Visual Impairment in the Classroom

By: Mr. Dehoff, Miss Glessner, Miss Johnston, & Miss Teaford

Who Has It? (Prevalence)

  • 1 in 1000 children in the U.S. has a visual impairment serious enough that special education services are needed of these most members of this group are classified as low vision this means they can read with the help of a magnifying glass or a large print book

  • 1 in 2500 children is educationally blind. These students must use hearing and touch as their primary learning channel

What Constitutes a Visual Impairment?

  • Partial Sight
  • Low vision (students can read with the aid of a magnifying glass or large print books)

  • Blindness

  • Low Peripheral Vision

    • varies depending on condition and advancement of the condition.

Identification: Things to Watch For

  • Not looking at others in the eyes

  • Reaching in front of or beyond an object

  • Holding objects very close or very far to see them

  • Turning or tilting their head when trying to see something

  • Continuously pushing or poking at eyes

  • Looking above, below or off to one side of an object, rather than directly at it

  • Bumping into objects and having a lot or trouble seeing at night

  • Feeling for objects on the ground instead of looking with their eyes

  • Swollen or red eyes or complaining about how their eyes burn or are sore
  • Becoming irritable when having to do desk work

If any of these signs are prevalent or if there is questioning, it should be reported to a qualified school professional.

Impact on Cognitive Functioning of Students

At the middle school and high school level, students are experiencing cognitive milestones such as:

  • Playful but serious - love to play games with classmates but can be serious right after
  • Unwilling to take risks on tough intellectual tasks
  • More willing to admit error and try something for the second or third time
    • Like technology and learning how things works

While these all seem like "normal" cognitive growth milestones for middle school and high school aged students, they become more difficult for those who suffer from blindness or visual impairment because they are struggling to learn and understand technology the way that their peers are. In addition, when they hear their peers laughing and playing around, those same students may struggle to fully understand what is going on making them feel left out.

Impact on Socio-Emotional Functioning

While in middle school or high school, students' socio-emotional functioning levels and development change but their concerns remain the same.
Some main concerns are:
  • peer opinions not those of teachers or parents
  • personal appearance

These concerns can be detrimental to a student who has a visual impairment such as blindness because they won't be able to experience these concerns like most of their peers will. This can lead to their peers calling them different or weird for not caring as much about these "important" things.

Impact on Day-to-Day Functioning

Students with a visual impairment can:
  • get irritable when doing desk work

  • lose interest when they are required to pay attention to something across the room

  • act out often because they are frustrated

  • become distant and withdrawn

  • tend to be quiet often and hesitant to answer questions

Teacher Adaptations in the Classroom

While teaching, teachers should:
  • face the class while speaking
  • allow lectures to be taped
  • provide large print papers and notes/handouts in advance
  • be flexible with deadlines/consider alternative assignments
  • use audio whenever able to
  • verbalize all writing on the board as well as other information
  • make writing on the board large and clear and visible to all students

In the classroom, teachers should:
  • sit students who need visual help closer to the front
  • have room for a seeing eye dog
  • keep aisles clear and cabinet doors/drawers closed
  • have alternative lighting that reduces glare
  • allow for flexible seating
  • have students with a visual impairment become familiar with the layout of the classroom when other students are not in the classroom
  • allow/provide additional materials that students with a visual impairment may need such as: magnifiers, raised line paper, large print textbooks, etc.
  • make sure that students with an impairment have a buddy for fire drills and other emergencies

Controversial Issues

Some believe students who have a visual impairment need to be proficient in braille in order to be able to learn proficiently. They argue that students need to learn to read and write in order to succeed in the real world and braille helps with this. On the other hand, some people believe that braille is not always the best for every student with a visual impairment. Instead, there are other accommodations that are just as important as braille.

Another controversial issue is the use of read-aloud accommodations for students who do not use braille or print enlarging technology. Most states allow tests to be read aloud but only three states permitted read aloud accommodations with no restrictions; 31 states permitted that test questions could be read aloud but only under certain circumstances, and many of these states did not allow for reading tests to be read aloud. Because read aloud accommodations (such as human or screen readers) don't allow for students to read for themselves, many believe that it is an invalid measurement of reading.

One other controversial issue is using braille in the classroom. English braille uses contractions and other "shortcuts" that some believe to be unfair when reading. Some people suggest that students have a 'short-cut' version of a text making it easier to read.


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