How Do People With Low Vision…Open a Locker?

At my middle school, all of the lockers were equipped with combination locks built directly into the locker doors. While this was a great security feature, I was unable to see the numbers on the combination lock due to my print disability, so we were left wondering how I was going to store my backpack during the school day. Fortunately, my parents and the school were able to work together and develop a solution that we implemented in high school as well. Here is how we were able to get an alternative lock for my locker.

Include accommodation in SAP, 504, or IEP

I had a Student Assistance Plan (SAP) at the beginning of middle school, which eventually was converted to an IEP for low vision. One of the accommodations written in was that I would be able to use an alternative locking mechanism to secure my locker, that would be provided by my family. The school reserved the right to search my locker at any given time and have access to it if needed, just like all of the other lockers in the school.

The lock itself

I used a padlock and had several copies of keys made that I gave to different staff members. This ensured that they would be able to access my locker if I got locked out or if it needed to be searched. Staff members that had my key included my homeroom teacher, a second trusted teacher, principal, assistant principal, and secretary.

Setting it up

The custodial staff would disengage the combination lock at the beginning of the year. I then would hook the padlock through the hole in the locker handle. It took me about five seconds to open or close my locker at any given time.

Locker location

I always requested a lower level locker so I would not have to worry about objects falling on me. This also meant students were less likely to mess with my locker while walking through the halls.  It was located with the rest of the lockers for my class and grade, and did not have any special features other than the modified lock.

Finding the locker

Even though it had a very distinctive padlock, it still was sometimes difficult to spot my locker. Luckily, the print numbers on the top were engraved so they could easily be felt. If this wasn’t the case, I would have requested clear tactile dots be placed on the locker door.

Alert staff of locker accommodation

One day in eighth grade, while I was grabbing my binder, a teacher noticed that my locker looked different than the rest of the others. Because of this, the teacher was convinced I was hiding drugs in my locker and sent me to the office, ordering a search on my locker. I found this slightly amusing, given that it would be silly to hide something in the locker that looks different than the rest, but it still happened anyway, and I was twenty minutes late for class. Make sure that other staff are aware of this accommodation so a similar situation does not occur.

If the lock is cut off

In high school, the padlock to my locker was cut off at least twice, because school security thought I was hiding drugs (again). To cover this up, they replaced my padlock with a different one. They did not alert me to what had happened, so my key didn’t work and I had no idea why. If this happens, report it to school administration as soon as possible and get copies of the new key.

Padlock alternative

One of my friends used a speed dial lock, which involves the user moving a button with their thumb, in a pattern of their choice. This was much easier for them than using a key. An example combination would be up up, down, left, right, down, up, and the school had copies of their combination on file. A similar lock can be purchased on Amazon here.

Have an explanation prepared

If a student or staff member asks why your locker is different, have a short explanation prepared. I would say “I can’t see the numbers on the combination lock, so I use this lock instead.” If it was a staff member, I would add that school administration has copies of the keys if there are any issues.

A note on teasing

While I did receive a few comments from other students about how my locker looked different than the rest, I didn’t have to deal with much teasing, likely because it was pretty well camouflaged. If teasing does become a problem, report it to the homeroom teacher as well as a guidance counselor or other school administration.

Thankfully, I never had to deal with stolen items or any students breaking into my locker when I used the padlock. This is definitely an accommodation that my family and I didn’t think about at first, but it was necessary, not to mention extremely helpful to have.

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.


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.