Virtual Classes in High School


At both high schools I attended, teachers often took a pencil-and-paper approach to learning. It was common for teachers to have students complete paper worksheets, take handwritten notes, and read out of textbooks. Any sighting of technology in the classroom was rare, minus the occasional graphing calculator or once a year iPad assignment. Assistive technology was an even rarer sight. Because of this, teachers were not provided the necessary resources to have a student like me, who could not read standard print materials or write clearly, and who frequently used technology. It was easy to see their frustration, and while some teachers did manage to include me in their classes, it was too difficult for others to integrate assistive technology into the classroom. So what is a student to do?

Enter, virtual classes.

Virtual classes in high school are offered through many different platforms, and can be taken full-time or part-time, for short or long term periods. These classes allow students to use their school’s or their personal technology to learn material and complete alternative, digital assignments. There are still class assessments, AP exams, and state standardized tests for classes, and students still receive the same amount of credit on their transcript. Here are ten of the reasons I am glad I took virtual classes. I took a total of sixteen virtual classes across all core subjects using the platforms Moodle, Desire2Learn, Rocket Learning, and Brigham Young University Independent Study, and graduated in 2015.  Permission to take virtual classes was not written in as an accommodation in my IEP.

Using my own technology

Often times, it was difficult to enable accessibility settings on school computers because of the restrictions set in place for students. Since virtual classes can be accessed on any internet-enabled device, I can use my own computer or iPad with settings exactly how I like them, and the school doesn’t have to worry about it.

Ability to get ahead in class

With chronic illness, there are weeks where I feel like I can get everything done and be on top of everything, and other weeks where I am spending a lot of time asleep. My teachers would post assignments early and encourage students to work ahead, which I would do when I was feeling great. As a result, it was uncommon for me to fall behind.

Practicing technology skills

It always surprises me how many students aren’t proficient in using technology. By taking virtual classes, I was able to practice researching topics on the internet with different tools, use Microsoft Office applications easily, and create my own accessible materials. This really helps me in college, as I have had professors that require all assignments be completed and submitted digitally, and have also taken virtual classes in college (more on that here).

Access class anytime

My senior year of high school, over half of my classes were virtual, and scheduled for the beginning and end of the day. Because of my chronic migraines, I was sleeping a lot more, since sleep is the only cure for my migraines, and would often do my assignments outside of traditional school hours. As long as the assignments were submitted on time, my teachers never minded this, and encouraged students to complete assignments whenever was most convenient for them.

My IEP was always followed

While I did have many teachers who followed my IEP in the classroom, there were teachers like I mentioned that had very few resources and couldn’t integrate a student with low vision into their classroom. In my virtual classes, my IEP was always followed, since I learned to self-advocate and make things accessible myself.

All materials can be enlarged

Sometimes, there would be a classroom assignment that was impossible to be made accessible. Since virtual class assignments are created with technology in mind, it is easy to change a font size or background color, zoom in on an image, or use a high contrast display.  Why I prefer digital materials here.

Take any class

There were times I was strongly encouraged not to take certain classes, as the teacher was skeptical about having a student with an IEP. For one of these classes, I took it virtually through a state program and had a teacher who was experienced not only with IEPs, but also with having students with low vision. I know I wouldn’t have had such a great experience if I had taken the class in the classroom, and I was thankful that I was able to take it virtually.

Another example is that I completed my PE and health requirements online, since being included in traditional PE classes would be near impossible- and being included in Driver’s Ed would have definitely been impossible! For more on my experience in taking PE virtually, click here.

Summer classes

I took a virtual class every summer in high school, but this setting was especially helpful when I had to repeat Algebra 2, due to my IEP accommodations not being met the first time I took the class. I found accessible graphing applications and a large print calculator, and was able to get an A when I retook the class. Best of all, I didn’t have to worry about being in the classroom environment again, where it would be more difficult for me to integrate technology.

Quiet testing environment

I remember for one of my classes, the testing environment was always very noisy, and it was difficult to concentrate. While I could take some tests at home, I also took tests at my school, traveling to quiet testing locations so I could concentrate.

Improved grades

Because I was able to access all of the materials and had my accommodations followed, I often received higher grades in my virtual classes than in my traditional classes. My senior year, when I had four virtual classes, I was able to get straight As!

