Imagine you are arriving at your first math class of the semester. You try to find a seat as students filter in and the final bell rings. Immediately the instructor introduces themselves, laying out their expectations and handing out the syllabus. You look down at the packet and realize that despite requested accommodations, the font is far too small to see. You wait for an opportune time to explain this to your teacher, but he has already started scribbling things on the board. He’s doing some simple review from high school courses, and you are pretty sure you know what he is talking about from following auditorily, but then the subject material becomes new. By the end of the class, you find yourself frustrated, confused, and completely lost.
This my friends, is the situation we need to try our best to avoid. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for people with visual impairments to find themselves in just such a situation. As I have mentioned, when you are in university it is up to you to acquire accommodations. You will not have teachers who make appointments with you and hand out technology to help you adapt and technology is exactly what you need to succeed. I have had a whole semester to test out all sorts of neat low vision gadgets that I received both from the D.R.C. and Vocational Rehab. It has been with a lot of trial and error that I have figured out what works best for me. And now I have the honor of sharing what I have learned with you.
I like to sort the technology I commonly use in university into two categories; hardware and software. The hardware or physical equipment I use includes an e bot pro, a laptop, an easy pocket magnifier, my phone, a book port plus, and E Sight glasses. The software I use on my computer is Zoomtext Fusion, Windows Magnifier, and Narrator. Some of this technology has similar functions, but the secret is figuring out their strengths and weaknesses and using them where they fit best.
An example of this is using camera magnifiers. My e bot is a large machine which weighs about 15 pounds and despite its amazing capabilities, is extremally difficult to carry around. However, at home I found it very useful as a CCTV when hooked up to my laptop. Therefore, I would often bypass bringing it to class in favor of my e sight glasses, book port, and laptop. The E sight - for those who don’t know - is a small pair of mechanical glasses that wrap around your head and have an auto focusing camera. Their only down side is that the screen in front of your eyes is quite small so your field of vision is reduced. They were invaluable in math class when I had to follow what the teacher was writing on the board, but if I wanted to view something large like a TV screen they were not able to capture the entire image.
This is where a laptop and even the camera on a cell phone comes in handy. I would often ask the teacher about what we would be watching in class the next day, or else look on the syllabus. Most times I could get a copy of the video and play it at home on my laptop or in class wearing ear phones while the other kids watched it in the front. Similarly, I would sometimes just hold up my cell phone and use the camera on it to zoom in on the front board. This wasn’t practical if I had to have both hands free for writing but a stationary screen presented a wonderful time to use my phone! Also, I could use it to take pictures of what was on the front board and zoom in on them, which I found very useful for pop quizzes. My hand-held magnifier came in handy -excuse the pun- whenever I was given any printed material that was too small and difficult to read. Of course, this is when I am physically at school since when at home I can just utilize the e bot I have set up for all my magnification needs. I should mention that it is possible to leave heavy equipment like the e bot in your disability resource office and pick it up before classes. If you find it the most helpful accommodation, there are ways to make it work.
Finally, there were times when I was traveling on the public bus where I didn’t have any usable vision. Commuting can take hours, and I wanted to study. This is where the book port plus become a life saver. I would record notes at home and then play them back while commuting. Whenever I needed to study and couldn’t use my vision or else had eye strain, this was my favorite and most helpful piece of tech. I really appreciated having it, and it was provided to me by my university’s Disability Office.
So, in conclusion, there is a lot of technology out there, and each person will find their own unique way to use it. What’s important to keep in mind is that you must keep trying until you find what works to make your school year successful and stress free.