Visual Accessibility and the Classroom

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January 29, 2020

The individual experiences of students with visual impairments in the classroom are unique and difficult to define. Current research estimates that for typical learners, 95% of all learning is through the distance senses and 80% of learning is through vision. Students with vision loss may use a combination of compensatory strategies such as sensory efficiency to maximize the use of other senses or the use of braille or enlarged print to access the general curriculum. However, for students with combined vision and hearing loss, the impact on access to the general curriculum is even greater. In order to provide students with vision and hearing loss equal access in the classroom, educators must modify and accommodate their needs. This includes modifying the classroom environment, the learning activities, and media used in the classroom. While the general strategies discussed below are a good starting point, it is important to remember that each child is an individual and has different needs.

Environmental Consistency

One of the most important things a teacher can do for students with a dual-sensory loss is to keep the physical environment of the classroom consistent. Keeping classroom furniture in the same places allows for independent (and confident!) navigation throughout the classroom. Additionally, the consistent placement of classroom materials provides more independent access to them. 

Reduce Visual Clutter

Classrooms should have minimal amounts of visual clutter (posters, different colors, etc.) and auditory clutter (background music, loud equipment, etc.). For students with a dual sensory loss, complex environments can make it difficult to discriminate between the item of focus and auditory and visual clutter in the background. Classrooms with too much auditory and visual clutter can be tiring for students with a dual sensory loss, as they are having to work harder to filter out the background in order to access the information. Keeping the environment as simple and quiet as possible is a great way to provide students with access. 

Lighting

Lighting can be used to highlight or illuminate objects or text for maximum viewing. For example, placing a light above text or objects you would like a child to focus on can improve their viewing of the objects. In addition to using lighting to illuminate objects, classrooms should also be set up to minimize glare. For example, whiteboards, computer screens, and iPad screens can reflect a considerable amount of light. Using blackout curtains on windows with natural light can reduce the amount of glare coming into the classroom. Finally, for students with light sensitivity, reducing the harshness of overhead lighting with a light filter is helpful.

Contrast

In addition to lighting, contrast is an additional strategy that can be implemented in order to provide equal access to students with dual-sensory loss. For students working with objects, placing brightly colored objects on top of solid black backgrounds can help students discriminate. For students working with print or text, using larger, bolder text and reducing the complexity of images can make worksheets more visually accessible. As always, it is always best practice to ask a student what works for him or her when possible.