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Visual Impairments Factsheet (for Schools)

Medically reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD

What Teachers Should Know

Kids who have vision loss that can’t be fixed with glasses, contacts, or other methods have a visual impairment. They may have complete vision loss (blindness) or partial vision loss.  

Visual impairments can be caused by eye conditions like amblyopia (“lazy eye”) or strabismus (misaligned or crossed eyes), eye or brain injuries, or birth defects. 

In school, kids may:

  • not be able to see objects at a distance, like on a whiteboard or blackboard
  • having trouble reading (or learning to read) and participating in class
  • not be able to focus on objects or follow them, may squint often and rub their eyes a lot, have chronic eye redness or sensitivity to light
  • bump into things often

In the classroom, there are many supports that can help make learning more successful. These include assistive devices, technologies, or special accommodations.

What Teachers Can Do

Educators, eye doctors, parents, and students with a visual impairment can work together to create an educational plan. This may include setting up an individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan to help kids reach their full potential. Plans may include a classroom aide or someone to assist with note-taking, and more. As a child grows, this plan will change.

To support students in your classroom:

  • Make seating changes, when needed, to help kids see you, whiteboards, blackboards, or learning materials. Extra lighting may be needed.
  • Keep walkways open. Make sure your classroom is easy to move through and free of obstacles. Students may need extra help moving around or reaching things.
  • Give extra time, if needed. Some kids may need more time to travel between classes, complete assignments or activities, and take tests.
  • Know about assistive devices, technology, or other learning aids. Kids may use magnifiers for reading or read from large-printed books and handouts. Audiobooks are a good idea. For kids who can’t type, voice-activated computers help them do classwork. 
  • Allow verbal responses for assignments or tests to measure learning.
  • Have a plan for missed instruction, assignments, and testing. Students with a visual impairment may miss class time to go to doctor visits. Know how the student will make up for missed time.
  • Talk about and celebrate differences. Students with visual impairments want to be accepted like everyone else. But sometimes they’re targeted by others who see them as “different.” Talk about and celebrate differences, and focus on the interests that kids share. Be mindful of bullying, and keep a zero-tolerance policy for that behavior.

By addressing special needs and offering support when needed, you can help students with a visual impairment learn as best as possible.

Medically reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: March 2021