Visual impairments may be described as partially sighted, low vision, or legally blind. These terms are defined as follows:
- "partially sighted" indicates some type of vision problem that has resulted in the need for some special accommodations such as enlarged text, colored paper, or special lighting.
- "low vision" generally refers to a severe visual impairment. Low vision describes individuals who are unable to read the newspaper at a normal viewing distance, even with the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses. Accommodations may include special lighting, enlarged print, or 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). Generally, accommodations will require audio recording of text, Braille, and voice output computer access.
Eye disorders which can lead to visual impairments can include retinal degeneration, albinism, cataracts, glaucoma, muscular problems that result in visual disturbances, corneal disorders, diabetic retinopathy, congenital disorders, infection, and traumatic injury.
The major challenge facing blind and partially sighted 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 other way.
Study Aids: Between 70 and 80 percent of all legally blind persons in the United States have measurable vision. The partially sighted student meets the challenge of disability in much the same way as the blind student. This includes the use of readers, audio taped texts, raised line drawings, etc. In addition, the partially sighted student may be able to use large print books, a closed-circuit TV magnifier (CCTV), a computer with enlarged screen output, or other magnifying devices. The student may also use a large print typewriter for papers. Some partially sighted students will be able to take notes in class by printing very large with a felt tip pen or marker. Other will tape record lectures for later review. Some students may need to have a classmate make a copy of his/her notes to share. Copy paper is provided by the Student Disability Services office. It is most helpful to make printed materials available in advance so the student can review prior to class time.
Textbooks: Faculty can be very helpful by choosing class texts early. It takes a long time to have a text audio recorded or enlarged. If texts are selected early, make this information readily available through the campus bookstore so that the partially sighted student has time to make the necessary arrangements.
Class Lectures: Sitting in the front of the room, having large print on the chalk board, or the use of enlarged print on an overhead projector may assist a partially sighted student. However, the capacity to read printed materials depends greatly on conditions such as the degree of contrast, brightness, and color. It is preferable that the student and instructor discuss in advance what methods, techniques, or devices may be used to maximum advantage.
For the student with extremely limited vision, the professor should remember that "this and that" phrases are basically meaningless to the student. For example, "the sum of this and that equals this" or "the lungs are located here and the diaphragm here" are of little meaning to the partially sighted student. In the first example, the instructor may be writing on the chalk board and can just as easily say "The sum of 4 and 7 equals 11." The partially sighted student in this case is getting the same information as a sighted student. In the second example, the instructor may be pointing to a model or to the body itself. In this instance, the professor 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 partially sighted student and probably the rest of the class will benefit.
Sometimes 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 to another party and to erase them at the end of the semester. Agreement forms are available in the Student Disability Services office.
Testing: The partially sighted student will usually need an adapted test format as well as more time to complete the test. The Student Disability Services office has a testing room available and can generally have tests enlarged, recorded or Brailled with a few days' notice. Diagrams, charts, graphs and tables must be sent away to produce raised line drawings and can require several weeks to complete. Please plan ahead!
Other Concerns: If classes involve field trips to out-of-class locations, discuss travelling needs with the partially sighted student. In most instances all that will be required is for a member of the class to act as a sighted guide to assist the student in becoming familiar with the location.
Courses which have a strong "visual" component (such as laboratory courses or art courses) can present a real challenge to the partially sighted student. Usually in laboratory situations a lab assistant who is familiar with the elements of the lab will be contracted to work individually with the partially sighted student. In other courses, a student who is particularly adept at verbally describing visual images can assist the partially sighted student as a visual "interpreter" or "translator."
Emergencies: Most partially sighted students will be familiar with the immediate area they are in. 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 the following equipment/software available for use by partially sighted students. Generally, the student will make arrangements for any special equipment needs through the Student Disability Services office before the semester begins. See the "Equipment" section of this web site for more information.
- Voice output computer
- Computer screen enlarging programs
- Closed circuit TV (CCTV) magnifiers
- Large-print, recording, and Brailling capability