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.

My Favorite Kitchen Appliances


Believe it or not, I have never set off the fire alarm while cooking something, nor have I given myself food poisoning or had to go to the hospital for stitches because I cut myself. People commonly expect that since I have low vision, I’m horrible with cooking and will either consistently overcook or undercook food, or injure myself in the process. While my family likes to tease me that I am used to the taste of burnt food, I have been able to tremendously improve cooking for myself in the last couple months. Here are the five appliances I use the most often to cook food and ensure that everything is prepared and cooked safely. All of these items can be purchased on Amazon Prime, and some can even be delivered in two hours with PrimeNow- more on that here.

Egg cooker

I never really ate a lot of eggs until I got to college, and now I love having poached eggs, scrambled eggs, soft-boiled eggs, omelets, and more. With the egg cooker, all of these are ready in seven minutes or less. It’s very easy to clean, and I have never had a problem with overcooked or undercooked eggs. One thing though- it sets off a loud alarm reminiscent of a smoke detector when it is done cooking, or if it is turned on before water is added. Get it here.

Rice cooker

I love eating grains like quinoa and rice, but if I am cooking on the stove and the water boils over, I’m not going to notice and will be left with a puddle on the stove or floor. I use the rice cooker for cooking grains, of course, but I’ve also used it to make pasta, oatmeal, soup, broth, steamed vegetables, and even curries. I have been surprised with how much I use it, and I appreciate that it is so easy to clean. Get it here.

NutriBullet

My family became obsessed with the original Magic Bullet when I was in middle school, but I am a huge fan of the NutriBullet model. I use it every morning to make a smoothie, and have never had to deal with chunks of frozen fruit in my drinks. I also have used it to chop items easily and make nut butters, as well as other recipes. Cleaning it is simple- I rinse out the components immediately after use and then hand wash them, though they are also dishwasher safe. Get it here.

Yonanas

This is far from being a kitchen essential, but I have been using this every day for a month now so I thought it should be included. The machine turns frozen bananas into the consistency of soft serve ice cream, and there’s infinite possibilities for flavors- my favorite combination is bananas, mixed berries, and peanut butter. I’ve also used it frequently when I have friends over, as a lot of my friends can’t have ice cream. It is a little loud, but it has never taken me longer than thirty seconds to use it and no one has ever complained about the noise. Get it here.

Vegetable chopper

While not technically an appliance, this tool is the reason I still have all ten of my fingers. All I have to do is load a fruit or vegetable into the top section and then push a lever down, and then food is chopped. In order to get food items to fit, I use knives that were designed for children to ensure they don’t cut themselves while chopping, and have found that the knife + chopper combination has been sufficient to prep any produce I please. The exact model of the veggie chopper is sold out, but here is a similar model.  The knives can be found here.

I love being able to cook for myself, and am grateful for these tools that have helped me be able to eat well. If you are cooking in a dorm, check the rules before purchasing any of these appliances to make sure they aren’t prohibited- there may be restrictions on devices with heating elements, certain wattages, or knife sizes. Since all of my items stay in the kitchen, I have had no issues with housing regulations.

For more on how I get food, read my post on Amazon Fresh here, a grocery delivery service for Prime members.

Why I Study Assistive Technology


For my one hundredth blog post, I decided to write about the reasons I chose for studying assistive technology in college. It’s definitely a more uncommon field to study, and I am frequently explaining to people what exactly assistive technology is.  Once they understand what it is, it’s easy to see how commonplace assistive technology is in society- common examples include wheelchairs, magnifying glasses, text-to-speech, high tech devices, and more. Here are ten of the reasons I decided to study assistive technology.

I have always been interested in the latest gadgets

I was one of the first people to purchase a Nook eReader when it first came out (more on that here) and got my first Android phone in 2010 (read my first ever blog post on Android here). I love playing with new technology and figuring out what it can do, and how it can be used to help others.

I spent a lot of time in nursing homes

My grandma had Alzheimer’s disease and lived in a nursing home, so my family would visit frequently. I also was part of a volunteer group that visited nursing homes at least once a month. I observed how assistive technology could help seniors, even simple things like spill guards on plates, and this made me realize that I want my future career to involve helping people.

