Working With Students With Visual Impairments in the Classroom
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There are several laws mandating that materials used or presented in classrooms need to be accessible to all students, including students who are blind or have a visual impairment. Depending on the course, the materials could be transcribed into Braille, provided in electronic format, or read directly onto tape. The student and the Center for Disability Services (CDS) office will begin working closely with the instructors immediately after the student registers for the course to assure that there is enough time convert to alternative format. The amount of time needed depends on the type of format it is being converted into. Brailled material may take up to 6 months to produce, so faculty members will be requested to have specific information prepared ahead of time.
Detailed information regarding the text, specific chapters, problems assigned, and the order in which they will be covered in the course may be requested. If the material is going to be Brailled or read onto tape we only convert the material that is being covered in class. A detailed syllabus including all due dates and exact information to be covered may be requested well in advance of the quarter.
Any handouts given in class will need to be provided to the CDS office ahead of time (at least 2 weeks prior to them being given in class). The best case scenario would be that all handouts will be provided to CDS well before the quarter begins with a clear outline of exact dates the handouts will be given in class. This way CDS can convert them all at once, and give them to the student ahead of time so that they will have access to the handouts in class the same time that the other students receive them. CDS can provide the faculty member with the alternative format if they want to give them to the student the same time the other students receive the materials. All of these handouts will need to be transferred into alternative format, and making this conversion takes a great deal of time no matter what format it is converted into.
Quizzes and Exams:
All quizzes and exams will need to be provided to the CDS office ahead of time. The amount of time CDS needs to make the conversion depends on the class, and the format in which it will be converted. Material being Brailled (such as math exams) will need to be provided one to two weeks in advance. If the student will be taking quizzes or exams at CDS, the times/dates for the exams will need to be scheduled at the beginning of the quarter so that we can be sure to have the student’s accommodation needs met during the exam (sometimes students will need a scribe for the entire exam, others will need access to a computer or a private room where they can use a Braille typewriter to write their answers, then dictate to a CDS staff member to scribe).
Depending on the nature of the class, there may be a need for some type of assistance in the classroom setting. If a student who is blind is taking a science class with a lab, they may be able to work with a lab partner and split up the tasks where the partner will do the visual tasks, and the student who is blind will document the results etc. If this would create too much of a burden on the lab partner, CDS can hire a lab aid ahead of time. This lab aid will attend the lab with the student, and will take direction from the student who is blind, reporting the results of the task to the student. The student would still work with a lab partner, and would have the lab aid perform the visual tasks they are unable to perform themselves. Lab aids need to be hired in advance, so CDS staff will communicate with instructors to determine if this is necessary or not. If a lab aid is hired, CDS will work with the lab aid to assure that they are not providing any assistance or making any assumptions regarding the tasks to be accomplished. The lab aid will only perform tasks that are directly requested by the student who is blind and will not interject their own ideas or answers. There may also be other instances where an aid is needed for one or two classes throughout the quarter (visiting the Career Center on campus, etc). Please let CDS know in advance if you feel an assistant will be needed in any of your classes.
When lecturing please be sure to describe everything that you are writing or referring to on the board. Rather than saying “This thing moves over here.” It is better to say “The rod moves four inches to the left.” The student should ask questions if they do not understand what is being presented, but sometimes they feel more comfortable asking if the instructor has directly requested that they speak up if they do not understand.
Homework and Assignments:
Providing the student with a syllabus including clearly defined homework and assignments to be turned in will make this process much easier for everyone. If assignments are assigned on the spur of the moment, the information should be provided to the student in a format that is accessible to them (emailing the assignment to them before or after class or providing the student with a disk including the written instructions for that assignment the day the assignment is given are both good options). The student and faculty member should work together to determine the best way to turn in and receive feedback on assignments. In many instances email may be the perfect solution for both parties. If a student receives information over email, the student will have direct access to it using their own adaptive technology at home. As most instructors would not want to receive a paper in Braille, email is also a good way for the students to submit their homework. Faculty members should work with the student directly to determine how edits will be given on any written papers. In most cases it works best if the faculty member is able to provide the feedback electronically rather than handwritten on the paper itself. Most voice output or Braille devices are unable to differentiate between regular font and bold or italicized font, so indicating areas that need revisions will have to be done differently. Some suggestions would be to embed the edits in quotes or parentheses within the body of the text, so the adaptive technology will indicate that something has been changed or added.
Just as all students are unique, students who are blind are also unique, and each person will have slightly different accommodations depending on their preference, experiences, and the nature of the course. This goal of this document is to provide awareness and understanding of the types of accommodations that are unique to students who are blind. Most classes will not require all of these accommodations, but they are explained here to help prepare faculty members and to assist CDS in the provision of academic accommodations for students who are blind.
Please feel free to come to CDS if you are having any problems, or need assistance in assuring the student has equal access to your class.