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How to Teach: Blind or Low Vision

Students with visual differences vary in sight ability. Some have no vision, others can see large shapes, and still others can read standard print if magnified. Depending on their differences, they use a variety of accommodations, equipment, and compensatory strategies. 

Most students with visual disabilities take advantage of assistive technology. Computers can enlarge print; 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 audio recorders (Smartphone App), portable note-taking devices, or talking calculators.

Please note: Not all students that are blind choose to register with Office of Student Accessibility Services (OSAS).

Tips for professors

  • Identify yourself - Do not assume the student that is blind will recognize you by your voice.
  • Speak naturally and clearly. Loss of eyesight does not mean loss of hearing.
  • Use everyday language. Don't avoid words like "see" or "look" or talking about everyday activities such as watching TV or videos.
  • Name the person when introducing yourself or when directing conversation to them in a group situation.
  • Never leave a conversation with a student without saying so.
  • Use accurate and specific language when giving directions. For example, "the door is on your left", rather than "the door is over there".
  • Address people who are blind or have low vision by their names so they know you are speaking to them.
  • Well before the beginning of your class, have a list of required and recommended texts.  It may take time to get the material in an accessible format.
  • Whenever possible, modify the presentation of material to make it accessible. In order to create universally accessible courses, postsecondary institutions must take the following steps to ensure their classes and campuses are completely inclusive:
  • Materials need to be available at the same time as the other classmates. If materials need modification into alternative formats, those materials are required digitally, at least 1 week ahead of the class, and preferably further ahead. This is especially essential for classroom materials (PowerPoints, Handouts) and tests.
  • Modify course instruction to meet the needs of every individual learner. For blind and visually impaired students, this means the availability of using technology in the classroom, auditory software, large-font presentations and/or possibly Braille materials.
  • If some course material can not be made accessible for a blind/visually impaired student be prepared to offer a work around assignment that will meet your learning objective.
  • Allow students who are visually impaired to recorded lectures: Students may benefit from audio lectures and/or recordings made during class. Students can replay the audio as needed to review course material in their own time after class. Common recording tools include handheld digital voice recorders and digital note-taking devices.
  • Students with visual impairments may need additional time for assignments as accessible material may need to be reformatted by the student’s special technology they use. Reformatted material takes extra time.
  • 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.
  • A larger table and chair may be needed to allow students with visual impairment/blind the space needed to have their technology, etc. Make arrangements for additional accessible tables and chairs through OSAS. Make sure that the table and chair remains in the same space, at the front of the class. If needed guide the student to their chair.
  • Be prepared as blind/visually impaired students may use a service animal (guide dog) which attends class with the student. If you have questions about a service animal contact OSAS for classroom situations.
  • Students that are blind or severely visually impaired may participate in mobility training done by the commission for the blind. If you see a blind student struggling with navigation on campus refer them to OSAS so we can coordinate additional mobility training with the Commission for the Blind.
  • 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 board or on your PowerPoint slides. Verbally describe objects and processes whenever possible.

Assistive technology

Not all students who are visually impaired use the same technology and not all who are blind are Braille readers. Some of the most common forms of adaptive technology for students who are blind or visually impaired include the following:

  • Screen reader These devices enable blind or visually impaired students to read onscreen text using a speech synthesizer.
  • Braille display Causes the speech synthesizer to read what is printed; the display will also ‘speak’ when changes occur on the screen. Other capabilities include a ‘find’ function, spell-check, and cell reading for spreadsheets.
  • Screen magnification This application automatically zooms in on text and graphics in order to assist students with low or limited vision. Users operate magnification using a mouse or keyboard commands. This system also presents written materials in a smooth, easy-to-read font.
  • Video Magnifier Also known as a closed-circuit television system (CCTV), this device projects magnified text and graphics on a screen using a mounted or handheld camera. Magnification and focus level is usually determined after the camera has been positioned at a reasonable distance for the user, but some video magnifiers are designed to automatically focus.
  • Adaptive Keyboard Most blind and visually impaired students are able to operate standard keyboards. For those who are not, specialized keyboards come with locator dots on important keys. Embossed, removable Braille overlays for keyboards are also available.
  • Portable Note-Taker These pocket-sized devices are designed to assist blind and visually impaired students with Braille-friendly buttons and/or a standard QWERTY keyboard. In addition to recording lectures, a note-taker may also be used to read books, compose assignments and find directions.
  • Braille Embosser Braille embossers are printers used in order to print documents in Braille. Generally, these embossers require thick paper and will only print on one side.
  • Braille Display Refreshable Braille displays use pins to transcribe on-screen text into tactile Braille the user can feel with their fingertips. These devices are usually attached to the keyboard and/or connected to the PC with a cable. Most translate Braille into one line of printed text at a time, but faster versions are available for advanced readers.
  • Braille Translation Software There are numerous options for software that converts written text into tactile Braille.

Sourced from MVCC, NYS 2024

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