Technology makes things possible

One of my favorite sayings is “for a lot of people, technology makes things easier, but for people with disabilities, technology makes things possible.” Without the use of technology, I would be unable to read and write using standard materials because of my print disability and dysgraphia. I have a strong appreciation for how fortunate I am to live in a time period where technology is so plentiful.

I attended an assistive technology conference

About two months after I developed my chronic illness, my parents took me to an assistive technology conference at a college several hours away, looking for resources to help me in school. I was fascinated with all of the different tools available for students with low vision, as well as other disabilities, and decided that I wanted to create similar tools, with a special focus on students with low vision.

My school encouraged me to learn all I could

I didn’t have access to many assistive technology resources as I went through school- I never even heard the term “assistive technology” until I was a freshman in high school (more about that here). Because of the lack of resources, my case managers and teachers encouraged me to come up with my own accommodations and had me figure out how to use technology to help myself. Eventually, staff members would come to me asking for advice on other students, because I had learned so much.

It affects so many people

About one in six people identify as having some type of disability. The disability community includes people of all races, ages, backgrounds, languages, etc. It’s also the only community that anyone can join in ten seconds or less- someone can become disabled in the blink of an eye. Because of this, there are so many different ways to help others through assistive technology, be it with communication devices, mobility aids, electronic devices, and so much more.

I have low vision

One of the main reasons I am so interested in the field is because I have low vision, and use this technology every day, sometimes multiple times a day. I am able to figure out what I want quickly, and am very particular about the devices I use.  As a result, I only showcase products and technology on my blog that has exceeded my rigorous standards.

Accessibility intersects with so many things

Accessibility and assistive technology go beyond the digital world. It crosses over into architecture, government, nutrition, bioengineering, graphic design, environmental science, driving, media, and so much more. After all, the future should be accessible to those with disabilities.

It’s a growing field

I’m always learning something new, as new devices and research emerge. Technology alone is constantly evolving, and there are so many different ways assistive technology can be applied to different careers.  I remember that when I told someone this is what I wanted to study, they were a bit surprised, as a lot of students don’t know what assistive technology is, let alone want to study it. Now that I have seen all of the amazing things this field has to offer, I can’t imagine studying anything else.

Lots of opportunities to write

I have always loved writing, and studying assistive technology has allowed me to write frequently about new products, accessibility, disability, life, and more.  I knew that no matter what career I went into, I would want it to involve writing, and this blog has given me the opportunity to not only write, but to share my love of assistive technology with others.  Thank you, dear readers, for following this blog, leaving comments, sharing on Pinterest, and so much more.  I have many exciting posts planned for the coming months, and can’t wait to share them with you!

ScanMarker Air for Print Disabilities


During my sophomore year of high school, teachers constantly were forgetting to enlarge my assignments (a little more on that here), leaving me to figure out how to make them accessible myself.  I normally would leave class to go ask a paraprofessional to enlarge the assignments, but I disliked missing class time.  Other solutions I came up with included having friends read me assignments, receiving items digitally whenever possible, and even bringing a portable scanner to school to scan in assignments myself (more on my print accommodations here).  Fast forward almost five years, and I have found a device that would have been perfect for me in school called the ScanMarker Air.  Here are some of my favorite features about it, and why I wish I had this in high school.

About the ScanMarker Air

The ScanMarker Air is a portable OCR scanner that allows the user to scan information directly into a word processing application, where it can then be shared anywhere.  The device can be used with either hand and does not require an internet connection, only a Bluetooth connected device.  There’s also an option to plug it into a microUSB cable.  It costs $99 and can be purchased from Amazon.

Super portable device

One of the things that blew me away about the device is how lightweight it is- only 60 grams!  I have had more than my fair share of bulky technology devices, so was pleasantly surprised to see how small this was.  No worries about it not fitting on a desk- or worse, falling off the desk.  Even if it does fall off the desk, it has a plastic outer shell which I have found to be very durable.  It feels very similar to a highlighter and does not hurt my wrist after prolonged use.

Lots of devices supported

The device can be used with Windows and Mac computers, as well as iOS and Android products.  I appreciate the cross platform support, as I alternate between three different devices fairly frequently.  I tested this pen using a Windows 10 desktop computer, Windows 10 laptop, Android phone, and iPad, all with fantastic results (read more about my devices here).  The ScanMarker app must be downloaded before it can be used, and can be found on the app store, as well as the manufacturer website.

