Laws protect students at almost every level, and taking advantage of them can level the playing field between a blind child and sighted peers. Unfortunately, research suggests that few students take advantage.
About 3 percent of children younger than 18 are blind or visually impaired. All of them can grow into healthy, happy, and educated adults.
Children with early-onset vision problems experience delays in language skills, emotional development, and social abilities. Children like this may also experience lower levels of educational achievement.
Of people who are blind or visually impaired:
- About 22 percent have less than a high school diploma.
- About 31 percent have a high school diploma.
- About 30 percent have some college education.
- About 15 percent have a bachelor’s degree or more.
Understanding your child’s rights, and encouraging your child to keep learning and growing, is critical.
Understand the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
All American children are entitled to an education, and all parents are free of the obligation to pay for those services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensures that children with disabilities aren’t left behind.
IDEA rules dictate how infants, toddlers, children, and youth get early interventions, special education, and related services. In the 2018–2019 school year, IDEA served about 7.5 million American students.
Thirteen disabilities (or categories) are protected under IDEA, including these:
- Emotional disturbance
- Hearing impairment
- Intellectual disability
- Multiple disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities and orthopedic impairments
- Orthopedic impairment, such as cerebral palsy)
- Other health impairments, such as asthma or leukemia
- Specific learning disability
- Speech or language impairment
- Traumatic brain injury
- Visual impairment
A disability under IDEA exists if the issue can’t be completely resolved through a corrective device. For example, a vision issue in IDEA persists despite an intervention (like glasses), and it adversely affects your child’s ability to succeed in school. A child with blindness qualifies, but so does a child with partial sight.
Like most laws, IDEA is complicated. These are two parts of the legislation you should know about:
- Part C: Children younger than 3 years old are eligible for early intervention services to help them prepare for school. Lessons are offered by professionals in your home or daycare center.
- Part B: School-age children are entitled to a free, appropriate education in the least restrictive environment possible. Your child is entitled to an evaluation to start the process, and testing is repeated once every three years at no cost to you.
Those test results help experts create an education plan for your child, which you can review and change as needed.
Every school district is different. States have their own laws that impact how disabilities are both assessed and handled within the classroom. Start with your doctor.
A vision assessment can help you understand your child’s degree of vision loss. Your doctor should also understand how your local school district works and what local agencies you can use to help your child thrive in the classroom. Your doctor may also provide the paperwork your child needs to get accommodations.
Assistive Technologies for Students With Vision Impairment
Vision isn’t indicative of intelligence. Any student, sighted or not, can learn in a supportive classroom. But students with vision issues can benefit from tools that help them take in and share information.
These are just a few of the assistive technologies some vision-impaired students use:
Only about one blind person in 10 can read Braille. But for people with very low or no vision, this system of dots and bumps provides a lifeline to printed text.
This method could be one of the best ways for your child to read novels or otherwise take in the printed word.
Some libraries, including those at the university level, offer books in Braille. And some students enjoy using Braille keyboards to type up their assignments and class notes. But a Braille keyboard isn’t always convenient, as students must lug it everywhere.
Some smart devices, including Apple phones and tablets, come with a built-in Braille input, and students can switch back to a standard keyboard as needed. For students accustomed to typing on a Braille keyboard, this is ideal.
Wayfinding is critical for people with low vision, especially students attending schools with a large campus footprint. GPS tools allow students to get from one class to another quickly, and there’s no need to ask for directions.
Apps like BlindSquare allow students to follow voice directions to their destinations. The cues can keep them from walking into hazards (like intersections) for a safer trip.
Making text just a little bigger could mean the difference between reading and guessing. Small, hand-held versions fit comfortably in a pocket or backpack, so students can read almost anything while on the go.
Screen magnifiers are available on most computers, tablets, and phones. Students can control how big the text can get, and they can turn off these tools when it’s time to stop reading.
Optical Character Recognition
Handouts are a common part of the classroom experience, and teachers should provide them in formats accessible to all students. If a student has an occasional piece of information provided in an illegible format (like borrowed notes from a classmate), optical character recognition (OCR) tools can help.
An OCR uses machine learning to transform printed documents into digital copies. A student could scan in a document and then use another tool (like a magnifier or screen reader) to determine what it says.
Almost 7.3 million people use screen reader technology to interact with the digital world. A tool like this transforms printed documents into spoken word, so anyone can understand what’s on the screen in front of them.
Almost all modern devices contain screen reader technology. A quick search of the operating system should bring them to the forefront.
Navigating the Public School System for Visually Impaired Students
Young children rely on parents to advocate and guide them. When your children are small, it’s your job to help them succeed in the classroom. These tips can help:
Meet the Team
Talk with all of your child’s teachers. Do they understand your child’s vision disability level and the education plan that can help your child succeed? Do they have any questions or concerns about implementing the plan as it’s written?
Ensure that all the professionals working with your child understand their legal requirements.
Talk With Your Child
Check in regularly. Is your child getting all the assistive help detailed in the education plan? Does your child feel comfortable asking for more help if needed? Is everything going well?
You can’t fix every problem your child has in school. But you can ensure that your child has someone to talk to and lean on while in the classroom.
Document Your Success
Be a good note-keeper, and write down what is and isn’t working for your child. If the school district experiments with a new assistive device, your notes can help you prove whether or not it’s working. And you’ll have good data to share with your doctor about how well your child is doing.
