How Do People With Low Vision…Go To Prom?

It seems like every year, a news story circulates about how a student with a disability and a student without a disability go to prom together.  It’s usually touted as something inspirational and kind, since the students with disabilities are perceived as not having many friends or being the outcasts of the school, and the student without a disability is considered a completely awesome person just because they are spending time with the other student.  I was talking about this phenomenon with a friend who jokingly asked if my prom date made the news for going to prom with the only girl with low vision in our school.  Thankfully, we were just treated like every other couple at prom, and had a blast.  Here are some tips that can help ensure everyone has a good time, without winding up as the center of attention for having a disability.

Make sure you can easily move around in your clothing choice

This applies more for the ladies, but make sure that it is easy to move around and walk without falling in whatever clothes that you pick.  At the two dances I attended in high school, many of the girls would take off their shoes the moment they got to the dance floor, but would often trip over their long dresses.  I chose to wear flats the entire evening so I had traction and reduced my risk of falling- as my date put it, I trip over enough flat surfaces as it is, so there is no need to put me in high heels.  If you use a blindness cane, make sure it can’t be caught in your dress or shoes either.

Taking pictures before the dance

Before the dance, the parents in our group took photos of all of us.  If it is an issue, make sure to notify them that you are sensitive to flashing lights so that they know to turn the flash off.  Also make sure that there are no obstacles in the picture that could pose an issue- for example, falling down a flight of stairs or into an open body of water.  Also, make sure the photographer tells you where the camera is located so you aren’t staring into space.

Have your date familiarize themselves with being a human guide

While I didn’t use a blindness cane in high school, I had a habit of frequently running into walls, people, objects, and generally missing visual cues.  Luckily, my prom date was my best friend who had gotten used to guiding me to all of my classes and alerting me to obstacles.  It never hurts to remind your date that you have trouble seeing and may need additional help navigating at prom.  Check out my post on how to be a human guide here.

Figure out the layout of the dance floor

At the beginning of the dance, my date described to me the location of the stairs leading to the dance floor, where we were sitting, the entrance/exit, and where poles were located.  While I never was further away than arm’s reach from them, this was still very helpful information to remember in the event we got separated.

Request that photographer avoid your area

If bright, flashing lights in your face are a concern, talk to school administration and the photographer prior to the dance, and remind them again at the dance, to avoid taking photos of you or pointing the camera directly in your face.  With the way that the dance floor was laid out, it was easy to avoid the flashing lights that were used, and the photographer was more than happy to accommodate our request.

If possible, ask for the event to not use blue and red flashing lights

This wasn’t a problem at my school, but a prom that another friend attended had pulsing red and blue lights that they described as seizure inducing- they had to sit out for a few minutes because of the lights, and they’re not even migraine or seizure prone.  This is another good thing to talk about with school administration, as many students can get migraines or seizures triggered by these lights.

Have a place to hide out

There was a period of time at prom where a lot of unfamiliar, loud music and dancing was taking place, and my prom group and I decided to go hide out in the lobby of the hotel we were at.  This helped prevent sensory overload and also gave us a break from dancing- since I couldn’t navigate to the tables near the dance floor easily, it was much easier for everyone to meet in the lobby.

Handling rude comments

I had a few people crack jokes about my date going to prom with someone who was visually impaired, and a few others asking me if I could even see what was going on.  My best advice for this is to ignore the weird comments, or just laugh them off.  It is not worth getting into an argument over.

Don’t be afraid to have fun!

Before the dance, I was very nervous about what to expect and was worried that something would go wrong.  Luckily, my date was a totally awesome person, and my prom group was filled with awesome people as well.  Prom is about spending time with your high school friends before you all graduate, and it’s a wonderful way to make memories.

I hope your prom is lots of fun!

