What does “visual impairment” encompass?
A visual impairment is any issue with vision that interferes with a student’s academics. For an official definition, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines it as “an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.”
Signs a child may have a visual impairment
- Eyes don’t move together or appear unfocused
- Frequent rubbing of eyes or covering one eye
- Extreme sensitivity to light
- Holding a book close to the face or sitting unusually close to a TV screen or computer monitor
Visual impairment can range from near-sightedness and far-sightedness to conditions such as congenital cataracts, strabismus (misaligned or crossed eyes), amblyopia (“lazy eye”) and, at the extreme end of the spectrum, blindness. To determine if a student is eligible for special education services, a specially trained teacher has to assess the extent that the visual impairment affects the student’s ability to learn and what type of classroom accommodations they’ll need.
Visually impaired students are classified by their level of functional vision:
- Low vision: Students are able to use their vision as their primary sense, but may need large-print materials and magnifying lenses.
- Functionally blind/Legally blind: The student has limited vision for functional tasks, but needs to rely on tactile and auditory senses for learning. Has visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye (after correction) and/or a field of vision no greater than 20-degrees (normal field of vision is nearly 180-degrees).
- Totally (Legally) blind: Students have little or no sensitivity to any level of light and are entirely dependent on tactile and auditory senses for learning
Students are also evaluated based on how the visual impairment originated. There are two categories here:
- Congenital- the impairment occurred during fetal developed, at birth or immediately after birth. The impairment occurred before visual memory was established.
- Adventitious- the impairment occurred after having normal vision, either through an accident or a hereditary condition.
Educational challenges for visually impaired students in conventional schools
It sounds simplistically obvious, but the greatest challenge visually impaired students have is their impaired vision. We say this because visual cues play a critical role in learning. In fact, it’s believed that as much as 80% of what children without visual impairment learn is through visual cues. The senses of touch and hearing cannot fully compensate for the loss of sight.
For visually impaired students to learn, they need to develop compensatory skills and adaptive techniques. Without them, the normal sequence of learning in social, motor, language and cognitive development is hindered. Unfortunately, most schools are not adequately prepared to fully address the needs of visually impaired students. There are other, more basic challenges visually impaired students must contend with, including:
- Maneuvering in hallways and classrooms
- Needing extra time to get to class
- Needing printouts with large print or audio books for reading
- Needing an assistant to take notes for them
- Difficulty using standard educational tools such as calculators and word processing software
Intelligence is not determined by sight, but for visually impaired students to reach their full academic potential they need special accommodations and instructors sensitive to the challenges they face.
How online learning can benefit visually impaired students
The great thing about online learning is that any student with a computer and an internet connection can take classes without actually having to go to a classroom. For visually impaired students, this removes all the difficulties of getting to school and into their classrooms. With adaptive technologies like voice-to-text software, audio recordings, screen magnifiers and braille keyboards, visually impaired students can realize their full potential.
At eAchieve Academy, students get individualized instruction based on their strengths and weaknesses. Students have the freedom to work at their own pace, spending more time on the subjects and concepts they find difficult and breezing through the ones that come easy to them. Teachers are available for one-on-one help via email, phone and Skype. We’ve graduated many special needs students, so we’re sensitive to challenges and committed to doing right by them. Best of all, you aren’t limited by the school district you live in. Thanks to Wisconsin open enrollment, students living in any school district are welcome at eAchieve. Enroll here.
Learn more about how eAchieve works for visually impaired students
If your child is a visually impaired student, you likely have plenty of questions about how eAchieve can help. Don’t hesitate to call us at 262-970-1038, or contact us online. You can also attend one of the Open House events we hold throughout the year, or attend a virtual open house online.
Whether you’re looking to transition your child to e-learning at the start of the school year or considering a mid-semester transfer, we’ll be glad to help you get started. Like any other public school, eAchieve Academy is tuition-free for all Wisconsin students, and you can apply for our online program in 2 easy steps. Your student will even be eligible for a free laptop and a monthly stipend for internet access.