Visual Impairment in the Classroom
Strategies to Help Visually Impaired Students Acheive
About Visual Impairments
Any visual condition that affects an individual's ability to successfully navigate the demands and activities of day-to-day life is considered a visual impairment. Falling within this category can be students of any age. Visual impairments for these students not only present obstacles for everyday tasks, but can impact their ability to learn.
Visually Impaired students are classified based on their level of functional vision according to the following three distinctions:
1) Low Vision- Vision remains the primary sensory channel for the student.
2) Functionally Blind- Tactile and auditory channels are necessary for the student to learn, though limited visional functionality may remain.
3)Totally Blind- Students rely solely on tactile and auditory sensory to achieve learning.
According to an American Foundation for the Blind survey conducted in 2009 (AFB, 2009), there are:
-93,600 students classified as visually impaired or blind
-55,200 students classified as legally blind
-5,500 braille reading students
One other classification system differentiates visually impaired individuals according to when the impairment occurred. "Congenital" equates to a visual impairment occurring before visual memory has been established (fetal, during, or shortly after birth). "Adventitious" is when the impairment occurs after visual memory has been established, often due to trauma or a hereditary condition.
Characteristics of Visual Impairment
"Visual Impairment" is an encompassing term describing loss of sight that can result from a multitude of factors, such as retinal detachment, macular degeneration, infection, trauma, glaucoma, and numerous others. Students may also experience Visual Perceptual/Visual Motor Deficit, which affects the understanding of the information an individual observes, and the ability to draw. Each case of visual impairment will be unique in its occurrence and the effects it has on the learner. Details often taken for granted, such as lighting, contrast between colors, and increased blind spots, may have to be accounted for based on the details of the visual impairment displayed by the student.
There is no sure-fire way to accommodate all visually impaired students. Each individuals situation must be considered, the way in which they use their vision monitored, and the proper resources provided to them based completely on their specific impairment.
All visually impaired students share the universal characteristic of a limited ability to learn from their environments. Research suggests that children 80% of what children with fully functional vision learn is done so through visual cues- visually impaired students do not have this luxury. Compensatory skills, adaptive techniques, and assistive technology must be utilized for a visually impaired student to successfully learn.
Aside from the direct challenges posed to a student through visual impairment, more subtle psychological hindrances often occur. A reduction in vision can produce a lack in motivation to interact socially, explore one's environment, or experiment with objects. Lacking the ability to share in visual experiences with their peers, visually impaired students may feel like an outlier in the classroom, which diminishes the drive to develop socially as an individual. Low self-esteem my permit, which can escalate the challenges a visually impaired student already negotiates.
It is imperative for visually impaired students to receive instruction in the expanded core curriculum (communication, interaction, independence, orientation, etc.) to ensure they accumulate the necessary ability to live independently and learn efficiently.
Of pinnacle importance is to encourage independence of the visually impaired student whenever possible to avoid reinforcing "learned helplessness."
Accommodations in the classroom should always be adopted from an awareness of the visually impaired student's visual functionality. Things educators often take for granted, such as classroom layout, can greatly aid or hinder a visually impaired student. It is important to maintain organization that does not fluctuate day-to-day. Keep objects in one spot, push in chairs, keep doors fully open, close cabinet, include flowing walking areas through rows of desks, etc. All instructional design should be implemented with the goal of maximizing independence for the visually impaired learner.
Any materials mainstream students are receiving, such as text books and handouts, should always be available to visually impaired students in the appropriate format and medium. Braille may be appropriate for some visually impaired students, while enlarged text editions of materials may be more suitable for others, or even increased lighting and consideration of classroom seat placement.
Assistive technologies should also be utilized whenever it can increase independence and learning ability for the student. Computer adaptations such as braille printers, screen readers, enlargement software, and braille translation can be implemented into instruction. Adaptive devices like talking calculators and braille note-takers may also prove beneficial to a visually impaired learner. Optical devices, such as magnifiers, should also be considered.
American Council of the Blind- This national organization exists to elevate the well-being of all visually impaired individuals, including improving educational facilities.
Blind Children's Center- A family centered agency focused on providing programs and services to help children acquire skills and build independence.
Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired- An international membership organization providing support for professionals working in education and rehabilitation of blind and visually impaired students, as well as adults.
Council for Exceptional Children- Division on Visual Impairment- Includes resources on curriculum development, parent counseling, selection of materials, research, teacher prep, and many more helpful materials.
National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped- Offers a free program that loans recorded audio books and braille books and other texts to visually impaired individuals.
American foundation for the Blind- Strives to broaden access to technology who work with visually impaired individuals.