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Work Smart.

Anyone, visually impaired or not, will take time to learn the ropes of an online platform, the content they're working with, and communicate with support staff. People with visual limitations would just have to work smart to function efficiently.

"Nice forehead," my brother sarcastically remarked. "Might as well draw lips on it. The kids would love a talking forehead."

I asked my brother to Skype me to check how everything looked through my new HD webcam for my new online ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching job. Unfortunately, my forehead covered the camera. Dad and I arduously set up my work station. Still, the camera, a most essential equipment, was giving us trouble.

People advised, "Put the camera up at a slightly higher angle. You'll look more flattering that way."

So we put the webcam on top of a 25-inch monitor. Nobody said that this tip doesn't work for visually-impaired people who need to look closely at the screen. My students would either get a front-row seat to my fivehead pores with my faint Harry Potter-like scar at the center, or my restless left eye, all in HD. My dad is a miracle worker with logistics. But, after that Skype call with my brother, I wondered if even he could set the camera to show my face as I work. We put the webcam in various unimaginable angles, but Harry Potter (my scar) always took the spotlight. Luckily, as a last resort, my dad and I experimented with putting my webcam, mounted on a desk tripod, between my two monitors. Sighted individuals use dual monitors to increase efficiency in their workflow by using the screen real estate to get a good layout of what they're working on. This decreases the hassle of flipping through multiple tabs. But because I use a zooming application for the computer, I can't have this layout. Instead, I use my monitors like binoculars and direct the mouse to focus on my target. This gives me the ability to look at things from afar and have my face and upper body centered on the camera, with a flattering angle of course, and my backdrop would fill the rest of the view. We finally found a way to fix my biggest logistical issue through trial and error, and I began my online ESL job.

Once I started teaching online, there were still things I had to be mindful of. A sighted teacher has the advantage of having the full view of their student, the PowerPoint slides, the chatbox, virtual classroom controls, timer, and their teaching schedule, among other things. I, on the other hand, am only able to focus on one thing at a time. I needed a work-around to teach, monitor the students and the time, access the classroom controls and keep an eye on the chatbox if the students or IT people need to relay something via text. Fortunately, the company I work with provides the curriculum and PowerPoint slides. I take about 10 to 15 minutes looking through each lesson until I master it. This way, my eyes don't need to be glued to the slides so I can watch my student, and occasionally glance at the chatbox. Like how we use landmarks, I orient myself with each color, shape, and placement of the control icons in the classroom and make a mind map of their position. This way, I know which control to click without reading the label.

My phone and iPad play a large role in my teaching. Instead of looking at the timer on the screen, I have my phone timer set to the class time to keep track of my pacing. Parents usually don't have a problem with me looking at my phone because most of my reward systems are on my devices. I keep an album on both these devices for pictures I show students throughout the lessons. When my small whiteboards are full of notes, I use my iPad as a virtual whiteboard. I still use physical props, so I arrange them in the order of most frequently used; this way, I can quickly feel through and grab the one I need. I always keep this part of my office organized to prevent catching the wrong thing and wasting time.

I've chosen to teach students in the pre-intermediate to advanced levels because they're usually older, and teaching them requires less animated body movements and actions. But I would sometimes find little Einsteins or naughty kids march into my classroom. They need more body movement, quicker mouse clicks, and focused attention. I sometimes catch the little rascals looking away from their camera or notice lights shining on their faces change colors as they click on a different tab. But I can't see all the sneaky tricks with their nimble fingers. This is where my ears come in handy. I listen for the unnecessary mouse or keyboard clicking and screen tapping from somewhere that's not in the virtual classroom. I've learned to be sensitive to them to manage my classroom better.

I once had a nine-year-old, let's call him Jackie. He was a playful little whiz. Jackie's reading and grammar skills are above standard compared to his older peers. He was fully aware of this. He switched tabs every chance he could and scribbled all over the interactive slides until he was called out. Furthermore, Jackie stalled for time so that he wouldn't be asked to do much. The only way to keep his undivided attention was to give him a chance to show off his superstar reading and his past participle prowess or give him rewards.

Applying all of the things I learned from the platform, I strategized to keep Jackie's eyes on either me or the material. I turned the volume on my headphones up to hear any unnecessary clicks. During instruction, I made sure I controlled any interactive function from the students' side to keep him from scribbling obnoxiously on the slides. Jackie loves bright lights and popping colors, so I always used my iPad to explain things or do exercises with him. In fear of missing reward time, Jackie's eyes were fixed on the iPad. My mouse always underlined any mispronounced or unknown words for us to go over immediately after he finished a slide. Then, I quickly clicked the next button to make sure I didn't lose Jackie's attention. I had alarms set every five minutes on vibrate to keep track of pacing. Whew! Sounds stressful, right? Luckily, most students aren't like Jackie, but I'm ready for them, in case they come.

