Tips and Tricks for Working in Groups from a Student Who is Blind Managing technologies to work effectively in a group setting


Hi, my name is Cindy Bennett, and I’ll be sharing a few tips and tricks I’ve found to be helpful when working on a group project.

In today's classroom, collaboration is the key to participating fully. When I work in groups, we often use Google docs, sheets, and slides to stay organized. During class, for instance, my teachers ask us to contribute our thoughts to Google slides. This helps us to synthesize the discussion and have a record of what we have talked about in case the discussion is relevant for homework or future class sessions. I prefer to use the NVDA screen reader along with Firefox to access Google Drive, but there are a variety of screen reader and internet browser combinations that afford access to Google products. Extensive documentation about using Google apps with screen readers and keyboard shortcuts relevant to each of their products can be found via an easy web search.

Sometimes, collaborating is frustrating. My group members often do not understand some of the difficulties I have using Google apps with a screen reader. For example, the newest version of Drive really lags with my screen reader, so it takes me a while to open files. Plus, Google Drive is constantly updating. Although this can be advantageous for quickly pushing accessibility improvements, some features decrease accessibility. Thus, I have to communicate clearly with my group. When working with documents, I sometimes ask that a paper be sent to me as a more easily navigable word doc or PDF if I need to read it quickly. Or if we are editing the document together, it is easier for me if someone emails me a link to the Google doc so I can click on it directly in my mail client. This allows me to get to the document without opening Drive.

When working on Google Slides, I ask a group member to type on the slide if I am having difficulty finding our place. Sometimes, I work on a different slide than other group members to avoid editing on top of them or to avoid hearing who is editing the slide every other second.

As in any collaboration, affective communication is the key to success. My group members do not understand the accessibility barriers I face and the problem solving strategies I employ. I also do not always know how my groupmates complete work and rely on them to communicate their needs with me. Therefore it is up to me to articulate when I need their help and when it would be easier to use a different format.

Everyone has their preferences. There are certainly people who have developed more efficient workarounds for Google Apps than I, and I can't wait to learn from them. However, real-time collaboration is the most common method that I use to achieve full participation in graduate school. I advise you to communicate with your group about your unique learning needs and to connect with other blind students to learn the latest and greatest strategies for navigating the ever-changing collaboration platforms.

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