Ten Things That Surprised Me About College


Before I left for college, my mom was talking with someone, expressing how worried she was about my transition to college, since getting my accommodations in high school was so frustrating. This person reassured my mom that college was completely different, and I would be fine- and they were definitely right. Here are ten things that surprised me about how different college is than high school.

No one really notices my cane

I started using my blindness cane shortly after freshman orientation. I had delayed getting a blindness cane for many reasons, one of which was the worry about social stigma. Maybe it’s because there are several other cane users at my school, but no one seems to notice that I use my cane when walking around. Of course, they acknowledge it exists, but it’s not common for people to go “check it out, she has a blindness cane!” For my responses on what happens when people do say that, click here.

It’s easy to drop classes

I attended exactly one class period of a mythology class, and then came to the conclusion my accommodations would not be followed. Instead of filling out a bunch of forms and going to the counselor like I did in high school, I just clicked a few buttons in my student account and chose a different class.

Accessible materials are abundant

Digital materials are extremely common in college classrooms, as is assistive technology. It’s easy to make anything accessible, and there are also resources to help students learn how to create accessible materials.

Testing is much easier

I had a few teachers who claimed my large print was unfair to the other students or was an unfair advantage. I have never had a professor say that, but I’ve also had the resources of the testing center reserved for students with disabilities. Click here to read all of my posts on this topic.

People are proactive, not reactive

My Disability Services file was set up in order to ensure I receive accommodations from day 1- I didn’t have to wait until there was a problem to receive my services. Read more about setting up a file here.

Class attendance is flexible

This is not to say that skipping class is a good thing, but if there is severe weather, illness, or other circumstances preventing a student from getting to class, professors are happy to have students attend class remotely or send alternative assignments. This is especially helpful since I get chronic migraines.

Technology isn’t just allowed, it’s encouraged

As I have mentioned in past posts, my high schools favored pencil-and-paper learning, which make accessing materials challenging. Since technology is used in every career, professors encourage students to bring technology to class and use it to complete assignments. Everyone is using laptops and tablets, not just certain students.

There are many other students like me

I have found a sense of community at my college with various students who also have chronic illness, and even a few with Chiari Malformation. I’d never met anyone else my age with low vision until I got to college either.  Often times, we were the only ones in our schools that we knew of with chronic illness, so it’s amazing to meet other people who have had similar experiences.

Professors are open to having students with disabilities

While not all professors are like this, almost all of my professors fully embraced having a student with a disability in the classroom and were willing to work with me on accommodations. Often times, the professors that were most enthusiastic about working with me wore glasses, worked with someone who was blind/low vision, or had a background in working with disabilities.

It’s way better than high school

High school was extremely difficult for me not because of the content, but because my disability was frequently perceived as an inconvenience. In college, I am able to self-advocate and work closely with professors to make sure I succeed. I have loved being in college, and hope that others can have the same positive experience that I have.

All of the Technology in My Dorm Room


I spend almost my entire day using some type of technology. It’s very rare to see me without at least two of my devices, and when working in my room, I’m often using three or more at once.  While I do consider myself technology savvy- my major does have technology in the name, after all- I’m not using anything particularly advanced, and I have found that these devices can benefit students no matter what their major or skill level with technology is.

Here is a list of the devices I brought to college with me and what I use them for. Please note that I chose to exclude my E-Bot Pro and Eschenbach SmartLux, as I did not want to include assistive technology devices in this roundup.

HP Sprout desktop computer

I love working on my desktop when it comes to my virtual classes, as it has a giant touchscreen display as well as the capability to be hooked up to multiple monitors. It comes with a unique touchpad display which doubles as a 3D scanner so I can enlarge objects and view documents on the upper and lower screen. It syncs with my laptop nicely and I’m yet to encounter a document or file that couldn’t be made accessible by that computer.  Read here why I love having a desktop computer in college.