 

State Standardized Tests/ SOL Accommodations For Low Vision

Every state has their own form of standardized tests. In my home state of Virginia, we have the Standards of Learning exams, most commonly referred to as SOLs. At least one of these tests is administered a year, from third grade to twelfth grade, and students sometimes take up to four of these exams. While they technically don’t count for a grade, students need to pass a certain number of SOLs in order to advance in school or graduate. For the majority of the student population, the tests are administered online with fill in the blank, choose multiple answers, and multiple choice questions, in addition to exams where the student writes an essay. There’s only one problem with these digital exams- they can’t be enlarged.

Before the digital exams came out, everyone took exams on pencil and paper, but I had a special exam that was in large print. In third grade, my first year of taking the SOLs, the school forgot to place an order for all four of my exams, so when test day came, I didn’t have a test, so the school decided I would go sit in a classroom with first graders while the rest of the class took exams. When the tests showed up a week later, I had to take all of the tests in one day, as opposed to having one day to complete each test. Luckily, the test proctor gave me candy inbetween tests as a way to apologize for what was going on. Ordering tests early is extremely important, as if you have a student who uses large print in the classroom, they need it in the testing environment too.

In middle school, the tests converted to a digital format, and I was beyond excited for this. I couldn’t wait to be able to enlarge text and graphs how I needed them, and be able to work with computers, since I love technology. As I expressed my excitement, someone turned to me and said “oh, you can’t enlarge this. The magnification feature is locked to prevent cheating.” While this was before I knew a lot about assistive technology and accessibility, I still thought that made absolutely no sense. How is being able to see something clearly considered cheating?

I think a lot of the stigma about receiving a large print test started once the digital tests started being used. The large print test was printed on ridiculously large paper, since it took up three desks in size. The text was enlarged to size 20 point font, and at the time I also had accommodations to use pens and highlighters, while other students had to use pencils. One interesting thing is that while the rest of the class could use a calculator, I was not permitted to use one because they did not have one that I could see. Another fun fact about the test is that the ten field/test questions on the traditional exam are eliminated, as are the fill in the blank, true/false, pick multiple, and other free response question formats. I had less questions than everyone else, and the questions were multiple choice. One year, I had a teacher complain to the principal that I finished before everyone else, to which my family and I had to explain that I had ten less questions than everyone else, so naturally I would finish quicker. I also didn’t have to transfer my answers to a Scantron document, so that saved time as well.

I always managed to pass my SOLs until I took geometry. My geometry teacher was awesome, and probably one of the best math teachers I had in school because they understood how to create accessible materials. Unfortunately, the people who created the SOLs did not know how to create accessible materials, as my mom and I found out that graphs and other images were only enlarged to 113% (as of 2017, they are now enlarged 166%, but since I receive materials enlarged to around 250%, this still wouldn’t be large enough). I wound up failing the SOL because I had so much difficulty with the graphs and shapes, but I was eligible to retake the exam the next semester.

As a student with an increasing interest in assistive technology, I suggested that the test be broadcast on a projector in a classroom so I could work out the problem on the white board and then record my answer in the test booklet. It was easier than magnifying the test, as my eyes hurt whenever I used a magnifying glass, and I was not provided any other assistive technology like a CCTV. Because I had sensitivity to flashing lights as well as lights in general, I had to take the exam in a classroom that was almost completely dark, with my case manager as a proctor (who later told me they were worried about falling asleep while I took my exam). I wound up failing the exam on the second try as well, but only by two questions. Since I passed my algebra 2 SOL (using the same projector accommodations, and still without a calculator), and I only needed to pass two math SOLs to graduate, we decided not to worry about geometry anymore.

When I moved to a different high school junior year, I got the opportunity to finally use a calculator on my SOLs. I was recommended the myScript calculator app, which would be enabled in guided access mode so I couldn’t use the Internet or any other apps. This was extremely helpful, and I managed to do very well on my chemistry SOL because of it. I remember being very excited about this calculator, to which my guidance counselor asked if I wanted to try my geometry SOL again, and I said that I’d really rather not.

