Blind or Visually Impaired Students

A challenge facing blind or visually impaired students at universities is the overwhelming mass of printed material with which they are confronted - syllabi, course packs, books, time schedules, bibliographies, campus newspapers, posters, tests, etc. The increasing use of films, videotapes, overhead projectors, on-line material and closed-circuit television adds to the volume of visual material they must access in an alternative way. Therefore, students with visual impairments must plan their schedules well in advance of each semester to assure that support services are in place when classes begin. Such service includes texts converted to alternate formats.

Reading Methods

By the time blind/visually impaired students reach college (unless newly blinded), they have probably developed various methods of managing the volume of visual materials. Most blind/visually impaired students use a combination of methods including readers, texts in alternate format, Braille books, and recorded lectures. If the student uses readers, hiring and scheduling arrangements must be made. Many blind and visually impaired students will be registered with the Office of Disability Services (ODS) and work with the office to make the necessary arrangements. Other students with similar circumstances may work independently. (See also "Readers" in the Services portion of this section.)

Textbooks and Course packs

So that blind or visually impaired student have time to make the necessary arrangement please choose books and collate course packs early, and make this information readily available to campus bookstores and copy centers. To have a text converted to other formats may take 30 business days or longer. (See also "Texts in Alternate Format" in the Services portion of this section.)

Syllabi and Handouts

It is essential to provide syllabi and handouts so that they can be made readable by the time the rest of the class receives them. In many cases this entails creating and supplying these to the student in advance, either in printed copy, on computer flash-drive, or by email. Before the class meeting, the student may then use an adapted computer to read or print the material or, if appropriate, arrange for a reader to tape record it. (See also "Test Formats" in the Services portion of this section.)

Describing Visual Cues in the Classroom

When you have a blind/visually impaired student in the classroom, you should remember that "this and that" phrases are basically meaningless to the student: for example, "the sum of this plus that equals this" or "the lungs are located here and the diaphragm here." In the first example, the instructor may be writing on the chalkboard and can just as easily say, "The sum of 4 plus 7 equals 11." The blind student in this case is getting the same information as the sighted student. In the second example, the instructor can "personalize" the locations of the lungs and diaphragm by asking class members to locate them by touch on their own bodies. Examples of this type will not always be possible. However, if avoid using strictly visual examples, the blind student will benefit.

Class Notes

Many visually impaired students tape record lectures for reviewing later, even though listening to lectures over again takes valuable time. Other students are provided notes using a carbonless notebook, by another student assigned as a notetaker by the ODS. These notes can then be converted to large print for reading. If the professor’s notes are appropriate for student use, these can be photocopied as an alternative. Occasionally students prefer to recruit a note taker from outside of class. A small number of students use a laptop computer or Braille device to take their own notes during class. Whatever method the student uses for notes, he/she is responsible for the material covered in class. (See also "Note Taking" in the Services portion of this section.)

Recording Lectures

Some instructors are concerned about having their lectures recorded--whether the student is blind or sighted. When an instructor is planning to publish his/her lectures, the fear may be that the recordings will somehow interfere with these plans. If this is the case, you may ask the student to sign an agreement provided by ODS not to release the recording which may otherwise hinder your ability to obtain a copyright.

Testing

A common area in which blind students need adaptation is testing. As a general rule, it is much better to avoid giving the student "different" tests from the rest of the class because this makes it difficult to compare test results. The fairest option is almost always to administer the same test questions in a non-visual format. Some instructors prefer to give oral exams to students who are blind/visually impaired, or arrange for a teaching assistant to administer the test orally. Although this approach is certainly within the prerogative of the instructor, it can create an uncomfortable situation for the student when other students are taking written exams. An alternative method is to record the questions in an audio format for the blind/visually impaired student, who in turn records his/her answers in an audio format or types the answers. Computers with adaptations for visual impairments can be very useful for test taking, and also for writing papers. (See "Test Formats" in the Services portion of this section.)

Illustrations, Models, and Technology

Students who are blind or visually impaired may use raised line drawings of diagrams, charts, and illustrations; relief maps; and/or three-dimensional models of physical organs, shapes, and microscopic organisms, etc. Modern technology has made available other aids including talking calculators, speech time compressors, reading machines, voice recognition and other types of computer software.

Art and Other Visual Subject Matter

Substitutions may be found for courses that are "visual" by nature; however, it should not be assumed automatically that a substitution would be necessary. Conversations between the blind student and the professor can lead to new and even exciting instructional techniques that may benefit the entire class.

For example, it is often thought that a student who is blind/visually impaired cannot take a course in art appreciation and that, if this class is a requirement for graduation, it should be waived. However, the blind student should have the opportunity to become familiar with the world's great art. A classmate or reader who is particularly talented at verbally describing visual images can assist the blind student as a visual "interpreter" or "translator." The "Mona Lisa" (or other great work of art) can be described, and there are poems written about the "Mona Lisa" that may be used as teaching aids to give more insight and understanding to the work. Miniature models of great works of sculpture can also be made available for display and touching in the classroom.

One student was able to learn the proper technique in an archery class when a rope was stretched perpendicular to the target. A "beeper" that was added to the target assisted with positioning. The point is that disabilities (in this case, blindness) do not automatically preclude participation in certain activities or classes. Students, professors, and advisors must be careful not to lower expectations solely on the basis of disability.

Guide Dogs

Some students who are blind/visually impaired use guide dogs. A guide dog will not disturb the class. They are very highly trained and disciplined. Most of the time the dog will lie quietly under or beside the student’s table or desk. The greatest disruption a professor can expect may be an occasional yawn or stretch. It is good to remember that as tempting as it may be to pet or speak to a guide dog, the dog while in harness is responsible for guiding its owner, and should not be distracted from that duty.

