At the age of five, I was diagnosed with optic gliomas – resulting in a visual impairment. Despite the late diagnosis, it is believed that I was visually impaired at birth. Although I do have some vision, my vision is limited; thus, I required some adaptations in the classroom.
In the early years of elementary school, the adaptations were fairly basic:
-White boards instead of chalk boards
-Large print books
-An old CCTV
-Dark lined paper & dark pencils
-Use of a laptop (typing, dictionary, etc.)
Over the past 18 years, however, technological advancements mean that visually impaired individuals have access to a greater breadth of resources. For instance, the Pearl Camera Scanner allows students to scan documents and books more efficiently. Prior to the Pearl Camera, students needed to scan documents/books page by page. With the Pearl Camera students need only flip the page, with each flip of the page, the camera will snap a picture of the page. Best of all, the camera fits in an easily portable case – so it can be transported from room to room, or school to home.
While the technology and adaptations are very important, a teacher’s attitude is just as important. I had the pleasure of working with teachers who went above and beyond to provide the classroom support I needed. On the other hand, I had one teacher who asserted that she deserved a raise for having me in her class. Another teacher suggested it was unfair that I got to use a computer, and questioned why I was using it for that assignment. Mind you, this was usually only after the students in my class voiced their descent.
It is no surprise that the treatment by the two teachers in question often left me in tears – dreading school because I had no teacher to back me up when students complained about the NECESSARY adaptations.
I am now 23 years-old, and a Registered Social Worker who graduated with silver distinction. Despite what some teachers may have thought, I was able to successfully complete university – with distinction no less. While I did succeed, my elementary school years would have been more enjoyable if I had been given support by ALL teachers.
You may be unsure about how to support a student – and that is understandable. In fact, it is a good thing that you do not know how to support a visually impaired student. Each student requires different adaptations; thus, you must ASK the student. Do not assume that you know what to do after reading this post, because you don’t. To be honest, I often don’t know the specific adaptations I will need in a given situation until I am in the situation. So please, ask the student, his/her parents, and any other support persons.
A disability does not meant that a student is unable, it means they are ABLE with ADAPTATIONS.
If you have questions about supporting a visually impaired student, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Jessica Bonish BSW, RSW