The term visually impaired persons refers to blind or partially sighted people. We prefer not to refer to people as “visually impaired” as this phrase is unpopular with many blind and partially sighted adults. However, “visual impairment” is a useful term for describing the different kinds of sight conditions people experience.

Some people are born with a visual impairment, some experience sight loss as a result of an accident, while others may have lost their sight as a result of a medical condition. Regardless of the cause, people with sight loss may experience various difficulties arising from their condition.

It is important to understand that many difficulties can be overcome with the right adjustments.


Suggested Teaching Strategies: blind and visually impaired students

Of the number of students who disclose that have a visual impairment, those who have a total absence of vision are a minority; many more students have low vision or partial sight. Access requirements of people with visual impairments will therefore vary widely and is not always evident. The type of assistance required will vary according to the degree and nature of their impairment. Remember to discuss directly with the student his/her individual requirements in a discreet manner.


Some students have gradually lost vision over a number of years; others may have been blind since birth. Some may have no vision at all, but most people who advise that they are blind have some vision and may be light-sensitive, may experience blurred or distorted vision, others may have a restricted field of vision having less side vision, central vision or may see only half the field of view. With some visual impairment, sight fluctuates and students may have some days when vision or light tolerance is much better than others. The best guide to the student's condition and how it affects them is the student him/herself. Some visually impaired students may not appear any different from other students; others may use a cane or a guide dog.


How might visual impairment affect the student's work?

All students have to manage their work load as effectively as they can, but for visually impaired students this can be much more time consuming and requires good organisational skills.


The learning processes of students with visual impairment may be affected in the following ways:



Ability to read printed material or diagrams - students with visual impairment may access information in a variety of ways, for example Braille, audio, or enlarged print. Braille readers cannot skim read and may take up to three times as long as other students to read a text. Students with some vision may be large-print readers or may not be able to read at all without using special computer software or equipment. Many blind students prefer material in an electronic format and use a screen reader such as JAWS. Some students may want material reformatted into alternative formats. Extra time is needed for this, and the student must wait for the material to be produced for them. Skim reading may be very difficult or impossible. Reading may need to be carefully paced to avoid fatigue or eye strain. Headaches often result from eyestrain. This may reduce considerably the study time available to these students.

·         Finding books in the library may be impossible without assistance.

·         Many will be unable to read examination questions and handouts in standard print or read their own handwriting when answering examination questions. They may also be unable to take their own notes. Extra time is needed to carry out some tasks, such as locating words in a text when shifting from one reading medium to another.



Ø  It may take longer for students to write down lecture notes and they may be unable to see PowerPoint slides or board work.

Ø  Diagrams and new vocabulary can be problematic unless an oral description or additional clarification is given.

Ø  Documentation given out in the lecture may not be accessible to the student.

Ø  TV and video/DVD are generally less problematic than might be expected, but students should be told when they are to be used. Some students who are sensitive to light or screen glare may struggle with TV & Video Conference.

Ø  Some students may choose to have a note-taker and others will prefer to take their own notes on to a computer, or other equipment. Recording lectures can also be useful and staff should be prepared to accept such a request.


Written work

There may be delays in starting writing because of the extra time needed for reading. It may take longer to proof-read written work and to put a bibliography together. Presentation requirements may not be met unless the student has support in doing this.


Access to teaching staff

Ø  Students with a visual impairment will need to speak to staff about the management of their course, but difficulties may occur with the following:

Ø  finding rooms

Ø  finding people in a crowd

Ø  recognizing people

Ø  using pigeon holes

Ø  finding information on notice boards


Before the start of the term

Ø  Provide reading lists or course outlines well in advance to allow time for arrangements for taping or Brailing of texts to be made. Ensure reading lists are up-to-date.

Ø  Encourage the student to contact the Student Wellbeing Service assist in finding readers, note takers or other assistance, as necessary.

Ø  Be aware that guide dogs must not be refused entry to buildings and classrooms. If a guide dog is used, it will be highly disciplined and require little space.

Ensure that students who are blind or partially sighted are notified of organisational changes in an appropriate way


Teaching Strategies

Ø  There are a number of strategies which can be used by teaching staff which will help enormously, and there is an important role for tutors in educating other student members of seminar groups, so that the simple tactics outlined below are used by everyone.



Ø  It is important for core reading to be identified well before the start of a semester, so that arrangements can be made for students to access it. Students may have to obtain it from the RNIB library or have this accessibly formatted as a recording, Braille or large print.

Ø  Indicate compulsory texts in your reading list; it is helpful if key chapters can be identified if the whole book is not needed. Where the reading list is lengthy, it helps if this can be prioritised. The Library Service may be able to obtain electronic versions of the text either as e-books or by liaising with the publisher.

Ø  Preparation in Braille, large print or audiotape takes time, so planning well-ahead is essential if the student is to have texts available at the commencement of the semester. Specifying the order of reading within a text is helpful as it can take many weeks to have a book reproduced into audio or Braille.

Ø  In addition, organizing the appropriate equipment requires time.

Ø  Aim to meet the student with low vision prior to the commencement of classes



Reading is as vital today as ever, and this is no less the case for disabled people. Access to education, culture, entertainment or instruction all require access to books. The World Blind Union has a vision of a future where blind, partially sighted and other print disabled people can access the same book as their peers on the same terms and at the same time. The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires no less than this, and print disabled people will not settle for less themselves.

People with sight loss succeed in a wide variety of jobs across almost all employment sectors. Just like everyone else, it comes down to whether they have the training, skills and experience. And just like any other worker, they will need the right tools to do the job – in this case additional tools that enable tasks to be completed with little or no sight. We hope that by reading this document you will have gained the confidence and knowledge to work successfully with your blind and partially sighted colleagues.



The Disability Support team TechDis: A Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) funded service which provides information, advice and resources for supporting disabled students in HE and FE. Details available from: “Accessible Curricula: Good Practice for All”


A guide published jointly by UWIC (University if Wales Institute, Cardiff), The Learning and Teaching Support Network Generic Centre and TechDis. Available from:


A framework for assessing and addressing curriculum accessibility issues produced by a partnership of five West ofd Scotland HE institutions as part of a project funded by Scottish HEFC. SCIPS - web based resource that provides Strategies for Creating Inclusive Programmes of Study) SCIPS is a resource, primarily for teachers and trainers, developed by Dr Val Chapman (NTF) at the University of Worcester. It offers strategies for promoting inclusive teaching, learning and assessment within programmes of study taught at degree level (including foundation degrees).


American Foundation for the Blind. (2000). What do you do when you see a blind person [Video] New York: AFB Press. Crudden, A., McBroom L., Skinner, A., & Moore, J. (1998, May).

Comprehensive examination of barriers to employment among persons who are blind or visually impaired.


Mississippi State: A Model of Successful Work Experience for Employees Who Are Visually Impaired: The Results of a St... Page 14 of 16 3/8/2007

Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Blindness and Low Vision, University of Mississippi.


Dixon, K., Kruse, D., & Van Horn, C. (2003). Americans’ attitudes about work, employers and government work trends; Restricted access: A survey of employers about people with disabilities and lowering barriers to work. New Brunswick, NJ: John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, Rutgers University.


Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. New York: Simon & Schuster. Golub, D. (2005). Factors contributing to a successful work experience for employees who are blind or visually impaired. Dissertation Abstracts International, 66(01), 367A (UMI Dissertation Services No. 31669).