When a student who is blind or visually impaired comes to your ABE program with the goal of improving their academic skills, it’s your job to ensure he or she is given the opportunity to do so.
Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 states that “No individual with a disability in the United States shall, solely by reason of his or her disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance, or any program or activity conducted by an Executive agency.”
Local educational agencies are included. In addition, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects the rights of those who are blind or vision-impaired.
For students in the metro area, Minneapolis Adult Education has trained staff and equipment to successfully serve students with vision loss or blindness. Contact Minneapolis directly at:
Minneapolis Adult Education
2225 East Lake Street
Minneapolis, MN 55407
For students outside the metro area, PANDA can provide referrals, phone/email support, assistive technology loans and how-to guides to successfully serve students with vision loss and blindness. For assistance, click here to email PANDA or call (763) 504-4095.
Number of Blind and Visually Impaired Americans
Although estimates vary, there are approximately 10 million blind and visually impaired people in the United States.
Approximately 45 percent of individuals with severe visual impairment or blindness have a high school diploma, compared to 80 percent among fully sighted individuals. Among high school graduates, those with severe visual impairment or blindness are about as likely to have taken some college courses as those who were sighted, but they are less likely to have graduated.
Blind and visually impaired immigrants and refugees with little or no English proficiency are difficult to count. In addition, they are rarely informed about specialized help that may be available to them. For example, most immigrants and refugees with visual impairments do not seek out the services of rehabilitation agencies for the blind. This is especially true of women because their families frequently do not want them to work outside their homes. Older immigrants and refugees who have no interest in paid employment may see little value in contacting such agencies.
Understanding Blindness or Vision-Loss
It is important to understand some basic things about blindness because it impacts the strategies and tools you use in teaching.
As a teacher, it is beneficial for you to know when your student lost his/her vision. This will help you to know if they have visual concepts. It is also helpful to know if the student had some literacy in his or her native language prior to vision loss.
It is important to ask English Language Learners if they know how to read and write Braille. This will impact his or her ability to fully participate in your class.
The Two Types of Blindness
Congenitally Blind: Persons who are born blind will not be able to “visualize” anything in their surroundings. They will not perceive scenes, shapes, or colors like those who later became blind (adventitiously). If you describe a scene with trees and a blue sky, for example, to a person who is congenitally blind he/she will not perceive your description like a person who has some visual memory of trees and colors.
Adventitiously Blind: Persons who became adventitiously blind after language developed may be able to “see” a word they have spelled or read. They will be able to visualize color and form to a varying degree.
Causes and Implications
Glaucoma, macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and other conditions may affect a student’s field of vision or acuity. They may have a greatly impaired field of vision, they may still be able to “read” with the aid of enlarged print, magnifiers, and lenses. In certain circumstances, small print might be preferable. Give the student options and ask what works best. See Interview Questionnaire section.
Head injury or physical trauma to the brain may lead to different degrees of visual impairment and/or blindness. This is important for all students but particularly immigrant and refugee students. Be prepared to take into account brain injuries and/or mental trauma, for example: war, famine, torture, car accidents, etc. These issues may affect learners’ classroom participation and learning styles. See Brain Injury and Mental Health section.
CCTV: Closed-circuit Television, which helps to enlarge any printed page and some images.
Duxbury: A computer software program that translates written text into Braille.
Grade 1 Braille: Uncontracted Braille. When every letter of every word is expressed in Braille, it is referred to as Grade 1 Braille. Very few reading materials are transcribed in Grade 1 Braille. However, all newly blind adults learn this system of Braille.
Grade 2 Braille: Contracted Braille. This is the system used for reproducing most textbooks and publications. This system does not correspond to English contractions but is maybe more akin to shorthand. This system is not suitable for beginning to intermediate ELL students.
Emboss: To print Braille translated material.
Embosser: The large and noisy printer that prints (embosses) Braille.
JAWS (Job Access with Speech) This system converts text and components of the Windows operating system into synthesized speech, allowing for access to Windows-based computer systems.
Notetaker: This is a portable Braille note-writing device for higher-level (GED) students.
Perkins Brailler: A six key and space bar Braille writer that is portable.
Scanner and Reader: Many scanners are now available. Make sure to have a scanner that has OCR (Optical Character Recognition). Combined with a screen-reading program, students can access scanned text through speech, magnification, or Braille display that can be embossed.
Slate and Stylus: The Braille equivalent of paper and pencil. Portable.
Translation Software: Computer software which translates written documents into Braille to be embossed later. Examples are Duxbury and MegaDots.
Zoomtext: Screen magnification system/software for computers.
For further in depth definitions of visual impairments and degrees of blindness, please see the American Foundation for the Blind at:
We do not use the term “partially sighted” in this chapter as it refers to learners who require Special Education and ABE does not have such services.