Microsoft Surface

I purchased this my senior year of high school and it still works like new. It fits on even the smallest desks in my classrooms and also has amazing battery life, with ten hours on a single charge. It’s also very lightweight to carry and I can type on it for hours without a problem. The small display is not a problem because I have many accessibility settings enabled. While I can run programs like Photoshop and Microsoft Visio on the Surface, I choose to use my desktop whenever possible, as my Surface has issues running several intricate applications simultaneously.

iPad

I’m not really an Apple products user, but I can’t imagine life without my iPad. With so many accessibility apps available and beautiful large font displays (read about accessibility settings here), it’s one of the best inventions of the century, in my opinion. I also use it to talk with friends and family after class, look up information, and can rarely be found without it.  In addition, all of my textbooks are on my iPad- read more about digital textbooks here.

Chromecast

At $35, the Chromecast is one of those devices that has paid for itself time and time again, with many coupons for free movie rentals and Google Play credit. I love it because I can broadcast anything from a Google Chrome tab, be it from my phone, iPad, or computer. It’s also great for watching longer videos while working on my iPad, or streaming Netflix.  Read my full review here.

Android phone

I use many accessibility apps on my phone, and also often cast the display to my Chromecast so I can easily see messages and work with other apps. I also use it as a USB storage device for my computers when I lose my flash drive. A lot of the apps my college recommends that students download, like the bus schedules and emergency services apps, are also on my phone.   Read my posts on making Android accessible using third party apps here, and with native settings here.

TV

I don’t really watch a lot of cable TV, though I do get free cable with my apartment and use it to watch local news. My TV typically is acting as a second monitor for something, or being used with the Chromecast.

Laser printer

My Brother laser printer has been an incredibly useful resource when I have to print something for class or check for formatting issues. The scanner function has also been helpful, as well as being able to quickly make copies. Since I got it on super sale, it wound up being cheaper to have a printer in my room than to pay for printing at the library.

Amazon Echo Dot

This is the newest addition to my technology collection, and it’s been extremely helpful. Besides making it extremely easy to listen to music, I have used it to order products, set alarms, check the weather, set reminders, as a calculator, and even as a translator. I’ve used it so much, my suitemates thought at one point that I was genuinely talking to a person named Alexa.  Read my full review here.

Having all of this technology in my room has helped me a lot as a student with a disability. I access materials in a different way than most students, and having the resources to make things accessible quickly has been invaluable. For a lot of people, technology makes things easier, but for people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.

Why I Brought A Desktop Computer to College


As a student with low vision and chronic illness, my college experience has been very unique. I have learned to rely a lot on technology for my success, and having a desktop computer in my apartment has helped me be able to balance everything. Here are ten of the reasons I bought a desktop computer for college, and how it has helped me often. Please note that my computer runs Windows 10 with these accessibility settings enabled.

Virtual classes

A little less than half of the classes I have taken in college have been virtual. This is due to several factors- my chronic illness, low vision, and some classes being exclusively offered online. It helps to have a dedicated place where I can work on my courses. Read more about why I take virtual classes here.

Typing

For the most part, I do not handwrite assignments, as I have dysgraphia, which is the inability to write coherently as a result of an organic condition, such as low vision or a brain issue. I also run this blog, and frequently spend hours at the computer typing up posts. It feels much more natural to type for long periods of time on my desktop keyboard.

Synchronizes with laptop

One of the awesome things about having two computers is that all of the data synchronizes, meaning my class notes, photos, and other information is easily accessible on each of my devices. I find it helpful to switch between the two computers, especially since I have neck issues that can be aggravated by hunching over for a laptop screen. My laptop is a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 running Windows 10, and I cannot imagine using any other laptop in class as it easily fits on any sized desk and the battery life is awesome.

Large screen

While a large screen does not necessarily mean a computer is accessible for low vision, my computer’s 22″ screen enlarges text very efficiently and can easily display large navigation tools, windows, and images. Windows 10 is fantastic for this, as I am able to use large, bold print.

Running software

While my Surface can do many things well, running multiple intricate software applications at once is not one of them. Luckily, my desktop computer can run all of the applications and then some, making it easy to be productive.

