Students with visual disabilities are at a great disadvantage academically. Though they can hear lectures and discussions, students with visual disabilities are often frustrated by class syllabi, textbooks, chalkboard diagrams, overhead projections, films, maps, videos, printed exams, Scantron answer sheets, laboratory demonstrations, and Internet websites designed to be navigated by clicking on images.
Students with visual disabilities vary considerably. Some have no vision, others are able to see large shapes, and still others can read standard print if magnified. Visual disabilities are so varied that it is often difficult to detect such a student in the classroom or on the campus. The student may appear to get around without assistance, read texts, and/or even take notes from the chalkboard. However, in most cases some form of assistance is needed.
Depending on their disabilities, they use a variety of accommodations, equipment, and compensatory strategies. Most students with visual disabilities take advantage of assistive technology. Computers can enlarge print; convert printed material to Braille; read the text on a computer screen aloud; or scan books, articles, and other printed materials and then read their text. Some students also use audiotape recorders, portable note-taking devices, or talking calculators.
It takes a considerable amount of time to produce textbooks in an alternate format. Therefore, it is vitally important that instructors select their textbooks and make this information known well before the start of a class.
Some students use aids such as guide dogs. These dogs are trained to move at the direction of their masters and are well-disciplined to function in group settings. It is important to note that guide dogs are not to be petted or distracted in any way while they are on duty. Guide dogs are allowed by law in all college buildings, including laboratories, food services areas, classrooms and administrative offices.
Other students may use white canes, and a few use special electronic sensing devices to enhance mobility. Special considerations may be needed for the student who is visually impaired when a class is moved to a new location, when a group goes on a field trip, or when the furnishings in a room are moved for a special program.
Working with Students with Visual Impairments
- Provide reading lists or syllabi in advance to allow time for arrangements to be made, such as the taping or Brailing of texts.
- Allow the student to use note-taking devices such as Braille-writers and note-taking services provided by CSD.
- Allow tape recording of lectures and class discussions.
- Team the student with a sighted classmate or lab partner.
- Reserve front seats for low-vision students. Make sure seats are not near or facing windows.
- Glare from the light can make it hard for a student to see the instructor or the board.
- Verbalize the content printed on transparencies, on the chalkboard, or when using computer projections such as PowerPoint.
- Face the class when speaking.
- Provide large print copies of classroom materials by enlarging them on a photo copier.
- Be flexible with assignment deadlines, especially if library research is requested.
- If a specific task is impossible for a student to carry out, consider an alternative assignment.
- Arrange with High Tech Center to provide alternative testing formats (e.g. oral, large print, bold print, Braille or taped).
- Allow extended time for tests when recommended by the CSD.
- Other adaptations suited to specific situations (such as tactile materials in presenting graphs or illustrations, or "real-time" interpretation of video or stage presentations) may be helpful.