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Students with Visual Impairments

Students with blindness or low vision use a range of accommodations to enable them to access course material. By Federal law, students with disabilities must be given "substantially equivalent ease of access" to course material as any other student. At Swarthmore, students use screen readers and magnifying programs such as JAWs and ZoomText, Braille materials, audio recordings, tactile diagrams, scribes and notetakers. JAWS and ZoomText are installed on all campus public computers (only on PCs). 

Some course material may take as long as 2-3 months to convert to an accessible format (e.g., audio recordings of math, science engineering books, brailled texts, tactile diagrams). Since each student's needs are unique, the Student Disability Service aims to give faculty members as much notice as possible if we anticipate that a student with a visual impairment will be enrolling in your class. Typically, we will help to set up a meeting between you and the student so that you can identify accommodations that will be most helpful without altering fundamental course requirements. 

To learn more about legal issues and accessible course materials, please visit the National Center on Accessible Instructional Materials website.

Common Types of Accommodations for Blind and Low Vision Students

  • Audiotaped, Brailled or electronic-formatted lecture notes, handouts and texts.
  • Note: Before posting pdfs on Moodle or giving them to students in an electronic format, be sure the pdf has been converted to an Optical Character Recognition (OCR) format so it can read by a screen reader. For guidance, see the information in the Course Materials box.
  • Verbal descriptions of visual aids.
  • Raised-line drawings and tactile models of graphic materials.
  • Braille lab signs and equipment labels, auditory lab warning signals.
  • Adaptive lap equipment (e.g., talking thermometers, calculators, light probes, etc.)
  • Computer with optical character reader, speech output, Braille screen display and printer output.
  • Readers, homework and test scribes, in-class notetakers.
  • Approved audio-recording of classes.
  • Seating near the front of the class (for those with low vision).
  • Large print handouts, lab signs, equipment labels.
  • TV monitor connected to microscope to enlarge images.
  • Computer equipped to enlarge screen characters and images.
  • Try to avoid giving last minute readings and assignments. Students may need advance notice to arrange for material to be converted to an electronic format for screen readers.
  • For courses that include field trips or internships, please feel free to consult with the student and with the Student Disability Service to discuss any needs. We can help you identify and coordinate accommodations.
  • Please consult with the student and the Student Disability Service in advance to arrange a plan for how a student will gain assistance in the event of a fire drill or event that requires the fast evacuation of a class or a lab.

Adapted with permission from DO-IT, University of Washington

Student Disclosure

If a student identifies to you as having a disability and expresses a need for accommodations, please ask whether the student has also registered with the Student Disability Service so that we can draft formal accommodations letters. We recommend that you schedule an individual meeting with the student so that the two of you can identify accommodations that will enable the student to access the course material without altering fundamental course requirements. We have found that even when multiple students have the same disability, each student often benefits from different strategies for accessing the material.

Privacy Note

Swarthmore College respects the privacy of its students.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act governs all student record information.

Additional Resources


Swarthmore College respects the privacy of its students.  The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) governs all student record information.