By: Katie Ottaggio, CSP Engagement Operations Manager and Kristen Witucki, Curriculum and Content Editor
Once a month, the College Success Program (CSP) hosts a webinar on a topic of interest to high school and college students who are blind or who have low vision, their parents, and the professionals who work with them. On July 9, 2020 the CSP hosted a webinar called "Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Moe - Which Assistive Technology Do I Need At College"? CSP student, Jessica Karim moderated the webinar in which two of our CSP mentors, Megan Dausch and Emily Vasile, discussed many of the considerations around assistive technology in college.
In case you missed it, here are our top takeaways from this enlightening discussion. You can also view this webinar in its entirety by clicking here.
Technology Becomes Your Responsibility
When you move from high school to college, you move from a system which supports you to one in which you must manage everything related to your technology including: figuring out how it works, applying it to your college life, troubleshooting and maintenance and reaching out for help when it needs to be fixed. You will also need to explain the use of technology to others such as professors, classmates and even disability resource centers. You'll need to tell others what the technology can do for you and any limitations which will affect your schoolwork and how you plan to overcome them.
Many Ways to Figure It Out
Although you are ultimately responsible for your own learning, there are many ways to learn about assistive technology. Reading everything you can, including the product documentation, social media posts, reviews, and articles from organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind and the American Foundation for the Blind can be a great starting point. You can also talk to friends, mentors, or assistive technology experts to find out what they think of devices and what they like or don't like. Finally, reach out to the vendors if you still can't find information. You can contact their technical support with questions, or you can attend blindness conferences to try out or learn about the equipment they offer.
For most students, the primary resource to cover the cost of technology is your state agency for people who are blind or have low vision. Connect with your state's vocational rehabilitation department if you have not already done so. Local grants, such as those from the Association of Blind Citizens or Lions Clubs in your area, can also sometimes help. Finally, remember that you can use some college scholarships, particularly those for blind students, to cover technology costs. American Council of the Blind has a list of scholarship resources.
Apps and Devices for Students with Low Vision
Many phones have built in magnifiers. They look like cameras but allow you to zoom in and out, change color contrast, etc. You can also use a number of apps, including:
Visor - Turns your phone into a video magnifier with options to change color contrast, zoom things in and out, change backgrounds, etc.
Seeing AI - Allows you to take a picture of any text and it will read the text out loud to you.
Voice Dream Reader - Allows you to upload anything such as textbooks, worksheets, articles, PDFs, etc. You can read from it but also edit as well as import from the Google drive and Dropbox.
Super Vision - This app is a handheld magnifier, you can zoom in, change backgrounds, change colors, etc.
With regard to devices, they often require a prescription so a specialist is needed to figure out the proper magnification for your particular eye condition. However, handheld magnifiers or binoculars can help you to read everything from street signs to notes in a lecture hall.
Apps and Devices for Students Who Are Blind
Many apps can assist with creating, augmenting or maintaining a home wherever you are. Here are some that are helpful:
Seeing AI - This app can identify products such as food boxes.
Way Around - Allows you to purchase tags and affix them to items in your room. You can then record your label into your phone, hold your phone near your tag and it will tell you what it is.
Be My Eyes - This app offers volunteers that will assist you through your phone.
Having a color identifier app may be helpful to separate your laundry or to know what you're wearing. And don't forget apps for your downtime such as book or music apps.
As for devices, remember not to depend on one device because flexibility is key. It's important to have a computer and to know how to use at least two different web browsers, because you'll never know when a website experience will work better in a different browser. Be sure you know how to use sharing programs/apps such as Google Docs and you're school's learning management system. If you are a braille reader, having access to a braille display can be invaluable for proofreading and making presentations. Be sure to include low tech devices, such as a braille writer or maybe a label maker. Finally, your disabilities office may help you with scanning documents, but you might find a way to do this independently as well. You can use regular scanners or apps such as Seeing AI, Voice Dream Scanner, Canopy Reader, etc. Try a few and see what might work for you.
Talking About Technology
As soon as you know your professors' names, send them an email explaining who you are, your needs, your tech, and ask to meet with them. At the end of the first class introduce yourself, and remind them that you want a meeting. Advocate and make a name for yourself.
People are genuinely curious about assistive technology and how it works. They want to talk and ask questions. Explain that it helps let you do what your sighted peers do and how it does that. Demonstrate how it works to help with their understanding.
Advice for the COVID Crisis: You are Not Alone
Don't feel like you're the only one who is frustrated. Your sighted peers may not be using a screenreader or other technology like you, but they're frustrated as well. If you're preparing to start the next semester online, find out what technology your professor is using ahead of time and then practice so you're more comfortable using it. Finally, always have a backup plan. Try your meeting, course management and other software on your phone, computer, iPad, etc. Technology fails and that's okay as long as you can figure out a workaround.