High School Frequently Asked Questions
How can I connect with other blind teenagers my age?
It can sometimes seem like there are no other blind people your age. However, there are thousands both across the country and in your state, facing the same struggles. NABS is one way to get connected with other blind people your age, at the state and national levels. There are also many camps and programs over the summer that bring blind youth together. Another way is to join blind sports goalball, blind skiing, blind judo, and a variety of other accessible sports. The NFB's Sports and Recreation Division serves as a community based around sports, recreation, health, and wellness.
What should I know about laws concerning students with disabilities in secondary education?
Since disabilities of all kinds including physical, mental, and learning disabilities can act as a barrier for students to get a proper education, it is federal law for educational institutions to provide special accommodations to students with disabilities. Specifically, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 was among one of the first and most important acts of legislation which requires that those with disabilities are entitled to accommodations in schools and the workplace. Since then, other pieces of legislation have been passed to further create accessibility in more areas of life. Along with Section 504, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act our IDEA is another act that is known as the cornerstone for special education. IDEA calls for an Individualized Education Plan for students with disabilities who are eligible for services. The premise is to provide students additional resources to do well in school while being in the least restrictive environment as possible.
A reasonable accommodation is any adjustment to a system that will allow one to be able to perform the needed functions or to have the same learning experience as others without accommodations. These are intended to create a fair playing field for all students and must be reasonable in order to not give one an advantage.
There are many factors in determining eligibility for services, some of which may include the following: degree of accommodation needed, task for which service is needed, and financial need. If not initially granted a certain service, it is important to contact people who may be knowledgeable as a second opinion such as the president of your state affiliate of the NFB, a vocational rehabilitation counselor, or even an attorney. Many times, federal law calls for services that one may be denied due to lack of knowledge of the one granting the service.
How do I make sure I am accommodated for standardized tests, such as statewide exams, the SAT, ACT, and Advanced Placement tests?
The most efficient way of getting accommodations for standardized tests is to go through your school’s special education coordinator or guidance counselor. These individuals will likely have past experience in this process and can file for accommodations quite efficiently. You will need to fill out a parent consent form (if a minor) and provide documentation of your Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Plan. The College Board is the company that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement Tests and the ACT is administered through ACT. Inc. The process for filing for accommodations typically takes several weeks, so you will be the most successful if you refrain from procrastination.
Where can I find accessible test preparation materials for standardized testing?
Several test preparation resources can be found on the college board website, which offers both tools for AP exams, and SAT exams. Another useful resource consists of Khan Academy. Blind students should also ask their school to order them braille or large print SAT booklets, which contain a variety of practice tests.
What is an IEP meeting and who should be in attendance?
An IEP meeting is where the student, special education coordinator, and parent/ guardians meet in order to establish what services and accommodations are needed for that student and when these services are needed for the school year. This is then compiled into an Individualized Education Plan (IEP,) which is a legal document that acts as a basis for the student’s academic accommodations.
Is it important to learn and use Braille?
Most blind people who are successfully employed are braille readers. In a real sense, braille is how we as blind people can be literate. It can be one of the most efficient media that we can use to read, write, learn, and do work. You do not have to be totally blind to learn braille. Like with anything else, there is a learning curve, but once learned it can be more efficient than using large print or magnifiers. In the end, it is your choice to use the methods that best work for you, so it is important to become proficient enough with braille to fully understand how useful it can be. Every blind person has a right to learn braille, and it plays a critical role in our success.
How can I receive training to become a better traveler?
Cane travel instruction services can be included as part of your Individualized Education Plan (IEP,) to help you become a better traveler. The best service to do this is Structured Discovery Cane Travel, a patented service that can only be provided by a professional certified by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board . Such instruction can be provided both at your school and out in the community. You can also ask your school to fund your attendance at a summer program at one of the NBPCB-approved centers , which can also be documented in your IEP. Lastly, do not underestimate the power of connecting with capable blind role models in your local area and learning from them in more informal ways.
