Blind and Vision Impaired
There are around 300,000 people who are blind or vision impaired in Australia. There is no ‘typical’ vision-impaired student: the impairment may be the result of a range of conditions and its impact will depend on the type, extent and timing of vision loss.
The impact of the impairment on learning will vary significantly according to the nature and extent of vision loss: some students will have been born without vision, others will have lost it gradually; some will have no vision at all, others will have some vision, be light-sensitive, or have limited peripheral vision. It is also possible that vision and light-sensitivity will fluctuate day-to-day.
Some students may rely on a guide dog or white cane to assist mobility while others have sufficient residual vision to get around independently. Students may require accommodations and assistive devices to facilitate access to education. An accommodation may be as simple as a seat near the front of the class, but most students use assistive technology (such as closed circuit TV, screen-magnification or screen-reading software) to enable them to read and access the internet.
Impact of Vision Impairment and Blindness
The learning processes of students with vision impairment may be affected in the following ways:
- Students with vision impairment may access information in a variety of ways, for example Braille, audio-tape, or enlarged print. Braille readers cannot skim-read and may take up to three times as long as other students to read a text. Students with some vision may be large-print readers. Many will be unable to read examination questions and handouts in standard print or read their own handwriting when answering examination questions. They may also be unable to take their own notes. Extra time is needed to carry out some tasks, such as locating words in a text when shifting from one reading medium to another.
- Students who need information put into alternative formats must wait, often up to six to eight weeks, for the material to be produced for them. This means that they will often fall behind other students in the class.
- Students with vision impairment may feel isolated in the learning environment, which can have an impact on their learning.
- Headaches often result from eyestrain. This may reduce considerably the study time available to these students.
- Participation and interaction in tutorials may be limited. It is difficult for students who cannot see the body language and interactions of others to feel comfortable about participating. Judging when it is appropriate to interrupt or to take a turn in discussion is particularly difficult.
Colour blindness (or colour deficiency) is typically a genetic condition, although it can also be the result of injury, disease or ageing. (Although not actually called colour blindness, age-related colour deficiency is a result of the yellowing of the corneas, which severely hampers the perception of violet and blue.) It is much more common in men than in women - around one in 12 men have some kind of colour perception problem. There are many different types and degrees of colour blindness. It is extremely rare to have monochromasy: the complete absence of any colour sensation.
Disability Practitioner Strategies
In addition to the teaching and assessment strategies, there are a range of services and equipment that are commonly facilitated by Disability Practitioners as reasonable adjustments for students with vision impairment.
The provision of recorded lectures
Transcription of Visual Resources into accessible format including:
Powerpoints, film clips, YouTube and Web-conferencing
Access to a Student Access Study Centre
Provision of a Practical Assistant within laboratories
Negotiation of additional time to complete practical tasks and assessments
Access to Screen Reader Assistive Technology, such as JAWS
Access to Screen Enlarger Assistive technology, such as Zoom Text
Transcription of texts and reading into accessible formats
Provision of Assistive Technology in examinations
Examination questions in electronic or enlarged format
Extra time provided prior to examinations for computer set up
Extra time provided within examinations
Arrangement for student to meet with faculty to identify strategies for accommodating the implications of the disability in relation to the inherent requirements of any required practicums
As a disability practitioner it may be helpful to be aware of inclusive teaching and assessment strategies that can assist all students. ADCET has identified some specific strategies that may be useful for students who are Deaf or hearing impaired Blind and Vision Impaired Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Strategies
How to Interpret Eye Reports: A Guide for Disability Practitioners in the Post-Secondary Sector
Understanding and interpreting ophthalmological and optometric reports can be difficult for those of us outside the field. A basic understanding, however, is useful when there is a need to assess the impacts of an eye condition and make decisions around appropriate Reasonable Adjustments to course work and assessments. This article aims to provide some basic information and tips for interpreting eye reports - What should I look for? What do the figures mean? What questions should I ask the student?