Queen's University

Instructor's Handbook: Accommodating Students with Disabilities

7.2 Students Who Are Blind or Have Low Vision

Not all individuals who are legally blind are completely without sight. In fact, individuals are considered legally blind when visual acuity is 20/200 or less, that is, ten percent of "normal" vision. Approximately ninety percent of those who are legally blind are classified as having low vision. People with low vision differ greatly in what they are able to see. Some are able only to see shadows, some are able to distinguish colours and still others may possess enough visual acuity to be able to read a blackboard or textbook with special glasses or a monocular. Some people retain adequate vision if they read in excellent light and rest their eyes frequently, or, for others, if the print is enlarged. Others may have little difficulty seeing objects at a great distance, but may be unable to see an obstacle immediately in front of them. Such a problem as this is due to a restricted field of vision.

Individuals who are completely blind may have visual memory and its strength depends on the age when vision was lost. They may rely completely on brailled text or voice reproduction of written material. If you are uncertain how much sight individuals have, or how much assistance they may need with a particular task, you should not hesitate to ask them.

Instructional Strategies
  • Permit the student to sit near the front of the classroom. Some people with low vision benefit from being close to the blackboard. Other students need to record lectures and therefore must be close to the person who is speaking. In both cases, it is important that material written on the blackboard or overhead be read aloud.
  • If the classroom is in a laboratory setting, a "buddy system" may be most beneficial for the student. This will permit the person to obtain the required information and still work within a safe environment
  • Lab instructors should assist the student to label instruments, drawers and chemicals in Braille, or another medium the student can easily identify.
  • Provide a verbal explanation for visual aids (e.g., graphs, charts, diagrams) and verbally emphasize important information.
Communication Strategies
  • Approach the individual so that you are facing him or her, identify yourself, and ask if you can be of assistance. However, do not proceed unless the individual says you can. If you are not sure of exactly what to do, ask the person to explain how you should proceed.
  • Make sure that your attitude can be heard in your voice. Put your smile, welcome, and helpfulness in your voice.
  • When you are leaving the room, say so.
  • Speak to the individual as you would to any other person. Find out what he or she wants in obtaining a useable format.
  • Speak to the person directly, not through his or her companion.
  • If the individual asks to be guided to a particular area, stand next to him or her, slightly ahead and ask him or her to take your arm. Do not grab the arm of the person who is blind. This is dangerous and can be frightening. Identify any objects as you encounter them, including steps and curbs.
  • When giving directions to a person who is blind, be as clear and specific as possible. Describe the surroundings and make sure to point out obstacles in the direct path of travel. Be careful of using descriptions containing numbers or feet or yards/metres (for example, fifty feet ahead). If you are unsure of how to direct someone who is blind, simply ask the person how you should describe things.
  • When guiding a person who is blind to a chair, guide his or her hand to the back of the chair and tell the person if the chair has arms.
  • Be aware of a service animal and the fact that space will need to be made available for the animal in corridors, aisles, etc. Do not touch or pet a service animal, even if it begs for attention. Service animals are not pets; when in the harness, the animal is working. The service animal is responsible for the safety of its owner. Interference could lead to unnecessary disaster.
  • Do not assume that the individual knows his or her way around the building/classroom.
  • Feel free to use words like "look", "see", or "read"; people who are blind use these words too!
Technological Accommodations
  • If the student uses adaptive equipment which permits him or her to read printed materials or to work on a computer, you may find it helpful to understand its operation. This, of course, is not essential; however, feel free to ask the student to explain the operation of the equipment to you. Upon request, the Coordinator of Library Services for Students with Disabilities would be pleased to demonstrate the equipment available at the library.
Assignment Accommodations
  • Provide the student with ample notice when assigning research papers. The student may require assistance finding and translating material into alternate format, such as large print, Braille or electronic format, as well as proofreading the final product.
  • Class assignments or instructions should be outlined orally.
Examination Accommodations
  • Provide texts or examinations in alternate format (Braille, large print, electronic). Students may require someone to read the exam questions aloud.
  • Allow students to use adaptive technology or assistive devices to write their exams. For example, a computer equipped with large print software, a voice synthesizer, and/or a Braille display.
  • Allow for extra time to complete a test or an examination.