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 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

Web Browsing with Mozilla Firefox and JAWS

Jump to the address bar: alt+d

Move by heading: h

Open new tab: control + t

Move by button: b

Move by edit field: e

Move by checkbox: x

Move by radio button: a

Open a list of links on the page: insert+f7

Move by table: t

Move by link: k

Move by list: l

Move by visited link: v

Open the downloads library in a new window: ctrl+j

Keyword search a web page: ctrl+f

Place cursor in text field: enter/space 

Move through search results: The titles of all search results are headings. Press h to scroll through them. Once on a heading, down arrow to see the URL.

Gmail with JAWS and NVDA (Hotkeys)

*These keystrokes only work under the following conditions:

• is open in Mozilla Firefox

• -Gmail is set to basic HTML view, (enable this using the link near the top of the gmail webpage)

• Keystrokes are enabled under Gmail’s accessibility settings

Open inbox: alt+shift+i

Jump to message list: The gmail inbox is a table. Press t to move to the table, then use tab or the arrows to move through the messages.

Open email: Press enter on the email’s subject. Then, press ctrl+end to jump to the bottom of the page followed by shift+h to move to the previous heading. This will announce the sender of the email. Use down arrow to scroll to the contents of the message.

Reply to email: alt+shift+r

Reply all: alt+shift+a

Compose email: alt+shift+c. use tab to move through text fields.

Welcome to Challenge Solutions

Hello, and welcome to Challenge Solutions. This website is created and maintained by a group of blind students for blind students and their teachers. Our mission is to provide lessons about life and technology for the blind and visually impaired via our blog, podcast, and YouTube channel. To have our latest activity around the Internet sent to your inbox, please subscribe to this blog at the bottom of the page. If you have questions for us or suggestions for future content, please reach out via the contact form in the top menu.