It is highly recommend that visually-impaired students learn braille, as it simplifies reading and test-taking. However, the fact is that only about 10% of blind people actually read braille. I am in the 90% of those who do not. My test-taking followed this procedure: I would take my test in a separate room with a reader who would read the questions to me, and I would dictate my answer. Because of these added logistics, I would get double time to take the test.
I have heard stories of sight-impaired students being assigned test readers who did not speak English fluently. Specify to Disabilities Services that you need a reader who can pronounce everything accurately for the test to reflect your ability.
I recommend connecting with your professors as soon as possible. Once I registered for a class, I would ask to meet with the professor to make sure that they were willing to work with me and the disabilities office to make their class accessible. I would bring up the fact that I often need to record lectures, and ask if they were willing to give me their powerpoint slides in advance. Sometimes I would even contact them before I chose to take their class.
I have experienced the difference it makes when a professor is 100% on your side. My Organic Chemistry professor was so on point, he would send me all the lecture slides and presentation materials in advance so that I could go over them with a reader before class. This enabled me to mentally visualize the slides as he described them during lecture so that I could track with the material at the same speed as my peers.
Lectures and Presentations
To prepare for attending lectures and presentations, I went over the advance recordings I had made of class readings, slides, and other lecture materials. By doing this, I prepared myself to mentally visualize what was conveyed during the lecture and to be an active participant alongside my fellow students.
Note-taking by a reader during classes and presentations was also essential. I often had these notes typed-up in large font and recorded so that I could review them with or without a reader. As a graduate student and postdoc, I ask for powerpoints and other visuals in advance of group meetings, and have a reader accompany me to take notes.
PDF readers (software that converts text to audio) usually fail for advanced STEM materials because of the equation density in the texts, particularly in physical and quantum chemistry. If you are going to keep up with your classmates, you need to have all class materials recorded in advance and organized in such a way that you can easily access what you need.
When fellow students were given a topic or a reading assignment, having a “library” of recordings allowed me to commence studying immediately, regardless of whether a reader was available. Recorded materials were critical in allowing me to study the absence of readers, who generally are unavailable from 10pm to 7am.