What’s in my Bag- High School Edition


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

The backpack

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

Laptop

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

eReader

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

iPad

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

Android phone

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

Magnifier

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

Ear plugs

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

Portable scanner

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

Sharpie pens

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

Rainbow paper

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

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

eReaders and Low Vision


I remember when Barnes and Noble first announced they would be selling their own eReader, the Nook.  The other eReaders on the market at the time had small keyboards and the display was difficult to see for someone with low vision. But the Nook was different, as it supported large text and had a huge library of titles available.  This was a dream come true for someone with a print disability (more about print disabilities here)

Over the years, I have continued to use Nook eReaders (though I also tried out a Kindle Fire) and highly recommend them.  It may seem weird to continue to use an eReader, especially as tablets have become more prevalent.  Here are my reasons for continuing to use an eReader, and why I think every student should have one.

Bookshare compatibility

I can download books from my beloved Bookshare (read more about them here and here) from my computer and onto my Nook with ease.  This process has been immensely simplified since Bookshare started supporting downloads of EPUB file formats, which can be directly added to my Nook, no lengthy file conversion or fancy accessibility hacks necessary.  The books are perfect from the start!

Displays that minimize glare

Reading on a display with backlight can be very tiring on the eyes (read more about managing eye strain from technology here).  Many eReaders are available with a paper-like display that feels just as natural as reading from the page of a book.  Another bonus is that the displays are often off-white, meaning that there is no additional glare from the sharp contrast of the page (read more about colored backgrounds and the readability of text here).

Portable

It’s easy to throw an eReader in a backpack or purse and take it anywhere.  They’re also lightweight and can be held for long periods of time, even with one hand.  A lot of tablets start to feel heavy after a few minutes or need a stand of some sort, but not eReaders.  eReaders are also much lighter than large print books.

Easier to integrate in the classroom

When I first started using my Nook in middle school, no one really noticed it.  I attended a school that didn’t embrace technology, and while I did have some teachers complain about me using an eReader at first, once I explained how I could read anything I wanted and they didn’t have to worry about if a book was available in large print or not, they seemed much more accepting of the technology.

Almost every book is available digitally

Large print books can be difficult to find.  Often times, the large print sections at libraries  and bookstores will consist of romance novels and board books, neither which are age appropriate.  Large print books are available online, but can take days to arrive, and not every book is available in large print either.  With eReaders, almost every book in print is available in a digital format that can be enlarged.

Get a book in two minutes or less

I timed myself to see how long it takes for me to download books to my eReader.  I can quickly search titles on the bookstore or on Bookshare, click a few buttons, and then have whatever book I want in my hand.  This is incredibly helpful for when teachers decide to do surprise reading assignments, and I don’t have to scramble to find the book.

Books are less expensive

Large print books can get expensive very quickly, because of the additional resources needed.  eBooks tend to be less expensive- I have found them to be at least 50% cheaper than their physical counterparts.  There are also frequently sales and opportunities to get books for free.

Can use library resources

A lot of libraries have partnerships with other organizations that allows patrons to check out eBooks for weeks at a time, free of charge.  I wrote a post about the eBook services I have found at my local libraries in Virginia here.

Durable

Every piece of technology I have ever owned has been dropped before.  I would estimate some of my devices have been dropped very frequently, especially the ones I use every day like my phone.  I have found my eReaders withstand these drops extremely well, and thankfully none of my eReaders have been damaged.

Integration with accessibility features

Almost every eReader I have encountered since 2012 has supported large print for all books, as well as changing the font style for increased legibility.  There are also many devices that support screen readers and audiobooks- some systems even let the user read along in the book while the audio plays.

I love my eReader, and consider it one of my most amazing inventions for people who have print disabilities.  It’s amazing to see how such a simple device can change the world of a student who previously couldn’t read standard print materials.


 

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

Four Online Services Libraries Have For Low Vision Users (and everybody else!)


I’m used to walking into libraries and sighing because I’m in a giant building of things I can’t see. Most of the large print sections at libraries I’ve been to consist of romance novels, which I show no interest in reading, or books that have larger than average font that I still can’t see. Luckily, there is a growing number of libraries supporting these awesome services that allow a person like me with a print disability to read what my family is reading. All of these are free with your library card at participating libraries.  For more on accessing college libraries, click here.

Zinio Magazines

This allows users to download magazines from a variety of topics and read them free of charge on their devices. I frequently read food magazines, but there are so many different genres that there is something for everyone. Text can be scaled as large as necessary and pictures are high contrast as well.

OneClick Digital

Audiobooks that can be played through an Android, Kindle, or iOS app downloaded from their website, or downloaded from a computer and onto another device using a special file manager that can be found online. I like how everything is sorted by genre and how easy it is to find things.

OverDrive

Check out up to eight books at a time for up to 21 days and read either on an Android, Kindle, or iOS app, or download to your computer and convert the file using the free Adobe Digital Editions software and put it on any ereader you want- just know the title will disappear after you return it. I like the large amount of new releases, but it can get frustrating when there are too many people requesting the book.

Freegal Music

Accessed through freegalmusic.com, users can download three free songs a week from a massive catalog, or stream for up to three hours a day. There are audiobooks available and they are downloaded as MP3 files and can be played wherever MP3s are played. I download them to my iPod.

Because of these websites, I have been able to increase my access to materials that are accessible to me and so many other people.  I am so grateful that libraries are adding items that aren’t just books, they are services that can benefit a large amount of people.  Check today to see if your local library allows access to these services!