Vision impairment can come in many different forms and individuals may be affected in various different ways. Vision problems can include relatively mild impairments, such as long or shortsightedness, or more significant impairments which restrict vision considerably. In some cases, students may be unable to see at all or have very limited sight.

Vision impairment in the classroom

Due to the wide range of vision impairments, teachers will need to assess their students’ needs individually. With the use of glasses or contact lenses, some students with vision impairments may need only minor adaptations to the classroom, but students with more severe vision problems may require various modifications to be made.

Once teachers are familiar with how the vision impairment affects the student, classroom strategies can be put in place to ensure the student isn’t disadvantaged due to their condition or disability. The most comprehensive way for teachers to determine what type of adaptations a student may need is to have regular discussions with the student, their parents and/or guardians. This type of collaborative approach ensures all parties have the information they need in order to cater for all types of vision impairment in the classroom.

Identifying vision impairment

In some cases, vision impairment is profound and students may be diagnosed with a specific medical condition at a young age. In some instances, however, a mild vision impairment may only become apparent when a student starts school. Until then, their vision impairment may have gone unnoticed, but as the student learns to read or struggles to see the board, a problem with their vision may come to light.

Teachers can support their students by looking out for any indications that a student is experiencing a vision impairment. When necessary, this can be reported back to parents so that medical assistance can be obtained.

Adapting the classroom for students with vision impairments

There are various ways to adapt classrooms so that all students can flourish in an academic environment while it being more accessible.

To make class more accessible for students with vision impairments, teachers may want to consider:
  • Maintaining a structured setting so that students are aware of where everything is at all times
  • Providing learning materials in larger fonts and/or Braille
  • Allowing students to leave class slightly early so they can navigate walkways without too many other students around
  • Always giving oral instructions
  • Allowing students to use a discreet tape recorder to pick up assignment and homework instructions
  • Providing electronic resources to make learning easier
  • Adapting the lighting in the classroom to minimize impairment, where possible

Depending on the students’ level of vision impairment, they may use a white cane or guide dog to assist them. To make it easier for students to access their classrooms, educators and administrators may want to schedule classes on the ground floor, where possible.

Using new assistive technology

Assistive technology can be extremely helpful for students with vision impairments and it can certainly help them to meet their academic objectives. Screen-magnification hardware can be used to enable students to view electronic material, or screen-reading software can be used to ensure students can hear material which is stored in electronic format. Alternatively, a closed-circuit TV can be used to capture, magnify and enhance images so that students with vision impairments are able to see them more clearly.

This type of hardware and software has revolutionized the way in which people with disabilities interact with their environment. Assistive technology should be used in classrooms wherever possible and students should also be able to take mobile devices home so that they can continue their studies and complete assignments off-campus.

Whilst specialist assistive technology can be extremely beneficial for students with vision impairments, standard forms of technology can help too. Simply recording a class so that students can refer back to it later helps to provide students with back-up materials and prevents them from falling behind, for example.

Allowing students extra time

Students with vision impairments may take longer to complete tasks and teachers should always be considerate of this. It may be impossible for the student to skim-read a passage of text, for example, and this could mean that it takes them longer to complete assignments.

Furthermore, obtaining learning materials in specialist formats can be an arduous process. Often, students who require enlarged prints or materials in Braille can wait for up to two months for them to be produced. This means that students can fall behind through no fault of their own. As well as being sympathetic to this, teachers can help students with vision impairments by producing learning materials as early as possible. This will give students the time to have the learning materials converted into an appropriate format.

Living with a vision impairment can also affect a student’s health in other ways and educators should be aware of this. Students with mild or moderate vision impairments may strain to focus on learning materials, and this can result in headaches, fatigue and double vision. As a result, students with vision impairments may work best if they are allowed to study in shorter blocks of time so that they’re not adversely affected by the symptoms of their condition.

Managing vision impairments in the classroom

Educators should always take a collaborative approach to teaching, and working with the parents of students with vision impairments is extremely important. Identifying any assistive technology the student uses at home and trying to integrate or complement it in the classroom can make learning materials far more accessible, for example.

In addition to this, teachers can take steps to make things easier for students with vision impairments. Although it can be difficult for people without vision impairments to understand the day-to-day limitations such a condition can cause, taking the time to truly understand how a student is affected will ensure they have the best possible environment in the classroom.

In order to increase access to education, for example, teachers may want to:
  • Produce learning materials in electronic format so they can be altered easily
  • Give advanced notice if you plan on using images or film in class and allow students with vision impairments to view it beforehand
  • Switch to a more verbal teaching style, with less emphasis on visual factors
  • Provide on-site alternatives if off-campus visits pose a logistical problem for students
  • Always offer integrative alternatives to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness
  • Offer additional help in advance if students will be in a new or unfamiliar environment
  • Allow students to choose a seat which allows them to see to the best of their ability
  • Be willing to give students extra time to complete assignments, assessments or exams
  • Offer the use of a scribe when necessary
  • Allow students to complete work via voice-to-text software
  • Use tactile graphics as opposed to visual graphics
  • Be responsive to student ideas regarding new classroom techniques

Teaching students with vision impairments can require some modifications of your existing teaching plan but the range of options available means that both teachers and students can perform extremely well in a classroom setting. By identifying any additional or alternative needs a student may have, teachers can ensure that every student has access to the best education.