Easy to print items

In addition to bringing my desktop computer, I also purchased an inexpensive Brother laser printer with wireless capabilities. I can quickly print out an assignment for class, scan in pages, and make copies. Because I got the printer and toner on super sale (start checking advertisements now!), it’s cheaper than having to go print out items at the library.  To register a wireless printer, follow the same instructions listed here for registering an Amazon Echo.

Two screens

Why have one screen when you can have two? I hooked up a 26″ TV monitor on an adjacent table to use as a second monitor for my desktop computer. I commonly use this when running multiple applications, or when taking notes on a video.  I also can stream tabs on my Google Chrome browser to my TV monitor using a Chromecast.

Make materials accessible

I developed a macro on my computer to make documents accessible nearly instantly in Microsoft Word (more on how I did coming soon), something that I had trouble running on other computers. I love that I can turn almost any document into a format that I can read quickly and easily. I also can read materials from Bookshare, Nook, and Kindle.

Utilize library resources

Libraries have resources that go beyond print materials, such as databases, remote desktop applications, and even digital materials. I can access all sorts of library tools from the comfort of my desk. Read more about campus libraries here.

I don’t need the space on my desk

Having low vision means that I don’t have to worry about lots of papers, heavy textbooks, writing, or other similar tasks. My computer does everything for me, so I don’t need anything else on my desk.  I live in a room by myself, and always lock the door when I leave, so I have never had to worry about anyone else messing with my computer.

I have been extremely fortunate to have both a desktop and laptop computer at college.  I have been able to do everything from homework to take entire courses without having to leave my apartment.  This is especially helpful with my chronic migraines, as I can create a study environment that’s free of triggers, and all of my computer settings are exactly as I like them.

App Accessibility Checklist for Low Vision


About a month ago, my friend recommended an application to download on my phone. I wasn’t sure if they had thought about this, but there are many apps, even popular ones, that are inaccessible to people with low vision or photosensitivity. Right as I was about to ask, my friend said “don’t worry, the text can be enlarged to your size and there’s no strobes.” I was happy that not only my friend had checked for these things, but that the app developers had thought ahead of time and made their app accessible to people with low vision and photosensitivity.

Too many times, accessibility is considered a last minute thing to add to an application. With so many people identified as having a disability, app developers should be more aware of how important it is to consider diverse users when developing an application. Here are seven accessibility settings I check for when downloading an application, either on my Android phone or iPad. While this is targeted towards users with a disability, this also helps seniors and adults who simply forgot their reading glasses.

Can text be enlarged?

While some applications support the operating system’s default text settings, there are other apps that use their own fonts. Check that these fonts can be enlarged to a legible size- typically, I use a size 24 font, though bigger is almost always better. If there are different font style options, that is awesome too- people with certain print disabilities benefit immensely from weighted fonts like Comic Sans.

Can screen readers be used?

Many users use a tool like VoiceOver (Apple) or TalkBack (Android) in order to access text. Adding alt text image descriptions is also important so the user isn’t left guessing what was in the picture. If the image is purely decorative, write “null” or “decoration.” And please, have a skip navigation option, so the screen reader isn’t reading through unnecessary information.

Is everything displayed?

When the font is enlarged, make sure that all text, as well as buttons, are displayed on the screen in a logical manner. Some apps have text run off the screen, or do not enlarge buttons, which makes it impossible to use the app.

Is there sufficient contrast?

Is it easy to read the text on the screen? Having options to change the colors of the background or other buttons can be helpful in ensuring that users are able to see an app clearly. Having a night mode with a dark color scheme also can help reduce glare.

Are there strobe or flashing effects?

I have used a couple of applications that had random strobe or flashing light effects, or that used strobe notifications that could not be disabled. I even had a phone for about an hour that was a giant strobing mess. These apps were uninstalled immediately, and the strobing phone was returned as well. While a light at the frequency of a car blinker is fine, do not use strobe or flashing light effects, especially in red/blue colors, and give the user no way to disable them. For more information on who can be harmed by these effects, read this.

Can I use my own keyboard?

Some applications prevent the user from accessing a third party keyboard, or even the speech-to-text option. Allow users to be able to use any keyboard for maximum compatibility.

Do I have to think about using this?