I graduated with an advanced diploma from Virginia public schools in 2015, meaning I had passed at least two English exams, two math exams, two science exams, two history exams, and another exam in one of those subjects. Since I have graduated, the E-Bot Pro, my favorite CCTV, has been approved for use with the SOL. Students can also apply for accommodations to use portable CCTVs such as the SmartLux or other video magnifiers on the exam. As I like to say, everyone has the right to see the same things as everyone else, and that applies to testing as well. I hope my experiences with the SOL can help other students with low vision taking standardized tests, and that they may be able to do better than I did.

If you have any specific questions about my SOL accommodations, feel free to comment below, as comments go directly to my email. I will do my best to respond.



Colored Paper and the Readability of Text

On my seventeenth birthday, I presented at a science fair affiliated with my school district about my research on how the color of paper can affect the readability of the text on the paper.  This was the first time I really investigated how important contrast is when creating accessible documents, and I was able to determine the colors of paper I preferred for my assignments.  When I presented this research to the science fair judges, I received an unexpected surprise- three out of the five judges were colorblind!  Globally, one in twelve men and one in two hundred women are colorblind, and the odds of encountering two men and one women who are colorblind in a room seemed to be one in a million.  My friends and family found this experience absolutely hilarious, and told me that it would be a great story to tell if I ever presented my research again, though I wasn’t very amused.

My interest in this topic began in 2013, when I visited a neuro-opthalmologist at a large medical center who showed me an eye chart with different colored backgrounds.  They explained that people tend to see better on the eye chart with colored backgrounds because the colors helped reduce eye fatigue (from the white glare of the normal eye chart) and it was easier for the eyes to focus.  I was fascinated by this, and chose to do more research on it for my science fair project.  Over the years, I have learned even more about creating accessible materials and how important contrast is, and will be sharing some of the practical applications of my research below.

What colors work best

Light yellow and light blue were found to be the paper colors that were the easiest to read off of.  It could easily be read in all lighting conditions, and the effectiveness of the colors weren’t diminished if someone wore tinted glasses (like I do).  I have found it is easy to read on these colors for long periods of time, and all colors of my pens and markers show up sharp even on the colored paper.  Blue is best for large amounts of information or reading, while yellow works great for worksheets.

What colors work less well

Neon bright colors, while they do stand out, often contribute to eye fatigue and the eyes may have trouble focusing on the page.  Darker colors, such as those found on conventional construction paper, may also be difficult to read.  The darker backgrounds obscure text and make information difficult to process.

Using colored films

While this wasn’t part of my project, one of my teachers found that I processed information much better when they added a colored film on top of the paper that they were projecting, or when I layered a colored film on top of what I was reading.  Because of the way fluorescent lighting was set up in some classrooms, I found these films difficult to use when the lights above me would reflect on top of the plastic, so I very rarely used them while sitting at my desk.  Now that I am in college though, and most of my classrooms don’t use fluorescent lighting, I have found myself reaching for these films more often when I have to read papers for long periods of time.

Changing white intensity

Since sharp white can be bad for eye fatigue, I have blue light filters on all of my main electronic devices, including my desktop computer, laptop computer, Android phone, and iPad.  I also have a post dedicated to reducing eyestrain with technology.

If I put it on a colored background, does this mean I don’t need large print?

NO!!  If you have low vision, please continue to use your preferred font sizes and image sizes, even if you use a colored paper.  The page color is supposed to make text easier to see, not to add any other difficulties.

Bottom line, the page color can influence the readability of font, and by using light colors, the reader may find it easier to read for long periods of time and not have as much eye fatigue from glare.  Experiment with different papers and figure out which one works best.

Having an Undiagnosed Chronic Illness in High School

Back in high school, people often asked me why my vision was so bad, why I had frequent migraines, why I wore a leg brace several days a week, and how I simultaneously looked completely normal.  It wouldn’t be until after graduation that I could answer those questions, after nearly four years of asking the same questions myself.  Going through school with an undiagnosed chronic illness was a unique experience, and today I will be sharing answers to common questions and comments I received from fellow students as well as teachers.