How can I work with a Teacher of Blind Students?
Teachers of blind students (TBS) exist not only to help accommodate students in necessary areas, but to also provide them the tools necessary to reach their goals. The teacher of blind students should be guided not by their own preferences of teaching, but instead by the student’s Individualized Education Plan, which must be agreed-upon by the student’s entire team. The teacher of the blind should make sure to maintain communication with the student, the student’s parents, and the student’s other teachers, so that they can acquire a well rounded perspective of what is needed. If the teacher of blind students is not accommodating, communicating, or taking the necessary steps and effectively teaching and making progress towards the student‘s IEP goals, The student/parent should call an IEP meeting, to discuss what can be done.
How can I most effectively advocate for myself to make sure I get all my materials on time and in an accessible format?
Do your best to keep in close contact with your teachers, including your teacher of blind students (TBS) in any communication so that everyone is on the same page. Consider emailing your teachers once per semester, introducing yourself and letting them know that any files containing scanned images of materials won’t work, that some PDF files are inaccessible, and that the Braille transcribers need extra time to make sure everything is accessible. Technically, it’s the TBS’s job to do this, but the more quickly you can learn self-advocacy and the more often you practice, the more prepared you’ll be for college.
Consider looking for as many books as possible on bookshare.org—as long as you’re in school, including college and grad school, you’re eligible for a free membership.
If you don’t receive some materials on-time, consider sending an email to your teacher and TBS, identifying what materials you’re missing and asking the teacher to understand that your assignment will be a little late. This will let the teacher know that they should be understanding, while nudging your TBS to check on the progress of your materials. Remember that though a lot of principles of accessibility are somewhat universal, there are some solutions that will be unique to you. Be open to finding those and sharing what works with both your TBS and your teachers.
How do I determine which accommodations I need, such as Braille or screen reading software?
Consider basing your present and future accommodations on what you currently have or would like to have. Ask other blind students, either in person or via online platforms, what they’ve found useful. If it sounds useful to you, request it from the Department of Rehab. Consider a laptop with JAWS and software that enlarges fonts (you never know if your vision will worsen or if nonvisual techniques can be more effective than visual ones), a Braille display, optical character recognition software both for your phone (KNFB Reader) and for your laptop. If you’re a STEM person, consider both the Orion TI84 Talking Scientific Calculator, and the LabQuest manufactured by Independent Science in Colorado. As for Braille, we highly recommend receiving braille instruction, even if you have usable vision, to add another tool to your toolbox that can both help you be more efficient and sometimes eliminate eye strain.
When you’re requesting accommodations from your school’s disabilities office, they should provide whatever you need. If you need Braille, ask for it. If you need accessible .pdf files, ask for those, too. The worst they can say is no, and in most cases, they shouldn’t. If they do try refusing you, talk to people in NABS and/or the NFB. We’ll always help you as much as we can.
What are my rights and responsibilities when advocating for my accommodations?
It is your right to be allowed to advocate for what you need without persuasion or manipulation from other involved parties. You may disclose as little or as much of your disabilities/needs as you wish. It is your responsibility to ensure that all academic personnel involved with accommodations are aware and advised on how and where to accommodate. It is your responsibility to advocate for yourself when needed in a classroom or professional setting.
What are the rights and responsibilities of my teachers, rehab counselors, and school administrators?
It is the right of teachers, counselors, and administrators to have proper documentation such as that of an IEP to assist with and to validate accommodations needed for the student. It is their responsibility to provide the needed accommodations and at correct times. It is the responsibility of administrators and rehab counselors to be able to make changes to accommodations as needed by the student.
What action can I take if I am not being accommodated in my classes?
The most immediate approach would be to speak to your teacher and see if they are willing to and can accommodate your needs. If under special education services such as an IEP, the next step would be to speak to your special education coordinator. The special education coordinator can be the bridge of communication to help you self-advocate to your teachers while also informing teachers how to accommodate you. It is important that you maintain a good line of communication with your teachers in order for them to clearly understand what you need and when you need it. You are your best advocate because no one will ever know what you need better than you!
