menus available, and figured it would be illegal to not have these menus available.  Truth is, restaurants aren’t legally required to provide accessible menus, and I’m yet to encounter a large print menu anywhere.  Here are some of my tips on how I navigate restaurants.

Read the menu online

Websites tend to be very good about accessibility and have PDF files or simple webpages for the menu.  If I know where I am going ahead of time, I will browse the menu online and pick a few dishes I might want.  For websites with poor contrast, I copy and paste the menu into a notepad or word processing program and increase the font.

Bring assistive technology

I often bring my SmartLux or use a magnification app on my phone to read menus on the go. The only pitfall is that lighting conditions can be less than ideal, or the fonts may be difficult to read, so this is not always reliable.

Have someone read you the menu

This is most discreet at places where the menu is printed on boards high off the ground.  Have a staff member or friend read items off the menu.  Alternatively, you can take a picture of the boards and then zoom in on the text.

Order the same thing as your friend

I tend to order the same thing as my friend if I find reading the menu too tedious or too frustrating.  No one has ever found this weird, and we also haven’t worried about confusing plates or things like that.  Luckily, a lot of my friends are used to me doing this.  Sometimes they will even just scan the menu for me and order me something they think I will like.

Always get the same thing

While he doesn’t have low vision, my brother will often order the same thing every time he goes to a restaurant.  Be it a burger, macaroni and cheese, or pizza, he says he never has to worry about reading a menu or being disappointed by trying a new thing.  If you develop a rotation of a few dishes at a particular restaurant, you can order easily and not have to worry about menu drama.

Think about silverware

One of my friends has said that one of the most amusing things to watch is me attempting to cut food and cutting either very large pieces or weirdly small ones.  When possible, I try to order foods that aren’t difficult to eat or that can’t easily spill.  At a restaurant that my friend and I go to often, the server will make a note to cut food ahead of time so that way I am not so frustrated.

Advocate for accessible menus

With the aging population increasing and low vision becoming more common, the demand will only continue to grow for accessible menus.  Encourage your favorite restaurants to print out a large print copy of the menu, or even order a Braille copy.  All patrons should be able to order with dignity and order what they want.

All About AIM-VA

When I was in high school, I was unable to read the textbooks that my teachers used in class. Since my middle school didn’t use textbooks, I was surprised to find out that I had to work with them so much. Because the books were older, I was unable to find copies of them to purchase digitally. Thankfully, I was able to use AIM-VA to receive accessible digital copies of my textbooks.

Accessible Instructional Materials Virginia, also known as AIM-VA, is an organization affiliated with the Department of Education that provides accessible materials, not just textbooks, to students with IEPs and print disabilities across the state of Virginia. Each state has their own version of this program. Through their service, I was able to receive math, science, Spanish, and English textbooks. The math and science textbooks were the most important because each letter, number, and symbol is important, as opposed to English where the brain can miss a letter while reading and still understand what word is on the page. I benefitted tremendously from these textbooks, and have written some tips on how to help other students benefit from receiving services from AIM-VA as well.

Order early

Textbooks can be ordered for the next school year starting in late March. Once your schedule is finalized, I recommend placing the order. Some textbooks can be downloaded instantly, others may require processing time. Do not wait until a month into the school year to order textbooks- after all, shouldn’t all students get their textbooks at the same time, not just the sighted ones?

Order ALL the books

Math and science are just as important as English and history. If someone can’t see small letters, they can’t see small numbers either. Also remember that some classes may use multiple textbooks, and it helps to have all materials available. These materials come at no cost to the school, so why not order everything the student will need?

Think beyond textbooks

Do you use workbooks? How about music books? AIM-VA can make all of these materials accessible, even materials used in the classroom such as worksheets and pamphlets that the school might not know how to make accessible- for example, I once had a map enlarged so large, I had to stretch the paper out in the hallway so I could work on the assignment.

Choose a software

Good old Adobe reader works great for reading textbooks, but not all students may be able to take a laptop to school. Back up files to storage solutions such as Google Drive (and ensure they are deleted after the student is done using them for the year). That way, the materials are available on any device, and can also be input into programs like Notability, which allows students to easily read and annotate documents.

