Vision impairments can result from a variety of causes, including congenital conditions, injury, eye disease, and brain trauma, or as the result of other conditions such as diabetes and multiple sclerosis. Few Ball State students are totally blind, but the adaptations and accommodations needed by blind people can be applied to all students with vision impairments. Most visually impaired students use a combination of accommodations for class participation and learning needs, including books on tape, e-text, or voice synthesizing computers, optical scanners, readers, and Braille.
Visually Impaired Students
Most students with visual impairments use a combination of techniques for dealing with visual materials, including readers, tape-recorded books and lectures and, sometimes, Braille materials. Students may use raised-line drawings of diagrams, charts, illustrations, relief maps, and three-dimensional models. Technology has made available other aids for blind people, including talking calculators, computers with speech output, as well as Braille printers and computers.
Not all totally blind students can or wish to read Braille. Even students who have good Braille skills are usually confronted with a shortage of materials produced in Braille. Most visually impaired college students use accessible audio or e-books. Some visually impaired students take their own notes in class using a Perkins Brailler or a computer or they get copies of notes from classmates via email after class. Either way, the process of reading and studying requires more time for a blind student than for a sighted student.
When a visually impaired student is present in the classroom, it is helpful for the faculty member to verbalize as much as possible and to provide tactile experiences when possible. Describing written elements aloud in class will benefit all auditory learners, not just students with disabilities. Sitting in the front of the room, having large print on the chalkboard, or using enlarged print on an overhead projector may assist visually impaired students. Overheads can also be reproduced on copy machines. However, the capacity to read printed materials depends greatly on such conditions as the degree of contrast, brightness, and color. It is preferable that the student and faculty member discuss what methods, techniques, or devices may be used to maximum advantage.
Some blind students use guide dogs that are specifically trained and usually well disciplined. Most of the time the guide dog will lie quietly under or beside the table or desk. The greatest disruption a faculty member might expect may be an occasional yawn, stretch, or low moan at the sound of a siren. As tempting as it might be to pet a guide dog, it is important to remember that the dog is responsible for guiding its owner and should not be distracted from the duty while in harness (and therefore working).
Test accommodations are another concern for visually impaired students. Such adaptations may include a large print test, use of closed circuit magnifiers (available in RB 168 or the Learning Center), a reader, a scribe, or a word processor. Many visually impaired students cannot see well enough to use a computerized answer sheet and will need to write answers on a separate sheet for someone else to record on the answer sheet. Partially sighted students will usually need extra time on their test, especially if they are reading the test themselves. The Disability Services office and the Learning Center can help faculty members plan appropriate instructional test accommodations.
Suggested Classroom Accommodations
- Discuss necessary classroom accommodations and testing adaptations early in the semester (within the first couple of class days). The student should present you with a letter of accommodation from DS.
- The student should be familiar with other ways to make print accessible, such as scanning the book and listening to it on a computer.
- Be open to students' taping your lectures; agreement forms are available from the Disability Services office.
- Provide appropriate written and verbal descriptions to accompany any visual aids, diagrams, films, or videos that you might use in class.
- Try to speak directly to the class, remembering that turning your head away can muffle sound; body language and gestures cannot be seen.
- Appropriate seating is important for a visually impaired student; since the student cannot see visual cues, he or she needs to be seated in a position to receive verbal cues.
- Guide dogs are trained and well behaved. You do not need to worry that they will disturb your class.
Tips for Positive Communication
- Include our disability statement in the course syllabus and repeat it during the first class meeting.
- Introduce yourself and anyone else who might be present when speaking to a student with vision impairment.
- Use a normal voice level when speaking; remember a student with a vision impairment has sight problems, not a hearing loss.
- Speak directly to the student with the vision impairment and address him or her by name.
- Do not hesitate to use such words as look or see; students with vision impairments use these terms also.
- When walking with a student with a vision impairment, allow him or her to take your arm just above the elbow. Walk in a natural manner and pace.
- A guide dog is trained as a working animal and should not be petted or spoken to without the permission of the handler. A general rule of thumb is that the dog is working while in harness.
- When offering a seat to a student with a vision impairment, place the student's hand on the back or arm of the seat. This gives the student a frame of reference to seat himself or herself.
- Do not hesitate to ask a student what accommodations, if any, are required in the classroom. The student is the "expert" about his or her particular needs.