Field Trips

If your class involves field trips to out-of-class locations, discuss traveling needs with the student who is blind/visually impaired.

Partial Sight and Accommodations

Between 70 and 80 percent of all legally blind persons in the United States have some measurable vision loss. Partially sighted students often require many of the same accommodations as totally blind students. This includes readers, texts in alternate formats, raised line drawings, describing visual cues in class, etc. In addition, depending on their level and type of vision, partially sighted students may use large print textbooks, handouts, and tests; a closed-circuit TV magnifier or other magnifying device; or a large print typewriter. Large print is usually 18 to 22 pt., but varies from student to student. In class some partially sighted students are able to take notes with a bold felt tip pen or marker. Others use techniques mentioned under "Class Notes" above. (For reading and writing, see also "Test Formats" in the Services portion of this section.)

When a Student Doesn't Appear "Blind"

The student who is partially sighted is confronted with two basic difficulties that the blind student is not. First, the partially sighted student is sometimes viewed by instructors and classmates as "faking it" because most partially sighted students do not use white canes for travel and because most are able to get around much like everyone else. People have difficulty believing that the student needs to use adaptive methods when utilizing printed materials.

One student who is partially sighted commented that having been observed playing Frisbee by one of her instructors, she was sure that the instructor would no longer believe that she was partially sighted. As she explained, she had more peripheral than central vision and was able to see a red Frisbee. If any other color Frisbee was used, she could not see well enough to play. Playing Frisbee and reading text present quite different visual requirements. This is often difficult for the fully sighted person to understand.

Large Size Handwriting and Large Print

The second difficulty that the student who is partially sighted experiences can have a more subtle effect. The sighted reader's psychological response to large handwriting may be that "a child has written this." Unfortunately this may unconsciously lead to the conclusion that the written communication, e.g. a student’s essay on an exam, is less sophisticated than that of other students. When the student uses a large print typewriter, this can still be a problem. It is very important to read for content and try not to be distracted by large size writing. Note: it is sometimes assumed that a student using large print is trying to make an assignment appear longer as in the case of a term paper of a required length. When the number of words instead of pages required is stated, the assignment length is clearer for everyone.

Meeting With the Partially Sighted Student

Potential difficulties can be alleviated if the student and professor discuss the student's needs early in the term. Depending on the level of vision, a partially sighted student may be assisted by such classroom accommodations as sitting in the front of the room and having large print used on the chalkboard and on an overhead projector. The capacity to read printed materials, however, also depends greatly on conditions such as degree of contrast between print and background and the brightness and color of text. Therefore, it is essential for the student and instructor to clarify what methods, techniques, or devices will work to maximum advantage in the setting being used.

Services for Students with Visual impairments

Orientation and Mobility

Students are expected to travel independently as they conduct their day-to-day activities.
The ODS may assist students with identifying external agencies that may assist with their orientation to campus. In addition, the ODS may also provide limited orientation to campus.

Test Formats and Accommodations

Tests can be administered to students with visual impairments in a number of ways. It may be necessary for the student and instructor to discuss which of several testing methods listed on the Letter of Accommodation (LOA) would work best; as needed the ODS office can assist with this process. Tests may be converted to Braille or texts in alternate format, read aloud, produced in large print (usually using a copier or large print computer screen), read using a closed circuit television (CCTV) which enlarges the print, or read by a computer with voice output. Students usually record, type, or word process their answers. If the instructor uses the computer for assembling tests, the file can be saved on a flash-drive. The student can then read the text using a computer adapted to read text aurally. Receiving the syllabus or other handouts in this medium would also be helpful for some students.

Additional Time

Faculty members routinely allow extra time for exams. It is up to the student to schedule exams through the instructor if they cannot be taken with the rest of the class.

Proctoring

Because students may have questions that would be best answered by someone with knowledge of the subject matter, it is in everyone's best interest if either one of the teaching assistants for the course or the professor proctors exams taken outside of the classroom. Another member of the academic department is also a good choice.

In some instances the professor/teaching assistants may not be able to proctor the exam, on those occasions the ODS should be contacted to arrange for a proctor and appropriate testing space if needed.

Note Taking

For students in need of note takers, we often recommend that the instructor make an announcement to the class, usually without mentioning the name of the student. Interested parties are instructed to contact the ODS to complete the appropriate paperwork to serve as a notetaker. It is then the responsibility of the student and the notetaker to finalize note-taking arrangements. You will be contacted if this type of announcement is needed. In that case you may also consider allowing the student to use your notes. For students who are registered with ODS and qualify for note-taking assistance, ODS will provide notetakers with a carbonless notebook to facilitate the effective provision of notes. These services are free of charge, as are all services offered by ODS. You may also consider allowing the student to use your notes (depending upon their pedagogical utility).

Texts in Alternative Formats

Many visually impaired students rely on texts in alternate formats, e.g., large print and Braille. In addition, a small number of books are now available in electronic formats for students to use. ODS assists students in locating books that have been produced in these alternative formats and by reformatting other texts as needed by Rutgers University students.

Large print or Braille formats are virtually essential to make some subjects - such as math, certain sciences, or foreign languages - accessible to students with various visual impairments. It can take as long as 30 business days for textbooks to be converted into these formats. ODS can assist students in making the necessary arrangements.

Readers

Recorder users may also want to arrange for readers to help with the day-to-day material such as handouts and mail. This reader could be a friend, neighbor, or a volunteer.

Transportation

Transportation assistance is often very useful for students with visual impairments. While blind and visually impaired students are generally able to use the fixed-route buses, some students may not have such capabilities. Students with disabilities requiring transportation assistance should contact ODS at 848-445-6800.

Equipment Use By Students

ODS has digital tape recorders that can be loaned to students on an interim basis, we also assist students in locating other adapted teaching aids.