Whenever I speak about my experiences with working with a teacher of the vision impaired (TVI) in Virginia Public Schools, people are often surprised by how many lessons my TVI taught me in high school, even though I did not see them very often. Even though I only met with them once a week and they rarely spoke to my classroom teachers, they managed to teach me a lot of things about transition and gave me the tools to help me prepare to go to a four-year college. Today, I will be sharing eight things I’m glad my TVI taught me about transition and how it has helped me in college.
A lot of my friends at college have “typical” eye conditions that cause low vision, such as glaucoma, retinopathy of prematurity, and retinitis pigmentosa. Someone who is familiar with vision impairment can look at that diagnosis and have an idea of how well a student can see.This is not true in my case, because I have two different uncommon conditions that contribute to my vision loss- an eye condition called accommodative esotropia and a brain condition called Chiari Malformation (which was not diagnosed until after I graduated from high school). As a result, I get asked what I can see fairly frequently.
When I met my TVI and told them about my eye condition, they told me that they had never had a student with my eye condition before, and that I was not likely to encounter anyone who knew the condition well. I received many opportunities to practice explaining my functional vision level and how my individual conditions impact my ability to see, and it was fantastic practice for college since people frequently asked me those questions.
At both of the high schools I attended, my teachers wouldn’t give me accommodations just because it said in my IEP that they had to. There would be days that I walked into class to find out that the teacher didn’t enlarge assignments for me that day, so I would have to talk to them and explain why I couldn’t read a certain assignment and give them specific instructions on how to fix it. My TVI told me that they didn’t want to step in during situations like this, since no one was going to blindly give me accommodations just because I said so after graduating. While I definitely wish this happened less often, I do appreciate the experience of learning to articulate what I needed.
This ties in with my first two points, but self-advocacy is one of the most important skills that my TVI helped me to develop. Even though I didn’t realize it, my TVI gave me so many opportunities to practice self-advocacy in all of my classes and during my IEP meetings. This helped me to develop strong leadership and communication skills, since I knew that I was in control of my own accommodations and how I am treated in the classroom.
I had very limited access to assistive technology in the classroom, so my TVI encouraged me to come up with ideas for how I could solve problems in the classroom with limited technology and funding. For example, I was having trouble seeing the board in one of my classes no matter where I sat, so we talked about different ways I could deal with the situation, such as standing up to walk around the room or copying notes from a friend. Ultimately, I asked them if I could use my phone as a makeshift magnifier, and they thought it was a great idea. I appreciate that they let me come up with my own ideas and accommodations to solve problems, while giving me some guidance to help me come up with a solution.
One day after a particularly frustrating freshman English class, I went to a planned meeting with my TVI. They asked how my English class was going, so I told them about the extremely small and inaccessible packet that I got in class, and how mad I was at my teacher for telling me to figure something out because they couldn’t stop class to make it accessible. I told them that the teacher was being such a mean person by not giving me my accommodations and that I wasn’t going to do anything in the packet until I got it in an accessible format, because this was all so unfair. They are discriminating against me because I have trouble seeing, after all!
This is a valid explanation of the situation from the mind of a fifteen-year-old girl, but it isn’t very constructive. After listening to me talk about the situation, my TVI looked at me and told me that no one cared about what I just said, and I needed to find a way to make things better.
By the end of the meeting, I had adjusted my explanation of the situation accordingly. My teacher simply had given me a packet in an accessible format, and I was going to request that one of the paraprofessionals create a large print copy for me. Until then, I would ask a parent or friend to give me the information I needed for my homework that night.
How do people with vision impairments get textbooks? This is a question I got to learn about firsthand, since there was an error in ordering my textbooks during my freshman year that meant that I didn’t get textbooks until the last week of the semester. As a result, I got to learn a lot about the process of ordering accessible materials, how they are created, and even where they are created, since my family got to talk directly to the people that turned textbooks into accessible print materials at AIM-VA. Weirdly enough, this experience is one of the main reasons I chose to study assistive technology, because I found the entire process fascinating.
I can’t recall a time that my TVI ever sat in the classroom with me or helped me to adapt an assignment during class time. There were definitely times that I wished I had someone who could help me with fixing inaccessible materials or to help me with other issues, but honestly I’m glad that they allowed me to have so much independence because it was great practice for college- no one sits in my college classroom and tells me how to make things accessible.
This is a bit of a weird situation, but I never interacted with my TVI during my senior year of high school until literally the last day of classes. They walked into my classroom, asked for my name, and then asked how I had been doing during my senior year and if i was going to college. It felt a bit strange to tell all of this information to someone I had never met before, but I was more than happy to share everything I had learned and how it could help other students in the future. I mentioned that I was considering starting a website about vision impairment and assistive technology, and they told me about how wonderful that would be for students. They told me to work on developing my writing skills and gave me lots of encouragement to help others. I recognize this was a very unique case, but having strong writing skills has helped me in college more than I could ever imagine.
While my TVI helped me to prepare for transition, they were not the only one working to help make sure that I would succeed after high school. My case managers, guidance counselor, and family all worked hard to make sure that I would be able to advocate for myself and give back to my community long after I walked across the stage at graduation. Without these amazing people, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated October 2023; original post published April 2019.
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