Isn’t there medicine/glasses that can fix this?

WIth the medical model of disability, any type of imperfection is viewed as something that must immediately be cured, so that the person can be considered normal by society again.  Sometimes, there is no cure with today’s medical research, and people are left to try and manage their symptoms in the best way that they can with what they have.  I would have people without a medical background tell me that I should go on certain medications, and when I would respond that I have tried the medication and it was not helpful, people would dismiss me as not really having whatever symptom we were talking about.  Another factor is that it is fairly difficult to cure something when you don’t know exactly what it is.  Typically, the best answer to this question is that there is no treatment available yet, but who knows what can happen in the future.

You’re faking for attention

Ah yes, I must be faking my condition.  I love having lower grades because I had to miss class, and missing my band concert I looked forward to all year because someone chose to use flash photography when I was getting on stage.  I was beyond thrilled to get up in front of my entire freshman English class while spasming and slur my speech so that all of the boys in the class thought I was weird.  I adore having teachers refuse to assign me leadership positions because they’re worried I would be too sick.  And most of all, I love  not being able to do my classwork because I can’t see it, and having the teacher give me a zero!  All sarcasm here, but people say that a condition is fake when it is something they don’t understand.  What I don’t understand is why I would choose to have such poor health in what is supposedly the best years of my life.

I wish I had your condition, haha!

I wish I didn’t have this, but hey, things happen.  There is no reason for you to be jealous that I take naps during the day to get rid of migraines or that I get to sit in the hallway during a movie because of flashing lights.  Comments like this are always interesting to me because it seems like there is no stigma for chronic illness and that it is viewed as something normal.  I just laugh off the comment and drop the subject.

What do you even have?

If you can answer this question, then you would be a totally awesome person.  My condition baffled doctors for many years.  When I first started dealing with symptoms, my primary care doctor told my mom and I “don’t go looking for a zebra in a field of horses,” meaning to not go looking for uncommon or rare conditions.  About a year later, he looked at us and said “time to find that zebra!”  I’m sure towards the end of our search for a diagnosis it felt like we were looking for a unicorn.  Regardless, we always talked about my condition by mentioning the top symptoms, which is usually what I told people who asked me what I had.  Eventually, I would start telling people that my doctors suspected I had the condition I was later diagnosed with.  I felt comfortable doing this because we were running diagnostic testing at the time and I was also the textbook version of that particular condition.

If I were you, I would be in bed

Well, I would love to be, here I am at school regardless.  Since I deal with migraines and chronic pain every day, staying in bed all day isn’t an option, because I would never get anything done.  I have what my friends refer to as a superhuman pain tolerance because of my condition, since I can hold a conversation and participate in activities without collapsing, and I often don’t notice injuries unless they are pointed out to me.  While pain definitely is relative, I have learned to function through it and be able to continue living.

Why can’t you do this anymore?

As my vision has gotten worse, my need for accessible materials has grown exponentially.  I’ve also found it more difficult to participate in activities like dance.  It can be sad to remember the things I was able to do before I got sick, but it’s important to remember there is still so much that can be done.  I got more into writing and playing instruments after I got sick, and took up several other interests as well.  This may be said a lot, but it is true- don’t focus on what can’t be done, but focus on what can be done.

Have you tried essential oils?

I have had several people tell me that my symptoms can be cured by essential oils.  I do believe that they can help with certain symptoms, since I use peppermint for nausea and lavender for restlessness, as well as a few other oils, but none of them are able to completely cure my symptoms.  I tell people that while essential oils are wonderful, they are not a cure and should not be talked about as such.

Aren’t you a little young to be dealing with these medical issues?

