In the five years that I have been running Veronica With Four Eyes, I have had the honor of meeting or talking with many different teachers from around the world. Many of the teachers that contact me are K-12 teachers that are in various public schools across the United States, and they often talk about how they want to help their student(s) with low vision but feel like they have no idea how to start. Alternatively, they may have several ideas on how they can help their student to thrive in the classroom, but they do not have the funding to do so.
To address both barriers, today’s post is a collection of 20+ ideas for visual impairment and assistive technology products that can be funded through DonorsChoose, a US-based nonprofit organization that allows individuals to donate directly to public school classroom projects. In honor of Veronica With Four Eyes turning five years old and my birthday month, I will be partnering with DonorsChoose starting on January 18th, 2022 to provide a 2X match for projects that benefit students who are blind, low vision, or otherwise visually impaired- more detailed instructions on how to add your project to the match offer are linked on the bottom of this post. While this is not an exhaustive list of everything that can be funded, here are some examples of projects that have been funded on DonorsChoose in the past that can benefit students with vision loss, many of which have helped me as a student with low vision as well.
I have poor contrast vision due to my visual impairment, which means that art materials like pencils, pastels, watercolor paints, and line drawings are difficult or impossible for me to see. Adapted art materials like Kwik Stix, Wikki Stix, dot markers, high-contrast pens, and tactile materials all enable students to create wonderful works of art that they can enjoy creating and displaying.
Braille is one of the most critically important skills that a student with vision loss can develop while in school. While it’s worth noting that not all visually impaired students use Braille (I don’t personally use it due to a neurological condition/reduced sensitivity in my hands), being proficient in Braille can open a world of opportunities for students with vision loss as they transition to higher education, the workplace, and independent living. Braille books are commonly requested on DonorsChoose, though teachers can also request items such as stickers and other high-tech tools such as Braille displays. Students can also use Braille keyboards on many iOS and Android devices.
While having a computer in the classroom can be beneficial for many students, it is especially helpful for students with vision loss to have a computer that they can use independently or with limited assistance. Before requesting a particular computer, teachers should check to see if the device is compatible with district technology requirements, as some districts only allow computers that support certain operating systems.
There are some types of assistive technology that are designed specifically for a particular condition, such as light boxes for cortical visual impairment (CVI), communication aids for students with multiple disabilities, or similar items can benefit students who have very specific or intersectional accessibility needs that are not addressed by traditional technology solutions.
The ECC is a term used to describe the additional skills and curriculum areas that help to support students with vision loss in completing activities related to school, as well as additional life skills. The ECC encompasses nine different subjects and skills, ranging from technology access to independent living. While I touch on several ECC skills and areas throughout this post, example projects related to the ECC that I’ve seen on DonorsChoose include cooking education, practicing orientation and mobility skills, career education, and field trips to places in the community to practice ECC skills.
Since I can’t see pencil lead on paper, I often turn to felt-tip markers, pens, and other high contrast writing tools that allow me to do my classwork or read handwritten text on paper. There are specialty markers that are designed to be easy to read for people with vision loss, though I commonly use mainstream brands like Sharpie when it comes to writing with high contrast markers. Another popular writing tool that is requested on DonorsChoose is digital styluses, which are great for completing work digitally.
I have been part of general and adaptive physical education classes, and many of my teachers found ways to incorporate adaptive sports aids or gym activities so that it was easier for me to participate. While I haven’t taken a school gym class in years, I’ve been excited to learn about how other teachers have been using tools like beeping balls/disks, running guides, and digital programs to help students with vision loss to learn more about fitness and movement, and these would be great items to request on DonorsChoose!
Taking virtual classes in high school helped me to stay on track to graduate and manage my other health conditions more easily, and there are many students who are in part-time or full-time homebound/virtual education programs that also have vision loss. One example of a project that I thought was awesome was for a legally blind student that needed a tablet so that they could access their assignments more easily- the tablet would give them the option of not only enlarging their work, but the flexibility of being able to sit or lie down while reading, or the ability to operate the device with only one hand.
My iPad is easily one of my most-used assistive technology devices, as it allows me to have all of my schoolwork on one portable device. When I had to take classes remotely due to a health issue, I was able to pair my iPad with an iTouch and video call into class so that I didn’t miss anything, and I still use the iTouch to help with providing white noise or listening to audiobooks. Having access to an iPad can be a game changer for students with vision loss because it can be used as assistive technology in so many ways.
