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In Australia, it’s estimated that over 450,000 people are living with visual impairments .
When it comes to teaching students with visual impairments, you’ll need to use different approaches to educate them compared to traditional students.
Students with visual impairments have unique educational requirements based on the extent of their condition.
Teaching a student with a vision-related disability may seem intimidating at first, but today, there are all kinds of assistive technology, like screen readers, available to make this process easier.
If you’re an aspiring educator or a carer who wants to help visually impaired students, this guide will help you get started.
Degrees of visual impairment
Before delving into teaching students with visual impairments, we need to understand the types of visual disabilities.
A person who is legally blind is only able to see an object within six metres when a person without visual impairment can see the same object from 60 metres. They may also be considered legally blind if their field of vision has a diameter less than 20 degrees.
Low vision means that a person has a limited vision that can only be corrected by wearing glasses, contact lenses, or by undergoing surgery. This condition may include blurry vision, night blindness and sometimes blind spots in their sight.
Blindness can range from having no vision at all to having an unreliable vision that makes the person depend more on their other senses. People with this type of visual impairment often use braille to read and write.
Tips for teaching students with visual impairments
Speak their name
Students with visual impairments rely a lot on sound and touch to know what’s happening around them. So when speaking to them, always make sure to use their first name or nickname so that they know you’re talking to them.
Also, when addressing another student, use their names so that students with visual impairments know when a question is not directed at them. Make sure to encourage other students to do the same.
Verbalise and avoid using gestures
Verbalise everything you’re trying to teach, even what you may write on the board.
When telling the student something, make sure to be very descriptive; for example, instead of saying something like “the book is over there”, say “the book is on the shelf”. Essentially, you should avoid the words “there”, “here”, “over there” and “over here”.
If you’re teaching traditional students as well, you may use visuals. In this case, explain clearly what’s in the picture so that students with visual impairments can understand the image.
Try not to use gestures that show direction, like pointing, as students with visual disabilities may not see them.
Maintain a quiet learning environment
Some students with visual impairments may be very sensitive to sound, so it’s important to make sure that their learning environment is kept calm and quiet. When there’s too much noise, they could find it hard to concentrate.
Try keeping windows closed to block out outside noise and include soft furnishings in the learning environment. Carpets and other types of soft furnishings can help dampen sounds, making surroundings quieter.
Give them proper seating
Seating is crucial when teaching students with visual impairments. Having the student be seated close to where you are can make it easier for them to hear you, or seat them away from windows where they may be exposed to outside noise.
Some students may have partial visual impairments, like only having sight in one eye. In this case, you should seat them in a way that makes it easier for them to see the board or have them facing away from light sources.
Reduce glare wherever possible
Some students with visual impairments may have very limited vision, and glare from the sun could reduce their vision even further. To avoid this, you’ll need to reduce glare in the learning environment wherever possible.
Draw curtains or shades on windows during sunny days or install special window film to reduce glare. Alternatively, you can orient the seating positions of all students so that they have their backs to the main windows, with their eyes away from the sun.
Try tactile learning
Try to incorporate tactile learning experiences whenever your can. For example, instead of just describing what a seashell looks like, try to bring an actual one to the class to let students with visual impairments feel it.
This way, your students can learn and explore without only relying on their sight.
Create an accident-free learning environment
Make sure that there are no obstacles in the learning environment. Keep clear and easy to navigate paths that students with visual impairments can move through without incident.
If you ever need to change the orientation of the furniture, let students with visual impairments know beforehand and help them navigate the room until they get used to it.
Make audio recordings of lessons
Record all of your lessons via a recording app on a smartphone and share the recording with your students with visual impairments. This will allow them to listen to the lesson as many times as they like until they completely understand it.
For better audio quality, consider getting a microphone and a high-quality recorder to make clearer lesson recordings.
Offer reading material in braille
If you’re able, try to get braille versions of lesson books for your students who have visual impairments. You could even try translating the study material yourself with help from braille translation software.
Make learning more enriching for students with visual impairments
With the right techniques and best practices, you can make a student with visual impairment's educational experience more enriching.
The art of teaching students with visual disabilities is very broad, and you may need to learn more than what you have gathered from this blog post to become proficient in it.
If you want to learn more about helping students with visual disabilities or about inclusive classrooms for students with disabilities , reach out to a well-reputed disability service provider.
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