Yes, yes I am.  Another favorite response to this question is “apparently not!”  Chronic illness can strike at any age, it does not discriminate.  While I have had low vision almost my entire life, I have only had my condition since I was around fourteen, and people are frequently surprised by that.  Someone once even asked me how I am supposed to be a teenager when I am so sick- since my condition did not stop my aging process, I still got to be a teenager, but not in the same way as a lot of my friends.

Why can’t you do this, but you can do that?

The environment I am in greatly influences whether I am able to perform a certain task or not.  If I am in a room with strobing or flashing lights, I will not be able to function as well as I do in a room without them.  Other factors include my use of assistive technology, my fatigue level, the time of day, the weather, and how much pain I am in.  Just because I can do something one day doesn’t mean I can repeat the same task the next day.

It would suck to be you

Actually, no.  Although my chronic illness has made me miss out on many experiences, I still have been able to do a lot of things and learn about topics that I wouldn’t have otherwise.  I’ve also developed a greater sense of empathy and kindness towards others, because I understand what it is like to be in large amounts of pain and feel like the entire world is spinning.  As I like to remind myself, I wouldn’t be studying assistive technology if I never had this condition.  It’s important to be grateful for the opportunities I have.  My illness will always be something I have, and never who I am.


 

Learning to Self-Advocate

On my IEP throughout high school, one of the top goals was for me to learn to self-advocate.  When I was younger, I viewed this goal as meaning that if I had a problem, it would mean that no one would be available to help me and I would be stuck with dealing with everything by myself.  That was not the case, as I had so many people to help support me.  I’ve learned a lot about self-advocacy, and I hope that I will be able to help others learn as well.

What is self-advocacy?

Self-advocacy is learning how to speak up for yourself, as well as learning, building a support network, problem solving, and knowing when to reach out for help. It’s an extremely important skill to have, as there may not always be someone with you when a situation comes up. This skill has greatly benefitted me outside of school, in college, and beyond.

Learning to speak up for yourself

I do not like causing conflict or hurting people’s feelings, so it was hard for me at first to point out that a situation was unfair or that my accommodations were not being followed. In one of my classes, the daily warm-up assignment was never enlarged, so instead of arguing with the teacher every day, I would walk into class and read a book on my eReader until the rest of the class finished with the assignment.

No one can hear you unless you speak up, so make sure to let the teacher know if assignments are presented in a format that is not accessible for you. Also make suggestions on how to make it accessible- enlarging exponents, using different colored pens and papers, digital formats, or anything else you can think of.

Learning

In college, I met another student with low vision that didn’t know anything about the services they received in school. They told me that their parents and teachers handled everything, and they couldn’t tell me what accommodations they received, just that they needed them.

Familiarize yourself with what accommodations you receive. What font size can you read? What color paper works best? What assistive technology do you use? What apps do you use, and on what platform? Do you receive extra time? Are tests in a one-on-one environment? Learning how to explain your accommodations simply and clearly is important.  This information will be very helpful when it comes time to create a Disability Services file in college.

Building a support network

With my IEP, I had three case managers in high school over the course of four years (I attended two high schools). They were specifically picked for me because they were great with helping students learn to self-advocate- they wouldn’t sit there and yell at my teachers over trivial things or constantly hover over me. Instead, they would step in when there was a problem I needed help with. My guidance counselors were also incredible resources, as they would listen and move me out of classes when necessary, as well as be some of my greatest advocates in IEP meetings. In addition, each of my high schools also had an assistant principal who would handle the cases for students with IEPs, and the principal was helpful as well. The central office of my school districts listened to my concerns when situations were too much to handle.

I also had family and friends to help me through smaller situations. My parents, especially my mom, would attend every IEP meeting and help make sure that I was thriving in the educational environment. My parents have always been very encouraging of my goals as well. In the classroom, I also had friends that would help me advocate for myself so I didn’t feel as nervous. In a class where the teacher regularly did not enlarge my work, one of my best friends was always right behind me whenever I went to ask the teacher for my assignments, so when the teacher started telling me that I didn’t need large print, I would feel more confident in reminding them that I do and I would be less likely to back away.

