Joan Houghton, Ed.D.
Vision is one of the primary distance senses that are responsible for how learners gather information about events occurring in their environments. This module is an introduction to learners who have low vision or blindness. It is divided into six sections including (1) the federal and stated definitions of learners with low vision and/or blindness; (2) the visual system; (3) common types of vision losses; (4) common causes and conditions of vision losses and/or blindness; (5) medical and functional vision assessments; and (6) environmental adaptations for learners who have low vision and/or blindness. Each section contains brief descriptions about particular focus areas for learners with vision losses.
Factors That Impact Visual Input
Understanding the nature of low vision and/or blindness has many implications for learners, their family members, and their educators. The impact that vision losses have on their learners becomes more evident especially when team members collaborate in planning their learners¹ individualized education programs (i.e., IEPs). The more information the team members have about the nature of their learners' vision loss, how their learners' vision is assessed both educationally and medically, and how to use the assessment results will better equip team members in determining the necessary adaptations, modifications, and accommodations for their learners' needs in home, school, work, or in the community.
Additional Considerations That Impact Visual Input
Vision losses vary in degree and severity. The learner may be identified as "totally blind" or identified as "low vision." If the learner is identified as "totally blind," it usually means that the learner has such a significant vision loss in both eyes, the use of his or her residual (i.e., remaining) vision (if there is any) is so limited that the learner is unable to obtain an accurate picture (i.e., input) of the environment even with correction (i.e., glasses). (Refer to Instructional Events Section in this module.)
If the learner is identified as "low vision," it usually means the learner's residual vision is less severe. The leaner has the ability to obtain more accurate input from the environment with correction. (Refer to Instructional Events Section this module.)
The cause and type of the vision loss, and the age of onset of the vision loss will provide further information about how often the learner's vision should be tested, what type (if any) glasses or optical devices should be used, and what environmental adaptations, modifications, and accommodations are needed for the leaner to see events, activities, and people more clearly in the immediate environment.
Learners with Vision Losses and Additional Disabilities
Learners who have vision losses often have additional disabilities, such as physical involvement, health care conditions, and cognitive difficulties. These conditions often will impact their ability to use residual vision. For example, learners with cerebral palsy most likely will have ocular motor difficulties (e.g., moving both eyes together) since cerebral palsy affects the muscles in the body. Learners with health care needs often will have fluctuating vision losses because of medications, medical treatment, or syndromes. Learners who have low vision and/or blindness with cognitive disabilities may have difficulty in processing what is seen. This limits their ability to understand what is being presented or communicated to them.
Mental Retardation Is Not the Cause of Vision Losses
What is most important about learners with vision losses and cognitive difficulties is that mental retardation is not the cause of their vision loss. Unbelievably, there are many who think that some learners' vision loss is caused by mental retardation. Those who believe this typically do not recommend glasses for refractive errors (e.g., myopia, otherwise known as nearsightedness; see question three of this module) because they do not believe it would make any difference in their ability to receive and act on visual input. Therefore, it is essential that the learners' family members and educators locate an ophthalmologist or optometrist who (1) understands how to test learners with vision losses, and (2) provides information about modifications, adaptations, and accommodations for the learner's specific visual needs including those learners with additional disabilities.
National, State, and Local Resources
There are many national, state, and local resources for learners with low vision and/or blindness and their family members, such as:
Any of the above organizations are good resources to locate medical and educational professionals who can provide both medical and functional vision assessments. Additionally, these resources will provide family members and educators with information, such as how to adapt the environment, how to determine if some learners with low vision need to be restricted from contact activities (e.g., playing soccer), and how to make referrals to assistive technology centers that will assist learners to perform activities at home, school, and work. (Refer to the module on Assistive Technology for Learners Who Are Deafblind.)
Key Elements of Module 2: Learners with Low Vision and/or Blindness
The key elements of this module are: 1) the federal and state definitions of blind and low vision; 2) the structures and functions of the visual system; 3) the common conditions, causes, and impact that vision loss and/or blindness has on learning for learners who are blind or have low vision; 4) the common conditions, causes, and impact that vision losses and/or blindness has on learning for learners who are deafblind; 5) the common types of medical and functional vision assessments; and, 6) the environmental adaptations, modifications, and accommodations for learners with low vision and/or blindness
These key elements correspond with Indiana Department of Education (IDOE), Division of Professional Standards Instructional Proficiencies and objectives from the Competencies for Teachers of Learners Who Are Deafblind that were developed by members from the Perkins National Deafblind Training Project published in 1997. (Refer to IDOE Division of Professional Standards Instructional Proficiencies and Objectives 28 through 32.2 from the Competencies for Teachers of Learners Who Are Deafblind listed below.)
While it is encouraged that you complete all of the Tasks for Completion in this module, persons who would just like to have a basic understanding of learners with low vision and/or blindness only need to read or look through resources included in Module Two. Individuals who are planning on teaching others about learners with low vision and/or blindness or who may want to receive CRU's or Points for the Professional Development Plans need to complete all of the tasks and activities included Module Two.
IDPS Division of Professional Standards Instructional Proficiencies
and Competencies for Teachers of Learners who are Deafblind
of this module, Learners with Low Vision and/or Blindness,
|Return to Training Module List||Go to Module Index|
| Deafblind Home |
Advisory Committee |
Chat Rooms | Conferences & Workshops |
| Definition of Deafblindness | Discussion Lists | For Families | Loan Library |
| Make Referral | Newsletters | Project Information | Resources |
| Technical Assistance | Training Modules | Contact Us |