Summer Johnson, a high school student in Region 13, shares her perspective on navigating life with a visual impairment. She shares some dos and don’ts of teaching VI students.
I am a high school student with a visual impairment (VI). I have noticed people often get nervous around the topic of my disability. My blindness is not taboo, but it is important to be respectful when initiating a conversation about my disability. As a teacher, you might start this conversation by asking something along the lines of, “How do I help support you in this class?”
I can still fully access your class, but I will need extra support and accommodations. Some of these accommodations may be provided to me by a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TSVI) and a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS). It’s extremely important to collaborate with the TSVI and COMS to ensure my access to all areas of the classroom and curriculum.
Dos and Don’ts for Teaching VI Students
Here are some essential dos and don’ts that I find helpful as a student with a Visual Impairment (VI).
Dos for working with VI students:
- DO understand that vision is a spectrum. Not all blind people have the same level of vision, and it can vary greatly from person to person.
- DO introduce yourself at the beginning of a conversation so that I can learn to recognize who you are by the sound of your voice. At some point, I may let you know that I recognize your voice and that you no longer need to identify yourself by name.
- If you see me struggling, DO ask how to help. Don’t assume how to help me; that could lead to confusion and miscommunication.
- DO be descriptive and precise with your words when describing something to me or directing me somewhere. Because of my lack of vision, I sometimes rely heavily on the directions and descriptions people give me.
- DO remember that every blind person is different. Not every blind person will have the same struggles I have or have the same level of independence I do. Everyone is different and has different ways of thinking and doing things, and this especially applies to blind and visually impaired people and how they function in the world.
- Please be aware of our shared space. Please push your chairs in, or be mindful of any obstacles you might be leaving for me. Also, please don’t move my things without telling me.
- DO HAVE PATIENCE! I can’t see the line move, so please have patience and grace with me. If you are standing behind me in line, you can politely tell me that the line is moving farther up. Certain tasks may take me longer to complete. Imagine attempting to complete a simple everyday task that would normally take you five minutes with your eyes closed. It would most likely take you a bit longer to complete the task because you can’t rely on your vision. This is a daily experience for the visually impaired.
Don’ts for working with visually impaired students:
- DON’T address my sighted counterpart rather than speaking directly to me. If I’m out with a sighted friend and you’re offering me a drink, ask me directly. “Would you like something to drink?” instead of asking my friend, “Would they like something to drink?” Though I cannot see you visually, I am perfectly capable of communicating with you verbally.
- DON’T put your hands on me, grab me or tug/pull on my clothing unless I am in immediate danger. Not only can this be quite disrespectful to me, but it can also be extremely dangerous and hazardous and cause me to become disoriented, confused, or lost.
- DON’T be afraid to ask questions, but the tone and manner of how you ask may affect how I respond and how I interact with you in the future.
- DON’T use vague terms when alerting me to danger. For example, “Watch out!” does not give me any information on what I need to watch out for. Is there something above me, below me? What am I watching out for? Be descriptive of any obstacles. Telling blind people to watch where they’re going without further context can leave them anxious and confused.
Summer’s perspective is unique to her experience. If you have any questions or would like more information about education for students who are blind or visually impaired, reach out to the specialists for visual impairment and orientation and mobility at ESC Region 13.
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