Problem solving

Learning to solve minor problems on your own can be extremely beneficial. I learned how to scan in and enlarge assignments, make documents accessible, and type my own notes when there were no prewritten notes available. This meant that I was still able to participate in class even if my IEP wasn’t completely followed, and it meant my grades were higher because I missed less assignments.

Some posts that may be helpful include my posts on testing accommodations, accommodations for print materials, and what I’ve learned about print disabilities.

Knowing when to reach out for help

In one of my math classes, I had a teacher who did not believe I needed large print, as they assumed my glasses corrected my vision to 100% and it was a waste of their time to enlarge things, despite the fact I had an IEP. I thought I could handle the situation myself, and didn’t tell anyone how badly I was struggling in the class. I didn’t use any assistive technology regularly at that time, so it should be no surprise that I failed the class.

As important as it is to try and handle situations yourself, you have a support network for a reason. It’s important to let someone else step in for situations that involve the law being broken, threats, or when you’ve tried everything you can think of. This isn’t failure to self-advocate though, as an important aspect is remembering when to get help.

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Self-advocacy is one of the skills that I am the most grateful for. Because of this, I have been able to go on to attend college, confident in myself and my abilities, but still knowing where I need extra help. I will always be grateful for the people and experiences that helped me develop this skill.

How Do People With Low Vision…Take Gym?

It should be no surprise, but I am not very good at sports, and if you throw a ball at me, there’s a very high chance I won’t catch it, or alternatively I will catch it with my face. Because of this, I needed accommodations in my gym classes, or took adaptive PE. Here is how I got through gym and health in the public schools I attended.

Elementary school

My first gym teacher was awesome about creating activities every student could participate in, and I never had to worry about being left out or being criticized for not being able to see. Our school received a new teacher my fifth grade year, and they used a curriculum that had a heavy emphasis on team sports. Instead of ask for accommodations, I just would strike out first so I could sit out for the rest of class. On the last day of fifth grade, I was hit directly in the eye with a volleyball, and the incident caused my family and I to rethink how I would take gym when I got to middle school.

Sixth grade

I had eye surgery that October, and needed to be exempt from gym before and for months after my eye surgery. Because of this, it wasn’t practical for me to take gym. Originally, the principal suggested that I take the health course with my class, and when they were in the gym, I could come to the main office of the school and file papers. My parents thought this was a terrible idea, especially because I have a print disability and can’t see to file. After I completed a county-mandated unit in the health class about gangs, I switched into elective classes. Instead of having two elective classes one day and gym the next day, I had two different elective classes each day- in my case, they were band, art, drama, and Latin.  No kids ever noticed that I didn’t take gym.

Seventh grade

Over the summer, my school installed what they called a fitness lab, which had exercise equipment. Students would spend three class periods there, three class periods in the gym, and three class periods in health. While I would often sit out in gym, I was able to participate in the other sections very easily. Something that helped tremendously was that our class was extremely small, with only about fifteen students (normal classes had thirty), and I had friends in the class.

Eighth grade

My teacher had to take a leave during the school year, so we had lots of different substitutes, most who weren’t familiar with vision loss. I also got prisms in my glasses, and moving quickly would give me vertigo. I had to sit out constantly, and because of this, I stopped changing clothes for PE, with my logic being that if I wasn’t going to do anything, why should I change clothes? Because of this logic, I received a D in PE, something my parents weren’t very happy about, but we didn’t fight the grade because it wouldn’t carry over to high school.

Ninth grade

An adjacent school district had a virtual physical education class that they offered in the summer months. Students would learn about the history of sports, health, and keep a fitness log. We had to fight for permission for me to take this class, but it was ultimately granted, and now other students are able to take it. This was also my first of what would be many virtual classes!

