Disability Services for Students

302 Memorial Union Univeristy of Rhode Island Kingston, RI 02881

dss@etal.uri.edu – 401-874-2098

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Visual Disabilities

(Includes definition, how disability affects participation, and helpful strategies.)


The legislative definition of visual disability describes visual acuity and field of vision as the two criteria which determine blindness and eligibility for support services. Visual acuity refers to the distance that an individual can recognize an object; field of vision refers to the angle at which a person can see.

“Vision loss may be classified according to the anatomical site of the problem. Anatomical disorders include impairment to the refractive structures of the eye, muscle anomalies in the visual system, and problems of the receptive structures of the eye. Visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the use of corrective lenses is the marker for legal blindness” (Hardman, 1996).

Asch (1995) states that this definition may not encompass all persons whose visual impairment may substantially hinder such daily activities as reading, working, or traveling. Of those persons considered “legally blind” or visually impaired, 5% are under age 20; 21% are ages 20-64 (Asch, 1995).

How Visual Disabilities may affect student participation:

With the use of adaptive technology and supports, students with visual disabilities can be as capable and efficient as their peers who rely on sight.

There may be a time delay in obtaining taped textbooks.

The student may take more time to read in-class handouts and may need adaptive equipment.

The student may attend class accompanied by a trained animal, e.g. seeing-eye dog.

The student may not be able to make use of overhead transparencies or the blackboard, thus requiring an accommodation.

The student should be able to do written in-class exercises if the material provided is in accessible format.

The student may need to view the work closely in order to read handouts or transparencies. Large print may be required.

The student may rely on taped versions of all print material or handouts; or the student may need to access the Reading Edge Scanner.

Helpful strategies for instructing students:

Assume that the student has adequate social skills and rapport building techniques that will enable the student to be as effective, confident and competent as his or her peers.

Try to limit external and internal noise by closing doors and/or windows.

Oral reading is encouraged over silent reading.

While using transparencies or a writing easel, verbally describe what is being presented. Also, consider using colored chalk on a clean chalkboard for increased contrast.

Try to include the student in class discussions. A suggestion is for students to raise hands and be recognized by name.

When calling on the student with visual impairment, always use the student’s name.

Seating toward the front of the classroom is recommended.

Try to avoid lecturing in front of bright windows as it tends to be distracting.

Provide reading lists as soon as possible.

In office situations it may be appropriate to describe the position of chairs/doorways to help orient the student.

In order to make field site records accessible, provide private space where the student can make use of adaptive technology to view records.

From a student with a vision impairment, Spring 1997:

“The most helpful thing a teacher did for me was to allow me to use the print enlarger in the library and to give me copies of overheads.”

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