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Blind/Partially sighted

"What can a student expect from best practice - Visual Impairment"?

Action for Blind People/RNIB have kindly provided the following guidance: 

The number of visually impaired students attending higher education courses is increasing year on year and there are currently several thousand students who have a sight loss. The presence of increasing numbers of blind and partially sighted students has placed greater demands on staff working in higher education institutions (HEIs) to provide ‘best practice’ when including such a diverse group of students.  Best practice should not only cover teaching and learning, but should also include the wider aspects of studying in higher education, including leisure, accommodation services, mobility, eye care and counselling services.

So what should a student with a visual impairment expect from HEIs in terms of best practice?  A vital start is for each student to meet with key staff (e.g. tutors, disability advisor, information/library support) to formulate an Individual Learning Plan (ILP). The ILP will provide a template for inclusive learning which should be updated as the student progresses through their course.  The ILP should include the following aspects of study: 

Teaching and learning:

  • Information access:  course information/materials may need to be adapted to meet the needs of individual students. There are a variety of formats: standard print, large print, Braille, electronic information and digitalised voice (e.g. Talking Books, DAISY). Students are likely to use a combination of media (including accessible mobile phones/iphones) and RNIB’s ‘See it Right’ guidelines is a good place to start when producing information in accessible formats. It is vital that students are given the earliest opportunity to discuss their information needs with academic staff so that any modified material can be provided in good time.
  • Teaching and learning environment: it is important that the student is given an opportunity to become familiar with a new environment, preferably when other students are not around. Health and safety issues must be observed (e.g. chairs, clutter). The following issues need to be considered when seeking to include a visually impaired student:
  • Lighting:  effective lighting is imperative for many students.  Too much light (natural and/or artificial) or too little light can result in tasks becoming very difficult to complete. Discussions need to take place about the preferred lighting environment, which can include the use of task lights. Lighting in the wider environment is equally important in ensuring that the student is able to move about safely and confidently. Glare is also an issue for many students which should also be discussed.
  • Visual aids: seating preferences are important to those students with low vision to ensure they get a good view. Clarity and good contrast is needed to improve viewing. Tutor should verbalise any information presented on visual aids and email a copy to the student prior to the session.  
  • Non-verbal communication: much information is conveyed via gesture, facial expression and other forms of body language. Many visually impaired students will miss out on visual clues and it is important that accommodations are introduced by teaching and other key staff. Always use the student’s name indiscussions so s/he knows s/he is being addressed, along with the name of other students who are spoken to.
  • Use of ICT and ‘low-tech’ aids: ICT provides many blind and partially sighted students with the means to access their course. ICT equipment includes:
  • hardware (e.g. desktop and notebook computers, braille displays and embossers, video magnifiers, DAISY players/eReaders , digital voice recorders, scanners)
  • software programmes such as screen magnification software (e.g. Zoomtext), screen-readers (e.g. JAWS), and Optical Character Recognition software used with scanners (e.g. Kurzweil 1000).    
  • peripherals: scanners, printers, high-visibility keyboards, braille keyboards.
  • There are two vital elements relating to ICT: firstly, any equipment used by the student is provided as a result of recommendations made by a specialist assessor, preferably someone who has a wealth of experience of working with blind and partially sighted students; secondly, the student has been fully trained in the use of the equipment by a trainer who has specialist knowledge of training blind and partially sighted students..
  • Low-tech aids include: hand-held magnifiers; sloped writing/reading stands; task lamps; talking calculators/thermometers; accessible mobile phones.

Estates and accommodation and Student Support Services

  • The ILP must also consider potential or actual barriers within the physical environment which can undermine a student’s participation in course activities or to move safely around the HEI’s estate. A PEEPs (Personal Emergency and Evacuation Plan) should be produced for students, particularly for students who have no sight, or very little sight. It is important that an environmental audit has taken place particularly within key areas of the HEI including: the academic department, library and information services, student services (including disability services, careers and counselling), Student Union, accommodation, and thoroughfares within the estate.  
  • It is vital that the student knows how to access the services and knows what to expect. Student advisory services should be well informed about external agencies, including the type of support on offer and referral procedures, so that visually impaired students can benefit from using specialist services (such as mobility and rehabilitation support, transport, eye care, leisure/recreational, and psychological support services).

Further information and support

There are numerous organisations and agencies that can offer valuable help and advice to visually impaired students in higher education. Some of them are listed below. Both Action for Blind People and Royal National Institute of Blind People can advise about all aspects of living with a sight loss including: education and employment support; technology advice, support and training; making information  accessible; eye health; daily living support; leisure; and counselling.  

Action for Blind People: Tel 020 7635 4800; Web: www.actionforblindpeople.org.uk

Royal National Institute of Blind People: Tel 020 7388 1266; RNIB Help Line: 0303 123 9999; email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Web: www.rnib.org.uk

Visionary (national link to local sight loss societies/charities): Tel: 01221 767742; Web: www.visionary.org.uk; Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.