The major challenge facing students who are blind is the overwhelming mass of printed material with which they are confronted: textbooks, class outlines, class schedules, bibliographies, campus newspapers, posters, tests, etc. The increasing use of films, videotapes, overhead projectors, and close circuit television adds to the volume of visual material to which they must have access in some other way.
By the time these students reach college (unless newly blinded), they have probably developed various methods for dealing with the volume of visual materials. Most students who are blind use a combination of methods including Computers, Readers, Brailled Books and lectures. It is the responsibility of the faculty member to accommodate the student and the service provider.
The rapid and ever-evolving world of computer technology has provided an array of adaptive hard- and software which can accommodate students who are blind, enabling them to more independently and effectively pursue their academic goals. Voice Navigational Systems and Screen Magnifiers are just two examples. Through computer modems, a student can now access, in an accommodated environment, course projects, library reference materials, even correspond with professors via electronic mail, all at computer stations equipped to facilitate their disabilities.
Students may use Raised Line Drawings of diagrams, charts, and illustrations, Models of physical organs, shapes, microscopic organisms, etc. Modern technology has made available other aides for persons who are blind, including: Talking Calculators, Speech Time Compressors, Paperless Braille Machines, Braille Computer Terminals and Reading Machines.
Most students who use Braille prefer to take their own notes in class using a Slate and Stylus or a Brailler. Some students have a notetaker. Their notes are later read onto tape for future use. Some students audio-record lectures and later transcribe notes from them into braille.
When there is a student in the classroom who is blind, the professor should remember that this and that phrases are basically meaningless to that student. For example, the sum of this plus that equals this or the lungs are located here and the diaphragm here can be confusing. In the first example, the instructor may be writing on the chalk board and can just as easily say, The sum of 4 plus 7 equals 11. The student in this case is getting the same information as a sighted student. In the second example, the instructor may be pointing to a model or to the body itself. In this instance, the professor can personalize the locations of the lungs and diaphragm by asking the class members to locate them by touch on their own bodies. Examples of this type will not always be possible. However, if the faculty member is sensitized not to use strictly visual examples, the student who is blind, and probably the rest of the class, will benefit.
Another area in which the student who is blind will need an adaptation is in testing. Most students will prefer to take examinations with a familiar reader. Arrangements can be made with the Center for Learning and Teaching which selects and provides an appropriate reader. This is often beneficial to the student because it does not add anxiety to what is already an anxiety-producing situation. Some instructors prefer to administer tests themselves or to have a teaching assistant do it. Although this approach is certainly within the prerogative of the instructor, it can be an uncomfortable situation for the student. If the instructor is not concerned about test security or prefers not to rely on the honor system, a take-home test can be given to the student. However, it is better to avoid giving the student different tests because it creates segregations, makes it difficult to compare test results, and may create negative attitudes. Another method that may be used is to administer the test orally or by audio tape to the student who in turn either records answers orally onto another tape recorder or types the answers. It may be possible to have tests brailled or taped. In any case, the teacher and the student should agree early in the course on how the students progress will be evaluated.
Some faculty members are concerned about having their lectures tape recorded - whether the student is blind or sighted. When an instructor is planning to publish his or her lectures, the concern may be that the tapes will somehow interfere with these plans. If this is the case, the faculty member may ask the student to sign an agreement not to release the recording or otherwise hinder the instructors ability to obtain a copyright.
Faculty members can be very helpful by choosing class texts early. It takes a long time to have a text audio recorded or brailled. If texts are selected early, make this information readily available through a departmental office or campus bookstore so that the student has time to make the necessary arrangements.
Some students who are blind use Dog Guides. There is no need to worry that the dog guide will disturb the class. Dog guides are very highly trained and disciplined. Most of the time the dog will lie quietly under or beside the table or desk. The greatest disruption a professor can expect may be an occasional yawn or stretch. (Sometimes a rescue siren can cause a low moan.) It is good to remember that, as tempting as it may be to pet a dog guide, the dog, while in a harness, is responsible for guiding its owner who cannot see. It should not be distracted from that duty.
Courses which are extremely visual by their very nature can be accommodated for the blind student. However, it should not be assumed automatically that this will be necessary. Conversations between the student and the professor can lead to new and even exciting instructional techniques that can benefit the entire class. For example, it is often thought that a student who is blind or visually impaired cannot take a course in art appreciation and that if this is a requirement for graduation, it should be accommodated. However, the student should have the opportunity to become familiar with the worlds great art as any other educated person. A classmate or reader who is particularly talented at verbally describing visual images can assist the student as a visual interpreter or translator. There is no reason for the student not to know what the Mona Lisa (or other great works of art) look like. It can be described, and there are poems written about the Mona Lisa that may be used as teaching aids to give more insight and understanding to the work. Miniature models of great works of sculptures can be made available for display and touching in the classroom. Many modern museums have tactile galleries. one student was able to learn proper technique in an archery class when a rope was stretched perpendicular to the target. A beeper added to the target assisted with positioning. The point being made here is that certain disabilities (in this case blindness) do not automatically preclude participation in certain activities or classes.
Students, professors, and advisors must be careful not to lower expectations solely on the basis of disability. If classes involve field trips to out-of-class locations, discuss traveling needs with the student. In most instances, all that will be required is for a member of the class to act as a Sighted Guide. In localities where public transportation is adequate, many persons who are blind travel quite independently.