I work as an occupational therapist for a large urban school district. I serve 7 schools and ~80+ students from K-12th grade. This is a big job for any therapist, but because I have low vision, I have extra hurdles to overcome in my daily work.
This job requires me to do a lot of different things, but to name a few, I have to:
- Travel from school to school via city bus
- Complete documentation/respond to email on the computer
- Review/Read client files
- Administer and score standardized tests
- Make observations of students in the classroom or other school environments such as cafeteria or playground
- Work with students on fine motor/handwriting activities
- and much, much, more.
These are all very visual tasks. If I do not use my own adaptive equipment then I find myself getting extremely fatigued by the end of the day. In addition, many of these tasks are straining on my eyes and are very difficult for me.
In order to combat the fatigue and make these tasks easier for me, I use a variety of assistive technologies throughout my work day.
First, I use my white cane to travel to and from my schools as well as throughout my schools. I have written about my cane use before. I find that it really helps others know that I cannot see well and it helps me with navigating and detecting objects in my path. I love hearing the student’s comments and questions about my cane!
Second, to complete computer work, I use screen magnification software to magnify the screen and make things easier to read. I either use ZoomText or the built in Accessibility features on the Mac. The accessibility features on the Mac are awesome! I am really impressed with the built in capabilities that allow me to use magnification to make the computer easier to see without really expensive software.
Third, to read normal print when looking at printed reports, client files, or standardized assessments, I use a wide variety of magnifiers to assist me with these tasks that make the print larger. I have a Ruby Video Magnifier that I really like as I can make the font different sizes and I can invert the colors to find the one that is best for me. My one biggest complaint with my Ruby magnifier is the battery life. Often times, I go to use it and the batteries are dead. I also have a variety of other lighted magnifiers, but they are at a set magnification of 4x or 5x. I find that this is sometimes not enough magnification for me.
Fourth, to view students at a distance in a variety of school environments (classroom, cafeteria, playground, etc) I use my 4x monocular. This allows me to sit near the back of the classroom and see the details about what a student is doing (seated posture, pencil grasp, movement, sometimes handwriting). I find this really helpful in the classroom, but it is difficult to track a student while they are running around the playground or in a crowded cafeteria.
Fifth, when working with students one on one or in small groups, I sometimes find it challenging to redirect them while they are working on handwriting because it is hard to see the details of what they are doing. I am able to correct big things like if they are starting at the bottom vs. the top, but sometimes I have to let them just form the letter and then I will discuss it with them after once I get a chance to look at the writing closer.
For me, the hardest part is that since I do have residual vision, I am able to read normal sized print if I squint, look really close to the paper, and work really hard. After hours of doing this throughout the work day for all visual tasks, I am worn out! This is not a sustainable practice throughout my life. I am working really hard to use my adaptive devices more to make things easier and help make not only my job, but my life less fatiguing. One thing I am trying to do is use VoiceOver when using my iPhone to limit the amount of small print I am visually reading. As with learning anything new, it is often slower and less efficient at first, but once you learn, it will hopefully speed things up and make it better. This is really important for me as an occupational therapist to remember because I am often teaching students to use assistive technology and I need to remind them that until they learn it and after practice it will get better.
I am always on the search for new, better, and more efficient low vision aids. As a OT who travels to many different schools, I can’t carry a lot of things with me so I need to fine one or two things that do it all and do it efficiently. Some days I feel like I have yet to find this.
If anyone has any suggestions on tools, apps, strategies, or different ways of doing things, I would love to hear them. Please share!