It sounds overwhelming, and it was at first, but now I've learned and adapted to my work environment. Anyone, visually impaired or not, will take time to learn the ropes of an online platform, the content they're working with, and communicate with support staff. People with visual limitations would just have to work smart to function efficiently.


It's hard to believe that in the age of technology, there are still some haters who don't consider jobs like online ESL as "real work experience." Work is work, and putting it online doesn't make it less legitimate. In fact, it can get intense. It takes discipline to make your online job successful. Millennials like myself prefer to work in their comfort place and have control over their schedule. This is the reason why more businesses are taking on online ventures.

As a fresh graduate, I decided to take on this online teaching because it helps build my teaching experience. A lover of other cultures, I get first-hand experience of what my Chinese students go through daily My adult students also give me insights into their culture, which I consider valuable for extending my worldview. Though I still have much to learn, I have improved my discipline and time management, things that the professional world values. In the future, I aim to have my own business, influence younger generations with my voice and my pen, and bring different cultures together through my work. This online teaching may not be my end goal, but it is a stepping stone for my future with lots of benefits. For the visually impaired interested in switching to online businesses or education, take the plunge! You will be surprised by how much you get enriched from your experience.


Adjusting to a new work setting will always be challenging. But an online environment, though it may seem daunting at first, is better than you might think. Here are some benefits to working online.

No More Transportation Hassle

What I hate most when going anywhere is that I always need someone to take me to my destination. Uber and Lyft put a dent in my budget. Public transport puts me at risk of being late for work or my appointment. And, let's face it, asking someone to take us places is not easy. Personally, I would bite the bullet and take an Uber rather than feel embarrassed for bothering someone for a ride. Now, with an online job, I don't have to deal with the stress of arranging a ride for work and back home. It saves me embarrassment, transportation costs, and gives me more time to get some well-deserved sleep or me-time.

A Flexible Schedule

This has to be my favorite part of working online. Your time is yours, and you set the schedule for when you work and how long you do, for as long as you are consistent with your plan. The company I am contracted with uses a booking system. I open my schedule when I want to work and block out times I need for myself and days I want to take off. My work day is from the wee hours until 9:00 AM, Saturdays through Wednesdays. The rest of the day is devoted to my personal projects, language learning, or working out. Evenings are for my family. Thursday and Friday are my more intense gym days and chill days. When I was prepping for the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT), I needed to study when I was mentally alert. So my schedule was all over the place, but I maintained a minimum number of work hours. I doubled my shift to save up more money for presents and shopping for the holidays at the end of the year. I also make sure that I keep my regular students booked to make sure I don't lose them.

When I took the CELTA (Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) course, my class hours were from nine in the morning to about five in the afternoon. It is a very intense program, so I barely had time to sleep because of all the homework and lesson planning. My sighted colleagues complained about the workload, but assignments and lesson planning take me longer to finish. Still, to keep my regulars and favorites, I sacrificed the little sleep time I could have had to teach my dear students. I felt like I was going to die. Still, I was happy I had the privilege of keeping my job and taking on the most accredited ESL certification program. Consistency is the key to keeping your clients, but your time is in your hands.

Professionalism with the Dress Code

The 80s had the "business in the front, party in the back" mullet, but 2020 takes it to a whole new level: Business at the top, chillin' at the bottom. Nothing beats a morning at work with my Pikachu plush socks, flip-flops, and my joggers. As a fashion artist, my sister-in-law always gives me the look of disgust whenever she sees my work get-up, calling it a fashion crisis. But my students and their parents won't notice because all they see is my professional-looking top half. My sister-in-law will just have to deal with it.


Checking students' work is easier for me with an online class than in a physical classroom. When I was a teaching intern in Japan, the teachers would always tell me to walk around the classroom to check on the students' progress while doing their exercises. This was difficult and frustrating because I needed to bring my face close to their work to check for errors. It was so awkward asking them if I could see their work, and I didn't want to break their concentration. To make it worse, I found some of their handwriting too small for me to read. On the other hand, during my teaching practice in CELTA, it's much easier for me to make corrections because I can see their work on the screen. No more awkward interactions and no more straining to read paper materials.

Jem Mabalot, born with aniridia and legally blind, is a fresh graduate of the College of Charleston with a B.A. in International Studies. Her passion is teaching the youth and learning languages such as Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. She loves exploring different cultures and wants to be a media influencer to inspire and lead the youth from different backgrounds and abilities to pursue their dream. Her calling is to establish a nonprofit organization for talent development and empowerment for children in Asia. Currently, she is teaching ESL online and working on her Certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (CELTA). She is planning to launch her YouTube channel soon.
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Article Details
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Author:Mabalot, Jem
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Oct 1, 2020

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