Blindness and Visual Impairments

A person with a visual impairment may not be completely blind. Some people see only light and dark, while others may have only peripheral or only central vision. A person is declared “legally blind” if, with best correction, s/he can see less at 20 feet than a person with normal vision can see at 200 feet. A person is considered visually impaired when s/he sees no better at 20 feet (with best correction) than those with normal vision see can see at 70 feet.

A person is also declared “legally blind” if the person’s range of sight is less than 10 degrees centrally. This type of blindness is termed a field defect, and comes as a result of impairments such as glaucoma, macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa and diabetic retinopathy. A person with a normal field of vision has a binocular (both eyes) field of approximately 160 degrees.

Students with visual impairments may not need the same level of assistance as a totally blind student. S/he may be independent in moderately lighted settings and only need guidance in very bright or very dim light. Always ask the student how much assistance s/he needs.

When greeting a blind student, speak in a normal tone and state your name – “Hi Sue, this is Sally.” Always direct questions regarding the student to the student, not the staff member who may also be present. If someone else enters the room and the student is not aware of that person’s presence, tell the student who has entered.

When walking with a blind student, ask if s/he would like guidance. If the student answers yes, offer your elbow to the student or take his/her extended hand and tuck it between your arm and side just above the elbow. Proceed at a normal pace, slightly ahead of the student. Inform the student if you are approaching an obstacle or have a need to turn suddenly.

When approaching a student with a guide dog, keep in mind the dog is working. NEVER attempt to get the dog’s attention. This could easily cause a distraction that will disorient the student and potentially cause harm. Only ask the student if it is all right to pet the dog when the dog is out of its harness or the student is seated. If the student says no, abide by that wish.

When acting as an exam scribe or proctor for a blind student, remember the exam is the student’s, not yours. The accommodation of alternative test taking is to provide the student with an opportunity to complete exams with equal access. Do not editorialize the student’s words so they are grammatically correct. Do not guide the student to the answer you know is best. Your job is to read the exam to the student and write down the answer s/he gives to you.

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