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Effective Classroom Accommodations for Visually Impaired Students

Dean Traylor is a freelance writer and teacher who writes about various subjects, including education and creative writing.

Working with visually impaired students

Working with visually impaired students

Visuality Is a Luxury

Visual learning is a luxury that many students have. Books, pictures, movies, and computer graphics have become critical tools for teaching numerous curricula. When a student cannot use visual cues, the ability to learn to read, play music, do athletics, and do countless other activities is seriously hindered.

Not all students have the luxury of sight. Students with visual impairments are at a serious disadvantage and often must rely on their other senses to learn. Even this process can have its limitation and seriously affect what the student can learn.

In cases like these, teachers (general or special education teachers) must use various forms of accommodations to help students with visual impairments obtain the same type of education that their non-disabled peers are getting.

Accommodating these students in the classroom is essential. There are techniques, styles, and assistive technologies that can be used to help them learn the same curriculum as their non-disabled peers. Many of these accommodations can be found on the accommodation/modification pages of an IEP (individual education plan). Other suggestions for accommodations exist on numerous websites specializing in special education, learning disabilities, and visual impairments.

The Quran in Braille

The Quran in Braille

What Does "Visual Impairment" Mean?

To begin, one must understand what the designation of visual impairment means. Students with visual impairment have limited or diminished use of vision. This impairment will affect the students in various ways. Some will be totally blind, while others may have tunnel vision, peripheral vision, or have some form of limited sight.

Many students with visual impairments can see the world around them to some extent. It's not that they cannot see at all, but that their vision is limited. In some cases, they may need words in a book, magazine, website, or other forms of written media magnified (In part, these impairments are responsible for large print books).

Blindness is often the most extreme form of visual impairment. There are varying degrees of blindness. Students labeled as being legally blind will have vision worse than 20/200 and have a visual field of less than 20 degrees in diameter.

People who are legally blind can read books, go to movies, and enjoy other visual arts or communications. Still, they need the help of magnifications, seeing-eye dogs, or canes when reading or traveling.

Blindness is often the most extreme form of visual impairment. There are varying degrees of blindness. Students labeled as being legally blind will have vision worse than 20/200 and have a visual field of less than 20 degrees diameter.


There are several forms of accommodations. These accommodations will be based on the individual student’s needs. It is important that a teacher collaborates with a specialist, the student’s case-carrier, or obtain information from the student’s IEP and its Accommodation/Modifications page.

Usually, an IEP will list the following accommodations:

  • Flexible time on exams and assignments
  • Alternative testing such as oral tests Audio book Flexible seating (i.e. in front of the class or by the board)
  • Breaking lessons into smaller pieces
  • Braile lesson materials
  • One-on-one assistance (help from paraprofessional)
  • Note-taking support Assistive technology

Assistive technology has become a popular medium to accommodate students with visual impairment. Some form that exists is a screen magnification or reading software. Another is a computer-reading program such as a reader or software that can convert a book onto a computer, have its words enlarged, and use audio recording to aid the students in reading comprehension.

Other assistive technologies are Type-and-speak, Braille-and-Speak devices, or voice recognition software.

Testing Accommodations

Standardized testing is increasingly being used in schools throughout the country. Even students with learning disabilities are being routinely tested through these assessments. Testing accommodations are needed for students with visual impairments.

A teacher administering a test for students with visual impairments may do the following (again, it’s based on the individual student’s educational needs and functional abilities):

  • The use of readers, scribes, word processors, or large print magnifying equipment.
  • Have questions read to the students by a reader.
  • Have test reproduced to large print.
  • Allow extra time for test-taking in an alternative site.
  • Have students answer questions orally and have a scriber or paraprofessional record the answer.

Students with visual impairments can learn the same curriculum that their non-disabled peers are exposed to. However, these students need accommodations in order to level the field for them and help them learn.

One example of accommodation for visually impaired students

One example of accommodation for visually impaired students

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Dean Traylor


Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on December 05, 2018:

It's important to note: Students with visual impairments with appropriate accommodations, like most students with special needs, learn at about the same rate as their peers without visual impairments. Vision loss is not a cognitive matter; it's a sensory issue. Students with visual impairments have reduced access to the visual environment which impacts their ability to engage in incidental learning. These deficits in learning must be addressed sequentially through direct instruction led by the Teacher of the Visually Impaired.

Also, a general education teacher should not attempt to implement accommodations without consulting with a licensed Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI), which should be on staff at the school or working in an itinerant capacity for the district. This may include having the TVI administer tests when appropriate.

However, your recommendations are generally great, provided the TVI is involved with these processes because it's failure to do so which results in misunderstandings about vision loss.

Thanks for a great article on how to improve instruction for this population of students.