A Comparison of Three Screen Readers: JAWS, NVDA, and Voiceover

In this video, Caitlyn compares and contrasts the top three screen readers: JAWS, NVDA, and Voiceover.

Tips for Math Teachers with Blind or Visually Impaired Students

In this video, Caitlyn shares ten tips for math teachers with blind or visually impaired students. These tips are primarily directed at elementary and high school math teachers, but some can be applied to college professors as well. Below, you will find a written summary of the tips.


1. Be descriptive. Make sure that your lessons can be followed with no visual context. Vague visual statements like, “We’ll move this over here,” are not helpful for blind and visually impaired students. Be specific about what you are doing with the numbers on which side of the equation.

2. Make sure you get all of your course materials to your student’s TVI, (teacher of the visually impaired). Your student’s TVI will be able to evaluate the materials to determine whether or not they will work for the student in question and adapt them as needed. It is crutial to get the materials to the TVI at least a week in advance because converting math assignments into braille and creating tactile graphics is very time consuming.

3. Make sure that your blind or visually impaired student understands the visual layout of math problems. This may sound contradictory, but math is a very visual subject, and your blind student needs to have some degree of context for what is happening visually. If they don’t know what an equation looks like, balancing both sides of the equation won’t make much sense. If your student is a braille reader, it is extremely important that they both read and solve the majority of their math problems in hard copy braille on paper so that they can fully grasp the layout of things. Failing to understand this early on will make more advanced math classes extremely difficult.

4. Be hands on. Make sure you are working with your blind student in a way that they can understand. Bring in manipulatives to explain concepts in a more tangible way. Show your student a cube and explain how the sides of the 3D object relate to the two dimensional representation of a cube on a page, (your student’s TVI can create the tactile graphic for this). You might also consider using a Math Window so that you and your blind student can solve problems together. A Math Window is a magnetic panel with print/braille numbers and symbols. This should not be used as a replacement for solving problems in braille on paper, but it can be useful for teaching new concepts and making sure your blind students understand how to solve problems without the delay of waiting on a TVI to translate braille assignments.

5. Use accessible resources. Online programs like IXL and Kahoot will not work for your blind student. If you plan on using these tools in your classroom, you will need to work with your student’s TVI to come up with alternative assignments for your blind student.

6. Work one-on-one with your blind student. It will most likely take your blind student longer to fully grasp certain mathematical concepts because they are so visual. It may be necessary to work one-on-one with your blind student before and/or after class to ensure that they understand the layout of the problems, know how to set them up in braille, and understand the process for solving them. It can be beneficial for some students to have your student’s TVI braille a list of the steps needed to solve each type of problem. You may also wish to use a Math Window to present visual concepts like factor trees to ensure that your student understands what they are before you discuss them in class with your sighted students. Even if you are being specific with your descriptions, your blind student most likely will not be able to keep up with everything you do in class without supplemental instruction.

7. Familiarize yourself and your blind student with the TI-84 graphing calculator. The only accessible graphing calculator is the Orion TI-84 Plus which is a version of the TI-84 that has been modified to provide auditory feedback for the blind. This is the calculator that your blind student will be expected to use on the ACT and any other standardized math test.

8. Be careful with group projects. In general, it is best to avoid group projects in math classes with blind students. Most sighted students do not understand how to communicate mathematical concepts in a way that blind students can understand. Putting your blind student in a group of sighted students who don’t know how to interact with them can set both your blind student and the sighted students in their group further behind. If you wish to have group projects in your class, it could provide an opportunity to work one-on-one with your blind student while your sighted students work in groups. You can consider having your blind student participate in group projects if the projects involves a concept that the blind student understands very well, and/or if you have a group of sighted students who will work well with your blind student. This is something to discuss with your blind student and their TVI.

9. Lessen your blind student’s work-load when possible. It takes blind students a long time to solve math problems. One algebra problem might take your blind student an hour and six sheets of braille paper to solve. If they can demonstrate that they understand the concept and can apply it to a variety of problems by solving ten problems, there is no need to make them solve a hundred problems.

