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.

Kindle Fire for Low Vision Review


A few months ago, Amazon did a special where you could purchase a refurbished Kindle Fire 7″ tablet for about $30. Now, I’m a huge fan of the Nook e-reader, and have been since it first came out, but I had been curious about Prime Reading and Kindle Unlimited, especially with the audio features. So I decided to try out the tablet, and here’s what I discovered. I was not compensated in any way for this review.  Link to tablet here.

First impressions

Having been an Android user since Eclair (2010), I naturally thought that the interface would be very familiar to me, especially since Android has been accessible to low vision in the past. I went to use my tricks to make Android accessible…and found a lot of them didn’t work on the tablet, because of Amazon’s custom operating system, and I couldn’t use any Android third party applications, which I rely on a lot. So this tablet was definitely going to be for reading only, not using any other applications.

The screen reader

I was surprised how much I liked the screen reader built into the system. It is enabled by touch, instead of needlessly reading through settings. I have to triple click to get to anything, so I decided to disable the magnifier. I normally do not use screen readers, and prefer large print or magnifier tools when possible.

Viewing the library

Because of the small screen, I decided to view what was available for the Kindle on my computer. As a Prime member, I have access to several titles for free, a lot of which I recognized from popular series, and can check out an unlimited amount of books with this service. I can also check out one book a month with the Kindle lending library. A handful of books are synced with Audible narration, so I can alternate between reading and listening- not many are, though. There’s also magazines available, but I prefer to read those using the Zinio app (more on that here).

Kindle Unlimited

There’s another feature available called Kindle Unlimited, which gives users unlimited access to about a third of the catalog for $10 a month. A lot more of these titles have Audible narration available, which is fantastic for users who prefer audiobooks. This is especially helpful for users that are blind that prefer natural speaking voices, as opposed to the screen reader.  However, a majority of the titles can also be found on Prime Reading, so it doesn’t make much sense for me to have it, especially since I don’t use the Audible feature a lot.

Actually reading

I kept the screen reader turned on when reading, but found it extremely difficult to turn pages. I ended up turning it off and using the Audible narration built in. I’m sure there’s some trick to page turning that I don’t understand yet, but the large print was generously sized enough for me.  Here are my typical preferences for print materials.

Using other services

I use Bookshare, a special service for people who are blind or have low vision to receive accessible books. I had problems trying to load these books onto the tablet, even though they were in the universally accessible EPUB format. I consider myself extremely tech savvy, so this was a strange experience. I did not see any accessible reading apps from Bookshare available on the Amazon app store either. OverDrive, a book service my library subscribes to, worked very well on the Kindle though (more about that here).

Review

I found the Kindle Fire to be a good tablet with a bit of a learning curve. It’s not the most accessible tablet for people with low vision or blindness, though. I am going to keep using it to see if it improves over time, but for right now my recommendation for eReaders has not changed. I continue to recommend the Nook GlowLight for books and for using Bookshare, and iPad for textbooks and magazines. If Amazon improves navigation with the screen reader or gives users larger text options, this will change.

Kindle for low vision

After doing some research, I discovered that there is a Kindle system specifically configured for users with low vision or blindness. It comes with a Kindle PaperWhite, which does not display color. It also includes a special audio adapter so the user can control the system using their voice, something that would have been an amazing feature on this Fire tablet. It also comes with a $20 Amazon credit to defray the cost of the additional adapter, as Amazon believes it shouldn’t cost extra to have accessible materials, something I really appreciate. I have not tested out this system, but it seems to be a much better layout for people with low vision.

Overall, I was not overly impressed with this tablet, especially since I am a devoted Bookshare user, and the service did not work very well with the Kindle. However, I see potential in this device, and if it can improve its accessibility features, or be compatible with the voice control system, it would be a great resource for people with low vision.

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!

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!