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How my guidance counselor helped me as a low vision student

Here are some of the many ways my guidance counselor helped me as a low vision student.

I had three different guidance counselors when I was in high school, including two at my first high school and one at my second high school. Even though a lot of people don’t associate guidance counselors with special education and having an IEP, each of my guidance counselors were a valuable part of the team of school staff that helped implement my disability accommodations in the classroom, and helped provide insight into different situations that my case manager or teacher of the visually impaired didn’t know about. Here are some of the many ways how my guidance counselor helped me as a low vision student with an IEP and helped me prepare for success in college.

Providing strategies and ideas for self-advocacy

My biggest IEP goal was to learn to self-advocate, which often seemed like a daunting task when I had teachers who told me that they didn’t have time to follow my disability accommodations or that I didn’t need them. My guidance counselors all had open door policies that allowed students to meet with them on the same day or next day, and I would use these meetings to talk with the guidance counselor about how to handle these types of situations and practice different strategies for getting accessible classroom materials. I have an entire post about learning to self-advocate that I’ve linked below that’s filled with my favorite advice for developing this skill.

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Assisting with class scheduling

A lot of grade-specific classes and activities were tied to gym class, which I did not participate in because I took adaptive or alternative PE due to my low vision and chronic illness. Because of this, my guidance counselor had to work with me to figure out other alternatives for meeting graduation requirements, which included taking geography a year early and doing a summer class, auditioning for honors band as a freshman since freshman band was paired with gym, and taking other virtual classes. One of the things that my guidance counselor prioritized was making sure I could take honors band every semester, which was my favorite class and provided an important social outlet.

Another story that comes to mind is when I was frustrated over receiving disability accommodations and had another guidance counselor (who was not assigned to my case) advise to “get a GED or get out” or stack up several classes so that I could graduate three semesters early and no longer worry about having an IEP. When my guidance counselor heard about this, they told me that I would absolutely not be doing that, as I would have difficulty getting into a four-year college and should continue to enjoy electives and the other things that made high school a fun experience, and I immediately felt a lot better and less guilty about having an IEP.

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Transferring into different classes mid-year

I encountered a few situations when I was in high school where I had to transfer or withdraw from classes mid-year due to issues with having disability accommodations followed. My guidance counselor helped to make this transition possible, assisting me with getting registered for virtual classes and ensuring I would have a place to work on my assignments. When my case manager ran into an issue with finding another class to transfer me to, my guidance counselor took over and finalized everything so I could get out of a toxic classroom environment, for which I am forever grateful.

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Helping with situations related to ableism

How do I respond to questions or comments from students about why my assignments look different or if my eyes are actually blind? What do I say to the teacher who is convinced that I am getting a learner’s permit and that I’m not actually visually impaired? My guidance counselor helped me answer all of these questions and more, and helped me figure out how to talk about my chronic illness and disability in a positive way, even when others saw it as a negative. One of my favorite strategies I learned for answering questions from other students that I didn’t like the phrasing of was to rephrase the question before answering it- so if a student asked me “why does your homework look weird”, I could rephrase it as “oh, are you asking why my homework is in large print? I have trouble reading small print.”

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Recommending class activities and extracurriculars

When I started at my second high school, I wasn’t sure what class activities or extracurriculars were available, since my family had just moved to a new area. My guidance counselor ended up recommending that I join the anime club, school news, marching band, and a student technology class- all things that I hadn’t considered for myself, but these extracurriculars helped me make a lot of friends, including people I’m still friends with almost ten years later. Since a lot of the students who participated in these extracurriculars were also in my classes, it made it easier to befriend them and talk about different things than whatever we were learning about in class.

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Assisting with the college application process

I told my guidance counselor that my top choice college was George Mason University, as they were the only college to offer an assistive technology program for undergraduates and would allow me to pursue my interests in a tech-related major. My guidance counselor agreed that this was a great fit and helped me with the process to applying to GMU and another local college as a back-up, and assisted with several parts of the college application and acceptance process. I’m thrilled to say that I ended up getting accepted to my top choice school and ended up studying Computational and Data Sciences with a minor in Assistive Technology- a perfect blend of all of my interests!

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Serving as an advocate in IEP meetings

I actually didn’t know that my guidance counselor had served as an advocate in my IEP meetings until my parents mentioned it one day- I had been asked not to attend this IEP meeting because my teacher had been saying hurtful things about me and my disability, and my parents didn’t want me to leave class to listen to their comments. Even though I couldn’t be in the room, my guidance counselor talked to the teacher and defended me, sharing that everything I had been doing went above and beyond what a disabled and chronically ill student should have to do to get accommodations in the classroom. I’m grateful for their advocacy and the fact they were able to stand up for me against a fellow employee.

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Helping with accommodations for standardized testing

My guidance counselor served as the proctor for at least one of my AP exams in high school (and possibly others), and assisted with ensuring that disability accommodations such as large print and extended time were approved before test day. They also helped with other standardized testing accommodations, including the Virginia Standards of Learning (SOL) exams.

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Other ways my guidance counselor helped me as a low vision student

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes,

Updated April 2024; original post published February 2018.

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