10. Challenge your blind student. Being blind makes math difficult, but it does not make it impossible. Some blind students go on to work in computer science and other STEM fields. while you should give them fewer problems when possible, you should also give them problems of progressing complexity just as you would your sighted students as they demonstrate that they are ready for them. They will definitely hate you in the moment for making them spend their Saturdays solving seemingly impossible math problems in braille, but they will probably eventually thank you for not simply letting them pass because they are blind. Equality does not just mean providing equal access to educational materials; it also means providing equivalent challenges. I am forever grateful to all of the teachers who pushed me to do more than most of the sighted world believed I could.

Example Emails to College Representatives

As you prepare to make decisions about where to attend college or university, it is important that you reach out to the institutions you are considering to ask questions about your accommodations and gain general knowledge about the college or university from a representative. In the video below, Macy shares her personal experiences and gives advice on when and how blind and visually impaired students should go about contacting colleges. 

 

Click here for the video. 

 


To supplement the video, we have drafted some examples of well-written emails to college representatives. Feel free to base your own emails off these templates. 

 

Email to Admissions 

 

Hello, 

I am a Senior at Nonexistent High School, and I am considering attending the University of Nowhere after graduation. I am legally blind, and I have some questions regarding my accommodations, as well as some general questions about your university. Is there a time when I can call you to discuss these? 

 

Thank you, 

John Doe 

 

Email to Disability Services 

 

Hello, 

I am a Senior at Nonexistent High School, and I am considering attending the University of Nowhere after I graduate this coming May. I am legally blind, and I have received several specific accommodations throughout my elementary and high school education. I hope to make the transition to college as smooth as possible, so I would like to speak with you about my current accommodations and needs. Is there a time when we can meet virtually to discuss my accommodations and your policies regarding students with visual impairments? ? 

 

Thank you,

Jane Doe 

College Research Tips for Blind Students

In this video, Macy provides tips for researching colleges. Below, you will find a worksheet that will help you keep track of important information about the colleges you are interested in.


College Research Worksheet

  • College/university:
  • City:
  • Average tuition: (if out of state for Arkansas students)

Location:

  • Distance from home:
  • Public transportation:
  • City/campus layout:
  • Friends/relatives in the area:
  • Other notes:

Admissions office contact info:

  • Email:
  • Phone number:

Questions for admissions:

  • Get information about your degree program and disability services.
  • Will there be any campus/virtual tours that you could attend?
  • Get any relevant contact information that wasn’t accessible via the web site.

Your thoughts:

  • Did they take time to answer your questions thoroughly?
  • Did they seem educated and confident when they spoke?
  • Did they seem friendly and happy to help you?
  • Other notes:

Degree program:

  • Graduation rate:
  • Student reviews:
  • Credit hours needed to graduate:
  • Classes per semester:
  • Total time it will take to earn degree:
  • Class relevance: (Are the classes required relevant to the career you intend to pursue?)

Department contact info: (if necessary)

  • Department head:
  • Email:
  • Phone number:

Questions for department head:

  • Have they had a visually impaired student before?
  • If so, how did they accommodate for that student?
  • (Add questions specific to your area of study)

Your thoughts:

  • Did they take time to answer your questions thoroughly?
  • Did they seem educated and confident when they spoke?
  • Did they seem friendly and happy to help you?
  • Other notes:

Disability services contact info:

  • Low vision coordinator:
  • Email:
  • Phone:

Questions for disability services:

  • Testing policy:
  • Format for class materials (textbooks, modified assignments, etc.):
  • Ask about your specific accommodations.

Your thoughts:

  • Did they take time to answer your questions thoroughly?
  • Did they seem educated and confident when they spoke?
  • Did they seem friendly and happy to help you?
  • Other notes:

Overall experience with college/university:

Using Blackboard Collaborate Ultra with Voiceover for mac OS

In this video, Caitlyn provides a walk-through of Blackboard Collaborate Ultra with a screen reader. This tutorial is done using Voiceover on a Mac in safari, but some of the concepts can be applied to JAWS and NVDA for Windows.

