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Upwards of two million Americans are considered legally blind. Close to 25 percent of that number are totally blind (i.e., have only light perception or no vision at all). The remaining 75 percent have either central visual acuity equal to 20/200—the individual can view at 20 feet something which a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet—or less, or a visual field limited to 20 degrees or less (the individual has reduced peripheral vision).
In very practical terms, a student who is legally blind may require the use of a cane to walk safely around the campus, and yet be able to use his/her central vision to read normal size print. Many diseases and disabilities can significantly diminish the visual processing necessary to function in an academic setting.
It should be noted that even if students do not fall under the category of being legally blind, they may still qualify for accommodative services. This will depend on such factors as documented eye strain, pain, severely fluctuating vision, or an inability to track print for a substantial length of time.
- Most students with very low vision or who are totally blind use a cane or a dog guide. These travel aids also serve to indicate that the person has a severe vision impairment. The use of such mobility aids may vary in accordance with individual preference and circumstance. For example, a student may have good "day vision" and only require the use of such travel aids when it is growing dark.
- Like anyone else, students with vision impairments will appreciate being asked if help is needed before it is given. Ask a student if he or she would like some help and then wait for a response before acting.
- Words and phrases that refer to sight, such as 'TII see you later" are commonly used expressions and usually go unnoticed unless a speaker is particularly self- conscious. Students with vision loss can still "see" what is meant by such expressions.
- When talking with or greeting a student with a vision impairment, speak in a normal voice. Most people with vision impairments do not also have hearing impairments; if they do they will let you know. Do not speak to the student through a third party or companion, and use the student's name when directing the conversation to him or her.
- When entering a room, identify yourself to the student.
- When giving directions, say "left" or "right", "step up" or "step down." Convert directions to the vision-impaired student's perspective. When guiding a student (into a room, for example) offer your arm and let him or her take it rather than pulling the person's sleeve.
- If a student uses a dog guide, it should never be petted or distracted while in harness. To distract a working dog guide undermines the training and/or the performance of the animal, thereby placing the student in serious danger.
- Common accommodations for students with vision impairments include alternative print formats, magnification devices, bright incandescent lighting, raised lettering, tactile cues, adaptive computer equipment, the use of scribes and readers for exams, print scanners, priority registration, taped lectures, lab or library assistants, and time extensions for assignments and exams.
- Invite students to self-identify on the first day of class by making a public statement such as: "Please contact me to request disability accommodations."
- Include a disability access statement in the course syllabus such as: "To obtain disability-related academic adjustments and/or auxiliary aids, students with disabilities must contact the course instructor and the Disability Resources and Educational Services (DRES) as soon as possible. To contact DRES, you may visit 1207 S. Oak St., Champaign, call 333-4603, or e-mail email@example.com."
- Have copies of the syllabus and reading assignments ready no less than six weeks prior to the beginning of classes so documents are available for timely transcription into alternative formats.
- Provide vision-impaired students with materials in alternative formats at the same time the materials are given to the rest of the class. The student must specify the preferred format.
- Make instructional on-line course materials available in text form. For that material which is graphical in nature, create text-based descriptions of material. Repeat aloud what is written on the board or presented on overheads and in handouts. Pace the presentation of material. If referring to a textbook or handout, allow time for students to find the information. Allow students to tape lectures.
- When appropriate, ask for a sighted volunteer to team up with a vision-impaired student for in-class assignments.
- Keep a front row seat open for a student with a vision impairment. A corner seat is especially convenient for a student with a dog guide.
- Assist the student with finding an effective notetaker from the class.
- Make field trip arrangements early and ensure that accommodations will be in place on the given day (e.g., transportation, site accessibility).
- Be flexible with deadlines if assignments are held up by the document conversion process.
- When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her as privately as possible without drawing attention to the student or the disability.
- Allow the student the anonymity afforded other students (i.e., avoid pointing out the student or the alternative arrangements to the rest of the class).