FAQ: College students who are blind

(Used with permission from DO IT:Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking & Technology doit@u.washington.edu University of Washington)

Q. NOTETAKING: How will a student who is blind take notes in my class?

A. That depends on the student. To take notes, a student who is blind may use a laptop computer or other small electronic notetaking device with Braille and/or speech output. If speech output is used, the student will usually wear a headphone in one ear so that the rest of the class is not disturbed by the synthetic speech. Other students choose to tape record lectures or use volunteer or paid notetakers.

Q. LECTURES: How do I best communicate text and graphics I write on the blackboard or present with an overhead projection system during lectures to a student who is blind?

A. When writing text or equations on the blackboard or with an overhead projection system, it is important to clearly say aloud what is being written. When mathematical expressions and formulae are involved, attention to detail, such as capitalization and the placement of parentheses, is crucial. If graphs are presented, the features relevant to the material being covered should be described during the lecture. Avoid vague terms such as "this", "that", "here", and "there".

Q. WRITTEN MATERIALS: How will a student who is blind access the textbook, handouts, and tests in my class?

A. Some students cannot see printed materials, even when images are enlarged. Their textbooks, handouts, and tests are typically produced in an alternative format (e.g., Braille, cassette tape, or electronic file) by the campus disabled student services office. The student or disabled student services office will usually ask you to provide the materials to them ahead of time so that the student may receive them in an accessible format at the same time that sighted students receive their materials. If the student prefers materials in electronic format, you may be able to provide handouts and tests to the student directly via electronic mail or on diskette, without the need for translation. Students may also have some materials read to them by volunteer or paid readers.

Q. ASSIGNMENTS AND TESTS: In what format will a student who is blind turn in assignments and tests?

A. In most cases, a student who is blind will type written assignments on the computer. The assignments can then be submitted in print form, via electronic mail, or on computer diskette, depending on the preferences of the student and instructor. Sometimes, particularly during tests, students may also dictate short answers to a reader who will handwrite responses.

Q. LABS AND FIELDWORK: How will a blind student participate in labs and field trips?

A. Depending on the nature of the lab or field trip, many students who are blind would prefer to work with a partner during such activities. However, it is best to check with the student ahead of time regarding the most appropriate accommodations for a specific lab or field trip.

Q. COMPUTER-BASED ACTIVITIES: What technology can blind students use to access computers, and what accommodations do they need for computer-based assignments or labs?

A. Students who are unable to read print of any size use screen reader software which makes text on the screen accessible through speech output or Braille output. In other words, text that appears on the screen, including the labels of icons, buttons, and menu items, is either spoken by a speech synthesizer or displayed in Braille on a built-in or external Braille display. Screen reading software also provides alternative methods for performing mouse functions since standard operation of a mouse requires the user to be able to see the location of the mouse pointer on the screen. If an activity uses standard, off-the-shelf software or an accessible Web site and does not require that the students view or create graphics, most students will be able to fully participate in the activity as long as the required screen reader and speech or Braille output devices are installed on the computers they are to use. If inaccessible software or Web sites are to be used, work with the student to develop reasonable accommodations. One possible accommodation is to allow the student to work with a partner who can describe or read what appears on the screen and is not accessible with speech output. To be prepared for students with disabilities that might attend your class in the future, employ universal design principles to assure that your computers, facilities and World Wide Web pages are accessible to students with a wide range of abilities and disabilities.

Q. TEST TAKING: Does a student who is blind require extended time on tests?

A. Depending on the text format and how the student is reading/hearing exam questions, a student who is blind or who has low vision may require more than double the time that is allotted sighted peers due to extended time necessary to utilize accommodations. For example, a common accommodation used for a student who is blind taking an exam is to use a reader/scribe. This process requires that the reader read the text or question to the student, the student then dictates their answer, the scribe writes the answer down and then re-reads the answer to the student so that they can edit the answer if necessary.

Q. VIDEOS IN THE CLASSROOM: How can a student who is blind follow a video?

A. If all essential information contained in the video is provided verbally and if another person watching the video describes important visual content, the student who is blind can benefit from the video. This may require allowing the blind student to view the video while apart from the class so that he can feel free to ask questions of the person describing the video without fear of disturbing the other students. Some videos are available in audio described format. In this format, visual scenes in the video are described in words. For example, if you see a group of students walking across a college campus in the video, the audio described version would say " a group of students walks across a college campus." Before you order your next videotape, ask the sales representative if the video is available in audio described format.

Q. LABS THAT USE COMPUTER GRAPHING: How can a student who is blind participate in labs that require computer graphing?

A. A student who has low vision may be able to use the graphing software if the text and graphics on the screen can be enlarged using either feathers built into the operating system or adaptive software. A student who is completely blind can work with a partner who can describe the graphs. Graphs can also be provided in tactile format. Check with the disabled student services office on your campus or your technical support staff for assistance.

Q. BLINDNESS: How can a student who is blind navigate in a new and unfamiliar place?

A. A student's ability to navigate in a new place will depend on the nature and length of the trip, and the destination. When in doubt, it is best to ask the student how she plans to get around and whether assistance will be needed, Traveling with a sighted partner is helpful but some students are comfortable navigating and asking for direction on their own. The student may enlist the support of the disabled student services office for resources and development of a travel plan. If the student is traveling in a group, other members of the group may be able to serve as sighted guides when necessary. Students who are blind or visually impaired may receive professional orientation and mobility training from a specialist employed by a state agency. Some students receive this training when they first enroll and/or at the beginning of a new term to learn new travel routes. If the student is doing an internship or extended placement, a professional mobility specialist can usually be scheduled to work with the student to learn travel routes.

Q. LITERATURE SEARCHES AND ACCESS: How does a student who is blind conduct a literature search and access the literature in preparation for a writing assignment?

A. Many students who are blind are able to access library catalogs and other databases on the Internet to search for relevant articles and books as long as computers are equipped to enlarge text on the screen and/or read the screen with speech output software. Students may also work with library staff or the accessibility resource services office to request a library assistant. Alternative methods of reading the materials include:

They may be enlarged with a photocopier (if they are able to read large print).

A reader may read them aloud. The article may be computer scanned and accessed by a computer with speech output.

The university's disabled student services office may be asked to prepare the articles in an alternative format (i.e., audiotape).

Q. CLASS DISCUSSIONS: Does a student who is blind need accommodations to benefit from class discussions?

A. Yes. It is most helpful if all speakers identify themselves by name prior to responding to a question or making a discussion comment. Any demonstrations or visual aides will also need to be verbally described.