Visual impairment refers to a range of disabilities from blindness to moderate impairment. Between 70 and 80 percent of all persons in the United States identified as "legally blind" actually have some measurable vision.
The major challenge facing students who are blind or visually impaired is the sheer mass of text-based material with which they are confronted: textbooks, outlines and schedules, newspapers, posters, tests, etc. The increasing use of video, PowerPoint, and K-State Online adds to the volume of visual material to which they must have access in some other way.
Accommodating Visual Impairment
By the time students with visual impairments reach college (unless newly impaired), they have developed various strategies for dealing with visual materials, such as computer screen reading software and screen magnifiers, Braille Books, raised line drawings, audio texts or large print books, a Closed Circuit TV Magnifier (CCTV), or other magnifying devices.
In the classroom, preferential seating may be advisable, either so the student can read course materials or to accommodate a service animal. The student may tape record lectures or take notes in large print, and may produce papers in large print.
Test-taking accommodations for students with visual impairments range from using the CCTV to enlarging the test to having a proctor read and scribe the test for a student. Others may use screen reading software and a word processor.
Common Concerns with Accommodations
Faculty generally want students to acquire textbooks early in the course; however, this requirement may be difficult to fulfill because acquiring audio books or electronic text can take quite a bit of time. Faculty can be very helpful by choosing class texts early.
Some students use service animals (typically dogs). Instructors need not worry that the animal will disturb the class because they are highly trained and disciplined. While in its harness the service animal is working, and should not be spoken to or petted without the express permission of the student.
Interacting with the Student
Classroom dynamics are set by the instructor, and how you treat the student with a disability in your class is, by and large, how the rest of the class will treat that student. The following guidelines are good practices for interaction with students with visual impairments.
Communicating with Students who are Visually Impaired
- Identify yourself when speaking to the student. Example: "Hello John, this is Professor Smith."
- Talk in a normal voice and tone. For some reason, when people are faced with persons who are blind or visually impaired, they tend to raise their voices. Try to remember to talk in a normal voice when addressing the student.
In the Classroom
- Do not worry about having to alter your personal teaching style to accommodate the student who is blind or visually impaired. Most instructors have become comfortable with a certain teaching style such as writing on the board, pacing the floor, using overhead projectors, etc. You need not change your style but it is important that you inform the student of your style.
- Make sure the student receives all class handouts. Don't assume he or she will not want them because they are printed. Many visually impaired students use magnifying equipment, personal readers, computer screen-readers or or large print copies. When giving class handouts to students who are blind or visually impaired, do not wave the paper in their face or snap your fingers. Simply address the student by name and tell him or her you have a handout, then wait until the student extends their hand. Students would also benefit from the electronic copy of any classroom materials.
- Make sure the student is sitting where he or she can hear clearly.
- When vital information is presented make sure the student is not left out. Verbally announce all assignments, changes in class time, exam dates, etc.
- Read out loud what you have written on the board during your class presentation. Rather than pointing and referring to "this" or "that," restate the information verbally.
- Make sure the student receives all class handouts. Don't assume the student will not want them because they are printed. Offer to provide enlarged copies of handouts to students who are visually impaired.
- Speak clearly -- this is the only channel of communication the student can rely upon.
- When overhead projectors or PowerPoint presentations are used, the student should be presented with a hard copy of the content.
- Students can be evaluated only over materials to which they have had access.
- Students who are blind or visually impaired may be unable to take their own notes. The student may request your assistance in arranging a volunteer notetaker for your class. Students may arrange to copy notes taken by the notetaker at the Disability Support Services office in Holton Hall.