Using Google Classroom for iOS with Voiceover

Google Classroom is the learning management system used by most public schools in Arkansas. The Classroom app for iOS is typically the easiest platform for blind and visually impaired students to access their Google classes. In this video, Macy talks about Google Classroom and discusses the layout of the Classroom app.

Click here for the video.

General Guidelines For Making Online Classes Accessible to Blind and Visually Impaired Students

1. Maintain a consistent layout for the online course. Screen reader users tend to memorize the layout of websites they visit often. It is difficult for blind and visually impaired students to quickly scan webpages for newly added content, so it is important that new information is consistently posted to the same location within the online learning platform. For instance, you can create a folder for weekly lessons and pin it to the course menu within Blackboard. If the newest material always shows up at the bottom of the folder, it will be very easy for screen reader users to find it. Do not change up the layout randomly or move things unnecessarily, as this can drastically throw off your blind students’ workflow.

2. Add alt-text to all of the images in the online course. Alt-text is a way of providing image descriptions to the blind and visually impaired. If images do not contain alt-text, screen reading software will simply read the default name given to the image file or say that it is an unlabeled image. This can be a big problem if assignments rely on information contained within charts and info graphics or if important announcements are posted in the form of pictures. The following links explain alt-text further and provide instructions on how to apply it in commonly used programs:

3. Be descriptive in lectures and video presentations. Do not use vague, visual words such as, “Let’s move this down here”. This does not give blind students verbal context for what is happening visually. Make sure that all visual content is described well enough that it can be understood only by listening to the auditory explanation.

4. Provide the slides from lectures and video presentations in an accessible, downloadable format. Blind students cannot see slideshows that are presented within lectures or video files. It is important to provide a copy of the slideshow as a Word doc, text-based PDF, or accessible Powerpoint file that blind students can download. Your student’s TVI or university access office can help make sure the files are accessible.

5. Make sure all of the documents in the online course are accessible. Pictures of hard copy documents that are saved as PDf’s are not accessible to screen reader users. All documents must be text-based, and images embeded in the documents must contain alt-text. Word docs are generally best for most screen reading software and assistive technology. Text-based PDF’s and Powerpoint files can work with some screen readers and assistive technology. Your student’s TVI or university access office can make sure the files are accessible.

6. Avoid assignments that use the Blackboard discussion forum. The Blackboard discussion forum is technically accessible, but it is extremely difficult and confusing to navigate with screen reading software. It is best for blind students to simply hold class discussions over Zoom or Blackboard Collaborate Ultra.

7. Avoid drag-and-drop assignments. Blind students cannot use the mouse effectively. Therefore, most drag-and-drop assignments are not accessible. Any assignment that requires dragging and dropping will need to be converted to an alternative, accessible format.

8. Avoid matching assignments. Screen reader users can read only one line of text at a time. This makes matching assignments extremely difficult, confusing, and time consuming for blind students because they have to scroll up and down between the questions and answer choices. simple multiple choice or short answer questions are best for most blind students.

9. Avoid services like ProctorU and respondus Monitor. ProctorU is technically accessible, but it is an absolute nightmare to navigate with a screen reader. Respondus Monitor was not accessible the last time it was tested by any of our team members. Respondus Lockdown Browser without Monitor is accessible on Mac OS with Voiceover, but it was not accessible on Windows or IOS the last time our team tested it. It is best to provide exams for blind students without third party proctoring services. Another option is to have a proctor stay in a Zoom or Collaborate session with them as they are taking the test.

10. Communication is key. It is important for students, instructors, TVI’s, and university access departments to be kept up to date on any accessibility issues with online classes so that they can be addressed quickly and prevent blind students from falling behind.


Click here to view the related YouTube video and here to listen to the podcast episode.

Online Learning Tips for Blind and Visually Impaired Students

The following are Caitlyn’s top ten tips for surviving online classes as a blind or visually impaired student. Click here to view the associated video on YouTube and here to listen to the podcast.


