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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Educational Resources Employment Resources Series: Resolutions for Resilience, January 2022

Resolutions for Resilience: Controlling the Chat in Online Classes

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 second installment of our “Resolutions for Resilience” series, we share some tips that can help you manage the information your screen reading software (screen reader) provides from the chat while in online classes.

Why It Matters

Even if your school is holding in-person classes, we have reached a point at which Zoom is a fixture as a meeting space for school, social engagements, and work. It can be so difficult to listen to your screen reader read Zoom chat messages to you out loud while you are also trying to pay attention to the teacher or presentation. It is even worse when you need to reference documents or slide presentations at the same time or take notes on the same device.

The chat can be full of valuable presentation-related information that might not be spoken aloud, or classmates could be socializing and greeting one another. Either way, you need the information. Even if the chat is purely social, who wants to miss out on talking to friends (or future friends)?

Below, we have outlined some helpful strategies for managing chat content while also balancing the need for listening to the content being presented at the class or meeting. A combination of these tips and tricks depending on the type of meeting is likely the best approach to getting everything you need.

Screen Reader Commands and Chat Hacks

These keyboard commands will help you to navigate the chat in Zoom using JAWS:

  • To disable alerts of any kind, including chat alerts and announcements of individuals entering and leaving meetings, press Windows + ALT + S.
  • Control + 1 through Control + 0 reads out the ten most recent chat messages
  • ALT + H lets you enter or exit the chat panel. Even if you disable alerts, you can feel free to check the chat panel anytime.
    • Focus automatically lands on the edit field when you enter the chat panel, so to send a message all you have to do is type the message and press Enter.
    • You can use Shift + Tab to navigate to the list of chat messages, and use your up and down arrow keys to look through the list of messages.
    • If you press Shift + Tab again, you will find a box where you can hear JAWS speak to whom your next chat message will be going; you can also change the recipient of your message in this area.
  • JAWS has a new feature that allows users to have JAWS speech come in one ear of your headphones and other computer audio come through the opposite headphone. This feature is very useful in Zoom meetings by simplifying hearing both audio inputs simultaneously. To enable this feature, press Space + Insert + V, then V, then B. You can then press the left arrow key for JAWS to speak from the left headphone and the right arrow for it to speak from the right headphone. The up arrow will restore speech to both headphones once you have finished.
  • In addition to using these keyboard commands, we also recommend using a Braille device paired with your computer to engage with the chat.

Requesting Reasonable Accommodations

Even with these commands and strategies, you may still feel as though you are not getting the same access to both the chat and the meeting itself that other participants will experience. You can always request reasonable accommodations whether you are in high school or college to ease the complications of managing audio content from multiple sources. Here are some examples of reasonable accommodations you could request:

  • Request the teacher to read aloud content written in the chat that is particularly important to the subject. This will ensure you have access to all of the notetaking opportunities as your classmates.
  • Request that all links posted in the chat be emailed out to the class. This will make things easier for not just you, but everyone else, too.
  • Ask the teacher or Zoom host to allow users to save the chat. That way, you can have a written record of the chat and can refer back to anything you may have missed. Again, this particular accommodation request will make things easier for other students as well.
  • Utilize a second device that could allow you to participate in the meeting from two devices. While not specifically a reasonable accommodation, you may want to let your teacher know that your name may be appearing twice in the participants’ list. This method could allow you to mute chat activity on one device and mute incoming audio on the other device; you could then have a device for the lecture and one for chat engagement.

Other Support

JOIN US TONIGHT! Free Student Roundtable: The Game of Life: Hacks for Financial Independence with the Bridges Helpdesk

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Managing your benefits can be confusing, and how do you sort through these enormous letters that SSA sends anyway? It is possible to save more than $2,000 while on SSI, and to have working experiences while still enjoying your SSI benefit. Want to learn how? Join the Bridges Helpdesk today, Tuesday, January 11 at 7:30 PM to learn about financial hacks to help you best manage your SSI benefits and beyond!

Tonight, Tuesday, January 11, 2022 07:30 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)

Contact us for the Zoom link!

Contact us

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.

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I AM: Monday, January 10, 2022

Speaker: Ian Edwards, Durable Medical Equipment Re-Use Program Director with the Maryland Department of Aging

Many residents of Maryland require the use of durable medical equipment (DME), such as wheelchairs, walkers, canes, and other adaptive devices, in order to maintain their safety and mobility. Often the cost of this equipment is a serious burden, not only to uninsured residents but also to insured residents whose insurance will not approve the equipment needed or whose approval is delayed. To address this need, the Maryland Department of Aging (MDoA) has developed an innovative statewide Durable Medical Equipment Program that will provide durable medical equipment to Maryland residents in need.

Recording of the Independence Amplified Maryland event from January 10, 2022.

Don’t forget to visit our registration website to donate to support these events or register for upcoming calls!

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Accessible Assistive Technology Resources Advocacy Resources Bridges Blog Educational Resources Series: Resolutions for Resilience, January 2022

Resolutions for Resilience: Coaching Your Teachers on Accessibility

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)).

Providing Resources

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:

Overview

The TVI Portal Maryland provides a wealth of information on many aspects of blindness/low vision.

Introduction to Accessibility

Accessibility on the TVI Portal Maryland

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.

Word document Accessibility Cheat Sheet

Word document Accessibility PowerPoint Presentation

PowerPoint Accessibility Cheat Sheet (short)

PowerPoint Accessibility Cheat Sheet (long)

PowerPoint Accessibility PowerPoint Presentation

Verbal instruction

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.”

Accessible Videos

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.

Accessible News

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.

Accessible Books

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 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.).

Contact us

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.

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