Because I still attended school for electives, I never had to worry about missing out on the social aspect of being in the classroom. My virtual teachers were also just an email away, if I needed them, and there were also virtual education specialists based at my school. The virtual high school setup was perfect for me, and allowed me to eventually take virtual classes in college. I would not have graduated unless I had the opportunities I was given in virtual classes.

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.

Life with Chronic Migraines


The year is 2011, but I’m in too much pain to remember that at the moment. I’ve forgotten a lot of things- my own name, the name of my cat, what town I lived in, and who the president is. All I can sense is levels of pain that I have never felt in my life before, and I wish they would stop. My parents thought I was having a stroke, the local hospital thought it was a drug overdose. It wouldn’t be until three days later at the children’s hospital that I would get pain relief and the diagnosis of chronic migraines, something no one else in my family had.

Chronic migraines are defined as “more than fifteen headache days per month over a three month period of which more than eight are migrainous, in the absence of medication over use (International Headache Society).” Migraines commonly run in families, and can coexist with other neurological conditions as well. Another name for chronic migraines can be chronic daily headache. Since 2011, I have had more than 15 headache days a month, sometimes reaching up to 30 headache days, where I have a debilitating migraine every day, a symptom connected to my diagnosis of Chiari Malformation.

For me, my migraines are drug resistant, though my neurologists over the years have had me try several different medications with awful side effects. Topamax made me never hungry, Verapamil made me dizzy, Amytryptiline and Imitrex gave me allergic reactions, and Neurotin gave me worse side effects than I ever could have imagined. I was missing school to go sit in the nurse’s office or missing band performances because the flash photography was similar in frequency to a strobe light, my biggest trigger. I had to navigate freshman year of high school while on large amounts of migraine drugs with weird side effects, yet still having chronic pain. I wish that experience on no one.

I started to manage my symptoms with massage therapy and acupuncture, and found that helped a lot with managing my migraines. It didn’t lessen their frequency, but because there was less pain in my neck and shoulders, the pain seemed more tolerable. I also start finding simple remedies that help me manage my symptoms, like peppermint essential oil to combat nausea or doing yoga to release muscle tension. Using alternative medicine has helped me a lot, though I understand that it isn’t meant to cure my migraines.

My senior year of high school, I was in almost all virtual classes for several reasons, one of which was my chronic migraines. I would sleep through my first period class, come to school for second and third period, and often leave during fourth period. Alternatively, I would stay through fourth period and then go home and crash in bed. Sleep was really the only way I could manage my migraines, which could be triggered by flashing lights, loud noises, the weather, or seemingly nothing at all. Food triggers were ruled out as the cause of my migraines, as well as vitamin deficiencies and similar conditions. My migraines were confirmed to be caused by Chiari Malformation in October 2015.

Fortunately, I have been able to attend college several hours from home and continue to manage my migraine condition. I have a private bedroom, meaning I do not have a roommate, but do have 1-3 suitemates who I share a bathroom and living area with. My disability housing accommodations state that I should have a lower-level private room with air conditioning, and the ability to make my room completely dark, as I am sensitive to light and sound when I have migraines. I also have a file with Office of Disability Services that says I have migraines. I schedule my college classes at times where I usually don’t get migraines and often come home from class and sleep (read more about my bed here). I have also gone to class with migraines before, as I know the migraine won’t improve whether I’m sitting in my room or sitting in the classroom.

Often times, people can’t believe that I am able to function through my migraines so well, and ask how I am able to live through this pain. The truth is, I have two options- let everything consume me and just sit in my room all day, or get used to the pain and live my life. While that first option may be beneficial for some people (and I understand pain is relative), I have chosen the second option of developing a superhuman pain tolerance and just living life. I do not like talking much about my condition in real life, because I do not want sympathy or attention from others, especially people I barely know, as I can manage my pain just fine. My close friends and family know the depth of my condition, and that’s more than enough.

I can’t say that life with chronic migraines is the best thing ever, but I can say it has made me a more understanding person. Whenever someone around me experiences migraines, I can relate on a deep level to the pain, sensitivity to the world, and feeling like hair weighs 100 pounds. I understand there are people who have it worse than me, but my hope is that my experiences with chronic migraines can help someone else understand their condition more.

