When I was sixteen years old and in the tenth grade, I decided that I didn’t want to have an IEP anymore and that I was tired of having low vision. This was the result of several months of frustrating experiences in the classroom where my IEP was treated as an inconvenience or as a burden for my teachers, and I was frequently told that it was easier for me to not participate in things or to implement my own accommodations in the classroom instead of relying on others to make things accessible for me. I remember wondering why I had to justify my right to an education or make a big deal out of getting assignments that other students were handed by default, no questions asked, and felt frustrated with how I was held to a seemingly higher standard than other students. Today I will be sharing more about how my family and I handled my experience of not wanting to deal with an IEP and how I was able to get rid of these negative thoughts.
I remember sitting in study hall one day and typing a Word document listing all of the reasons I was frustrated with having an IEP and what I imagined life would be like if I didn’t have one.
Some of the reasons I listed for being frustrated include:
I also made a list of what I imagined my life would be like if I didn’t have an IEP, which included:
After I came home from school that day, I announced to my parents that I no longer wanted to deal with an IEP and I wanted to have my accommodations terminated. They were very confused but listened as I told them about how my teachers felt my IEP was difficult to follow and an inconvenience, so it would be easier if I just got rid of it entirely. My parents then asked me what my plan was for accessing classroom materials in non-accessible formats, and I shared that I thought I would be able to read them if I just tried harder, which was a suggestion from one of my teachers.
When I started making a list of how I imagined what my life would be like if I didn’t have an IEP, a more accurate title would have been “what it would be like going to school without low vision.” This led to the even more frustrating experience of me questioning if I actually had low vision or if I was exaggerating my vision loss like one of my teachers had accused me of. Even though I was diagnosed with low vision at the age of three, my vision loss should have theoretically improved as I got older, but instead had gotten worse – this would later be explained by a secondary medical condition that was undiagnosed at the time.
I decided to test if I was “faking” my low vision by grabbing a copy of my (sighted) brother’s homework off the table and trying to read what it said. I told my parents that I would prove to them that I could read smaller print if I just tried harder, and spent the next several minutes staring at the homework assignment, wondering if it had been intentionally printed with several blurry and out of focus lines, and if the assignment had even been completed – the gray pencil on white paper provided poor contrast and I was unable to see any of the writing.
I then went to the computer and adjusted the font size of a document until I could read it, and discovered I couldn’t read anything smaller than a size 22 font… just like my IEP said.
So I realized that I definitely have low vision, or vision loss not corrected by glasses, but wasn’t sure if I was “disabled” enough to be using certain types of assistive technology, and shunned the idea of using certain types of aids like a blindness cane because I felt I wasn’t visually impaired enough to benefit from them.
My vision has changed a lot since then, and now I use assistive technology that sixteen-year-old me assumed they would never need, the most notable item being a blindness cane. One of the things I tell people who feel they are not disabled enough to use assistive technology or that other people have it worse is that many assistive technology users want others to use these tools if they are helpful. It doesn’t bother me if someone with more usable vision than me is using a blindness cane or getting large print books – if these things are helpful for them, then it’s great they are using them!
While I accepted that I needed large print materials, I decided to try going without my other IEP accommodations for the rest of the week to see if I actually needed them. Some of the results included:
I was denying myself access to assistive technology and accessibility resources that were designed to help me focus on learning instead of focusing on my vision loss, because I didn’t want to be seen as an inconvenience to others, but I was really being an inconvenience to myself by not using tools and strategies that work well for me.
After a few days of deliberately not using my IEP accommodations, I realized that having an IEP does not give me an unfair advantage over other students, but rather gives me access to the things I need to learn and earn high grades in my classes, including:
Part of learning to live with low vision involves accepting that I need additional help with completing certain tasks, whether that means using assistive technology or asking for help from someone else. While it would be nice to not have low vision and to be able to read standard print, it is more productive to focus on finding strategies for accessing information and learning to thrive with vision loss instead of thinking about a hypothetical cure.
One of the things that helped me to become more comfortable with having low vision and needing an IEP was finding “fun” ways to use assistive technology in various hobbies, which helped me to feel more comfortable with using assistive technology at school. Some examples of things I did to become more comfortable with using assistive technology and living with low vision include:
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published August 2017.
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