Teaching Students with Visual Disabilities

There are many teaching strategies you can use to ensure effective and productive learning environments and experiences for all students, including those with disabilities.

Accessible Education[i] is the process of designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people who have a variety of backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles. Just as there is no single way to teach, people learn in a variety of ways; using different instructional methods will help meet the needs of the greatest number of learners[ii].

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, you have a responsibility to learn about accessibility for persons with disabilities and how it relates to the development and delivery of accessible programs and courses.

The following are some practical tips for teaching students with visual disabilities.

What does it mean if someone has a visual disability?

The term visual disability indicates an individual with some degree of low vision. Some people can see the outlines of objects, and others can see the direction of light. Few people identify as being blind. Not everyone with a visual disability uses a service animal or a white cane; as a result, it may not be immediately apparent that a person has a visual disability.

Suggested tips on teaching a person with a visual disability

Suggestions for interacting one-on-one with a student with a visual disability

  • Identify yourself by name when you approach the person and speak directly to them.
  • Speak normally and clearly.
  • Do not assume that the person cannot see you.
  • Ask permission before touching the person, unless it is an emergency.
  • Offer your arm to guide the person, then walk at a normal pace.
  • Be precise and clear when giving directions or verbal information. For example, if you are guiding someone with a visual disability and you are approaching a door or an obstacle, say so.
  • A service animal may accompany a person with a visual disability. Service animals are working and should not be distracted.
  • Identify landmarks or other details to orient the person to the environment.
  • If you are leaving a room or the presence of someone with a visual disability, be sure to let them know that you are leaving and whether or not you will be returning.
  • If you are not sure what to do, ask, “Can I help?”

Accommodating a student with a visual disability

As an educator, you have a responsibility to accommodate students with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Requests for accommodation are made on an individual basis by students through the Office for Students with Disabilities and require medical and/or formal documentation.

The following are common academic accommodations that may be required for students with visual disabilities. This list is not exhaustive and is not intended to replace the official request for academic accommodations as communicated by the Office for Students with Disabilities.

Sources

University of Ottawa, A Guide for Professors: Minimizing the Impact of Learning Obstacles

Trent University, Accessibility in Teaching: Strategies and Requirements for Supporting an Accessible Learning Environment

York University, Faculty Resource Guide: Teaching Students with Disabilities

[i] The term Accessible Education has been adopted to capture the value of two frameworks in improving the accessibility of university education: Universal Instructional Design (UID) and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Both were informed by the architectural concept of Universal Design, which is “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” (Center for Universal Design, The Principles of Universal Design)

“UID is not just about accessibility for persons with a disability – it’s about truly universal thinking – maximizing learning for students of all backgrounds and learner preferences while minimizing the need for special accommodations.” (University of Guelph, UID Implementation Guide)

“UDL is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn. UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone – not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs.” (Center for Applied Special Technology, Universal Design for Learning)

[ii] Nilson, Linda B. (2010). Teaching at Its Best: A Research-Based Resource for College Instructors (3rd ed). John Wiley & Sons.

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