Accommodating
Students with
Visual Impairments

at Florida Atlantic University

An Informational Brochure from the
Office for Students with Disabilities
Division of Student Affairs

 

VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS AND BLINDNESS


A visual impairment is defined as a variance from the norm which may affect central vision, peripheral vision, night vision, color perception or general visual acuity. This variance may be anatomical or functional, partial or total, temporary or permanent, reversible or progressive. Some people with visual impairments can distinguish the presence of light and darkness. Some see colors. Special aids may allow individuals to use their remaining vision. Macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and diabetic retinopathy are three common types of visual impairments.
 


MACULAR DEGENERATION


Macular degeneration is a medical condition, usually in adults, that results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field due to damage to the retina. It occurs in “dry” and “wet” forms. Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision may remain to allow other activities of daily life.

 


RETINITIS PIGMENTOSA


Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) is a group of genetic eye conditions in which abnormalities of the photoreceptors (rods and cones) or the retinal pigment epithelium of the retina lead to progressive visual loss. In the progression of symptoms for RP, night blindness generally occurs first followed by tunnel vision.

 


DIABETIC RETINOPATHY

Diabetic retinopathy is a complication of diabetes that results from damage to the blood vessels of the light-sensitive tissue of the retina. At first, it may cause no symptoms or only mild vision    problems. Eventually, it leads to blindness. In the US, diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness.

 


WAYS A VISUAL IMPAIRMENT OR BLINDNESS MIGHT AFFECT A STUDENT’S EDUCATION

  • Enhanced auditory skills.
  • Students who have had no vision since birth may have difficulty understanding verbal descriptions of visual materials. Consider this: “ This diagram of ancestral lineage looks like a tree.” If one has never seen a tree, it may not be apparent that the diagram has several lines of ancestry traceable to one central family.
  • Demonstrations based on colors may be more difficult for students with blindness to conceptualize than demonstrations that emphasize shape, temperature or texture.

 

SUGGESTIONS FOR FACULTY

Each student with a visual impairment or blindness is different. The following suggestions should be discussed with the student to determine which are more appropriate:

  • Keep classroom doors either completely open or closed.
  • When a guide dog is in your class, the dog is working, even when the dog is resting by its owner’s side. Please do not interact with the dog (this includes not addressing the dog in any capacity, touching the dog, or feeding the dog). The guide dog should only respond to its owner’s commands. Interaction from anyone who isn’t the owner will just be a distraction to the dog.
  • Identify yourself when talking to a person with a visual impairment. Speak directly to the student and always address the student by name when asking a question or offering assistance (so the student knows you are talking to her or him, and not to others nearby). Do not use a companion as an intermediary for conversation.
  • Reserve front seats for low-vision students. Ensure seating away from windows. Glare from outside light can make it difficult for a student to see the professor or the board.
  • Offer mobility assistance with descriptive language: “There is an empty seat in the middle of the first row about twelve steps to your left.”
  • Provide reading lists or syllabi in advance to enable timely arrangements of audio recording or brailling of texts and other mandatory readings.
  • Provide large print copies of handouts by enlarging them on a photocopier or printing them in at least 18 point (actual size) using sans serif typefacefonts(e.g., Arial, Tahoma, Verdana).
  • Provide copies of all written materials so students can use assistive technology software to “read” it.
  • Encourage audio recording of classes and/or provide copies of lecture notes when appropriate.
  • Face the class when speaking so your voice projects towards the students.
  • Please read displayed material aloud and describe in detail everything important. Spell out new or technical vocabulary. Write with large letters.
  • Use “hands-on” activities whenever possible. Utilize ways for students to touch things, especially with charts and diagrams.
  • Team the student with a sighted classmate or laboratory assistant.
  • Reserve front seats for low-vision students. Ensure seating away from windows. Glare from outside light can make it difficult for a    student to see the professor or the board.
  • Offer mobility assistance with descriptive language: “There is an empty seat in the middle of the first row about twelve steps to your left.”
  • Provide reading lists or syllabi in advance to enable timely arrangements of audio recording or brailling of texts and other mandatory readings.
  • Provide large print copies of handouts by enlarging them on a photocopier or printing them in at least 18 point (actual size) using sans serif typefacefonts(e.g., Arial, Tahoma, Verdana).
  • Provide copies of all written materials so students can use assistive technology software to “read” it.
  • Encourage audio recording of classes and/or provide copies of lecture notes when appropriate.
  • Face the class when speaking so your voice projects towards the students.
  • Please read displayed material aloud and describe in detail everything important. Spell out new or technical vocabulary. Write with large letters.
  • Use “hands-on” activities whenever possible. Utilize ways for students to touch things, especially with charts and diagrams.
  • Team the student with a sighted classmate or laboratory assistant.
  • If a specific task is impossible for the student to carry out, consider an alternative assignment, unless the task is deemed an essential function of the course. If this is so, consult with the student’s OSD counselor.
  • Be flexible with assignment deadlines.
  • Plan field trips and special projects (such as internships) well in advance and alert field supervisors to required adaptations.
  • Provide assistance if a class is moved to a new location, an exam is scheduled in another classroom or the room’s furnishings have been rearranged.