It can scan a lot of information, fast

Instead of waiting several minutes for a traditional scanner, an entire page of text can be scanned in about ninety seconds.  The device scans 3,000 characters a minute, or about one line every second.  It can scan in text from over thirty languages, as well as simple black and white images.  Font sizes must be between 6 pt and 24 pt.  I found that the device scanned in Chinese characters flawlessly, though when I tried scanning in handwriting, it was scanned in as a picture, and not editable text.  Sheet music for clarinet scanned in well, though some symbols were out of place.

A talking pen

While the pen itself does not talk, the ScanMarker apps allow text to be read out loud in real time, as the user scans information- just add headphones and the device can be used in the classroom without any distractions.  This is absolutely amazing for people who have print disabilities and have problems reading small font.  I tested this out by having it read text from a book, and while it didn’t always get punctuation correctly (a problem with OCR in general), I was able to easily understand the text.  This works best with sans serif fonts like Arial, but Times New Roman also worked well.

Is there a learning curve?

It took a bit of practice to scan in a straight line from a book, since I had to balance the book with my left hand and scan with my right.  Because of this, some of the punctuation looked a bit off and I cut off the last two letters of each line at first.  When I tried scanning in a worksheet that was sitting on my desk, I had much more success and very few, if any, errors.  It helps to practice gliding the pen in a straight line, checking to see that the line of text is inside the clear tip of the pen.  It took me probably fifteen minutes to master this.

Use it with other apps

The text can easily be shared within several different apps, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Microsoft Word, OneNote, and more.  The user can also use copy and paste to have the text displayed in any app they want.  Alternatively, the user can store the text in the ScanMarker app, though the display text in the app is a bit small, so I prefer to copy and paste it somewhere else.

Information isn’t stored

This may not seem like a benefit at first, since the ScanMarker Air must be used alongside another device.  However, having the pen scan information directly into another app, without storing information on the device itself, is actually a great feature.  This is part of why the device is so lightweight, but another benefit is that it is more likely to be approved as an accommodation for testing- whether it’s a test in the classroom, the SAT, the ACT, or a state standardized test.  This is considered a high-tech assistive technology device, for accommodations purposes.

Long battery life

According to the manufacturer, the device’s battery life is about a week with normal use.  I estimate this to be anywhere from 8-12 hours, meaning it can get through a school day without having to be charged again.  It did take five hours to charge the first time, but it can still be used when plugged into a computer charging, and Bluetooth seemed to work as well while it was charging.

How it can be used

There are so many ways the ScanMarker Air can be used both inside the classroom and outside of it!  Some examples are:

  • Scanning in equations in math class
  • Reading along in a book
  • Taking notes
  • Complex chemistry equations
  • Scanning barcodes at the store
  • Reading menus at a restaurant
  • Interpreting foreign languages
  • And more

I would highly recommend this device to people with print disabilities such as low vision and dyslexia, as well as people with dysgraphia who may have trouble taking notes.  This is also great for people who frequently have to copy large amounts of information, or who need to quickly scan in documents.  I know my experiences in school would have been different if I had this device back then.

 

 

Two of Everything: My Life with Double Vision


Following John McCain’s diagnosis of glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer, a lot more people have been asking me about how double vision is managed, as glioblastoma can cause vision problems such as double and blurred vision, as well as a variety of other symptoms.   It is a fairly rare form of cancer, though other politicians such as Beau Biden and Ted Kennedy had the same type of cancer.  Here are a few things I have learned from my experiences with double vision as a result of a non life-threatening brain condition that heavily mimics glioblastoma in terms of vision loss.

Some background

I was diagnosed with accommodative esotropia at three years old, a common childhood eye problem that causes double vision, issues with depth perception, and reading.  It is characterized by crossed eyes, with one eye turning inward towards the nose, although vision issues can start before the eyes actually cross.  For a lot of children with this condition, glasses can correct vision to 100%, and the condition naturally goes away by age nine.  Unless there’s something else.

