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Taking online English classes with low vision

Here are my favorite tips and tricks for taking online high school and college English classes with low vision.

Over the last five years, I have had the opportunity to take two different online English classes and was able to earn high grades in both of them. While I naturally enjoy reading and writing, one of the challenges I had to overcome in taking online English classes with low vision was learning what assistive technology and accessibility tools would work best for me. Here are my tips for taking online English classes with low vision in high school and college.

About my English classes

My first online English class was a twelfth grade English class that I took during my senior year of high school as part of my graduation requirements. This class was offered through my school district for all students as an alternative to in-person classes, though it still covered a lot of the same content that the other classes did, minus some differences in reading assignments- my friends had to read Beowulf, while my class was assigned Macbeth. Our weekly assignments consisted of a minimum 300-word essay that responded to a prompt, reading assignments/questions, and tests or quizzes every other week, plus some longer length papers.

In college, I took my upper-level writing class online, which is required for students in all majors and has a large number of sections that are online or hybrid. Similar to my high school English class, assignments consisted of short essays that responded to a prompt, research assignments/questions, some quizzes, and a final paper that was due at the end of the semester on a topic of the student’s choice. I chose to write about incorporating audio description into theater, and have linked my essay below for those interested.

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Finding accessible copies of books/texts to read

For my first online English class, students were assigned a variety of different books, short stories, and plays to read throughout the school year. While many students were able to check these out from the library or get a copy from their school, I was able to get accessible copies of these texts free of charge through Bookshare, a free online accessible library for people with print disabilities. If I did not have access to a book on Bookshare, I would have requested it through AIM-VA, an organization that provides accessible materials for Virginia students, or through my college assistive technology office.

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Using text-to-speech and simplified displays for reading

Since I tend to get eyestrain from reading large amounts of texts, it helps to use text-to-speech or simplified displays when I need to read a lot, so that I don’t get tired so quickly. Two of my favorite ways to read digital materials online are the Microsoft Immersive Reader and the free Pocket app, both of which simplify the display of text and make it easier to read, as well as give users the option to have text read out loud. I have full posts on Immersive Reader and Pocket linked below, as well as additional tips for reading text without a screen reader.

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Take advantage of virtual campus writing resources

While I’ve never been to my college’s in-person writing center, I’ve benefitted a lot from their virtual campus writing resources that contain helpful tips such as how to structure text, write letters in specific formats, and access popular writing software for free or at a discount. For students that need in-person help or personalized feedback, many writing centers also offer free access to tutors or workshops that can help students to become more confident in their writing. If a student doesn’t have access to these resources, I recommend using the free BrainFuse app for writing help, which is available through several public libraries in the US.

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Locating accessible sources and creating citations

When I was writing my final paper for my college writing class, one of the things that helped me tremendously was figuring out how to locate accessible sources and create citations. For me, accessible sources were ones that I could easily switch to different formats or scan into my device, or sources that supported the simplified reading displays that I use in the classroom. I have full posts on how I find accessible sources and create citations linked below.

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Incorporating eReaders and other devices

For students who get eyestrain easily, eReaders and voice assistants can be a great way to have text displayed or read out loud without the glare that backlight provides, and can give students a simple way to access the material they need for their classes. I prefer to use the Nook eReader that has a paperwhite display, because it is similar to reading on paper and has large font options available for users. Amazon Echo devices are also great for reading books in the Kindle library out loud, and can easily be controlled with the user’s voice.

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Featured resources

I’m linking other posts from my website below that can be helpful for students taking online English classes, or other classes that are reading or writing-intensive. I also have a dedicated category for posts that are related to reading and writing that is linked as well.

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Summary of taking online English classes with low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated August 2023; original post published January 2021

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