Speak Up When Needed
If someone at your child’s school isn’t treating your child appropriately, say something. Your family has rights, including the right to an education. Don’t let anyone take that from you.
Managing College Life: Tips for Students With Vision Impairment
At the end of a successful high school experience, you’re ready to complete your education. You still have rights, but the way you navigate the system shifts a bit.
Understand the ADA
Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act covers colleges, vocational schools, and universities that are publicly funded. Title III covers privately funded institutions.
All of them are required to make their programs accessible to students with disabilities, including those with vision issues.
Your vision limitations shouldn’t keep you out of the classroom. Instead, your vision challenges should be both accepted and respected as you continue your career. No matter where you want to go, someone should help you.
Advocate for Services
Parents do much of the advocating for young students. As an adult, it’s time for you to take the reins.
If you’re not sure what to do or say, ask for coaching from your parents. Find out what they did to help you succeed as a younger student.
Your institution should provide you with adjustments to help you succeed, such as these:
- Allowing for priority registration
- Reducing your mandated course load, if appropriate
- Accepting course substitutions
- Offering note-takers or allowing you to record lectures
- Giving you extra time on tests
- Providing adaptive computers in accessible areas
If you need help that you’re not getting, talk with your counselor about what to do next.
Discuss Access With Your Teachers
Instructors should understand how to help students with vision impairment succeed in class. But anyone could benefit from a few reminders.
Ask your teachers to read aloud any notes they write on a blackboard or overhead projector. Ensure that you understand vague terms in lectures like “this” and “here.”
If you’re uncomfortable speaking out while class is in session, schedule time for a private chat. But remember that you have rights. You’re not required to accept lectures that don’t work with your disability.
Find a Mentor When You’re Searching for a Job
As your college education comes to a close, you’ll start looking for meaningful job opportunities. A mentor can be a big help.
Students with mentors tend to spend less time looking for work than those without them.
How Can Parents Help Visually Impaired College Students?
Sending your child away to college or university isn’t easy for any parent. It’s especially stressful for parents with blind or visually impaired children. You’ve nurtured your child very carefully, and it can be hard to let them go.
Set the expectation that your child will go to college. Vision-impaired students with parents encouraging them to go to college are almost eight times more likely to do so than students without these parents. Remind your child why an education is important.
As your child starts class, stay engaged. Ask open-ended questions, such as these:
- What classes are you taking?
- What class is your favorite?
- Who is your most challenging teacher?
- What are you looking forward to learning?
Ask about assistive devices and support too. Your child may have questions about vision devices and conversations with officials. But remember that your child’s experience encompasses more than their vision challenges.
In general, let your child guide you. Some students rely on their parents for a significant amount of help during the college years. Others want their independence. Let your child tell you what’s best.
Resources for Parents of Visually Impaired Students
Access these resources for guidance, support, and assistance:
- Center for Parent Information and Resources: Read articles and guides made for parents raising a disabled child. Join support groups, and learn about agencies in your state that can help.
- Family Connect: The American Printing House for the Blind collects resources made just for parents of visually disabled children. Join an online support group to connect with other families like yours.
- National Disability Rights Network: Learn more about your rights as a parent of a child with disabilities. And as your child grows, use this resource to help your child become a self-advocate. Join an event to meet other people like you.
- American Foundation for the Blind: Tap into resources to help students succeed, and use secondary tools to help find meaningful work after graduation. Read a blog filled with tips and tools.
Fast Facts of Common Eye Disorders. (June 2020). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Blindness and Vision Impairment. (October 2021). World Health Organization.
Blindness Statistics. (January 2019). National Federation of the Blind.
About IDEA. U.S. Department of Education.
Sec. 300.8 Child With a Disability. U.S. Department of Education.
Visual Impairments. IDEA Resources.
IDEA: What Parents of Blind Children Need to Know About the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. American Printing House for the Blind.
My Child Is Receiving Special Education in School. What Role Should His Pediatrician Play? (October 2018). American Academy of Pediatrics.
Braille Under Siege as Blind Turn to Smartphones. (February 2012). National Public Radio.
An Evaluation of the iBrailler Notes Braille Notetaking App from iBrailler LLC. (April 2015). American Foundation for the Blind.
Pioneering Accessible Navigation. Blind Square.
Back to School: Advocating for Your Child With Blindness or Low Vision. (August 2015). Braille Works.
Social Support for Students With Visual Impairments in Educational Institutions: An Integrative Literature Review. (July 2020). British Journal of Visual Impairment.
Six Ways to Help the School Own Your Child Who Is Blind. American Printing House for the Blind.
What Are a Public or Private College-University’s Responsibilities to Students With Disabilities? Americans with Disabilities Act.
Your Visually Impaired Child Can Advocate for Her Own Needs. American Printing House for the Blind.
Students with Disabilities Preparing for Postsecondary Education. (September 2011). Office for Civil Rights.
FAQ: College Students Who Are Blind. Oswego State University of New York.
College Graduates with Visual Impairments: A Report on Seeking and Finding Employment. (January 2018). Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness.
Predictors Associated With College Attendance and Persistence Among Students with Visual Impairments. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability.
Effective Self-Determination Practices for Students With Disabilities: Implications for Students With Visual Impairments. (April 2019). Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness.
Last Updated June 28, 2022
Note: This page should not serve as a substitute for professional medical advice from a doctor or specialist. Please review our about page for more information.
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