Easy classroom adjustments for learners with vision impairment

Post date: 
Tuesday, 8 August 2017
Photo of a Write Angle writing slope, black market pen, thick-lined grid paper and tactile rulers

Gwyn McCormack, QTVI and Director of Positive Eye, shares simple ways you can improve school life for children with vision impairment.

Imagine this scenario.The student is squinting as she peers at the board trying to copy down her homework. She looks around the classroom and shrinks a little further into her seat. Everyone else is busy writing. She desperately tries again to distinguish the green writing on the murky whiteboard but to no avail. Anxiously she wonders what to do: “Should I ask for help? I hate to bring attention to myself… I really don’t want to look different.” Courageously she raises her hand and says to the teacher: “I can’t read the green writing on the board. It’s easier for me to see if you use a black pen and say what you’re writing.”

Small changes can make a big difference

Reasonable adjustments are often simple solutions that are inexpensive and easily implemented – and they usually benefit other children as well. What may appear to be a small change can also have a significant impact on the child’s independence and self-esteem. And above all, the child with vision impairment (VI) can access the curriculum at the same time as their sighted peers.

Unless we have walked in the child’s shoes, our understanding is limited of their experience of accessing school life. Vision provides the major route to processing information about the world. It enables an object to be seen quickly as part of an ongoing process or larger whole. It allows understanding of the form, size, shape, pattern, colour and location of an object all in one glance, at one moment in time.

The degree to which the child’s learning and development is affected depends on the type and extent of vision impairment. The sense of belonging and a feeling of being included both depend on the adaptations and adjustments made. The student needs specific support strategies to ensure the national curriculum outcomes are accessible and meaningful, with individualised outcomes which reflect their progress.
Here are some typical reasonable adjustments. Although the focus is related to students with vision impairment in primary and secondary mainstream settings, many would also be useful to other students with special education needs and disabilities (SEND).

Adjustments to enable a student with VI to get around school as independently and safely as possible:

  • Keep lights on in dimly lit areas.
  • Regularly check and replace lights bulbs.
  • Put signage on doors in braille/large print.
  • Fit blinds to classroom windows and repair broken ones to reduce glare.
  • Highlight stair edges, handrails, door handles and doorways with tape of contrasting colour (for example yellow or white).
  • Remove major hazards and obstacles from around the environment.
  • Position contrasting matting at doorways.
  • Maintain consistent classroom layouts.

Adjustments to enable a student with VI to learn, progress and reach their outcomes:

  • Facilitate time for forward planning and liaising (build it into class/subject teachers' timetables).
  • Adapt curriculum materials appropriately to enable the student to access the lesson at the same time as their classmates.
  • Make sure classrooms have clean white boards and black pens available to increase contrast.
  • Make sure images, words and information pointed to or written on the board are accompanied by a verbal description.
  • Avoid asking “Can you see this?” but instead ask “Can you identify all the words, lines and numbers, without feeling like you need to guess any of them?”
  • Pass around objects being shown to the class for closer first hand observation.
  • Position the student with VI at a suitable distance from yourself and the board that helps them make the most of their vision (if necessary, move the student’s position for each activity).
  • Consider the task that needs to be completed and any reductions to the amount of content to be completed by the student, ensuring the learning outcome is still reached.
  • Make sure any technology requirements are planned for and are put in place before the beginning of the school year.

Adjustments to ensure a student with VI has a sense of belonging:

  • Listen and respond to the student’s voice by using a simple communication system which structures the approach. Positive Eye has developed a resource called the Easy-Easier Posting Box that involves a student deciding whether they find tasks easy or if they would like to find them easier. Their responses are discussed with the teacher and together an action plan is devised based on the tasks they would like to find easier.
  • Share what it’s like to have little or no sight with other children in class through peer awareness activities and discuss ways they can offer help. Do the same with the teaching and support staff.
  • Address all students by name during class discussion and activities.
  • Proactively support social interaction skills – model how to start and maintain conversations, and use circle time opportunities to support development of social skills.
  • Provide accessible school-based information, such as merit certificates, rewards, menus and timetables.
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