Below, 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) have 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.
- Perhaps the teacher is using materials downloaded from the internet, outside websites, or online simulation programs – many of which are inaccessible to blind/low vision individuals.
- Perhaps the teacher created the assignment at the last-minute and did not have time to collaborate with you or your TVI about how to make it accessible.
- Perhaps you have a substitute who doesn’t know anything about accessibility in the first place.
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 the Bridges Resource Library’s Audio Description entry, “Audio description provides verbal descriptions of visual elements of a movie, television show, or other visual production.” 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). Check out the Bridges Resource Library’s Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) entry for more information.
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! Find out more in the Bridges Resource Library’s Get Your News On Your Own Terms with NFB Newsline® (It’s Free) entry.
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), a part of the National Library Service (NLS)
- Bridges Resource Library’s About Bookshare entry), and the LBPD also provides Bookshare access for all patrons
- For Maryland college students: Check out the Accessible College Textbook Program for Maryland Students entry
Contact the Bridges Helpdesk for More Information
- Our Accessible web form
- Email: Helpdesk@imagemd.org
- Text: Send to: (410) 357-1546
- Voice mail: Call (410) 357-1546, 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.
Updated as of September 29, 2023.