Fun fact- all of the history classes that I have taken since ninth grade have been online history classes. I took my first online history class shortly before starting tenth grade because of a scheduling issue, and while I hadn’t planned on taking additional online history classes, I ended up taking a total of four- three in high school, and one in college. Here are my tips for taking online history classes with low vision, from a student who took various required history classes. Please note that I did not take any AP history classes, though these tips can still be applied to students who are in those types of classes.
About my history classes
In my home state of Virginia and in the two school districts I attended, students are required to take four out of these five classes, with Civics/Government being a required course:
- World History 1 or World History 2
- World History 2 or Geography (if the student took World History 1)
- United States History
Since Geography was my first high school history class, my first online history class was World History 2, which I took as a summer class online through what would eventually be my second school district that offered several types of online classes. After moving to my second school district junior year, I started taking AP US History, but ended up being transferred to a virtual US History class about two months into the school year because the teacher did not have the resources to provide large print in the classroom, and I felt comfortable creating my own digital accessible materials in a virtual classroom. I chose to take Civics/Government online my senior year, as this was an option open to all students, and had the same teacher that taught my World History 2 class a few years before.
In college, I was required to take a class called HIST 125: Introduction to World History. I chose to take this online because I had experience taking online history classes and I didn’t feel like walking to class early in the morning or late at night during my first semester. If my college had accepted credit for it, I would have taken a History CLEP exam so I could take another fun class, however this was not an option at the time.
- How To Transfer To A Virtual Class Mid-Year
- My Experience With Virtual Classes in High School
- How To Choose General Education Courses In College
- CLEP Exams and Low Vision
- SOL Test Accommodations And Low Vision
Get high-resolution images of maps
While I didn’t take Geography online, I did work with a lot of digital materials in my class. One of the most helpful things my teacher provided was high-resolution images of maps that could easily be magnified, zoomed in on, or annotated with various drawing programs. Large print labels and legends are also extremely helpful for students with low vision, since smaller text may become pixelated when magnification is used.
- How To Create High Resolution Images For Low Vision
- How To Create Accessible Map Charts For Low Vision
- Windows Magnifier and Low Vision
- Zoom Magnifier and Low Vision
- How To Modify Anatomy Diagrams For The Visually Impaired
Locate accessible primary source documents
A lot of the primary source documents I had to read for various classes were scanned images or featured poor contrast due to age and fading. My teachers would provide typed transcripts of documents as needed so that I could adjust the font size or use a screen reader, which was very helpful for taking notes and scanning through passages. I have an entire post on creating accessible historical documents for students with visual impairments linked below, which was created after my visit to two different presidential libraries.
- How To Make Historical Documents Accessible For Low Vision
- How To Create Accessible Assignments With Microsoft Office Sway
Find books in accessible formats
For my college history class, we had to read several different books about various history topics, instead of reading a traditional textbook. I was able to find several of the books on Bookshare, which is free for college students with print disabilities, though I also found books through other sources including:
- Louis database for accessible materials
- Libby/OverDrive digital book app from my local library
- Online college library
If a book was not available digitally, my college assistive technology office would convert it to a digital format for me
- Ten Cool Things You Didn’t Know About Bookshare
- How I Find Research Sources In Accessible Formats
- How To Request Accessible Textbooks In College
- College Libraries and Low Vision
Use browser extensions to make text easier to read
One of the things that surprised me about my first online history class was that there was so much text to read online. I tend to get eye fatigue very easily, and didn’t know how to manage it other than closing my eyes for a few minutes (and inevitably falling asleep). Nowadays, I love using various browser extensions to make text easier to read with different contrast options and simplified displays, and I sometimes even use these tools to have text read out loud without using a traditional screen reader. This has helped tremendously with eye fatigue as I have switched to taking online classes full-time.
- My Favorite Web Browser Extensions For Virtual Learning
- How To Use Text-To-Speech With Low Vision
- Simplified Reading Displays and Low Vision
- How Amazon Alexa Can Help With Online Learning
- My Talk At I’m Determined Summit: Crash Course In Immersive Reader
- How I’m Using My eReader To Support Virtual Learning
If possible, see if videos are available with audio description
For my World History 2 class, the teacher would assign various videos for students to watch and write a response paper about. Unfortunately, a lot of these videos relied on visuals and featured flashing lights, so I had to complete alternative assignments because of my photosensitivity. In college, I learned about the amazing world of audio description, and discovered that the Described and Captioned Media Program offers lots of audio described history content free of charge for teachers and students to use, including many of the videos I had been assigned in previous online history classes. This is an awesome resource that teachers should take advantage of to help their students with visual and hearing impairments!
- Described And Captioned Media Program Review
- How To Check Videos For Flashing Lights
- Creating Audio Description For Primary Source Videos With YouDescribe
Use assistive technology and accessibility tools for virtual tours
While I never had to do this in any of my history classes, one of my friends had to navigate a virtual tour of the 9/11 Museum for their history class, and they weren’t sure how that would work as a student with low vision. A lot of museums and cultural sites now have free audio tours and apps that users can benefit from during virtual tours, as well as text-based descriptions of sites and artifacts available on their websites and apps. If an audio tour is available at physical locations but not online, I recommend sending an email and requesting the mp3 files, though it may take a few days to receive a response.
- How To Make Virtual Museums Accessible For Visual Impairments
- Accessible Virtual Field Trip- The 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- Accessible Virtual Field Trip- Rijksmuseum
- VR For VI: How Visually Impaired Students Can Use Virtual Reality
More tips for taking online history classes with low vision
- I didn’t own an Amazon Echo Dot when taking history classes, but there are a lot of really cool Alexa skills that can help users interact with history content- learn more in How Amazon Alexa Can Help You Listen To History
- Visiting an in-person museum for a class? I talk about several museum accessibility options in my post Tips For Visiting Art Museums With Low Vision and Visiting The National Museum of the American Indian With Low Vision
- Another post I have written with tips for making research sources accessible is How I Read Research Sources With Assistive Technology