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ESE504 : The Class : Advanced CD : Visual Impairment
Visual Impairments

Our world is visually rich, and there is a high density of visual information necessary to drive a car, read maps, figure out a bus schedule, look up a taxi in the phone book.

Any loss of ability to gather information by seeing might be considered a visual impairment.


Defining visual impairment is complex.

Low vision - able to use sight to learn, but visual impairment interferes with daily functioning
Legally blind - vision cannot be corrected to 20/200 in the better eye or peripheral vision is limited to 20 degrees
Congenitally blind - born with a severe visual impairment
Blindness - does not have functional use of enough vision to able to use sight to learn or function - may see shadows or some movement Totally blind - individuals who use their tactual and auditory senses to acquire information about their environment and who do not receive meaningful input through vision.
Tunnel vision - the area of vision is restricted to a small central area and peripheral vision is limited Adventitiously blind - acquire a severe visual impairment after age two


Snellen Chart

developed in 1862 and used as a screening device for distance vision


Cornea - transparent curved part of the eye that shows as the surface

Pupil - This is the little opening that changes, based on the amount of light that is needed to enhance vision

Iris - colored part of the eye -- regulates the amount of light that gets into the eye

Lens - the focus on the eye - made of muscles that thicken or thin out as needed and this is the part of the eye that accommodates for distance

Retina - inside lining of the eye with photosensitive cells that react to light

Optic Nerve - Main nerve that carries messages from the eye to the part of the brain that decodes and makes meaning of it

Sclera - strong protective covering that protects the eye

Ciliary body - helps balance the fluid in the eye and also changes the shape of the eye as a function of the focusing process

Illustration from the National Eye Institute

Parts of the Visual System
Cross-section of the Eye


Area of eye affected
Resulting condition
Transmission of light energy    
Conversion of light to impulses    
Brain connection    

Table fromTurnbull, 1999


Personal notes

Personal page with links

Journal for Deaf and Blind

Special Education Resources on the Internet (SERI)

Numerous links

Huge resource list and links, including Assistive devices, laws, large number of conditions, unbelievable collection!

American Foundation for the Blind

Blind Child Center - commercial

Special Needs Network

Resources and reading material

Braille Institute

Pictures of the eye and how it functions

Eyes illustrated, eyes and vision discussed



Portrait of Helen Keller, Anne Sullivan and Alexander Graham Bell using various forms of communications

Cultural Information

"The style and ways of the dominant American culture are often in conflict with other cultures that comprise the United States. Because the dominant culture typically dictates how services are delivered, these services are either inappropriate or ineffective for many Native American children with disabilities and their families. Professionals might be more culturally sensitive by remembering that the circle is a recurring theme of life and health, particularly in Native American cultures. People are born into a circle of family and community that embraces mutual support and oneness. When one member is affected by something or an event, the entire community is also affected. So, when one member is involved, everyone should be involved. Rather than focusing on the individual, the focus of services should be with the family and its extended members. For example, when working with students with visual impairments, Ponchillia (1993) recommends that all family members be shown how to use equipment and adaptive techniques so they can better support the individual with the disability. - Smith, 1998

The leading causes of visual impairment in those persons not considered to be legally blind are cataracts, refractive errors, and glaucoma.

The leading causes of visual impairment for those defined as legally or totally blind are retinal disorders, glaucoma and cataract.

Most children in the special education programs with visual impairments have one of these disorders. The most accurate prevalence figure for the school aged population is that 1 percent of children have a visual impairment.

Identification of vision impairments is made through the combined efforts of preschools, Child Find programs, and school vision screenings. Vision acuity testing is done by preschools and schools. Observation is done by teachers, parents and others who have close association with the child. Referrals are made to ophthalmologists, or optometrist on children where a possible problem is detected.

