Learn about Visual Impairment
Jason sets new sights
Jason, a form 4 student who lost his vision completely at the age of 4, transferred from a school for students with a visual impairment to a mainstream school two years ago. The school has been accepting students with visual impairments for some years. Its integrated setting has been well received by the teachers and students. Despite the friendly atmosphere, Jason was quite shy and uneasy at the beginning.
The teachers and classmates realized Jason's difficulties in adapting to the new environment, and extended to him as much support as possible. Apart from providing him the right kind of adaptive aids, such as a braille note-taker and a talking word processor, the resource teacher also gave him a comprehensive briefing before the school year started, not to mention helping him learn his way around the school. The resource teacher also met with him on a regular basis to keep track of his progress in adapting to school life.
Academically, he found it easier to learn arts subjects, as he preferred dealing with words rather than numbers. He particularly liked his English teacher as she allayed his fears of making mistakes, and built up his confidence in learning. She encouraged him to speak up in class and provided him tutorial guidance after school. In time, he became one of the few in class who scored "A" in English.
Jason also appreciated the way most of his classmates treated him - with patience and acceptance, not pity or sympathy. His teacher arranged him to sit next to Amy, a helpful and thoughtful classmate. Not only did she assist Jason in note-taking and other class work, she also counted him as a friend.
Now Jason enjoys school life more than ever and actively participates in extra-curricular activities. Sports day is his favourite. Though he cannot see with his eyes, he can feel the excitement of the games and easily indulges himself in the cheers of his fellow schoolmates.
Visual impairments may be innate or acquired. They affect a person's eyesight and cover a wide spectrum of disability including blindness and low vision.
Students with visual impairments often face the following problems:
- Blurred and/or distorted vision, sensitivity to light and limited peripheral vision
- Difficulties in orienting themselves and moving about safely before adapting to the environment. They bump into furniture, tools or other people more easily than students without visual impairments
- Difficulties with reading
- Difficulties in perceiving changes in the surrounding environment, and in conceptualising changes by combining information from other sensory functions (e.g. hearing, touching or smelling)
- Difficulties in maintaining eye contact with others during conversation, and difficulties in adopting appropriate facial or body expressions in social contact with others
With some modifications in learning and communication methods, students with visual impairments can learn as effectively as others. To communicate effectively with visually impaired students, it is important for educators to bear in mind a few principles:
- Use your normal speaking voice
- Identify yourself by name when approaching the student
- Indicate verbally whenever you are entering or leaving the students' presence
- Express your thoughts, feelings and instructions verbally
- Try to be pro-active - if the student indicates a need for guidance, ask how he/she would like to be assisted
- Recognise that different adaptations may be required for different types of visual impairment
Students with different types of visual impairment may need different aids to help them when studying. Some common teaching aids/equipment and accommodations are:
- Braille reader or large print text
- Special computer software, such as software with voice output or software that transforms printed text into braille papers
- Angle poise lamps and wider tables
How can I make my class inclusive for visually-impaired students?
To assist students with visual impairments to learn and to enjoy school life, some adjustments are necessary. Taking the initiative to understand the needs of students with visual impairments, and assisting them in their study is important. Some students may need certain special adjustments in teaching methods whilst others may require special accommodations in performance assessment. Some adjustments are:
- Assist students with visual impairments to participate in a wide range of activities (both on and off-campus) and arrange help from parents or fellow students where necessary
- Facilitate the students' participation in class by seating them according to their needs and making sure that there is enough space for their study aids
- Make sure the words on the blackboard are large and clear enough for students with low vision. Allow them to come close to the backboard for copying if necessary
- Prepare teaching materials in large fonts or with greater colour contrast for students with low vision. Making teaching materials available earlier in the term may also assist them in preparing for lessons
- Read aloud information in any visual or written format. Allowing students with visual impairments to record the lesson may also assist them with their revision
- Allow extra time for reading and writing
- Allow the students to use the type of exercise book or paper which best suits their needs
- For particularly difficult topics, be prepared to provide students with extra tutoring or remedial classes
- Where appropriate, make special accommodation during examinations, like extra time and alternative formats or modes of assessment
- Provide special examination papers, such as papers in large fonts and papers in braille, for students with visual impairments
- Introduce to the class knowledge of visual impairments, especially low vision, and the special needs of persons with such a disability. Educators are reminded to be cautious not to create labelling or stigmatisation when imparting knowledge of visual impairments
DDO and the Code of Practice on Education
The Disability Discrimination Ordinance (DDO), effective since 1996, protects persons with a disability from discrimination, harassment and vilification on the ground of their disability.
The Ordinance makes particular references to the field of education to ensure that persons with a disability have equal opportunities in education. It requires educational establishments NOT to discriminate against students with a disability and to make reasonable accommodations to address their special needs. Such accommodations may include adjustments in teaching, communication, and assessment methods. The DDO also prohibits harassment in educational establishments, including harassment of students with a disability by other students. The law binds the government, educational establishments and their employees, and in the case of harassment and vilification, even the students.
The Code of Practice on Education under the DDO was issued in July 2001 by the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) to provide guidance on the legal requirements under the DDO in the field of education. It serves to assist educational establishments in developing policies and procedures that prevent and eliminate disability discrimination, and educators in making provisions for students with disabilities. It covers a wide range of practical guiding principles on matters such as admission, providing access, curriculum design and assessment.
The Code is an aid for providers and recipients of educational services. It helps the providers to better understand what constitute non-discriminatory good practices in education, and the recipients to understand their rights and obligations.