English and Visual Impairments
Challenges - this link takes you to more specific challenges associated with learning.
Brief description of Visual Impairments
The term visual impairment covers a whole spectrum of people from those who are only slightly affected to the very small proportion who are totally blind and cannot distinguish light from dark. Only a small minority or partially sighted people have no useful sight.
The principle that every student is an individual with individual needs is particularly true for students with visual impairments, as strategies which suit one student may be irrelevant, even hampering, to another. Only the visually impaired person can really say what they can, or cannot, see.
Students may have developed their own coping strategies and techniques and so it is essential for the student to be closely involved in discussion of teaching strategies appropriate to their situation.
Blind and partially sighted students are more dependent on their hearing for information gathering. People who have been blind since birth may have missed out on informal opportunities for learning to read, for example through the experience of signs and labels in everyday life. They will also have a conceptual framework for such concepts such as distance, dimensions and scale that is not drawn from visual images. They might have missed out on gathering everyday practical information about the world around them, which sighted people take for granted, and may therefore need to be introduced to new situations in a practical experimental manner before moving on to form concepts.
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Teaching strategies associated with Visual Impairments
These strategies are suggestions for inclusive teaching. This list should not be considered exhaustive and it is important to remember that all students are individuals and good practice for one student may not necessarily be good practice for another. You may also like to contact the Disability Specialist in your institution for further information. If you have any good practice that you would like to add to this list, please email your suggestions to email@example.com
- Provide sufficient time to discuss needs with the student before/during their initial teaching session.
Some students may require material to be produced in large print format. A minimum of 14 point and preferably 16-18 point is recommended for this. It can be produced by photocopy enlargement or by producing larger print directly from a PC – the latter is preferable as the quality of the print is better. However, some students can find it difficult to scan large print and may find their concentration quickly deteriorates.
- Some students may need to use a tape recorder to record lectures/discussions. This means the student will have to rely on auditory input which requires the skills of concentration and memory. Students will also need to be highly organised in order to keep on top of their notetaking and transcribing.
- Encourage people to sit where they can hear/see (for those with some residual sight).
- Keep aisles and open spaces free from obstructions - check for protrusions at head height.
- Ensure good lighting, small adjustments can make a huge difference. Requirements will differ from person to person; glare can be as problematic as deep shadow. Discuss individual requirements with the student. Small adjustments can make a huge difference and are generally inexpensive; for example changing a light bulb. Tutors should stand in a well lit place facing the students, but not with their backs to the window as the face would then be in shadow.
- Give precise instructions and thorough explanations. Students with visual impairments may not have had the breadth of experiences to make the sort of closures to spoken communication that are available to sighted students.
- Examinations, fieldwork and tests may require some adjustments to be made for the student, e.g. large print materials, a reader, an amanuensis, or special equipment such as a scanner. They also may need to practise with such aids prior to the examinations.
- Be prepared to accept oral alternatives if written work is not essential. Can the student submit a taped assignment?
- State orally everything that is written on OHPs. Make sure that course and reading materials are available well in advance of the session - in extra large print if required.
- Provide booklists in advance as students may need extra time to cope with a heavy reading load.
- It may not be appropriate to have a guide dog in a lab environment where others may trip over it - it will depend on the individual setup and you should undertake a risk assessment. If this is the case, you may need to provide a secure room where the guide dog can wait.