My College Bed

My College Bed

When I was shopping in preparation for freshman move-in, one of the main things I focused on was my bed.  I have Chiari Malformation, which causes severe back and neck pain, as well as chronic migraines that can only be treated with sleep, so I spend more time resting in bed than the average college student.  Because of this, it was extremely important that my bed be as comfortable as possible, and be a place where I could easily recharge, as well as manage my pain.  Here is everything I have for my bed, starting from the foundation.  I live in a single room, meaning I am the only one in my bedroom.

Mattress

While I didn’t have to buy this, I thought it might be helpful to show off my mattress with nothing on it.  While it is possible to request a full size mattress through disability housing, I have the standard college sized mattress, which is a Twin XL.  After sleeping on it at college orientation with nothing (and lots of back spasms), I got an idea of what I would want to look for in padding.

Wamsutta Cool and Fresh Fiberbed

The Wamsutta Cool and Fresh Fiberbed is the only mattress topper I have ever needed for my dorm bed.  It is very soft, but still provides fantastic support.  It also fits nicely in the college washing machines.  I never had to add any other mattress supports, as this provides everything I needed.  It is a soft pillow top cover that fits my mattress exactly.  It can be found at Bed, Bath and Beyond and Amazon.

Room Essentials Pocket Sheets

I bought a fitted sheet for my bed as well as several different pillowcases from the Room Essentials brand at Target.  They are easy to care for and remind me of t-shirt material.  One of my favorite features is that the fitted sheet contains side pockets, which work as a great holding place for my glasses at night.  I bought two fitted sheets and seven pillowcases (more on why I bought so many later in the post).  Sheets can be purchased here, and pillowcases can be purchased here, but are only available in-store in some regions.

Life Comfort Blanket

I bought this blanket from Costco about two years ago and loved how soft it was- in fact, I fell asleep during move-in while using it.  One downside though was that it MUST be washed before first use, or else it sheds everywhere!  I was covered in gray fuzzballs, but the problem went away right after I washed the blanket.  It can be found on Amazon here.

Twin XL Heated blanket

My college allows students to have heated blankets, but not heated mattress pads.  I received a heated blanket as a Christmas present in high school, and it has been one of my favorite gifts ever.  I got a Twin XL sized blanket for college, and I use it often- I like to turn it on a few minutes before I go to bed so that my bed warms up.  I cannot find a link for the one I have, but it was purchased for less than $50 at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.

Room Essentials Microplush Blanket

This blanket is great for layering with other blankets, or simply on its own.  I have a very similar blanket on bed at home, so I knew I would want one in college as well.  It hangs off my bed a bit, but I think that is because of how my bed is pushed against the wall.  Get it at Target. 

Room Essentials or Xhilaration Comforter

I have both Room Essentials and Xhilaration comforters layered on my bed.  They are fairly lightweight, and I can also rearrange my blankets so that I am sleeping on top of one (the comforter pictured is from Xhilaration).  I found very little difference between the Twin and Twin XL sizes between these brands, as the comforter on top was labeled a Twin size and it generously covers my bed.  They come in a variety of designs- here is my Room Essentials comforter, and here is my exact Xhilaration comforter.

Yogibo Caterpillar Roll

This pillow is what keeps me from rolling face first into the wall every morning, a problem that I often faced when I lived in a dorm with concrete walls.  It also provides great support for my back when I sleep on my side.  Get it from the Yogibo website or on Amazon, with Prime shipping.

Room Essentials Extra-Firm Pillow

I needed a pillow that was cheap in comparison to my other pillows that I could use for layering, so picked up one of these at Target.  I don’t use this as my main pillow, so it didn’t really matter how much support it had.  Get it at Target here.

Beauty Rest Extra Firm Pillows

Why do I have five of these pillows?  Well, with all of my different spasms, I have found that these pillows, in combination with firmer ones, provide optimal support and help me rest when I have terrible pain.  They do not put additional strain on my neck, and I can sleep in any position that I want.  Why do I have an odd number of these pillows when they come in packages of two?  I don’t know.  I originally purchased these from Costco, but they appear to no longer be available.  Get them from Amazon with Prime shipping here.

