Visual impairment is a generic term which covers a range of difficulties with vision and includes the following categories: blind, legally blind, partially sighted, and low vision. Some students have partial vision and may rely on residual vision with the use of adaptive equipment. Functional ability varies, depending on the length of time one has been blind, on training, personal experience and personality. The student is the best authority on functional ability.
Most students with visual impairment require specialized equipment and adapted learning resources. Although Braille is associated with blindness, only a small number of visually impaired persons are proficient in using it (2 to 3% in North America). The majority, especially those who become blind later in life, use other adaptive technologies such as taped books, personal readers, and/or computers which convert print into speech. The majority of visually impaired persons will use typing or word-processing for written communication. Instructors are asked to permit these devices in the classroom, provided they are not disruptive.
Guiding a blind person
- Ask if the visually impaired student would like assistance, then offer your arm.
- Ensure that when giving directions you are clear and accurate. Use north, south, east, west as well as left and right. Do not point and gesture.
- Guide a blind student by slowing down when approaching steps or obstacles, and mention why you are stopping. Let the student know if stairs are ascending or descending, and try to put the person’s free hand on the railing.
- When approaching a door, mention if it is opens in or out.
Guide dogs are trained to lead a visually impaired person through daily activities. In the classroom setting, a highly trained guide dog will usually lie quietly at its owner’s feet. Guide dogs are not pets and should not be disturbed by staff or students when they are wearing their “working harness”.
Suggested instructional strategies and accommodations
- Provide a list of assigned texts and reading list as far in advance of the course as possible. Students must make arrangements to have books taped or Brailled early, as this process may take up to several months.
- Restrict your movement away from a tape recorder and repeat any student comments and/or questions to ensure they are recorded.
- Read aloud any written material being presented to the class, including materials on the blackboard or flip chart.
- Let the student know when you are leaving a room.
- Try to verbalize briefly other visually presented material, such as slides or overheads or provide these well in advance to the student via Accessibility Services for scanning into another format.
- Use good contrast in printed materials for persons who are partially sighted. Yellow chalk on a green board has been found to provide maximum visibility.
- Create a noise-free environment as unnecessary sounds can be distracting. For example, turn off the overhead projector when it is not in use.
- Consider the student’s need for preferential seating and encourage them to sit at the front of the class to be able to hear as well as possible.
- If possible, make the material available for a private viewing.
- Encourage the student to orient him/herself in the classroom and any laboratories prior to the start of classes.
- Talk and act naturally. The use of words such as “see” and “look” are quite appropriate.
- Answer the person’s questions verbally. A nod or gesture will not be seen.
- Speak to the blind person directly, not through a third person.
- Address the person using his or her name.
- Speak at a normal volume unless the person also has hearing loss.