As many of our students with low vision are adjusting to online learning, it is becoming more and more apparent that the screen time is causing some eye strain. Many parents and TVIs are wondering why this is happening. After all, the student has been using the device all year and not had a problem. This article will attempt to explain why and provide some possible solutions.
Often, students who have low vision experience visual fatigue which can lead to eye strain, headaches, blurred vision, and other symptoms. This is obviously very uncomfortable for the student, who may not understand why he/she is having difficulty when they never have experienced these symptoms (at least this severely) before.
There are many factors that contribute to this problem. Though the student has likely been utilizing the same device successfully in the school environment and in the evenings to do homework since September, how and when the device is used has probably changed. For example, many schools are suggesting that students engage in schoolwork at specific times. If that time is in the morning and lasts for three hours without a break, the student is likely spending too much uninterrupted time in front of a screen. During the school day, visual tasks are naturally broken up as the student takes visual breaks while participating in instruction. Examples include listening to the teacher without the need to read or write, engaging in class conversations, moving between classes, taking stretch or bathroom breaks, or other activities that take place in the school environment. Whether or not it is intentional, the student is taking a break from the visual tasks that might cause visual fatigue. Likewise, homework in the evening may be broken up by dinner breaks, family time, or other activities that allow the student to have time away from visual tasks.
Aside from needing to cram six hours’ worth of education into a three-hour timeframe, the equipment being used may be contributing to the issue. Though the student’s Chromebook, video magnifier, or iPad may have been working well for him or her while school was in session, it might not meet the needs of the student for longer term use. The light emitting from the screen may be too much for those who are sensitive to glare and bright lights and the resolution of the screen may not be as clear as units being used in the classroom. The lighting in the home may be harder to adjust, so the student may be doing schoolwork in a bright area that makes reading the screen more difficult. The opposite could also be true. Quite a bit depends on the needs of the student and the environment.
Lastly, but certainly not least, screen time plays a huge role in entertainment for students while they are spending more and more time in the house. Sure, they can and do play outside, but there is likely limited access to parks or play areas where they can socialize with peers. Using screens for three hours of education and then attempting to have “fun” while in front of a screen may cause additional visual fatigue.
These are by no means the only factors contributing to the students’ challenges, but they are probably the most likely.
Following are some low tech and high tech solutions for TVIs and parents/caregivers to consider:
This article is reposted with permission from Wisconsin Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired website.