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
- 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.
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.