EDUCATIONAL SUPPORT FOR BLIND AND PARTIALLY SIGHTED STUDENTS
The movie Braille notetaker tells the story of a blind person using the advanced electronic equipment. Blind people are commonly seen as users of the Braille language on a daily basis. On the other hand, this type of notation is getting less and less popular, and the majority of blind people use other tools, often very modern technological solutions. One of them is the Braille notetaker that is based on a typical computer processor.
Persons with visual impairment is a term comprising both blind and partially sighted people. These two groups differ from each other in several respects, including: visual acuity, field of vision, sensitivity to light and contrast, colour vision and perception of movement and shape. When looking for effective methods to support the student with visual impairment, it is important that you can assess his or her learning abilities and that you use modern technology to facilitate their course participation and learning process.
In the process of learning, students with visual impairment find it difficult to:
- use visual materials:
- in class: presentations, notes on the board, instructions
- when working with textbooks or other printed materials, especially those that contain charts and graphs
- when solving problems:
- convert teaching materials to electronic format or a Braille copy; they can find it either time-consuming or, in some cases, impossible to do on their own (eg illustrations, charts, diagrams)
- fully participate in classes that involve precise manual activities
- take written exams and tests.
Educational support strategies
The following guidelines, if suitably applied and adjusted to the person’s individual requirements, will improve the quality of education offered to blind or partially sighted students. In order to provide equal educational opportunities, the following conditions should be met:
Concerning coursework organisation:
- Students should be allowed to tape record their classes. (It may be a good idea to ask the student to sign a statement that the recording will be used only for his or her learning purposes).
- Students should be allowed to use additional equipment when in class: a laptop, magnifier, enlarger, Braille notetaker.
- The content of lectures/classes should be provided to students in electronic form in text format or html as this enables them to use screen readers. These materials should be provided well before the class is held so that the student can familiarize him or herself with the topic.
- The visual elements of the lecture/presentation that the person delivering it is referring to at a given moment should be thoroughly described to the student. The text on display should be either read out or thoroughly explained.
- The visual content of the presentation/lecture should be described in detail (information displayed in diagrams, charts, slides, tables etc). The wording should be precise and stimulate the student’s imagination.
- The information written on the board should also be read out to the student.
- Partially sighted students should be provided with legible teaching materials in an enlarged font (font size to be agreed with the student).
- Classrooms and laboratories for partially sighted students should be provided with good lighting.
- Students should be provided with a reading/topic list for the exam/test well in advance (persons with visual impairment need more time to adapt the material and read it).
- If possible, classrooms with good acoustics should be provided.
- In case the class is relocated or rescheduled, students should be informed well in advance (preferably by e-mail). This allows the students who do not know the new location to turn up in time for the meeting.
Concerning exams and credits:
Students should be allowed to take exams/tests in an adapted form. The form should be determined well in advance in collaboration with the Disability Support Service. This may involve the following:
- Written exams may be taken on computer with speech synthesis software or enlarged text, or using a Braille display.
- Written exams may be taken using a special examination worksheet in an enlarged font or Braille.
- Students may be allowed to take a written exam as an oral one.
- The examination time limit may be extended.
- Students may use an assistant.
It is necessary that exams/tests are adjusted according to the student’s individual learning difficulties and specificity of disability. It is also important that the form of examination is as similar as possible to that which applies to all students.
- Nowak-Adamczyk D., Perdeus-Białek M., Szczocarz U. (red.), Wyrównywanie szans. Osoby niepełnosprawne na studiach przyrodniczych [Equal Opportunities. Students with Disability Majoring in Natural Sciences], Kraków 2011.
- Educational materials coming from the handbook for academic teaching staff developed under the DARE 2 project (www.DareProject.eu).