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College Guide For Students With Visual Impairments

February 27, 2019

National Federation for The Blind provides the following stats:

  • Around 1.3 million US citizens are visually impaired or legally blind
  • 40.2% of visually impaired or blind people are included into the active workforce
  • Fewer than 15% of visually impaired or blind people get a bachelor’s degree at higher educational institution
  • Over 25% can’t finish high school
  • 30% of visually impaired or legally blind people live below the poverty line

Of course, students who suffer from visual impairments face much more challenges than their good-sighted peers. This guide for visually impaired people reveals learning strategies that allow them to get higher education and enter the job market with less stress. But let’s define the terms first. Most visually disabled people belong to one of the three main categories:

  1. Visually Impaired. This type of disability affects the clarity of vision, visual acuity, color perception, and visual range. Visual impairment can also manifest itself through sensitivity to light and lowered adaptation to light or darkness.
  2. Legally Blind. It’s a severe disability of sight. People with this type of disability qualify for various disability benefits and tax exemption.
  3. Total Blindness. It’s an inability to see anything with either eye. Actual statistics states that about 50 million people on our planet are totally blind. 80% of them are 50 years old or older.

Most of the students who have visual disabilities usually become comparatively independent by their senior year of high school. Students who utilize certain technologies and software which helps them function are usually able to use their equipment without assistance from their teacher or fellow students. When this stage is reached, the student makes an acquaintance with a career counselor in order to develop an IPE, which stands for the Individual Plan for Employment. IPE should help the student plan his/her post-graduate activities like job training, employment, or independent earning services.

Rehabilitation Act and The Americans with Disabilities Act demand all college campuses to have learning facilities suitable for disabled people (including sight disabilities).

Accommodation Of Students Who Have Visual Disabilities

Academic experts urge to use the UDL, which stands for Universal Design of Learning, in order to welcome visually disabled students to the classroom without any problems for their learning process. To create courses that would be accessible to any student regardless of their disabilities, educational institutions should complete the following steps:

  • Make sure that dining halls, classrooms, dormitories, and other premises are accessible for all students, no matter if they have disabilities or not.
  • Assist students with disabilities in order to help them use technology and software that will help them increase the efficiency of their studying process.
  • Provide special study formats and additional time for assignments for students with disabilities.
  • Provide students with special needs with resource centers and counselors.
  • Ensure the availability of auditory software, Braille materials, or large-font presentations for visually impaired students.

Special technologies, software, and applications are crucial in terms of integrating visually impaired students into the academic process without any damage to the quality of education that they receive. Take a look at top tech innovations and apps for students with visual disabilities.

  1. Screen Reader. It allows reading text using a synthesizer of speech. This device is operated by entering various combinations of letters on a Braille display. It makes speech synthesizer read the printed info.
  2. Video Magnifier. It projects graphics and magnified text on a screen by means of a handheld or mounted camera.
  3. Screen Magnification. It zooms graphics and text. Magnification is handled with the help of a mouse or keyboard commands. Screen magnification also shows study materials in an easy-to-read font.
  4. Braille Embosser. It can be connected to printers to create Braille print documents which are essential for people with sight disabilities. All you need is thick paper. Know that you can only print on one side of a document.
  5. Braille Display. They use pins to transcribe text which is displayed on screen into Braille. Braille displays are usually connected to the PC with a cable.
  6. Portable Note-Taker. This convenient device has Braille-friendly buttons. Students can read books, find directions, compose assignments, and record lectures with its help.
  7. Adaptive Keyboards. These are specialized keyboards that come with locator dots on certain keys for those who can’t use a standard keyboard. Adaptive keyboards usually have removable Braille overlays.
  8. Optical Character Recognition. It scans text and saves it or repeats it aloud with the help of speech synthesizer. Unfortunately, OCR devices can’t interpret the text written by hand.

Top Apps for Visually Impaired Students

  1. Voice Brief ($2.99) – reads aloud content from social media, e-mails, text messages, etc.
  2. Ariadne Gps ($5.99) – has fingertip-accessible maps for people with sight disabilities.
  3. Looktel Money Reader ($9.99) – scans American currency paper bills to define their value.
  4. List Recorder ($0.99) – makes it easy to record and store lists. It’s integrated with Braille display and VoiceOver for maximum convenience.
  5. Dragon Dictation (Free) – records and transcribes audio messages with punctuation.

Additional Resources

  • The National Federation of the Blind
  • The American Council of the Blind
  • The American Foundation for the Blind
  • United States Association of Blind Athletes
  • Lighthouse Guild

Despite federal law which requires accessibility and inclusiveness for disabled students, visually impaired students must make their own research in order to determine if the prospective educational institution can meet their needs and if it has the necessary resources, campus services, counselors, special accommodations, and dedicated personnel. When the choice is made, the student should talk to disability counselor at the college. Talking to professors about special needs before the start of every semester is highly advisable.


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