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How to Teach and Accommodate Students Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

Source: UC Berkeley DSP

Like students who are deaf or hard of hearing, 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. Depending on their disabilities, they use a variety of accommodations, equipment, and compensatory strategies. For example, many students with visual disabilities need extra time for exams and projects, and many use readers or amanuenses for exams.

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.

Following are some suggestions on instructing students with visual disabilities.

    • Students with visual disabilities may need preferential seating. Your student should be seated near the front of the class to hear clearly what is being presented and to see as much as possible.
    • Well before the beginning of your class, leave a list of required and recommended texts at your department office, and tell the office staff that students with disabilities should be permitted to make copies of the list. (Or put the book-list on your course website.) Some students with visual disabilities will need to order their textbooks from Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and receiving taped books takes time.
    • When using an overhead projector with transparencies, use a large print-size: at least 18 points. Provide additional time for students with visual disabilities to copy the material on the transparencies, or provide them with printed copies.
    • Whenever possible, modify the presentation of material to make it accessible.
    • Allow the student to audiotape lectures or use a notetaker.
    • Pace the presentation of material; if referring to a textbook or handout, allow time for students with visual disabilities to find the information.
    • When lecturing, avoid making statements that cannot be understood by people without sight: for example, "This diagram sums up what I am saying about statistics." (Don't worry about using words and phrases that refer to sight: for example, "See you later!" Such expressions are commonly used, and most people with visual disabilities don't find them offensive.)
    • Read aloud everything that you write on the chalkboard. Verbally describe objects and processes whenever possible.
    • In making comparisons and analogies, use familiar objects that don't depend on prior visual knowledge. Foods and objects found around the house are good choices. You might say, for example, that a particular dance movement requires a lot of weaving and turning, "like getting from one side of the living room to the other on moving day."