My favorite keyboard for writing is the Keys-U-See large print keyboard, which features large black letters on yellow keys. It’s a great keyboard for classrooms and computer labs, though there are also many other options for alternative input devices, such as one-handed keyboards, switches, styluses, and voice input programs.
I love seeing a classroom library with accessible books! Teachers can add books to their school/classroom libraries in alternative formats such as large print, Braille, dual media (Braille/large print), audiobooks, and even story kits that feature several different sensory items. I have an entire post about creating accessible classroom libraries linked below.
As my vision loss has changed over the years, I have been using large monitors and TV screens more often to enlarge and magnify information and having a large monitor can be a great classroom tool for students who have trouble seeing the board/smaller screens. I recommend that teachers talk to a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) or assistive technology specialist to figure out what size monitor will work best for a particular student.
After years of copying down incorrect information from the board because I had trouble seeing it, many of my teachers and I found notetaking aids that would help me with making sure that I copied down information accurately. This includes tools such as document cameras, non-faded markers/pens, screen sharing programs, transcription tools, and other items that make it easier to access information. While I do not personally use these, other tools such as smart pens, digital recorders, and high contrast notebooks/paper are also helpful.
An important thing to consider when designing classrooms for students who or blind/low vision is how items are organized and where classroom materials are located. Having items such as tablet stands, desk organizers, blindness cane storage areas, or other school supplies in easy-to-access areas can help students with navigating their classrooms independently. I’ve also seen organizing-related projects that focus on setting up a classroom or new space for TVIs or students with vision loss, which are helpful as well.
Having access to high-quality scans and copies of assignments, graphics, and other classroom materials is critical for students with vision loss, and I frequently see projects for printers and ink listed on DonorsChoose since these are often expensive for teachers to buy themselves. While I haven’t seen many projects for paper on DonorsChoose, many students with vision loss benefit from having alternative types of paper for their printed materials, such as off-white paper, large/custom sizes, cardstock, and similar.
When I was in high school, I frequently struggled with traditional math classes because I didn’t have access to the same tools as my fellow sighted students. While there are many options for assistive technology in the math classroom, I did not have access to them at the time and often had to spend a lot of extra time doing math problems with only a pen and paper. Some examples of assistive technology for the math classroom include large print rulers/measurement tools, talking or large print calculators, adapted graph paper, tactile or large print protractors, and abacuses.
While many of the ideas in this post talk about physical items, teachers can also put in requests for some digital products on DonorsChoose, including subscriptions to educational websites and tools. Some of the subscriptions I’ve seen that specifically benefit students who are visually impaired include reading websites, tutoring/individualized practice tools, and apps that are compatible with screen reading tools like VoiceOver.
Tactile dots or stickers can be used on a variety of surfaces, including keyboards, walls, desks, and doors to help students with identifying objects or orienting themselves in the classroom environment. Teachers can add tactile dots or stickers to various landmarks in the school to help students with vision loss identify particular areas of the building.
With double vision, it’s helpful for me to use line trackers to limit how many lines are displayed at a time while I’m reading, because it makes it easier to focus on the text. There are several different line tracking tools available, both for physical and digital materials., and they also can help with reducing eyestrain since the student doesn’t have to strain their eyes as much to focus.
Video magnifiers, sometimes called portable CCTVs, allow students to enlarge print materials as well as environmental items on a digital screen. Video magnifiers come in a variety of shapes and sizes, including handheld devices and larger devices that rest on a table. I typically take tests and quizzes using the larger CCTVs, while I use the handheld magnifier in the classroom or when doing an activity that involves moving around.
For teachers that work with students on orientation and mobility (O&M) skills, wayfinding tools such as wearable bands/devices, indoor beacons, and treads can all help a student to navigate their school more easily. It’s worth noting that students generally cannot keep DonorsChoose items forever, as they are the property of the school district, so these devices are specifically for developing wayfinding skills in the school or as part of the ECC.
External hardware often complements existing accessibility features or tools that are on a computer or tablet, and provides additional capabilities so that the student can magnify or access information. Some examples of external hardware that I use include cameras (so I can zoom in on the board), scanning pens, computer mice for taking tests, and similar tools.
ZoomText and JAWS are two common (though expensive) software programs that are used by students with vision loss to access their PC. Having strong assistive technology skills, especially computer-related skills, can help students with navigating classroom assignments more easily, and help with developing job and employment skills too- these two programs are the most common assistive technology tools that I see people with vision loss use in the workplace.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com