 

EXAMINATIONS AND EVALUATIONS

Students with visual impairments or blindness can achieve almost everything in your course that sighted students can. Alternative methods of accomplishing goals or of assessing mastery of material may be necessary. The most expedient devices include alternative examinations (oral, large print, Braille or audio recorded), time extensions for examinations, and the use of print enlargers or specialized computer programs. If a student utilizes a computer for exams, the professor should provide the exam to OSD in electronic format.  When in doubt about how you may best assist the student, ask her/him. The student has probably been making similar adjustments for years.

 

R EGISTERING WITH OSD

To be eligible for academic accommodations at Florida Atlantic University, a student must apply for services from the Office for Students with Disabilities (OSD). Academic accommodations are determined based on self-report of the disability and effective prior accommodations; observation and interaction with OSD counselor, as well as disability documentation submitted by the student. The documentation must be in the form of either a medical report or practitioner’s letter. The diagnosis must be made by an ophthalmologist, optometrist, or other practitioner qualified to make this diagnosis. The documentation must state a specific diagnosis and should include anticipated effects of the student’s functional limitations within the academic setting as well as suggestions for accommodating the student. The evaluation must have been conducted within the last five years; however, the OSD reserves the right to make modifications to this time frame.
 

DETERMINING ACCOMMODATIONS

After a student has submitted an Application for Support Services and appropriate documentation of a disability to the OSD, the student will meet with an OSD counselor for an intake interview. During the intake, the student will be asked to provide information about her or his experience of disability, barriers he or she has encountered, as well as effective and ineffective prior accommodations. Appropriate accommodations are then determined based on an interactive process between the student and OSD counselor.

 The student may be eligible for one or more of the following accommodations:

  • Advocacy
  • Professor notification
  • Notetaking assistance
  • Audio recording of classes
  • Books and materials in alternate format (e.g., enlarged, audio recorded, braille, digital)
  • Technological aids (e.g., CCTV, scanner, OCR software, JAWS)
  • Additional time to complete assignments
  • Exam adaptations (e.g., extended time, distraction-reduced setting, reader, audio recorded, scribe, enlarged font, Braille, use of computer, other visual aids, exemption from using scantron)

These accommodations are necessary for ensuring complete access to, and full participation in, the educational process. Academic standards are not to be lowered, nor should there be an alteration in the essential nature of the course or degree requirements.

Note: Professors will be notified of the student’s approved accommodations in an OSD Letter of Notification presented by the student. If the student is not registered with the OSD, please refer her or him to the office.

FAU Campuses: Boca Raton/Davie/Dania Beach/Fort Lauderdale/Jupiter/Treasure Coast Boca Raton Campus Danie Beach Campus Davie Campus Fort Lauderdale Campus Harbor Branch Campus Jupiter Campus Treasure Campus
 Last Modified 9/26/13