Tips for Classroom Teachers

By Diane Brauner and Annette Vinding

Common Technology Modifications for Students with Visual Impairments and Blindness

Visually Impaired, Low Vision and/or Blindness (VIB) are all terms to denote significant functional vision impairment.  Classroom teachers and professors will provide the best accessibility to their students with functional vision impairments by working ahead of any lecture and/or presentation with the TVI (school age), the Abilities Office (college) and/or the student (high school and college).

Accessibility in timely manner means that students with VIB should be receiving materials, information and texts at the same time as their sighted peers.  Many VIB students use a multisensory approach to managing schoolwork, sometimes relying on audio materials, sometimes hands-on materials, and sometimes enlarged or well-lighted materials.  The TVI (school age) and the student should be an integral part of the discussions with the teacher/professor in order that all efforts yield the desired result of timely accessibility.

Below are some tips and information for teachers and professors teaching STEM subjects that will assist them in helping out their students with VIB.

Class Work/Instruction

Classroom teachers need to work with TVI (school age), the Abilities Office (college) and/or directly with the student (high school and college) well in advance of the lecture/demonstration in order to provide timely accessibility to the student with visual impairment or blindness.

Viewing the Whiteboard

Screen sharing app such as Join.Me

  • Teacher’s device is used to display materials on the whiteboard; student accesses the whiteboard from his/her personal device at his seat.  
  • Student uses his/her device to magnify the screen.
  • Student takes a screen shot in order to view materials at a later date.
  • Blind students are not able to view what is on the whiteboard and screen readers will not read this format.
    • Teacher provides digital text, accessible slides, teacher’s notes prior to activity and/or teacher provides these digital materials to the TVI (school age) and the Abilities Office (college) to make accessible.
    • Teacher provides tactile hands on-materials or tactile diagrams prior to activity

Accessing Teacher Demonstration: Document camera

  • Teacher presents hands-on demonstration under a document camera (such as an Elmo) connected to the teacher’s computer/tablet; student uses screen-sharing app to view.
  • Blind students are unable to view demonstration
    • Teacher/professor works with appropriate people to provide pre-teaching of the demonstration using the best learning style for the student, if needed.
    • Teacher verbally describes materials, steps and what happens
  • Student is given opportunities for hand-under-hand guidance throughout demonstration (do NOT grab the student’s hand without asking first)
    • Teacher provides student with same materials to handle/manipulate simultaneously throughout demonstration (if appropriate and safe)
    • Mature peer guides hand-under-hand or completes each step and then shows blind student while providing verbal description (if appropriate and safe)

Teacher Locates/Creates Digital Materials that the student can edit

  • Selects digital materials found on the Internet or from digital sources
  • Uses digital textbooks/books
    • Learning Ally provides textbooks, manuals, literature read aloud by human voice and made available through technology.
    • BookShare provides digital books/textbooks at no cost for students who are visually impaired/print disabled.
  • Personally creates digital materials on his/her computer or tablet
    • Audio Description Project narrates Power Points and videos.
    • WGBH Powerpoint with narration added to each slide.
    • Creates accessible Word documents, PowerPoint Presentations and image descriptions.
    • Creates accessible iBooks using iBooks Author, Book Creator, and Tar, Heel Reader.
  • Converts print materials to digital
    • Uses a scanner that has software to save documents as a Word document
    • Uses an OCR app that saves documents as a Word document (Scanner Pro app)
    • Note: Word documents are editable, meaning that students can type answers directly into a Word document and screen readers can verbalize Word document text.  PDFs are typically images and are not editable; screen readers cannot read images.
  • Asks for assistance from Teacher of the Visually Impaired (K-12) or Abilities Office (College)
  • For students in some circumstances, braille materials may be beneficial (diagrams and complex equations)

Student Creates on-the-fly Digital Materials

  • Uses OCR app (such as Scanner Pro)
    • Some OCR apps are more accessible than others for blind users
  • Student with low vision takes a picture of image/diagram using a tablet and magnifies the image
  • Asking the student to create on-the-fly materials is last resort solution and is only doable for one or two pages of materials!
  • Student with low vision completes PDF worksheet/writes notes on top of document image (Annotation app)
  • Examples of annotation apps: SAS Gloss, Smart Forms, Adobe Fill and Sign

Hands-on Student Activities

  • Selecting materials used in science/engineering activities
    • Materials should have different textures, sizes, thickness etc.
    • Do not use color as a unique characteristic to identify/distinguish materials; blind students cannot identify color and many low vision students are unable to distinguish similar colors.
    • Some low vision students do best with high contrast – make sure materials have high contrast and that there is high contrast between materials and desktop/counter surface.
  • Plan to cover surface with high contrast tray, solid high contrast tablecloth or placemat, or simply contrasting construction paper.
  • Place materials in containers/small trays so items are easily organized and do not roll away.
    • Some students do better with dim light and/or lower contrast.  Classroom teachers/professors must ask each student what is most beneficial to them.
  • Student magnifies hands-on task
    • Student uses hand-held magnification device
    • Student personally completes task/manipulates materials under the document camera
  • Personal iZiggi (small portable document camera that directly connects to the iPad)
  • Elmo document camera (student places his materials under the document camera and zoom/magnifies while completed his task)
    • Quick solution – set up task under a tablet and use the tablet’s video camera and magnification/zoom to visually access task

Additional Lab Resources for Science Teachers:

  • Independence Science
  • Making Science Labs Accessible
  • Accessible Science is a website for teachers working with students who are visually impaired.  This website has information on accessible science activities, teaching strategies, and accessible science tools. 
  • Paths to Technology is a website to help educators, families and students with VIB to learn and stay current on ever-changing technology.  Check out the Tech Time out blog posts!

Links to related Paths to Technology Posts