1. Explore your online classes, and contact your professors before the classes start. Make sure that you understand the layout of each class, and take note of any accessibility issues that need to be addressed by your TVI or disability services. Introduce yourself to the instructor, and let them know what does and does not work for you in terms of online content and assignments.

2. Put all of your syllabi into a calendar or task management app of your choice. Alternatively, consolidate all of your syllabi into a paper planner or Word document so that you can see the whole semester outlined in one place. Fantastical is an excellent and fully accessible calendar app that lets you create events and tasks. Habitica and Carrot To-Do are both good options for accessible task management apps.

3. Write anything down that you think you might need to reference for your classes in a place that you will remember and be able to find quickly. This information should include your instructors’ email addresses, phone numbers, Zoom meeting information, office hours, etc. You can save your instructors’ contact information in your phone’s contacts and/or put it in the notes section for each class’s calendar event. It is also a good idea to save the grading information for each class in a document or in the notes section of each class’s calendar event.

4. Maintain communication with your instructor. It is very important that your instructor is kept up-to-date on any accessibility issues that you face in their class. The easiest way to do this is to send them an email updating them on your progress and any trouble you are experiencing with the course material. also, be sure to copy your TVI or university access office in the email so that everyone is kept in the loop at all times.

5. Designate a specific time and place for classes. Make sure that you only use this place for classes and productive things so that you are less likely to get distracted. If you work in the same place that you watch Netflix, you are more likely to open Netflix than you are to work on your virtual classes. Also, block off time for your classes, and only work on classes during that time frame. You can schedule time for internet scrolling after your class time ends for the day.

6. Try the Pomodoro technique. The Pomodoro technique is a time management strategy that lets you work in shorter bursts with breaks in between. It has been shown to help with focus and increase productivity.

7. Attend all the meetings. If your classes have video conferences, attend all of them. It will help you do better in the class and might even get you some participation points. Also, take notes in the video conference lectures just as you would in a physical classroom.

8. Figure out the testing situation before you actually have to deal with the testing situation. Learn what software will be used to deliver your tests online, and test the accessibility of that software before you have to take a real test. Respondus Lockdown Browser is accessible on the Mac with Voiceover, but it was not accessible on Windows or IOS the last time any of our team members tested it. ProctorU is technically accessible, but it is a nightmare to navigate with a screen reader and should be avoided if possible. Multiple choice and short-answer tests created in Blackboard or Canvas that do not require any external software should be accessible assuming the questions are text-based and do not contain inaccessible graphics. Drag-and-drop and matching activities should be avoided.

9. Download and annotate everything. If there is a file to be downloaded, download it, read it, and summarize the important information. It will probably appear on a test later.

10. Do all of the extra credit assignments. If they are not accessible, ask for alternative assignments. You have as much right to extra credit opportunities as your sighted classmates.

MLA 8 Formatting Keystrokes

1. Type your name, class, instructor’s name, and due date on separate lines.

2. Press ctrl+e to center the text.

3. Type the title.

4. Press enter to go to the next line and ctrl+l to left-align the text.

5. Type the rest of the paper. Press ctrl+a to select all of the text and ctrl+2 to double space.

6. Press ctrl+a again to select all. Press alt to open the ribbon. Tab to the font group. Once in the font list, press t to jump to Times New Roman. Then, tab to font size and use the arrows to set it to 12 pts.

7. Press enter to apply the formatting.

8. Press ctrl + end to move to the bottom of the file and ctrl + enter to insert a new page.

9. Use a citation creation tool like easybib.com to create your bibliography.

10. Copy the bibliography from the website to the last page, and save the file.

Web Browsing with Mozilla Firefox and NVDA

Go to the address bar: alt + d

Open new tab: ctrl + t

Move by heading: h

Move by link: k

Move by visited link: v

Move by edit box: e

Move by table: t

Move by radio button: a

Move by checkbox: x

Move by list: l

Keyword search: capslock + ctrl +f

Start editing an edit field: enter/space/tab or arrow into the field