Students with a vision disability
- Teaching strategies for students with vision disability
- Alternative assessment strategies for students with vision disabilities
About 1% of Australians has significant loss of sight. The causes of sight loss are diverse and include diabetes, glaucoma, stroke, brain injury, eye infections, viruses, accidents and congenital conditions.
The extent of the impact of the disability on person's life is influenced by the degree of disability, the age at which the disability occurred and the person's range of experiences in early life. People who are blind from a young age may have only partial knowledge of many objects and ideas that people with normal vision take for granted.
Reading and writing are often much slower processes for people with vision disabilities. Extra time may be needed to use the necessary aids such as magnifiers and scanners.
Glare can be a problem and some people will see better on some days than others. Some people have very low vision in dark areas or at night.
Students with vision disabilities are usually able to hear perfectly well. They may have received listening skills training prior to attending university, but should not be assumed to have superior listening skills. They will be able to participate in lectures and tutorials, discussion and group work.
To record notes, some students may wish to use tape recorders, laptop computers, speech or large-print output. They may face limitations in laboratory classes and field trips, for example, but with planning and adaptive equipment their difficulties can be minimised.
Most universities will have library services that are designed to assist students with vision disabilities. The Disability Services Officer will be able to advise students about assistive technology available on campus.
Students may require texts in large print or electronic format. Given the lead time required to produce course text, and other material in one or more formats suitable for a student's needs, reading lists should be made available to the Disability Services Officer as soon as possible, preferably well before the start of semester.
Wherever possible, teaching staff should provide unit outlines and other course-related material in electronic format to facilitate direct access by students using computers with a large print, speech or braille output device.
It is unlawful to refuse guide dogs entry to buildings and classrooms.
Teaching strategies for students with vision disability
- During the semester
- Small groups
- Large groups (Lectures)
- Laboratory and field work
- Distance education
- Flexible delivery
- Ensure reading lists and course outlines are up to date. Provide them in advance to allow time for production of course texts and other reading material in accessible formats.
- Liaise with the Disability Services Officer to assist the student to find readers, note-takers or tutors, as necessary, or pair the student with a sighted classmate or laboratory assistant.
- Discuss appropriate seating in classes with the student. If a guide dog is used, it will be highly disciplined and require little space.
- Ensure that students with vision disabilities are notified in an appropriate way of organisational changes, for example, change of teaching venue.
- Work with the student and Disability Services Officer to ensure that details for important events and all recurrent information is provided in accessible formats-for example, large print or electronic (emailed, from web, or on disk). Try to establish rapport early in the course.
- Approach students regularly to find out how they are going and if they are having any problems; remember to identify yourself as they may not be able to see you.
- If you are planning to use a video or film, tell the student and discuss alternative ways of providing any information they miss.
- Use plain English and speak in a normal voice, not loudly, slowly or with exaggeration.
- Stand or sit where glare from behind is minimised.
- Keep doors closed or open, not partly open and ensure that objects are not moved from their usual places without letting the student know.
- Keep corridors clear.
- Notetakers and readers may be available on a student's request.
- Libraries may have assistive technology to help students to study, and provide access to free photocopying.
- Be alert to the person's needs, but ask first if assistance is required.
(Tutorials, seminars, experiential group work)
- Model appropriate communication for students in the group.
- Identify yourself by name, in case the person does not recognise your voice.
- Indicate verbally when you are entering or leaving the person's presence.
- Provide printed material containing tutorial exercises to the student ahead of time to allow for its production in an accessible format, thereby making it usable during the class in question.
- Face the class when speaking.
- Read aloud information written on the blackboard or shown on overheads.
- If demonstrating, describe what you are doing.
- If information is presented diagrammatically or in tabular form, it is essential that it be described clearly to allow a student with a vision disability to gain an understanding of what is being depicted in a visual way to other students.
- Copies of overheads in large print or electronic format may be useful, and should be provided in advance of the lecture in which they are to be used to enable the student timely access to the information they contain in a suitable format.
- Some students may seek permission to tape lectures, and this should be granted if this is the most appropriate method of accessing information presented in class.
- Provide the student with an individual orientation.
- Careful planning of fieldwork may be necessary.
- Discuss with the student, perhaps also the Disability Services Officer, any possible problems they or you envisage, and ways to overcome them, particularly in relation to health and safety issues.
- Pairing the student with a sighted classmate or laboratory assistant may be useful.
- Assistive technology may be available.
- Course materials will need to be in an appropriate format.
- CD-ROMS will require a voice synthesiser.
- Use of email as a means of providing written information is strongly encouraged.
As with all modes of study, suitability of course design will depend on the individual student's needs, and where possible and appropriate, the curriculum should be modified to accommodate such needs.
Alternative assessment strategies for students with vision disabilities
- Discussion of assessment strategies with the student and Disability Services Officer should take place early in the semester. One student with vision disability may work best with screen reading software, while another with a similar level of vision disability may work best with audio taped or enlarged material. Other issues such as the length of time the student has had the disability, the type and nature of high or low-tech equipment at their disposal and their level of competency in tasks such as word processing may affect their preferences for certain work methods.
- Reading large print or using screen reading software takes longer than reading a standard typed page. Listening to a tape, or dictating an answer, also takes longer than writing answers in longhand. Additional time for completion of tasks is therefore frequently necessary.
- Appropriate supports and arrangements will need to be made well in advance to ensure necessary facilities are available and to allow the student to practise using them prior to any examination.
- Be prepared to negotiate early with the student about their individual needs. Discuss whether the usual assignments will present any problems, due to the student's disability, and adapt assignment tasks where required.
- Getting information from the library and having it produced in a suitable format may take time making it necessary for staff to be flexible with assignment deadlines.
- Monitor a student's progress-it may be possible to do this by email or telephone.
- Students should be able to participate in tutorial discussion although they may require a reader.
- Encourage participation while being sensitive to the fact that they may not be able to pick up on visual cues or the body language of other participants.
- See also 'Small groups' above.
- Extra time, with rest breaks, may be necessary, particularly when using assistive technology.
- Use of assistive technology-for example, optical character recognition equipment such as the Kurzweil Personal Reader to gain spoken access to printed material, computerized notetaking devices with braille or speech output, a computer or closed circuit television for print magnification may be needed.
- Should a student with vision disability require the use of assistive technology in an examination situation, a separate room with extra power points and adequate space to accommodate cumbersome equipment may be needed.
- If exam questions need to be in electronic or produced in large print format, this will take time to organise, so it should be discussed early in the term with the Disability Offficer.
- Dictation to audio tape of a student's responses to exam questions, for transcription later, should be considered.
- Students may dictate answers to a scribe who writes the essay or fills in the answer sheets as appropriate.
- If spelling and punctuation are related to the course objectives, discussion with the student will be necessary to determine how this is to be evaluated.
- Open-book exams can pose a major problem for students with vision disability. If you are planning to use this method, discuss with the student and/or the Disability Services Officer whether an alternative is required.
- Use of complex multiple choice questions or items requiring students to respond to a question matching one of several statements to each item can be problematic for students with little or no vision. This is due to difficulties experienced by these students in scanning/ reading and memorising written material for prolonged periods. Before setting exam questions using these formats, the Disability Services Officer should be consulted for advice regarding a format most suitable to the needs of students with vision disability.
- Use of questions requiring students to draw diagrams or provide responses based on an interpretation of visual information, such as cartoons and graphs should be avoided. Where an exam contains such questions, these should be substituted with items requiring students with vision disability to formulate answers based on interpretation of written text which may involve, for example, providing an explanation of a theoretical concept in plain English.