As a student in middle and high school, I would often get inaccessible assignments that I couldn’t read with my low vision, and I had trouble explaining what the exact problem was with the assignment- which is perfectly reasonable given it’s hard to be an expert in document accessibility as a teenager. As I got older, I was able to develop solutions to fix these inaccessible assignments and find ways to ask for help without seeming like I was going against the teacher or making excuses. In honor of Halloween, today I will be sharing ten spooky inaccessible assignments and how to fix them, along with polite ways to ask for assistance in fixing them.
Let’s say you make a copy of an original document and then use that copy to make another copy. Over time, the quality of the document will begin to degrade from being copied over and over again, and this can lead to faded or ghost text that appears to be barely there.
Use the original document whenever possible for creating copies, and ensure the document is high contrast. If the assignment can’t be recopied, trace over the letters with marker or re-type the assignment so it can be read. Contrast settings can be changed on the copier itself or on the computer- read more about how I improve contrast of music here.
“The text seems really washed out and is hard to see, can you help me figure out what it says?”
Once upon a time, someone decided to print all of my assignments for the week on both sides of the paper. When I wrote with my Sharpie pens, they bled through the paper and I didn’t notice there had been text printed on the back. As one of my teachers put it, I did half of my assignment really well, and didn’t realize there was a second half. I mentioned this incident in last year’s Halloween post on six word horror stories here.
For students that use Sharpie pens, markers, or other high contrast writing utensils, ensure that assignments are single-sided and information is only printed on one side of the paper so the ink doesn’t bleed through. Read more about what’s in my backpack for class here.
“I didn’t realize there was a second side to the document since my pens bled through, can you tell me what’s on the other side?”
Often times, I don’t realize that a word or music note has been cut off of a page until someone else points it out to me, which makes sense since how else would I know my assignment was wrong? I’ve also had questions and question choices eliminated from assignments because of things being cut off. This can be stressful, especially if I know I have the right answer but can’t find it on a test since the correct choice was cut off!
Double and triple check to ensure that all information is present on the page. One way I do this is I verify the last word/music note on each line with my teacher so if something is missing, we can fill it in.
“Just to confirm, what is the last word in question 14? And are the answer choices 14, 16, 18, and 20?”
Be careful what you wish for! I remember when I first transferred to my new school, I asked for my assignments to be printed on 11 x 17 inch paper so that way they would be scaled to fit. Instead, someone just put the original assignment on the copier and pressed the copy button, so the assignment was in the center of the page and surrounded by lots of blank space, almost like a frame.
Be very specific about how you want assignments enlarged. For example, I found that enlarging most assignments to 250% or slightly higher on 11 x 17 paper would result in images and text large enough for me to see. No one will know what you want unless you tell them exactly. Read more about my accommodations for print materials in high school here.
“Thank you for putting my assignment on enlarged paper, but I need the assignment enlarged to scale as well.”
Sometimes, paper ends up being crooked when copies are created and it causes everything to be angled to one side. This means the reader will have to tilt the paper or put their head in an awkward position in order to read information, and it is highly likely that said information has been cut off in some way as a result.
Ensure documents are properly aligned or use a scanner that automatically corrects paper alignment. Microsoft Office Lens will automatically align documents and photos before they are scanned- read more about Microsoft Office Lens here.
“I’m having trouble following along since the text is crooked. Can someone reprint the assignment with text on a straight line?”
Remember the ghost text I mentioned earlier? The same problem can happen with images, especially low resolution ones. When a low resolution image is enlarged, it looks very blurry or pixelated, so it can’t be distinguished. It’s like I’m trying to look through thick fog at an image.
Use the highest resolution images possible or have them available digitally- read more about the importance of high resolution images here. Image descriptions are also tremendously helpful for confirming what is in an image- read more about writing image descriptions here.
“These images appear to be very blurry and I’m not sure what’s in the picture. Can you help me draw it larger?”
White backgrounds on black text can contribute to glare and eyestrain over time, since the white is such a sharp background. This is especially true for students who have photosensitivity in general and find bright lights and objects to be overwhelming.
Colored or tinted backgrounds can reduce glare on paper and make text easier to read. At first, my case manager had me use bone-colored paper but soon found that colorful paper in shades of yellow, pink, and blue were easier for me to see and helped me with organizing my assignments since I got a different color paper for each class. Read more about my science project on colored backgrounds and the readability of text here.
“My eyes hurt when I look at the page, can you please print it on different paper?”
While all of the other numbers and letters were enlarged, exponents and other traditionally smaller numbers/letters were not enlarged. If they are enlarged, it can be hard to tell how an equation is formatted since all of the numbers and letters look the same.
Use color coding to identify exponents, or add an exponent sign and adequately space out each segment of the equation to show which exponent belongs to which number. This is a common problem for me in math- read more about vision impairment friendly math resources here.
“I can’t see the exponents. Can you rewrite the equation larger and write the exponents in a different color?”
Sometimes, letters or numbers can look like they are in a distorted mirror and can appear stretched out, very small, or like they are running across the page. This is common for people with print disabilities, which affects the ability to read standard printed materials. Read more about print disabilities here.
There’s a couple of different ways to fix this issue. One is using a print disability friendly font for assignments so they can be read more easily and without eye strain- read more about free fonts to use here. Another is using technology to make reading easier. I like Immersive Reader which is built in to Microsoft Edge, though there are many other solutions available- read more about using technology to improve reading here.
“The letters look funny and appear to be double and blurry. Can you change the font to Arial?”
It’s practically impossible to complete an assignment if it’s in an inaccessible format. While theoretically the teacher should give the student more time to complete an assignment if they have to take the time to enlarge it, the reality is that some teachers will just give their students a zero. This is why self-advocacy is so important- read more about learning to self-advocate here.
Everyone is human, and there will be times that assignments don’t get enlarged on schedule. Ensure that this is documented and have the teacher write a note, or find another way to complete the assignment- have a friend read it, get it in a digital format, or use a video magnifier- read more about why I prefer digital assignments here. I also would sometimes put the inaccessible document in my backpack so I could document that it wasn’t enlarged- read more about collecting documentation here.
“I didn’t get a copy of the assignment, do you have a digital copy that I can enlarge? If not, please make sure this doesn’t count against my grade.”
Spooky assignments like these can show up at any point in the school year and for any subject. By understanding how to explain and fix inaccessible materials, students can practice valuable self-advocacy skills and understand how to request materials in the future.