If the user has to remember a complex series of steps to take because of accessibility settings being enabled, then the app isn’t worth using. One of the main design principles is that if the user has to think while using a product, then the designer has failed. Make sure users don’t have to jump through too many hoops.

Accessibility is very important to me, and I am always grateful when developers keep users like me in mind. While there are so many other disability areas to remember, I hope developers will continue to remember those of us with low vision and photosensitivity when creating apps.

10 Staff Members To Meet in College


Before I even started at my university, I had already talked to almost three dozen faculty and staff members on the phone and in person to ensure that I would not have any disruptions in receiving my approved classroom and housing accommodations.  Because of this, I was able to learn what staff members would best help me advocate for myself and that would help me while I was in the classroom or in my dorm.  Here are ten staff members that I highly recommend talking to before move-in or the first day of classes.  Please note that some colleges might have more than one person in these positions.

Disability Services Coordinator

Before I even applied to my university, I interviewed the Disability Services office multiple times about how they handled students with low vision (read more about my questions here).  Luckily, the department is very proactive, allowing students to set up accommodations before any problems sink in, and I was assigned a coordinator that specifically worked with students who were blind or had low vision.  The first staff member I worked with was a wonderful resource and helped me write out an accommodation plan that ensured I would receive all of my services  I can’t say enough nice things about them.  Read more about my experiences setting up a file here.

Assistive Technology Specialist

Assistive technology will be your best friend in college, and it always alarms me when students don’t embrace it.  I was an unique case when I arrived at my university- as one of my colleagues puts it, “most college students don’t come in knowing what assistive technology is, let alone wanting to study it.”  The assistive technology department can help with assessments, scanning in textbooks, and providing access to labs.  Some assistive technology departments also organize testing centers for students with disabilities.

Testing Coordinator

The testing coordinator helps make sure that students are able to take tests, quizzes, exams, and more in an environment where they can receive their accommodations.  Students can be referred to this department either by the assistive technology specialist or through Disability Services.  Testing accommodations are typically written in to the Disability Services file, but some testing centers develop their own student files.  It helps to talk to this person before the first day of classes because some majors may require a placement test for math, foreign language, or English classes.  Read more about my experiences with the testing center here.

Special Populations Housing Coordinator

This person is likely part of the committee that handles the special housing requests, and ultimately assigns students with special housing needs to their spaces.  When I had issues with not being approved for special housing as well as my first housing assignment, this person helped ensure that I received the accommodations I requested, and assisted me in finding an accessible room.  This was incredibly helpful with my housing this year, as I am able to stay in the same dorm room that I did last year.  Read more about my housing accommodations here.

Resident Director

This is the staff member that oversees the dorm building and actually lives there as well.  My resident director has been awesome about relaying important information and is a great person to talk to if there is a problem.  They also have helped me with navigating outside and preparing for inclement weather.

Academic Advisor

Each major has an advisor that assists students with picking out class schedules, and can also assist if there is an issue with the professor.  They also tend to be very honest about which professors embrace having students with disabilities in the classroom, and which professors are more hesitant.  Some departments may have advisors also be professors, while others have one or two people that are full-time advisors.

Student Support Specialist

For students who are apprehensive about a situation or potential situation, talking to a member of the Student Support staff can be a great help.  When I was worried about a situation with another student, the staff listened to all of my concerns and helped me develop a plan to ensure that I wouldn’t have to worry about the situation anymore.  This department usually has a confidentiality agreement in place, meaning that they do not have to report what is said in the meetings unless the student requests that they do so.

Security/Police

I made a note with university police that I use a blindness cane and have low vision, so that they would be able to assist me easier if I called.  I also made a note of what room I lived in on campus so if there was a fire alarm and I couldn’t escape, they would know where to find me.  One of my friends who has a severe medical condition gave police an abbreviated medical history, so they could assist emergency medical staff in administering care.

Student Health

While I didn’t work with them until I had my first visit, having a copy of your medical history and health insurance with the Student Health office can be invaluable, especially if you have a chronic illness.  I have a note in my file that I have Chiari Malformation, chronic pain, chronic migraines, and low vision.  Read more about my experiences with Student Health here.