My experience

The textbooks and workbooks I receive from AIM-VA were very high quality, and I was able to easily follow along in class using my laptop. Since my first high school did not have wifi available for students, I especially appreciated that the files were available to be downloaded offline so I didn’t have to worry about losing access to the files. AIM-VA is a great resource, and ensures that students with print disabilities have the right to read in an accessible format alongside their peers.

Learning to Self-Advocate

On my IEP throughout high school, one of the top goals was for me to learn to self-advocate.  When I was younger, I viewed this goal as meaning that if I had a problem, it would mean that no one would be available to help me and I would be stuck with dealing with everything by myself.  That was not the case, as I had so many people to help support me.  I’ve learned a lot about self-advocacy, and I hope that I will be able to help others learn as well.

What is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself, as well as learning, building a support network, problem solving, and knowing when to reach out for help. It’s an extremely important skill to have, as there may not always be someone with you when a situation comes up. This skill has greatly benefitted me outside of school, in college, and beyond.

Learning to speak up for yourself

I do not like causing conflict or hurting people’s feelings, so it was hard for me at first to point out that a situation was unfair or that my accommodations were not being followed. In one of my classes, the daily warm-up assignment was never enlarged, so instead of arguing with the teacher every day, I would walk into class and read a book on my eReader until the rest of the class finished with the assignment.

No one can hear you unless you speak up, so make sure to let the teacher know if assignments are presented in a format that is not accessible for you. Also make suggestions on how to make it accessible- enlarging exponents, using different colored pens and papers, digital formats, or anything else you can think of.

Learning

In college, I met another student with low vision that didn’t know anything about the services they received in school. They told me that their parents and teachers handled everything, and they couldn’t tell me what accommodations they received, just that they needed them.

Familiarize yourself with what accommodations you receive. What font size can you read? What color paper works best? What assistive technology do you use? What apps do you use, and on what platform? Do you receive extra time? Are tests in a one-on-one environment? Learning how to explain your accommodations simply and clearly is important.  This information will be very helpful when it comes time to create a Disability Services file in college.

Building a support network

With my IEP, I had three case managers in high school over the course of four years (I attended two high schools). They were specifically picked for me because they were great with helping students learn to self-advocate- they wouldn’t sit there and yell at my teachers over trivial things or constantly hover over me. Instead, they would step in when there was a problem I needed help with. My guidance counselors were also incredible resources, as they would listen and move me out of classes when necessary, as well as be some of my greatest advocates in IEP meetings. In addition, each of my high schools also had an assistant principal who would handle the cases for students with IEPs, and the principal was helpful as well. The central office of my school districts listened to my concerns when situations were too much to handle.

I also had family and friends to help me through smaller situations. My parents, especially my mom, would attend every IEP meeting and help make sure that I was thriving in the educational environment. My parents have always been very encouraging of my goals as well. In the classroom, I also had friends that would help me advocate for myself so I didn’t feel as nervous. In a class where the teacher regularly did not enlarge my work, one of my best friends was always right behind me whenever I went to ask the teacher for my assignments, so when the teacher started telling me that I didn’t need large print, I would feel more confident in reminding them that I do and I would be less likely to back away.

Problem solving

Learning to solve minor problems on your own can be extremely beneficial. I learned how to scan in and enlarge assignments, make documents accessible, and type my own notes when there were no prewritten notes available. This meant that I was still able to participate in class even if my IEP wasn’t completely followed, and it meant my grades were higher because I missed less assignments.

Some posts that may be helpful include my posts on testing accommodations, accommodations for print materials, and what I’ve learned about print disabilities.

Knowing when to reach out for help

In one of my math classes, I had a teacher who did not believe I needed large print, as they assumed my glasses corrected my vision to 100% and it was a waste of their time to enlarge things, despite the fact I had an IEP. I thought I could handle the situation myself, and didn’t tell anyone how badly I was struggling in the class. I didn’t use any assistive technology regularly at that time, so it should be no surprise that I failed the class.

As important as it is to try and handle situations yourself, you have a support network for a reason. It’s important to let someone else step in for situations that involve the law being broken, threats, or when you’ve tried everything you can think of. This isn’t failure to self-advocate though, as an important aspect is remembering when to get help.

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Self-advocacy is one of the skills that I am the most grateful for. Because of this, I have been able to go on to attend college, confident in myself and my abilities, but still knowing where I need extra help. I will always be grateful for the people and experiences that helped me develop this skill.