What would you do if you walked into the first class of the semester and noticed that a blind student was sitting on the front row? Would you feel prepared to provide accommodations to this student? Or would you feel uncertain, apprehensive, or even intimidated? Accommodating students who are blind/visually impaired can pose some unique challenges. Here are some pointers to help you feel more prepared.
First of all, don’t panic! There are resources available to you as you provide accommodations in your classroom. The Accessibility Services Department (ASD) is always available to help with troubleshooting and to provide guidance to ensure that all instructors provide equal access to our students. The student will also be an excellent resource for you. Typically, they have tried and tested various strategies in the classroom and know what works best for them. Remember, each person with a disability is an individual, so a strategy that worked for one student may not necessarily work for the next. The student is the expert on their disability and can let you know what accommodations are effective for them.
Many students who are blind / visually impaired rely on technology to process visual information. Technology has greatly helped students access the college environment.
- Screen reader software provides audio output so blind students can hear the text that those with sight would see on a computer screen. This technology can be used with your websites, PowerPoint presentations, syllabi, and other handouts. Screen readers do not easily read some pdf’s, so it is better to provide Word documents.
- Some students who are blind utilize braille for reading. The Assistive Technology Center has a braille embosser and will need all handouts and written materials in advance to make them available to students in a timely manner.
- Students with visual impairments use a screen enlargement software called Zoomtext. This helps students with low vision access handouts and websites, but can cause some eye fatigue so it may be difficult to use it for extended periods of time.
- Textbooks in audio format are provided so students get the information from the text. Sometimes ASD can easily get these books from publishers, but other times it is a more complicated and time consuming process.
- Digital recorders and laptops can be useful for recording lectures or taking notes. Although some students may have a peer note taker.
“The many new adaptive technologies now available to help deal with the barriers imposed by blindness are wonderful, but nothing can replace the mentoring and support of the teacher who is aware, positive, and proactive” (Burgstahler, 2010).
- Written materials need to be provided in advance so they can be processed into an accessible format for students who are blind / visually impaired.
- You might be asked to provide written materials via e-mail or in an enlarged font.
- Students who are blind / visually impaired cannot typically see PowerPoint presentations in the classroom. It is important to read each slide as it comes up. This helps any students who are auditory learners as well.
- Service animals are permitted in classrooms and should not be excluded from the classroom environment without first discussing the situation with ASD.
- Students who are blind / visually impaired will not always make eye contact or take notes. They may or may not wish to sit in the front of the classroom.
- ABOVE ALL—please be flexible and be willing to think outside the box.
If you have questions or concerns regarding any disability accommodations, please contact the ASD at (801) 863-8747. We are here to help you provide equal access to all UVU students.
By Candida Darling MSW, Counselor
Accessibility Services Department