Yogibo Sleepybo

I talk about Yogibo products more here, but this Sleepybo is a very firm pillow that reminds me of my beloved Yogibo at home.  This pillow works amazing when I have pain behind my eyes or for elevating my legs.  It is also one of the main pillows I use at night.  It is currently out of stock on the Yogibo website, but can be found here.

Purelux comfort cool pillow

Another great Costco purchase, this is the firmest pillow I have, and the cooling sensation is absolutely amazing when my migraines make it feel like my hair weighs a hundred pounds.  It also has a curved end, so I can insert in a neck pillow if I need one, which works awesome for when I have neck spasms.  I found it on Amazon here.

Cozybo

Since I use so many blankets,  I like to keep a lightweight one at the top for when I am sensitive to temperature, or suddenly develop a migraine and find that it’s too much energy to be underneath the covers.  As mentioned in my Yogibo review, this is my brother’s favorite blanket and Yogibo product, because it is both warm and lightweight, and the material is very smooth.  Get it on the Yogibo website here.

How I stack pillows

When I stack my pillows to go to sleep, I usually do it in this order:

  • Cooling pillow on the bottom
  • Beautyrest pillow
  • Sleepybo
  • Beautyrest pillow
  • Beautyrest pillow between pillow stack and wall
  • Extra firm pillow on side facing wall
  • Beautyrest pillow on side facing wall
  • Extra Beautyrest pillow for rearranging or against the wall

Toddler Safety Bedrail

So, my first morning in my dorm room, I rolled out of bed…and then fell three feet to the floor because I forgot how high the bed was.  My parents bought me one of these toddler safety bedrails from Wal-Mart and set it up for me, so I wouldn’t do something like that again.  Weirdly enough, I’ve gotten lots of compliments from friends who would visit my apartment and talk about how they were constantly falling out of bed.  It also helps to reinforce my stack of pillows. Get it from Walmart here.

I am lucky to be able to sleep for hours at a time, and have so many things to help me sleep as well.  A lot of these items will be on sale in the coming weeks for back-to-school, so keep an eye out and set price drop alerts!

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Yogibo for Chronic Pain


I first learned about Yogibo long before I had chronic pain when we visited a store in Connecticut. My brother and I both loved how cozy everything was, but it wasn’t until years later that we discovered how amazing Yogibo really is.

I started dealing with chronic pain as a result of Chiari Malformation, a structural neurological condition, when I was fourteen years old, though I didn’t receive a diagnosis for four years. With this condition, I have constant pain in the back of my head, neck, and back, as well as the back of my legs and arms. I also get spasms and migraines, which makes the pain worse. I was also in a car accident that damaged my neck and increased my normal base pain level in my neck when I was a freshman in college. While I am very good at functioning through my pain, I rely on a lot of special tools to help me with pain management. A lot of these tools are Yogibo products.

Yogibos are similar to bean bags, but with much smaller beads and smooth fabrics, instead of crunchy feeling covers. They make a variety of products such as giant pillows, bedding, supports, and even aromatherapy. Their main target audience is children with sensory disorders, but the products are amazing for people with chronic pain as well. My brother and I have never encountered a product we didn’t like, and have difficulty picking a favorite. Below, I have outlined ten of my favorite Yogibo products and shown how they help me manage my chronic pain. This post is not sponsored by Yogibo, I genuinely love their products and want to share my favorites.

Yogibo Max
My first Yogibo product was purchased nearly four years ago when we moved to a new house and my brother and I got the Yogibo Max for our rooms. I spend hours lying down on it, as the support is perfect for my back and legs, and does not aggravate my pain. It’s easy to fall asleep on too, which is great when a migraine suddenly hits. When I broke my ankle, I found that lying on the Yogibo was one of the only ways I could relieve the pain. My friends and I use it as seating when they visit as well. This is the only Yogibo product I do not have at college with me due to its size, which is comparable to my Twin XL bed. Get it here.

Caterpillar Roll
I originally purchased this because I kept rolling into the wall while I was sleeping and would hit myself in the face. I have found that when I sleep on my side, the roll provides awesome support for my back, and combines the firm support of the original Yogibo with the soft cozy feeling of my bed. On particularly bad spasm days, I twist the roll so it wraps around my abdomen and provides compression. Get it here.

