Lesson 06: Vision

Serving Students with Disabilities
Distance Learning Course


The purpose of this lesson is to increase your awareness of the issues and strategies related specifically to working with students with VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS.

Through discussing modifications with other participants, you will develop an awareness of additional strategies and applications related to working with students with VISUAL impairments.

Question to reflect upon while reading the content

What challenges might students with VISUAL impairments face in your department or office? What accommodations might they require?


VISUAL impairments can be classified into two types: LOW VISION and BLINDNESS. LOW VISION refers to the disability of students who have some usable vision but cannot read standard-size text, have field deficits (for example, cannot see peripherally or centrally but can see well in other ranges), or have other visual impairments. BLINDNESS refers to the disability of students who cannot see to read printed text, even when enlarged.

Low Vision

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 may see an image with sections missing or blacked out. Text or objects may appear blurry to students with low vision.

Visual abilities may VARY in DIFFERENT SITUATIONS. For example, reduced light or strong glare may affect visual abilities during different times of day or in different settings.

GENERAL ACCOMMODATIONS for students with LOW VISION include the following:

  • Large-print reading materials (e.g., books, handouts, signs, and equipment labels). Large print is defined as 16- to 18-point bold type, depending on the typeface used.
  • Print materials in audiotaped or electronic formats.
  • Computers with screen enlargers, optical character readers (which convert print to speech output), or speech output.
  • The use of readers or scribes for completing forms.


Students who have no sight may have difficulty referring to WRITTEN MATERIALS. Students who have had NO VISION SINCE BIRTH may have DIFFICULTY understanding VERBAL DESCRIPTIONS of visual materials and abstract concepts.

Consider this example: "This organizational chart for our services 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 that 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.

Ready access to PRINTED MATERIALS in ELECTRONIC FORMAT can allow a student who is blind and 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 or produced in BRAILLE. Since conversion may take a long time, it is essential that YOU SELECT and PREPARE your materials well BEFORE they are needed. The campus disabled student services office typically coordinates BRAILLE and AUDIOTAPE production.

In addition, WEB PAGES should be designed so that they are accessible to those using Braille and speech output systems. For example, a speech synthesizer will simply say "image map" at the place where an image map would be displayed. Tables displayed as images are also problematic. Test alternatives need to be provided. The disabled student services office and/or computing services staff on your campus can be consulted when addressing COMPUTER ACCESS ISSUES.


VISUAL impairments can be classified as LOW VISION (some usable vision, field deficits, or other visual impairments) and BLINDNESS (inability to see to read printed text, even when enlarged).

The STUDENT is your best resource for determining what accommodations are appropriate. Flexibility and effective communication between YOU, the STUDENT, and the DISABLED STUDENT SERVICES STAFF are key in approaching accommodations. Specifically, the disabled student services office on campus can be consulted to coordinate production of materials using BRAILLE, AUDIOTAPE, TACTILE MODELS, and RAISED-LINE DRAWINGS of graphic materials. In addressing COMPUTER ACCESS ISSUES, disabled student services office can also help coordinate with computing services staff. Become aware of and take advantage of the resources on campus.

Question for Discussion

While reading the CONTENT, you considered ways in which YOUR DEPARTMENT or OFFICE can accommodate a student with a VISUAL impairment. Send an email message to the group answering the following question:

How could a student who is blind ACCESS PRINTED MATERIALS used in your service area?

Your email SUBJECT line should read: Access 6: VISUAL.

Further Information

You can read answers to frequently asked questions, explore case studies, and access additional resources at The Conference Room, https://www.washington.edu/doit/distance-learning-course-serving-students-disabilities.

(c) 2004 DO-IT. Permission is granted to copy material in this email for educational, noncommercial purposes provided the source is acknowledged. Contact DO-IT at 1-206-685-3648 or doit@u.washington.edu