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Special Needs Teaching: Transforming Lessons for Low Vision Students

As a teacher, your top priority is to ensure all students have equal opportunities to access learning materials and achieve academic success. However, teaching low-vision students has unique challenges. It requires you to modify your strategies and see to it that you address their unique needs. 

This blog post will discuss how you can transform lessons for low-vision students, including classroom layout and online options for distance learning. 

Some General Facts About Low-Vision Students

A student with low vision is typically one who can read print and has a corrected visual acuity of 20/70 or worse in the better eye. 

Pupils with low vision, in general, have poor distance vision and find it hard to see the chalkboard or to gather information from charts or screens. Most of the time, these students can read large-print texts and get information from graphs, charts, and pictures when the material is up close. 

Simply put, there is no typical visually impaired student. The needs of low vision students are unique. Take note, visual impairments come in different forms. Some can see only a little bit, and some are unable to see at all. 

Some vision impairments are a result of diseases or damage to the brain’s visual processing areas. 

Here are some other general facts about low-vision students

1. Some of them are not totally blind

Encourage them to use their eyes as greater efficiency can only be developed by using the eyes for virtual tasks unless a health professional has said otherwise. 

2. Glasses reduce glare and aid with fatigue

Students with vision impairment use glasses to help with headaches and reduce glare. Glasses, however, cannot improve visual acuity for all eye conditions.

3. Low-vision students can still participate in physical activities

Pupils with special needs should be able to join in most recreational activities, except if the activities require good visual acuity, such as dodgeball. 

4. Holding materials up close will not harm them

Most vision-impaired students find it difficult to read materials unless they read it up close. Allow them to position materials at a distance they are comfortable with.

5. Some students can read with ease

As mentioned before, each student with visual impairment has unique needs. Some can read ordinary type materials with ease, and others require a large-print reading material, a closed-circuit TV, or a handheld magnifying glass. 

Public schools offer Individualized Education Program (IEP; also Individualized Education Plan). An IEP is a written legal document that lays out the program of special education, mainly to support kids who struggle in school, including the deaf and blind. 

Teachers should review the school’s IEP to determine what specific modifications should be made in the classroom to support students with low vision.

You have to remember that the eyes of the pupils with visual impairments may tire quickly. We encourage teachers to let low vision students engage in activities that allow them to change focus. 

Teaching Strategies to Deliver Quality Lessons for Low Vision Students

There is a wide range of techniques that teachers can use to assist all students, but there are some specific methods inclusive and instrumental in teaching groups that include low vision students. 

For educators, the main goal is not to lower the standards to accommodate low vision students, but rather to give them a reasonable opportunity to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

[Must read: Tips On Social Distancing For The Blind And Visually Impaired]

When delivering lectures 

Transforming lessons for low vision students means you have to consider their needs and modify your teaching strategies. 

In the classroom, your low vision students will benefit more if they sit near you. And if there is a presentation or an experiment, the low vision students should be given priority seating or standing room. 

It’s also essential that you stay in a consistent location when teaching so that your student with low vision knows where you will be when you are presenting a lecture. If, however, you need to move, always say so. For example, “Now turn to the chalkboard on the left, where we will make a graph together.”

Providing auditory cues is also helpful for low vision students rather than visual cues. Make it a habit of telling students what you are writing on the whiteboard or chalkboard. This way, low vision students can still follow along with the material and jot down notes. 

Give oral instructions. Handing out materials with assignment instruction might sound good, but it is not as effective for pupils with visual impairments. They may have difficulty reading the words and learning what is expected. 

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An example of tactile materials used to teach low vision students about Geometry.

Explain everything in detail, and always offer to read materials aloud. And when you are leaving or entering the classroom, it’s important to speak to the class notifying the low vision students that you are in proximity. 

When handing out materials

It’s vital that you, the educator, learns to transform the environment or adjust objects that can make lessons for low vision students more plausible. Consider the lighting, size and distance, and color and contrast. 

Below are some recommendations that can help your low vision students benefit more at school. Remember, though, that when making changes, it is vital to consider the characteristics of the visual impairment of each low vision student. 

Some students may have reduced acuity, and others may have a central visual field loss or a peripheral visual field loss. 

In some cases, low vision students may need extra time to complete their exams and assignments. This is typically because reading braille or other technological aid can take additional time. 

Although you want to give low vision students an appropriate amount of time to complete their work, you don’t want them to use their vision as an excuse to submit their work late. Set deadlines and make sure they follow them.

Color and contrast

Low vision students may benefit from objects and pictures with high contrast. For example, the lines on a piece of paper are more visible if they are highlighted with a black marker. 

Students with visual impairments can read their own writing better if they use a thicker pencil, marker, or pen. 

Here are some basic principles when using color to create contrast:

  • The colors that give the highest contrast are black and white. 
  • Avoid using dark colors together, such as green and blue. 
  • Do not use white and gray with other light colors. 
  • Avoid using pastel colors next to each other. 
  • For daily life activities, we recommend using objects with bright colors. 
  • Use masking tape to highlight an object (for example, the shelf where the students need to return the books they borrow). 

