All About The Disability Law Center of Virginia


About two years ago, I was given a brochure by my Department of the Blind and Visually Impaired case manager for the Disability Law Center of Virginia. I put it on my desk, and didn’t think much about it, until I had a problem. I decided to call them and see if they could help, and I was pleasantly surprised that they not only gave me several different resources, but they ultimately helped me solve my problem. Below, I have answered some common questions about the organization, and included my experiences working with them.

Who are they?

The Disability Law Center of Virginia (DLCV) is a quasi-government agency that receives federal and state funding to help people with disabilities facing issues such as abuse, neglect, and discrimination. It is the Protection and Advocacy organization for Virginia. 

Is this a national program?

The DLCV serves only Virginia citizens, but each state and US territory has an organization like this- read this list here from the National Disability Rights Network to find your state. Some states may vary with services provided.

How much does it cost?

Legal services are provided free of charge, given that the case is accepted. My case was opened after a ten minute phone call and I immediately started receiving resources.

Do you have to meet them in person?

Because my case was closed fairly quickly (it was about two weeks), I never met with anyone in person. All of our communication was done over the phone and via email. I signed any paperwork necessary using email and digital signatures.

How often did you communicate?

Given that it was a time sensitive situation, I talked with them at least once a day until the problem was solved. Usually, we communicated by phone, though we also sent emails.

Are these real lawyers?

Yes, they are real lawyers who are licensed to practice Virginia law. There are other staff members and advocates who are not lawyers, but can also provide resources.

What did they do for you?

My case fell under the category of discrimination and denial of services. The law center made phone calls on my behalf and allowed me to give their name and contact information to people involved in the situation. They also wrote a formal letter and sent it. I had tried to solve this problem by myself prior to calling them, though I wish I called them sooner.

Can I use them for special education services?

If an IEP or 504 plan is not being followed, then a person may qualify for services through the DLCV. Every case is unique, but they do work with IEP and 504 plan violations. I wish I knew about this sooner, as my experiences in school would have been so different!  Read more about collecting evidence for IEP/504 violations here.

Have you had any more issues since your case was closed?

Fingers crossed, I have not had any more issues related to the initial situation I called about. Once the people involved in the situation found out that I had access to a lawyer, they were very quick about solving the problem and have taken steps to ensure the situation doesn’t repeat itself.

Verdict

I am so happy that the DLCV was able to help me, and wish I had known about them sooner, since I received special education services in school. Every student and parent should have their contact information- their website can be found here. After all, no one should have to deal with illegal situations without legal guidance. 

Why You Should Have A Tutor From Your School


As a student with low vision, I often struggle reading numbers and graphs in my classes.  This isn’t because of a math disorder, it’s just that I have trouble seeing. I was fortunate enough to have tutors, who were teachers at my school, that were able to give me extra assistance with my assignments and help me realize that while my eyes may not like all of the numbers and tiny font involved, my brain loves math, and I am quite good at it- I even scored in the 99th percentile for mental math on my ACT (more on those accommodations here). Here are some of the ways having a tutor from my school helped me succeed in the classroom. Please note that these tutors were at a paid private tutoring service, and I never had lessons in the school.

They know the curriculum

In my first school district, there was a standard curriculum that all of the teachers would follow, so there was little to no differences in course content between teachers. As a result, my tutor was able to easily see what we did in class that day and explain concepts I was stuck on.

More likely to understand disabilities

The teachers who do tutoring outside of school hours really do care about their students and are highly likely to follow disability accommodations. My tutors were always awesome about using large print and computer apps during our sessions, something I really appreciated.

Access to textbooks

There were classes where I did not receive accessible textbooks on time, and the teacher would be frequently referencing a textbook I couldn’t see. My tutors had access to the same textbooks and would help me work through practice problems, drawing the problems on the board or having me write/type them out.

A look inside the classroom

While there wasn’t a lot of variation with course content, the teachers were dramatically different. Because they worked at the same school, my tutors could come observe the classroom for short periods of time and see what was going on, something that was incredibly helpful when I was routinely given inaccessible materials.

Get assignments from the teacher

One time, I was given an oral quiz because the teacher didn’t have time to enlarge my assignment. I got a 5 on the quiz…out of 100. After my tutor heard about this, they were able to get a copy of the quiz from my teacher and then we made it into an accessible format.  The original grade shot up 90 points when I retook the quiz later that day, with accessible materials.

