If you are a teacher, you know how unique every student is, each with strengths and challenges. Visually impaired students are no exception. Fortunately, there are many ways to ensure the success of these children so they reach their best outcomes.
What is Visual Impairment?
Visual impairment involves a variety of conditions, each with its unique effect on students in the classroom. Some of these impairments include:
- Loss of visual acuity: Students may have trouble seeing shapes and details in different degrees, meaning some may not see any details or visual stimuli.
- Loss of visual field: This condition may cause vision loss in part of the typical field of vision, like the corner of their eyes. This deficit can lead to reading problems and mobility issues in the classroom.
- Photophobia: Literally, “fear of light.” Bright lights are unbearable for these students, making a well-lit space a challenging setting for them.
- Diplopia: When students have double-vision, reading and watching videos is demanding.
- Visual distortion: Some individuals see “floaters,” flashes of light, halos, or squiggly lines, which can interfere with their visual accuracy and comprehension of words and pictures.
- Visual perceptual difficulties: These individuals likely experience direct problems in reading, writing, cutting, drawing, and other classroom activities due to confusion in how their eyes perceive objects and words.
Signs of Visual Impairment
While some symptoms and signs of visual impairment are more evident than others, there are specific things to notice in students. Some of these signs are:
- Crossed eyes
- Eyes that bulge or dart in rapid directions
- Pupils that are unequal sizes
- Repeated shutting of eyelids
- An abnormal degree of clumsiness
- Frequent squinting, blinking, eye-rubbing, or face scrunching
- Avoiding tasks and activities that require good vision
Effects of Visual Impairments on Learning
Visual impairments can significantly affect students and their teachers, and educators should consider how these conditions impact teaching and learning. These impairments impact student concentration and focus, hand-eye coordination for many classroom activities, reading comprehension, and the social-emotional components of school that can affect confidence. Teachers also will notice the influence of these kids on their routines. Teachers can take it easier on these students – and themselves – by being inclusive with them. Lessons may go slower, you may need to scaffold your instruction more thoroughly, and you will need to develop different ways to check for understanding, but it’s all worth it. Instructional planning, delivering lessons, and assessing students will go much more smoothly if all students are part of the design.
Teaching Strategies for Visually Impaired Students
Different students require varied strategies, but there are several that teachers can apply to any classroom. Use hands-on materials so kids can interact with other senses, ensure they are hearing verbal descriptors as you teach, and include tactile approaches that increase gross and fine motor abilities. Make playing a part of your day, as students learn well through socialization and movement, and create a print-rich environment, with support, so that students can get the idea that reading is vital. Teachers should also use literacy approaches and formats to match the students’ learning needs and challenges.
Verbalize any Visuals
Of all the teaching strategies, verbalizing what the students may not see is arguably the most essential. Whenever teachers have visually impaired students, it is critical to explain any visuals, graphics, or images out loud to deepen kids’ understanding. Many sight-challenged students compensate with their other senses very well, and describing what things look like can create a vivid picture in the learners’ minds.
Assistive Technology for Visually Impaired Students
You will find a range of assistive technology for visually impaired students, from low-tech to high-tech, enhancing the classroom experience for students with visual deficiencies. Some products include stands to bring text closer, enlarged display calculators, and video magnifiers, all of which give these kids an edge. Computers and smartphones are continuously improving, offering many exciting AT apps and functions that help students break down barriers. Students can interact with their devices instantly and effectively, letting them be equal members in any classroom. You’ll also find talking dictionaries and audiobook players so that individuals can boost their literacy skills and reading comprehension.
Give Oral Instructions
Many teachers in traditional classrooms are accustomed to teaching specific ways, including writing instructions and notes on the whiteboard or chalkboard, but sight-challenged students require modifications. A practical and proven strategy is for teachers to repeat directions orally so every child can access the same information. Some other ways to ensure classroom equity:
- Software for visually impaired students: ClaroSpeak US, which converts text to speech; JAWS, a program that converts a PC into a fully-navigable device for these learners; and Dragon Dictation, which lets you record and send notes via social media or text.
- Ask students to clap when they have questions: Visually impaired students can clap their hands when they want to participate. Many students will raise their hands to ask for assistance or answer questions, and learners with visual deficiencies may not see those hands. By replacing visual clues with audio ones, these learners can participate equally.
- Books for visually impaired students: You can find a wide selection of books, including those in Braille and tactile items. You can go with high-contrast books that are easier to read, large-print books, textured items, and pop-up books with 3-D illustrations to enhance comprehension.
Final Thoughts on Supporting Visually Impaired Students
Visually impaired students have challenges but also exceptional strengths and unlimited potential. Teachers have an incredible opportunity to include these students equitably in the classroom and more tools than ever to make this a reality.