Yogibo Support
When I found out I couldn’t fit most Yogibo products into my freshman dorm, I was recommended the Support pillow. I most often use it when I am in the end stages of a migraine when I can use my electronics, but sitting upright is too much of a challenge. My friends also frequently sit on the floor with it- one of my friends will walk into my room and immediately grab it, and frequently talks about how much they like it. Get it here.

Zipparoll
After I was in a car accident and started having more neck pain than I ever had before, I was trying every neck pillow in sight, hoping it would help me manage my pain. The ZippaRoll became a fast favorite because of the familiar smooth and supportive material, as well as the fact it could be configured into a variety of shapes, as well as keep ice packs from falling down. I used it both on its own and in conjunction with other pillows. It also works well for lower back support when in the car. Get it here.

Moon Pillow
I purchased this around the same time as the ZippaRoll when looking for neck pillows. I found that it provided phenomenal back support when I was sitting upright, and worked as a neck pillow when I was lying down. I can put it underneath my hip when sleeping on my side, or underneath my chin to make sure I don’t strain my neck while sleeping. I also use it combined with the Yogibo Support. Get it here.

StressLess
This is one of the only tools that helps my shoulder spasms, and has helped me fall asleep many nights. I found that throwing it in the microwave for a minute and setting it on my shoulders provides an amazing soothing feeling unlike anything else. When I start getting spasms while talking to friends on voice chat, they will tell me to go microwave my shoulder pillow. It can also be thrown in the freezer, but I find that my shoulder spasms are more receptive to heat. It is an aromatherapy product, but this does not bother me as I find the scent relaxing. Get it here.

BodyHug
One of the newest additions to my collection, the BodyHug is another aromatherapy pillow. I typically use this for cold therapy on my back, and it also helps with my shoulders when I am lying on my stomach. I’ve also had friends borrow it when they had very bad abdominal cramps- some preferred to warm it in the microwave for about 30 seconds, others preferred the cooling sensation. Get it here.

Yogibo Mate
This may seem like a silly choice, as it is a stuffed animal made out of Yogibo material. I got one of these when I had eye surgery in December and found that it was great to lean against and squeeze, and I could easily rest on top of it if needed. Mine is a sloth, but there are other choices. Get it here.

Cozybo
My mom had bought this for me online and had it waiting for me at home. When it came in the mail though, my brother looked at it, felt it, went “hey this is awesome,” and promptly took it upstairs to take a nap. He says if he had to choose a favorite Yogibo product, it would be this one. I’ve since gotten my own, and it’s my default choice for when I take a blanket in the car, as well as during the warm summer months. I love the smooth material and how it is the perfect weight. Get it here.

Sleepybo
Another pillow that my brother enjoys, this is a normal sized pillow filled with Yogibo material. This was awesome after my eye surgery when I had to spend a while in bed, and it is one of my favorite pillows that I own. I like to stack it with another firmer pillow on the bottom and a softer pillow on top for optimal comfort. It’s currently out of stock online, but you can find it here.

 

Some of the other products currently on my wish list include the Ms. Bliss weighted blanket, WristWiz keyboard support, Yogibo round pillow, and Yogibo cube. My brother has also wanted to try the Lukso fitted sheet, Ms. Bliss weighted blanket, SinusMinus, and Yogibo Double. We both love Yogibo products, and love stopping by the stores whenever we see one- unfortunately, the closest one is currently almost two hours away.

Overall, I can’t imagine managing my chronic pain without Yogibo. As I finish typing this, I have the StressLess in the microwave and am sitting against the Yogibo Support with the Moon Pillow while wrapped in the CozyBo. These products are amazing for my pain management, and I am always quick to recommend them when a friend is dealing with pain. These products really are that incredible.

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.