Help provide guidance

When I was in classes where my IEP was not followed, my tutors would give me and my family guidance on how to handle these situations, or give us ideas on what to say to administration. This was very helpful, especially when I was starting at a new school and didn’t know a lot of the staff members yet.

They can be helpful in stressful situations

I had a teacher make it abundantly clear to me that I would not be receiving accessible materials while in their classroom. Following this, my tutor received permission from the school to let me work on assignments in their classroom, removing me from the stressful environment and allowing me to focus on my classwork- which they enlarged for me. For more on my accommodations for print materials, click here.

Practice using assistive technology…or not using it.

If a student uses assistive technology or alternative technology resources in the classroom, a tutor can help the student learn to integrate it into the classroom, and learn how to use the different devices. And if the student has no technology in the classroom, like how I didn’t have a graphing calculator, then they can spend more time teaching the student how to do things by hand, a topic that some teachers may not cover.

Help demonstrate understanding

When I don’t receive accessible materials, I can’t complete assignments, and some teachers would assume this was because I was stupid, when the reality was that I couldn’t see. When I completed assignments with my tutor in an accessible format, I would get very high grades, which would serve as evidence that the content wasn’t the problem, it was how it was given to me- in small print I couldn’t reaed. Read more about collecting evidence for IEP violations here.

It shows the student is trying

We always let my teachers know that I was receiving tutoring once a week from a teacher at the school, and that went a long way in showing the teachers that I was trying, and making an effort in the class. We also told my case managers and school administration about my tutoring services, especially during IEP meetings.

Having access to tutors that taught at my school was an amazing resource that really helped me in the classroom, especially in classes where my IEP was viewed as “optional.” I highly recommend that students find a tutor like this- ask the teacher or head of the department at school for tutor names, or look at private tutoring places in town to see if there are any teachers from the same school, or at least the same school district.

What’s in my Bag- High School Edition


It wasn’t until high school that I heavily started using technology in the classroom. I’m glad I did have the opportunity to learn about technology though, as I use it constantly in college. Here are the items I brought to high school with me daily. Note that I had an IEP with approval to use any technology.

The backpack

At my high schools, students were allowed to bring their backpacks from class to class, as long as they fit certain dimensions. I received special permission my senior year to use a rolling backpack, since I had back problems. Before that, I used a backpack with a laptop sleeve that could hold up to a 17″ laptop and had several pockets.

Laptop

I got approval to use a laptop in school starting the second semester of ninth grade. It was rare to see technology in the classroom, and assistive technology was unheard of. As a result, my first high school did not allow students to connect to the internet. I frequently used Office applications such as OneNote to take notes, Word to type assignments, and PowerPoint to follow along in class. I also was able to read textbooks and complete digital assignments, which were given to me by flash drive.

eReader

I have an entire post about how much I love my eReader here, but I wanted to include it here because it really did help me a lot in school. Being able to quickly get books in large print, and being able to fit an entire library in my hand, was extremely helpful when I had to read books in class.

iPad

Because of the lack of internet services, I didn’t start heavily using my iPad (purchased the summer before my sophomore year) until my junior year of high school, when I transferred to a new school- read more about my second high school here. I started heavily using different apps in the classroom (read my post on different apps here) and used my iPad to research information, work on virtual classes, and complete digital classwork with the app Notability. I had some textbooks on my iPad, but not many, since my virtual classes did not require textbooks.

Android phone

My Android phone was one of the first technology devices I ever used in the classroom. I used it as a magnifier and simple calculator, as well as a camera. I made sure to notify my teacher before I used my phone, so they would know it was for an educational purpose.

Magnifier

I had a small magnifier that I didn’t like using much, since the magnification would make my eyes hurt a lot, plus it was difficult for my eyes to focus. I still carried it anyway, but it was not very helpful.

Ear plugs

One day, I went to school very sick and found that my normally excellent hearing wasn’t working very well. Weirdly enough, I aced every quiz and test I had that day, because I was tuning out a lot of the background noises that normally bothered me. After that, I started using ear plugs for assessments and found that it was easier to concentrate.

