By Elsie Rao, VI Teacher, Tyler Independent School District
For educational purposes, the low vision student is typically one who reads print and has a corrected visual acuity of 20/70 or worse in the better eye. Most low vision students have very poor distance vision, so this makes it difficult for them to see the chalkboard or to gather detailed information from filmstrips, charts, or overhead screens. These students can usually read print and gain information from pictures, charts, and graphs when the material is up close. Each low vision student's needs are unique, but the following suggestions may be helpful when working with a low vision student in the classroom.
Some General Facts Regarding Students with Low Vision:
- Using the eyes does not injure or harm them. Encourage the student to use his/her eyes since greater efficiency can only be developed through the use of the eyes for visual tasks unless a doctor has indicated otherwise.
- The use of glasses cannot help improve visual acuity for all eye conditions. Glasses may be worn to reduce glare and help with fatigue.
- Some students can read ordinary type with ease; others may require large print, a hand-held magnifier, or a closed circuit TV.
- The visually impaired child should be able to participate in most recreational activities except for those that require good visual acuity. (i.e. dodgeball)
- Eyes cannot be "strained" but may tire quickly. An activity that allows the student to change focus is often helpful and appreciated.
- Holding materials close to the eyes will not harm them. Allow the student to position materials at a distance he/she chooses.
- Check the student's folder for the modification sheet. This will tell the classroom teacher what specific modifications need to be made in the classroom. Remember, these modifications are REQUIRED, since they are written in the student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Contact the teacher of the visually impaired if you have questions or need suggestions for your particular room.
Suggestions for the Classroom Teacher:
- Preferential seating is often necessary for a student with low vision.
- Let the student select a seat where he/she sees best
- Seat a student as close to the board as practical
- Reduce glare from windows and lights, as much as possible
- Seat the student with his/her back to windows
- Read the student's Functional Vision Evaluation to find out if this student can copy materials written on the board or overhead projector.
- Purple dittos or "fuzzy" Xerox copies should not be used with this student. Clear contrast between the print and the background will help the student be more successful.
- Black print on white paper is usually best. If other modifications are required they should be contained in the list of modifications handed out at the beginning of the semester and in his/her Functional Vision Evaluation of the Special Education Folder
- Contrast, print style, and spacing of letters can be more important than print size.
- Low vision students may require more time to complete assignment.
- Low vision students are usually slow readers because of the visual impairment.
- Standardized tests that require separate answer sheets may be especially difficult for a student to use. Check modifications to see what procedure to use.
- Word games, puzzles and graphs may be inappropriate for a low vision student. Check with the VI teacher if you are unsure.
- Give the student the grade he/she earns. Donating a grade to a student really hinders-not helps the student's learning.
- Storing and using large print materials may be difficult for the student to manage in a classroom. Help the student find a place for books and supplies. Also, a locker may not be accessible if it has a combination lock.
Understanding A Low Vision Student:
- The emotional needs of a low vision student are like those of any other. He/She wants to be liked by teachers and peers. They do not want to be different!
- Schedule a time for a private meeting with the child. This will allow the student to tell you about seating preferences, lighting, and modifications that are helpful.
- Have the student explain his/her visual problem to you.
- Try not to call attention to the child's eye problem in front of the class.
- Always use the student's name when addressing him/her.
- The rules of discipline should be the same for a low vision student, as for any other, unless the IEP states otherwise.
- So much of communication is non-verbal. Often a student with low vision is unable to recognize the expression on someone's face or figure out what has happened in a situation that is nonverbal. It is helpful if the teacher privately explains the situation to the student with low vision
- Be aware of the student's frustration level since so much of learning and school is visual. It is easy for a student with poor acuity to become frustrated.
- If you notice the student has food or ink on his face or clothes, discretely tell them.