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Visual Impairments Special Needs Factsheet

What Teachers Should Know

Visual impairment is a term used to describe any kind of noncorrectable vision loss, whether it’s complete blindness or partial vision loss. About 10 million people in the United States are visually impaired.

Common refractive errors such as near-sightedness and far-sightedness can be corrected with glasses or contacts. But when one or more parts of the eye or brain that are needed to process images become diseased or damaged, severe or total loss of vision can occur. In these cases, vision can’t be fully restored with medical treatment, surgery, or corrective lenses.

Causes of visual impairments among kids and teens include:

  • amblyopia or “lazy eye”
  • strabismus (misaligned or crossed eyes)
  • birth defects
  • eye or brain injuries

Students with visual impairments may:

  • need seating accommodations to help them see you or whiteboards, blackboards, overhead displays, etc.
  • need to wear glasses, use magnifiers, or use extra lighting for class work
  • require large printed handout materials or audio books for reading
  • need voice-activated computers or other assistive technology
  • need someone to assist in taking notes
  • need extra time to get to classes or complete assigned work
  • need to go to the school nurse for medication or assistance with visual concerns
  • miss class time to see doctors

Signs of a possible vision problem in a student who hasn’t been diagnosed with a visual impairment include:

  • constant eye rubbing or chronic redness of eyes
  • extreme light sensitivity
  • squinting, closing one eye, or misaligned eyes
  • poor focusing or difficulty following objects
  • inability to see objects at a distance
  • inability to read a whiteboard or blackboard, etc., or difficulty reading

What Teachers Can Do

Students with visual impairments should be encouraged to participate in all classroom activities, physical education, and extracurricular activities. Make sure your classroom is easy to move around in and free from obstacles.

Students with visual impairments may feel self-conscious about their condition. They also might be a target for bullying.

Visual impairments can be wide ranging, so each student’s needs must be considered on an individual basis.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2013