Even though I have trouble seeing in all my classes (and outside of my classes for that matter), my math test accommodations for low vision look a bit different than the testing accommodations for my other classes. This is because in math, every letter, number, and symbol is critical for understanding the problem, and it’s common for capital letters to mean something different from lowercase letters in higher-level math courses. As I have continued to progress with taking higher level math classes, my eye condition has continued to progress as well, so I’ve had to modify my accommodations to be a little different than they were in high school, or even in my first math classes. Here are my math test accommodations for low vision that I used in my three most recent math classes, which include trigonometry and calculus.
In order to get math test accommodations for low vision, I met with my college’s Disability Services office to provide documentation of my vision loss and determine which accommodations would be the best fit for me. Since the case manager had no idea what the tests for my class would look like, I reached out to my professor asking how tests would be assigned for my classes, asking about details such as the file format, time limit, and whether we had to use a specific calculator. I was approved for every accommodation that I asked for, primarily because I had read about sample accommodations in advance and knew what to ask for.
Since I often am using several applications on one device in my classes, I do not traditionally use the Guided Access feature on my iPad when I am taking a test. However, I do disable internet access and temporarily create a folder where I can easily navigate to all the applications I need for a given test, such as the Files app, annotation app, and calculator apps. If I have access to multiple devices that I can use to display images and have a calculator on, the test proctor will have me enable Guided Access.
I prefer to use digital materials whenever possible, and test day is no exception. In general, my professors will send me digital copies of the exams in a PDF document, though I have also had professors send DocX documents and even HTML documents. For the PDF document, I use an additional app to annotate the document (more on that later), while for DocX documents I typically open the test in Microsoft Word and use the MathType function to insert equations. For HTML documents, I use a tool such as Immersive Reader to enlarge text and copy the test answers on a separate document. I prefer to use PDFs when possible because they are the easiest for me to annotate, though if the professor has a preferred accessible document format, I defer to that.
I would frequently tell people when I was first learning how to use assistive technology with math that my brain loves math, but my eyes do not. It often takes me a long time to read math problems as I have to take the time to use a screen reader, magnification program, and write slowly to make sure that my handwriting is legible- I don’t want my professor wondering if I wrote a 4 or a 9 on an exam. Originally, I was approved for time and a half, or 150% extended time, but this was upgraded to double time, also known as 200% extended time after I got an eye infection and had to rely more heavily on a screen reader than on previous exams. Students do not need to use all their extended time, they can have it as an option if they need it.
I have lined bifocal glasses and naturally look down to read so that I can use my bifocal. For this reason, it is more natural for me to have an angled surface that I can position under my glasses, such as my iPad or the TouchMat built into my HP Sprout so that I can write on exams. Instead of using the traditional screen-sharing proctoring for exams, my professors will use Zoom proctoring and do random checks of my screen to make sure that I am accessing approved applications. Another professor had me take a test with a mirror behind me so that they could make sure that I didn’t navigate to any other websites, though they could not see specific content for my test.
Some professors do not allow students to write on exams, and instead prefer that they mark answers in a separate booklet or do their work on a separate sheet of paper. Just like with my previous math classes and experiences taking standardized tests, my professors would make an exception to allow me to write on my test booklets using an app such as Markup or Notability so that I could write my answers directly on the exam. I also received approval to use the Apple Pencil, though this was not a formal accommodation.
Instead of using a traditional calculator, I use a digital large print calculator app on my iPad to perform calculations, since I have trouble seeing the small buttons and screens of other calculators. I sent a link to the app that I would be using for the test in advance so that the professor could look at it, and they allowed me to use the same app for both assignments and exams. They would have me clear the calculation history before and after the exam while on Zoom proctoring.
I have found that many graphics included in math tests are low resolution or difficult for me to enlarge, so I request that professors include images in a separate folder so I can open them and zoom in/out accordingly. I request that they have meaningful file names, such as “Exam3_Question5_OptionC” so I am not left wondering what question an image corresponds to – or worse, finding leftover images that I had no idea existed.
Normally, whenever I take a quiz or exam online, I can use built-in accessibility settings within my web browser, such as large print, zooming in on the page, and use of in-browser screen readers or reading tools. Well, for one of my classes, I was told by the professor that I would need to have formal accommodations to use these tools, even though these tools were available to all users. Since I was already approved to use more specific assistive technology tools such as screen readers and screen magnification, Disability Services had no problem adding this to my list of accommodations.
When I sat for a technical certification exam in December, I was surprised to learn that my prescription tinted glasses were not permitted to be worn during the exam, because the proctors and proctoring software were unable to see my eyes or track their movement. After explaining that I wear tinted glasses for photosensitivity, I was able to get an approved accommodation to wear my glasses during the exam, but from that day on I’ve had to list “use of prescription tinted glasses” when requesting accommodations for exams or virtual classes in general. My tinted glasses are different than traditional sunglasses as I can see screens without having the darker tint distort the display.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated October 2023; original post published April 2022.
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