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Blind / Visual impairment

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This section introduces visual impairment and explores how being blind or visually impaired may impact a student's academic performance and participation in college life. Here, the main focus is to suggest ways in which you as a staff member can support students who are blind or visually impaired.

Introduction

Visual impairment is vision loss as a result of a significant limitation of visual capability resulting from either disease, trauma, or congenital or degenerative conditions that cannot be corrected by conventional means, such as refractive correction, medication, or surgery. People are considered legally blind when visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of corrective lenses. There are significant variations in visual impairment. Some people can distinguish only light. Some people may have only side vision. Some see everything as a blur while others have blank spots. Blind or visually impaired people often use a white cane or a guide dog.

Our College environment is essentially set up for sighted students. As such, students who are blind or visually impaired can experience significant challenges. Students with visual impairments are one of the most underrepresented groups in College. Students with visual impairments can encounter significant difficulties in the accessibility of their education.

Difficulties that may be experienced by university students who are blind or visually impaired

  • Students are likely to have significant difficulty or be unable to see print, presentation slides, or whiteboards. Students are likely to have difficulty following the content of lectures with a heavy emphasis on visual aids.
  • Students may be unable to access material in an accessible format, or convert material to an accessible format. The extra time spent making material accessible can significantly delay students in completing reading or assignments.
  • Students may have a slower speed of work when using magnification or specialist software. Students may have slower speed of reading, or difficulty reading for longer periods. This can delay students in completing academic assignments.
  • Students may have problems with orientation and mobility (particularly in unfamiliar locations). Changes to the timetable or room changes can be problematic if the student is not informed. The Disability Service has online resources on assisting students to navigate the college environment, click here.

Strategies staff can use to support students

  • As explained here, students may have disclosed a visual impairment. Access the LENS report for details on how you can support the student. Implement and support a student’s reasonable accommodations with efficiency and discretion. Be mindful of how being blind or visually impaired may impact a student’s experience of college life.
  • The effect of a visual impairment varies widely. Ask the student about what they think you might need to know. Encourage the student to approach you if they are having difficulty with the way in which you are presenting information.
  • Make lecture notes, handouts and overheads available to the student well in advance of the lecture. This allows time for them to be recorded, enlarged, scanned into the student’s computer or transcribed into braille.
  • Make lecture notes available via email or on the internet so that the student can access them using screen reading or magnification software on their computer.
  • Try to keep the physical environment consistent. Blind or visually impaired students may develop mental schemas of how rooms are laid out which make them easier for them to navigate. If you intend to alter the layout of a room drastically then try to inform the student beforehand and offer them the opportunity to readjust to the new layout.
  • Face the class when speaking and ensure that what is written on the board is also communicated verbally.
  • You may need to greet a student who is blind or visually impaired by saying your name, as he or she may not recognise your voice.
  • Never make fuss of, or feed, a guide dog- he/she is working. Ask the owner’s permission first.
  • When guiding a person who is blind/visually impaired, walk slightly ahead of them, allowing them to take your arm just above the elbow. Always ask if a student requires assistance, they may not.
  • Follow Trinity Inclusive Curriculum guidelines as much as possible.
  • Help and advice on using the College Accessible information policy.

Resources/links

If you would like more information or support, contact the Disability Service. See the following links for more information about visual impairments and useful resources:


Last updated 27 June 2014 andrew.costello@tcd.ie (Email).