January always ushers in a new year, and many take the opportunity to develop New Year’s Resolutions during this month. While Resolutions can take many forms (including diet, exercise, etc.), the Free Bridges Helpdesk offers some tips for helping you get the access you need with Resolutions for Resilience.
- Coaching Your Teachers on Accessibility
- Controlling the Chat in Online Classes
- Hacks for Making Screenshots/Screenshares Accessible
- Hacks for Making Text PDFs Accessible
In this first installment of our “Resolutions for Resilience” series, we share some tips that can help sighted educators better understand how to provide blind/low vision students effective access to instruction (presentations, curriculum, documents, videos, etc.).
Am I Asking Too Much?
Probably not. In most cases, you are asking your teachers to provide on-time access to information – something that all of the sighted students receive all the time. The problem is that many commonly used ways of sharing information are inaccessible to blind/low vision students.
In other words, the need for access is the same for all people, with and without disabilities. By focusing on this – the need for on-time and effective access to information – you can help your teachers understand the importance of making changes to ensure that you have access. After all, the information they provide is important; don’t ALL students deserve access to it?
Accessibility IS the Law
While no one wants to threaten litigation, it can be helpful to point out that both federal and Maryland law require public K-12 schools and universities to be accessible and to provide reasonable accommodations upon request. Additionally, many private schools (both K-12 and post-secondary) has similar legal obligations.
The legal obligations have been in existence for decades (and before you and many of your teachers were born), and governmental agencies continue to provide guidance about accessibility rights. Please reach out to the Free Bridges Helpdesk for more information.
Making the Ask
How and when to make the ask is a vital, and sometimes intimidating, question. In general, communication works best when you do it early and often. Reaching out to your teachers before school begins is great, and it gives them time to make changes before classes start – thus allowing both of you to focus on your classes and not on trying to get accessible materials!
Of course, you don’t always know in advance that something will have accessibility problems.
No matter what the accessibility barrier is, it is a problem that must be solved immediately. It is not your fault, and you should not be left out or punished. On the other hand, teachers and others will be more likely to help remediate accessibility problems if you follow the three Ps:
- Polite – No matter how frustrated you may have the right to be, you have a better chance at getting being heard if you can keep calm when expressing your accessibility needs.
- Provide solutions – Many sighted teachers (and parents) don’t know much about accessibility. If you can help them problem-solve, you are that much closer to accessibility.
- Permit postponement – Sometimes accessibility issues are too large to be easily solved. In those cases, it is reasonable to ask that the teacher postpone the assignment/activity for everyone until an accessible solution is found and put into place. Note: it IS fair to postpone for everyone because inaccessibility is a form of discrimination and, as noted by the United Nations: “Discrimination against one is discrimination against all.” (Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)).
Accessibility barriers can occur in many areas of education. Here are some resources that can help your teachers provide you access to the great instruction and information they have to offer:
The TVI Portal Maryland provides a wealth of information on many aspects of blindness/low vision.
Documents and slide presentations
Most teachers simply don’t know HOW to make documents or slide presentations accessible for blind/low vision students. Here are more TVI Portal Maryland resources to share with your teachers. Also, please remember that the Free Bridges Helpdesk is here to support teachers as well as students and parents.
Best advice: Pretend you are on the radio. Or on the phone. Or making a podcast.
It’s simple, but this simple can make all the difference. When the speaker knows that the listener cannot necessarily see anything the speaker is doing, the speaker changes the presentation. Instead of saying, “Look at this.” “Or it was way over there.” the speaker must use descriptive language instead.
It can be hard to remember “I must use descriptive language.” It’s easy to remember: “I’m on the radio.”
As noted in “Explore the Wonders of Audio Description!” on the Bridges Blog, “Audio description provides verbal descriptions of visual elements of a movie, television show, or other videos. These elements include unspoken words on the screen, descriptions of the setting, and details about characters’ non-verbal actions, facial expressions, dress, etc.” In other words, audio description provides ACCESS to visual information shown in a video.
A great (and free) resource for education-related videos is the Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP). Go to the DCMP website to search for available videos and sign up for free. Your teachers can do the same, and they can even assign videos to you through DCMP.
Getting information about current events is often an integral part of Social Studies classes. Unfortunately, many news websites have annoying pop-ups and are difficult (if not impossible) to navigate using accessible technology. A great resource for local, state, national, and international news is NFB Newsline, a free resource that offers accessible news in multiple ways: through an iDevice (phone, pad, or pod) app, on the internet, by phone, on Amazon Alexa, via email, and more! Check out “Get Your News On Your Own Terms with NFB Newsline® (It’s Free)” on the Bridges Blog for more information.
While most teachers know which textbooks they will need for the year and can order accessible versions ahead, other supplementary reading books might be assigned late. While your teachers still should go through proper channels to get accessible books for you, make sure you have your own account with free sources of accessible books:
- Maryland State Library for the Blind and Print Disabled (LBPD), which is part of the National Library Service (NLS)
- How to Sign Up for Bookshare blog post), and the LBPD also provides Bookshare access for all patrons
Maryland college students: Let your professors know about the LBPD program for college textbooks. You and your professor will still need to follow the policies of your school’s Disability Services office (D.S.S.).
- Follow the Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page for more transition tips, and please contact the Free Helpdesk for Maryland Blind/Low Vision Transition Students, Families, and Educators anytime using:
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 305-9199
- Bridges Helpdesk Facebook page or Facebook Messenger
- Voice mail: Call (443) 320-4003, leave a voice mail message, and we will return your call
This unique project is being coordinated through The IMAGE Center of Maryland, a center for independent living in Towson, and it is funded by a grant from the Maryland Department of Education Division of Special Education/Early Intervention Services.