Can I be prevented from taking honors or advanced coursework?
Although many might have doubts surrounding a blind student’s capabilities of succeeding in advanced courses, blind students are quite capable of taking, and succeeding, in such classes. They cannot be prevented from taking these courses on the premise of blindness alone. Although there are outside criteria that the blind student, like any other student, must meet, for example, having taken prerequisites, having obtained certain scores, or having earned certain grades, if the blind student has proved that they are academically qualified, in the same manner as their peers have, they cannot be denied access to courses based solely on their blindness. A teacher cannot Refuse to teach a blind student because either they do not know how to accommodate, or do not want to accommodate. If a blind student is qualified, and desirous of taking a course, The student, teacher, and teacher of the blind should work together to effectively accommodate for the student’s success in the course.
Where can I find premade tactile diagrams and models to aid in STEM classes?
Try talking to your teacher of blind students about this. There are ever-evolving resources, and the TBS should stay abreast of them. This can be useful for both required materials and additional enrichment.
Can I participate in all forms of extracurricular activities, including sports?
Yes. A blind person has participated in almost every activity you can imagine. If it is something you want to do, join it. Many things can be adapted. You can always reach out to NABS and the NFB for help and support. There are many sports for the blind that are contested in Paralympics: goalball, blind skiing, swimming, judo, etc. You can also participate just as well in sports with other sighted players. Any sport you want to do can be adapted.
What do I do if I am told I can’t join a team, club, or other school organization?
As a blind person, you can do anything you set your mind to, and you cannot be denied membership to a team because of your blindness. Try to convince whoever is in charge that you are capable; you may begin by finding instances in which other blind people have done the same. Reach out to NABS and/or unaffiliated fellow blind students for help advocating. If all else fails and you think it is important to keep trying, you can appeal to higher authorities like the principle or school officials.
What can I do to get involved with community service?
There are many different ways to find out about community service opportunities. Your friends at school, teachers, and guidance counselors as well as family or community leaders may know of available places. Many places will advertise opportunities online, so do some internet research too. Additionally, most clubs, teams, and other extracurricular organizations often have opportunities as well. Venture out into your communities, your church, girl or boy scout troop, or even other schools in your area to see what you can find. An easy way to get community service hours and experience is through participating in varies walks for many different causes. Don’t hesitate to put yourself out there, and let people know that you can help just as much as anyone else, and don’t forget about your local NFB chapter and student division, there are many opportunities through the NFB as well.
What can I do to educate my family about blindness?
One of the best ways that you can have your family understand your blindness is to show them how you do things. Demonstrate the skills you have, in order to help them understand your capabilities. Additionally, give them NFB materials to read and have your parents get involved with parent efforts in the organization.
How do I prepare to be independent in college?
This is a broad question with a broad answer. If there are any areas where you are struggling, those will be amplified in college, so be proactive in addressing any weaknesses that you may have. If you invest in yourself by improving your independence before you begin college, it will pay major dividends. Every blind student should consider attending a comprehensive, residential adjustment to blindness training program accredited by the National Blindness Professional Certification Board prior to attending college. You can also set IEP goals in high school that will intentionally work toward this transition.
What type of things is it important to consider, as a blind person, when choosing a college?
Colleges and universities have varying resources to support students with disabilities. You may check out the school website, call the disability office, and try to ask anyone who may have gone to that school. Greater accessibility is certainly better, but do not let that steer you away from your dream school. Sometimes, we are encouraged to attend universities with small and compact campuses because they will be easier to navigate, but a good traveler can navigate any college campus. All freshmen—blind or sighted—get lost at the beginning, and they problem-solve their way out of it. For the most part, many of the factors you consider would be the same as those of your sighted peers.