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Accessibility Resource Center

Blind/Visual Impairments

Approximately 500,000 Americans have vision impairments to the extent that they are considered "legally blind."

There are three degrees of vision loss:

  1. Legal blindness is the visual acuity of 20/200. A person who is legally blind can see at 20 feet what the average-sighted person can see at 200.
  2. Low vision is limited or diminished vision that cannot be corrected with standard lenses.
  3. Partial sight occurs when the field of vision is impaired because of an illness, degenerative syndrome, or trauma.

Only two percent of people with vision impairments are totally blind; most people who are blind have some amount of usable vision.

Common accommodations for students with vision impairments include alternative print formats, magnification devices, bright incandescent lighting, raised lettering, tactile cues, adaptive computer equipment, readers for exams, print scanners, early syllabus, priority registration, recorded lectures, and lab or library assistants.

Some Considerations

  • Some students with vision loss use canes or guide dogs for mobility purposes; however, many navigate without them.
  • Students with vision impairments appreciate being asked if help is needed before it is given. Ask a student if they would like some help and then wait for a response before acting.
  • When talking with or greeting a student with vision impairment, speak in a normal voice; most people with vision impairments are not deaf. Speak to the student, not through a third party or companion, and use the student's name when directing conversations to them. When entering a room, identify yourself to the student.
  • When giving directions, say "left" or "right," "step up" or "step down." Convert directions to the student's perspective.
  • When guiding a student (into a room for example), offer your arm and let them take it rather than pulling the person's sleeve.
  • If a student has a harnessed guide dog, it is working and should not be petted or spoken to by others.

Instructional Strategies

The following strategies are suggested to enhance the accessibility of course instruction, materials, and activities. They are general strategies designed to support individualized reasonable accommodations.

  • Include a disability access statement on the syllabus, inviting students with disabilities to request accommodations.
  • Have copies of the syllabus and reading assignments ready three to five weeks prior to the beginning of classes, so that these documents can be converted to an alternate format, which may include Braille transcription.
  • Provide materials in alternate formats to students with vision impairments at the same time materials are given to the rest of the class. The student must advise as to the format: large print, Braille, electronic, or raised line drawings. Feel free to contact Accessibility Resource Center (ARC) for advice and assistance with this process.
  • When using an overhead projector with transparencies, use a larger font size (at least 18 point). Provide additional time for students with visual impairments to copy the material on the transparencies or provide them with printed copies.
  • Repeat aloud what is written on the board and in handouts or presented on overheads.
  • Pace the presentation of material; if referring to a textbook or handout, allow time for students to find the information.
  • Allow students to audio record lectures.
  • When lecturing, avoid making statements that cannot be understood by people with visual impairments (e.g., "This diagram sums up what I am saying about statistics."). Instead, try to describe the images or charts you are referring to.
  • Make instructional materials from the internet available in text. For material that is graphical in nature, create text-based descriptions of the material.
  • Keep a front row seat open for a student with vision impairment. A corner seat is especially convenient for a student with a guide dog.
  • Assist the student with finding an effective note taker or lab assistant if the student is eligible for these services.
  • Plan early for field trips and ensure that accommodations will be in place on the given day (e.g., transportation, site accessibility).
  • Be flexible with deadlines if assignments are held up by the alternate media process.
  • When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask them.
  • Allow the student the same anonymity as other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).