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.

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.

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.

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.

Google Chromecast Review

Occasionally, I have trouble focusing my eyes to read text on my phone or tablet. In these cases, zooming in is futile, and I find it easier to focus through the top half of the bifocal in my glasses. Instead of bending my head at weird angles or holding my device up higher, I use a Google Chromecast to project my screen onto the TV- no wires or cables necessary.

The Chromecast is a $35 device that allows the user to connect their computer, tablet, or phone to their TV. The device is plugged into a HDMI port on the TV, and it also uses a power outlet. By using the same wifi hotspot as the other device, the Chromecast can project internet tabs, apps, and more onto a TV. My family has at least three of these devices in the house, and I even brought one to college with me. Here are some of the ways I have used it, both as assistive technology and just as a useful resource with my various devices.

Setting it up

To set up the device, simply plug one end into the wall and the other end into the HDMI port of the TV, which is best described as a rectangle with a smaller rectangle on top. After that, go to the Chromecast set up website or app to finish the process, which includes connecting it to a wifi hotspot and giving it a name.

If you are setting it up at college, you may need to register the MAC address first, as I explained in my post about the Amazon Echo Dot, since chances are you have to use a username and password to log on to the school wifi. My school has a device registration website where the user can register up to five wireless devices that connect to the unsecured internet hotspot. By registering the MAC address on the college website, which can be found in the Chromecast app settings, it can be used on a college campus without any complicated networks to set up. I found that I am able to easily use the device no matter what wifi hotspot my other devices are connected to.

Android phone

With most later versions of Android, 6.0 and up, the user can easily cast their entire phone screen by swiping down on the status bar and selecting cast. I use this late at night when I have trouble focusing my eyes on text messages, or when I am using an app that has small font. This is also useful when I am demonstrating a function on my phone to someone, as it is more practical to look up at a screen than to look over my shoulder.

iPad

Many apps on the iPad support streaming to Chromecast, including Netflix, YouTube, Google Chrome, Google Video, and others. I use Google Chrome the most out of those three apps to broadcast tabs I am working on, watch videos, enlarge files, and more. YouTube has also been very helpful when I have to take notes on something at the same time- the video or app doesn’t have to be open on the iPad in order for it to broadcast. With the Google Video and Netflix apps, I have been able to watch movies with my friends who live in other states and iMessage or talk about the movie at the same time.

Google Chrome

With my desktop and laptop computers, I have been able to mirror tabs open in Google Chrome onto my TV flawlessly. Because some websites are impossible to zoom in on, I often will broadcast them to the TV to read information better. Extensions such as Adblock are still able to be used on the screen. Most recently, I broadcast a PDF file that I opened in Google Chrome to the TV so I could see it better.

Bonus offers

At times, the Chromecast will have special offers available for users. Some offers have included free trials, free movie rentals, and even Google Play credit which can be used to buy apps, movies, books, games, TV shows, etc in the Google Play store.

Overall review

In the two years I have been using it regularly, I have found this device to be incredibly useful and an affordable alternative to a smart TV, and it’s incredibly easy to use- my parents who describe themselves as technology challenged are able to use the device with ease. With all of the bonus offers, the device has paid for itself, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who benefits from a larger screen.

I received no compensation for this review and purchased this item on my own.  This is a completely unbiased review.