Visual Impairments

Similar to people with varying degrees of hearing impairments, it is less common for someone to be completely blind. In actuality, their ability to see may exist anywhere along a continuum from sighted to blind. In addition, the amount of usable sight varies from person to person, and visual acuity may change under differing light conditions. Vision is measured in terms of how much can be seen (peripheral field of vision) and how clearly it can be seen (visual acuity).

  • Legal blindness means having between zero and 10% or normal visual acuity in both eyes (20/200 vision or less), and or 20% or less of normal peripheral vision in both eyes. In other words, this person, while wearing glasses, can see less at 20 feet than a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet.
  • Low vision or partially sighted means having visual acuity and/or field vision that is less than normal, or having a visual limitation in only one eye. Visual disabilities vary and it is often difficult to detect such a student in the classroom. Some students may use service dogs that are trained to move at the direction of the student. It is important to note that service dogs are not to be petted or distracted in any way while they are “working”. Service dogs are allowed by law in all college buildings, including laboratories, food service areas, classrooms and administrative offices. Other students may use white canes, while some may get around without assistance.

Students with visual disabilities may experience several academic difficulties and are often frustrated by class syllabi, textbooks, chalkboard diagrams, overhead projections, films, maps, videos, printed exams, Scantron answer sheets, laboratory demonstrations, and Internet websites designed to be navigated by clicking on images. Most students with visual disabilities take advantage of assistive technology. Computers can enlarge print; convert printed material to Braille; read the text on a computer screen aloud; or scan books, articles, and other printed materials and then read their text. Some students also use audiotape recorders, portable note-taking devices, or talking calculators. You may also refer to Assistive & Learning Technologies for assistive technology options.

Suggested Modifications and Accommodations

  • Students with visual disabilities may need preferential seating. Your student should be seated near the front of the class to hear clearly what is being presented and to see as much as possible.
  • Well before the beginning of your class, leave a list of required and recommended texts at your department office, and request that office staff permit students with disabilities to make copies of the list. (Or put the book-list on your course website.) Some students will need to order large print, audio or electronic textbooks, which may take time.
  • Face the class when speaking.
  • When using an overhead projector with transparencies, use a large print-size: at least 18 points. Provide additional time for students with visual disabilities to copy the material on the transparencies, or provide them with printed copies.
  • Whenever possible, modify the presentation of material to make it accessible.
  • Allow the student to audiotape lectures or use a notetaker.
  • Pace the presentation of material; if referring to a textbook or handout, allow time for students with visual disabilities to find the information.
  • When lecturing, avoid making statements that cannot be understood by people without sight: for example, “This diagram sums up what I am saying about statistics.” (Don’t worry about using words and phrases that refer to sight: for example, “See you later!” Such expressions are commonly used, and most people with visual disabilities don’t find them offensive.)
  • Read aloud everything that you write on the chalkboard. Verbally describe objects and processes whenever possible.
  • Be flexible with assignment deadlines, especially if library research is requested.
  • When using videos, please be as descriptive as possible.

Web Resources

  • American Council of the Blind
    The American Council of the Blind is the nation’s leading membership organization of blind and visually impaired people. It was founded in 1961 and incorporated in the District of Columbia.
  • American Foundation for the Blind
    The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) is a national nonprofit that expands possibilities for people with vision loss.  AFB’s priorities include broadening access to technology; elevating the quality of information and tools for the professionals who serve people with vision loss; and promoting independent and healthy living for people with vision loss by providing them and their families with relevant and timely resources. AFB’s work in these areas is supported by the strong presence the organization maintains in Washington, DC, ensuring the rights and interests of people with vision loss are represented in our nation’s public policies.
  • Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB)
    The Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB) is responsible for the confidential registry of people who are blind in Connecticut and provides, within available resources, comprehensive low vision services, specialized education services, life skills training, case management, and vocational services to individuals of all ages who are legally blind and to children who are visually impaired. The agency assists them in acquiring the skills and support services necessary to be independent.
  • National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
    The purpose of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) is two-fold-to help blind persons achieve self-confidence and self-respect and to act as a vehicle for collective self-expression by the blind.
  • Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic (RFB and D)
    Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic’s materials are for all people who cannot effectively read standard print because of a visual, perceptual or other physical disability. An education is your right to embrace. Providing equal access to the printed word for our members – that is our profound privilege.