Since the start of my freshman year at my university, I have taken over a dozen online classes- read more about why and how in my post about virtual college classes here. For all of the tests in these classes, I have had to use a software called Respondus LockDown Browser, which my university requires for off-campus exams as part of the honor code. While I can’t say I have enjoyed using this software, since taking a test is never an exciting nor a stress-free experience, I have appreciated being able to use my own assistive technology settings and desktop computer during my tests- read more about why I brought a desktop computer to college here. Read on to learn more about the Respondus LockDown Browser and how to configure it for someone with a vision impairment, including low vision and blindness.
Respondus LockDown Browser is a modified web browser that allows for a secure test taking environment. Users cannot do anything except for take the test, and cannot access any other applications until the test is submitted for grading. Users cannot run other background apps while using the software, though some assistive technology softwares may be used. Tests can be taken from anywhere that has the software installed- users can use their own computer, or go to their campus library- read more about college libraries here. This browser is compatible with Windows and Mac computers.
Each college or university has their own unique download link for Respondus LockDown browser. This link can usually be found on the online course homepage, university technology resource website, or in a student software portal. As long as you are at a participating college or university, the software is free to download- don’t fall for any scams that suggest otherwise. There is also a free Respondus LockDown Browser app for iPad that many colleges and universities support- download it on the App Store here.
Before doing anything else, a student needs to have a file with Disability Services or equivalent in order to use assistive technology without getting into trouble- read more about how to create a Disability Services file here. Students will also need to disclose the accommodations they will need to their professor- read more about explaining accommodations to professors here. My file is purposely somewhat vague when it comes to describing what assistive technology I use, because my vision fluctuates and my assistive technology preferences change often. However, I make sure to give thorough descriptions of what assistive technology I am using so professors don’t think I am trying to trick them.
My university has an assistive technology department that makes sure that online courses are accessible for students with disabilities. This includes ensuring that images have alt text (read more about alt text here), font is a uniform size that can be enlarged (read more about web accessibility here), and images are at a high resolution (read more about high resolution images here). This does not mean that everything is perfect all the time, but having tests accessible from the beginning helps so much.
There are two different ways to enlarge text using the Respondus LockDown Browser. The most common method I use is the keyboard shortcut ctrl-+ (control key and plus key), which enlarges the entire page. If the user finds the size to be too large, they can use the ctrl– (control key and minus key) to zoom out. Another method is pressing the “i” icon in the corner and selecting the zoom option, which allows the user to zoom in on their entire test, including pictures.
Respondus LockDown Browser does not block the use of the Windows Magnifier app for magnifying the screen. ZoomText is not blocked either, though there are some restrictions, such as the reader not being compatible. The Zoom magnifier on iPad also works for magnification. I have found that using the magnifier for long periods of time makes me nauseous, so I take a break by putting my head down every few minutes when I have to use it.
Screen readers can be used with no additional input needed from the user. Compatible screen readers include JAWS, Windows-Eyes, VoiceOver, and NVDA. In order for these to work properly though, the instructor needs to create an accessible test that has alt text and image descriptions as needed. If possible, I strongly recommend using headphones in order to maintain the secure testing environment.
If something in a test is not accessible, notify the professor immediately after submitting the test so they can handle it. I do not recommend writing any data about the question down during the test, since this may be perceived as an honor code violation- just the question number should do.
For one test that I took two years ago, I could not use Respondus LockDown Browser because the answers were displayed as poor quality images. For this, I closed the test without taking it and contacted the professor explaining exactly what was wrong. I ended up taking an accessible copy of the test the next day in the Disability Services testing center- read more about testing centers here.
Another interesting testing issue came when my test ran out of time due to issues that were happening offline. One was a sudden power outage, which the professor recognized and excused us for- read more about power outages on campus here. Another issue was a fire alarm that went off while I was taking a test at my computer, which meant that I returned to my test thirty minutes later with a huge migraine- read more about my experiences with fire alarms and low vision here. As long as documentation is provided, professors will provide flexibility.
I’ve been thankful that I can take tests from my dorm room in my pajamas, and that I have access to online tests in a format that I can read. With these tips, Respondus LockDown Browser can be made accessible for people with vision impairments, including low vision and blindness.