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This section contains information on effective ways of supporting students with visual impairments.


Key Support Actions

  • Make directed reading lists available in advance, to enable the student to access and organise the materials as needed
  • Keep timetables and venues consistent so that the student can easily find their way and any support workers will be able to attend as agreed
  • Instigate strong ground rules to ensure everyone can participate in discussions even if they are unable to see visual cues
  • Describe all visual material, and anything written on a board
  • Give written feedback in typed format


What is visual impairment?

Visual impairment is the term used to describe a loss of sight that cannot be corrected using glasses or contact lenses. There are two main categories of visual impairment:

  • Registered partially sighted, which means the level of sight impairment is moderate
  • Registered blind, which means a severe sight impairment where activities that rely on eyesight become impossible

A consultant ophthalmologist is responsible for registering an individual as blind or partially sighted. Students with visual impairments will experience varying degrees of sight loss; the majority will have some sight which may be useful for different things for each individual. For many, the visual impairment will not be obvious to others, even when someone is registered blind.


How does having a visual impairment impact on study?

Support required will vary depending on the student's individual circumstances. However, students with visual impairments may need support in the following areas:

  • Finding, organising, transcribing and reading materials (reading speed may be slower than their peers, even when transcribed)
  • Negotiating areas with inflexible lighting
  • Participating in practical activities such as lab work or field work
  • Note taking, in particular from boards or presentations, or in a darkened room
  • Orientation, travel and route finding in Cambridge


Supporting and teaching students with visual impairments

Many principles of Inclusive Teaching are beneficial for students with visual impairments. Particular examples are highlighted below:

  • If, during a lecture or class, new information is written on the board, an oral explanation should be given at the same time.
  • Written feedback (in an accessible format) is useful as it avoids the student needing to record feedback while discussing matters of relevance.
  • Provision of directed reading lists in advance to enable materials to be transcribed if need be.
  • Provision of lecture and supervision handouts in advance in an accessible format, according to individual requirements.
  • All information (such as written feedback, supervision reports) and all relevant materials should be provided in an accessible format, according to individual requirements.
  • Extended library loans.
  • Permission to record lectures.
  • Reserved seating in lectures to ensure the student can sit close to the board.
  • Ground rules should be established for group work as it may be difficult for the student to interact and see from body language when it might be their turn to contribute.

Reasonable Adjustments

These adjustments should be available to students with a visual impairment:

  • Regular meetings with tutors and Directors of Studies should be coordinated to review adjustments and ensure that a student's support requirements are being met
  • Support with identifying key texts, above those provided by directed reading lists, to enable the student to choose what reading is done during term and what is done at home
  • Flexible lighting that can be adjusted to accommodate a student with a visual impairment (some of whom may prefer bright light and others dim light)
  • If slides, TV or other visual material are shown in a darkened room, this may make notetaking impossible. Handouts in advance may need to be supplemented with a notetaker, even if a notetaker is not used in other circumstances.
  • 24 hours' notice of change of venue whenever possible, given via an accessible format. This is to ensure the student can find the venue and arrange human support if necessary.
  • Rest breaks may be needed due to eye strain and fatigue. On occasion, extended deadlines may also be required.


Human Support

Students who are have a visual impairment may use a range of human support. This support (often known as Non-Medical Help) is usually funded through Disabled Students' Allowances, or the University's Reasonable Adjustments Fund or International Disabled Students' Fund . Support can be coordinated through the ADRC and may include Notetaking and/or recording and transcription.


Technological Support

There is a variety of assistive technology, including numerous software packages and forms of equipment, designed to help students with visual impairments study effectively. Disabled Students' Allowances (or the International Disabled Students' Fund) can provide or make a significant contribution towards the cost of this support.


The Equality Act (2010)

If a consultant ophthalmologist has registered an individual as blind or partially sighted, then they will automatically meet the definition of a disabled person under the Equality Act (2010). In such cases, there will be a legal obligation for the University to make reasonable adjustments and not treat the individual less favourably for reasons relating to their impairment.