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.
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 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 to procure course materials in Braille or on audiotape, it is essential that instructors select and prepare their materials well before the materials are needed. Special education services or disabled student services typically coordinate Braille and audiotape production and facilitate access to adaptive computer technology.
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. Special education or disabled student services staff can help locate or create these materials.
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, special education, and/or computing services staff can be consulted when addressing computer access issues.
Clearly, for a student who is blind, access issues vary according to specific academic activities, such as:
- Large lectures
- Group/work discussions
- Test taking
- Field work
- Science labs
- Computer labs
- World Wide Web pages
- Distance learning
- Writing assignments
- Travel programs
- Work-based learning
For more information on communication between faculty and students with disabilities consult the DO-IT publication Effective Communication: Faculty and Students with Disabilities.