Dear Middle School Teacher,
I’m one of the new students in your class this year, and I have a visual impairment- this can mean I am blind, have low vision, or otherwise have vision loss not corrected by glasses. You probably received a copy of my SAP, 504, or IEP in advance, and likely have an idea of who I am based on it. However, there are a few things that I would like to request of you, to keep in mind as the school year progresses. I might admit these things to you, I might be scared to say anything, or I might not even realize I want you to do these things. While every blind student or student with low vision is different, here are some strategies and tools that specifically have helped me:
With the transition from elementary school to middle school, I likely had my SAP, 504, or IEP accommodations change to reflect the change in instructional materials. Alternatively, I may have just gotten approved for disability accommodations for the first time, or had my accommodations change from a SAP to a 504 Plan or maybe a 504 Plan to an IEP. It might be hard for me to remember all of my accommodations right now, or I might still need other accommodations that I haven’t approved yet, so please be patient as I learn more about how my disability affects me.
When I first started middle school, I remember joking that it looked like a lot of the font sizes for classroom materials and books had shrunken in size basically overnight, because standard print sizes for middle school educational materials are smaller than the ones in elementary school. This might also be my first time using textbooks, so work with me to get text in accessible formats- this can be large print, braille, audio, digitial formats, or a mix of different options. My Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) can provide more insight on this if you have questions.
When I started middle school, my family and I had thought about several things related to the disability accommodations process, including large print assignments, the use of a scribe, and other common classroom accommodations for low vision. While everything was set for accommodating low vision inside of the classroom, we forgot about a few accommodations for low vision for things outside of the classroom. More specifically, we forgot to consider how I would use a locker at school when I couldn’t see the built in combination lock.
If you’re my homeroom teacher, you’ll be my contact for getting my locker adapted for low vision. If I use a padlock with a key, I’ll likely keep a spare key in your classroom. I might also make a special request for a particular locker location, like an upper level or lower level locker.
A lot of people experience fluctuating vision or vision declines during puberty, and my vision loss seemingly declined overnight when I realized I could no longer read pencil lead on white paper and needed larger font sizes. In another incident, I failed a math test because I had difficulty with seeing the graphs on a multiple-choice section- when my teacher reprinted the test with high-contrast lines, I ended up getting an A.
My disability accommodations may not be updated to reflect these vision declines or accommodation immediately, so please be flexible and print materials in a larger font size or let me use high contrast writing utensils, even if my disability accommodations don’t yet have these accommodations listed.
While asking specific questions about my diagnosis or medical information is against school policies, you can ask me how I use assistive technology or ask me to describe my usable vision, and ask how you can make things easier for me to see- I might have more trouble telling you what I can’t see and find it easier to answer questions about what I can see. I might tell you the name of my diagnosis on my own, but it’s important that you prioritize my lived experiences over things you might read on the internet about my condition, especially if I have a secondary medical condition or multiple disabilities/chronic illnesses.
Also, unless I tell you otherwise, it’s okay to use words like disabled or disability, it’s not a bad word, and I prefer these over terms like special needs or differently abled. You can follow my lead on whether to use person-first or identity-first language as well- personally, I use a mix of both and refer to myself as either a visually impaired student or student with a visual impairment/low vision. Some people may prefer to use the word blind even if they have some usable vision, which is common and accepted within the vision loss community.
While I am grateful that I was never bullied specifically because of my low vision, I did experience some teasing remarks because I used large print, had a modified locker, and had a modified class schedule to accommodate for adaptive PE. I appreciated having a teacher step in and help me figure out how to deal with this behavior, which included learning how to answer questions about my disability and encouraging people to rephrase questions that are asked in an offensive way.
Class changes can be overwhelming as middle school hallways can be large and confusing, and a lot of classrooms and doors look the same. If you see me wandering around or looking lost, feel free to come over and ask if I need help finding where I’m going. You can offer your arm to act as a human guide, but don’t grab me without permission unless I am in immediate danger of being hurt, i.e slipping on a puddle or about to walk in the middle of a fight.
Another thing to consider is that I might not immediately recognize you in the hallway or an unfamiliar environment. Even though I might recognize your voice, it’s frustrating to have people say “guess who I am!” or “don’t you know who I am?” It’s better to greet me and identify yourself, i.e “Hi Veronica, this is (name).”
Instead of using specialty assistive technology devices like a video magnifier, I might prefer to use my phone camera to magnify information or use a computer with assistive technology settings enabled. A lot of middle school students don’t want to look different or stand out, so I might gravitate towards using mainstream technology with accessibility features enabled, because a lot of students use the same technology- a cell phone in class is a lot more common than a video magnifier. Over time, I may become more comfortable with using specialty technology, but don’t be surprised if you see me using a tablet, smartphone, or computer to access information.
My biggest IEP goals involved developing self-advocacy skills, which is defined as “the action of representing oneself or one’s views or interests.” In the context of disability and IEP goals, another definition that is frequently used is “the process by which a person controls their own life.” I have an entire post dedicated to how to develop self-advocacy linked below that breaks down ways that students can develop these skills, and how teachers can support them in the process.
One of the most helpful ways you can show allyship to a student with vision loss is to not make a big deal about it, and consider using assistive technology tools to help benefit all students. For example, when displaying information on the board, consider using a simplified reading display that shows text in large print for everyone, or use read aloud tools for reading/accessing information. Assitive technology is great for everyone!
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated August 2023; original post published august 2017
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