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Students with visual impairments can have very different abilities and needs. Children can have no vision, have tunnel vision, have peripheral vision, or have some other form of limited sight. Some students may have the ability to see magnified shapes or print. Whatever the degree of visual impairment, these children have constant challenges because typical instruction relies on visual learning .Classroom materials, in the forms of overhead transparencies, Power Point slides, information on chalkboards and whiteboards, and demonstrations will be inaccessible to students with visual impairments. Books, worksheets, handouts, and tests additionally cause barriers to learning. Teachers need to use assistive technology in combination with classroom accommodations and instructional modifications to give equal access to these students.
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Before welcoming a student with a visual impairment into your classroom, you should talk to special education personnel on the child’s Individual Education Plan (IEP) team. You should have an idea of the child’s degree of vision and any assistive devices he uses. The IEP team should provide assistance with accommodation such as note takers, textbooks on tape, and raised-line illustrations and tactile representations of graphical material. Members of the team should help both you and the student employ assistive technology in the classroom, including:
- screen magnification or reading software;
- text to speech software;
- Type & Speak or Braille & Speak device;
- voice recognition software;
- a computer with optical character reader and voice output, or Braille display and printer output.
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Classroom and Instructional Modifications
In general, you should describe the classroom to the student, routinely check the classroom for changes, and tell the student if any occur. Encourage the student to sit in the front of the room, as he will be relying on listening to you. Always speak to the class when entering and leaving the room, and call the student by name if you want his attention. When talking to the student, do not assume the student will recognize your voice and always identify yourself by name.
In presenting material to the class, remember these accommodations for visually impaired students:
- Use specific directions in relation to the student's body orientation. For example, use the terms “straight,” “left,” and “right” to help guide the student, and avoid terms such as "over here,” “there,” which have no meaning to him;
- Provide notes, handouts, assignments and other printed material by audiotape, in Braille, or with magnified print and enhanced images;
- Carefully describe important visual occurrences of learning activities;
- Verbally spell any new or technical words. This will help not only the student with visual impairments, but also other students;
- Use real objects for three-dimensional representations when possible;
- Adapt instructions for auditory or tactile presentation;
- Allow the student to use a tape recorder for recording lectures, class discussions, and presentations;
- Clearly present assignments and their goals to students during review time;
- Review assignment instructions orally.
With preparation and planning, teachers can ready their classrooms, and themselves, for students with visual impairments. Some of these accommodations for visually impaired students may help other learners as well. Regardless, everyone in the classroom will benefit from learning together with a student with different abilities and needs – even the teacher.
- The Ohio Learning Network and Inclusion in Science Education for Students with Disabilities