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Q. How do I work with students who are blind?

A. Blindness covers a broad spectrum of visual impairments. Most blind people have some vision—not always particularly usable. Most blind people do have favorite colors!

When you begin working with a student, make sure to orient him/her to the room, desk, computer, etc. Optimally, you will be working in a space in which furniture and office equipment are not moved around. NEVER leave cupboards, doors, etc. ajar.

The student absolutely must be able to use the keyboard by touch before learning JAWS. (Do not accept excuses.) Audio typing lessons are available from American Printing House for the Blind (www.aph.org).

Teach your students the vocabulary of the computer. They should know the names of all the hardware with which they work. When they begin working with the software, they should know the names of all the parts of the computer screen: task bar, menu bar, start menu, icons, buttons, combo boxes, etc. (You may have to learn the names of some of them yourself. :-)

The student may wish to use JAWS with Zoom Text Level 1 or with MAGic. Both options are workable. Even if you know that working with JAWS alone would be more efficient, don’t fight with the student. It is extremely difficult to give up “being sighted.”

Some students will find tactile illustrations of the desktop, windows, list boxes, etc. helpful, others will not. The more the student is relying on his/her remaining vision, the more helpful they are likely to find such aids. (Alternate media specialists can learn to do such graphics with Duxbury v. 10.3 and TGD.)

Use sensory specific language. The Start Menu is in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, not “down there.”

Learn to work with the degree system—from the door, you cross the room at a 45 angle to reach your computer station—and the clock system—the book is at 6 o’clock from your left hand. Remember that you are always orienting them from their current position, not yours!

Many sighted people have a hard time verbalizing specific directions. You’ll improve with practice, but if this skill is difficult for you, write out word-for-word what you need to say. (An O&M instructor can help.)

Always verbalize whatever you are doing, at least if you want the student to understand!

If a student is stuck, talk them through trouble-shooting. Refrain from grabbing the mouse and doing it yourself.

Offer assistance, ask questions, avoid assumptions. Remember, the blind student’s perceptual reality is very different from yours!

Courtesy Rule of Blindness

The National Federation of the Blind offers the following suggestions for sighted people: