As a student with low vision in Virginia public schools, I was assigned a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) that served as a resource for me and for my teachers for topics related to vision loss, assistive technology, and the disability accommodations process. I didn’t start working with a TVI until I was in high school, but one of the main things I remember from the experience was the emphasis on student-led advocacy and the importance of learning to do things on my own, which is something I resented at the time but ultimately helped me when it came to college transition and independent living. Here are ten lessons that my TVI taught me that have had a strong influence on how I live, work, and study with low vision.
All of the top goals on my IEP revolved around learning to self-advocate and practicing self-advocacy, because my TVI believed that self-advocacy is the most important skill to have when it comes to living with vision loss. I actually hated the idea of having to self-advocate at first, because I found it unfair that I had to justify why I deserved to learn and have access to the same things that other students got by default. However, I quickly learned that I should not expect to be included by default, and my TVI had me practice self-advocacy skills in multiple different contexts, which helped me for when I had to deal with more complicated situations.
Mainstream technology devices like phones, tablets, and computers can be used as assistive technology in a variety of ways, and my TVI encouraged me to familiarize myself with different types of devices so that I could find ways to use them for my classes or other accessibility-focused applications. One of the ways they did this was by asking me to share something new I discovered about my phone/tablet/computer at the start of our meetings, and I would do a brief demonstration of a new feature or application. Some examples of items I showed them include a picture application that helped me simulate my visual impairment, a high-contrast color scheme on the computer that helped with eyestrain, or a new large print keyboard application on my phone.
My TVI always made it very clear to me that I could not expect accessible materials to be available all the time, or that I would be able to ask another person for help with completing tasks, and that I would need to learn how to do things on my own. This included learning how to create accessible materials, using apps on my phone to make it easier to access information, and learning to navigate the school campus on my own. While independent living skills like learning to do laundry and cooking meals were not something my TVI taught me, I felt they were equally important for me to learn on my own since I didn’t want to rely on my parents or others for help all the time.
My school district had very limited resources for specialty assistive technology, so I didn’t have access to a lot of the specialty tools that I was able to use in college. However, my TVI always emphasized the importance of using assistive technology and familiarizing myself with different devices and options so that I would have a “toolbox” of different applications and strategies for overcoming accessibility barriers. I ended up doing a lot of research on specialty assistive technology on my own and found additional resources through the Virginia Department of Blindness and Visual Impairment.
I had an IEP for low vision while I was in high school, which means that teachers were legally required to provide me with disability accommodations. However, many of my teachers were unable to follow my IEP for various reasons, including some teachers who decided that I didn’t need it and that I should just create my own large print materials so that they didn’t have to spend extra time preparing for class. When I would complain about this to my TVI, they often would tell me that I had to deal with it on my own, and help me think of ways that I could make classroom materials accessible on my own.
When teachers would forget to provide me with accessible materials, I felt that I was entitled to an automatic 100 or exemption from the assignment, because they had failed to provide me with the classroom materials that everyone else received. This sounds like a fair compromise, except it never actually happened and I typically got a zero instead, in addition to missed instructional time and lower test scores from not learning the material. Instead of pushing to have the zero grades changed to exemptions, my TVI encouraged me to find ways to make up the work and occasionally assisted with tracking down accessible copies of assignments as well.
I have low vision as the result of the combined effects of an eye condition and a neurological condition, and the majority of TVIs I have met have not had a student with my conditions before. As a result, my TVI emphasized the importance of me learning to explain my usable vision and how my vision loss affects me, since I can’t expect people to know what I can or can’t see based on the name of my diagnosis alone.
Whenever I got frustrated over not getting accessible materials in high school or having to deal with technology restrictions, I would often be reminded that high school is temporary and that I should be using this time in high school to prepare for college, since that would be a completely different experience. While my TVI didn’t play an active role in the college transition process, they encouraged me to research things on my own and figure out how I would continue to receive low vision services after graduating from high school. I’ve written several posts about college transition that can be used by students, their TVIs, and parents, and have linked the College Transition category below for reference.
My TVI wanted to make sure that I didn’t fall into a pattern of learned helplessness due to my low vision, but admittedly didn’t teach me this lesson in a great way. They often told me to pretend that I didn’t have low vision and that I should avoid acknowledging my vision loss to others if I feared being treated differently, and would share strategies for how I could discreetly use assistive technology tools- one example that comes to mind is using my phone to zoom in on information presented at a distance. This mentality of masking my vision loss led to me feeling embarrassed and ashamed about having low vision, and I would sometimes pretend my vision was much better than it actually was, which was confusing for everyone involved.
Even though this was a lesson that had a negative effect on me, it is still something I learned from my TVI and I wanted to acknowledge it in this post because it had such a strong effect on me. Having low vision and using assistive technology is nothing to be ashamed of, and while it can be helpful to figure out ways to use mainstream technology and discreet accessibility tools, they should not be used out of shame or embarrassment.
Once I became proficient at self-advocacy, my TVI encouraged me to expand my advocacy work and share what I had learned with others, which included giving presentations on my favorite technology, writing a list of tips for future students with low vision at my high school, and eventually encouraging me to start a blog where I share my knowledge about low vision and assistive technology with others. This was probably my favorite lesson of all, because I love writing and connecting with readers to learn new things, and I have been able to share a lot of cool resources that others may not have found otherwise.
By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com
Updated September 2023; original post published October 2017.
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