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School Supplies for the Vision Impaired

By Nuala Stanghellini

Your calculator may not look that interesting, but did you know that some calculators can talk to you and have Braille on them? Perhaps you didn’t know that there are reference tables out there that have large font and colored diagrams. Maybe you didn’t realize that large print worksheets and textbooks were available. Well, as much as your brain may implode from these revelations, it’s true! The tools mentioned above exist, and many more accessible things do as well. While I do not speak for the vision impairment community, these aspects provide helpful options for this community.

Oh science class: the bane of many people’s existences. It’s tough, and the reference tables are chock full of hieroglyphs on atoms and rocks. The graphs are difficult for many to read, but even more so for someone with low vision. This is where our first superb modification comes into play! The science reference tables can be gorgeously color coded for someone who needs higher contrast, and the font can be made larger for someone in need of bigger font. The periodic table can also have Braille thanks to the American Printing House (APH). It ends up looking a bit like an art collage to outside viewers, but for the person looking for the information, it is a huge life saver, especially during Regents exams.

On the subject of STEM, we all know the constant clicking of calculator buttons, and the infinite scrolling through the stat tables, and staring at those pixelated lines. Focusing on these small lines can be quite a difficult task for some, and it’s sometimes helpful to have a talking calculator. The APH also makes calculators that by plugging in headphones, reads aloud everything you input. Hook up a pair of headphones or earbuds, and your math test involves sight and sound. It may also help to turn the brightness down a little bit on a TI—84 plus graphing calculator. Hitting the second button, followed by the down or up arrow, will lower and raise the brightness to your standards. Gone are the days of blasting yourself in the face with calculator light while you find the slope of a line at three AM!

Finally, when all else fails, it’s best to turn to our friends: the magnifiers! Whether big or small, video magnifiers are quite useful. These video magnifiers usually have a camera pointing at a tray in front of the magnifier. Then, the camera will register whatever is placed under it, and the image will be projected on a screen. Many magnifiers enable users to zoom in or out on the picture, or change the contrast to other settings like white or yellow text on a black background, yellow text on a blue background, or green text and black background! Some of these magnifiers are smaller, and the camera is part of the magnifier itself. These smaller magnifiers are handheld magnifiers that slide across text or can be held up to view an object! So amazing right?

Big or small, low tech or high tech, all of these tools help the vision impairment community thrive at school. There are many more specific facets to magnifiers and enlargements, contrast and calculators, which will be discussed in future articles. Hopefully this article gave a brief introduction to the many ways the vision impairment community navigates their life and schoolwork.

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