At the last Conventions, I asked for suggestions for column topics. At least three people requested an article on adapting to sight loss while continuing a teaching career. In many ways, this is what my column is about, most articles having been about alternative methods of performing teaching tasks. A book could be written on this. However, space here only permits my giving a few general words of advice.
In general, the methods you use to adapt to sight loss as a teacher will depend on the degree of sight loss. If you can still read large print, you may only need to make a few modifications. Using a CCTV (closed circuit television) makes it possible to read by significantly enlarging print. If you cannot see specific colors but can still see contrast, you may have to use more highly contrasting colors to take advantage of this ability. For instance, instead of writing on a green chalkboard with colored chalk, you may need to obtain a black chalkboard and use white chalk. Speaking of chalkboards, if you can no longer see well enough to write legibly, there are other alternatives. You can have a dependable student write on the board; you can use an overhead projector or computer instead. Transparencies or Power Point presentations can be prepared in advance using a computer. Best of all, they can be filed and reused.
Even if you have no usable vision, you can still be an effective teacher. You will just have to find different ways to do things. One of the biggest challenges will be dealing with the written word. Using Braille, you can read textbooks, prepare materials and keep records accessible to you. Having access to a reading machine, a scanner with optical character recognition (OCRR) software, can also be helpful. Even if you have a reading machine, sometimes there is no substitute for a human being. You will need a sighted reader to help with correcting papers, clerical work, research and browsing through catalogues for educational materials.
Discipline can also be a challenge for any teacher. For this reason, it may be a good idea to have a sighted aide in the classroom to help you monitor tests and to alert you to possible behavior problems. There is no reason to be ashamed of having someone help you; many sighted teachers also use parent volunteers, readers, and classroom aides.
Regardless of how much or little sight you have, a computer will be of great help. Software programs can be used to enable the visually impaired to access computers with speech. It can help you keep records, prepare lessons, and read written materials. It will also give you access to educational games and other software, classic literature, encyclopedias and other reference works on CD-ROM, current periodicals and, of course, the Internet. Thanks to screen magnification programs, Braille displays, and speech and screen readers, computers are now accessible to visually impaired persons.
As you can see, sight loss doesn't necessarily have to spell the end of your teaching career. If you have lost your sight, don't let anyone discourage you from continuing to teach. There are many successful blind teachers working in elementary through graduate school. No matter where, what or whom you teach, there is probably a blind teacher doing precisely what you are trying to do. Help or advice may be only a letter or phone call away. Being in an organization like AABT provides you with valuable contacts and opportunities to exchange ideas with people who can help support you.
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