I’m one of the new students in your class this year. You probably have some idea of who I am, since you recently got a copy of my SAP, 504, or IEP. Before the school year begins, I have listed ten things that I want you to keep in mind as I am in your class. I might admit these things to you, I might keep quiet, or I might not even realize that I need these things. Every student is different after all.
With the transition from elementary school to middle school, I likely had my SAP, 504, or IEP accommodations change to reflect my new educational environment. I might have even just gotten an entirely new plan. I might have trouble telling you exactly what I need, or certain accommodations may not have been added to my plan yet. Don’t make a show out of giving me my large print and showing how different I am. Just give me my assignments- with the rest of the class, please!
It’s easier to find large print books in the elementary school setting than in other settings. I can probably only read one or two books, if any, from the school library. Let me know in advance if I will need a certain book for class so I can find it in an accessible format. Better yet, show me Bookshare, where I can get almost any book.
I never had to worry about textbooks before, and might not even realize that I have to worry about them. Most states have a free program for students with IEPs to get accessible textbooks. In Virginia, that program is AIM-VA (more here). Make sure to order my books before the first day of school, too.
With all of the graphs in math and science class, maps in history class, and blurred fonts in English class, it’s easy to get confused on a test or not realize that I can’t see something. Here are some common myths about having a print disability.
I had a pre-algebra teacher who realized I had problems seeing graphs, while I thought I could see them fine. When this teacher enlarged the graphs and added more contrast to the image, I suddenly did a lot better than before. You have no idea how much I appreciated this. Here are some examples of accommodations for print materials.
A lot of the accommodations I receive in the classroom are also available for state standardized tests- in Virginia, that is the Standards of Learning, or SOL tests (more on those and their accommodations here). This includes large print, use of assistive technology, pens, and extended time. It’s not an unfair advantage that I receive this, and don’t tell me I won’t have my accommodations either. Yes, there is such thing as a large print standardized test, and it is slightly different than the digital tests.
Almost every locker I’ve encountered in a middle school had a combination lock built in. I can’t see the numbers, so my school disabled the locking mechanism and had me use a padlock with a key instead. Because my locker looked different, other teachers or staff would demand to search it, thinking there were drugs. One year, I even had the lock chopped off and replaced with a different one- I found out when the key suddenly didn’t work. Keep an extra key to my locker in your classroom, so if I get locked out, I can borrow your key.
I’m starting to realize I see different than everyone else, and my fellow peers are too. I might be teased more for having bad eyesight, or having pranks pulled on me. Alternatively, other teachers may start teasing me or bullying me for having poor eyesight. Watch out for me, and if I seem preoccupied, let me know I can talk to you.
I might want to stay inside during field day, avoid the school pep rally, or sit out while everyone plays dodgeball. Have someone keep me company, if you can, and understand that I am nervous in social situations that require good eyesight. If I want to be included in these things though, work with me so that I can be.
I remember the cafeteria was always very overwhelming for me because of the food fights, noise, and difficulty finding a seat. If you can, let me and some of my friends eat in your classroom so I’m not overly stressed. If there’s a class dodgeball game going on, let me stay in your classroom and do something else.
I have low vision, not eyes that can shoot lasers or turn people to stone. I see the world differently than you, and likely don’t know things any other way. If you feel like you can’t handle me, talk to my support staff in the special education department or my parents. They are willing to help, after all.
I hope that you will accept me as a member of your class, and help me to succeed this year. I thank you in advance for the influence you will have on me.
Your new student with low vision
Dear Elementary School Teacher: Back to School Part 1
Dear High School Teacher: Back to School Part 3