There were many times when I was in middle and high school that I had to deal with anxiety related to receiving accommodations in the classroom for my vision impairment. I was not very confident in explaining why I had poor eyesight and even less confident in understanding why I needed accommodations such as large print and the use of magnifiers. After all, weren’t glasses supposed to make me see perfectly, and weren’t these eye issues supposed to go away once I became a teenager? Today, I will be sharing how I learned to deal with anxiety about receiving disability accommodations in the classroom, and how this helped me prepare for college.
While many teachers dislike having friends sit next to each other, my teachers would frequently arrange the seating charts so that I would be next to my friends, because then I wouldn’t have to worry about people asking me intrusive questions about my disability or making fun of me for receiving accommodations. It also made it easier to ask for help from my friends or the teacher, since my friends were used to helping me read things or guiding me around the classroom. Having friends in the class was most helpful during science labs, because they would work with me and make sure that we would both be safe and earn a good grade for the lab.
Earlier this year, my faculty mentor was telling me that our state standardized tests here in Virginia did not permit the use of screen readers. Instead, students could have the proctor read the exam to them if they needed help reading something, or they could request that individual questions be read to them. As a student who has taken those standardized tests, I can guarantee I would have been embarrassed to ask someone to read a question to me more than twice, and I know a lot of my proctors likely would have been frustrated that I couldn’t read the test independently.
After talking about this topic with my faculty mentor, I realized that one of the most important things for me as a student was to have the ability to do things independently and not have to worry about relying on someone else for help or accommodations. I would much rather have my screen reader read me an exam than have a test proctor staring at me and reading the exam instead. While I know every student has their own preferences and some might prefer to have humans read the questions to them, I don’t like asking people to do things very much and would much rather have the option to use my own technology.
When I started at my second high school, my case manager showed me a school-owned video magnifier that I could use to complete assignments. It reminded me of a vintage computer and had a constant flickering effect, but it was the only video magnifier available so I had no choice but to use it. In order to help me feel a little bit better about using the video magnifier, I would refer to it as “the dinosaur” and ask my teachers if I could go to the library to visit the dinosaur, which I found less awkward than asking for the video magnifier, and opened up conversations with other students in a positive way as I was able to talk about how I use a video magnifier to enlarge my assignments.
A few other examples of ways that I added fun touches to my accommodations included:
When I was in sixth grade, my school was trying to figure out an alternative class for me to take instead of gym, since I was recovering from eye surgery. One of the ideas was to have me sit in the office for 90 minutes every other day and do office work, which my parents vehemently disagreed with because I had trouble reading small labels and students were likely to notice me sitting in the office during that time. Instead, I was put into additional arts electives- I took band, choir, Latin, art, and theater with other sixth graders.
Even though I did need a modification to my schedule, my family and guidance counselors worked to ensure that I would still feel a sense of normalcy and that I could have access to the general classroom environment whenever possible. No one noticed that I didn’t take gym, but they definitely would have noticed if I sat in the office all afternoon.
Many of my teachers were overwhelmed with trying to include a vision impaired student in their classroom and did not have the resources to follow my IEP. As a result, I spent lots of time in toxic classroom environments where I was told my disability was an inconvenience that could not be taken care of. Naturally, this caused my anxiety about accommodations to spike. There was nothing we could do about the lack of education surrounding my disability, so I just had to sit in the classroom and be miserable.
One of the things that helped me was being removed from this classroom environment whenever possible. In high school, I was transferred into virtual classes mid-year or I would go sit in the band room with my friends during classes, with permission of the director. Other times, I would go work with another teacher or my math tutor, who taught at the same school I attended. This helped dramatically because I was no longer being told how stupid I was for not being able to see. I also learned what warning signs to look for in teachers so I could know how to avoid these environments in college.
One of the ways that my family and special education team helped me to reduce anxiety about receiving disability accommodations was to have me participate in new extracurriculars and work on developing independent living skills, as well as explore other interests. This was especially helpful when I moved to a new school district and worried about whether other students would notice I had trouble seeing. Some examples of activities that I tried out include:
When I was sixteen, I wondered what would happen if I suddenly got rid of my IEP and just acted like the other kids in the classroom. I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to read, see the board, or take good notes in the classroom. One of the things that helped me was to go through each of my accommodations and have me think of a reason why I needed that accommodation, so I would be able to have a better perspective on how they help me. I wasn’t just getting large print for fun, I was getting it because my double vision makes it hard to focus on small print.
I didn’t meet anyone else with low vision until I attended college, and since then have made several friends with various levels of usable vision that have helped to reduce my anxiety about living with vision loss. One of my best friends and I were recently reflecting about how we weren’t sure how “blind kids” were supposed to act, and we both always wondered if we were acting like students with visual impairments should. After all, both of us really enjoy graphic design and visiting art museums- doesn’t that seem weird for people that have poor eyesight? When we thought more about it though, there was only one characteristic we could think of that all visually impaired students share- they all have trouble seeing. That’s it.
There is no right or wrong way to live or act as a person with vision loss. As another one of my friends put it, “if you have met someone with X disability, then congrats, you have met one person with X disability. It doesn’t mean you’ve met them all.”
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published May 2019.
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