Developmental Characteristics: Psychomotor - The physical development of children who have visual impairments resembles that of children whose vision is normal. Visual impairments can often have indirect effects on childrenís physical development. Visual impairments do not retard physical development. Motor development does not differ markedly from the child with normal vision in the first few months of life. Differences that occur later are largely the result of the limits that are placed on the physical activities of many children with visual impairments. Cognitive - There are no significant differences in intelligence of children with visual impairments and children with normal vision. However, there are differences in concept development. These differences result from the restrictions placed on visually impaired children, rather than the loss of vision itself. The visually impaired child must learn through direct experiences, and are unable to use imitation. Although visually impaired children go through the same sequence of developmental stages as other children, they go through them considerably slower. Some visually impaired children may never grasp some concepts. School Achievement: Visually impaired children tend to lag behind children with normal vision in school. The visual impairment is not necessarily the cause of school under achievement School under achievement is an indirect result of the visual impairment. Affective - Social development of children with visual impairments does differ when compared to that of children with normal vision. Most of the social and emotional problems that effect the visually impaired child are caused by the attitudes and reactions of those who can see. This is an issue that the visually impaired child will have to deal with throughout not only his school age years, but his entire life. All efforts must be made to enable the visually impaired to lead a normal life independently. Children who have visual impairments will have to learn special skills that will be different than the normal school curriculum.

Visually impaired children will need to learn orientation and mobility skills as well as daily living skills. Some visually impaired children will need to learn Braille and also have written materials in larger print. In some cases optical aids and different lighting and contrast can be effective for some children.

There are several people who have achieved greatness while being visually impaired: Helen Keller Louis Braille Stevie Wonder Roy Orbison - contributed by Laurel Padilla - Northern Arizona U Student


Tips and Strategies

Educational Interventions
Personal Notes

Resources for teachers and parents

Assistive devices for low vision

Guide dogs

Site index for guide dogs

Braille - Louis Braille, (1809-1852), French teacher of the blind. Born in Coupvray, he was blind from age three. In 1829, while teaching at the National Institute for the Young Blind in Paris, Braille conceived the idea of modifying point writing to enable the blind to read. This resulted in the Braille system.

Braille Institute

Catalogue of popular items

Royal London Society for the Blind - can be heard through voice synthesizer

Education services - lots of links

New York Institute for the blind

The Schermerhorn Program


Basic Needs

Youngsters with visual impairments need to be seen as children first. There are an infinite number of things sighted children do automatically that we will want to consider when we provide children with ways to meet basic needs in spite of visual impairment.

Basic educational and life needs
Technological or Assistive Devices
Educational Options

Life skills

telling time "playing" with others, making change making change eating with others taking care of self dressing toileting stewardship of belongings toys

"reading" literature    
Communicating beyond face to face    

SO . . . .

First things first.

I am a person first, and a label second.

I am living in a world that is increasingly visual and that trend affects my ability to be independent.

I have needs, and my ability to express those needs is critical to being happy or feeling unfulfilled.

If I am feeling unfulfilled, I may behave in ways that express how unfulfilled, thwarted and unhappy I am.

These statements are statements of human nature -- this is the way healthy people feel.

It is normal for human beings to respond with strong emphasis when not getting needs met.

Student action


Creative solution
Need for stimulation may lead to verbal self stimming, acting out, going beyond established bounds

Student - to learn and be stimulated while being safe

Teacher - to teach each student adequately

Class - to learn, concentrate, fulfill their own need to know

Increase the level of comfort and safety for the student who is acting out and provide increased opportunities to learn, to work alone, to be a part of the class and to get the support to exchange visual learning materials for alternate learning formats; help class to increase tolerance by helping them understand the actions in a positive frame - ways they self soothe, and ways they can assist in their fellow student's learning. Teacher - observe processes and look for ways to enhance student stimulation, enhance learning opportunities and utilize students, aides, retired teachers, community resources to help the student move forward with the lesson.
Student becomes agitated

Student - to be soothed, to know that the bell is going to ring and be ready for the next set of activities

Teacher - to make transitions easily

Class - to make transitions easily

Set up a system that communicates by gesture computer or Braille, the sequence of events and the schedule so the student can feel adequately involved and adjust to changes.