How To Choose a New Phone When You Have Photosensitivity

I have been researching getting a new phone for some time.  I thought I had thought of everything, studying all of the technology specifications and comparing over a dozen phones side by side.  Ultimately, I chose the Motorola G5 Plus, which had the newest version of Android and lots of other interesting functions.  I had been a Motorola customer for nearly four years, so it seemed like a great fit.  Unfortunately, not even ten seconds after I turned it on, it started flashing uncontrollably and gave me a migraine- strobe and flashing lights trigger migraines for me.  It wasn’t just the opening screen that strobed either- there were several other ways that this phone was capable of triggering a migraine for me.  After an hour on hold with Motorola customer support, I was told there was nothing I could do to disable these functions and I should just return the phone.  All of the new Motorola phones also have this strobing display, so now I am left to research another phone.  Here are five things I will be looking for in this new phone, things I didn’t even think to look for before.

Turn the phone off and back on again

What does the startup animation look like?  Is it a flash of lightning, or rapidly changing colors?  What about fast moving images?  Any of these can be a trigger for a migraine, seizure, or other medical issue.  I would have someone else who knows your condition check this for you so you aren’t hurt by the display.  After I first saw the flashing display yesterday, I had two of my close friends who are familiar with my condition look at the animation, and they agreed it was very unsafe for someone with photosensitivity.

Strobing notifications

One of my friends has a phone where the flash on their camera creates a strobing effect whenever they receive a call, text, or notification.  If you purchase a phone with this function, make sure it is not enabled by default to start strobing for notifications.  Also, if you have a friend who uses this function, kindly ask that they disable it when you are around, because it can cause you to have a medical issue.

Does the screen flash when you zoom in?

When you double/triple tap the screen to magnify, does the screen do a short strobe animation?  Most animations can be disabled on a phone, but some models may not allow this strobe effect to be disabled.  It’s also worth checking to see if the phone screen strobes for other gestures, or when apps are opened.  Sometimes you can change what animation displays, so you can choose something that isn’t a strobe effect.

Color filters

If your eyes have trouble processing bright lights or colors, check to see if the phone display supports adding a color blindness mode or light filter.  I have a filter on my current phone that filters out very bright lights without affecting the color display.  I also use night mode on my phone when I am dealing with a migraine- this is a red-pigmented filter designed to block out the blue light from the phone display.

 

Does the keyboard flash?

When typing, does the phone keyboard create a strobe or flashing effect?  Luckily, keyboards and other third party apps can easily be replaced- check out my post on how to make Android accessible here.  However, it may not be worth the hassle if there are so many other flashing lights on the phone.

 

It’s rather unfortunate that an increasing number of phone manufacturers and companies have been adding flashing lights to their designs.  With more and more people being diagnosed with migraines, epilepsy, and other photosensitive conditions, it is more important than ever to remember one of the most important rules of web design- don’t create anything that can cause a seizure.  I hope in the future, companies will stop using strobe and flashing lights in their designs, but until then, the search is on for a new phone.  As sad as I am to leave Motorola, I can’t risk triggering a migraine just by using my phone.

To The Parent Using Flash Photography in a Restaurant

Dear Parent,

I know you were very excited today to be attending the end-of-season party for your child’s sports team at a local restaurant today. The entire team was there, enjoying pizza and talking to each other, sometimes very loudly. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the celebration, and this letter isn’t to complain about the noise (though my brother wasn’t happy about it being so loud). My problem is that to document this occasion, you decided to take several photos with the flash on. By doing this, you ruined my evening, and could have sent someone to the hospital.

You see, I have chronic migraines that are triggered by strobing or rapid flashing lights, such as those from a camera. When I see those lights, I get an intense migraine that knocks me out for a few hours. However, it’s not just me and fellow migraine sufferers who can have an adverse reaction to flashing lights. Photosensitive epilepsy is common in children, and those flashing lights could trigger a seizure. Seizures aren’t just limited to epilepsy, either- there are many other conditions that can have non-epileptic seizures caused by flashing lights. Some people have light sensitivity in general, and bright flashing lights can be an issue. Even people with anxiety disorders and PTSD can have flashing or strobing lights as a trigger. That’s a lot of people that could be affected by a rapid camera flash!

I understand wanting to photograph your child with their friends, but by using flash photography, you could be putting other people around you in danger. A better solution might be to take a big group photo at the beginning or end of the event, so that way you can see everyone. You can also just turn the flash off and continue taking pictures like you were, and simply retouch them for lighting later.

