For Students > Support Programs > Disability Resource Center > For Faculty > Pedagogical > Teaching Blind or Partially Sighted Students

Teaching Blind or Partially Sighted Students

  A major challenge facing blind students is the overwhelming mass of printed material with which they are confronted--syllabi, coursepacks, books, time schedules, bibliographies, campus newspapers, posters, tests, etc. The increasing use of films, videotapes, overhead projectors, and closed-circuit television adds to the volume of visual material to which they must have access in some other way.

 Reading Methods
By the time students who are blind reach college (unless newly blinded) they have probably developed various methods of managing the volume of visual materials. Most blind students use a combination of methods including readers, tape recorded books, Braille books, electronic text (e-text) and taped lectures. 

Textbooks and Coursepacks
Choose books and coursepacks early, and make this information readily available to campus bookstores and copy centers so that the student who is blind has time to make the necessary arrangements through the Office of Accessibility. To have a text converted to alternative format such as e-text, can take one to fifteen days depending on the technical difficulties of the book. Converting a printed book to Braille can take two to four months.  

Syllabi and Handouts
It is essential to provide these so that they can be made readable for the student who is blind by the time the rest of the class receives them. In many cases this entails providing the syllabus and handouts to the student in advance, either in print or on computer disk, or providing these materials in advance to the Office of Accessibility so that the office can convert the information into Braille or e-text.

Describing Visual Cues in the Classroom
When there is a blind student in the classroom, the professor should remember that "this and that" phrases are basically meaningless to the student: for example, "the sum of this plus that equals this" or "the lungs are located here and the diaphragm here." In the first example, the instructor may be writing on the chalkboard and can just as easily say. "The sum of 4 plus 7 equals 11 ." The student who is blind in this case is getting the same information as the sighted student. In the second example, the instructor can "personalize" the locations of the lungs and diaphragm by asking class members to locate them by touch on their own bodies. Examples of this will not always be possible, however, if' the faculty member is aware not to use strictly visual examples, the student who is blind will benefit.

Class Notes
Many visually impaired students tape record lectures for review: however, listening to lectures over again takes valuable time. Other students may use laptop computer of Braille device to take their own notes during class. Many students prefer to obtain the help of the faculty member and/or the Office of Accessibility to recruit a volunteer note taker from the class. Volunteer note takers have been proven to be most efficient. Whatever method the student uses for notes, he/she is responsible for the material covered in class.  

Taping Lectures
Some faculty members are concerned about having their lectures tape-recorded-whether the student is blind or sighted. When an instructor is planning to publish his/her lectures, the fear may be that the tapes will somehow interfere with these plans. If this is the case, the faculty member may ask the students to sign an agreement not to release the recording or otherwise hinder the instructor's ability to obtain a copyright.

 Testing
A common area in which students who are blind need adaptation is testing. As a general rule it is much better to avoid giving the student "different" tests from the rest of the class because this creates segregation and makes it difficult to compare test results. The fairest option is almost always to administer the same test questions in a non-visual format. Some instructors prefer to give oral exams to students who are blind, or arrange for a teaching assistant to administer the test orally. Although this approach is certainly within the prerogative of the instructor, it can create an uncomfortable situation for the student when other students are taking written exams. An alternative method is to record the questions on tape for the student who is blind, who in turn records his her answers on another tape recorder or types the answers. The Office of Accessibility can coordinate these arrangements. 

Typically, when a student needs testing accommodations, such as a reader, a scribe and/or a Brailed copy of the exam, the Alternate Media Specialist will facilitate the accommodation.

Illustrations, Models, and Technology
Students may use raised line drawings of diagrams, charts and illustrations; relief maps: three-dimensional models of physical organs, shapes, and microscopic organisms, etc. Modern technology has made available other aids including talking calculators and screen reading software. 

