Visual impairment accommodations for students | Hable One

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Visual impairment accommodations for students

In today's inclusive educational landscape, it's crucial to address the specific needs of students with visual impairments. The goal is to provide equal learning opportunities, ensuring that every student, regardless of their visual abilities, has access to a comprehensive and engaging education.

This article delves into the various accommodations and modifications that can be made in educational settings to support visually impaired students. Our focus is not just on the essentials but also on innovative solutions like Hable One, which is revolutionizing the way visually impaired students interact with technology.

We focus on what reasonable accommodations for visually impaired students can be implemented by educational institutions and how to do this in an efficient way.

Educators, parents, and students alike will find valuable insights and practical strategies to enhance the learning experience for those with visual impairments. Whether you're looking for guidance on creating a more accessible classroom environment or seeking information on advanced assistive technology, this article aims to be a comprehensive resource.

What are reasonable modifications for visually impaired students?

When addressing the educational needs of visually impaired students, it's important to distinguish between accommodations and modifications. While accommodations are adjustments to how a student learns, modifications change what a student is expected to learn or the level of difficulty of the assignments.

Ideally, modifications are considered only when accommodations are insufficient to meet the student’s needs, as they can fundamentally alter the educational experience.

Here are some examples of modifications that might be employed for visually impaired students:

  • Simplified Assignments: Reducing the complexity or quantity of work to match the student's capabilities.
  • Alternative Projects: Offering different types of projects or assessments that are more accessible for the student. For example, an oral presentation instead of a written report.
  • Adjusted Grading Scales: Modifying the grading criteria to accommodate the unique challenges faced by the student.

It's crucial to strike a balance when implementing modifications. The goal is to ensure that visually impaired students are not unduly disadvantaged, while also maintaining the integrity of the educational standards. 

A visually impaired student is presenting a workpaper in a classroom. The student stands at the front, holding a paper, with a white cane

How do you accommodate a classroom for visual impairment? 

When it comes to reasonably accommodating a classroom for students with visual impairments, it's essential to understand that the needs vary significantly based on the type and extent of the impairment. Therefore, our discussion is split into three sections: accommodations for visually impaired students, accommodations for blind students, and for both. 

Starting with several visual impairment accommodations, we would advise all students with any type of visual impairment:

  • Extended Time on Tests/Assignments: Recognizing that these students may need additional time due to their visual impairment or the medium they use to work with the test.
  • Use of a Screen Reader: Screen reading software can convert text into speech or Braille, making digital content accessible. 
  • Copies of Notes: Providing notes in advance or in an accessible format helps students follow along with lectures more effectively. This also allows students to prepare for the class and if needed they can modify the content for their medium. 
  • Alternative Testing Environment: Offering a quiet and controlled environment can reduce distractions and aid concentration. This is also relevant for other students who might get distracted by a Braille Display or audio format. 
  • Accessible File Formats: Ensuring course materials and standardized tests are available in formats that are compatible with assistive technology. Note that many students are aware of formats they are able to work with. Collaborate on setting up an environment that works for both the student and teacher. 
A visually impaired student doing a test in the classroom using screen reader

Accommodations for visually impaired students

Visually impaired students typically have some level of sight but may struggle with tasks that require fine visual discrimination or they get tired after relying on their vision for longer periods. For these students, visual impairment accommodations we recommend are:

  • Enlarged Print Materials: Textbooks, handouts, and exams in larger print can make reading and comprehension significantly easier.
  • Adjusted Lighting and Seating: Position these students in areas of the classroom where the lighting is optimal for their needs and minimize glare on their work surfaces.
  • Use of Assistive Technology: Devices like magnifiers or specialized software can greatly aid in reading and writing.

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Accommodations for blind students

Students who are blind require a different set of accommodations, as they rely on non-visual senses for learning. These blind accommodations do not apply to all students but focus on a different set of senses. Some of these accommodations include:

  • Braille Materials: Providing textbooks and handouts in Braille is essential for students who read using this system. Make sure to reach out to organizations like the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) or Perkins in the USA or the RNIB in the UK, for advice on providing Braille textbooks. 
  • Tactile Learning Tools: Models and other tactile resources can help in understanding spatial and conceptual information. Here think of Braille Displays or Braille Keyboards like the Hable One. These tools significantly increase the level of independence for students, as they can take notes and fully participate in the classroom. 
  • Orientation and Mobility Training: Assisting students in navigating the school environment safely and independently.

Besides these blind accommodations, we advise speaking with experts who can assist with setting up the classroom in an ideal way. 

A blind student reading in braille in the library with other 2 sighted friends

Additional steps you can take

Beyond the standard accommodations and modifications, there are crucial yet often overlooked steps that can significantly enhance the educational experience of students with visual impairments.

