Advice on Teaching Students Without Vision From the PsychTeacher Listserv
My posting to the list:
Fall Semester I will be facing a new challenge - teaching Biopsychology to a completely blind student. I have taught visually impaired students requiring materials be greatly enlarged in the past, but never a student without sight and never a course which is so dependent on images. Do any of you have experience in this area or
resources to suggest?
Linda Walsh
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, IA 50614 
The responses:

I have a few suggestions:
First, I wrote a short e-column on this general issue for this listserv a couple of years ago. It can be found at
Second, I urge you to use the resources of your Disabilities Services Office on campus. They can be very helpful.
Third, interview the student at length about preferred learning environments. They are probably in the best position to offer you tips as to how the've learned this type of material in the past.
Finally, be prepared to be more self conscious about your teaching with this student in the class. At first, this may be a little unnerving, but eventually, I believe you may find that this experience benefits your overall teaching strategies. I have often found this to be the case when teaching students with disabilities, particularly with sensory disabilities.

David E. Johnson
Department of Psychology
John Brown University
Siloam Springs, AR 72761

I've had 3 blind students in the psychology courses that I teach and I think that the most important lesson that I learned was to ask the students about their preferred mode of learning and what I could do to ensure they would have access to the course content in a way that works for them. Each of my students had different preferences depending on their personality, age, how long they had been blind, amount of support at home, etc. There are some very creative ways of presenting the material. For example, in a statistics class white glue was placed on the lines on a graph so that the student could feel the graph once the glue dried.
I have found the students themselves to be the best source of information regarding methods of presentation that work well for them.
Laurel End
Mount Mary College
Milwaukee, WI

You might want to check with Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic and your local state library. Textbooks are often available on tape. Having worked with RFBD with an auditory dyslexic, I can tell you that the reading quality sometimes makes Ben Stein sound exciting. RFBD does charge a membership fee ( about $75-80 if it's only the one student in need) or institutional fee ($300.00) if you have more than one. The fee covers all books the student needs, including custom tapings. Your school might already have an institutional license. The state library might also have either their own collection or a license with RFBD. RFBD is on the web.
It's an interesting experience.
Jodi Gabert
Reed City HS
225 W Church
Reed City, MI 49677

I am also interested in knowing this, so please post responses to the list. I recently had a blind student in my Experimental Psych class, which is not nearly as visual as Biopsych and she did exceptionally well. However, we did run into a problem when the class was doing SPSS in the campus computer labs. She has a software application called Window Eyes, but our comnputer labs do not. I would recommend to your director of academic computing to at least purchase a couple of licences for this software.
Liz Shobe
Psychology Program
Richard Stockton College of NJ
Pomona, NJ 08240-0195

I taught a student who was completely blind in research methods and lab. It was the most challenging teaching I have ever done and I learned a few things about teaching sighted students in the process. Some suggestions:

1) Be mindful of your descriptions of graphs, charts, and diagrams, whether slides or blackboard. Saying "here" or "this" is not helpful; give landmarks. For example, in a graph, be sure to give the title of the graph, label each axis, and then describe the lines or bars. For example, The horizontal axis shows amount of sleep deprivation in hours, and the vertical axis shows test grades. The results lines slopes downward from left to right, which shows higher test performance with a few hours of sleep dep and lower test performance with many hours of sleep dep.

2) Does the student have access to a Braille printer? You can save documents with the filename extension “wp5” as in “homework.wp5” and then the student can print your notes, overheads, etc. and bring them to class.

3) Work with the state agency that handles services for the blind. They helped us get a voice synthesizer for the student.

4) It is possible to get most books on tape, but it will be necessary to get a reader to tape journal articles. I enlisted the help of other students in the class to do this (they have to read the article anyway), as well as reading articles myself. It is helpful to provide reading guidelines, such as “read everything!” This includes the title of the paper, spelling the authors’ names, and complete reference citation. Give special attention to tables and figures.

5) Working with SPSS and PsycInfo were most difficult. Ultimately, I got a Psi Chi student to function as a reader. It was helpful that the student reader was familiar with the software programs, but I coached her on not doing the work for the student in the class. For example, after conducting a PsycInfo search, describe the outcome of the search (# of hits) and allow the student to decide how to proceed rather than saying “that didn’t work, let’s try something else.”

It will require much time, creativity, and patience on your part. It can bring frustration and long nights, as well as heartfelt thanks and an enduring friendship. My student was a fabulous learner and inspired the entire class. She went on to attain her MSW and we still keep in touch. Good luck.

Rosemary T. Hornak, Ph.D.
Professor of Psychology
Meredith College
3800 Hillsborough St.
Raleigh NC 27607-5298

When I was a student, I tutored a (completely) blind student in physiology. There had been no special accommodation (no pun inteneded) made for him in his class. He was able to learn quite well with my reading the textbook to him, my verbal descriptions, and with my guiding his hand in space to describe arcs of graphs and graphics.

All of this is to say that you need not necessarily do anything extraordinary except, if it can be arranged, to have the student's tutor attend your lectures and perhaps to have access to images you use that aren't in the textbook. I also recommend you permit him (and other students) to tape your lectures as long as they don't reproduce them for profit.
Nice that you're so concerned to help the student with this special need.
Dr. Steve Sachs
Los Angeles Valley College

I faced this many years ago. One useful aid was a "raised-line drawing"
apparatus. I forget the details now, but the basic idea was that you
drew diagrams on a material which produced a raised line which the
student could then feel. My student used this very effectively.
Rick Russell
Dept. of Psychology
Santa Monica College

compiled by:
Dr. Linda L. Walsh
Department of Psychology
University of Northern Iowa
Cedar Falls, IA 50613
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