Achromats at school
Illumination in classrooms
Physical education lessons
Colours in classroom activities
Raise awareness about achromatopsia
Individual differences among achromat students
Services for visually impaired students
Taking an achromat’s point of view, unfortunately classrooms are thought and illuminated bearing in mind the needs of the rest of the population who has a normal sight: powerful lights on the ceiling, big windows that let the sun in, light-coloured desks and walls are the usual common features of a classroom. Sometimes there are exceptions and, while achromats feel completely at ease, all other people complain about poor illumination. Fluorescent lights, which are the most commonly used in classrooms, are normally almost unbearable to an achromat’s eye. In order to shield their eyes from strong light coming from the ceiling, many achromats have to wear hats or peaked caps. Moreover, sometimes there is so much light in the classroom that achromats have to wear the glasses they are used to wear outdoor.
It is important to help achromat students in choosing the desk that is both nearer to the blackboard and, at the same time, located far from powerful sources of bright light. It is possible to darken a student’s desk covering it with a cloth, some paper, a cardboard or with other “not shiny” materials. Sometimes it is possible to dim the light that illuminates the work area of a student just by drawing a curtain, closing the shutters, or switching off a group of lamps. On some occasions, as during an exam or when an intense writing and reading activity is required, it could be agreed that achromat students carry them out in a different part of the building where more favourable light conditions are found. Sometimes it is just sufficient to use a room next to the usual one, where the lights can be regulated.
Achromat students often have difficulties in reading normal-sized photocopies. In case of need, it is possible to make enlarged copies of the reading materials for people suffering from any kind of visual impairment. “Readers” (paid employees or volunteers) can prepare copies with enlarged characters of the educational material. If students are not able to read what is written on the blackboard, a classmate or a teacher can give them a copy of it.
As far as devices and special materials are concerned, achromats do not need much while at school. They tend to follow every activity in a conventional way. When using a computer, instead, they take advantage of magnifying programmes, big screens and controls, and devices which can darken the screen. Many schools have at their disposal also some video magnifiers. Achromat students can see what they write in a better way using a pen with a thicker stroke. In the classroom, magnifying glasses and telescopic aids that can be hold in the hands, with a stand or mounted on the glasses can be of inestimable value to them. There are reading and writing supports which enable visually impaired students to bring the material closer to the eyes without having to bend over it too much. Usually children are against the use of these devices, but mature students tend to appreciate the benefits of maintaining a proper body position.
Here below you will find some ways to help achromat children in outdoor playgrounds:
- have somebody help them: a reliable friend, a volunteer or a field assistant;
- inform the playground supervisors of the special problems of the achromat students and get help from them;
- let achromat students play in shady areas (usually near trees or buildings);
- use caps, visors or other devices to diminish the amount of light that enters the eyes;
- regularly or occasionally use indoor playgrounds with a proper supervision.
Integration in the outdoor play activities is an objective to be pursued and there are various ways to do this, depending on the specific activity to be carried out.
If teachers are available to certain adjustments, students whose only disability is achromatopsia should be able to participate in normal Physical Education lessons, although each case needs to be examined on an individual basis. PE teachers in primary school are often used to working with students who have a wide range of skills and they usually want everyone to participate in each activity. They are also aware that students with special needs are those who will get the greatest benefit from their lessons.
The following tips can help parents and teachers:
- ask for the support of a special aid teacher used to work with visually impaired people: they should be able to suggest some simple ways to adapt physical education activities;
- suggest the School Principal that a meeting about visual difficulties related to achromatopsia can be held with teachers;
- ask our Association for intervention.
Most of the physical education activities do not require the maximum possible illumination: sometimes up to half of the lamps of the gym can be switched off. If it is possible, use a ball that contrasts with the background. For indoors games this means using a dark or a striped ball. For outdoor soccer, a light coloured ball will contrast more sharply with the grass or the ground. For students with achromatopsia it might be helpful to use a bigger, possibly audible ball while playing football and volleyball so that it might be easier for them to see it, but generally for these fast games achromats have to face a lot of difficulties because their visual field is reduced as for depth. Some useful orientation exercises can be carried out with an audible ball not only for visually impaired people, but also for able-bodied people asking them to close their eyes. Children with a visual defect, as well as children who have difficulties in perceiving the depth, may take advantage of obstacle courses, in which students crawl over, under, around or through various structures. Activities in pairs, such as sack races, running a wheelbarrow race and other activities are also excellent for these students who learn to move in the space with greater confidence. When teaching a new motor activity to students, the teacher should provide, in addition to a physical (visual) demonstration, also a clear verbal description, keeping very near to achromat students. It is important to note that many Physical Education activities do not require any adjustment.
All achromat students also suffer from complete or incomplete colour blindness and teachers must be aware of this. It is fundamental to prepare modified or alternative didactic material for these students when the educational activities carried out in classrooms ask to match colours, recognise colours, codify through colours or use colours in any other way.
When school staff and other students are aware and informed about achromatopsia everyone can have a benefit from it. Therefore, a teacher, a parent or a student who has achromatopsia could give a presentation on the topic during a lecture or a parent-teacher-student meeting.
Some students with achromatopsia use large print books, while others use normal print books keeping them very close and, finally, some students use both. Some people very often use magnifying glasses, others use them very little or not at all. Some find the video magnifiers useful, some don’t. When using a computer or a video magnifier, some people find it easier to read white text on a black background and others prefer black text on a white background. All these differences should be taken in the utmost consideration according to the preferences of each student, since they are influenced by age, the entity of the visual limitation, the grade of the school they attend and also by many other factors.
A good assistance programme for high school and university students with visual impairment should offer the following services:
- free or low cost enlarged copies of educational materials;
- assistance during enrolment procedures, requests for financial support and other bureaucratic procedures in which forms have to be filled out;
- help in orienting in schools and universities (removing “visual and chromatic barriers”: signs must always be present and they should have big characters on them which should properly contrast with the background, e.g. avoid using red letters on a black background, etc. …);
- loan of tape recorders;
- support in case of problems with particular teachers or specific lessons;
- assistance in the use of the library;
- reading services (the “Readers” may help to take notes but also to bring people to school with the car, etc. …);
- assistance in finding textbooks and other materials in the university library;
- access to assistive technology (large computer monitors, magnifying software, video magnifiers, etc. …);
- indication of other available resources for visually impaired people;
- advice on matters relating to disability;
- special arrangements for exams: enlarged materials, more time to carry out the test and comfortable environments from the visual point of view;
- cabinets which can be locked where to put their aids and devices.