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!

What’s in my Bag- Class Edition


As a college student with low vision, chronic pain, and chronic migraines, the items I bring to class to help me succeed are often vastly different than my classmates. This doesn’t mean I have an unfair advantage, but rather that I use different tools to ensure my success in the classroom. Here are the items that I often have when I go to my classes. For reference, I live on campus, have a file with Disability Services for use of assistive technology, and my university embraces the use of student technology.Writing

Sharpie Pens

I use this ultra fine tip pens for writing on assignments in lieu of pencil when needed. I try to get materials digital whenever possible, especially because I have dysgraphia, but sometimes there are assignments where the teacher is worried about having a digital copy floating around. I tend to use bright colors, though try to avoid red whenever possible.

Scented Markers

I decided to try these out on a whim for my math class this semester, and they have been a phenomenal resource. The scented markers are easy to hold and write/draw with. Why scented markers? There is a study that shows that having the same scent in the learning and testing environment helps with memory retention, and I use different colors for different topics when studying.

Cardstock

With the use of pens and markers, I need paper that will not fall apart or bleed through. I got a large package of cardstock that is 8.5″ x 11″ from Amazon, and it has been excellent for doing scratch work.

Personal Technology

Microsoft Surface

I use a Microsoft Surface Pro 3, with Windows 10, in my classes that require a lot of typing or the use of Windows apps. Some of the classrooms have very small desks, and I have found that the Surface easily stays put and doesn’t hang off the edge of the desk. Check out how to make Windows 10 accessible here!

iPad

Oh, my beloved iPad. I have no idea what I would do without it. In addition to the apps I use in the classroom (more on that here), I also use it for internet research and for class activities. It’s a lightweight device, something I appreciate when I have to walk around the classroom.  Check out how to make iPad accessible here!

Android Phone

While I don’t use this as frequently in the classroom as my other two devices, my phone is a fantastic resource for apps. Some examples include a portable scanner, discreet magnifier, and apps from my iPad synced to my phone. Not many of my professors have a no-phone policy, but the ones who did had no problem with letting me use mine, as long as I had headphones plugged in or sound otherwise disabled.  Check out how to make Android accessible here!

Assistive Technology

E-Bot Pro

Depending on the class, I would bring my E-Bot Pro to help magnify items. Even though it is lightweight by CCTV standards, I bring it in a rolling bag or a similar method because of the weight on my shoulders and back. I have most frequently used the E-Bot Pro in math and science classes, and teachers have been very receptive to it. It usually requires an additional desk for me to be able to use it.  Review here.

SmartLux

My portable CCTV has been an awesome resource, especially in my English classes. One example of when I used it is to read a graphic novel/comic that was not available digitally. I especially appreciate the built-in stand.  Review here.

Pain relief

Peppermint essential oil

When I feel a migraine coming on, sniffing peppermint essential oil helps me to delay (not prevent) the symptoms of a migraine from taking over. Having peppermint scented items has a similar effect- one of my friends wears a necklace that acts as a diffuser for essential oils.

Lidocaine Patch

If I suddenly have a spasm or intense pain, I will go to the bathroom and apply one of these. The cooling, numbing effect helps me begin to manage the pain. Just make sure to take them off after twelve hours. Mine were prescribed by my neurologist, but there is a version available over the counter as well.

Compression Sleeve

When I have numbness/pain in my arms or legs during class, I will put on a copper-infused compression sleeve to help with symptoms. I keep one for my arm and one for my leg.

Nonperishable snack

I keep two small protein bars in my backpack for when there is a break during class or when I can’t concentrate on anything but food. My teachers don’t usually mind students having small, non-messy foods. I would recommend not having any with peanuts or peanut butter, in case someone is allergic.

Ear Plugs

In one of the buildings on campus, there is a very noisy fan that makes it difficult to concentrate. These ear plugs have been great with helping me focus on what’s important, and are extremely comfortable too.

Unless I am bringing my E-Bot Pro, all of these items easily fit into my rolling backpack, and I have had no issues with bringing them around campus. If needed, I will put everything else into a backpack and then put the E-Bot Pro into the rolling backpack. All of these materials are stored easily underneath my desk or in front of my feet.

Save Bookshare

Author’s note- Bookshare, a service that provides large print and Braille digital books for people with print disabilities worldwide, is currently in danger of losing federal funding. As a student with low vision, I have been using Bookshare since 2011 and it has dramatically changed the way I read. Below, I have written a sample letter for my local congressmen and senators so they can see how important this service really is. Feel free to use my letter as a template to send to your local representatives.  Read more about Bookshare here.



Dear (representative),

My name is Veronica, and I am a college student here in Virginia studying software engineering and assistive technology, to develop tools for people with disabilities. I graduated from Virginia public schools in 2015 with an advanced diploma and a 3.8 GPA. In addition, I run my own blog about assistive technology and disability life at www.veroniiiica.com. This wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t have Bookshare, an accessible media library that’s in danger of losing federal funding in the FY2017.

I have low vision, which means that I can’t access standard print materials and require large print. Large print books can be very expensive and hard to find, and sometimes the font size isn’t big enough. Bookshare digitally scans in books so that users can access them in whatever format suits them best- large print, Braille, or audio. Almost any book that can be found in the local library can be found on Bookshare, and I can read the same books that my peers are reading. I’m not just limited to the small large print selection at my library or the even smaller selection at the local bookstore.

I have been using Bookshare since 2011, and it has helped me tremendously both inside and outside of the classroom. Before I had Bookshare, I would have to order large print books that would take weeks to come in, and then I would have to catch up with the rest of the class on the reading. My classmates would talk about books they had read for hours on end, and I would often be excluded from the conversation because large print wasn’t available for the book they were talking about, or the book would be too heavy for me to carry around, like in the case of the Harry Potter series. Once I got Bookshare, I could carry my books around on an eReader or tablet, and download a book almost instantly to read in class. I started reading more and more, and was able to join more discussions in class. Education is invaluable, and with accessible materials, more students are able to learn and go on to pursue higher level education, enter the workforce, and contribute to society. By making these materials accessible, students can thrive in the educational environment, as opposed to failing because they can’t see the materials and believing that they just can’t learn.

People with disabilities are one of the fastest growing minorities here in the United States, with about 1 in 6 people having some type of disability. Disability affects all economic classes, races, nationalities, and other demographics. By funding Bookshare, it ensures that more than 400,000 people with print disabilities are able to access materials. Without it, the responsibility would fall on state and local governments to provide for their students, and the selection wouldn’t be as large, easy to access, or as inexpensive as Bookshare is- Bookshare is able to create materials at a cost that’s fifteen times less than the previous national program.

I hope that you will advocate to restore the Technology and Media FY2017 budget line to $30 million, the same as it was in 2016. Bookshare is extremely important to me, and so many other students, and we don’t want to imagine life without it.

Sincerely,

Veronica Lewis