Low Vision

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For some students with low vision, or partial sight, standard written materials are too small to read and small objects are difficult to see. Other students may see objects only within a specific field of vision, or see an image with sections missing. Text or objects may appear blurry.

Learning via a visual medium may take longer and may be more fatiguing for people who have low vision. Some people with low vision may be able to read enlarged print for a long time period, while others may only be able to tolerate reading for a short time and require readers or audiotaped material.

Visual abilities may also vary in different situations. For example, reduced light or strong glares may affect visual abilities during different times of day or in different classrooms.

Students with low vision may face challenges in locating large-print materials, getting around in an unfamiliar setting, finding transportation, hiring readers for library work, researching for written assignments, as well as getting recorded textbooks on time.

General classroom accommodations for students with low vision include:

  • Large-print reading materials (e.g., books, handouts, signs, and equipment labels). Large print is typically 16 to 18 point bold type, depending on the typeface used.
  • Front-row or preferential classroom seating in well-lit areas with full view of the instructor and visual aids.
  • Class assignments in audiotaped or electronic formats.
  • Computers with screen enlargers, optical character readers (which convert print to electronic format), or speech output.
  • The use of readers or scribes for exams or class assignments.
  • The use of cassette recorders and laptop computers for notetaking.
  • Extended time for exams and assignments.
  • Verbal descriptions of visual aides.
  • TV monitors connected to microscopes to enlarge images.

Examples of accommodations for laboratories for students with low vision include:

  • Large-print instructions.
  • Large-print laboratory signs and equipment labels.
  • Enlarged images through connecting TV monitors to microscopes.
  • Raised line drawings or tactile models for illustrations.

Check Your Understanding

Let's consider an example. The quarter began this week and a student with low vision just registered for your class and told you he will need academic accommodations. What should you do? Choose a response.

  1. Tell him that it takes several weeks to accommodate his needs and, therefore, this might not be the best course for him to take?
  2. Prepare large-print reading materials (e.g., syllabus, assignments, signs) and arrange for a reader or scribe for exams and assignments? Arrange to audiotape lectures and provide a laptop computer for class notetaking?
  3. Meet with the student, ask him what previous accommodations have been helpful and request documentation from the office of disabled student services?

Check Your Understanding Responses

  1. Tell him that it takes several weeks to accommodate his needs and, therefore, this might not be the best course for him to take?
    No. Explore potential "reasonable" academic accommodations that might be provided, working with appropriate disability support staff at your school.
  2. Prepare large-print reading materials (e.g., syllabus, assignments, signs) and arrange for a reader or scribe for exams and assignments? Arrange to audiotape lectures and provide a laptop computer for class notetaking?
    Although these may be reasonable accommodations, the student is your best resource for determining what accommodations are appropriate. Connect with him and the disabled student services office before arranging accommodations.
  3. Meet with the student, ask him what previous accommodations have been helpful and request documentation from the office of disabled student services?
    Yes. You may wish to set up a meeting with yourself, the student, and disabled student services office staff to facilitate open communication regarding reasonable and effective accommodations in your class.

For more information consult the DO-IT publications Working Together: People with Disabilities and Computer Technology and Working Together: Computers and People with Sensory Impairments.

Appropriate accommodations vary greatly among students with low vision and by academic activity. For specific information related to accommodations by academic activity see:

Questions and answers, case studies, and promising practices can be found in the searchable AccessSTEM Knowledge Base.