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Visual Disability

The photo shows two visually impaired pedestrians walk with canes and a guide dog.

Visual disabilities vary greatly. Persons are considered legally blind when visual acuity is 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of corrective lenses, or when they have a field of vision no greater than 20 degrees. Most students who are legally blind may have some vision. Others

who are partially sighted may rely on residual vision with the use of adaptive equipment. Students who are totally blind may have visual memory, depending on the age when vision was lost. Some blind students may need to use a service dog to assist them to get around campus. These dogs are specially trained and are allowed in classrooms and other academic settings.

Functional Limitations

Students with visual disabilities face the challenge of accessing information designed for a visual world delivered in visually oriented forms and systems. These can include printed materials and books, graphical computer interfaces, and online video. Other activities impacted by visual impairments include:

  • Transportation and mobility
  • Reading laboratory devices and taking measurements
  • Reading signage and room numbers
  • Reading print materials, textbooks, and computer-based information
  • Comprehending mathematical symbols and concepts
  • Accommodations

    Accommodation needs of students with visual disabilities vary greatly by individual and academic activity. Some common accommodations provided include:

  • Preferential classroom seating
  • Audio recording of lectures
  • Note-takers, scribes, and lab assistants
  • Sighted assistance with group activities
  • Use of canes or service animals for mobility
  • Alternate formats of printed materials and texts
  • Assistive technologies such as screen enlarging or reading software
  • Extended time on exams
  • Teaching Strategies

    The photo shows a close-up of a person reading Braille with their fingers.

  • Provide reading lists or syllabi in advance to allow time for ordering electronic versions of textbooks and other reading materials or for scanning or brailing of texts
  • Provide in advance a list of videos that will be used in class or assigned, to enable private viewing with a video describer
  • Consult with the students and the disability services staff to identify effective adjustments for students with visual disabilities in web-based or hybrid courses
  • Assist the student, in cooperation with the disability services staff, in finding readers, note-takers, or tutors, as necessary, or team the student with a sighted classmate or laboratory assistant
  • Reserve front seats for low-vision students (if a guide dog is used, it will be highly disciplined and require little space)
  • Face the class when speaking
  • Convey in spoken words whatever you put on the board or project on a screen and any other visual cues or graphic materials you may use
  • Permit lectures to be taped and/or provide copies of lecture notes, when appropriate
  • Provide print documents in large fonts and/or provide electronic copies
  • Be flexible with assignment deadlines
  • Plan field trips and such special projects as internships well in advance, and alert field supervisors to whatever adaptations may be needed
  • Consider an alternative assignment if a specific task is impossible for the student to carry out
  • Consider alternative means of assessment, such as oral exams, audiotaped exams, large print paper, Braille embossed or tactile materials versions of exams, electronic formats of exams readable by screen reader and magnification software. Other adaptations suited to specific instructional situations may be appropriate in presenting diagrams or illustrations in certain subjects
  • Additional useful tips and practices for faculty working with visually impaired students can be found here
  • Our Sources and Additional Resources:

  • NYS Commission for the Blind and Visually Handicapped:
  • Adaptive Technology Center for New Jersey Colleges:
  • American Foundation for the Blind (AFB):
  • Online resources for teaching the Blind: