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A DO-IT scholar who is blind reads Braille with teacher

Some people are only 'blind' at night.

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Students who have no sight cannot access standard printed materials. Students who have had no vision since birth may also have difficulty understanding verbal descriptions of visual materials and abstract concepts. Individuals who are "legally blind" may have some functional vision, making accommodations for students with low vision appropriate.

Consider the description, "This diagram of ancestral lineage looks like a tree." If one has never seen a tree, it may not be readily apparent that the structure of note has several lines of ancestry which can be traced back to one central family. However, students who lost their vision later in life may find it easier to understand such verbal descriptions. Additionally, demonstrations based on color differences may be more difficult for students with blindness to participate in and understand than demonstrations which emphasize changes in shape, temperature, or texture. In some cases, the assistance of a sighted person is required in order for the student who is blind to gain access to the content of your course.

Ready access to printed materials on computer disk, via email, or on websites can allow a blind student, who has the appropriate technology, to use computers to read text aloud and/or produce it in Braille. Some materials may need to be transferred to audiotape. Since it may take weeks or even months for support staff to procure course materials in Braille or on audiotape, it is essential that instructors select and prepare their materials well before they are needed. Typically, school staff who support disabled students coordinate Braille and audiotape production in collaboration with instructors and the student.

During lecture demonstrations, clear, concise narration of the basic points being represented in visual aids is important. This technique benefits other students as well.

Other examples of accommodations for blind students include tactile models and raised-line drawings of graphic materials. Staff who support disabled students can help locate or create these materials. It is most helpful when the instructor identifies the specific learning objective when an accommodation is needed. This clarifies the academic accommodation required.

Adaptive lab equipment such as talking thermometers, calculators, light probes, and tactile timers can maximize access to labs for students who are blind. In addition, computers with optical character readers, speech output, Braille screen displays, and Braille printers allow students who are blind to participate in computer exercises and on-line research. In addition, Web pages used in your course should be designed so that they are accessible to those using Braille and speech output systems. The disabled student services office and/or computing services staff on your campus can be consulted when addressing computer access issues.

Check Your Understanding
Let's consider an example. How could a student who is blind access a map of Europe to learn the relative size and geographical location of each European country?
Choose a response.

  1. A sighted person could describe the map to her.

  2. She could use a map created in Braille.

  3. A sign-language interpreter could translate the content for her.

  4. She could use a raised line drawing.

Clearly, for a student who is blind, access issues vary according to specific academic activities. Consult the following resources for details:

Large lectures
Group/work discussions
Field work
Science labs
Computer labs
Adaptive technology
Writing assignments
International/travel programs
Work-based learning