Vision is one of our five senses. Being able to see gives us tremendous access to learning about the world around us—people’s faces and the subtleties of expression, what different things look like and how big they are, and the physical environments where we live and move, including approaching hazards.
When a child has a visual impairment, it is cause for immediate attention. That’s because so much learning typically occurs visually. When vision loss goes undetected, children are delayed in developing a wide range of skills. While they can do virtually all the activities and tasks that sighted children take for granted, children who are visually impaired often need to learn to do them in a different way or using different tools or materials.
Not all visual impairments are the same, although the umbrella term “visual impairment” may be used to describe generally the consequence of an eye condition or disorder.
Because there are many different causes of visual impairment, the degree of impairment a child experiences can range from mild to severe (up to, and including, blindness). The degree of impairment will depend on:
- the particular eye condition a child has;
- what aspect of the visual system is affected (e.g., ability to detect light, shape, or color; ability to see things at a distance, up close, or peripherally); and
- how much correction is possible through glasses, contacts, medicine, or surgery.
The term “blindness” does not necessarily mean that a child cannot see anything at all. A child who is considered legally blind may very well be able to see light, shapes, colors, and objects (albeit indistinctly). Having such residual vision can be a valuable asset for the child in learning, movement, and life.
As one of the 13 categories of qualifying disabilities under IDEA, a student with visual impairment may qualify for special education and related services. Students with visual disabilities may need a variety of assistive technology to access their education along with related services addressing vision issues.
Utah State Board of Education Special Education Rules, pages 55-56, define visual impairment as “an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a student’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.”
The terms partially sighted, low vision, legally blind, and totally blind are used in the educational context to describe students with visual impairments. They are defined as follows:
- “Partially sighted” indicates some type of visual problem has resulted in a need for special education;
- “Low vision” generally refers to a severe visual impairment, not necessarily limited to distance vision. Low vision applies to all individuals with sight who are unable to read the newspaper at a normal viewing distance, even with the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses. They use a combination of vision and other senses to learn, although they may require adaptations in lighting or the size of print, and, sometimes, braille;
- “Legally blind” indicates that a person has less than 20/200 vision in the better eye or a very limited field of vision (20 degrees at its widest point); and
- Totally blind students learn via braille or other non-visual media.
(Some of this material was adapted from information at the Center for Parent Information and Resources.)
It’s very helpful to read more about visual impairments and blindness. The following are links to additional information:
Utah Schools for the Deaf and the Blind (USDB)
Their mission is to provide high quality direct and indirect education services to children with sensory impairments birth through 21 years of age and their families in Utah.
Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DSBVI)
The Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired (DSBVI) has developed programs to help meet the needs of Utah citizens who are blind or have significant visual impairments. In addition to providing vocational rehabilitation services, DSBVI offers a multitude of training and adjustment services.
From the American Federation for the Blind, this site is geared to help parents of children who are blind or visually impaired.
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
For nearly 100 years, the American Foundation for the Blind has been a leader in the vision loss field, identifying and addressing the critical unmet needs of people with vision loss at every stage of their life. Their website provides a variety of information on living with vision loss to the most current research.
American Printing House for the Blind
The American Printing House for the Blind promotes independence of blind and visually impaired persons by providing specialized materials, products, and services needed for education and life .
The Fred’s Head is a blog of tips and techniques for and by blind or visually impaired individuals. It is meant to provide people with useful information on how to do things that interest them. This includes records about technology, recreation, daily living skills, orientation and mobility, and more. Fred’s Head also includes information on where to find adaptive products and provides links to interesting websites. Fred’s Head is a unique source of information, since blind or visually impaired individuals have written most of its records.
Founded in 1948 as Recording for the Blind, Learning Ally serves more than 300,000 K-12, college and graduate students, veterans and lifelong learners – all of whom cannot read standard print due to blindness, visual impairment, dyslexia, or other learning disabilities. Learning Ally’s collection of more than 65,000 digitally recorded textbooks and literature titles – downloadable and accessible on mainstream as well as specialized assistive technology device. There is an annual fee for this service.
Bookshare® is an ebook library that makes reading easier. People with reading barriers can customize their experience and read in ways that work for them. The service is free to qualifying U.S. students and schools. In order to qualify, an expert must confirm that you have a print disability that severely inhibits or prevents you from reading traditional print materials
Watch and Learn: Assistive Technology
Perkins School for the Blind website includes several videos discussing the use of technology for the student with visual impairments.
The CDC provides this site aimed at helping children understand visual impairments and blindness. The site also includes a link to other disabilities in a format for children.
The National Institute of Health provides this site which includes facts, information about clinical trials, and a variety of learning learning materials.