I’m pretty sure you ignored my mom when she told you that your camera could trigger a seizure, or a migraine like it had in me. My hope is that someday you will understand just how dangerous flashing lights can be for others, and you will think twice before using that camera flash in a crowded restaurant. For all you know, your child could develop a condition like this, and then you’ll be the one wishing all of the flashing lights would disappear.

Sincerely,

My head still hurts

 

How To Survive Midterms/Finals

Midterms week is finally over, and I couldn’t be more happy about that. It’s been a long week of studying and taking tests, while trying to keep eye fatigue and migraines at bay. Here are some of my tips for surviving midterms and finals week. While this information can be helpful to any college student, I have specifically written it with students who have low vision or chronic illness in mind.

Use a tinted background for study materials.

White paper and screens can provide a lot of glare and cause eye fatigue. One way to lessen eye fatigue is to use tinted backgrounds in a shade such as gray, blue, or yellow to reduce eye fatigue. You can enable a colored tint on your Apple device using these instructions, use one of these free apps on a computer, or simply print study materials on colored paper.

Request notes online

Take terrible notes? You have options to receive quality notes at little to no cost. The best way, of course, is having an accommodation in your Disability Service file to request notes directly from the professor. There are also many websites where students upload their notes from a specific course- ask someone at your college which website most students use, or web search your college name and course name/number. These websites often will allow you to download notes at half price or even free if you have a Disability Services file. Also check with Disability Services to see if any of their student note takers have notes from your class.

Use digital flashcards

I love using the website Quizlet to create my own flashcards and review flashcards from other students in my classes. The quiz feature is also extremely helpful when testing material. I use Quizlet specifically because the animations do not cause vertigo or have strobing lights, something that is very critical for me, and the text can be enlarged easily.

Find a comfortable study location

Do not study in bed, no matter how comfortable it is, because if you are anything like me, you will fall asleep. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t be comfortable. I have this back support pillow at my desk chair and it helps keep my back spasms from acting up while I am studying for long periods of time. I’ve also been using this heated shoulder wrap every hour or so to keep my shoulders from tensing up.

Move around during breaks

I try to leave my study area when I am taking a study break. Usually I go for a walk around campus or go to the gym so I can sit in the hot tub for a few minutes and make sure my muscles don’t tense up. Try not to spend study break time staring at a screen, as this is an opportunity to rest your eyes.

Don’t try to study with a migraine

For those who get daily migraines like me, do not attempt to study while you have a migraine. It will just take longer to recover. Likewise, if you have an exam in twenty minutes and a pounding migraine, call and ask to reschedule, preferably for the same day. Migraines and exams do not mix.

Ensure accommodations are in place at the testing center

Also make sure that your test is actually in the possession of the testing center before test day- I have shown up to take tests that weren’t at the testing center yet a few times. Filling out the testing form in advance is extremely important to ensure you are able to take the exam on schedule. I try to fill out the form a week before the test date.  For more information on my test accommodations, check out this post.

Scheduling tests

Keep your eyesight and energy level in mind when scheduling an exam day and time. No matter what time my class meets, I try to schedule my exams for first thing in the morning when my eyes are well rested and I am less likely to have a migraine. I also try to schedule the exams the same day the rest of the class is testing, or earlier if that isn’t possible. None of my professors have ever complained about me taking an exam early.

Make sure the testing environment is free of distractions or triggers

Even if you are testing in the disability testing center, there can still be distractions. Before taking an exam, I check for flickering lights, loud noises, and if I am testing in my own room, I make sure there is enough room to walk around if my legs start to spasm. Another thing to check for is air fresheners- this semester, I came down with a migraine halfway through my exam and couldn’t figure out why, and it turned out there was a bowl of coffee beans next to where I was taking an exam, and coffee is one of my migraine triggers, so sitting next to a bowl of them wasn’t very smart.

Celebrate after exams!

Plan something fun for after exams are finished- preferably something that won’t aggravate existing fatigue. Some things I’ve done include dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, a day trip to D.C. or Maryland, going to the movies, or simply spending time with friends.

UPDATE– Do not go out to eat with friends the night before your last exam, even if you have been to the restaurant many times.  I had the honor of taking a midterm with food poisoning, and I wish that experience upon no one.

 
Exam week can be hard on anyone, but it’s especially difficult for people with chronic illness or other disabilities. I wish you all good health days and good grades for your exams!