Over the last five years, I have had the opportunity to take two different online English classes and was able to earn high grades in both of them. While I naturally enjoy reading and writing, one of the challenges I had to overcome in taking online English classes with low vision was learning what assistive technology and accessibility tools would work best for me. Here are my tips for taking online English classes with low vision in high school and college.
About my English classes
My first online English class was a twelfth grade English class that I took during my senior year of high school as part of my graduation requirements. This class was offered through my school district for all students as an alternative to in-person classes, though it still covered a lot of the same content that the other classes did, minus some differences in reading assignments- my friends had to read Beowulf, while my class was assigned Macbeth. Our weekly assignments consisted of a minimum 300-word essay that responded to a prompt, reading assignments/questions, and tests or quizzes every other week, plus some longer length papers.
In college, I took my upper-level writing class online, which is required for students in all majors and has a large number of sections that are online or hybrid. Similar to my high school English class, assignments consisted of short essays that responded to a prompt, research assignments/questions, some quizzes, and a final paper that was due at the end of the semester on a topic of the student’s choice. I chose to write about incorporating audio description into theater, and have linked my essay below for those interested.
- Promoting Cast Involvement In Audio Description
- How To Choose General Education Courses In College
- Virtual Classes in High School
Finding accessible copies of books/texts to read
For my first online English class, students were assigned a variety of different books, short stories, and plays to read throughout the school year. While many students were able to check these out from the library or get a copy from their school, I was able to get accessible copies of these texts free of charge through Bookshare, a free online accessible library for people with print disabilities. If I did not have access to a book on Bookshare, I would have requested it through AIM-VA, an organization that provides accessible materials for Virginia students, or through my college assistive technology office.
- Ten Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Bookshare
- Reading Bookshare Titles With Microsoft Word
- All About AIM-VA
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
Using text-to-speech and simplified displays for reading
Since I tend to get eyestrain from reading large amounts of texts, it helps to use text-to-speech or simplified displays when I need to read a lot, so that I don’t get tired so quickly. Two of my favorite ways to read digital materials online are the Microsoft Immersive Reader and the free Pocket app, both of which simplify the display of text and make it easier to read, as well as give users the option to have text read out loud. I have full posts on Immersive Reader and Pocket linked below, as well as additional tips for reading text without a screen reader.
- My Talk At I’m Determined Summit: Crash Course In Immersive Reader
- Pocket App Accessibility For Visual Impairment
- Ways To Read Webpages Without A Traditional Screen Reader
- My Favorite Web Browser Extensions For Virtual Learning
Take advantage of virtual campus writing resources
While I’ve never been to my college’s in-person writing center, I’ve benefitted a lot from their virtual campus writing resources that contain helpful tips such as how to structure text, write letters in specific formats, and access popular writing software for free or at a discount. For students that need in-person help or personalized feedback, many writing centers also offer free access to tutors or workshops that can help students to become more confident in their writing. If a student doesn’t have access to these resources, I recommend using the free BrainFuse app for writing help, which is available through several public libraries in the US.
Locating accessible sources and creating citations
When I was writing my final paper for my college writing class, one of the things that helped me tremendously was figuring out how to locate accessible sources and create citations. For me, accessible sources were ones that I could easily switch to different formats or scan into my device, or sources that supported the simplified reading displays that I use in the classroom. I have full posts on how I find accessible sources and create citations linked below.
- How I Read Research Sources With Assistive Technology
- How I Create Citations For Research Papers
- How To Run Effective Web Searches
- How I Outline Research Papers With OneNote
Incorporating eReaders and other devices
For students who get eyestrain easily, eReaders and voice assistants can be a great way to have text displayed or read out loud without the glare that backlight provides, and can give students a simple way to access the material they need for their classes. I prefer to use the Nook eReader that has a paperwhite display, because it is similar to reading on paper and has large font options available for users. Amazon Echo devices are also great for reading books in the Kindle library out loud, and can easily be controlled with the user’s voice.
- How I’m Using My eReader To Support Virtual Learning
- How Amazon Alexa Can Help You Read
- How Amazon Alexa Can Help With Online Learning
I’m linking other posts from my website below that can be helpful for students taking online English classes, or other classes that are reading or writing-intensive. I also have a dedicated category for posts that are related to reading and writing that is linked as well.
- Ten Tech Skills Every College Student Needs For Virtual Classes
- Tips To Make Proofreading Feedback Accessible For Low Vision
- How I Write Research Papers On Accessibility Topics
- A to Z of Assistive Technology For Low Vision
- Reading and Writing category
Summary of taking online English classes with low vision
- Know how to find accessible copies of books or other short texts for reading assignments- Bookshare is a great free resource for this
- Learn how to use text-to-speech or simplified displays for reading
- Take advantage of virtual campus writing resources
- Learn how to locate accessible research sources and create citations
- Incorporate eReaders or other devices to help with accessing course materials without aggravating existing eyestrain