Success for Students with Impaired Vision

Students with blindness and visual impairments have sought and successfully completed post secondary education as opportunities in education and employment have become available in virtually every sector in society.

People can lose their vision at birth, through genetic causes, or through illness or injuries.

A student who is legally blind may still have a great deal of vision. Some students may be able to see large objects, for example, but have great difficulty seeing smaller things such as small print or a needle or pin. Others may have perfect 20/20 central vision, but have limited peripheral (side) vision, so they appear to be seeing things as if they were looking through a tube or straw.

Perfect vision is measured as 20/20. A person is considered visually impaired if his or her vision is no better than 20/70 with correction in his or her better eye. If a person's vision is no better than 20/200 in the best eye with correction, that person is considered legally blind. A person is also considered legally blind if his or her central vision is no larger than 12 degrees. If the person has 20/200 vision, it means that he or she can see at 20 feet what a person with normal vision sees as 200 feet.

The major challenge facing blind students in college is the mass of printed material they encounter--textbooks, class outlines, schedules, tests, films, videotapes, etc. By the time a blind student reaches college (unless loss of vision is recent), they have probably developed various methods for dealing with the volume of visual materials. It is helpful for the instructor and student to meet before the semester starts to review the student's methods and needs.

Tips for Students

Students are not required to inform the university about their disability during the application process. However, once they are admitted, it is their responsibility to notify the Office of Disability Services if support services are needed. Notification of at least 3 weeks prior to placement tests or the beginning of classes is recommended.

  • Provide the Office of Disability Services with documentation of your visual impairment.
  • Discuss your limitations and needs with your instructors before the semester begins.
  • Set realistic goals and priorities for course work.
  • Use a tape recorder and/or note taking assistance during lectures if necessary.
  • Listen to the tapes or review your notes as soon as possible after class.
  • Sit toward the front of the classroom to maximize verbal cues.
  • If you are having trouble, seek out campus help as soon as possible.

Consider these options:

  • Scanner with screen reader in open computer labs 
  • CCTV in the library
  • Computers in labs have Windows XP with Screen magnifiers 
  • Tape record lectures
  • Request JAWS for computer classes 
  • Request tutors in Wickes 117

A Few Facts

  • Approximately 100,000 people in the U.S. are totally blind.
  • Legally blind does not mean one has no useful vision. Useful vision varies greatly.
  • Persons who have literally no vision do not see black. It is believed that congenitally blind people, or those with no memory of visual images (called visual memory), see literally nothing at all.
  • The loss of a single sense does not make the remaining senses more acute.
  • Magnification does not help all types of visual impairments. Sometimes it is a hindrance.
  • Blindness is nothing more or less than what it is; the physical inability to see.

There is often apprehension about teaching or working with students with disabilities due to lack of experience. There are a number of stereotypes which exist about visually impaired students, many of which inhibit the learning process. Stereotyping and attitudinal barriers are very difficult problems the student has to experience each day. These problems may limit the student's potential. The faculty or staff member who teaches or works with these students must remember that they are students first, and disabled second.

Tips for Faculty

  • Request a volunteer note taker the first day of class if necessary. The Office of Disability Services provides special carbon less paper (NCR) that will make an immediate copy.
  • Provide copies of any overhead materials presented in class for the student to review with his/her reader or enlarger.
  • Spell out new or technical vocabulary.
  • When using the chalkboard, overhead projector or any other visual medium use precise and full descriptions of all materials presented.
  • Math can be difficult, but not impossible if the students get precise descriptions. As an example, contrast the two ways that quantity is presented:
      3 x 5 + (20 - 5)   =1
  • Poor description: "This times this, plus this quantity in parentheses, all over that, equals one."
  • Good description: "The numerator, 3 times 5, plus the quantity 20 - 5, divided by the denominator of 30 equals 1."
  • When possible, choose class textbooks early so they may be audio-recorded or brailled. Newer editions are rarely available on tape.
  • If classes involve field trips to off campus locations, discuss traveling needs with the student. In most instances all that will be required is for a member of the class to act as a sighted guide.
  • Be prepared to enlarge syllabus, tests, and all handouts. The student can let you know what size font they can read. Some students can only read on paper of a certain color or with certain contrasts.
  • Make sure you put no obstacles in the room such as equipment cords, carts, desks or chairs that have been moved.
  • Do not leave doors ajar--keep them fully open or closed.
  • Alternative assignments may need to be given for videos/films.

The ADA Advisory Council has requested all faculty include the following statement in their syllabi: "Students with disabilities that may restrict their full participation in course activities are encouraged to meet with the instructor or contact the SVSU Office of Disability Services, Curtiss 112, for assistance."

Tips for Positive Communications

  • Introduce yourself and anyone else who might be present when speaking to a person with a vision impairment.
  • Use a normal voice level when speaking; remember a vision-impaired person has sight problems, not a hearing loss.
  • Speak directly to the vision-impaired person and address him or her by name.
  • Do not hesitate to use such words as "see" and "look"; people with vision impairments use these terms also.
  • A guide dog is trained as a working animal and should not be petted or spoken to without permission of the handler. A general rule of thumb is that the dog is working while in harness.
  • Do not hesitate to ask a person what adaptations, if any, are required. The person is the "expert" about his or her particular needs.