Visual Impairment and Blindness

The American Medical Association defines legal blindness as visual acuity not exceeding 20/200 in the better eye with correction, or a limit in the field of vision that is less than a 20 degree angle (tunnel vision).  Visual disabilities vary widely.  Some students may use a guide dog, others a white cane, while others may not require any mobility assistance. 

It is important to adapt visual aids accompanying lecture materials for students that are blind or partially sighted.  The deletion of visual aids is not necessary, but precise and full descriptions must be given for the visual materials presented. 

The faculty and staff member should be precise and deliberate in his/her use of descriptive terms.  To provide copies of the overhead materials presented in class for the reader of the student with a visual impairment would provide additional support.  Many visually impaired students employ readers to assist them with their course work.  These readers can also be available to read tests, quizzes and exams.

Listed here are some of the suggested guidelines to observe when working with students that are blind or have a visual impairment.  Not all students will need each of these adjustments.

  • Provide reading lists or syllabi in advance to permit time for making arrangements for an alternative format.
  • Textbooks ordered in the preferred medium of the student.
  • Provide large print copies of classroom materials by enlarging them.  Copies of overhead materials should also be distributed to the visually impaired in the preferred format.
  • Seating in the front of the class without glare from windows.
  • Repeat what is written on the chalkboard and spell new or unfamiliar words aloud.
  • Alternative examinations (oral, large print, Braille or taped).
  • Extension of time for examinations.
  • Allow lecture/class time to be taped.  Incorporate records and tapes into your teaching techniques as much as possible.
  • Be flexible with assignment deadlines.
  • Allow note taking devices such as a pocket Braille computer.
  • Make sure there are not obstacles in the room blocking a pathway and posing unnecessary danger.
  • Do not rearrange classroom furniture without informing the visually impaired.
  • Do not leave doors ajar – keep them fully open or closed.
  • When equipment is to be used, explain the equipment and procedures verbally.
  • Some visually impaired students use leader dogs.  There is no need for you to be concerned about classroom disruption caused by the dog.  They are highly trained and well disciplined.  The leader dog will sit beside or under the desk used by the student.  It is important to remember that these dogs are not pets.  You should not call out for the dog or pet it while it is harnessed and responsible for guiding its owner.
  • Clear black print on white, pale blue or pale yellow paper.