How could you learn if the world looked like this? 0.06 percent of students have visual impairments - the picture above shows what vision may possibly be like for the legally blind, but visual impairment comes in many different forms and degrees.

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Definition and types

The picture on the left depicts how individuals might see with a few of the visual impairments mentioned below.
  • Blind: having no vision at all.
  • Legal Blindness: visual acuity of 20/200 or less, meaning that a legally blind person sees at 20 feet what a person with good vision would see at 200 feet.
  • Strabismus: misalignment of the eyes.
  • Nystagmus: rapid involuntary movement of the eyes.
  • Glaucoma: fluid buildup of the eye.
  • Diabetic retinopathy: changes in the blood vessels of the eye caused by diabetes.
  • Macular degeneration: damage to the center of the retina, causing central vision loss.
  • Retinitis pigmentosa: genetic eye disease leading to total blindness.

The term “low vision” refers to still having some functional vision. Students who have low vision can sometimes still gain learn through written means but he/she still may need optical devices to help them. This will be covered further down.

Causes of Visual Impairments

  • Premature birth
  • Trauma
  • diabetes
  • genetic causes
  • Infections
  • Anoxia
  • retinal degeneration

The information from the above section came from The Canadian National Institute for the Blind as well as the book, Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings by Smith, Polloway, Patton, Dowdy, Heath, McIntyre, and Francis.

How to Identify

Children with visual impairments are often unaware of their impairment. This unawareness could continue for many years before the student realizes that their eyesight is not 20/20. This means that it is crucial for teachers to be able to identify which students in the classroom have a form of visual impairment, and the severity of the impairment.
If you suspect a child may be visual impaired contact the parents and get as much medical information as possible. If needed, suggest that the student see an optometrist. There are a few strategies listed below to help teachers assess if a student has a visual impairment.

Methods of identifying visual impairment in the classroom:
- Notice if the child is squinting or unable to read words on the board
- Watch how the child is performing in gym and other tasks that require hand to eye coordination
- Make sure that the child is writing the proper shape of letters in order to determine if the child has dyslexia instead
- If the student is quiet, it may mean that they are shy, but could also be because they are unaware of what is being discussed

How to Include in Instruction2012-09-30 15.55.04.jpg

It is extremely important for students with visual impairment to feel like they are being treated the same as their peers.

Methods of integrating visually impaired students into the classroom:
- Cooperative Education
- Review basic concepts before starting the lesson
  • Incidental learning is affected by low vision
- Familiarize students with the classroom, make open and accessible
- Have access to learning aids and a specific and known place for them
  • Make sure you are trained to use them as well as the student. Make the student feel more included by training other students on the equipment as well.
  • Example: Book on left. Students can read the braille and the instructor can read along with them
- Strategies for getting notes (from peer, braille printer, hand out)
- Constantly verbalize what is happening in the classroom
- Be aware that some students are sensitive to lighting:
  • Provide the optimal environment for them
- Classroom arrangement is important:
  • Don’t change seating arrangements
  • Have visually impaired student sit close to the front so that she can hear better.

There is an excellent resource in the University of Lethbridge Curriculum Lab: What If You Couldn't...?2012-09-30 16.05.48.jpg

For instance, this kit includes magnifying glasses, a manual braille printer, a ruler with braille numbers, and more.

In the following video, a teacher of blind pre-school students is interviewed and shares some tips about how to go about activities with the blind. For instance, she makes most of her lessons more tactile: to learn the letter "M", the students felt braille, felt the print word, and went through some examples. From around 40 sec to a 1:40 min is especially relevant.


At this point in time there is no definite assessment technique used for students who are visually impaired. Assessing students who are visually impaired has to be done differently for the different levels of impairment. Therefore, before assessing we must take into account the student’s level of vision impairment and the available technology to use for assessment. Even though there aren't any consistent forms of assessment, there are many ideas and tips out there for teachers to work with.
It is important for students to be assessed on an equal level as their peers in the classroom, but there are some key elements that need to be addressed with assignments or exams for students who are visually impaired.

