Autonomous male teacher reading a book to a group of young students.
Guide

Dear elementary school teacher

Dear elementary school teacher, here are ten things your new visually impaired student might want you to know.

Dear Elementary School Teacher,

I’m one of the new students in your class this year, and I have a visual impairment- this can mean I am blind, have low vision, or otherwise have vision loss not corrected by glasses. You probably received a copy of my SAP, 504, or IEP in advance, and likely have an idea of who I am based on it. However, there are a few things that I would like to request of you, to keep in mind as the school year progresses. I might admit these things to you, I might be scared to say anything, or I might not even realize I want you to do these things. While every blind student or student with low vision is different, here are some things to keep in mind that my past teachers have found helpful:

I color outside the lines, because I can’t see the lines

When you hand me an intricate coloring page and tell me to color inside the lines, I might just scribble all over the page. I have no idea where the lines are, except maybe the large bold ones. I often think of terms of what I can see instead of thinking about what I can’t see, and likely assume that the lines are blurry or nonexistent for everyone. However, it’s worth noting that there are many successful artists who lived with vision loss, and for a fun class activity, we can do a lesson on one of them and learn more about how they see the world.

Related links

I can’t see my friends on the playground, so I stay in one place

With all the kids running around on the playground, I can’t keep track of who is who, or where they are going. I might stay in one place, like on the swingset, and wait for my friends to come find me. I’m not antisocial, I’m probably just overwhelmed being in a crowded environment.

If you want to talk to other students about my disability, there’s a post linked below about activity ideas for celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day that can provide some insight about low vision and assistive technology for younger students. This could be a fun activity for indoor recess one day, or as an actual GAAD celebration.

Related links

Computer games and applications might not be enlarged

Before you hand me a computer game or mobile application, check to see if it can be enlarged or made accessible. If I stop interacting with the game or application, I might have come to a point where I can’t see it anymore- I likely don’t have enough tech skills to troubleshoot it on my own, so I might step away from the computer and go do something else.

Also, when the rest of the class is learning how to use technology, make sure there are accessibility settings enabled on whatever device we are learning about. This can include screen magnification, text-to-speech/read aloud, or a screen reader. Chances are, I am working with the school assistive technology specialist or my teacher of the visually impaired to work on developing tech skills and learning to access devices.

Related links

If I can’t read something, chances are it’s because I can’t see it

When I seem to be having difficulty reading, it might not be the words themselves I am having trouble with, but how they are written. Use clear, bold fonts and enlarge them for me. If I’m having trouble reading handwriting, type it for me or display it with a simplified reading display. Microsoft Immersive Reader has a picture dictionary and can also label parts of speech, making it a great option for younger learners, and can also read text out loud.

Related links

I have trouble identifying everyday things, like money

When you hand me a $1 bill and a $5 bill for the money activity in class, I might not be able to tell the difference between the two, as they are the same size and color. Work with the teacher of the visually impaired or other staff member to teach me about money- they specialize in how to teach an elementary school student with low vision. I might have issues with other everyday objects too, like clouds, flowers, people, or textures.

Related links

Don’t judge me on my ability to catch a ball

When I was in kindergarten, one of my teachers assumed that I wasn’t very smart because I had trouble catching a ball when someone called my name and then threw it in my direction. In reality, I was in a noisy environment and had trouble localizing where I heard the sound of my name. When we tried this exercise again in a quiet environment and with a jingle ball that provided audio feedback, I was able to catch the ball much more easily.

Related links

I don’t know how bad my eyesight is

I’m still young and getting used to my visual impairment. I might have had this for a few years, or have been born with it. There’s a strong chance I don’t know what perfect vision or 20/20 vision looks like, and likely believe that every other student that wears glasses sees things the same way I do, even if my vision loss is not corrected by glasses.

While asking specific questions about my diagnosis or medical information is against school policies, you can ask me how I use assistive technology or ask me to describe my usable vision, and ask how you can make things easier for me to see- again, I might have more trouble telling you what I can’t see and find it easier to answer questions about what I can see. I might tell you the name of my diagnosis on my own, but it’s important that you prioritize my lived experiences over things you might read on the internet about my condition, especially if I have a secondary medical condition or multiple disabilities/chronic illnesses.

Related links

Recommend me for services as soon as possible

If you think I could benefit from occupational therapy, speech therapy, reading support, or other types of interventions, please recommend me for them. Feel free to suggest new accommodations for my SAP, 504, or IEP too, and attend my meetings when you can.  Early intervention is key, as elementary school lays the foundation for middle school, high school, and eventually college. A little early intervention can go a long way!

Related links

My vision will likely change, and might get worse

A lot of kids experience fluctuating vision or vision declines as they get older, and my vision loss seemingly declined overnight due to a then-undetected secondary medical condition when I realized I couldn’t see Mickey Mouse in a parade at Disney World when he was only standing a few feet away, and I also couldn’t see my brother at the kitchen table.

My disability accommodations may not be updated to reflect these vision declines or accommodation immediately, so please be flexible and print materials in a larger font size or let me use high contrast writing utensils, even if my disability accommodations don’t yet have these accommodations listed. Also, please avoid reminding me of how I used to be able to see something, as I am likely very frustrated or confused as to why a certain font is suddenly blurry or why it is harder to find my friends in the cafeteria.

Related links

Normalize using assistive technology in the classroom

One of the most helpful ways you can show allyship to a student with vision loss is to not make a big deal about it, and consider using assistive technology tools to help benefit all students. For example, when displaying information on the board, consider using a simplified reading display that shows text in large print for everyone, or use read aloud tools for reading/accessing information. Assistive technology is great for everyone!

While I am grateful that I was never bullied specifically because of my low vision, I did experience some teasing remarks, usually from new students or students who I didn’t know well. I appreciated having a teacher step in and help me figure out how to deal with this behavior, which included learning how to answer questions about my disability and encouraging people to rephrase questions that are asked in an offensive way.

Related links

Other things I want you to know as an elementary school student with low vision

By Veronica Lewis/Veronica With Four Eyes, www.veroniiiica.com

Updated August 2023; original post published August 2017

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