Mail Services Coordinator

This may seem random, but talking to the Mail Services coordinator is very important.  With my low vision, I cannot use combination locks, so I contacted this person to ensure that the mailbox assigned to me would be one that uses a key.  Another one of my friends contacted them to ensure their mailbox would be accessible to someone using mobility aids that couldn’t bend over.  In the event that it’s impossible to go get mail, you can contact the coordinator to authorize someone else to pick up mail as well- I authorized my resident advisor to get my mail after I was in a car accident, and other friends have authorized me to pick up their mail while they were in the hospital.

While not everyone may need to talk to each type of person on the list, I have been grateful for the resources that each of these people have provided me with.  They all have helped, in one way or another, to ensure that I am thriving in the college environment.

How Do People With Low Vision…Go To The Theater?

Living in an area that has a high emphasis on the performing arts, I’ve been able to attend a lot of fascinating performances and become more cultured. Comedy groups, dances, operas, plays, symphonies, and other events frequently stop by my area, and I love to attend. Here are some of my tips for attending these types of performances with low vision and photosensitivity.

Check performer’s website

Prior to buying tickets, check the performer’s website to see what to expect. Are there a ton of strobe lights? What about special effects such as fog or fire? Use your best judgment to decide if this will be a worthwhile event to attend. For example, one of my friends had invited me to an event that can best be summarized as ninety minutes of strobe light, so we decided to plan something else instead.

Signs at the venue

Check for signs at the venue that warn about strobe or flashing lights, and before the performance, ask a staff member about flashing lights again. My family and I went to see Michael McDonald (who does not use strobe lights) and the opening act, Toto, kicked off their performance with ten seconds straight of strobe light. Because Michael McDonald did not use strobe lights, we were not notified about the use of the lights until it was far too late, and I had to leave two songs into the concert. We did get a refund, though.

Reserved seating

When booking tickets, ask if there is any specific seating for people with vision impairments. The performing arts centers I have attended had about twelve seats at each show reserved for guests with vision impairments and their companions. Under the ADA, it is illegal to be charged extra for requesting these seats. When I booked tickets for my two friends and I to see the Reduced Shakespeare Company, we were charged the student rate and had a note marked on our tickets that we needed the reserved seats. We sat in the second center row and had no problems with watching the performance.

Descriptive audio

Descriptive audio allows users to get a description of the movement and light effects on stage. This device proved to be worth its weight in gold when my friend and I went to Mummenschanz, a mime show. Some performances may require advance notice about descriptive audio if they use a live interpreter (Mummenschanz did), but a majority of groups have their own recordings that they provide, such as when my brother and I saw a special screening of Birdman.

Navigating the venue

At a performance for Giselle, I became separated from my group and found myself fairly lost . The venue I was at had given me a phone number for a staff member to call in case of a situation like this, and I was reunited with my group less than five minutes later. Writing down the phone number on the back of my ticket proved to be invaluable.

I love attending these performances and supporting the arts as much as possible. Hopefully these tips may help others to have same level of enjoyment as I do!

Five Myths About Print Disabilities

As the school year comes to an end, preparations for a new school year are beginning.  As students transition to new classes and possibly even new schools, they may find that there are people that don’t know what a print disability is, and these people may struggle to create accessible materials or order special items.  It’s important to start the school year off right, so here I have compiled a list of five myths about print disabilities, and how to ensure students receive accessible materials

Myth 1- There’s no need for large print in math/science

While there are some print disabilities like dyslexia that only affect letters, most print disabilities affect letters and numbers in all subjects, as the font is too small to read.  There may be added difficulty with graphs, exponents, subscripts, maps, and even music.  Always have large print materials available for all subjects- this extends to textbooks as well.

Myth 2- Writing in all caps is the same as large print

DOES THIS LOOK ANY LARGER TO YOU?  Nope, didn’t think so.  Writing in all caps in a small font size is not the same as having large text.  There’s no need to write in all caps in large text either. Unless the rest of the class is getting everything in all caps, there is no reason for the student with a print disability to get everything written that way.