  • Educating the School Community: It's important to inform classmates and the wider school community about their role. Simple acts like avoiding clutter in classrooms and closing doors to minimize noise can create a safer and more conducive environment for visually impaired students. Raising awareness among peers can foster a more inclusive and empathetic atmosphere.
  • Ongoing Dialogue with the Student: Regularly sitting down with the student to discuss challenges and potential solutions is vital. This not only helps in addressing issues as they arise but also empowers the student to be an active participant in their learning process.
  • Collaboration with Experts: Connecting with professionals experienced in supporting visually impaired students can provide valuable insights. Encouraging staff to engage in professional development focused on visual impairments can significantly improve the school's ability to provide effective support.

Additionally, these articles by Perkins and Teaching Visually Impaired have many great insights on easy implementations to accommodate the classroom reasonably for visually impaired students. 

These steps, focusing on community involvement and continuous engagement, are key to creating a truly supportive and inclusive educational setting for students with visual impairments.

Interesting Facts & Estimates

Based on the 2018 Annual Report by the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), which utilized data from January 2017, it is estimated that there were around 63,501 children, youth, and adult learners in educational environments across the United States who were legally blind.

Data source: 2018 Annual Report: American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. http://www.aph.org/annual-reports

In 2016, the total number of non-institutionalized individuals in the United States, across all races and ethnicities and with varying education levels, who were reported to have a visual disability was approximately 7,675,600, which constitutes about 2.4% of the population in all age groups. Specifically, in the age range of 16 to 75 and over, there were about 7,208,700 individuals (2.83%) with a visual disability. Of these, 3,946,300 were women, accounting for 3.01% of the female population, and 3,262,300 were men, making up 2.65% of the male population. Among those aged 16 to 64, around 4,037,600 (2.0%) had a visual disability, while the number increased to 3,171,100 (6.6%) in the 65 and older age group.

Data Source: Erickson, W., Lee, C., von Schrader, S. (2017). Disability Statistics from the American Community Survey (ACS). Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Yang-Tan Institute (YTI). Retrieved from Cornell University Disability Statistics website: www.disabilitystatistics.org

In a 2015 study, 1.02 million people in the U.S. were blind and 3.22 million had visual impairment (VI), with 8.2 million affected by VI due to uncorrected refractive error. By 2050, these numbers are expected to double, with blindness affecting 2.01 million, VI impacting 6.95 million, and VI from uncorrected refractive error rising to 16.4 million.

The highest numbers were among non-Hispanic whites, women, and older adults, expected to remain most affected through 2050. African Americans experienced the highest prevalence, but by 2050, the highest prevalence of VI will shift to Hispanic individuals. Florida and Hawaii are projected to have the highest per capita prevalence of VI by 2050, and Mississippi and Louisiana have the highest of blindness.

Data Source: Varma, R., Vajaranant, T. S., Burkemper, B., Wu, S., Torres, M., Hsu, C., Choudhury, F., & McKean-Cowdin, R. (2016). Visual impairment and blindness in adults in the United States: Demographic and geographic variations from 2015 to 2050. JAMA Ophthalmology, 134(7), 802-809. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2016.1284 

A visually impaired man reading in braille with other students around

FAQ

What teaching materials are being used?

For visually impaired students, teaching materials often include enlarged print materials, Braille texts, tactile learning tools, and digital content accessible through screen readers. Audio resources and specialized software for visual impairment are also commonly utilized.

Which techniques and methods are used? 

This is a question we receive a lot when it comes to visual impairment accommodations for students. Techniques for teaching visually impaired students include differentiated instruction, the use of assistive technology, and multisensory learning approaches. Educators often employ oral presentations, hands-on activities, and adaptive devices to enhance learning.

How do you ensure classroom inclusivity for visually impaired students?

Classroom inclusivity is ensured through awareness among peers about visual impairments, creating an environment free from physical barriers, and incorporating collaborative activities that include all students. Regular teacher-student interactions to understand and address specific needs are also key.

What role do parents play in supporting their visually impaired child's education?

Parents can support their child's education by maintaining open communication with teachers, advocating for necessary accommodations, and providing a supportive home environment for learning. They can also help by exploring and utilizing external resources and support groups.

How can technology further aid visually impaired students in the classroom?

Technology aids visually impaired students through tools like text-to-speech software, digital braille displays, and audiobooks. Advances in educational technology are continually providing new, innovative ways to make learning materials more accessible and engaging for these students.

In the end, what is important is that this is a joint process. Collaboration between the student, teacher, and educational institution is crucial. There is no silver bullet for blind accommodation in the classroom, it is heavily dependent on the individual.

The first step is being aware of the needs and possibilities, and if you got this far, you are well on your way! We hope this article helped you, if you are looking for answers to more specific questions, be sure to reach out to our expert team of trainers and we are happy to help you. 

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Freek van Welsenis
CEO | Co-Founder

Hable comes from a personal inspiration. With siblings with a disability and my parents working in this space, this is my area of interest. I have a huge passion for applying tech so people with disabilities can participate.

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