In my years of speaking on topics related to college transition and working with several different college students (or future college students) with vision loss, I’ve been surprised over how many people do not know what accommodations they receive in the classroom or take things such as inclusion and getting accessible materials for granted. While I am thrilled that these students have been able to have services provided for them so naturally, I often have to remind them that it’s important to know what accommodations they receive and how they receive them, as this will be important information when transitioning to a new school, college, or the workplace. To help students answer questions and practice important skills for self-advocacy, here is my guide for eight things you should know about your disability accommodations when preparing for transition, targeted at students in the seventh grade and above.
There are between 13 and 14 different disability categories for IEPs that are also used for other disability accommodations documents, depending on the state. This does not necessarily mean that someone has a particular diagnosis, but that the listed eligibility criteria for a given category fits the student’s needs best. Students can have accommodations across other disability categories as well- for example, I can receive dysgraphia accommodations as well as accommodations for vision loss.
Even though disability accommodations does not always list specific diagnoses, students should know what category their disability accommodations fall under and be able to provide an example of how their disability affects their learning experience. In my case, I had various disability accommodations (including a student assistance plan, 504 Plan, IEP, and college disability accommodations) for visual impairment and have low vision that affects my ability to read small print and see things that are far away- even with glasses on, I experience double and blurry vision. When possible, I recommend that students also know the names of their diagnoses and how to spell them correctly, as this may come up in other assessments.
Assistive technology is defined for the purposes of disability accommodations as “any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a person with a disability.” While the word technology is included in the term, assistive technology is not just high-tech devices or things that are powered by a battery. Humans and service animals are not considered assistive technology in this context.
When I have students reach out to me with questions about assistive technology in college, I start by asking them what they used in high school or before that. Some examples of items students bring up frequently include but are not limited to:
While brand names for items are helpful, I recommend that students also know how to describe what their device or assistive technology looks like as well as what they used it for. For example, I used an iPad Air with large print enabled to read online information, complete assignments with Notability, access the MyScript large print calculator app, and several other items.
For students with print disabilities that impact their ability to read standard text, it’s important to know what an accessible document looks like, as well as an accessible file format. This is especially helpful when getting assignments and accessible textbooks in college. It’s worth noting that student preferences can change as conditions evolve over time or that students may have different preferences depending on what subject is being taught- for example, I need a larger font size for math compared to English, and have specific instructions for creating accessible music for band.
How would you describe a “perfect” assignment? While it can be hard to achieve perfection, some of the qualities I would think of when describing accessible documents include:
To figure out what document accessibility settings work well for me, I received a clinical low vision assessment from an ophthalmologist and talked to my case manager and TVI about adjusting accommodations as needed.
While many disability accommodations focus on making classroom activities accessible, environmental accommodations focus on making the classroom itself an inclusive and accessible place for students with disabilities. This can include accommodations related to seating and modifying classroom items.
Sitting in an area where I can see information being presented on the board is probably the most important environmental accommodation in my case, but it also helps to know how to find a seat that will work well for me. While this was not listed as an official accommodation, I avoided areas with bright or flashing/flickering lights as these could trigger a migraine or eye fatigue, as well as seats directly next to the door whenever possible. It helps to know how lighting affects my vision loss, especially since I have light sensitivity that can make it more difficult for me to focus my eyes in bright environments.
Testing accommodations often overlap with classroom accommodations, but may provide more rigid guidance on topics such as extended time, use of assistive technology, document formats, and testing locations. Some standardized tests require students to have an IEP to receive accommodations, or require a separate accommodations approval process.
Learning about testing accommodations was one of my first introductions into learning about my disability accommodations, because I often had to explain why I needed them, often to people from outside of my school. Examples of testing accommodations can include:
Some classes or activities may require additional accommodations, modifications, or other adaptations so that students can be included. In extreme cases, students may need to be exempt from activities that pose a health or safety threat, but this should only be done after all opportunities for inclusion have been explored.
In addition to low vision, I also had a then-undiagnosed neurological condition that I often had to think about when modifying or adapting certain activities. While this list may look different for everyone, some good starting questions include:
Since my neurological condition can be triggered by strobe or flashing lights, I would ask my teachers to put in work orders for flickering lights in the classroom so that they could be resolved quickly, and would often sit in the hallway or another location when watching videos/movies that contained flashing lights. Also, by talking about how I got to class, I was able to qualify for disability transportation services in college, as well as request a tour of buildings where I would have classes.
Self-advocacy allows a student to practice independence and take responsibility for how their accommodations are followed in the classroom, and is a critical skill to develop when preparing for transition. Whether a student has self-advocacy skills written as a goal or not, being able to practice self-advocacy can help students to be more confident with explaining their disability and receiving services.
Self-advocacy was one of my biggest IEP goals, but for a while I wasn’t quite sure how to achieve it. One of the techniques I used to develop self-advocacy skills was to practice answering some of the following questions:
While disability accommodations like 504 Plans and IEPs are protected by federal law, violations do happen and may need to be addressed outside of class time. While I recognize that my disability accommodations were not always followed perfectly, even by my favorite teachers, there were instances where I had to get another adult (or several) involved for repeated or deliberate violations.
If I notice that accommodations are not being followed for several days in a row or if there is a situation that needs to be addressed immediately, here are a few questions I ask that can help document what is going on:
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated August 2023; original post published November 2017.
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