My vision got rapidly worse around when I turned nine years old- on my ninth birthday, I was unable to see a parade going on less than ten feet away.  My vision continued to sharply decline when I was eleven, and I had a one muscle eye surgery in 2008 to prevent my eyesight from getting worse.  Around when I was 14, I started to experience chronic migraines, chronic pain, worsening eyesight, and several other symptoms, and was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation at age 18, a congenital brain condition that often isn’t diagnosed until teenage years.  Because I had vision loss as a result of the accommodative esotropia as well as Chiari, I received the additional diagnosis of decompensated strabismus, meaning I have low vision issues originating from my eyes as well as my brain (read more about my eye surgery for this condition here and here).

What my glasses look like

My glasses prescription does not fully correct my eyesight, no prescription exists that can.  In the past, I wore thick prisms in my glasses, which are similar to magnifying lenses.  These are extremely common for people with double vision following brain injuries or other neurological conditions.  After my eye surgery, I no longer wear prisms.  My glasses are also tinted a dark gray color due to my photosensitivity.

It’s not always two separate images

Depending on how my eyes focus, I can see two distinctly separate images, or two images blended together.  If a person is standing in front of me, I may see two completely separate images, as if identical twins are standing in front of me.  Alternatively, the images may appear as a shadow, as if one image is floating above the other.  The most common for me is to see the images blended together side-by-side, so a person appears to have two heads and three arms/legs.

It can be hard to figure out which is the original image

Sometimes, I can figure out which image is actually there, and which is the mirror image.  However, my friends will tell you, I spend a lot of time grabbing onto thin air thinking I found something, when it is actually right next to whatever I’m grabbing.  I usually realize this within a second or two, mostly because I have had this vision issue all of my life.

Can you drive with double vision?

While a select number of people may be able to drive with double vision, I do not drive due to my other visual issues.  None of my other friends with double vision drive either.

Reading and double vision

With double vision, letters run into each other or form shadows, and I have difficulty reading long words as a result of this.  Thankfully, when processing information, the brain does not read every letter, and normally I can infer what the word is based on context clues.  It is more difficult if I am reading an unfamiliar word, or working on a math problem where every letter and number is crucial.  In addition to the double vision, I also have blurry vision that makes reading standard print sizes impossible.

What’s a print disability?

A print disability is the inability to read standard text, usually due to a learning or visual disability.  Some examples of accessible text include large print, weighted fonts, Braille, and audiobooks.  Read more about print disabilities here.

Large print

Large print helps my eyes to focus better and helps me understand words easier.  I typically ask for size 22 Arial font, as it is clear to read.  I had an IEP all through school to receive large print services- more on my print accommodations here.  All of my devices have large print on them as well- learn how to make Android accessible here, iPad accessible here, and Windows 10 accessible here.

Contrast

Sharp white paper with black text provides a large amount of glare and can make the double images seem much more intense and difficult to decipher.  I prefer to use tinted backgrounds to increase the readability of font, and actually did a science project on this to show which colors work best.

How I read

In high school, I received textbooks through AIM-VA, a state organization that provides accessible educational materials to students with print disabilities free of cost.  I receive other books through Bookshare, a national accessible library that allows people with diagnosed print disabilities to read almost any book they want, from New York Times Bestsellers to classic novels for school (it also receives federal funding).  For college, I purchase digital textbooks and carry them on my iPad.  I love living in a digital age where I can find accessible print for almost anything in an instant.  I don’t feel like I’m missing out on anything.

Assistive technology

I also use a few devices that are specifically designed for helping users with double vision/low vision.  Portable closed-circuit televisions, or portable CCTVs, are some of the most common high-tech devices used for low vision.  I have an E-Bot Pro that I use to read larger documents such as tests, and a smaller Eschenbach SmartLux that is the size of my cell phone.  So even if I am presented with a document that isn’t in large print, I can access it easily with these devices.

Double vision takes some adjusting, but it is in no way a catastrophic condition that will dramatically alter someone’s life.  Technology has come a long way, and people with double vision/low vision can easily continue to work as long as they have assistive technology and other accommodations.  Besides, sometimes it’s fun to see two of everything- after all, it’s better to see two ice cream cones than one!

