Access 101: Low Vision and Blindness

Low Vision and Blindness

Blindness and low vision are more common in the student population than one might think. The lack of recognition of the problem is due in part to the fact that many
students with vision problems do not identify themselves as such or do not wish to bring attention to their disability for one

Low Vision and Blindness
Low Vision and Blindness

Reason or another. One student described her experience with partial sightedness:

“Hi, my name is [Amanda] and I’m 15. I am a ‘partial’ who is totally blind in one eye and partial in the other eye. I have much difficulty seeing the board in class and reading what is on the projectors. I really hate talking to teachers about my eyesight issues because they always give me pity after I do so and I don’t want their charity. What do you think I should do?? I get good grades (my GPA this last quarter was a 3.67 and I’m taking an honors [English] class) and am not worried about falling behind.

It’s just that there is so much strain put between the teacher and me because of my eyesight (or lack thereof). Even if I did talk to them, what would I say? ‘Hi, my name is Amanda…I’m a partial …I may need some help with stuff…but I really don’t want help with EVERYTHING because I know that’s what you’ll do now because I told you… ’ That’d go great!”1 ~ Amanda

Rate of Occurrence

Students with partial blindness or low vision like Amanda aren’t all that rare. A 1998 survey of college freshmen indicated that about 1.1% percent of them say they are either partially sighted or blind. Among the population of college freshmen with disabilities, about 13% of the disabilities are visual impairments. Often, the cause of blindness is diabetes.2

Classroom Success Rates

Unfortunately, only about 45% of people with severe visual impairment or blindness are able to complete high school, compared to a graduate rate of about 80% for the normally sighted. Visually impaired students, at least at the high school level, perform poorly in standardized tests for reading, although they perform almost as well as their sighted peers on math and problem-solving tests.

The data from high school students suggests that it will be difficult for these students to gain admission to universities, but those who do may find that their disabilities are an even greater barrier in an intensified academic atmosphere.2

Level of Need

There are many types of visual impairments and therefore many levels of need. In fact, students with minor impairments and those who prefer to work independently may require little or no help.

Tasks that students with visual impairments may find difficult

  • Reading and writing on chalkboards, dry-erase boards, bulletin boards, and posters.
  • Reading and completing written assignments
  • Giving presentations
  • Watching videos
  • Finding items in the classroom or lab
  • Moving around the classroom or lab

Many of these problems can be corrected by providing the material in a different format such as large print, Braille, or electronic files. The solution may also include moving the student to a better position in the classroom or providing assistive technology. We will discuss these options and more in the accommodations section.

1″Visual Impairments.” Jan 2004. National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities 31 Oct 2007.

2C. Henderson, Update on College Freshmen with Disabilities. Washington, DC: American Council on Education; HEATH Resource Center, 1999,

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