Lesson 18: Requesting Academic Accommodations in College As a Student with Vision Loss
As a college or career school student who is blind or low vision, it is your responsibility to identify yourself as a student with vision loss by registering and applying for services with your institution’s Office for Students with Disabilities. To register with the office, you will need to provide current documentation of your vision loss such as an eye medical report completed by an ophthalmologist. Each institution will have their own documentation requirements and approval process for services. A copy of your Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan is generally not sufficient documentation to support the existence of your vision loss. The documents, however, may provide helpful information about your vision loss and need for accommodations to the Office for Students with Disabilities.
In college or career school, you are entitled to receive approved academic adjustments and auxiliary aids and services (also referred to as accommodations). An academic adjustment gives you equal access to the same educational opportunities students without vision loss have and may include, but are not limited to, extra time on tests or use of access technology. It is your job to know and follow the procedures for requesting the academic adjustments or accommodations you need as a student with vision loss.
Because there may be only one or two staff members to address the needs of all students with disabilities at your post-secondary education setting, you need to apply for and arrange services well in advance of your first day on campus. After the Office for Students with Disabilities receives and approves the documentation of your vision loss, you will have an opportunity to meet with and educate a disability coordinator about your vision loss as well as discuss the accommodations and services you need to participate in your courses. The coordinator will provide you with an approved accommodation letter that you are responsible for giving to your instructors.
After this initial meeting, you may only meet with the coordinator one or two times a semester, which is solely up to you and your needs as a student who is blind or low vision. The disability coordinator will not seek you out to “check in” on you. You will be in charge of your educational success, and if and when you have challenges, it will be your job to either solve the problem or arrange a meeting with the Office for Students with Disabilities to assist you in overcoming the challenge.
Ideally, you should provide your instructors with your approved accommodation letter at the beginning of each new semester, well in advance of your first exam. Your goal should be to establish a good working relationship with your instructors by scheduling a meeting to discuss the classroom and testing accommodations you will need as well as how you will work together. For example, if you are recording a lecture, your instructor may ask you to sign a form that states the lectures cannot be shared with others without the instructor’s permission and that the recording may not be used against the instructor or the students who may make comments during the lecture. While meeting with your instructor, it is important to find out if your instructor can accommodate your testing needs. If not, the Office for Students with Disabilities can assist you, but the office will need to know this information in advance of your test dates.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you are not required to disclose your vision loss to your instructor unless you need accommodations. However, you may find your instructor more cooperative and understanding if you are forthcoming about your vision loss and the implications your diagnosis has on your ability to access materials and fully participate in his course with or without accommodations.
Throughout the semester, you will need to remind your instructor of the accommodations you require as a student who is blind or low vision. Choosing to adapt to spontaneous situations and advocate for yourself after class or during your instructor’s office hours will be necessary. For instance, if your instructor spontaneously hands out a newspaper article during his lecture, you may choose to take a picture of the article and enlarge it with your cell phone so that you have immediate access to the information. After class, you could schedule a time to meet with your instructor to discuss how you would have been better prepared to fully participate in the discussion if you had received the article (perhaps as a PDF file) in advance.
Lastly, you will need to monitor your accommodations periodically to determine if they are working for you or if you need additional accommodations. If your academic adjustments are not working for you or you are not receiving accommodations from your instructor, it is your responsibility to schedule a meeting with your disability coordinator to guide you in solving the challenges you are having.
Contact the Office for Students with Disabilities at the college or career school you plan to attend or visit your college or career school’s website to inquire about the following:
- Access technology offered on campus
- Services offered
- Required documentation to verify your vision loss
- Application forms to apply for services from the Office for Students with Disabilities
- Deadlines to apply for services from the Office for Students with Disabilities
Prepare for a meeting with the Office for Students with Disabilities by completing the following:
- Create a list of the reasonable and appropriate academic accommodations you will need your instructors to provide to you as a student who is blind or low vision.
- Make a list of the assistive technology you use and the task the technology allows you to accomplish.
- Obtain a copy of your IEP or 504 Plan to keep in your college or career school resource file.
- Obtain the required documentation for your vision loss. Put a copy of this documentation in your college or career school resource file.
Make a list of pros and cons of disclosing your vision loss to your college or career school instructors. Discuss why you will or will not disclose your vision loss to your professors with someone in your personal network to get their feedback.
Read pages 83 through 93 of Chapter 3 in College Bound, A Guide for Students with Visual Impairments, 2nd Edition, by Ellen Trief. Take notes of pertinent information to refer to as you answer the following questions:
- Review the suggested list of questions you may want to ask the Office for Students with Disabilities during your initial meeting. Type a list of 10 questions you determine are important to ask and file the questions in your resource file.
- What services are available to you from your state rehabilitation agency after you begin college or career school as a student who is blind or low vision?
- Why is it important to attend your first day of class in college or career school?
- How long do you have to drop or add a class on your schedule before you are penalized?
- Why might it be better to have a lighter workload than to have to drop a class in the middle of the semester?