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Testing accommodations for low vision students

Here are the testing accommodations I use as a visually impaired student, including what I used in high school, college and standardized tests.

As part of receiving a Disability Services file in college, I had to meet with my case manager to determine what testing accommodations for low vision that I would receive for taking quizzes, tests, and exams in my classes. My testing accommodations have changed over the years along with my vision, and since my vision can change drastically on a day-to-day basis, I ended up being approved for an exceptionally long list of testing accommodations. While I may not use them in all of my testing experiences, here is a list of testing accommodations for low vision students that have helped me to take assessments in my various classes. It’s worth noting that while I created this list based on my college experiences, the majority of these accommodations can easily be added to an IEP, 504 Plan, Student Assistance Plan, and other disability accommodations for students of all ages.

Colored paper/filters

Looking at bright white backgrounds for long periods of time can contribute to eyestrain, especially if this paper is magnified on a large screen with a CCTV/video magnifier. For this reason, I prefer to get my physical exam copies printed on a different color of paper, such as off-white, yellow, light blue, or a similar color. Alternatively, I will enable a color filter either on the video magnifier or on the computer monitor that is used to display the magnified image so that there is a colored tint to the document I am reading.

When taking a digital assessment, there are a few more options for enabling colored filters, though I typically choose to enable high contrast mode in Windows Accessibility settings or use a screen filter with magnification software- more on that later.

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Large print/arial font

The most important accommodation on this list for me is large print, because it is my preferred way of accessing information. The exact font size that I use has changed several times over the years as my vision has continued to evolve, and it’s hard for me to recommend a specific font size to write in testing accommodations for low vision students because eye conditions can drastically vary. In a six-year period, my preferred font sizes gradually increased from 18 to 24, then 24 to 28, 28 to 32, and my current testing accommodations sheet requests 36 point font. This doesn’t actually mean that I can’t see anything smaller than size 36 font, rather that it is a size that allows me to read for long periods of time without having to strain my eyes, and would allow me to be able to take a paper-based exam successfully without needing additional assistive technology.

In addition, I also request that tests be printed in Arial font because I prefer sans serif fonts and all of the letters look different so I can easily focus my eyes.

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Sharpie pens

I use Sharpie pens for writing in my classes, and use them on assessments as well. I love that I can see the vibrant colors against whatever paper I am using, compared to pencil lead which is impossible for me to see due to poor contrast.  My professors generally have no restrictions on what color pens I am allowed to use, though I personally avoid red since that is commonly used for grading.

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Single-sided paper

Since I use pens for my exams, I frequently have to deal with the ink bleeding through the back of the paper. There are tricks that I use to minimize this, such as separating a packet of paper so that I only write on one page at a time, but I find it impossible to read material that is printed on the reverse side of a piece of paper due to the fact the ink bleeds through.

I discovered I could not use double-sided paper in 10th grade after the teacher pulled me aside and told me I did really well on half of my test, and that they were surprised I got through the test so quickly. Turns out, I had no idea that there were questions on the back of the page. Luckily, the teacher let me redo the questions that I had missed.

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Use of screen magnification

For digital exams, I have the approval to use screen magnification software such as Windows Magnifier,  Zoom,  ZoomText, or a similar program. I typically configure the specific settings for screen magnification on my own since my vision fluctuates a lot, and the exact tools I use vary depending on the exam I am taking- my geology exam with lots of pictures and charts will have different magnification settings than my Java exam with text-based code snippets. I don’t typically use screen magnification for my entire exam, just for individual elements like looking at supplemental images/materials for a question.

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Use of a screen reader

Also for digital exams, I am approved to use on-demand screen readers and screen reader software such as Narrator, JAWS, VoiceOver, or similar programs. I don’t use this accommodation very frequently, but it was added to my list of testing accommodations because I have an eye condition triggered by allergens that can leave me with eyes swollen shut and no usable vision. In the cases where I need to have a screen reader constantly enabled on a computer, I don’t change the default settings because I don’t feel comfortable using sped-up text.

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Extended time

My current testing accommodations for low vision state that I can receive up to 150% extended time on assessments, though I typically do not use my extended time unless I am taking an assessment that has lots of visual elements or if I have to use a lot of accessibility tools on an exam. On individual assessments, the professor may approve me for additional extended time (up to 300%) if an assessment is particularly visual or if I have to navigate it exclusively using a screen reader. I had the same extended time testing accommodations for taking the SAT and ACT, though I did not typically receive extended time in my traditional classes.

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iPad apps with guided access

Sometimes, I use apps on my iPad such as a calculator or take the exam in my iPad’s web browser so that I can hold the screen closer to my face. In these cases,  I have the testing proctor enable Guided Access, which prevents me from accessing outside applications or otherwise using materials to cheat on an assessment. In college, I use my personal iPad and bring it to the testing center, though some places require students to use a school-issued iPad. The testing center approves the app(s) that I will use prior to the test.

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Modified testing software

Sometimes, the testing software that is used in the testing center does not work correctly with the software that my professors require for exams,  or there will be a glitch that prevents me from being able to access a digital test in large print with the testing software. For this reason, my testing accommodations state that I can use a modified testing software to monitor for cheating, or that they will set up my exam so that I can take it. Understandably, I don’t know much about this process as a student, though one example of this is that my professor would set up an exam on the course website and add a password, then send that password to the testing proctor so that they could enter it at exam time.

Adjustable lighting

Overhead lights can be prone to flickering, or I may have trouble seeing in a testing environment with low lighting. While it wouldn’t be practical for me to carry a lamp from my dorm, the testing center has adjustable lighting options so that I can use tabletop lighting in addition to or exclusively for my tests. If I need to use tabletop lighting exclusively, I take my assessments in a small room where there are no other students.

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Access to a CCTV/video magnifier

If an exam is not available in large print or if I need to add a colored filter, I use a CCTV or video magnifier that projects to a large computer monitor so that I can access the information on my assessment. Just like for screen magnification software, I configure the settings for my CCTV as I see fit, and do not have any specific settings for magnification level, color contrast, or similar. I also don’t have any restrictions on what specific video magnifier I need to use, as I feel comfortable using any assistive technology that comes my way.

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Large table

As one would imagine, all of this assistive technology and large print papers can pile up quickly on a normal-sized desk, and this is especially true for assignments that are printed on very large paper. I appreciate having access to a large table so that I don’t have to put technology on the floor, or alternatively, take my test on the floor- I’d rather not repeat that experience if I can avoid it!

High contrast images, graphs and maps

Having access to high-contrast images, graphs, and maps means that I am able to distinguish important information for a question and accordingly reference the content when needed. While I  don’t encounter a lot of maps anymore, I do work with lots of screenshots of code, graphs for math, and data visualizations, so it’s critical that I am able to see all of the important information and that nothing looks fuzzy. One of the ways that my professors provide this accommodation is by having a flash drive with high-resolution images available so that I can enlarge them on a computer or other device when taking my assessment.

Related links

Summary of testing accommodations for low vision students

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated July 2023; original post published March 2017

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