While attending Virginia public schools, I had many different opportunities to go on field trips as part of school activities, including day trips as well as overnight trips. Since I have low vision and a secondary medical condition, I would work with teachers, chaperones, and trip locations to make accommodations or modifications as needed so that I would be able to participate, or find alternative activities that I could do with a friend instead. Here are my favorite tips for participating in school field trips with low vision, and strategies that worked well for me as a student with a visual impairment.
Use a human guide/buddy system
While I feel comfortable navigating different areas of my school on my own or other familiar environments, I often had to rely on a human guide/buddy system while on field trips and ask for additional directions to get places. This is especially true at outdoor locations where there may be uneven terrain or other factors that could make it more difficult for me to walk safely.
It’s worth noting I didn’t use a blindness cane until I was in college, so I often used human guides exclusively when navigating unfamiliar places. Students who use blindness canes for identification purposes or who don’t need to use a cane full-time may prefer to use a blindness cane while on a school trip for their own safety when exploring a new area.
- How To Be An Effective Human Guide For People With Vision Loss
- How To Approach Someone with Low Vision Without Scaring Them
- High School Hallways and Low Vision
- Seven Places I Don’t Take My Blindness Cane
Allow students to pick their own groups/chaperones
Instead of being randomly assigned to a chaperone or students who didn’t know me very well, I would ask my teacher if I could be grouped with a specific student/students or chaperone that was used to helping me or that already knew about my disability. This was especially helpful on overnight or out-of-state trips.
- How I Talk About Disability With New Friends
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- Eight Things You Need To Know About Your Disability Accommodations
Request preferential seating
My disability accommodations listed preferential seating/sitting towards the front of the room as an approved accommodation for low vision, and I would request this accommodation when going on field trips to museums, shows, or similar performances so that I would be able to see what is going on. Many performance venues and museums offer accessible seating for people with disabilities, and these can be requested either at the event or when scheduling the field trip in advance.
- Preferential Seating and Low Vision
- How To Make Classroom Videos Easier To See
- Tips for Going To Movie Theaters With Low Vision
- Blindness Canes and Performing Arts Centers: Navigating College Campuses
Ask about venue-specific accessibility resources
A lot of common places for school field trips have disability or accessibility resources and accommodations available for visitors, such as stairs-free tours, large print exhibit guides, audio description/audio tours, or virtual tours that can be paired with an in-person tour. Students can look up this information ahead of time and practice self-advocacy skills by requesting these accommodations in advance, or by talking to their teacher about requesting specific items.
- Museum Accessibility Supports For Low Vision
- Visiting The National Museum of the American Indian With Low Vision
- Learning to Self-Advocate
Use assistive technology to interact with content
Assistive technology devices aren’t just for the classroom! Tools such as video magnifiers for enlarging text and visual assistance apps can be used on field trips to make information easier to access, including exhibit labels, environmental objects, food labels, and more. Students with smartphones may especially benefit from using Google Lens/Google Assistant to get more information on items in their surroundings- it’s one of my favorite tools for traveling.
- How I Use Google Assistant While Traveling
- Visiting The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Museum With Low Vision
- Visiting The Gateway Arch Museum With Vision Impairment
Have a quiet/decompression space available
This is less related to my low vision and more related to my secondary medical condition, but having a quiet place that I could retreat to if I was dealing with adverse effects from strobe/flashing lights or overwhelmed by loud noises was incredibly helpful for preventing further fatigue or sensory overload. This could be a lobby of a building, a quiet room in a museum/conference venue, or an outdoor area without a lot of noise. I typically would be accompanied by a chaperone when going to a quiet area, or I would let them know where I was going.
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Be careful with flash photos
Flash photography can be disorienting for students with photophobia or photosensitive conditions. Teachers, chaperones, and event staff should be cognizant of camera flashes and ensure that they are turned off or not used around students with flashing light sensitivities. Museum exhibits should also be checked for flashing light effects before a student enters an area- I once got surprised with an exhibit about the science of strobe lights out of nowhere, and the disorienting light effects made me miss the rest of the museum event because I had to go lay down with a migraine.
What if a student doesn’t want to go on a field trip?
While there have been many school field trips that I didn’t expect to enjoy but ended up having a lot of fun, there are other trips that would have posed a serious health risk if I attended, or that would definitely trigger sensory overload and feelings of discomfort- some trips that come to mind include a laser tag event, an event revolving around something I am allergic to, and a cannon firing demonstration/gun show. In these cases, I asked to complete an alternative activity and not go on the trip- I did not let someone else make the decision for me about whether I could participate, I made this decision on my own. An important part of self-advocacy is knowing one’s limits and working with them, and I knew that these field trips would not be safe for me to go on.
- Going To Amusement Parks With Low Vision
- Going To Water Parks With Low Vision
- Attending Summer Day Camps With Low Vision
Other tips for going on school field trips with low vision
- For students that fall asleep on the bus, make sure that glasses and/or contacts are in a safe and secure location and that they can be easily located
- Trip organizers should share with the host that they have a student with low vision, as they may be able to provide additional resources or accommodations in advance
- Worksheets or other handouts should be made available in an accessible format, just like how they are provided in the classroom/school environment