Low Vision and Blindness

A Resource for Teachers, Parents, and Students

Definition and Description

Low Vision :

A degree of vision loss. Vision is still useful for learning, but has an effect on a person's daily functioning (Smith & Tyler, 2014).

Blindness :

No functional vision, but a person may still perceive shadows and movements (Smith & Tyler, 2014).

Characteristics :

  • Restricted movement within the environment
  • Limited interactions / Isolation
  • Slow academic development
  • Lack of motivation
  • Social immaturity
  • Does not understand nonverbal cues
  • Lack of self-advocacy skills
  • Less assertive
The lack of interaction within the environment gives children less of a reason to explore, resulting in missed opportunities to learn. As a result, academic success may also suffer, especially in reading and writing (Odle, 2009). Because of this, assistive technologies and expanded core curriculums are usually needed.

Causes And Prevalence

One of the leading causes of blindness is premature birth. It causes conditions such as retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), when excess oxygen is used to help the baby breathe, but ultimately ends up damaging the retina of the eyes. Another cause could be hereditary, such as albinism, which occurs when the body does not produce the normal amount of pigment in the eye, hair or skin. Lastly, congenital cataracts can cause blindness, at birth or shortly after, where the lens of the eye becomes cloudy (Smith & Tyler, 2014).

About 1 in 4 school aged children have a visual impairment, but a majority of them are solved using contacts or glasses. Most students do not require special education, but the ones that do add up to about 29,047 students from ages 3 to 21. Of these students with visual impairments, two-thirds of them have a coexisting disability. Even with their diagnosis, only 0.04% to 0.1% of students receive the services they need, indicating why the incidence of this disability is low (Smith & Tyler, 2014).

Instructional Strategies

Depending on the severity of the impairment, students will have trouble seeing the text and pictures, as well as following along in the lesson and taking notes. Because of the frustration this causes, there is a lack of motivation to learn. Accommodations and modifications are then put in place to assist that child and meet their specific needs.

  1. Assistive Technology : a wide range of low tech to high tech devices that meet the students needs to allow them to be successful.
  2. Enlarged text : Calculated by their rate of reading, this will help students with low vision to be better able to see the words on the board and on paper.
  3. Audio Text / Personal Reader : This option will allow the student to be able to hear the text read allowed, either by an e-book or someone personally reading to them.
  4. Expanded Core Curriculum : This includes skills that students with visual impairments may need help learning, that are beyond the general curriculum. They include orientation and mobility, functional skills, social skills, independent living, recreation and leisure, career preparation and assistive technology. This will also assist in their self advocacy skills.
Students may also require a TVI, or Teacher for Visually Impaired, who have much more specialized training than general education teachers. They provide disability specific instruction (braille), reinforce concepts from the general class, and teach components of the expanded core curriculum (Smith & Tyler, 2014).

Additional Links to Instructional Strategies

Home Strategies

Many strategies used at school are able to be enforced at home to help the student preserve the skills that make them successful.

  1. Continue to use the technology : The assistive technology that is used at school to help the student with classwork should also be used at home for homework. This will allow the student to feel more comfortable and confident when doing their work and the consistency will continue to help them be successful in their learning.
  2. Modify the environment : arranging furniture in a consistent and obstacle free way will allow the student to feel comfortable in their environment, depending on the severity of the vision impairment. Also, considering levels of light, naturally and on the computer, will make it more comfortable for that student to work.
  3. Contrast colors : using contrasting colors, even with drawers and other frequently used materials, will help the child be more independent when getting dressed in the morning or looking for their favorite item.

(Smith & Tyler, 2014)

Learning Tools

Tales2Go is a great app for young children who are visually impaired. It has all of books that are part of your child's classroom library, with the ability to be read aloud.

Voice Dream Reader is a text to speech app for older students. It allows you to listen to PDF files, documents, ebooks, articles and web pages in 60 voices and 20 languages.

"Life Through My Eyes"

This website consists of a two blogs, one written by a fifth grade boy, who talks about his daily life being visually impaired, and one by his TVI (Teacher for the Visually Impaired). It also has pictures and links to multiple resources for students, parents and teachers.
A Child with Blindness -- The Planson Family -- Our Special Life -- Episode 2
Be the one to make it happen: Nancy Shugart at TEDxTexasTechUniversity


Adapting Your Home for a Child Who Is Blind or Has Low Vision. (n.d.). Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://www.familyconnect.org/info/after-the-diagnosis/adapting-your-home/13

Cowan, C. (n.d.). Message for screen reader users. Retrieved April 18, 2015, from http://www.tsbvi.edu/instructional-resources/142-vision/3657-vision-accommodations

D. & Kevin (2013). Life Through My Eyes. Retrieved April 19, 2015, from http://lifethroughmyeyes2013.weebly.com

Odle, T. (2009). Visual Impairments. Retrieved April 18, 2015, from http://www.education.com/reference/article/visual-impairments1/#C

Paths to Literacy. (n.d.). Retrieved April 18, 2015, from


Smith, D. D. & Tyler, N. C. (2014). Introduction to contemporary special education. Upper Saddle, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc. (ISBN-13:978-0-13-294461-8)

Willings, C. (n.d.). IEP Accommodations for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired. Retrieved April 18, 2015, from http://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/accommodations.html