I’ve talked a lot about accommodations for low vision students on my website, though many of my posts have focused on accommodations for print materials or the use of assistive technology. Another important consideration for helping low vision students to thrive in the classroom is the structure of the classroom of itself and the use of environmental accommodations and modifications for low vision students. Here are some examples of environmental accommodations for low vision students that I have personally used in my own educational experiences, as well as accommodations that I have helped implement for other students.
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. Environmental accommodations are often included in documents such as IEPs, 504 Plans, or Disability Services files, as well as disability accommodations for standardized testing, though they may not explicitly be referred to as environmental accommodations.
As a student with photophobia/photosensitivity, one of the things that helped me a lot when I was in school was having teachers that were willing to adjust the lighting in a way that didn’t affect other students. This would include partially dimming lights and opening curtains for natural sunlight or using lamps in lieu of overhead lights- I had the use of lamps approved as an accommodation on my standardized tests. Of course, there are some students with low vision who prefer more light, so it can be helpful to have a portable desk light or additional task lighting. I suggest working with the student to figure out what lighting system will work best when doing various classroom activities such as taking notes, watching videos, and completing assignments.
When I take exams, I typically have additional accommodations such as extended time, use of assistive technology, alternative exam times, or stretch breaks that are difficult to enforce in a standard testing environment. For this reason, I take exams in another location such as the Disability Services testing center, a smaller classroom with at least one proctor, or at home with a digital proctoring tool. On standardized tests, I receive a “small group testing” accommodation that allows me to take the test in a different location, typically on the same day as the rest of my class.
When I was in elementary school, the inside of my desk was a complete mess and I had trouble locating and identifying the items that were inside since I couldn’t remember where anything was. My middle school locker had a similar issue, because my black backpack and dark colored notebooks/binder blended into the gray locker, so it was a challenge for me to quickly grab items out of my locker. One of the things that helped me overcome this issue was finding ways to organize my desk and locker so that I could identify items more quickly by having high-contrast items that had unique textures, as well as storing items in the same places each time.
It also helped to have someone help me go through papers to figure out what I still needed. I would get handed a lot of papers that I couldn’t read, and my instinct would be to shove them in my desk/locker/backpack and forget about them, so having another pair of eyes telling me what I was holding was helpful when I was first improving my organizational skills. Now, I typically use the Google Lookout app to help me go through papers as I can hold my phone above the page and have it quickly read text.
A blindness cane serves as an extension of a user’s arms and allows them to travel independently when they are going through unfamiliar or crowded places. While many students don’t use their blindness canes in the classroom, they may use it when walking between classes, when leaving the classroom during a fire drill, or for other activities where it isn’t practical to leave the blindness cane in the locker. Some examples of storage solutions for blindness canes in a classroom include:
In some cases for testing accommodations, students may need to store their cane in another location outside of the testing environment- my friend was told they could not bring their blindness cane with them to take a standardized test, so they stored it in their case manager’s office. I’ve never heard of this happening with other students but wanted to share this in case it happens to another student.
Preferential seating allows students to choose a seat in the classroom that allows them to interact with classroom lectures and other instructional materials more easily. For my eye condition, I prefer to sit close to the front row so that the entire board is within my field of vision, though there are some cases where I might sit in other locations to get a better view or to be closer to technology- in these situations, I typically have a copy of whatever is on the board displayed on my computer or tablet. While many students change seats when the teacher modifies a seating chart, having a preferential seating accommodation means that I am always in the same place.
For my classes that take place in the computer lab, I have an assigned computer that has low vision accessibility settings configured. There is a note on my computer that says that students shouldn’t mess with the settings, and one of my professors would put a sign on my computer that said “reserved” so that other students wouldn’t sit in that seat by mistake.
When I was in seventh grade, my teacher decided to hang up posters all around the classroom with helpful information for open-note quizzes on them that students were allowed to look at. The teacher did not allow students to get out of their seat to see the posters, so I wasn’t able to get close enough to see them and often received low grades on these quizzes as well, because I didn’t self-advocate or ask for the posters in a different format. Several years later, I worked with an elementary school-aged student and we asked their teacher to make accessible copies of classroom posters that contained important information that we stored in their desk so they could access as needed, which worked well for them- the accessible posters are stored in a binder or folder that the student can easily access without disturbing other students. I have an entire post about creating accessible classroom posters linked below.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated August 2023
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