ESOK-hanke 2006-2011

Blind and low vision students and higher education

In this guide, the term visually impaired student is used to refer to blind people as well as people with low vision.

  • The scope at which visually impaired people are able to see varies individually: one person cannot see well enough to read, but does not need a white cane to move around, while another is able to read but cannot see their environment. Visual impairment also often entails night blindness and sensitivity to glare.
  • A functionally blind person might be able to see something. Complete blindness is rare.

Besides providing accessible basic services, it is also important to take into account the student's own experience and create individual solutions.

Interaction and communication

A discussion between the teacher and the student helps them to discover the most effective teaching and studying methods. It is important to plan these things together, especially at the beginning of the studies when the practices and the environment are new to the student.

When you meet a blind person, call their name or touch their arm gently so that they know you are talking directly to them. Mention who you are, as well. When you are leaving the conversation, mention that you are going away, so that the other person does not think you are still present.

It is important to discuss the following with the student:

  • How are students informed of things?
  • What kind of studying methods and assistive technology does the student use?
  • What sort of schedules do the studies include?
  • How is the progress of the studies monitored?

For the sake of the studies, important information needs to be accessible. If you use printed notices, remember that

  • the font size needs to be at least 12 points
  • you should use a sans-serif font that is easy to read, for example Arial
  • you should place the text and images separately, background images make the text hard to read
  • the text and the background colors should have enough contrast between them
  • you should place the notices so that they can also be read from very close up.

E-mail is more accessible than the traditional notice board and printed notices.

Class and lecture

It is important that the teacher speaks out loud all the key points that can be seen, for example, in their PowerPoint presentation. A visually impaired student will be able to follow the lesson and take notes if they know what the current topic is. Printouts or files of the presentation slides and lecture handouts should be available beforehand, but at the very least during the lesson.

Study materials

You should already take accessibility into account as you plan your teaching and study materials. Using technology that is compatible with assistive technology helps students to participate in class. For more information, please look at the Finnish Federation of the Visually Impaired site.

Celia Library produces audio records of study material for visually impaired students. For production the students needs to know about the required study material two months in advance as well as have enough time for reading.

Exam practices and grading

A visually impaired student usually uses a computer and other assistive technology to help them with their studies, as well as an assistant, a separate space and extra time if needed. The exam questions should be given to the student in a suitable form, for example on an USB flash drive.

Practical training and practicalities

When it comes to practical training, you should discuss it with the visually impaired student personally, since there is no single solution that works for everyone. In a new environment, where things are not in their usual places, the student might need extra time to get to know their surroundings. A visually impaired student might learn better if some of the assignments are done in pairs. A blind student might have an assistant to support them.

A visually impaired student should have the option to get to know the physical environment of the place of their practical training, their closest colleagues and the work community beforehand. The practical training period goes smoother if as much of the work as possible can be done in the same familiar environment. Accessibility principles concerning materials and surroundings are usually same in both practical training and in studying.

Environment and getting around

A good environment is coherent, well-lit, and has enough both color and material contrast. Doors are kept either fully open or closed because doors that are only partially closed are a great security risk. To help them move around and find their way, a visually impaired student needs clear instructions or someone to guide them. An example set of instructions: "Go down the stairs and then turn left, down the hallway, and it's the third door on the right." Waving your hand and saying "just go that way for a bit" is not very informative.

Assistive technology and services

A visually impaired person has the right to bring their service dog into public places. A service dog that is wearing a harness is at work. Do not distract or note the animal in any way. Only the owner of the service dog has the right to give orders to the animal.

Many practices that promote accessibility help all the students - take a look at other guides on

More information:

Seminars in English

Seminar On Human Rights and Persons with Disabilities in Higher Education

2 December 2009 at 11.00 - 16.3, PharmaCity, Lecture Hall 1, Itäinen Pitkäkatu 4, Turku

The seminar programme >>

Accessibility is for everyone

The third national accessibility seminar organized by ESOK project will be held in Helsinki on 6.-7. May 2009. The number of participants at the moment 112.

Accessibility is for everyone > >