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How I document accessibility preferences with low vision

How I document my preferred accessibility and AT settings for software that I use in college as a student with low vision.

As a student with fluctuating low vision, one of the most valuable skills I have developed is how I document accessibility preferences with low vision. My low vision is not static, and can change multiple times throughout the day. Alternatively, I might need to have larger text settings for one particular software than I do for other applications, so being able to have a specific list of accessibility preferences for each tool I work with is extremely helpful for ensuring I have what I need to succeed. Here is how I document accessibility preferences with low vision, and how I use these documents for myself and others.

How I organize accessibility preferences

I organize all of my accessibility preferences based on the name of the software or application I am using. I collect these documents on my computer and store them in a folder so I can easily send a document to my professors or other students about my preferred accessibility settings. Some students may prefer a more organized approach such as a OneNote notebook or Sway document, but I prefer the single paged documents instead.

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Why I organize accessibility preferences

When I was telling one of my friends about how I was writing this post, they asked me why I would need to document my accessibility preferences if I frequently use the same computer. Some of the reasons I do this include:

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Preferred font size and style

On my high school IEP, my preferred font size and style was 24-point Arial font. While this is still one of my favorite fonts and font sizes, I’ve found that there are some instances where I need larger or smaller font. In addition, I might use a different font style for writing code than I do for writing an essay. So I make sure to note my favorite font size and style for each subject or software.

When I need larger font

In classes such as math and science, every single letter or symbol is relevant, and there are often subscripts and superscripts included. When I am reading instructions for assignments, I increase the font size to 36 and ensure that all subscripts and superscripts are also enlarged to a readable font size. My professors are happy to accommodate this in college and will make sure that documents can be adjusted to my preferred font size.

When I need smaller font

As a data science major, I work with lots of different types of software, almost all of which supports custom font sizes and types. I’ve found that when I am reading things from a screen, I prefer to use an 18 point font size so that I can view everything on the page without scaling issues, and I can also use screen magnification to enlarge things if needed.

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Page/screen color and brightness

I love reading on colored or tinted backgrounds to reduce glare and eye strain. When I work with software for my data science classes, I like to use the high contrast themes in Windows 10 whenever I can, as this helps me with being able to read code. However, some applications look strange with a dark mode, so instead I use a lighter color scheme and add a blue light filter or heavier screen tint instead. In my accessibility preferences, I note which color scheme I prefer, or if I need to make any adjustments in my computer’s settings for optimal readability.

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Zoom level or additional magnification

Sometimes, instead of just enlarging the text of the screen, I will use a different scaling setting so that I can make buttons or menus bigger. However, most of the time I prefer to use external magnification software such as Magnifier and make a note as to what percentage works best for magnifying different sections of the screen. For example, if I am using a remote desktop software, I would document that I use screen magnification in the window view at 225%.

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Use of a screen reader

While I prefer to use magnification whenever possible, there are moments when I find that I need to use a screen reader. One of the things I have noted in my accessibility document is when/if I will need to use a screen reader to access information. For example, when I have to read certain dialog boxes, I prefer to have my screen reader read me things so that I can figure out what is going on.

Another thing I like to note is the speed of my screen reader. I typically have a quicker voice speed for when I am reading long documents than I do for when I am reviewing code I wrote for class. While some advanced screen reader users can use the same speed for everything, I am still learning my own preferences and prefer the slower voice speeds for proofreading.

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Environmental considerations

Sometimes, there are environmental issues that can change my accessibility preferences, which is why I include additional notes on settings I may not always need, but that are helpful to have. Being in a too-bright room, having lots of eye fatigue, or similar factors outside of my control can change how I interact with technology, so I make sure to note these changes. Most of these changes are as simple as increased screen magnification or different color schemes.

Additional hardware

I love using multiple monitors/screens to do some of my assignments, while other times I prefer to use one screen only so that I can focus on everything. Other times, I have to use an app on my Android phone or iPad in conjunction with another software, such as when I am using a calculator for my math class. If I need to have additional devices or applications to be successful, this gets documented.

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What an example accessibility preferences document looks like

Here is a sample document of my accessibility preferences for using a popular application in my data science class called SQLiteStudio:

Summary of documenting accessibility preferences with low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated October 2023; original post published November 2021.

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