Visually Disabled Guide

A resource for students with visual impairments.

As much as preparing and planning for college can be an exciting moment for just about anyone, it can also equally be a daunting moment for others especially the blind and visually impaired students who can’t help but think of all the challenges and barriers that await them when it comes to higher education. Luckily, despite facing a myriad of challenges throughout their schooling, the situation does not at all prevent them at all from earning a degree at the end of their school life. This is because most colleges have in a way tried to make college education accessible to the visually impaired by adopting some measure and technology that offer a wide range of tools and devices for successful learning.

The Spectrum of Visual Disability

Before we get further it would be best for us to define some fundamental terminology in relation to visual disabilities that actually happen to be the three main categories in which the people who are visually impaired fall into.

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Low vision or visually impaired

The American Foundation for the Blind defines visual impairment as having a visual acuity of 20/70 or worse in the better eye with the best correction. There are a number of things that can be attributed to visual impairment including a low faculty to adapt to light or darkness or simply sensitivity to when the light is a little bit too much. Low vision in most cases affects the level of visual acuity or how sharp or clear one’s vision is, as well as the range of vision and how one perceives colors.

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Legally blind

Technically speaking, someone who is legally blind is an individual who qualifies for specialized education, job training, accommodating devices, disability benefits, and tax exemption. It has been defined by the American Foundation for the Blind as a central acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye even with correction.

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Totally Blind

When one is referred to as being totally blind it means that they are either unable to see anything with either eye or have a visual acuity of 20/400 or worse. It is a condition of the eye that is often the result of disease. Statistics show that 50 million people in the world are classified to be totally blind and approximately 80% of those individuals are 50 years old or older.

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How Colleges and Institutions of Higher Education Accommodate Students who are visually Disabled

In the recent past, schools have taken tremendous steps in order to ensure that they create a learning environment that is somewhat more accommodating to the students with visual disabilities. The accommodations generally revolve around raising the levels of accessibility, as well as ensuring that they contribute to a campus culture that is a bit more welcoming. Some of the steps being taken include:

Proper faculty and staff training

Over time, schools have realized that students with visual disabilities tend to do well when services and instructions are appropriately provided and tailored to suit each student’s unique needs. Therefore, schools have come up with various training sessions for staff and instructors that are geared towards visually disabled students to help contribute to a better learning experience.

Incorporating technology for the visually disabled

One thing is for sure when it comes to technology: there is an apparent gap in the depth of technological training for assisting youth who have some sort of visual impairment. As a result, many young people end up going to universities with technology skills that are insufficient for the course work. These limitations can then hinder students’ success and confidence, both in and out of the classroom.

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Tape recording lectures

A number of institutions of higher learning have made it possible for students to tape record lectures and transcribe the lectures into Braille. There are currently a number of technologies and companies working to improve this process to make it easier for both students and professors.

Giving students who are visually impaired more time to complete work and exams

One of the most important things to bear in mind is that students who are visually disabled tend to take a bit more time when it comes to the reading and completing tasks that have been assigned to them. In light of this, it is important to arrange for accommodations that allow for additional time to complete assignments and extended time to complete exams that are done in class. Alternatively, the instructors can allow the students with special needs to complete their tasks, give presentations and take their examinations using alternative formats.

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Free use of note takers and readers

Taking notes during lectures is a salient part of being able to study and learn the material that is required of you as a student. One of the ways in which schools can ensure that they arrange the appropriate accommodations for students with visual impairment is by assigning students note takers through the college’s disability office.

Providing listening enhancers and computer-aided transcription devices

Students who have visual disabilities often have different levels of hearing ability. This means that each student may require specialized services to fit their individual needs. Some of these specialized services may include speech amplification services and computer-assisted real time transcription.

Enhancing the online learning environment

One of the other way schools can accommodate these students is by moving the curriculum online. Despite the fact that online learning creates new access opportunities for students, it may prove to be a barrier -especially to students with visual disabilities – due to inaccessibility of instructional materials and particular online content. One of the ways that universities can make life easier for visually impaired students is by improving the accessibility of the online learning labs and learning management systems.

