Centre for Accessibility Services

Visual impairment

What is a visual impairment (VI)?  

Visual impairment refers to when a person’s ability to see is impacted or impaired beyond the use of eyeglasses, contact lenses, medication, and/or surgery. Several factors can cause visual impairments including cataracts, age-related degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, trachoma, and corneal opacity.

Types of visual impairments

  • Low vision is used to describe a loss of visual acuity while retaining some vision. It applies to individuals with sight who are unable to read a newspaper at a normal distance of viewing, even with the aid of glasses or contact lenses.
  • Partially sighted is usually used in educational contexts to describe a visual impairment that requires support services. The partially sighted student meets the challenge of disability in much the same way as a blind student.
  • Legally blind refers to people that have less than 20/20 vision in their better eye or a limited field of vision that is 20 degrees or less at its widest point. People who are legally blind may have some vision.
  • Blind individuals do not have any vision and often utilize a seeing-eye cane or guide dog.

What are some of the barriers that students with a VI may experience in a post-secondary educational setting?

  • Physical environment: challenges with navigating the university campus. For example, signage being illegible in classrooms, labs, bathrooms, and cafeterias, which may result in limited involvement, fear, and potential danger.
  • Social: challenges with contributing to group work, participating in campus activities, interacting with peers, and a lack of opportunity for practicums and co-ops, which may result in social isolation.
  • Emotional: students may experience stigma and not be treated as equal, effecting their emotional well-being.   
  • Curriculum: students may not be able to read printed course materials, view graphics/videos, or navigate web pages, which may create access challenges.

Centre for Accessibility support for students with visual impairments may include

  • Alternate format materials (texts in PDF/E-text)
  • Note-taking services
  • Preferential seating in class
  • Recording lectures
  • Mobility aid  

Statistics

  • Globally, it is estimated that approximately 1.3 billion people live with some form of visual impairment.
  • In Canada, 3.1% of students live with some form of a visual impairment.
  • It may take an extra 2.5 terms (1.5 academic years) to complete education.
  • Approximately 83% of the students with a visual impairment complete their studies.

Sources

Bourne RRA, Flaxman SR, Braithwaite T, Cicinelli MV, Das A, Jonas JB, et al.; Vision Loss Expert Group. Magnitude, temporal trends, and projections of the global prevalence of blindness and distance and near vision impairment: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Glob Health. 2017 Sep;5(9):e888–97. 

Lourens, H., & Swartz, L. (2016). Experiences of visually impaired students in higher education: Bodily perspectives on inclusive education. Disability & Society, 31(2), 240–251. doi:10.1080/09687599.2016.1158092

Reed, M., & Curtis, K. (2012). Experiences of students with visual impairments in Canadian higher education. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 106(7), 414-425.

The World Health Organization

American Foundation for the Blind

Disabilities, Opportunities, Internetworking and Technology

How to support students with visual impairment

  • Provide lecture notes and course materials in a variety of formats (i.e. electronic and compatible with assistive technology).
  • Combine verbal instructions with demonstrations and opportunities for hands-on exploration.
  • Provide interactive closed-captioned videos and audio descriptions of important visual elements.
  • Convey orally whatever you have written.
  • Provide extra time to read through slides.
  • Consider the format of slides (i.e. high contrast and large print).
  • Face the class when speaking.
  • Eliminate background noise when possible.
  • Consider the classroom seating layout, especially for videos and demonstrations.

Resources and websites 

Canadian National Institute of the Blind

Centre for Accessible Post-secondary Education Resources

American Printing House for the Blind

Tips and tools for students with visual impairment (VI)

General suggestions for transitioning to UFV:

  • Students are encouraged to meet with an Accessibility Advisor four months before the beginning of the course or program that they wish to take so we can help set you up for success. 
  • Ensure that your documentation is current and meets the Centre for Accessibility Services eligibility criteria.
  • Explore the campus with an Orientation & Mobility Specialist or support person, if needed, to learn the most efficient and safest routes around campus.

During your time at UFV:

  • You are your own best advocate so regular communication with your instructors and support team are recommended to ensure that your needs are being met.
  • Explore the various assistive technology to see what works best for you.
  • Join a UFV group or participate in campus activities to meet others.

In class suggestions:

  • Consider the classroom seating layout to decipher what works best for you, especially for videos and demonstrations.
  • Consider your needs around alternate format course materials and place your request immediately following registering for classes.
  • Video audio descriptions of important visual elements can be provided if requested.

Resources and websites

Canadian National Institute of the Blind

Centre for Accessible Post-Secondary Education Resources

American Printing House for the Blind

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