SIX THINGS TEACHERS CAN DO TO HELP VISUALLY
IMPAIRED STUDENTS IN THEIR CLASSROOMS
Strange as it may seem, you, as a "regular classroom teacher," can help your visually impaired students overcome many of the disabilities they bring with them to your classroom. By definition, a disability is a limitation in an individual's normal life functioning that results from an impairment‑‑(a physical/mental/ emotional defect or problem that is often, but not always, organic in nature). Listed below are six concrete ways in which you can help to reduce disabilities, and hence increase the normal life functioning of your visually impaired students:
(1) You are not alone when it comes to finding ways to help your visually impaired students. There is a wide spectrum of special education professionals in your building/district who would be glad to meet with you to discuss any concerns you may have about providing your visually impaired students with the best educational experience possible. Take advantage of these individuals’ expertise. Remember, you, most likely, were not trained to be a special education teacher, and are therefore not expected to be an expert in this area.
(2) Help your students become as autonomous as possible. If you have the option of doing something for a student, or helping that student learn to do for him/herself, opt for the latter. Not only will this enable the student to continue to perform important tasks long after he/she has left your classroom, it also builds self‑esteem. It is a good feeling to take responsibility for one's own destiny and not feel as though you must always depend on the good will of others. For example, it would be better to help a student find a way to read class assignments on his/her own rather than always having to rely on readers. Remember the old adage: "Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man how to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.”
(3) Sometimes, simple modifications to the classroom environment or your teaching practice can be of great benefit to your visually impaired students. For example, moving a student closer to the board, locating his/her desk in a better illuminated area of the room, preparing a simple tactile aid or model, or simply saying what you write on the board or overhead can often make the difference between success and failure for a student with a visual impairment. Although it would be hoped that your visually impaired pupils would take the initiative and let you know about their special needs, this does not always occur. Remember, you are dealing with adolescents who (usually) don't want to stand out from the crowd, even if it means they are putting themselves at a severe disadvantage. You may want to speak with the student after class or approach his/her resource room teacher if you suspect he/she is having difficulties.
(4) To make it easier for your visually impaired students to get the readings for your course transcribed into Braille or put onto audio tape before classes begin, please have your reading lists (including texts, handouts, and any other materials they will be expected to read) compiled as early as possible. It is the responsibility of each visually impaired student (or his/her resource room teacher) to approach you for this information before the beginning of the semester or school year. Hint: If you use a word processor to generate reading material for your students, or if you require them to view particular web pages, you may be able to simply give your visually impaired pupils a floppy disk containing these files so they can be automatically transcribed into Braille or read with a speech synthesizer.
(5) If the visually impaired students in your classes are able to read printed material (visually, or with the aid of a machine), please make every effort to provide them with legible reading materials. Try to avoid faint or smudged type, "fancy fonts," and right justification‑‑(which results in unequal spacing between characters). While some students may require large print, others will do just fine with normal size type. Ask if you are uncertain.
(6) Remember that your visually impaired "children" are children first, who happen to have a visual impairment, rather than visual impairments with children attached. Unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, treat them as you would any other student. They are not made of glass and are no better (or worse) than any other individuals you may encounter. Of course, if their impairments prevent them from engaging in certain activities, cause them to perform some tasks more slowly (or differently) than their peers, or place them and their classmates in dangerous situations, take the necessary steps to accommodate these needs. For example, some students, because of reading difficulties, may legitimately require more time on written tests. Giving these students the extra time they need would be the right thing to do, and could be justified on grounds that it was putting them on a more equal footing with their sighted peers who do not have to contend with these difficulties. On the other hand, situations where students neglect to hand in their homework assignments, or habitually arrive late to class after they have learned the way, should not be tolerated as these are instances where a visual impairment has little, or nothing, to do with their failure to meet your expectations.