Understanding your learner's vision impairment

Post date: 
Monday, 9 November 2015
Young boy using a magnifier to read his laptop in the classroom.

Vision impairment has many different causes and varies widely. Understanding what a learner can see and the practical implications of their vision impairment will help you to identify teaching approaches that meet their needs.

Focusing on what your learner can see helps you to include vision impaired learners. It encourages teachers to consider how a learner’s useful vision can be maximised in different situations, and how you can modify your teaching.

Educational implications of visual difficulties

Talk to the learner, their family and their qualified teacher of children with vision impairment to understand the day to day effects of their vision impairment. Learners may experience more than one of the following visual difficulties:

Central vision loss

Central vision is used for detecting fine detail. Learners with central vision loss often have most difficulty with tasks involving reading, writing and close observation. They may move around fairly confidently if the rest of their visual field is unaffected.

Classroom strategies

  • Learner uses magnifier or CCTV to access near and distance tasks
  • Teaching Assistant or Learning Resources Technician produce materials in an alternative format.
  • Print materials simplified to remove visual clutter.
  • Teaching Assistant or teacher provide verbal descriptions.

Peripheral vision loss and patchy vision

Learners with peripheral field loss can find it difficult to move around and locate objects, but if central vision is unaffected they may be able to work quite effectively with detail. Visual field loss can also make it difficult to find the ‘space’ to record their answers on a question paper or workbook.

Irregular patches of poor vision mean a learner may have to scan objects consciously and repeatedly in order to see them effectively. Complicated visual tasks may become impossible for these learners if they can only pick up information in disjointed fragments.

Classroom strategies

  • Familiarise learners with classroom layout and walk them through any changes.
  • Teach learners consistent routes within the classroom and systematic searching techniques for objects and information.
  • Print size not made too large to enable more to be seen at once
  • Removal of unnecessary information in pictures and text
  • Learner taught techniques to assist in finding place on page or screen – for example using a ruler to mark line, or single line display on CCTV or screen magnification programme
  • Learner taught best head position for reading, possibly keeping eyes fixed and moving text past them.

Low contrast sensitivity

Some learners struggle to see objects that do not stand out clearly from its background, because they are a similar colour or intensity of tone. Good lighting conditions and colour scheme of the school environment make a big difference.

Classroom strategies

  • Ensure learner has access to good natural light and/or task lighting.
  • Materials produced with maximum contrast. The clarity and contrast of print on the page or screen may be more important than its size.
  • Present a simplified diagram with heightened contrast and clear labelling.

Light sensitivity

Many learners with a vision impairment find strong changes in light difficult to manage. Many find bright light painful (photophobia), while others need much more time to adjust visually when moving from a bright to a dimly lit area or activity.

Classroom strategies

  • Allow learners to choose where to sit to choose best lighting condition and avoid glare.
  • Provide verbal commentary about what is happening if the learner’s vision is still adjusting.
  • Allow learner to wear a hat or sunglasses for outdoor activities.
  • Respond immediately to requests to adjust classroom blinds.

Eye movement difficulties

Our eye muscles affect our ability to focus. Nystagmus, for example, involves a continuous involuntary movement of the eyes, which creates focusing difficulties. Some learners have problems training both eyes to focus on the same object at the same time, while others find it hard to shift their focus from a near to a far object.

Classroom strategies

  • Give learners more time to work out what is being presented and to find information from multiple sources.
  • Support learner to find and use their best head position to maximise what they can see.
  • Send whiteboard content to a laptop or tablet to reduce how often the learner has to shift their focus.

Colour loss

Colour confusion on its own is not considered a vision impairment, but it often accompanies and compounds other visual difficulties. The extent of a colour vision loss varies greatly. The main educational implications are difficulty distinguishing detail in pictures, maps and diagrams.

Classroom strategies​

  • Modify diagrams using colours or shading patterns that your learner finds easier to distinguish
  • Adapt activities which depend on colour coding to achieve the same the learning outcome.


  • Our short online course, Understanding visual impairment in children and young peoplegives you the opportunity to develop your knowledge at your own pace. It is designed to support professionals and parents to improve the quality of learning opportunities available to children and young people with vision impairment. Find out more today.
  • Read our Access to education guide for more information about the educational implications of vision impairment, and how you can meet your learner’s needs.


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