Coffee with Kalari: How I got through e-learning as a Visually Impaired Parent!

This article is part of a weekly series written by Kalari, a writer, athlete, mother and employee of The Chicago Lighthouse who is visually impaired. She shares her perspective on a variety of topics in order to build community.

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Well it has just been announced that all Chicago Public Schools (CPS) will begin with remote learning to kick-off the year. The first time I had to deal with e-learning started in March. When the original shelter-in-place order started, CPS was in the middle of the school year. Parents were thrown into the teaching role.

Image of Kalari sitting and smiling with her three children
Kalari is the proud mother of three children: two middle schoolers and one soon-to-be preschooler. 

Having two seventh-graders at the time, starting e-learning was extremely challenging for my husband and I, as my husband is also blind. We had to utilize all of our adaptive technology to make sure our children’s work was being completed. It was challenging because at first our children had tablets which sometimes can be a little difficult to use with the screen readers. I found myself downloading two separate screen reading programs to make sure I was covering both my kids’ lessons.  It is very inconvenient to have to switch between screen readers. With that being said, I found it easier to assist my children on general laptops as opposed to their tablets. My husband and I saw this need in March so we bought laptops for each child that are accessible to us.

In addition to the new laptops, I also have been utilizing assistive technology devices to help our children with their school work. I recently got an OrCam, which is a device that can be used to read text, identify products, and recognize products, colors, and faces. The device can be attached to any pair of glasses and I use it to read text on my children’s computer screen. When I am not using my OrCam, I use other apps on my phone that can read and identify objects. It is always good to have options and it is good to be familiar with multiple avenues of technology.

One app that has been a lifesaver for navigating e-learning is the Google Classroom app. On this app, I am able to check my children’s work and make sure it is submitted. I love that I can go over what my children submitted, and if I see mistakes they have the option to redo their work and correct the mistakes before it is graded.  Also, through this app, I can easily communicate with their teachers and sit-in on their virtual classes and observe both the teachers and my children.

Another key factor that was very important for is communication with the teachers. We made it our priority to get all contact numbers and email addresses for their teachers, and I made sure to attend any office hours that the teachers were hosting.  I even reached out to some of my children’s teachers through social media!  I wanted to make sure that I could reach the teachers and they also could reach me. I have found that the more communication I have with the teachers, the more successful my children will be.  I have spent countless hours on the phone, sent several emails and attended office hours all in order to make sure my children were completing assignments and staying on track with their work.

With me working remotely and my husband having a flexible work schedule, we were able to successfully manage e-learning this Spring. Starting this Fall however, we will be doing e-learning for a longer amount of time. We have made some adjustments to our schedules and with the experience we have gained, I’m confident we will conquer this battle!

How are you planning to tackle e-learning this school year? How did you handle e-learning in the past?  I would love to hear your stories!


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