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.

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.

Amazon PrimeNow

For Amazon Prime users near major cities, Amazon offers free two hour delivery of hundreds of items through a service called PrimeNow. With a minimum purchase of $20, items are hand-delivered by couriers similar to AmazonFresh. Living within the Washington DC/Northern Virginia service area, I have been able to receive high quality products faster than it takes for me to get to the store, get lost in the store, and get back home. Here are some ways PrimeNow has been awesome for me, and why I recommend it to everyone with an Amazon Prime account.

It’s faster than going to the store

While I have reliable bus access here at college to many stores, as well as friends who drive, I find it easier to use PrimeNow for when I need to buy items. I can add items to my cart almost instantly, choosing from my purchase history or searching for items manually through the PrimeNow site. The prices and selection are comparable to my local store, and I’ve never had any issues finding items.
Items that I have purchased on PrimeNow include replacement pads for my portable TENS unit, protein bars, paper, toiletries, chargers, adapters, command strips, and many more.

No poorly rated products

When I came back from school in October, I left both my phone and iPad charger at home. Not wanting to pay $20 at the bookstore for a cable, I bought two highly rated cables for each device plus two wall adapters. All came highly reviewed and at a reasonable price at less than $30 for all items. Amazon would not keep low quality products available on demand, only the high quality bestsellers that are at a reasonable price.

Items can arrive within an hour

For $8 extra, the item(s) will arrive within one hour after they are ordered. While I very rarely do this, my friend once used it to get a laptop cable after theirs was destroyed and said it came within twenty minutes. The fastest delivery I’ve ever had was about thirty minutes.

Brown bag with Amazon PrimeNow logo and items inside
My package has arrived!

I can get items right outside my door

I program the delivery address right outside a restaurant near my apartment. Since users are able to follow where the courier is, I wait until they are within five miles of my address. Then I go wait outside and have the courier bring the items to me. I have a note for delivery that I am visually impaired with a description of what I am wearing (for example, red sweater with gray scarf). Most of the couriers just walk up to me and say they are from Amazon and ask what my name is, and this works well. For users who don’t live in a secured dorm, unattended delivery is also an option.

Excellent customer support

Customer support understands that I have low vision (a member of customer support even follows my blog!) and has been able to help couriers locate me, instead of having me wandering around trying to find someone I’ve never met. When there was an issue with an order I had, they issued me a full refund and helped ensure that the issue would never happen again. I’ve never met a rude customer support person or anyone who was impossible to understand over the phone, and I’ve never been on hold for more than thirty seconds later. Because I know customer support will help in case of a problem, I feel confident every time I place an order that I will be able to get my items.
I highly recommend PrimeNow to anyone who lives within the delivery area for it. I’m so happy that it’s available in my area, and can’t wait for it to expand even more.

Picking Out Glasses

When I was in eighth grade, I had these black wire glasses with turquoise accents. My friend had helped me pick them out, and said they would look awesome on me. Little did any of us know, they would turn into the absolute worst pair of glasses I ever owned. Every part of the frame broke at some point, the nose pads would get twisted, and the lenses would fall out constantly. Since the place I bought them from did free repairs, I brought in the glasses at least ten times before accepting that the frame just wasn’t going to work out.
Since then, I have befriended the opticians and sales associates at the LensCrafters I frequent and they have helped me get a better eye for what glasses work best for people with low vision, and what frames won’t break so quickly. Here are some of the things I’ve learned over the years about buying glasses.

How quickly can the glasses be made?

Most glasses with a low prism and/or bifocal can be made in an hour, which has been an incredible blessing, especially if I break my glasses beyond repair. Glasses with higher prism are made offsite in about a week but I have gotten them as quickly as four days after I placed the order. If the glasses have to be sent offsite, I get a spare pair as soon as my prescription is done being tweaked.

Tinting glasses

I have a gray tint in my polycarbonate lenses to help with light sensitivity, and have also had brown and purple tints in the past. Currently, I have a “level two” amount of tint in my glasses, but the lab tech can tint glasses as dark as you need them. Find a lab tech who has lots of experience tinting lenses for low vision. I have two favorite lab techs that tint my glasses the way I like them and can match tints by looking at preexisting lenses.

Pick frames for your lenses

Figure out the thickness of your lenses and find a frame that can accommodate thick lenses, if needed. Do not try and get away with the thin wire frames if you have prism, like I tried to do, but don’t resign yourself to wearing coke bottle or eighties fabulous glasses either! The optician will be great help in this.