Ten “Weird” Things I Brought to College


As a student with low vision and chronic illness, my dorm room looks a little different than a typical room. I live in a single room, meaning I have no roommate, and share a bathroom with one to three people, as opposed to with the entire hall. I have been very fortunate to have this housing arrangement, and cannot recommend it enough for students with chronic migraines. Because of this atypical arrangement, I brought a couple of “weird” things to college with me to help me both inside and outside the classroom. Here are ten of the items:

Bed rail

My first morning at college, I rolled out of bed, literally- I fell from three feet in the air and landed on my face. My parents bought me a toddler bedrail for me to use at night so this experience wouldn’t happen again. I found it also keeps all of my blankets from falling on the floor. A bunch of my friends even went on to buy bedrails for their own dorm bed. My parents found a bedrail for $20 at Walmart.

Desktop computer

I will have a full post on why I chose to bring a desktop computer, but here are the simple reasons- about 50% of my classes are virtual, I rely on digital tools for school, and type all of my assignments due to dysgraphia. My specific computer also has a built in 3D scanner so I can easily enlarge items.

Contact paper

Having low vision means I’m more prone to spilling things and knocking them over- it happens so often, my mom called to tell me she saw a child with glasses knock over a cup and thought of me. I decided to cover my dresser, desk, and closet doors in contact paper to help protect against water that will inevitably be knocked over, or other messes. It cleans up very easily and doesn’t damage the furniture. I got marble contact paper from Amazon for about $7 a roll, and used 7 rolls total.

Blackout curtains

I have severe sensitivity to light when I have migraines, and require a completely dark environment to recover.  Lightning storms, or as I call them, nature’s strobe lights, can also affect my recovery.  My family purchased these blackout curtains from Target that block out all light when they are closed, and I had them fire proofed for free at a college event on campus, as curtains are required to be fire proofed in the dorms.  I got two of these curtains here.

Google Chromecast

There’s a full review of the Chromecast here, though I have used this device often. I stream videos, use it as a second monitor for my computer, screen-cast my phone, and more. It was a little difficult to set up, but my post explains how I did it. Get one here.

Rolling backpack

Starting my senior year of high school, I would use a rolling backpack for all of my school supplies. I am able to carry all of the materials I need for class without throwing out my back or shoulders. While there are some days I have to use a backpack (like when I have to bring my E-Bot Pro or musical instrument to class), it has saved me on many days. My backpack was purchased at Costco, but I found a similar one here.

Video camera

While my college has video cameras for students to borrow, I chose to bring my own video camera to school. I had purchased my camera about a year prior for a mentorship, and enjoyed doing videography in high school. I have used the camera surprisingly often, from doing class projects to practicing lectures to entering contests, along with helping many friends with film projects. In addition, I brought a tripod that fits in a bag stored underneath my bed, and a camera bag. My camera has been discontinued, but it is a JVC shock, drop, and freeze proof camera with a touchscreen.

Tons of stuff for my bed

I have a full list of the items on my bed here, and probably brought way more items for my bed than the average student, mostly because I spend a lot of time in bed recovering from migraines. As a result, I probably have one of the coziest beds on campus.

Urbio

The Urbio Perch is a wall storage system that uses command strips and magnets. I use Urbio boards on both my walls and on furniture- I attach pens and highlights to the side of my desk, toiletries to the side of my dresser, and I have four boards on my wall that contain my hair dryer, chargers, winter items, and important papers. Stay tuned for a post on how they look in my dorm room. Get it from Container Store here.

Echo Dot

This is a new addition to my electronics collection, but it has been an amazing tool. I wrote a full review on it here, but some of the many things I use it for include as a talking clock, timer/alarm, weather forecasts, calculator, news source, and especially for music. Get it here on Amazon.

While these are definitely uncommon items to pack for college, I have gotten a ton of use out of them and am glad I didn’t have to have my parents mail me these items later.

College Libraries and Low Vision


This shouldn’t be overly surprising, but I don’t really go to libraries that often. I appreciate their existence, and believe they are very important, but they often don’t have services for people like me- students with low vision. There aren’t very many large print books available, and the few books that are large print tend to be romance novels or board books. College libraries have even fewer large print books, if any at all, and it can seem like there is no benefit to using the libraries. However, a lot of colleges have recently improved their libraries for patrons with low vision. While I’m still yet to find a large print book to check out, there are still tons of great resources for students of all vision levels. Here are ten unexpected tools I have been able to use through my college library, free of charge.

Assistive technology

Even at the smallest campus library, there are CCTVs and computers that have accessibility settings enabled. These computers often contain magnification softwares, screen readers, adapted keyboards, and similar. I’ve also seen computers that have switches enabled for people with physical disabilities at another library.

