Working with Students who are Blind/Low Vision

A student with a visual disability has an impairment in vision ranging from wearing correcting lenses to total blindness.  Visual disabilities are varied so that it is often difficult to detect such a student in the classroom or on the campus.   The student may appear to get around without assistance, read texts, and/or even take notes from the board. However, in most cases some form of assistance is needed.Even with partial sight, a student with vision loss may experience eye strain while reading, inability to read certain print, font size, or colors, and may be sensitive to light

You may notice that in order to navigate around campus students may use aids such as service animals, a cane, or special electronic sensing devices to enhance mobility. Special considerations may be needed for these students when class is moved to a new location or when the furnishings in a room are moved for a special program.

Ready access to the content of printed materials on a computer or website can allow a student with a visual impairment, who has access to technology to read text aloud and/or produce it in Braille. Some materials may need to be transferred to audiotape or another format. Since it may take weeks or even months to create or procure these materials, it is essential that campus service staff select and prepare these materials well before they are needed. Disability services for students with disabilities typically coordinate the Braille, electronic, and audiotape production in collaboration with staff, instructors and the student. They may also be able to locate or create tactile models and raised-line drawings of graphic images.

Tips for working with students with visual disabilities

  • Let students know you course materials as soon as they inquire so that arrangements for alternate format can be made. Use the student’s prior alternate text formats as a guide for modifications.
  • Provide hand-outs (preferably electronically) in advance of lectures and allow audio-taping where possible to assist review of notes
  • Allow students with guide dogs to sit where appropriate to accommodate the dog. Advise other students not to pet or distract the dog.
  • Provide an auditory and visual teaching approach. Read aloud anything that is written on the board or presented on overheads, handouts, PowerPoint slides, or any other visual aids. Create text-based descriptions of materials that are primarily visual or graphical in nature.
  • Talk through calculations or procedures as they are carried out.
  • Attempt to be specific when describing visuals (e.g., avoid using terms like “this” and “that”) Read out loud what you are writing on the board, on overheads, or referring to on handouts.
  • Diagrams and charts can be presented in tactile form by using a special plastic film, or for partially sighted students by using thick black pen lines or enlargement from A4 to A3.
  • Provided clear pathways and directions for the student who is cane traveling
  • Ensure notices such as re-scheduled classes or cancellations are announced in ways that are accessible to blind or visually impaired students. A note on the door will not suffice.
  • Individual introduction to laboratory or computer equipment may be helpful. Classes taught in a lab setting may need workstation modifications. Often, the help of a lab assistant will be required in order for a student to fully participate in a lab.
  • Extra time and/or a separate room may be necessary when students require a reader, a scribe or need to use assistive technology
  • When guiding a student (into your office, for example), offer your arm or elbow
  • Students with disabilities should be allowed the same anonymity as other students in the classroom.  When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her as privately as possible without drawing attention to the student or the disability

Additional Resources

STEM Resources

*Information was adapted from the following resources:

Washington Do-It Center

Indiana University of Pennsylvania

UNC Student Affairs

Ferris State University