Ways to access the curriculum for students who are blind or have low vision

Students who are blind or have low vision need technology, media and teacher instruction to be accessible so they can have access to teaching and learning.

Below is a list of the media types most common in schools and tips for providing more access for students who are blind or have low vision:

Textbooks

Textbooks, including books assigned in English, remain an essential resource. Because of their long history of being used in schools, alternative formats are well established. These include braille books, braille is a tactile language used by some people who are blind but not all children who are blind use braille, and large print versions using a larger font size for those who have low vision. These are made by specialist suppliers who receive permission from publishers to recreate the texts in a suitable format. These will have page numbers that correlate with the original version, allowing the student to follow along with the rest of the class. Braille and large print books tend to be large and cumbersome for students to carry.

Planning ahead

There can be long lead times in creating an accessible version of a textbook and teachers need to consider this when deciding on texts and plan well ahead of time. 

A way to prevent delay is when deciding on texts, choose those that are already available as accessible eBooks or audio books.

Digital formats

eBooks

There are a number of emerging media, particularly eBooks and audio books, to improve access. While these formats are usually reserved for popular fiction, a growing number of specialist texts are becoming available.

An eBook is is available in electronic format and downloaded from the internet. These are commonly read on devices such as Amazon Kindles and iPads and apps for android and Windows tablets and smartphones.

Depending on the device, eBooks can allow the student to:

  • Magnify the text
  • Change colours and fonts
  • Have the text read aloud using the device’s screen reader

While they will provide an accessible experience for the student, not all eReader devices or eBooks available are accessible for students who are blind. Currently Apple iBooks read on an iPhone, iPad or Mac desktop are considered the easiest to use for both students who are blind or have low vision. Amazon Kindles are also improving in their accessibility.

There are currently fewer eBooks available in Australia than in Europe and North America.

Audio books

Popular fiction and non-fiction books are becoming increasingly available in audio format. Vision Australia supplies audio versions of other texts, such as newspapers, cookbooks and manuals, to schools in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Tasmania and the Northern Territory.

DAISY is a format of audio book specifically for people with disabilities. These are designed to provide a reading experience equivalent to that of a printed book and allows the reader to easily navigate between chapters. The Vision Australia Library has over 30,000 titles in DAISY format.

PDFs

A growing number of classroom resources are available as PDF documents. The difficulty with PDFs is that some are accessible to people using a screen reader, while others are not. The accessibility will depend largely on whether the PDF has been created from a Word document (accessible), or whether it is a scan of another document which turns it into an image (inaccessible).

Ideally, all documents should be provided in PDFs created from Word documents or in Word document formats.

Videos and movies

Audio description (AD) is a second audio track which communicates the visual elements of a video or performance providing access to video content for people who are blind or have low vision.

AD is available on approximately 35% of mainstream DVDs sold in Australia; however there is currently not a lot of educational content available. If a DVD has audio description this will be identified on the case. To turn the AD track on, go into the main menu of a DVD.

English prescribed texts videos with audio description

Years 7-10:

  • Dead Poets Society (2002 re-release only)

Year 12:

  • The Castle (2011 re-release only)
  • Elizabeth

There are also a number of suitable texts with audio description videos available such as Tomorrow When the War Began and The Hunger Games, listed in our audio described DVD database.

Online video

At this stage, limited audio description is available on online videos but this will change as it is more widely adopted across media, including television.

Websites

Websites can be the most accessible medium for a student using assistive technology. A student using a screen reader will be able to read the text on a webpage that is designed to be accessible. Information in images such as diagrams may be unreadable and some websites may be difficult or impossible to navigate using a screen reader as they have not been designed to meet accessibility guidelines.

When using a website as a resource in class look for an 'accessibility' statement (usually linked to in the footer) which tells you how accessible the website is. Ideally, the site should comply with international guidelines.Unfortunately not all websites are accessible.


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