Some low vision students may also need a typoscope when reading. A typoscope is a reading shield made of black material with a rectangular aperture that allows the user to see one or more lines of print. 

[Related: Adjusting Online Classes Fit For Students With Learning Disabilities]

Illumination

Most students with low vision are sensitive to glare and light. Hence, you must control the light in the classroom by using curtains, reducing the glare on surfaces, providing (or suggesting) the child with a hat, visor, or sunglasses, or maintaining an even amount of light in the room. 

Some low vision children may need more light. If that’s the case, we recommend placing the child near natural light (i.e., windows). When using lamps, they must be behind the student’s shoulder, on the opposite side of the writing hand or the same side as the stronger eye. 

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Low vision students will benefit more at school if the classroom has good natural lighting.

Size and distance

Magnification is a great tool for students with low vision. You can offer your students pictures, graphs, or maps in large-print. Also, they may prefer to work at close distances. 

Allow them to move closer to the whiteboard if they need to or move the objects/materials closer to them. 

Provide Braille textbooks

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Teachers must provide low vision students with braille books.

You must order all class textbooks in braille as soon as you discover that you have a student with visual impairments in the class. Or, you may use Braille translation software to transfer your course materials into braille. 

This process can take a while, so be sure to make a plan. 

When teaching students with reduced visual acuity

Some low vision students who have reduced visual acuity can benefit from using prescribed glasses (if recommended by an eye doctor), magnification (i.e., large-print materials), high-contrast materials, and preferential seating. 

If you have a student with glare sensitivity, the best you can do is to eliminate or reposition the source of light or recommend the use of visor, hats, or sunglasses even when indoors. 

If you have a student who has difficulty with distance viewing, you may try to familiarize the student with the proposed assignment and environment. 

As for the students with central or peripheral visual field loss, ensure to identify their “blind spot,” use a multi-sensory approach to gather information, and provide tactile and auditory cues when giving directions or when traveling. 

Online Lessons for Low Vision Students

During lockdown and school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, thousands of students transition to online learning. Low vision students may also benefit from distance learning during and even after this pandemic. 

Low vision students who want to pursue a post-secondary degree or just take an online course for career or personal improvement can take full advantage of online courses. 

[Related: Top Math Resources To Help The Blind Or Visually Impaired]

Many colleges and universities offer online courses that come with web lectures and live chat rooms. The educators send assignments and activities online or via email. 

However, most online learning programs are inaccessible to low vision or blind students because the developers are not following basic accessibility guidelines. So, although online courses have videos, graphics, and images, they are not all accessible. 

The question is, where does someone who has visual impairments find accessible online learning opportunities? And, can blind and low vision students truly access these online courses?

Yes. And the good news is that some online education platforms are for free.

The Hadley School for the Blind

The Hadley School is the largest worldwide distance education platform designed for people who have low vision or blindness. Hadley offers courses that are free of charge. 

hadley-school-for-the-blind

William Hadley, an educator who later lost his eyesight, founded the school in 1920. Since its beginnings, the Hadley school offers practical help, connection, and support to anyone with visual impairments, their families, and professionals supporting them — at zero cost. 

Hadley uses large print, braille, and audio media to serve over 150,000 individuals each year across 50 states and 100 countries. 

There’s a lot of advantages in taking Hadley classes:

  • Students can study in a location convenient to them. 
  • They can study at any time, at their own pace.
  • They can receive a course specifically designed for them — online, audio, large print, or braille. 
  • Students receive one-on-one attention from their instructor. 
  • Each student can contact their instructor with questions. Students can call their instructor via Hadley’s toll-free number or email. 

Here are some of the courses that the Hadley School for the Blind offers:

Adult Continuing Education Program:

  • Braille and Braille Readiness (literacy and reading)
  • Transitioning to Unified English Braille
  • Using Excel
  • Market research
  • Marketing, Financial, and Business Plan
  • Accounting for small business

Family Education Program

  • Introduction to Braille
  • Business and careers

Hadley Institute for Professional Studies

  • Blindness basics
  • Braille
  • Business concepts and skills

Conclusion

You, the educator, play a huge role in making sure that everyone gets equal education opportunities. The first step to helping the blind and low vision students is understanding their needs. Find out how you can help your students benefit from school and be patient. 

If you know a student who isn’t able to continue their education due to the school lockdown, you may encourage them to check out the Hadley school. 

Related Questions

What are the causes of low vision?

Low vision can be a result of brain injury, inherited disorders of the eye, eye cancer, albinism, age-related macular degeneration, diabetes, and glaucoma. If you are experiencing vision loss, we suggest consulting an eye doctor immediately. 

What can be done for low vision?

Although low vision cannot be fully corrected, there are devices that can help low vision people such as tinted eyewear (for light sensitivity and contrast), magnifiers, large-print reading materials, and audio recordings. 

Get help from other educators

Connect with other teachers experienced in teaching students with low vision. Ask them for advice, tips, and tricks that they use to teach their students effectively.

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