Art and Other Visual Subject Matter
Substitutions may be found for courses that are "visual" by nature. However, it should not be assumed automatically that this will be the case. Conversations between the student who is blind and the professor can lead to new and even exciting instructional techniques that may benefit the entire class. For example, it is often thought that a student who is blind cannot take a course in art appreciation and that if this is a requirement, for graduation, it should be waived. However, the student who is blind should have the opportunity to become familiar with the world's great art. A classmate or reader who is particularly talented at verbally describing visual images can assist the student who is blind as a visual "interpreter" or "translator." The "Mona Lisa" (or other great works of art) can be described, and there are poems written about the "Mona Lisa" that may be used as teaching aids to give more insight and understanding to the work. Miniature models of great works of sculpture can also be made available for display and touching in the classroom. One student was able to learn the proper technique in an archery class when a rope was stretched perpendicular to the target. A "beeper" added to the target assisted with positioning. The point is that certain disabilities (in this case, blindness) do not automatically preclude participation in certain activities or classes. Students, professors, and advisors must be careful not to lower expectations solely on the basis of disability. The Office of Accessibility can assist you and the student with identifying effective instruction strategies where needed.

Guide Dogs
Some students who are blind use guide dogs. A guide dog will not disturb the class. Guide dogs are, very highly trained and disciplined. Most of the time the dog will lie quietly under or beside the table or desk. The greatest disruption a professor can expect may be an occasional yawn or stretch. It is good to remember that as tempting as it may be to pet or speak to a guide dog, the dog while in harness is responsible for guiding its owner, and should never be distracted from that duty.

Field Trips
If classes involve field trips to out-of-class locations, discuss travel needs with the student who is blind. In most instances, all that will be required is for a member of the class to act as a sighted guide. In locations where public transportation is adequate, many blind persons travel quite independently.

Partial Sight and Accommodations Between 70 and 80 percent of all legally blind persons in the United States have some measurable vision.  Partially sighted students often require many of the same accommodations as totally blind students. This includes readers, tape-recorded texts, raised line drawings, describing visual cues in class, etc. In addition, depending on their level and type of vision, partially sighted students may use large print textbooks, handouts and tests, a closed-circuit TV: magnifier or other magnifying device. Large print is usually 18 to 22 pt., but varies from student to student. In class some partially sighted students are able to take notes with a bold felt tip pen or marker. The Office of Accessibility will work with the student to identify individual needs.    

When a Student Doesn't Appear "Blind"
There are two basic difficulties that the partially sighted student is confronted with that the student who is blind is not. First, the partially sighted student is sometimes viewed by instructors and classmates as "faking it" because most partially sighted students do not use white canes for travel and because most are able to get around much like everyone else. People have difficult believing that the student needs to use adaptive methods when utilizing printed materials. One partially sighted student commented that having been observed playing Frisbee by one of her instructors, she was sure that the instructor would no longer believe that she was partially sighted. As she explained, she had more peripheral than central vision and was able to see a red Frisbee. If any other color Frisbee was used, she could not see well enough to play. Playing Frisbee and reading a printed page present quite different visual requirements. This is often difficult for the fully sighted person to understand.

Large Size Handwriting and Large Print
The second difficulty that the partially sighted student experiences can have a more subtle effect. The sighted reader's psychological response to large handwriting may be that "a child has written this." Unfortunately this may unconsciously lead to the conclusion that the written communication, e.g. a student's essay on an exam, is less sophisticated than that of other students. It is very important to read for content and try not to be distracted by large size writing. Note: it is sometimes assumed that a student using large print is trying to make an assignment appear longer as in the case of a term paper of a required length. When the number of words instead of pages required is stated, the assignment length is clearer for everyone.

Meeting with the Partially Sighted Student
Potential difficulties can be alleviated if the student and professor discuss the student's needs early in the term. In the classroom accommodations such as sitting in the front of the room, having large print on the chalkboard, or the use of enlarged print on an overhead projector may assist a partially sighted student depending on their level of vision. However, the capacity to read printed materials with various visual impairments depends so greatly on conditions such as degree of contrast, brightness, and color. It is essential for the student and instructor to clarify what methods, techniques, or devices may be used to maximum advantage for that student in that setting.

Created: March 10, 2009 @ 12:16 PM
Last Modified: March 08, 2010 @ 01:44 PM

 





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