Myth 3- If you sit there long enough, inaccessible materials will become accessible

One day, I received a practice test that was in small print.  I walked up to the teacher and asked for large print, and they told me to sit there and try harder to see it.  After staring at it for an hour, the font didn’t magically enlarge or become clear so I could see it.  It’s also a bad idea to argue that the student doesn’t need large print, especially if they have an IEP.

Myth 4- Students should feel bad requesting large print 

At a band audition, I had trouble seeing the music that was provided for me.  The teacher on duty (not my teacher) informed me that I could throw everyone behind for 45 minutes so they could enlarge my music, or I could suck it up and play the music I couldn’t see.  This teacher knew exactly how to make me feel guilty for something I couldn’t control, so I just tried to guess what the music was- and looking at my extremely low score, I’m pretty sure my guess was very off.  Looking back, I should have made them enlarge it, as I deserved the same opportunities as the other people auditioning.  I don’t get any extra advantage with my large print.

Myth 5- If a student can use a cell phone, they don’t need large print

I actually have an entire post dedicated to this topic called “My Phone Isn’t Paper.”  Paper displays and digital displays are two different things, and students have found ways to be able to use technology using the accessibility settings.  After all, you can easily zoom in on a digital screen…the same can’t be said for a paper screen.
You have the right to see materials just like every other student, and your school is required to provide accessible materials for you if you have an IEP or 504.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

How Do People With Low Vision…Attend Political Events?

Attending college right outside of Washington, DC has a lot of incredible benefits.  One of them is that a lot of politicians come to visit campus for campaigning, or just to talk about important issues.  At first, I would shy away from attending many of these events, simply because I was worried they would be inaccessible or filled with lots of commotion.  I’m glad I got over my reservations for attending, because I have been able to see many politicians including Tim Kaine, Michelle Obama, and John Kasich when they came to visit my college campus.  Most recently, I got to talk to Joe Biden one-on-one at his “It’s On Us” event, and even took a selfie with him!  Here are some of my tips for attending these events with a disability.

Be prepared to stand in line

For Michelle Obama, I was waiting in line for the better part of three hours, and still was rather far back in the line.  I found myself sitting down on the pavement often and doing stretches on my legs to make sure I didn’t go into spasms.  I’ve heard of some people requesting chairs from event staff to sit in while they are in line, but I have never done this.

Carry earplugs

These events can get extremely loud.  To protect your hearing, bring a pair of earplugs to wear so that you can drown out feedback or the person next to you who won’t stop talking about nothing.  I found this helped me concentrate on the speaker more.

Bring something to cover your legs if you are going in the morning

This advice would have been very helpful to me when I stood in line starting at 6 am.  Wear a pair of leggings while standing in line, if you are wearing a skirt or dress.  This will save you from massive chills.  If needed, bring a jacket/sweatshirt as well.  Even moderate temperatures can feel cold after a while.

No bags, if possible

Try not to bring any purses or other bags with you to the event.  These take a while to search, and you may miss out on the good seats.  If you must bring a bag, bring a crossbody/long strap bag with as few pockets as possible, and have them unzipped/unclasped prior to going through security.  For Tim Kaine and John Kasich, I didn’t bring any bags with me and got through very quickly.  For Michelle Obama and Joe Biden, I brought a crossbody bag with my iPad, since I knew I would be standing in line for several hours on end.

The metal detector

Sometimes, the metal detector can be weirdly sensitive.  I managed to set it off once with the combination of my blindness cane, metal in my jeans, and glasses.  I then was pulled aside and they used a portable metal detector on me to confirm that it was the combination of those three items that set it off, and not an individual item.  While security staff cannot take apart my blindness cane to search it, they do send it through the x-ray machine (while the cane is folded), along with my other items.

Ask for ADA seating

To accommodate guests that cannot stand for long periods of time or that require a sign language interpreter, all the events have a “reserved” section of chairs usually towards the front for people with disabilities.  Talk to security or other event staff when you get in line about reserving one of these chairs, and provide evidence of your disability if needed (I show my blindness cane, another one of my friends shows their medical bracelet, and another friend shows leg braces).  Legally, they cannot charge you extra for accessible seating.