Fill in the next three cell rows, using the ideas you gain from experience, from materials in the text and in your web searches. Identify a likely student behavior that may hamper learning and then go through the process of defining needs, then finding a solution that allows everyone to get needs met [25 points have been allotted for this activity].

Activity List

1. Read a book written by a family member, telling about their personal insights and challenges being involved with a youngster with visual impairment. Make a list of the ways a teacher might support the parent experiences. Make a second list of things parents might tell an educator about a child. [50 points].

2. There are specific courtesy rules for working with those who have visual impairments and for letting the student know of your presence and intentions. One place to locate these is the National Federation of the Blind. Another place with suggestions is the Deaf-Blind Link. Obtain a list and personalize it before attempting to spend time observing or working with those who have visual impairments. (25 points for finding them; 25 points for personalizing them].

3. Locate a parent who will allow you to visit the child at the school or in the home and spend a minimum of 4 hours observing the youngster. As part of the observation experience, identify at least three student strengths. Look for the youngster's interests and determine some of the ways the student engages others. [25 points per hour for observing].

3. Watch one of the movies about visual impairment for 50 points and send a review of the characterization of visual impairment for another 25 points. A few great movies are Patch of Blue, The Miracle Worker, Butterflies are Free. Scent of a Woman is about a person becoming visually impaired as an adult. You may watch and report on this movie, too.

4. Learn about different forms of communications. Try to find an opportunity to watch someone use different kinds of Assistive communication devices. After looking at the pros and cons, develop a paragraph stating your personal feelings about the different techniques and potential usefulness. [25 points] Add another dimension by learning Braille yourself, or using talking books, augmented communications devices, etc.

5. Identify three commonly held fallacies about visual impairment and then provide three fact based beliefs about people with different forms or severity of visual disabilities. [15 points]

6. Locate and review one of the diagnostic instruments used to evaluate visual impairment. In general, do you expect students to score in a wide range of intellectual abilities, or will more students score at or below average intelligence? [25 points].

7. Remember to feel free to develop your own personal response to the material. Allot yourself approximately 25 points per hour for your work.

8. There are several very different kinds of visual impairments that are included in the broad diagnosis of visual handicaps. Choose one of the categories and find at least 10 articles or discussions about the characteristics of the condition. Feel free to use materials off the web, as well. Then write a paper of 500-100 words, discussing the challenges these young people have and provide a set of methods or materials that might address strengths and diminish barriers to education. [100 points each]

Movies and Films

Blind Rage The Blindness Butterflies Are Free Bright Victory
Blind Swordsman and the Chess Expert Cat o' Nine Tails Day of Despair Cutter's Way
Blink Blues for Lovers City Lights Eyes in the Night Eyes of a Stranger
The City for Conquest The Dead Man's Eyes Fists in the Pocket The Hanging Tree
The Day of the Triffids Freak City The Hidden Eye Footfalls
How Awful About Allan (TV Film) Ice Castles King Lear Lady's Morals
Journey From Darkness Journey Into Light Life on a String Light That Failed
A Land of Silence and Darkness Longstreet (TV) Patch of Blue The Mask
The Scent of a Woman Night Is My Future A Love Story (TV) Mesmer
If You Could See What I Hear Night on Earth Love Leads the Way Road to Mandela
Love! Valour! Compassion! Wait Until Dark To Race the Wind Whales of August
Movie Music From Another Room Night Song No Road Back Ordinary Heroes
On Dangerous Ground Sea Wolf Orphans of the Storm Second Sight
Story of Esther Costello Tommy Torch Song The Thunder Below Wedding Gift
The Unconquered,(Helen Keller Story) West Side Girl Union Station What Love Sees
Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken Showdown for Zatoichi Wise Blood Wolf Larsen


You should now:

Go back to Characteristics

E-mail J'Anne Ellsworth at

Course developed by J'Anne Ellsworth


Copyright © 1999 Northern Arizona University