The following notes will help you to think about the possible needs of students who are blind or partially sighted.
These notes are not intended as a substitute for discussing with individual students what their needs are. Or how their requirements can best be met in an academic context. To know that a particular student is either blind or partially sighted is actually to know very little about what they are able or not able to see or do.
These notes are also not a substitute for thinking about how teaching can be made more accessible to disabled students. For further advice on this, refer to the Teachability materials (see Further Resources, below).
People who are blind or partially sighted have visual impairments that cannot be corrected by glasses or contact lenses.
A very small percentage of people who are blind have no vision at all. They are unable to distinguish light from dark. Others have blurred vision, restricted visual field, or patchy vision.
There are some who may have difficulty distinguishing between objects of a similar shape and colour. Or they might have problems with gauging distance or speed. Some people who have reduced peripheral vision but good central vision may need help in getting about. Yet they can read small print without much difficulty.
For some people, visual impairment may be associated with or be in addition to another impairment.
Some people's loss of vision fluctuates. While for others the loss is gradual and developing.
Possible impact on study
Getting around campus. Reading printed text. Producing text.
Students need to do all these things. They are likely to have developed an alternative, preferred way of doing them. It will depend on the nature and extent of their loss of vision, and the training and technology that are available to them. For students who are experiencing changes in vision, there may be a need to adjust techniques during their course of study. They may also start their studies without being fully aware of how their impairment will impact the requirements of the study.
Some blind or partially sighted students own guide dogs. Following a period of orientation with their dog, they may be able to find their way around the campus relatively independently. Unless there are unusual and compelling Health & Safety reasons governing access to some areas, guide-dog owners should be permitted to take their dogs wherever they go. Guide dogs need access to a grassy area at regular intervals. And access to water.
Other students may use a long cane. There are different types of white cane. The cane may only show that the person is blind. But some canes are designed to be used as mobility devices. These are known as long canes or guide canes. They are swung from side to side as the person moves forward, to locate any hazards or obstacles.
Some blind or partially sighted students may be accompanied by a sighted guide. Many people who are blind or partially sighted, and who have good peripheral vision, don't need additional aids for mobility. This is primarily where the environment is well-lit. And where colour contrast has been used well to highlight potential hazards, such as the edges of stairs.
Students who are blind or visually impaired cannot typically access standard print without adaptation. They require access to their reading in an accessible electronic format.
Accessible electronic text can then be read with the use of a screen reader and Braille display by students who are blind. Or through a combination of Large Print, magnification, and text-to-speech for students who are partially sighted.
Like all students, those who are blind or visually impaired may be unfamiliar with the study settings in which visual data is presented. They will be experiencing the qualitative aspects of presentations for the first time. For example, font size and distance from overheads, lighting, and colour contrast. These are types of things that can affect students' access to the text presented on overheads.