Portable scanner

Instead of leaving class when my materials were not enlarged, I decided to try and make my own accessible materials. My mom bought me a portable scanner that hooked up to my computer, and I would scan in the inaccessible materials into Microsoft Word, and then make them accessible. This didn’t work very well if the page had anything other than text, and it took a long time to scan in, but it was a temporary solution to an ongoing problem. I now recommend the ScanMarker Air instead, as it scans much faster and more accurately.  Review here.

Sharpie pens

These were written in as an accommodation to my IEP, as students were normally not allowed to use pens in the classroom. I like the extra fine Sharpie pens in a variety of colors, and never had any issues with them leaking or breaking.

Rainbow paper

I received all of my paper assignments on colored paper, because it is easier to read text on a colored background- read more about that here. This was written into my IEP as well, and I had slightly different print accommodations for each subject- read about my accommodations for print materials here. It’s worth noting I did not use folders, due to the size of the paper.

Even though my school district had limited technology resources, I’m grateful that I was able to use all of these different devices, which helped prepare me for college tremendously. Read about what’s in my bag at college here.

How To Create A Disability Services File

I chose what college I was going to attend during my junior year of high school, a year before I even submitted my application (read more about how I made my choice here). The Office of Disability Services was/is very welcoming and answered all of my questions. They have a dedicated staff member that handles all the low vision/blindness cases, and they know exactly what accommodations I need and what to ask for. I am incredibly lucky to have so many resources available to me, and I was excited to be part of this university.

Since IEPs expire the moment the student graduates from high school, it’s important to meet with Disability Services before school starts to ensure that the student continues to receive services in college. Most of the accommodations listed in an IEP can continue to be used if the student adds them in their Disability Services file. One thing that does transfer to college is 504 plans, though you still will need to create a file to receive services. It is highly recommended that you convert your IEP to a 504 plan before you graduate, something I did two hours before my graduation (though giving your case manager advanced notice is a must). Here is how to create a Disability Services file with your school. This also applies to students attending community/junior colleges, though the plan might not transfer when the student moves.

Start Early

I investigated what services were available to me before I applied to the school. While visiting other colleges, I planned my visits around interviewing staff members from the Disability Services offices in a one on one setting, spending thirty minutes or more at each interview. If your accommodations will not be met, this is not the school for you. The important thing for the student is to be proactive, not reactive, and that is also true for the Disabilities Services office. Some colleges won’t help you until you are in trouble, and it’s better to avoid the problem than to have to figure out how to solve it later (read more about scheduling here). Don’t wait until there is a problem in a class to open a Disability Services file. I opened mine while I was still in high school after I had received my acceptance letter and committed to attending in the fall.

Get notes from your doctor prior to the Disability Services meeting

If you bring a doctor’s certification that you have a disability, you can set up the file at your first meeting with Disability Services. Usually you can find the forms the doctor needs to fill out on the school Disability Services website. My school required a recent ophthalmologist report, which I brought with me. Some schools may also require a physical, but mine did not.

Bring all documents you think might be important

I met with Disability Services in April to set up my file that would be used starting in the fall semester. I brought in my current IEP, my prior 504 plan from eighth grade (since I wasn’t converting to a 504 until the last day of school), and documents from my ophthalmologist that described my diagnosis- read more about collecting documentation here. Other helpful documents to bring, if available, include Department of Blind and Visually Impaired case files, assistive technology evaluations, orientation and mobility files, occupational therapy assessments, medical diagnosis from other doctors (i.e neurologist) and similar documents. All of my papers were in a giant binder so I could easily reference them during the meeting (pro tip- get a rolling backpack to carry everything around).

Know what accommodations you need the most

For me, having access to my assistive technology devices, receiving digital copies of assignments, and preferential seating were the most important accommodations. I made sure those were the first I mentioned to Disability Services. Other accommodations in my file include time and a half on tests, extended time on assignments when requested, copies of notes, using a word processor for written assignments, large print on handouts, and the ability to attend class remotely if needed. Once I was on campus and worked with Disability Services, I added additional accommodations, such as noting that I would be using a blindness cane (yes, I did encounter a professor who was very confused over my cane).

Ask if your school has a disability testing center

My school has a multiroom lab where students are able to take their tests in a quiet environment with their assistive technologies. I had to fill out a separate form for these accommodations. I receive time and a half on tests, a laptop with ZoomText and JAWS, use of my E-Bot Pro, reduced light, and use of a word processor as well as a calculator app on my phone. An accommodation made available to everyone is the use of earplugs during tests as well as a white noise machine to help drown out background noise. This testing center is invaluable to students with a range of disabilities, not just sensory ones.  Read more about the disability testing center here.

