Thursday, September 21, 2006

The needs of partially sighted students

The needs of partially sighted students: Special needs workshop
September 21, 2006
Led by Caroline White-Gottsche

Like any university or school, UAEU has some students who are partially sighted, defined as people with ‘best corrected visual acuity of 20/70 or less in the good eye (, in plainer language, students who, even when wearing corrective lenses, cannot read standard newsprint. (ibid)

Beginning with a profile of a typically partially sighted student, as outlined above, Ms. White-Gottsche mentioned that there are degrees of visual impairment in our students, right up to those who are totally blind, while others are able to read with difficulty, often with the help of equipment especially designed to assist such students to read.

The University’s Zayed Centre for Special Needs has such equipment for students with such needs. The centre has facilities such as the Clearview Spectrum, which enlarges print from the original document, to Supernova and Ibsar, which are computer programs that read out text to students experiencing difficulties reading from a computer screen.

Later, and having worked in smaller groups, teachers outlined their own expectations of areas of teaching with students with special, visual needs, comparing them with students’ own stated expectations.

Every group reported that the provision of clear, written assessment of the specific nature and extent of the needs of individual students would greatly assist them in their work.

Similarly, those teachers involved in working with students with special needs, added that little in the way of training was provided beforehand, and that consequently, they felt that their students were not getting the help and assistance they required in the classroom.

Some pointed out that there was hardly time to devote to such students at the expense of time for the other students in the class, and that students with needs often relied on classmates to get by.

However, Lisa Barlow also pointed out that having partially sighted students integrated into normal classes, rather than being segregated and given one-to-one tuition, was in fact much more preferable. She went on to relate how students acquired social skills as well as academic ones in the classroom.

As far as students’ stated expectations were concerned, these ranged from reports that some students expected their teacher to provide everything to get them through, while others said that partially sighted students were often too self-conscious to use their own equipment in class, or to be treated differently to other students.

In particular, for example, students seemed to loathe the provision of enlarged text on A3 paper, stating that it made them embarrassed in front of their peers.

In the open discussion that followed, teachers agreed that providing students and teachers with pre-course training would benefit all.

Dan Niles mentioned the website of the Hadley School for the Blind - which has a version for lower vision – white text on black background. This site is totally free and provides details of courses, fun events, support, resources, as wsell as useful links to the world of care providers for people with special needs.

The Centre for the Partially Sighted at carries services on counseling, rehabilitation, and low vision evaluations, and an impression of what having visual impairment can mean for those who suffer from it.

Information from the Centre for the Partially Sighted includes advice for teachers wishing to test students with sight impairment. These include:
 Provision of large print texts
 Giving the test orally to the student
 Allowing extended time
 Taping the questions and allowing the student to tape or write the answers
 Providing a reader or writer for the test
 Allowing the test to be taken on a Clear View machine (such as those provided in the Zayed Centre)
This site provides printable versions of articles on text guidelines, lighting, and developing your child’s vision, amongst others, as well as useful links to other sites.

Robert Leslie Fielding


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