Six Things Teachers Can Do to Help Visually Impaired Students in

Strange as it may seem, you, as a "regular classroom teacher," can help your
visually impaired students overcome many of the disabilities they bring with them
to your classroom. By definition, a disability is a limitation in an individual's
normal life functioning that results from an impairment--(a physical/mental/
emotional defect or problem that is often, but not always, organic in nature).
Listed below are six concrete ways in which you can help to reduce disabilities,
and hence increase the normal life functioning of your visually impaired students:
(1) You are not alone when it comes to finding ways to help your visually
impaired students. There is a wide spectrum of special education professionals in
your building/district who would be glad to meet with you to discuss any concerns
you may have about providing your visually impaired students with the best
educational experience possible. Take advantage of these individuals’ expertise.
Remember, you, most likely, were not trained to be a special education teacher,
and are therefore not expected to be an expert in this area.
(2) Help your students become as autonomous as possible. If you have the option
of doing something for a student, or helping that student learn to do for
him/herself, opt for the latter. Not only will this enable the student to continue to
perform important tasks long after he/she has left your classroom, it also builds
self-esteem. It is a good feeling to take responsibility for one's own destiny and
not feel as though you must always depend on the good will of others. For
example, it would be better to help a student find a way to read class assignments
on his/her own rather than always having to rely on readers. Remember the old
adage: "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he
eats for a lifetime.”
(3) Sometimes, simple modifications to the classroom environment or your
teaching practice can be of great benefit to your visually impaired students. For
example, moving a student closer to the board, locating his/her desk in a better
illuminated area of the room, preparing a simple tactile aid or model, or simply
saying what you write on the board or overhead can often make the difference
between success and failure for a student with a visual impairment. Although it
would be hoped that your visually impaired pupils would take the initiative and let
you know about their special needs, this does not always occur. Remember, you
are dealing with adolescents who (usually) don't want to stand out from the crowd,
even if it means they are putting themselves at a severe disadvantage. You may
want to speak with the student after class or approach his/her resource room
teacher if you suspect he/she is having difficulties.
(4) To make it easier for your visually impaired students to get the readings for
your course transcribed into Braille or put onto audio tape before classes begin,
please have your reading lists (including texts, handouts, and any other materials
they will be expected to read) compiled as early as possible. It is the
responsibility of each visually impaired student (or his/her resource room teacher)
to approach you for this information before the beginning of the semester or
school year. Hint: If you use a word processor to generate reading material for
your students, or if you require them to view particular web pages, you may be
able to simply give your visually impaired pupils a floppy disk containing these
files so they can be automatically transcribed into Braille or read with a speech
(5) If the visually impaired students in your classes are able to read printed
material (visually, or with the aid of a machine), please make every effort to
provide them with legible reading materials. Try to avoid faint or smudged type,
"fancy fonts," and right justification--(which results in unequal spacing between
characters). While some students may require large print, others will do just fine
with normal size type. Ask if you are uncertain.
(6) Remember that your visually impaired "children" are children first, who
happen to have a visual impairment, rather than visual impairments with children
attached. Unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, treat them as you would
any other student. They are not made of glass and are no better (or worse) than
any other individuals you may encounter. Of course, if their impairments prevent
them from engaging in certain activities, cause them to perform some tasks more
slowly (or differently) than their peers, or place them and their classmates in
dangerous situations, take the necessary steps to accommodate these needs. For
example, some students, because of reading difficulties, may legitimately require
more time on written tests. Giving these students the extra time they need would
be the right thing to do, and could be justified on grounds that it was putting them
on a more equal footing with their sighted peers who do not have to contend with
these difficulties. On the other hand, situations where students neglect to hand in
their homework assignments, or habitually arrive late to class after they have
learned the way, should not be tolerated as these are instances where a visual
impairment has little, or nothing, to do with their failure to meet your
B&D Franson