The major challenge facing blind students in college centers around the overwhelming mass of printed material with which they are confronted -- textbooks, class outlines, class schedules, bibliographies, campus newspapers, posters, tests, etc. The increasing use of films, videotapes, overhead projectors, and closed-circuit television adds to the volume of visual material to which they must have access in some way.
Study Aids: By the time blind students (unless newly blind) reach college, they have probably developed various methods for dealing with the volume of visual materials. Most blind students use a combination of methods including readers, brailled books, and audio tape recorded books and lectures. If the students uses a reader, the student makes the necessary hiring and scheduling arrangements with the assistance of the Student Disability Services office. Whenever possible, provide printed materials to blind students well in advance so the student and reader will have time to review the material before class time.
Students may use raised line drawings of diagrams, charts, illustrations, relief maps, etc. and three-dimensional models of physical organs, shapes, microscopic organisms, etc. Modern technology has made available other aids for blind people including talking calculators and speech-time compressors. Paperless braille machines, braille computer terminals, voice-output computers and reading machines are more recent devices that are available for use by blind individuals. Some of these devices are available at the university through Student Disability Services, the academic computing labs, and the Library. See "Equipment" section for further information.
Most blind students who use braille prefer to take their own notes in class using a slate and stylus or a Perkins Brailler. Some students may need to have a classmate share a copy of his/her notes. The Student Disability Services office has notetaking paper as well as a copy machine available to copy class notes. The faculty may be asked to identify a student in the class as a volunteer notetaker. The blind student's reader later reads the notes onto tape or types them into a computer file for future use. Some blind students audio record lectures and later transcribe notes from them into braille or on the computer. It is helpful if the faculty can provide lecture notes/outlines to the student.
Textbooks: Faculty can be very helpful by choosing class texts early. It takes a long time to have a text audio recorded or brailled. If texts are selected early, make this information readily available through the campus bookstore so that the blind student has time to make the necessary arrangements.
Class Lectures: When there is a blind student in the classroom, the professor should remember that "this and that" phrases are basically meaningless to that student; for example, "The sum of this plus that equals this" or "The lungs are located here and the diaphragm here" offer no meaningful information to a blind student. In the first example, the instructor may just as easily say, "The sum of 4 and 7 equals 11." The blind student in this case is getting the same information as a sighted student. In the second example, the instructor can "personalize" the locations of the lungs and diaphragm by asking class members to locate them by touch on their own bodies. Examples of this type will not always be possible. However, if the faculty is sensitized not to use strictly visual examples, the blind student and probably the rest of the class will benefit.
Some faculty are concerned about having their lectures tape recorded -- whether the student is blind or sighted. If this is the case, the faculty may ask the student to sign an agreement not to release the recordings or to use them for other than personal study. Agreement forms are available in the Student Disability Services office.
Testing: Another area in which the blind student will need an adaptation is in testing. A blind student will generally need to accomplish testing in an alternate format and will need extended time to complete the test. Testing accommodations should be designed to allow the student to display the knowledge gained in an appropriate format, not to diminish academic requirements. The Student Disability Services office has a testing room, and disabled students may have testing done by this office. Faculty and students are encouraged to make arrangements for special testing through this office well in advance of the test date so that appropriate adjustments may be made.
Most students will prefer to take examinations with a familiar reader/scribe, or to work independently from the computer. This is often beneficial to the student because it does not add anxiety to what is already an anxiety-producing situation. Some professors prefer to administer tests themselves or to have a teaching assistant do it. Although this approach is certainly within the prerogative of the instructor, it can be an uncomfortable situation for the student. Some professors choose to give the blind student a "take-home" test. However, it is better to avoid giving any student a "different" test because it creates segregation, makes it difficulty to compare test results, and may create negative attitudes.
Another method that may be used is to administer the test by audio tape to the blind student who either records answers orally on another tape recorder or types the answers. It is possible to have tests brailled or tape recorded by the Student Disability Services office. In any case, the teacher and student should agree early in the course on how the student's progress will be evaluated.
Other Concerns: Some blind students use dog guides. There is no need to worry that the dog guide will disturb the class. Dog guides are very highly trained and disciplined. Most of the time the dog will lie quietly under or beside the table or desk. The greatest disruption a professor can expect may be an occasional yawn or stretch. (Sometimes a siren can cause a low moan.) It is important to remember that, as tempting as it may be to pet a dog guide, the dog while in harness is responsible for guiding its owner who cannot see. It should not be distracted from that duty.
Courses which have a strong "visual" component (such as laboratory courses or art courses) can present a real challenge to the blind student. Most often in laboratory situations, a lab assistant who is familiar with the elements of the lab will be contracted to work individually with the blind student. This arrangement is handled through the Student Disability Services office. In other courses, a student who is particularly adept at verbally describing visual images can assist the blind student as a visual "interpreter" or 'translator."
If classes involve field trips, discuss travel needs with the blind student. In most instances all that will be required is for a member of the class to act as a sighted guide.
In the event of an emergency, tell the person the nature of the emergency and offer to guide him/her to the nearest emergency exit. Have the person take your elbow and escort him/her. As you walk, tell the person where you are and advise of any obstacles. When you have reached safety, orient the person to where he/she is and ask if any further assistance is needed.
Equipment: The university has some equipment available for use by blind students. Generally, the student will make arrangements for any special equipment needs through the Student Disability Services office before the semester begins.
Special equipment includes:
- Voice output computer
- Perkins Brailler
- Tape recorders