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Optimizing Vision

The student with low vision who is functioning in a general education classroom setting may be experiencing a multitude of visual challenges unique to the environments in which (s)he works.  As a TVI, I need to have a construct in my head in order to quickly organize my observations of each environment, so that I can make adjustments and/or recommendations for accommodations.

For starters, I must consider the lights or brightness in the room.  There are certain eye conditions that make lighting either detrimental (ocular albinism) or vital (optic nerve hypoplasia).  Questions I might ask myself are:  What is the lighting source?  Is the student getting so close that her head obscures the light?  Would a task light help?  Where should the light be directed?  If an outlet is nearby, the APH lamp is wonderful.  Another option is a battery powered OTT® light that can be moved from room to room.  When positioning the light, make sure the student’s head or hand does not occlude the light, or that the light is shining on the student’s face.  When the target surface is lighted or bright (Smart Board, overhead projector screen), students with lighting issues may have difficulties.  The classroom lighting can be adjusted to accommodate, or in extreme cases, the student may need to have a desk (print) copy if significant copy work is required.

Next, I look at the student’s posture.  Many students have difficulties accessing their lower field, and placing material on a slant board positions the material up so that the student isn’t spending the day slumped over his work.  Since most students need to be able to read and write, I find a slant board that accommodates writing works better than a reading stand.  See examples at Therapro ( Or, use a 3 inch 3-ring binder turned sideways.

How organized is your student?  It takes the student with low vision longer to find things.  Students need to access their materials quickly, so storing for quick retrieval is necessary.  Consider a small, stick-on battery operated closet light that you press for inside desks and other darker spaces.  Backpacks will need folders and other organizational containers to keep papers organized, and smaller objects in desks should have dedicated containers. The TVI will need to check and reinforce that an established system is used consistently.

How is your student writing things down?  You might need to provide adapted paper and writing tools, and adjust lighting and positioning of materials (see writing slant board above) if needed.  Examples of writing tools include drafting pencils (or #1 soft lead, available in art/craft stores) and fine point felt tip pens. Students may perform better with bold line paper, or commercially available wide ruled notebook paper with darker lines (compare these at the grocery store—some are darker than others). Writing may be so laborious that using a keyboard may be faster and more efficient.

Where are the optical devices?  Assuming the student has been seen by a low vision specialist, start by making sure the prescribed optical devices are on hand and the student has learned how to use them correctly.  Devices that tend to be handed to students by well-intentioned people should be avoided (e.g. full page magnifier). Electronic near devices are best used for “spot” viewing, and will slow the student down when reading longer passages. If a Video Magnifier is in the room, find out if it is being used consistently.  If it is not (perhaps due to portability, placement, too much enlargement), consider retraining the student on a handheld or stand magnifier.

This construct should be used in every classroom setting the student accesses, at the beginning of the school year. Ultimately, you will be teaching the student how to monitor his own visual functioning in relation to the categories mentioned above, and how to either adjust his body or inform his teachers about his visual preferences.

Chrissy Cowan, TVI
Mentor Coordinator
TSBVI Outreach
Braille Production with MacOS
iPad for children with MIVI

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