What do you need to know?

In the second of our series of Inclusion in schools articles, we take a look at vision impairment. Vision impairment can vary significantly from student to student, depending on the type, extent and timing of when the vision loss happened in their lives. The impact of the student’s impairment will also be different depending on the nature and extent of their vision loss. For example, students may have been born without vision or they may have lost it over time. Students may have no vision, some vision, be sensitive to light, or have limited peripheral vision. The student’s level of vision impairment can also change each day.

The effects on their learning

When teaching a student with vision impairment, it’s important to understand how their impairment impacts their learning and the challenges they face in the classroom. According to the Australian Disability Clearinghouse on Education and Training (ADCET), a student’s learning can be impacted in a number of ways:

  • Students with vision impairment may need to access the information in alternative formats, such as braille, audio tapes or documents with larger print. These formats all require extra assistance from the teacher. Braille, for example, can take up to three times as long to read, so more time will need to be allowed for the student with vision impairment.
  • Students who need information put into these alternative formats must wait up to eight weeks for the material to be produced for them. This means they are at a high risk of falling behind other students in the class.
  • Students with vision impairment can feel isolated at school and this can affect their learning.
  • Many students can get headaches due to eyestrain and this can reduce the amount of time they are able to study.
  • Students may not feel comfortable interacting in class if they are unable to see other students and read their body language. This makes it difficult to know when it is their turn or when they can interrupt to share their views.

Teaching a child with a vision impairment

With no such thing as a ‘typical’ vision impairment, it may seem hard to build an approach that will suit every level of vision impairment into your teaching practices. Depending on the level of vision impairment, some students may just need a simple adjustment to the classroom, such as a guaranteed seat near the front. Other students, however, may need assistive technology, such as screen-reading software or screen-magnification, so they are able to read educational materials and access the internet.

In addition to these approaches, there are many teaching strategies you can use to support your students with vision impairment. The ADCET has created an extensive list of strategies to teach and assess your students with vision impairment. We’ve included a few of their strategies below, but you can find the full list on the ADCET website.

Teaching strategies

  • Provide as many of your resources as possible in an electronic and accessible format. This makes it much easier for students with vision impairment to read the information using a screen reader.
  • Read out what you are writing on the whiteboard or any printed information.
  • Let students with vision impairment know the books they will need for your class in advance. This will allow them enough time to get the text reproduced in audio or in Braille.

Assessment strategies

  • If extensive reading is required for assessments, offer extensions to students with vision impairment.
  • Offer exam papers in larger writing or braille, depending on the students’ needs.
  • Allow the student to use their personal computer with assistive technology to complete their exam.
  • Offer assessment adjustments, such as an oral examination, audiotaped questions or a person to help the student read the questions and write their answers.