Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired

By Federal law, students with disabilities must be given “substantially equivalent ease of access” to course materials.  Any course materials, whether posted online or distributed in class, need to be prepared as accessible documents.  Refer to for resources related to creating accessible documents.


In addition, the following website is helpful in learning more about students with vision impairments and common accommodations]


Considerations to keep in mind when working with students who are blind/visually impaired:



  • Introduce yourself and anyone else who might be present when speaking to a student with a significant vision impairment.
  • When conversing in a group, give a vocal cue by announcing the name of the person to whom you are speaking.  Indicate when the conversation is at an end.
  • Use a normal voice level when speaking; remember a student with a vision impairment has sight problems, not a hearing loss.
  • Speak directly to the student with the vision impairment and address him or her by name.  Try to speak directly to the class, remembering that turning your head away can muffle sound; body language and gestures cannot be seen.
  • Do not hesitate to use such words as look or see; students with vision impairments use these terms also.


Classroom Support: 

  • Discuss necessary classroom accommodations and testing adaptations early in the semester (within the first couple of class days). Do not hesitate to ask a student what accommodations, if any, are required in the classroom. The student is the “expert” about his or her particular needs.
  • Appropriate seating is important for a visually impaired student; since the student cannot see visual cues, he or she needs to be seated in a position to receive verbal cues.
  • Ask the person with vision loss if they need assistance with printed materials.
  • Let students know your course materials as soon as they inquire so that arrangements for alternate format can be made.
  • Provide hand-outs (preferably electronically) in advance of lectures and allow audio-taping where possible to assist review of notes.  Be open to students’ taping your lectures; copies of audio agreements are available from the DSS office.
  • Individual introduction to laboratory or computer equipment may be helpful. Classes taught in a lab setting may need workstation modifications. Often, the help of a lab assistant will be required in order for a student to fully participate in a lab.
  • Extra time and/or a separate room may be necessary when students require a reader, a scribe or need to use assistive technology.
  • Students with disabilities should be allowed the same anonymity as other students in the classroom.  When in doubt about how to assist the student, ask him or her as privately as possible without drawing attention to the student or the disability.
  • For fieldwork or field trips, assess the need for safety and transportation accommodations.
  • Physical education and recreation classes can be adapted so that the student can participate.
  • Ensure notices such as re-scheduled classes or cancellations are announced in ways that are accessible to blind or visually impaired students. If moving a class, be sure to have someone remain behind to let the student know (a note on the door will not suffice).
  • If the classroom or office arrangement has changed, let the student know.


Multi-modal teaching: 

  • The objective of accommodations at the post-secondary level is to provide “access.” This may differ from the approach experienced in K-12 education, which may focus more on “success.”
  • Provide an auditory and visual teaching approach; do the same in meetings or other encounters. Read out loud what you are writing on the board, on overheads, or referring to on handouts. Provide appropriate written and verbal descriptions to accompany any visual aids, diagrams, films, or videos that you might use in class.  Talk through calculations or procedures as they are carried out.  When using technical terms, remember to spell them out or give descriptions if appropriate.
  • Create text-based descriptions of materials that are primarily visual or graphical in nature.
  • Diagrams and charts can be presented in tactile form by using a special plastic film, or for partially sighted students by using thick black pen lines or enlargement.
  • Attempt to be specific when describing visuals (e.g., avoid using terms like “this” and “that”).


Assistance with mobility and Orientation: 

  • When walking with, or guiding, a student who is blind (into your office, for example), let the student take your arm just above the elbow; do not grab the student’s arm.  Walk in a natural manner and pace.
  • Do not interrupt a person’s cane travelling, grab or lead a person with vision loss without their permission, or assume that the individual needs help.
  • Provided clear pathways and directions for the student who is cane traveling.
  • Do not leave a student who is blind in an open area; describe the area and help them to get oriented to a landmark.
  • When offering a seat to a student with a vision impairment, place the student’s hand on the back or arm of the seat. This gives the student a frame of reference to seat himself or herself.


Guide Dog Considerations:

  • Allow students with guide dogs to sit where appropriate to accommodate the dog. A guide dog is trained as a working animal and should not be petted or spoken to without the permission of the handler. A general rule of thumb is that the dog is working while in harness.
  • Guide dogs are trained and well behaved. You do not need to worry that they will disturb your class.
  • Guide dogs will need special consideration when you plan laboratory exercises and field trips.