Visual Impairments

By: Melanie Tangunan

Mara is in the third grade. She suffers from low motivation and appears to be rather withdrawn from her peers. Often times she seems disinterested in classroom activities and does not participate well in sports. Organization is a challenge and so is her focus in class. She complains of headaches and dislikes reading because she complains about it being “too hard” though she proves herself to be a rather proficient and fluent reader. Her teacher suggests that she has her eyes checked and suspects a vision problem.

A visual impairment is a term used to describe any form of vision loss. Vision loss can range from partial to total. Depending on the severity of the visual impairment, vision may be restored through corrective measures such as medical treatment, surgery, glasses, or contacts

Experience being visually impaired: Visual Impairment Simulator

The National Institute of Health (NIH) study has found that 6 percent of Americans aged 12 or older are visually impaired. This accounts for 14 million children in America.

Characteristics of Students with Visual Impairments:
  • Crossed eyes
  • Eyes that drift from side to side or up and down
  • Squinting
  • Clumsiness
  • Frequent blinking
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Poor eye-hand coordination (difficulty with sporting activities, tying shoes, copying words from the board, etc.)
  • Low academic performance
  • Using fingers to follow words when readings
  • Headaches

Continuum of severity or extent possible in youngsters
Visual impairments range in severity from “low vision” to being “totally blind” . student_wearing_glasses.jpg
  • Low vision – refers to individuals who use their vision as their primary sensory channel. These individuals are unable to read a newspaper clearly from a normal viewing distance and require adaptations and aids such as eye glasses or enlarging the size of print. Individuals that fall into this category have vision between 20/70-20/160.
  • Functionally blind – refers to individuals who can use their limited vision for functional tasks but rely on their tactile and auditory channels for learning. These individuals have vision that range from from 20/200-20/400.
  • Totally blind – refers to individuals who use entirely tactile and auditory channels for learning and functional tasks such as Braille or other non-visual media.
The rate at which visual impairments occur in individuals under the age of 18 is 12.2 per 1,000. Severe visual impairments (legally or totally blind) occur at a rate of .06 per 1,000.

Assessments used for checking for Visual Impairments:

  • Visual acuity test - This test measures how well a person can read an eye hart at various distances.
  • Visual field test - This test measures peripheral vision.
  • Tonometry test - This test evaluates a patient for glaucoma by measuring the eye’s fluid pressure .

eye_chart_check.jpgHow do these learners receive their education?
These learners are able to receive their education like any other student. Tactile and audio methods are their primary means learning.

What are best educational practices? Strategies for Curriculum and Instruction
The best educational practices include teaching and learning through various learning styles. Incorporating the use of non-visual senses is advantageous because it allows students to experience their learning without any challenges. Here are some strategies that educators can apply to their curriculum and instruction:
  • - Use frequent tactile and audio experiences to teach.
- Provide enlarged written information
  • - Utilize audio versions of written material.
  • -A ccept verbal answers instead written when appropriate

  • When on a trip, make prior arrangements for students to have tactile access to displays if touch is no normally allowed s
  • Record readings, directions, or test questions on an audio recording. Allow students to give recorded oral answers.
  • Enlarge reading material.
  • Allow more time for assignments.

Meet Annie Donellon, a 20-year old University student who has been blind through birth, and experience a few minutes of various accomodations and practices she uses to be successful in school: Blind Student Uses Innovative Learning Methods

Inclusive Practices
  • Keep materials, desks, and other objects in the classroom in consistent locations.
  • Enable students to move about the classroom freely and safely by ensuring that cabinets are fully closed, chairs pushed in, doors are kept closed, etc.
  • Materials, desks, and other objects in the classroom should be maintained in consistent locations. Ensuring that cabinets are fully closed, chairs pushed in, and doors are not left half ajar will help with safety in navigating the classroom.
  • Ensure that the student works and learns near the front.
  • Use verbal and audio cues.
  • Utilize the peer system in the classroom and train the students to assist with tasks.
  • Use assistive technology when appropriate.
  • Buddy reading
  • Use voice and tone to communicate feelings.
  • Avoid sudden changes in lighting

Special Challenges for General Education
Visually impaired students have many needs. Providing education for them requires care. Educators must create a learning environment accommodating for their physical challenges while concurrently creating an environment suitable and understanding of their social struggles.

Accommodations: Assistive Technology listening_center.jpg
· Braille translation software and equipment
· Computer readers
· Computer screen projectors
· Audio books
· Calculators with voice output
· Tape recorders

Watch a Video Audio on Book Devices:  Learning Through Listening

Wraparound Services: 
There are wraparound services available through community organizations, early childhood educational systems/local school districts, and health institutions.

Impact: Is this a school issue or life issue - Why?
Having a visual impairment is both a school and a life issue. Visual impairments can cause challenges on one’s ability to receive and process information. It can affect the way that one understands concepts, experiences the world, learns languages, interacts socially, develops one’s self concept.
In both school and life, individuals with visual impairments must learn how to adapt and perceive the world through other senses. The more severe the impairment, the more one has rely on using other methods to acquire knowledge and experience his/her surroundings. Vision loss may have a negative impact on one’s social skills because many individuals may not be able to share common sighted experiences. In some cases, this has shown to have led to a lower self-esteem. Individuals with visual impairments tend to have less extensive social networks and fewer friendships compared with other children without visual impairments.

Impact: How does this affect home?
As in school settings, visual impairments have an impact on the home as well. At home, visual impairments can cause a challenge in one’s ability to:

· Navigate around the house
· Maintain organization
· Be a caregiver
· Become involved in physical activities and exercise
· Carry out household chores

Successful Individuals with Visual Impairments:
  • Helen Keller - American author, activist and lecturer. She was the first deaf and blind person who graduated from college. She became a well-known advocate for those with disabilities.
  • Claude Monet – A French impressionist painter from mid 1800’s to early 1900s. He was well known for expressing his perception of nature through his paintings.
  • Ray Charles – An American pianist and musician known for his rhythm and blues.


What can you do to make a difference for the child?
  • Pay attention to a child and his/her needs
  • Utilize any form of accommodations necessary to provide an enriching experience for students
  • Use language full of descriptions

What can you do to support parents?
  • Educate yourself regarding websites, government and nonprofit organizations that may provide helpful information for parents
  • Be informed about the disability so that you can provide as much assistance as possible.
  • Communicate frequently

Links and Resources
Teens Health
Disability News, Health, and Information
Characteristics of a Visually Impaired Child