Individualized Education Plan and Expanded Core Curriculum

The individualized Education Plans are done specifically for students who have to have differentiated learning. In the case of the visually impaired, there are extra learning areas to be assessed outside the core curriculum, which are included in the Expanded Core Curriculum below:

- Orientation and Mobility
- Social Interaction
- Recreation and Leisure
- Use of Assistive Technology
- Independent Living Skills
- Career Education
- Visual Efficiency
- Self Determination
- Compensatory Academic Skills
(American Foundation for the Blind)

Reading Assessment

The one of the most difficult thing for a teacher to assess would be the reading level of the student. There are six main areas of reading assessment for visually impaired students:

1) Letter Knowledge
- Low Vision: These students can possibly read the large print texts. Therefore, it is necessary to assess if they can recognize specific letters and those specific letters within words.
- Blind: This is different for blind students as they have to focus on “Character Knowledge”. This can be assessed by simply checking the student's recognition with the last of embossed symbols.
  • There are special braille tests which can determine a student’s recognition of characters. These tests assess the mastery of the “Grade 2 Braille Code”, if this code is completed it will allow teachers to administer other tests items, analyze results, and plan programs for students of any age range and grade level.

2)Sight Word Knowledge
- The measurement of sight word knowledge will show if a reader can recognize common words through decoding methods of context.
- The three most popular tests to judge this are:
  • "The Brigance Inventory of Basic Skills" (Grades 1-6)
  • "The Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test" (Grades 1-3)
  • "The Wide Range Achievement Test" (Grades 1-12)
All of these tests can be/are printed in large print and braille forms.

3)Word Analysis Skills
- These include phonic skills which are "used to analyze the correspondence between the letters and the sounds of a word" (pg. 94) This is important to the blind and low vision students as when they read words often appear as a grouping of letters or cells.
- For reading, the most recommended formal assessment are the subtests from "The Stanford Diagnostic Reading Test"
- For oral reading accuracy, the suggested method is to have a student read a graded passage aloud with comprehensive questions asked at the end of the passage.

Reading comprehension is best done through large print or braille writing.
  • Have reading passages that consist of missing words; the student shows her level of comprehension by selecting the appropriate word to fill the blank from the given choices
  • Almost all of the provincially and nationally mandated exams can be printed in braille or large print text

5)Cognitive Development
- Students who are visually impaired often will have trouble learning spatical concepts like left or right, over or under. There are tests that can be done, the "Boehm Test of Basic Concepts" which is designed to teach students the concept of space. Seeing as some students struggle with finding the top of a page and following teachers instructions, this test can allow students to better have an understanding of space and allow for greater reading readiness. These spaital tests are also a way to assess one of the Expanded Core Curriculum objectives, Orientation and Mobility.

6)Intellectual Assessment
- There are many tests to assess intelligence, all of which can be administered verbally and be measured verbally. (Harley et al, 89-116)

Tips for Summative Assessment

For Students with Low Vision

It is harder and takes more time for these students to complete homework or exams. Students with low vision also experience fatigue at the end of a day which can cause work quality to decrease. Therefore the teacher must remember to take these considerations into account when assigning homework or an exam as extensive reading or writing could worsen the fatigue. Here are some tips to use while using assessment forms:
- Think about using oral exams or having a scribe to write exam answers.
- If using examples in an exam or classroom work sheet, lessen the number of examples needed to be given.
- To avoid fatigue, give the student the student extra time to complete the exam. Consider administering the exam in more than one sitting.
- Reduce the number of questions to be answered.

For Students with Complete Blindness

Much like with students who have low vision, it takes extra time for them to complete exams or assignments. These students also face the same fatigue. Therefore some of same tips apply but here are some more:
- Provide an alternate way of testing the student’s knowledge (oral assessments, non-written exams, physical demonstrations)
- Provide a scribe.
- Attempt to avoid using computer examination sheets.
- Give the examination orally and record it with a print out or recorded audio.
- You can always apply for special provisions before an exam (can take up to 12 months) .

(Teaching Students with Visual Impairments)

Tips for Formative Assessment

Often, children with visual impairments experience social isolation because they cannot see facial expressions. Therefore, the teacher should consider giving the student social skill instruction. You may be thinking: "What does this have to do with formative assessment?" Well, all students need to feel safe in a class room in order to contribute to class discussions better. If a student is bullied, she is most likely not going to voice her thoughts, making it difficult to direct that student's learning in the direction it needs to go. Being that students with visually impairments are more likely to be bullied, it is also important to teach other students methods of interacting with the visually impaired. Below, a student who is losing his vision voices his frustration at the lack of support he and others like him have. Take his passionate pleas into consideration. The beginning and the end are especially relevant, but the whole video is very moving. Why would students want to go to school and participate if they felt like this everyday?