Ask about other services for students registered with Disability Services

My school offers a writing center for students with disabilities who need extra help. I have not needed it, but students who struggle with writing have greatly benefited from these services. Ask if there are other tutoring opportunities or groups that help students with disabilities.

Request special housing, if needed

The sooner you request this, the better! Housing arrangements tend to fill up quickly. My freshman year, I lived in a single room that was adjacent to the resident advisor’s room so I could reach her quickly if there was a problem. This year, I live in a handicapped accessible apartment (on campus) with my own bedroom and I am able to navigate easily around the apartment, as well as being able to get to my classes and, most importantly, the dining hall. In order to get special housing, my primary care doctor had to fill out a form to certify my disability, which was in addition to the form to certify me for Disability Services.  Read more about disability housing here.

Get a referral to the assistive technology specialist or department

At my school the Assistive Technology department is different than Disability Services. By receiving a referral, you can access services such as enlarged textbooks, assistive technologies, computer labs with built in accessibility software, and more. This is the most important department for me because while Disability Services can identify a problem, Assistive Technology solves it.  Read more about staff members to talk to before college starts here,

Make sure your file is ready for the first day of classes

Get copies of your accommodations sheet (which Disability Services will provide) as soon as possible to pass out to professors, and know how to explain the accommodations as well (post on that here). Be sure all your testing accommodations are set before the first exam. Don’t wait until you fail to set yourself up with the tools you need to succeed.

Testing Accommodations For Low Vision Students


Finals week is fast approaching for college students and I have to say I’m not nervous at all for my finals. It helps that my first college final week last year was a whole new level of stressful because I had just been in a car accident two weeks prior and couldn’t think straight because of neck pain, so any finals week in comparison is remarkably less stressful. Another thing that helps is that I have testing accommodations that allow me to focus on the test, as opposed to stressing my eyes out trying to process the material. Here are the accommodations I receive through disability services in college, and some that I received in high school that were written into my IEP.

Colored paper and Arial font

I did a science project in eleventh grade about how colored backgrounds were easier to read for long periods of time as opposed to sharp white, and I have found it’s easier to focus my eyes on a shaded background than white. I usually received tests in high school on light blue or light yellow paper. Arial font is important because it reduces the risk of mistaking letters for one another and it’s clear to read, as well as the fact it scales well on the paper.

Single sided paper 

So one day in tenth grade, the paraprofessional enlarging my work decided to print my tests double sided, something that had never happened before. When I started writing on the test, the sharpie pens I wrote with bled through so I didn’t notice there was information on the back. My math teacher approached me after looking at my test and said “great news! You did really well on half the test…you just didn’t see the other half.” Thankfully, she let me redo the other half, and I never received double sided papers again for testing.

Ear plugs

I have what my family calls super sonic hearing, meaning that my sense of hearing is elevated to compensate for my lack of sight. As a result, I can get easily distracted in testing environments by water dripping from a faucet, the air conditioner, and even voices from halfway across the hall. As a result, I would wear ear plugs, or sometimes just headphones unplugged from my iPod, to muffle background noise and help me concentrate better.

Time and a half 

For timed tests, I receive time and a half so that if there is a problem during the test or if I just need the extra time, I have it. While I don’t often use it, it was extremely helpful during my SAT and ACT tests

iPad apps, when necessary

I rely on certain apps for my learning on the iPad, including a calculator. I have been able to use the myScript Calculator for the state standardized tests, called the SOL in Virginia, the SAT and ACT, and in the classroom as long as guided access is enabled on my iPad.

Sharpie pens

Most tests require students to use pencils, but I am unable to see pencil due to the very faint gray color of the lead. While this is no problem in college to use, I had it specifically written into my IEP that I could use pens. Obviously, I did not use Scantrons.

Low light testing environment

I have pretty intense photosensitivity and bright fluorescent lights are one of my enemies. For my standardized tests, ACT, SAT, and college tests that I take where I am the only one there, the lights are dimmed 50% so my eyes don’t burn from the light. In college, the overhead lights are not used and I have a lamp next to me instead.

