I don’t think there has ever been a student in the history of academia who wasn’t stressed when it came time to write their university finals. Having wrapped up another semester, I’ve come to realize how many aspects of testing are different for those of us who are visually impaired when compared to students with normal vision. There are several extra steps that must be taken so our testing process runs smoothly. For me, these steps include booking my tests early, confirming dates with teachers, catching and fixing issues before the exam date, and preparing myself to be flexible. There is a lot of preparation that goes into the end of the semester, but with a little hard work on the student’s part, getting through finals with a visual impairment is easy.
The first thing to focus on when taking finals is booking your actual exam dates. Students with disabilities work with their school’s disabilities services office, and normally take tests with accommodations through that office. These offices serve many students with a variety of disabilities and can get overrun with testing requests near the end of the semester. That’s why I would always advise students to book their tests as soon as possible. My disability office doesn’t allow a student to book a final any later then 2 weeks before the test date to ensure every student will be accommodated, and the earlier you schedule an exam, the better chance you have of getting it confirmed quickly. Being proactive here, like so many other aspects of university life, is key.
The next item to consider is which accommodations you will need for your tests. Three of my tests were multiple choice formats which needed to be filled out on a scantron. Scantrons are far too small for me to see, and an enlarged test can create eye strain, especially if more than one test is booked on the same day. Therefore, it’s always good to request more adaptations for finals and not use them then to not request enough. For example, I’m light sensitive so I asked for a dark room. I wasn’t sure how much I’d have to read so I asked for the use of a vocatex -a low vision device that can both enlarge a page placed under it, and read the text out loud if desired. I also made sure to request lots of extra time for each exam. It’s better to give yourself small breaks and rest your eyes then to force yourself to get through a test in a short amount of time despite eye strain. Sometimes people with low vision prefer writing tests without adaptations, but I would strongly encourage any visually impaired student to use the opportunities given to them during their finals. Tests are hard enough as it is, using adaptations are just evening the playing field with other students.
There are a few aspects that may not come directly to mind when finals week rolls around, but these are a few I’ve personally found very important. First, inform your professor about the changes to your exam’s scheduled date, time, and location once the disability offices have confirmed each of these items. Depending on the classes you are taking, you may need special requests like lab materials or an interpreter. Teachers can be instrumental in getting you situated in a proper testing setting with the right materials in the easiest way possible. I have found that many teachers are willing to be there with you during the exam, simply at a different test taking time then the rest of the class. Making sure your teacher is filled in on what you are doing is helpful, and relieves both your and their stress levels as exams approach.
Second, be aware that because the Disability Office is usually overloaded near the end of the semesters, they must use different testing areas then they usually use to accommodate the students. This means that it’s very possible you won’t be testing in your usual location, and that the one you have been assigned to could be in a location you are unfamiliar with. University campuses are often quite large, and navigating them as a visually impaired student is difficult at the best of times. Trying to find an office to test in when you have no idea of its location on the day of the test is not a situation anyone wants to find themselves in. Always go to your disability office when your test has been confirmed, or arrive early the day of the test, so that finding the location of your assigned test can be the least of your worries.
I’ll admit, finals were stressful for me, like they are every semester, but I studied hard and did well. I planned and took care of any little road bumps related to my legal blindness before the exams, and everything worked out! As each semester passes, I learn more about how to make university a smoother experience for myself, and hopefully others with visual impairments as well.