Tenth grade

I couldn’t take virtual PE again, or PE in the classroom, because it tied in with Driver’s Ed, a class that I definitely couldn’t be accommodated for. While doing research, my mom discovered there was an adaptive PE program in our school district. I previously was not referred because I briefly didn’t have an IEP in middle school, and my teacher didn’t believe that I qualified for adaptive PE without an IEP. I got a referral and then met with the adaptive PE instructor once or twice a week for a semester and would do exercises. I took the health component of the class through the Independent Study program at Brigham Young University (HLTH 042), a self paced online class. I only needed two PE/health credits in high school, and my college does not require a physical education class- though another friend with low vision who did need a physical education credit took rowing.

Someone asked me if I felt left out because I didn’t take PE like everyone else, and my answer is definitely not. I am still nervous about being around people playing sports today, and I have a feeling I would have many more stories about broken glasses had I taken PE. 

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 an exam with food poisoning, and it was very stressful.
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!

Accommodations For Print Materials

Welcome to Print Disability Week, where I will be posting once a day about ways to receive services for a print disability, with a webinar on Thursday in collaboration with AIM-VA, an accessible educational materials provider for students with print disabilities in grades K-12 in Virginia. Today, I will be talking about how I requested print materials in my high school classrooms.

As a student with low vision who attended public school, I have learned a lot about how to make print and digital materials accessible for me. Here is how I requested print materials for different classes that I took in the classroom. I will have more in depth posts for each subject, as well as my virtual classes, on the blog at some point.

English

22 point bold Arial font, on 8.5 x 11 paper in either light blue or light yellow. Graphics were never much of an issue here, normally I would request high resolution digital files if they were necessary. I received books through Bookshare and Barnes and Noble.

Geography

22 point bold Arial font, on 11 x 17 off white paper. Maps were outlined in black Sharpie and the symbols were enlarged 500%. I received high resolution graphics on my laptop as well as on the class projector. My teacher found that the larger format benefitted all students, and a handful of students even discovered they needed glasses. This class did not use textbooks.

Spanish/foreign language

22 point bold Arial font on 8.5 x 11 blue/yellow paper. Accent marks were outlined in black Sharpie. Pictures were often eliminated, and occasionally there would be alt text available. I received textbooks and workbooks through AIM-VA.

Math

22 point bold Arial font on 11 x 17 blue/yellow paper. I had a specific accommodation to use Sharpie pens instead of pencils. Graphs were either presented as high resolution images or outlined in black Sharpie. I received textbooks from AIM-VA.

Science

22 point bold Arial font on 11 x 17 blue paper. Graphs and images were presented digitally. I also was always partnered with a friend I had known for a long time when it came to labs, since they were used to me having low vision and could make sure I didn’t burn the school down or break items. I received textbooks through AIM-VA and Amazon.

Band

Music enlarged 250%-300% on 11 x 17 off white paper that was cut into segments for easier page turns. Dynamics and other markings were highlighted with black Sharpie. I also received music digitally that my director scanned in. I read it on my iPad and simply zoomed in on the images while playing.

What I’ve Learned About Print Disabilities

Welcome to Print Disability Week, where I will be posting once a day about ways to receive services for a print disability, with a webinar on Thursday in collaboration with AIM-VA, an accessible educational materials provider for students with print disabilities in grades K-12 in Virginia. Today, I will be sharing things I wish I knew about having a print disability back when I was in high school, and things I have used.

I was at a doctor’s appointment this summer when my mom noticed that I kept confusing the letters B and D on the eye chart, as well as a few other letters. She asked me afterwards if those letters looked like they were the same to me when they were on their own, and I said yes. She then asked me if that’s why I always had issues with matching questions on tests, where the student writes a letter to match a word and a definition. Suddenly, it all made sense as to why I always seemed to miss questions that seemed so simple. While I could distinguish the letters B and D when they were in a word (since the brain doesn’t read every single letter), I had trouble distinguishing them on their own. My mom then jokingly told me I could have been valedictorian if we figured this out sooner, and I pointed out “it’s hard to be valedictorian if you don’t know the alphabet.”