Sit away from media

If too many flashing lights can trigger a migraine and you are sitting right in the line of fire with the media, ask for event staff or security to move you to an area where there are fewer flashing lights.  One of my friends who did this was moved towards the middle section, on the left side.

Keep your blindness cane unfolded

I found that there was very little space between me and other people at all of the events I attended.  Having my blindness cane unfolded meant that I could easily navigate and have something to lean on if I lost my balance.  This is also helpful to security, as if they have to assist you, you don’t have to try and unfold your cane while someone is squishing you.  Bonus- you can poke people with it.

Have a backup plan if you get separated

Every single event I’ve attended has ended with me getting separated from my friends.  Some of the circumstances have included security, people pushing us, me going to the ADA section, and other factors out of our control.  Since cell phones can die during the events, agree on a meetup location to gather at after the event.  We usually choose a nearby building.

If you get to meet the speaker

So far, the only speaker I have been able to meet was Joe Biden, and he was an incredibly kind person- seriously, he’s one of the nicest people I have ever met!  Right before he came over to talk to me, I alerted a Secret Service agent that I was using a blindness cane, and they made sure to pass along the information so that nothing awkward would happen.  Luckily, Joe Biden was very understanding and was more than happy to talk to me, saying that I looked like I would be a wonderful advocate for people with disabilities (something I am still smiling over!).

These events are so much fun, and I want to encourage as many people as possible to attend them. Show your support and gratitude for the disability legislation that has been passed, and support candidates that continue to influence it in the future.


 

 

 

Colored Paper and the Readability of Text

On my seventeenth birthday, I presented at a science fair affiliated with my school district about my research on how the color of paper can affect the readability of the text on the paper.  This was the first time I really investigated how important contrast is when creating accessible documents, and I was able to determine the colors of paper I preferred for my assignments.  When I presented this research to the science fair judges, I received an unexpected surprise- three out of the five judges were colorblind!  Globally, one in twelve men and one in two hundred women are colorblind, and the odds of encountering two men and one women who are colorblind in a room seemed to be one in a million.  My friends and family found this experience absolutely hilarious, and told me that it would be a great story to tell if I ever presented my research again, though I wasn’t very amused.

My interest in this topic began in 2013, when I visited a neuro-opthalmologist at a large medical center who showed me an eye chart with different colored backgrounds.  They explained that people tend to see better on the eye chart with colored backgrounds because the colors helped reduce eye fatigue (from the white glare of the normal eye chart) and it was easier for the eyes to focus.  I was fascinated by this, and chose to do more research on it for my science fair project.  Over the years, I have learned even more about creating accessible materials and how important contrast is, and will be sharing some of the practical applications of my research below.

What colors work best

Light yellow and light blue were found to be the paper colors that were the easiest to read off of.  It could easily be read in all lighting conditions, and the effectiveness of the colors weren’t diminished if someone wore tinted glasses (like I do).  I have found it is easy to read on these colors for long periods of time, and all colors of my pens and markers show up sharp even on the colored paper.  Blue is best for large amounts of information or reading, while yellow works great for worksheets.

What colors work less well

Neon bright colors, while they do stand out, often contribute to eye fatigue and the eyes may have trouble focusing on the page.  Darker colors, such as those found on conventional construction paper, may also be difficult to read.  The darker backgrounds obscure text and make information difficult to process.

Using colored films

While this wasn’t part of my project, one of my teachers found that I processed information much better when they added a colored film on top of the paper that they were projecting, or when I layered a colored film on top of what I was reading.  Because of the way fluorescent lighting was set up in some classrooms, I found these films difficult to use when the lights above me would reflect on top of the plastic, so I very rarely used them while sitting at my desk.  Now that I am in college though, and most of my classrooms don’t use fluorescent lighting, I have found myself reaching for these films more often when I have to read papers for long periods of time.

Changing white intensity

Since sharp white can be bad for eye fatigue, I have blue light filters on all of my main electronic devices, including my desktop computer, laptop computer, Android phone, and iPad.  I also have a post dedicated to reducing eyestrain with technology.

