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Working with Visually Impaired Students

Visually-impaired students are more frequently being assigned to traditional classrooms where many teachers have not had experience of or training to work with these students.  We offer the following suggestions to make the learning experience for both the students and the teacher more effective and enjoyable.

Determine what kind of visual impairment your student has.

There are many kinds of visual impairment which are generally classified as follows (1):

"Partially sighted" indicates some type of visual problem has resulted in a need for special education;

"Low vision" generally refers to a severe visual impairment, not necessarily limited to distance vision. Low vision applies to all individuals with sight who are unable to read the newspaper at a normal viewing distance, even with the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses. They use a combination of vision and other senses to learn, although they may require adaptations in lighting or the size of print, and, sometimes, braille; "Legally blind" indicates that a person has less than 20/200 vision in the better eye or a very limited field of vision (20 degrees at its widest point); and      

Totally blind students learn via braille or other non-visual media.

It is more important to determine what capabilities your visually-impaired student has so that you know what type of assistive technologies you need to provide.  Assistive technologies are defined as “any device or process that assists a person with a disability to do something that could otherwise be difficult or impossible to accomplish” (2).  If the student has an assigned teacher aid, he/she should be able to help you with this. 

The ACE materials offer a variety of versions of student texts and graphics to help all students “see” with their “mind’s eye” when you introduce new science concepts.  The student texts are available in large print for partially-sighted or low-vision students, in Braille and computer reader software versions as well as audio tapes for the totally blind.

The graphic templates are available in Swell-Form™ or Braille versions.

Use tactile manipulatives

In the procedures for implementing these materials, you will find

  • instructions for making 3-D models and equipment for conducting experiments that will help students understand scientific modeling and experimentation; and

  • suggestions for using effective tactile manipulatives to help visually-impaired or tactile learners visualize the abstract concepts in these materials.  These are in side boxes in the procedure sections.

Resources:

1.  National Federation of the Blind, 1800 Johnson Street, Baltimore, MD 21230

2.  Thompson, A.R., L.L. Bethea, H.R. Rizer, and M.D Hutton, 1997.  Students with disabilities and assistive technology:  A desk reference guide.  (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 407810).

 

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