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Literacy and Visual Impairments



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What is literacy?

Literacy means that you can:
  • Read and understand information shown in, words, graphs, charts and pictures;
  • Write and speak so that others can understand you;
  • Listen and ask questions to understand other people’s points of view;
  • Share information using ICT such as e-mail and phones.


What is involved in speaking?
  • two students talkingOrganising and planning what you want to say;
  • Remembering the right words;
  • Using the correct grammar;
  • Remembering what you want to say next;
  • Pronouncing words correctly.



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What is involved in listening?
  • four students in a row facing forwardsUnderstanding sounds and words quickly;
  • Being able to tell the difference between speech sounds and between words that are similar;
  • Being able to remember a sequence of information such as instructions;
  • Being able to understand 'figures of speech’ such as ‘raining cats and dogs’.




What is involved in reading?
  • students reading and talkingThe ability to read words and sentences to understand a text; and to pick out key points, messages and ideas;
  • The ability to understand and analyse the text, and to form an opinion about what you have read;
  • The ability to proof read your work to spot grammar and spelling mistakes;
  • Reading aloud clearly.





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What is involved in writing?

  • Spelling - making sure that words are spelled correctly;
  • Grammar - joining sequences of words to form sentences that make sense;
  • Punctuation - using punctuation marks, such as a question mark (?) show how a sentence should be read;
  • Developing ideas into a written document that has a sensible structure with a clear beginning, middle and end;
  • Handwriting that is readable and neat.


How do visual impairments affect literacy?

Everyone who has a visual impairment is unique. Remember that the difficulties you have may not be the same as someone else, and the things that help them may not suit you as well.

Microphone connected to laptopIn terms of reading, if you have a visual impairment but can see a little, you may be able to read text (on paper or on a computer screen) if it is provided in a large enough font. Even so, reading in a large font makes skimming or scanning a document tricky and can be quite tiring. Understanding diagrams and/or charts can also cause difficulties if you can only see a part of the whole diagram at any one time. If you have no sight at all even with technology such as screen magnifiers, then it is likely that you will need to use text to speech synthesizers or other means of reading such as Braille.

In the case of writing, most people who have a visual impairment these days may make notes using technology. This can be through using a lap top with Braille keys or a normal keypad, or through using a Dictaphone or digital recorder.



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Self help

You should:
  • cartoon person holding spannerAgree adjustments with your tutor that will allow you to participate as successfully and as fully as possible; for example:
    • Everyone with a visual impairment is different; you all have your preferred way of reading the written word and/or writing so it is important that you make sure that your tutor (and classmates, if necessary), know how to create materials that you can use.
    • Let your tutor know how you want to have written information given to you – Braille, enlarged font, audio or digital (on disk or via email).
    • Check what technology can be provided for you by the school/college. There is an ever expanding range of assistive technology that may be of use to you – check ‘resources’ below.
    • Ask for instructions to be spoken rather than written down.
    • Ask for messages that are usually given on a notice board to be sent to your voice mail.

    • the starting line of a racing trackIf you have some sight, ask for key information to be highlighted in a different colour.
    • Use technological support like a reading pen (such as Quicktionary) or a reading machine (Kurtzwiel).
    • Discuss the information from your lessons with classmates.
    • Ask your tutor for summaries and key points.
    • Use a dictaphone/tape recorder.
    • If you have a little sight, use Auto Correct in Word to pick up the spelling mistakes you usually make.
    • Use a computer text reader to help you proof read your work.


Click on ‘disclosure’ for more information about how and when you should tell someone about your disability.

Click on ‘personal organisation’ for more information about how to manage your time and resources.

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What can my tutors do to help me?

Your tutors should:
  • people using computers with a tutorMake sure that the noise levels are kept to a minimum since you have to rely heavily on your hearing to communicate;
  • Allow you to record teaching sessions, if necessary. This will help you to make your own oral or written notes later;
  • Give you an electronic copy (on disc or via an email attachment) of taught material and copies of overheads from any Powerpoint presentations;
  • Read out loud everything that is shown in a Powerpoint presentation during class;
  • Make reading materials available well in advance of the session in your preferred format ( Braille, electronic or enlarged font size);
  • Provide booklists in advance of the course if you need to make arrangements to have them read onto tape or Brailled;

  • two people shaking handsMake provision for alternative assessments, as appropriate (for example, extra time for tests or exams; the use of a computer or a scribe; exam questions in enlarged font size);
  • Use clear language, and keep text as concise and straightforward as possible;
  • Avoid using too many words and long or complex words;
  • Use concepts and terminology consistently throughout documents;
  • Use a Sans Serif font (for example, Verdana, Arial or Calibri) that is easily readable with clearly defined letters and clear spacing between the letters tallow for maximum readability of the text;
  • Arrange the services of a reader, a scribe, or special equipment such as a scanner (with an Optical Character Reading function that converts text that would normally be recognized as an image rather than text), if necessary.

If you are not already getting the adjustments recommended here, print off a copy of these pages and use them as a starting point for a discussion with your tutor about what can be done to make sure you are able to benefit from their teaching. Remember, you can choose to do this in private if you prefer.


Click on ‘confidentiality’ for information about how your tutor should treat your personal information.

Your tutor should not:
  • Produce text that is smaller than 12 point (though this should be dictated by the choice of font as well).
  • Underline large chunks of text as this affects its readability.
  • Produce text written all in capitals. This is difficult to read and it may be distracting.
  • Use italics; they should make the text bold instead.

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Useful links
  • Vision Impairment Workplace Tools & Tips
  • EmpTech: Emptec aims to provide information resources on assistive technologies that are designed to help those with specific difficulties or disabilities work and study more effectively. The database includes product descriptions, links to manufacturers, suppliers with addresses as well as other related resources including advice and training guides where available
  • Skills for Access: recommends approaches to using multimedia to enhance accessibility of the learning experience and gives detailed information about a range of assistive technologies
  • Open University: provides an overview of assistive technologies with links to products


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...providing support for young people, including those with disabilities, in mainstream post 16 education