Look at designer frames

After I finally gave up on the black and turquoise glasses, I got a pair of Coach frames that were more expensive. I never had a single problem with the frame and rarely had to bring them in to be replaced. The frame I chose was even able to accommodate my prism of 20 in a super subtle way. My sunglasses are Ray Bans frames and have been the same way. While there are some exceptions, the designer frames are awesome quality and can accommodate thick lenses with ease.

Face shape

I am a petite person and the very large frames that are in style overpower my face. I found that medium sized frames with rectangular shaped lenses work best for me. Don’t sacrifice functionality for style, however don’t be upset if you can’t rock oversized glasses like everyone else.

Automatic fitting technology

A lot of eyewear places now have automatic fitting technology that is done by taking a flash photo of the customer wearing the glasses. If you are sensitive to flashing lights, or bright lights, request to be manually measured, citing light sensitivity as the reason. I have a note in my file that says flashing lights are a migraine trigger for me and I must be manually measured for glasses.

Don’t buy a spare pair after getting a new prescription

Wait until the eyes adjust to the new prescription before getting a second pair. Because we buy so many glasses, if there is a special on buying two pairs of glasses, the optician will make a note in my file to honor the promotion when I get my second pair of glasses a few days after I adjust to the prescription.

Protection plan

If you have low vision, ALWAYS get the extra protection plan that gives free repairs and touch ups. Every few months, I have to get my tint done again due to fading from the sun and I need the backs of the glasses adjusted so they don’t slip off my face. Also, this plan guarantees a replacement pair of glasses if I break them beyond repair. Since I cannot function without my glasses, this is extremely important.

Understand that some vision isn’t corrected to 20/20, even with glasses

Instead of asking me which line on a chart I can read, I’m asked which line appears the clearest. I will never be able to read the small text on the chart, no matter what my reading prescription is, because I have a print disability. If the optician starts to panic that it’s impossible to read small font, explain that you have eyesight that is partially, but not fully, corrected by glasses. If they start asking uncomfortable questions or argue if that is possible, find a new optician or go to a different location for glasses.

Build a relationship with the people at the store

Going to a place where everyone knows your name, or at least your vision, is a great way to ensure high quality glasses. Try to frequent the same place so they can understand your likes and dislikes, and thank them often for helping you! I like to think that my ophthalmologist gives me the raw materials I need to see, and then the lab tech turns the materials into a finished product that lets me see the world around me, and run into fewer walls.

How Do People With Low Vision…Use The Bathroom/Take A Shower?

A very common question from little kids is how people with low vision use the bathroom or shower. It’s not just little kids who ask, as I have had teachers, friends, random adults, and even college suite mates that I share a bathroom with ask if I am capable of using the bathroom on my own, or if I even use the bathroom. Yes, just like sighted people, those with low vision are capable of using a bathroom independently with the help of assistive technology. Here are five products I use to help me look and feel my best.

Tactile labels

I put these on bottles in the shower so that way I can distinguish which bottle is which. These are hard adhesive plastic dots that I got a sheet of for about $4 from Maxi-Aids via Amazon.

2 in 1 shampoo/conditioner

Speaking of bottles, I was always having trouble putting too much conditioner in my hair and having it look awful. By having the two pre-mixed together, I don’t have to worry about putting too much conditioner in my shoulder-length hair. I use Garnier Fructis and it can be purchased at almost any store that sells shampoo.

Shower railings

I live in a handicap-accessible dorm where we have built in metal support rails in the shower. However, portable railings with suction cups can easily be purchased, so users can easily stabilize themselves and have a point of reference in the shower as to where to stand or where objects are located such as the faucet.

Toothpaste dispenser

Often marketed towards little kids, these plastic devices hook up to a toothpaste tube and allow for someone to use one hand and push their toothbrush against the plastic slot and have the perfect amount of toothpaste dispensed. These can be found for about $7 on Amazon.

Three sided toothbrush

These were amazing when I started having neck problems and had trouble brushing my teeth. They have toothbrush heads on the front and sides of the brush so the entire tooth can be brushed at once without having to move the head or neck. It is also to use if you have to brush someone else’s teeth. I got a pack of three for $8 from Maxi-Aids.

All of these tools are beneficial in my daily life, but I have recommended them countless times to friends who are dealing with injuries such as broken ankles, sprained wrists, and more. It shows that assistive technology can help almost everyone!