Blindness and Low Vision

Facts and Characteristics


Students described as blind or visually impaired (BVI) have diverse needs even though they share a common trait of some degree of vision loss. Any student who has limited access to visual information will experience difficulties in any number of daily activities. Students needs to access information through direct experiences and hands-on, tactile exploration facilitated by qualified professionals who can address these unique needs.

In order to participate fully within the educational environment, these students require instruction from a trained professional in such disability-specific skills as braille literacy and numeracy, assistive technology skills, use of low-vision devices, career and life management skills, social interaction skills, independent living and personal management skills, and orientation and mobility skills.


Visual impairment includes two main categories: blindness and low vision.

Blindness is usually defined as:

· having a distance visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction (The measurement 20/200 indicates that a child or student who is legally blind can see at 20 feet what a person with normal vision can see at a distance of 200 feet.); and

· a restriction in visual fields (A student could have a 20/20 acuity but a field of vision of less than 20 degrees.).

Low Vision or Partial Sight defined as:

· having a distance visual acuity of 20/70 or less in the better eye with the best possible correction.

In addition, visual impairments are classified as:

· congenital, which refers to vision loss that is present at birth; or

· adventitious, which refers to vision loss that occurred after birth and that is a result of an illness or an accident.

Students with visual impairments are very diverse. They may be:

· totally blind or have varying degrees of low vision;

· be born with a visual impairment or may have acquired a visual impairment at a later time in their lives;

· have a stable or degenerative visual impairment;

· have a visual impairment in any part of the eye structure due to neurological causes

Essential Components in Programming:


· Identifying a student’s visual problems at an early age is important. The assessment should begin with a report from an ophthalmologist or optometrist. An assessment by a fully qualified eye specialist will describe the nature and extent of the student’s visual impairment.

· Educational programming and services should be determined through assessments conducted by a specialized teacher and other professionals identified by the learning team.

· Assessments are ongoing and decisions are re-evaluated yearly, or more frequently if decisions are tentative or problems arise.

Support Team:

The support team may include the: classroom teacher(s), special education/resource teacher, educational consultant for students with visual impairment (ACCESS), eye specialist; orientation and mobility specialist; related service providers (educational psychologist, occupational and physical therapist, speech & language pathologist, etc.).

The consultants for the BVI also teach specialized skills in:

sensory development, Braille literacy, concept development, orientation and mobility, effective use of residual vision, assistive technology, keyboarding and handwriting skills, effective use of learning and listening skills, and daily living skills.

Disability-specific Skills

· Students should receive instruction in disability-specific skills. With disability-specific skills, they can be expected to achieve learning outcomes consistent with their peers.

· Orientation and mobility (O&M) instruction is an integral part of the expanded core curriculum, students should receive O&M training from qualified professionals who work with the teacher to integrate their instruction into the educational environment.

· Students who use braille receive regular braille literacy and numeracy instruction from specialized teachers.

· The level of service that a student receives from a specialized teacher is directly related to student needs and direct instruction required for each student.

Teaching Strategies and Suggestions:

Alternate Format/Materials and Equipments:

· Student with BVI can access reading materials in different formats such as audio, Braille, large print and electronic text.

· Provision of some supplies adapted to accommodate visual impairment (e.g., braille rulers, dark lined exercise books, slate and stylus for Brailling)

· Provision of various types of low vision aids (e.g., handheld magnifiers, binocular and monocular telescopes)

Possible strategies related to Safety:

A schools-based team, including teacher, vision resource/itinerant teacher and the orientation and mobility specialist, should

· Familiarize the student with the school building (e.g., gym, science labs, cafeteria, lunch room, playground, outdoor areas, bus stop), emergency procedures and fire drills;

· Students should become familiar with the location of all furniture and fixtures in the room, class changes and exits

· Keep all cupboard or closet doors closed.

· Limit clutter in the hallways, stairs and classrooms that the student will be using.

· When going on a field trip or traveling in an unfamiliar environment, arrange for a buddy.

Possible strategies related to the Classroom Environment:

· Proximity to the teacher and board, if the right eye is stronger, being on the left side of the classroom is best and vice versa.

· Source of lighting needs to be considered. A student with a visual impairment should not face direct light from windows or lighting.

· A sound field system may be considered for amplification of the teacher’s voice and reduction of extraneous noises.

· provide the student with access to a slant-top desk or book stand, which may help reduce glare and alleviate fatigue caused by having to maintain an unnatural sitting position

· provide additional space for the storage of devices the student needs

· Ask the student’s permission before giving physical assistance.

· Remind students to identify themselves by name when addressing the student

Possible strategies related to Lesson Presentation:

· Expect the same standard of work, but reduce the quantity required.

· Vary periods of close work with periods of physical activity

· Talk while you teach and during classroom activities

· Address students by name so that the student who is blind or has low vision knows who is being addressed;

· Participation in certain activities such as physical education, science labs and visual arts may need certain accommodations.

· Hand-over-hand techniques work well to demonstrate certain skills.

· Make use of good-quality, non-glare paper.

· Provide the vision resource/itinerant teacher well in advance with copies of assignments and handouts that need to be Brailed, converted using software conversion programs, enlarged, or taped.

Assessment Accommodations:

· Adapt the assessment format (e.g., make it an oral test, a practical demonstration, an interview, a construction, a tape-recorded test);

· Use large print, coloured paper, Braille, or audiotapes.

· Allow the student to use assistive devices and technology resources, such as a Kurzweil reader, a speech synthesizer, speech-to-text software, or a Brailler;

· Provide the student with a quiet location, free from distractions;

· Provide special lighting as required;

· Allow audio taped responses or verbatim scribing of responses to test questions;

· Provide periodic breaks and extra time.

Assistive Technology:

· Screen Reader/Speech Synthesizer: Screen readers provide auditory feedback when using the keyboard as well as auditory access to information displayed on the monitor. These systems consist of a software program and speech synthesizer

· Voice access systems allow the user to interact with the computer screen by using voice commands instead of the keyboard

· Electronic Braillewriters: These small electronic devices have standard six-key braille keyboards that allow the user to write, read, edit and sort approximately 200 pages of braille. They can be connected to personal computers as well as regular and braille printers. Electronic braillewriters (Braille ‘n Speak, Braille Lite, Type ‘n Speak and Braille Note)

· Print-to-Braille Software Print-to-braille software allows a computer user to produce braille documents from print or electronic data (CD-ROMs, internet, scanner).

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