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Faculty Handbook: Visual Limitations

The major challenge facing visually impaired college students centers around the overwhelming mass of printed material with which they are confronted - textbooks, class outlines, class schedules, bibliographies, campus newspapers, posters, tests, etc. The increasing use of films, videotapes, personal and mainframe computers, overhead projectors, and closed-circuit television adds to the volume of visual material, which they must access in some other way.

By the time visually impaired students reach college, they often have developed various methods for dealing with the volume of visual materials. Most visually impaired students use a combination of methods including readers, Braille books, audio tape recorded books and lectures.

Some blind students use guide dogs. These dogs have been trained to respond to verbal and hand commands immediately. Check with the student if you have questions concerning the animal. The dog's responsibility is to guide the owner and not be distracted from that responsibility; therefore, it is not appropriate to pet or otherwise engage a "working" dog's attention.

Partially Sighted Students

Between 70 and 80 percent of all legally blind persons in the United States have measurable vision. The partially sighted student meets the challenge of disability in much the same way as the blind student. This includes the use of readers, audio taped texts, raised line drawings, etc.

There are two basic difficulties that the partially sighted student is confronted with that the blind student is not. First, the partially sighted student is sometimes viewed by instructors and classmates as "faking it." Because most partially sighted students do not use white canes for travel and because most are able to get around much like everyone else, people have difficulty believing that the student needs to use adaptive methods when utilizing printed materials.

Another difficulty that the partially sighted student experiences is more subtle. This is the psychological response that large print evokes in the sighted reader. Such handwritten communications tend to give the reader the idea that, "a child has written this". This impression may lead to the conclusion that a student with this kind of handwriting is immature or childish and that the written communication is less than sophisticated. Even when the student uses a large print typewriter, this issue can be a problem. These potential difficulties can be alleviated if the student and professor discuss the student's needs early in the term.

In some cases, it is important to keep in mind that the partially sighted student may have a lack of experience with certain equipment and/or situations. This lack of experience might appear as laziness or lack of interest in the course subject matter. In fact, this mannerism may be due to the student's inability to see fine detail that is required for a thorough understanding of the material presented. In such cases, the instructor should work with the student to ensure his/her access to course related materials and equipment. In addition, the instructor should keep in mind that each partially sighted student has a unique set of visual abilities and therefore should not be compared to other students with similar visual abilities.

Strategies for working with students with visual limitations:

  • The earlier a text is chosen, the better; it takes time to have a text read onto an audiotape or converted from print and then transcribed to Braille.
  • Phrases, which include "this and that", are meaningless to blind students. For example, instead of the sum of this plus that equals this: or "The stomach is located here and the lungs there, it is better to state the actual numbers, "sum of 4 plus 6." Or, in the second example, have the student touch the parts of the body.
  • Professors should be aware that students will use notetakers for lecture information, and large print typewriters for papers.
  • Some students who use Braille prefer to take their own notes by using a slate and stylus (a steel punch that punches Braille dots on a slate) or a Brailler (Braille-code writer operated by six keys).
  • Visually impaired students may take a test with a proctor. The proctor may be provided by BMAC, or the instructor may choose to read the test.
  • Tests may be administered orally or with a tape recorder. The visually impaired student will then either record answers on another tape recorder, or type the answers, or give answers orally.
  • For partially sighted students, sitting in the front of the classroom, having large print on the chalk board, or using enlarged print on an overhead projector/classroom handouts may be helpful.
  • However, he capacity to read printed materials depends so greatly on conditions such as the degree of contrast, brightness, and color that it is preferable that the student and instructor discuss what methods, techniques, or devices may be used to maximize advantage.

If a professor discovers that a partially sighted student has not had an evaluation at a Low Vision Clinic, it may be appropriate to refer the student to BMAC.

If you wish to guard against having your lectures taped and reproduced, there is a form that may be obtained through the BMAC office which is an agreement signed by the student not to release the recording.

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