Following this conversation, I started thinking about things I wish I would have known sooner about having a print disability, and tools that have helped me succeed in high school and college. Here are ten things I thought of, and how they help me.

Explaining what a print disability is

A print disability affects a person who cannot read normal materials because of a visual, learning, or other disability. I have low vision and cannot read anything smaller than size 24 point font, and have trouble with serif fonts such as Times New Roman. A great simulation to show someone how I see printed materials is to tell them to slant their eyelids with their fingers and look down. I also found that this YouTube video sums up what happens when someone hands me materials I cannot see, in a comedic way.

Portable CCTVs

How I wish I had one of these when I had to do chemistry worksheets, but this device has been fantastic in many of my college classes. Read my full review of the SmartLux here.

Use colorful language

No, this isn’t to say use swear words, but incorporating color into accessible materials has allowed me to really absorb more information. One thing that has really helped me in math is outlining letters and numbers in different colors- A is red, 2 is blue, C is green, 4 is purple, etc. This helps prevent me from confusing symbols and lets me easily see exponents and symbols that are traditionally smaller.

Colored backgrounds

It’s easier on the eyes to read things on a colored background as opposed to sharp white, since sharp white can cause glare. My backpack was nicknamed “bag of rainbows” because I used pink, blue, yellow, and purple colored papers for my schoolwork. It helped to reduce eye fatigue and I noticed I could read much faster than on bright white paper.

Larger paper for math, science, and music.

When it comes to math and science, it is very important not to cut off any symbols, since that can dramatically change the information presented. The same goes with music, where having one note cut off can throw off the entire piece. As a result, I receive my math and science work on 11 x 17 paper, with a colored background, and my music on the same sized paper, requesting the paper be either off white or yellow because I wear sunglasses while playing.

Textures

I am not a Braille reader, however I have found that tactile labels and textured markers have really helped me with processing information on a page. Typically, I layer washi tape on top of graphics to provide extra contrast. Another cool trick I learned is to trace white glue over lines or graphs so that way I can feel what is on the page without it being overly obvious. This is especially great when it comes to working with items on a number line.

Patterns

When working with digital materials, I assign different patterns on lines (zig zag, dashes, squiggle) and have them in different colors so I can see where they intersect and what type of lines they are. This has been especially useful in my database programming class while working with Microsoft Visio, where different ends of lines give important information and lots of lines are intersecting.

eReaders

I was one of the first people to buy the Barnes and Noble Nook when it came out when I was in seventh grade. It allowed me to read almost any book I could think of, all in glorious large print. It had a cellular data connection too, so I could download a book in thirty seconds, which was extremely helpful when the teacher would randomly assign us books to read. eReaders are so inexpensive now that it would be insane not to have one. Here is the model I use now.

eBooks

I love Bookshare, but there are so many other services to read books for free. Here is a post I wrote about services at local libraries to help people with print disabilities. Using all of these tools, I have only ever encountered one book that I ever had to read in print in the last five years.
Another great resource is accessible instructional materials organizations. My state has AIM-VA, which will enlarge textbooks, classroom materials, and more for students with an IEP for print disabilities. 

Digital formats for assignments

I have an entire post on why I prefer my schoolwork digitally, and it helps to make sure materials are in an accessible format before giving them to a student. I request that teachers give me materials in .doc, .docx, .ppt, .pptx, or if absolutely necessary, .png or .pdf. I find it easier to have editing capabilities so I can quickly fix materials if I find them difficult to see, but have rarely had any problems with .pdf or .png formats, as long as I can see them clearly.

To answer a common question, I do not mind having a print disability, and I don’t necessarily feel like I am “missing out on the world” because I have one. I have never been able to read small fonts, so I don’t know life any other way. With all of these technologies and different techniques, I am able to access materials just like my sighted friends, and read alongside them.