Testing center

While my college has a dedicated testing center for students with disabilities in another building, there are still computers that can be used for testing. These are available for students without disabilities, though if there is an issue with the testing center and student does not require any elaborate accommodations, they can take an exam on one of these computers. This only applies to tests that are in a digital format or that use a software like LockDown browser.

Equipment rental

Our library has lots of great equipment that students are able to rent. Laptops are usually the most common to rent, but students (of all majors) can also rent cameras, video recorders, sound equipment, and even projectors. Another unexpected tool I have been able to use is a fast loading scanner, connected to the computer lab.

Recording studios

One of my favorite recording studios in the library has the user plug in a flash drive, push a button, and then they are recording a video that is downloaded to their flash drive. This has been incredibly helpful for people who need to do a simple video with no editing for a class, and I’ve seen people with blindness really benefit from the simple interface. Other recording studios are also available for students to use their own (or borrowed) equipment, as well as create audio recordings.

Remote Usage

Unable to leave your dorm room and need to access a specific piece of software for a class? Several schools offer remote desktop solutions so that students can work from their own computers, with their own accessibility settings. Some softwares may require advanced reservations, but I’ve always been able to log on immediately. I have tried this on my Windows 10 laptop and desktop computer with great success, and iPad with mixed results, as sometimes data would run off the screen.

Electronic media

I have been surprised to find many books and scholarly papers available digitally that I could immediately access, no matter what device I was on. There are a lot of digital items that students can check out and cite, and this has helped me with many research papers. I found this materials by searching the library catalog and then filtering it by selecting “digital materials.”

Journal applications

My college supports an application called BrowZine, which allows students and staff to search scholarly journals written by people at the university, as well as browse some magazines. Some professors require students to cite at least one article from these types of databases, and the fact that I am able to enlarge these articles on my iPad makes it easier to do.

Study rooms

While I haven’t done this, one of my friends had a creative way of dealing with a sudden migraine attack that came on in the middle of the library. Since there weren’t many people around at the time, they rented a study room, which was closed off to the rest of the library and free of light and sound, and went in there to lie down until their roommate could come get them. This is against library policy, however because the roommate was arriving in less than ten minutes and no one else was waiting for the room, they allowed it. I’m including it not only because my friend suggested I do, but also because this was one of the most interesting solutions I have ever heard of for dealing with sudden migraines, and reminded me of how the library can be a safe space for people with disabilities. These study rooms can be great for students who need a modified studying environment, or that feel a migraine coming on and need to be in an environment that will not further trigger migraines.

Databases

My college has databases for nearly every major, filled with software, scholarly articles, videos, ebooks, web resources, and so much more. These are separate from the traditional library catalog, and I found I was able to access all of the databases regardless of my major. I was able to find resources for assistive technology across several different subjects.

Workshops

For students that have trouble using certain softwares, the library frequently offers workshops on popular softwares, and students can request workshops as well for groups of three or more. I attended a workshop on a software I had to use for creating a digital research library, and was able to get all of my questions answered.

Not all libraries may have these resources, and some may have even more resources than what I have listed. It’s great to stop by and ask what resources are available digitally or to students with disabilities. You never know what you will find!

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.

Why To Take Virtual Classes in College

Living with chronic illness, it can be very difficult to get out of bed, let alone get to class. While I am able to push myself to get to a majority of my classes, sometimes I just want to be able to do school work without having to move too much. Because of this, I have chosen to incorporate virtual classes into my college schedule, and it has helped me a lot in managing my time and improving my grades. Here are some of the reasons I appreciate virtual classes, and my tips for success. As of spring 2017, I have taken 13 virtual classes in four semesters of college.

Better scheduling

I’ve found that there were a few classes that either were held extremely early in the morning or late at night. Since my vision fluctuates throughout the day, these class times are not a good fit for me. With virtual classes, I can work on assignments while my vision is doing well.

Get ahead easily

Many of my professors post several weeks of class work in advance, so if I am feeling well, I will complete the assignments early,  in case I wind up feeling not-so-well later on. Professors also seem to be more flexible about students turning in late work if an emergency comes up- I was able to easily get extensions on assignments when needed.