* The information for "Tips for Formative Assessment" comes from:
  • Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings by Dowdy, Francis, Heath, McIntyre, Patton, Polloway, and Smith (pg 213-215)
  • Classroom Assessment for Student Learning by Chappuis, Chappuis, Stiggins, and Arter (pg 1-268)

Equipment and Technology

Visually impaired students may not be able to learn the same way as most, but there are strategies and equipment that have been developed to tackle this issue. It is important that materials be available to accommodate for visually impaired students.

Using Technology for Learning and Assessment

Before a teacher can begin to assess the students work he/she must understand how, which and what technology is appropriate for which areas of assessment. However, there are some technologies that allow teachers to adapt their student's work and also allow for consistent assessment.

Braille and Large Print

Many of the standardized tests used in schools have/can be adapted into braille and large print texts. There are many other technologies out there to assist a teacher with assessment of his/her students braille work. Braillewriters can allow students to take part in in class writing activities. Braille printers and Braille Translations/Editing software allow the use of more than one language, math & other notations, and the grade 2 braille code. All of these technologies can be used by teachers or teacher’s assistant to allow for students to undergo similar assessment has their classmates. This technology would best be used for summative


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Tool used for writing Braille in the Classroom
Braille is one of the most common strategies to help the visually impaired understand text. Traditionally used for those who have lost all vision, it has become a helpful tool to assist those utilize it. This system uses a variety of raised dots on a page, placed in a specific order to make a word. Braille can be written and read using portable notetakers with Braille displays and computer outputs (Jane Erin,2003). When working with visually impaired student and Braille there are a few key factors that will help enhance their learning:

  • A student should be able to be involved in the classroom using their brailing while other students are reading or writing
  • If possible, it would be helpful if there was an assistant to these students who were familiar with Braille

Large Print

Since there are visually impaired students who have not lost 100% of their eyesight there isn’t as much of a need for textbooks and papers translated into Braille. Though uncomplicated as it sounds, having materials that consist of larger print can help these low vision students. Here are a few ways that can enhance the print

  • Providing magnifers
  • Simple, bold and large text
  • Highlighting
  • As much contrast between print and paper background (example: black text, white paper)
Also, there is technology to help the student focus in on what they need to see during the lesson and to take notes. Check out the video at around 10 sec and 1:20 min to see them.

Auditory Learning

Using hearing aids such as audiocassettes are great tools that can help those students who experience low vision and full blindness. Using auditory methods may not always be the best option, depending on the subjects. Just like regular students who are subjected to just lecturing during a lesson, audio can lose its effectiveness quickly. Younger students may not be able to use audio cassettes to their full advantage since their listening skills need to be worked on. However, audio can be a great way for those who lack visual senses to learn as well as the rest of the class.

  • Audiocassettes are great when used for storytelling. Younger students should listen to audio books that are made of short stories, and then advancing as the grade level increases.
  • Providing Braille with audio tools can help students enhance their learning

Recording Technologies

When it comes to assessment the teacher must take as many precautions as possible to record the student’s assessment. This can range from note taking, a second teacher, videotaping, and tape recording. This technology would best be used for formative assessment.
(Harvey et al. 89-116)


With the continuing technological advances in the education system the ways in which visual impaired students can learn are ever increasing. Computers are vital tools in aiding students.
  • Computers programs are available that are able to read what is on the screen back to the student
  • Braille printers connected to computers
  • Voice command programs are helpful especially for those students who struggle with keyboard skills

The video below demonstrates one of the latest tools in progress for the visually impaired - think of the possibilities with iPads and tablets!



Online Videos:


Arter, Chappuis, Chappuis, Stiggins, Classroom Assessment for Student Learning. Portland: Pearson Education Inc., 2007.

Dowdy, Francis, Heath, McIntyre, Patton, Polloway, Smith Teaching Students with Special Needs in Inclusive Settings. Toronto:Pearson Education Canada Inc., 2006. (207-217)

Harley et al. (1987) Communication Skills for Visually Impaired Learners. Illinois:Charles C. Thomas. pg 89-116