If I put it on a colored background, does this mean I don’t need large print?

NO!!  If you have low vision, please continue to use your preferred font sizes and image sizes, even if you use a colored paper.  The page color is supposed to make text easier to see, not to add any other difficulties.

Bottom line, the page color can influence the readability of font, and by using light colors, the reader may find it easier to read for long periods of time and not have as much eye fatigue from glare.  Experiment with different papers and figure out which one works best.

How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Museums?

Being just a short Metro ride away from the Smithsonian, I have been able to go to many different museums with my friends.  My two favorite Smithsonian museums are the Natural History and the American Art museums.  People who don’t know me well are often surprised that I love those museums so much, because they are so heavy on visuals.  However, I have found many ways to enjoy those and other museums in the area, and learned a lot by volunteering at another museum in my hometown.  Here are some of the things I have learned.

Go with a friend

It’s far more fun to travel with a friend than it is to travel alone.  I tend to use human guides in addition to my blindness cane when traveling because it’s helpful to have an extra pair of eyes with me.  Some things my human guides do include reading signs, letting me know where exhibit boundaries are, and locating items such as elevators and stairs.

Ask for a large print guide

At the Smithsonian, all museums have a book in large print and Braille of all the signs in the museum.  Some museums may have a heavy book with every sign throughout the museum, and others might have smaller guides for that particular exhibit hanging on the wall.  Other museums may have Braille on their signs or high contrast labels- the museum I volunteer at back in my hometown has labels for all exhibits at a font size of 36, so large print is not necessary.

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Example of museum guide for traveling exhibit

Disability-specific museum tours

The National Portrait Gallery offers specific tours for people who are blind or that have low vision at least once a month.  The art is available on high resolution digital images and an interpreter helps guide the visitors around the museum.  Check to see if the museum has specific tours for people with low vision, or can give access to high resolution digital images.

Flashing lights or loud noises?

If this is a concern, ask if there are any exhibits that have a high amount of strobe or flashing lights or loud noises when you arrive.  If the front desk does not know, maintenance would be a good resource as well, since they often spend lots of time in these exhibits. When I volunteered at a sensory-friendly event, I warned parents of guests with sensory integration about some hidden buttons in exhibits that made loud animal noises, another machine that made loud croaking noises, and a light that was temporarily flickering in another exhibit.

IMAX/Museum Shows

Because I have no depth perception, I find IMAX shows to be weird because I can’t wear the 3D glasses.  However, many museums offer descriptive audio devices that can describe what is on screen without obscuring other dialogue.  These devices should be requested when tickets are purchased, and some may require a safety deposit.

Interactive exhibits

When going to exhibits where visitors can touch objects, it helps to specify that a visitor has low vision.  When I went to a museum where staff were throwing around an inflatable Earth, I didn’t realize what direction it was going in, and it hit me in the face.  Staff can help by describing items thoroughly before offering it to a visitor to touch, and also warning them of any sharp sides there might be.  If it is a live animal display, ask before grabbing the person’s hand, and then move their hand in the appropriate area.

Audio tours

Often free, museums offer audio tours that describe items around the museum from a certain perspective- for example, Civil War history.  These can be a great addition to other accessible materials, and often describe the exhibits well enough so that people can close their eyes and imagine what it looks like.

Lost?

I’ve heard friends say that getting lost in a museum is “so romantic,” but as a person with low vision, I find it incredibly terrifying!  In order to help prevent this, get a large print map, if available, from guest services prior to entering the museum.  If all else fails, try and find museum volunteers or staff, and mention that you have low vision.  At the museum I volunteer at, we have had many lost kids and people with disabilities, and as volunteers we are trained to bring them to a central point in the museum, the front desk, and then help them be reunited with their party.

Online tours

Want to go to a museum, but can’t seem to get there?  Or do you want to see high resolution images on your device?  Google Arts and Culture has virtual tours of many famous museums, and high resolution artwork that is easy to enlarge and search for.  Available on iOS and Android, it is an excellent companion when traveling.

With these tips, visitors of all vision levels will be able to enjoy the educational and cultural opportunities that museums provide.