An IEP was first on the list of things to take care of when I started Middle School. Unlike when I was in grade school, I was old enough to be a part of the discussions regarding what adaptations and assistance I would need. For those who don't know, an IEP -otherwise known as Individualized Educational Plan- is a strategic plan for your success that you and your family together with your teachers, an O&M specialist, and a low vision or special education teacher sit down and work out with the school district. IEPs go over a lot of material, from strengths and weaknesses of the student, goals and how to accomplish them, one's particular disability and how it affects them, to the equipment that could be helpful to you. In short, IEPs are how the school and the student's teachers understand how to work with someone with any disability who will be attending normal classes. It is very nice to gather all of your future teachers in one place and have them understand what works best for you. For example, we went over how I was unable to see any lesson work written on the front board, even if I was at the front of the class. We then discussed coping strategies and what equipment would be helpful. It was really nice to have my teachers present in the discussion and asking questions. A lot was accomplished in those meetings.
My basic set up for classes was somewhat different than grade school. For starters, I was required to attend a variety of classes in different parts of the building. This meant a large stationary camera wouldn't cut it. Our solution to this was a smaller light weight camera that was able to clamp on to the bottom of my desk. I also brought a portable screen that I could connect to the camera. I had to bring my equipment back to the special education room at the end of the day to charge, but the six hours of cordless power I got out of it was definitely worth while. I remember having to carry a huge backpack around with me to put all of this equipment in along with another backpack for all my normal books and supplies. Talk about building arm muscle. It was difficult to fit all of this equipment on one desk as you can probably imagine. I also had a text book, multiple handouts, assignments, and binders to deal with. I had to be extremely organized when it came to my set up during class. The equipment I was using was provided to me by the school district, and I did not want to damage it in any way. But often times I would push it to the end of my desk to try and make space for what I was working on. There were a few times when a piece of equipment did fall, but thankfully it was resilient and never did break. Someone might ask why I didn't use two desks, and that would be a great question. First, was the fact that it would be extremely embarrassing and make me stand out much more then I would have liked, but second, and most important, it would not have worked with the vision that I have. I had to be an inch away from reading material to see it, meaning I would be unable to see the materials on a second desk. Even when leaning forward and stretching, I would be unable to get my face close enough to something on a second desk. Therefore, my solution was to drop binders and extra worksheets in as neat a pile as I could manage on the floor next to my desk, and pick up things as I needed them. Not the most elegant strategy but it got the job done.
As you can probably see, a lot of what Junior High turned out to be was learning how to adjust to the unforeseen. It definitely takes some work, but there is always a way to persevere in the classroom as long as you are creative and willing to find unique solutions. And remember that there is always a circle of people around you who are willing to help if you know where to look.
Follow along as Sky's journey takes us through her middle years.By clicking below on the Low Vision Technologies link and signing up for the newsletter, you will be one of the first to receive her Articles.