As a student with low vision in Virginia public schools, I was assigned a Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) to help me with accessing the general curriculum. My TVI took a step back and had me fight all of my own battles, saying that it was great practice for the real world. While I resented this in high school, I have realized that I was given an incredible opportunity to learn about many different topics related to low vision, technology, and education- leading to me developing my own website to help others. Here are ten lessons that my TVI taught me, in honor of Blindness Awareness Month.
Self-advocacy is the most important skill to have
I've written about learning to self-advocate here, and I believe it is one of the most important skills to have. I was encouraged to speak up for myself at all times, and only to ask for help after I have exhausted all other options. This means I was able to learn so much about handling different situations.
Stay up-to-date on the latest technology
Technology is everything for me, and my TVI would encourage me to learn all I could about it, since technology is the future. They would always ask me what my latest favorite phone app was, what I thought of a new iPad update, or my favorite computer programs. I always enjoyed sharing what I had learned with them.
Learn how to do things, and don't expect others to do them for you
If I got inaccessible materials, I was told to either figure out how to make it accessible, or get a zero. This means I learned a lot about creating my own materials, with my different techniques over time. My current favorite methods are using the ScanMarker Air (post here) and Microsoft Lens (post here).
Assistive technology will be your best friend
Even though my school district had very limited assistive technology resources, my TVI would tell me how essential assistive technology is, and why I should know the ins and outs of all of my devices. Eventually, I would train people to use various devices.
IEPs aren't always followed, deal with it
An IEP is a document that says that a student must receive accommodations for their disability under federal law. Theoretically, this would mean IEPs are followed all of the time, but that isn't the case. My TVI would tell me that I can't go to the school board every time my teacher forgets to enlarge something- after all, teachers are people too. Instead, I was told to make my own accessible materials.
It's up to you to get good grades
My classwork may not have been enlarged and my teacher informed me they weren't going to enlarge it for me, but that doesn't mean I am entitled to an automatic passing grade, since I didn't actually learn anything. I was told it was my own problem that I didn't get the assignment done, regardless of the circumstances. This actually helped me in college, because I frequently find myself creating my own accessible materials in class.
Be a trailblazer
I was the only student in my school that accessed the general curriculum with low vision, so that meant all eyes were on me. My TVI encouraged me to be the best student I could be, and be as unforgettable as possible. Because of the legacy I left at my school, there are many more resources now for students with vision impairments in my school district.
High school is temporary
Whenever I got frustrated with my teachers, my TVI would remind me that high school is temporary, and I will be graduating and eventually going to college soon. This especially helped on the more difficult days when I thought having an IEP was stupid- read more about that here.
Share what you know
Since there weren't many resources for students with vision impairments, I was constantly encouraged to share what I had learned with others. This actually inspired the creation of my website, so I could be a resource for students, teachers, and parents from all over the world.
Forget you're visually impaired
I was taught that I am not Veronica, visually impaired student, I am just Veronica. I should not let my vision impairment stop me from doing anything- well, except maybe playing dodgeball with the rest of the class (more on how I took gym here). My TVI refused to let me acknowledge my vision impairment or chronic illness for more than a minute, and then would have me work to solve whatever problem I had.
So thank you to my TVI, who helped me turn into the student I am today. I know things would have been different if we had never met.