Take classes from anywhere

The only reason I got credits my first semester was because of virtual classes. I had two separate medical emergencies happen in the span of November 2015 and spent over six weeks at home (several hours from school) recovering. Basically, I disappeared right after midterms and only came back to school because I had to take a final exam. While I was recovering at home, I was able to continue with my virtual classes and stay on track, and I didn’t even tell my virtual teachers how sick I was until after the class had ended. With the flexibility to take classes anywhere, I was able to do very well that semester.

Use your own assistive technologies

With virtual classes, I can use all of my own technology which is fine-tuned to my preferences. I also can learn which devices, applications, and extensions work best for certain classes and how to create accessible documents. Bonus- I don’t have to balance five devices on a small desk.

Less “fluff” work

One of my friends was often complaining about having to do group projects and other frustrating assignments in one of their classes. I took the same class virtually and only had to worry about reading material, answering three questions a week, and writing a total of two essays. That was it! I didn’t have to worry about investing a ton of energy into a general education class, and I could spend more time on my other classes.

Get used to working independently

One of the common complaints about virtual classes is that there is no one to reinforce deadlines and other materials. This is actually a good thing, as no one is going to be around to remind you of every little thing in the real world. Learning to budget time and research topics online are important skills to have.

You won’t be seen as a disability

While it is important to share your disability services file with your professor, you don’t have to worry about sticking out in class discussions because of your disability, if you are worried about that. In one of my classes (that I dropped immediately), lots of students and even the professor were staring at my blindness cane like it was some type of foreign object and asking a lot of strange questions. In virtual classes, no one can see you.

Take tests in your own environment

Not all virtual classes are like this, but being able to take tests and quizzes in your own testing environment is an awesome advantage to taking these types of classes. I always appreciate being able to take a quiz from the comfort of my own desk, or to take a test with one of my pain relief wraps on.

Adjunct professors

Professors can teach from anywhere in the world, and this is often beneficial as the student is able to learn information from someone in the field, or get a global perspective on a topic. For my global understanding requirement, I had a professor who had travelled to many different countries and was able to educate the class on many different topics related to global health and policy. Another one of my professors was popular at another university from halfway across the country, and we got to take a class with them. I’ve even had professors living in other countries.

Learn more about yourself

This may seem weird, but I have learned a lot about how I access materials and learn through taking virtual classes, probably because I rely on technology a lot. With the ability to take a variety of different classes, I have been able to learn how I process information best, and which technologies are most helpful. I know that virtual classes will help me a lot in the future as well, especially since I want to work with accessibility.

Virtual classes have been an amazing resource for me. I am grateful that my college has really embraced virtual education and that I have been able to take almost any class that I want.

Eschenbach SmartLux Review


I was at a low vision exam when I got on the subject of assistive technology with the ophthalmologist. He told me he had some “toys” that I could try out. At first, he brought out some colored filters to put on top of paper, and page guides. But then he brought out the Eschenbach SmartLux, and I told my mom that I didn’t want to leave that day without one of my own.

The Eschenbach SmartLux is a portable CCTV that’s about the size of a smartphone. It can zoom in up to 12x and has its own built in kickstand on the back for hands free use. It uses large buttons in order to control the device, with tactile labels to help assist users.

It has different contrast settings for the images, including natural light, white on black, black on white, black on yellow, and yellow on black. I typically work with black on white or black on yellow, unless I’m working with a photograph. In the white on black display mode, I am able to read even fine pencil marks, something I can’t do with any other device. It’s easy to operate since there are only four buttons- zoom in/out, change contrast, freeze image, and on/off. The display feels natural for me to read on, even in bright sunlight, but I also am used to reading on a screen for long periods of time.

This device is worth its eight ounce weight in gold. Last year for my literature class, we had to read a graphic novel that was not available digitally. Using the SmartLux, I was able to easily read the novel from a paper copy I got from the library. I’ve also used it in restaurants to read menus and to read forms, and it’s been fantastic.  Because of its ability to detect pencil in high contrast displays, I’ve also  been able to use it to view drawings from my highly talented friends.

Even though it was expensive, costing $600, this little device has been perfect in situations where my E-Bot Pro would be too large or too heavy for me to transport. I can’t use conventional magnifying lenses due to the prism in my glasses, so these digital magnifiers have given me the freedom to access print materials along with my peers, something I am very grateful for.