Many conventional classroom instructional strategies present challenges to students with visual impairments. Although these students may easily hear lectures and discussions, it can be difficult for them to access class syllabi, textbooks, overhead projector transparencies, PowerPoint presentations, the chalkboard, maps, videos, written exams, demonstrations, library materials, and films. A large part of traditional learning is visual; fortunately, many students with visual disabilities have developed strategies to compensate.
Visual impairments vary considerably. For example, some students have no vision; others are able to see large fonts; others can see print if magnified; and still others have tunnel vision with no peripheral vision or the reverse. Furthermore, some students with visual impairments use Braille, and some have little or no knowledge of Braille. They use a variety of accommodations, equipment, and compensatory strategies based upon their widely varying needs. Many make use of adaptive technology, especially text to speech conversion using a scanner and voice production software. Textbooks are often converted and put on disks for later use. Others use taped textbooks or equipment to enlarge print (closed circuit television [CCTV]) or actual enlargements.
- Preferential Seating: Students with visual impairments may need preferential seating since they depend upon listening. Since they may want the same anonymity as other students, it is important that you avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to others in the class.
- Exam Accommodations: Exam accommodations-which may include adaptive technology, a reader/scribe, extra time, a computer, closed circuit TV (CCTV), braille, enlargements, tapes, and/or image enhanced materials-may be needed. The student will arrange test dates/times with Disability Resources, Education, & Access Management. You may be asked to assist us in making the exam accessible.
- Arranging for Accommodations: A meeting with the student is essential to facilitate the arrangements of accommodations and auxiliary aids which may include, in addition to exam accommodations, access to class notes and/or the taping of lectures, print material in an alternative format, a script with verbal descriptions of videos or slides, charts, and graphs, or other such visual depictions converted to tactile representations.
- Orientation to Classroom: You may also ask the student if he/she would like an orientation to the physical layout of the room, identifying the locations of steps, furniture, lecture position, low-hanging objects, or any other obstacles.
- Use of Language: Although it is unnecessary to rewrite the entire course, you can help a visually impaired student by avoiding phrases such as "Look at this" and "Examine that," while pointing to an overhead projection. Use descriptive language. Describe aloud what is written on an overhead, chalkboard, or displayed on a television screen.
- Lab Assistance: These students may need an assistant or lab partner in lab classes. Help the student find an assistant. If the course depends on independent work in the lab, notify Disability Resources, Education, and Access Management to coordinate the use of adaptive technology in the lab or to secure a live reader/scribe during labs.
- Print Material in Alternative Format: Have copies of the syllabus and reading assignments ready three to five weeks prior to the beginning of classes. Students with visual impairments will likely need all print material in alternative format which means that they need print material converted to audio tapes, scanned onto disks, brailled, enlarged or image enhanced. Conversion of materials takes time. It is important that they have access to class materials at the same time as others in your class. Coordinate the creation of alternative formats with Disability Resources, Education, and Access Management.
- Guide Dogs: Keep in mind that guide dogs are working animals. Unless the guide dog is acting in a disruptive manner, it must be allowed in all classes. Do not feed or pet a guide dog. Since they are working, they should not be distracted.