E-bot Pro

I have a more in depth review, but this little machine is the reason I have done so well on tests this semester. It is a CCTV that broadcasts to my iPad so I can adjust contrast and zoom in from my iPad. It also can read text when needed. It uses its own personal wifi connection so the iPad can’t access any other apps or the internet. According to a vendor I spoke with, it is approved for state standardized testing in Virginia as well as the SAT and ACT. It is a relatively new device, and one I wish I had in high school.

Large table

All of this assistive technology starts to pile up very quickly on a normal sized desk. While I don’t believe this is written into my accommodations, taking a test on a larger table in the classroom is always something I request. My geology professor lets me set up all of my technology on her desk, and there’s always been a large table lying around somewhere back in high school.

High contrast images, graphs, and maps

When I took geography as a ninth grader, my teacher noticed I had trouble reading the maps and enlarged them on PowerPoint for the entire class to use so that the symbols were clearer. He noticed test scores went up because everyone found it clearer to see. Having images that are easier to read benefits more than just the student needing the accommodation.
While it may seem like I receive tons of accommodations to take a test, most of these are very basic. Although I had one teacher say that me receiving testing accommodations was unfair to the other students, none of my other teachers have said that these give me an unfair advantage. Testing accommodations just help me to show what I know on a test, just like the other students get to do.

Why I Prefer My Schoolwork Digitally


We live in an age where it’s easy to go paperless, but many people have wondered why I embrace having all of my schoolwork digital, when possible.  Since I have low vision and a print disability (more on that here), I have a profound appreciation for the availability of digital materials, and have seen the tremendous effect they can have on my learning. Here are ten reasons as to why I love being able to hold a wealth of information on a device.

It’s much more lightweight.

As someone who has neck, back, and shoulder issues, I’m not interested in having to carry a heavy backpack filled with papers or textbooks. Carrying around several ten page large print worksheets can add up very quickly, and having to sort through several packets can get frustrating very quickly.

I can add color filters easily.

Before I started getting all my work digitally, I would get my work enlarged on stark white paper that would cause glare on a page. Alternatively, when I got my work enlarged on colored paper, my backpack would look like I was carrying a rainbow and at times the colors of paper that I could see the easiest weren’t available. I can easily change the background of a page to be blue or put a red filter on my screen to reduce glare and eye strain.  Read more about how color affects the readability of font here.

 Easy to enlarge text.

Quite simply, you can’t zoom in on a piece of paper. And when magnifying glasses give you a headache, if you can’t read something on paper, you have to get over it.

Technology can fit on a desk.

One day in science class when I was 14, a piece of classwork had to be enlarged to eighteen point font, the smallest size I could read at the time. To accomplish this, the assignment had to be enlarged so large, that I couldn’t work at my desk, and instead had to work on the floor of the hallway because the paper was so large. With digital tools, a user can simply scroll across the page to read information.

People won’t forget about it.

I had several teachers forget to enlarge my work in middle and high school. By sharing a digital file, I can have assignments at the same time as my fellow students instead of having to wait for an assignment to be enlarged.

No one has to attempt to read my terrible handwriting.

I have dysgraphia, and typing is much easier than attempting to read whatever I wrote down.  I can’t read my handwriting, so typing is much more efficient.  For when I do need paper copies of an assignment, I follow these guidelines for creating accessible materials.

I can use applications on my computer to enhance my learning experience.

It isn’t uncommon to see me using a screen reader and magnification at the same time so I can make sure I retain all the correct information.  Read how I made my iPad accessible here.

There’s less of a stigma.

I’ve had students and teachers give me very funny looks for having to use large print, and some would be downright rude about it. I’ve even heard someone say that me large print was unfair to the other students. Nowadays, it isn’t weird to be seen typing on an iPad or using other technologies, as chances are, others are using them too.

It’s often easier to balance.

Having to carry twenty sheets of paper around a science lab as opposed to an iPad was much more unpleasant and difficult to organize. Plus, I accidentally set my paper on fire once in a lab- as you can imagine, the teacher was not very happy.

Having access to it prepares me for the “real world.”

By having access to technology in high school, I am prepared to adapt to any situation when it comes to requesting materials I can view. Anything can be found digitally now, and by knowing how to access it, I can adapt the world to my needs, instead of demanding the world adapt to my needs because I don’t know what to do. This is a skill I had the opportunity to practice by taking several virtual classes in high school- more on that here.  I am grateful for learning how to adapt digital material to my different needs, so I can feel like I can do anything now.