Technology for the Visually Disabled Students

Various colleges and higher learning institutions have come up with specialized software, devices and other forms of technology in efforts to remove academic barriers and allow students who have visual disabilities to receive a proper education. Some of the most common forms of technology that have been put in place for students who are blind or visually impaired include:

Screen readers

These are software programs that interface with the computers operating system and enable the user to read onscreen text using a speech synthesizer or a Braille display.

Screen magnification

A screen magnification system is an application that automatically zooms in on text and graphics so as to assist students with low or limited vision.

Video magnifier

This is a closed-circuit television system that projects magnified text and graphics on a screen by using a camera that is mounted or handheld.

Large print keyboards

As the name suggests, these are keyboards with larger keys and color displays that are easy to see.

Text to speech software

This is the software that is responsible for turning electronic text into audible speech.

Personal data assistant

This is a portable device that is used with Braille or typewriter keyboards to record lectures, read books, compose assignments and find directions.

Optical character recognition

The optical character recognition is a form of technology that is used to scan text and then repeat it aloud using the speech synthesizer or save the data. It is programmed in such a way that it is able to detect and call out words that have been misspelled. Some even go to the extent of allowing its user to store data on the device using a memory card, as well as download it to a Personal Computer hard drive.

Braille translator

This is a device that converts information that is embedded in a document and translates it into the Braille file. Some of the most popular platforms include Duxbury Braille Translator, Braille 2000 and index Braille.

Braille printer

A braille printer is a device that is connected to the PC in order to enable its user to print data in Braille by marking pints onto a very large paper.

Compact magnifier

This is a compact, handheld lens that gives the user the luxury of magnifying reading materials. There are a variety of pocket magnifiers including some which are illuminated and some that can be converted from handheld to a stand magnifier.

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Guide to Finding a Suitable College

It is vital for students with special needs to carefully vet a college before they make a decision. This is mainly because colleges happen to be different despite offering a variety of services to students with needs.

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Eligibility and documentation

Students should find a way to learn about the university’s documentations requirements to prove disability eligibility.

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The college should have proper accommodation

Under the federal disability law, universities are only required to provide reasonable accommodation. The potential danger with this is that reasonable accommodations may vary for each institution. Therefore, it is vital for students to review the list of accommodations and ensure that they match their learning needs.

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Seek a university that is committed to accessibility

In most occasions, students who have special needs are protected by section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans Disability Act of 1990 which state that all institutions of higher learning are required to provide equal access to both academic and extracurricular activities and programs.

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Find a college with a grievance policy

One of the most important things for students to understand is the rights provided for college students with a disability. That is why it is vital to review the college’s policies and regulations regarding those accommodations.

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Resources for Students with Visual Disabilities

There are a number of resources available for use by students who have disabilities. Below is a list that includes nonprofit organizations, agencies sponsored by universities and groups that provide a myriad of services to students with visual impairments.

American Council for the Blind – A membership organization that advances legislative policy in order to help those who are visually impaired at both the state and national levels.

American Foundation for the Blind – A national nonprofit organization that has committed itself to offering a variety of services and supports to visually disabled persons including online learning programs, product evaluations and family and community resources.

American Printing House for the Blind– This is a nonprofit organization that helps produce and print educational and workplace support materials for visually impaired people.

Associated Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired – This is a nonprofit organization that offers services such as training and education materials to the visually disable.

The Association for Higher Education and Disability – Is a professional organization with 2,800 members throughout the world that supports individuals who are in higher education through offering training, workshops, and consultations.

Blinded Veterans Association – Connects blinded veterans to local services, including employment training and job placement services in order to help them overcome the challenges they go through living with sight loss.

Center for Parent Information and Resources – This is an online hub of information and resources for parents that have children living with disabilities including visual disabilities among others.

While students with disabilities may face challenges, it’s important to note that today more than ever, colleges and universities are taking an active and proactive stance on assisting students who are living with disabilities. This makes 2017 the best time for those with any form of visual disability to attend university in order to land on the career path they want.