Optimising the Learning Environment

It is important to determine the factors that will provide each student
with their optimal visual environment – and it is important that the student
understands and can communicate their unique needs in relation to their
vision impairment.

Access technology

  • students may use a range of technology options – laptop, iPad, DAISY
    player, BrailleNote, scanner etc – encourage students independence in
    using their technology and in selecting the best technology for the task
  • it may be beneficial to work with the school’s IT consultant regarding
    access to the internet, interactive whiteboard etc
  • the school’s IT consultant may be able assist with personalising the
    computer settings on their technology (may be password protected), firewalls
  • encourage efficient organisation of learning materials and technology
    eg file management – texts and school work
  • encourage use of touch typing and key commands to ensure efficient computer
  • email information and worksheets or use a flashdrive or DropBox to transfer
    files to and from students
  • encourage the use of low vision aids and other technologies to maximise
    independence and access to the learning environment
  • see also Tips for Using Interactive Whiteboards


Eyes “run” on light therefore the most critical issue in being able to access the learning environment is the amount, intensity, position and direction of the lighting in all learning areas.

  • consider “task” lighting ie a light being focused on a particular
    area – the majority of children with low vision require some form of task
    lighting to increase visual efficiency
  • an individual lamp will instantly increase contrast – to reduce glare,
    the lamp should be placed below eye level and should shine onto the task
    from a 45 degree angle
  • the student needs to be aware of how to manage their lighting needs
    and why
  • inappropriate lighting increases vision fatigue
    and may impact on behaviour:

    • fluorescent globes are the most efficient globes and produce the
      most light for ambient purposes but they tend to create glare and
      distort colours
    • halogen globes produce a very white light but they also emit a lot
      of heat and use more energy.
    • the best light to maximize lighting levels are warm white bulbs
      (2700-3500 Kelvins)
  • light from computer screens can increase vision fatigue – changing the
    setting to white print on black background may reduce fatigue. Computer
    users may benefit from the use of glare filters.
  • for those who are light sensitive, bright or direct natural light should
    be filtered through UV blocking film or tinted glass, usually of a clear,
    amber, or pink colour
  • for visual comfort and glare reduction, avoid white or blue walls –
    the best wall colours are pink, peach, and warm beige. Textured walls
    are better than smooth, shiny ones. Put up posters or wall hangings to
    soften highly reflective areas.
  • consider lighting conditions in all areas of the school environment
    in which the student will be moving – both inside and outside – eg stairs,
    covered walkways, locker areas and toilets
  • torches can be useful to a student experiencing difficulties in areas
    of low illumination eg locker, school bag and dark corners of a room


  • some students are particularly sensitive to glare eg photophobia
  • avoid positioning a student facing a light source (natural or artificial)
  • avoid bright backlighting when teaching eg stand away from bright windows
  • consider sunglasses and a hat, particularly when working/playing outside
  • reduce glare in the classroom eg use blinds, curtains, posters etc to
    cover glary windows
  • avoid reflection on tasks, work surfaces etc – avoid using glossy paper
    and toys/work surfaces painted in high gloss
  • consider the placement of computer screens to minimize glare
  • turn off overhead lighting when using the smartboard
  • allow students to reduce glare by using a hat or sunglasses inside


  • improve contrast on work surfaces by using contrasting coloured cloth
    (eg a piece of beige or black felt), a coloured tray or place mat; this
    will improve contrast and therefore ensure the visual stimuli is more
    visible eg a black cup on a light surface
  • task lighting (eg a lamp) may assist
  • when producing learning materials for a student, consider contrast
    eg bolder lines for maths worksheet
  • use black felt pens on a clean whiteboard
  • allow students to use texta colours in preference to coloured pencils
    when drawing/colouring
  • bold lined paper and black felt tipped pens increase contrast for the
  • consider areas in the school environment which need to be made more
    visible eg paint edges of steps, highlighting a light switch and doorways
  • consider the clothes you wear eg a class teacher wearing bright clothes
    is easy to find, particularly when on excursions in unfamiliar environments
  • wearing lipstick can highlight the teacher’s facial expressions
  • see also Tips for Preparing Worksheets


  • children with low vision may become overwhelmed with cluttered worksheets
    and whiteboards – their functioning may be improved by reducing the visual
  • use masks such as black pieces of cardboard to block out various questions
    on worksheets etc
  • large print may be preferred to regular print
  • detail in illustrations and drawings may need to be reduced


  • size of print is not nearly as critical as the quality of the print
  • encourage students with low vision to access N12 print either by use
    of low vision aides or other technology if this is possible
  • the best fonts for students with low vision are the San Serif fonts:
    Arial, Tahoma and Verdana
  • holding materials close to the eyes will not cause harm – allow the
    student to place materials in a position and at a distance that they choose

Materials in alternative format

  • students generally have a preferred format for their learning materials
    – etext, braille/tactile, audio, large print
  • ensure that student’s learning materials are available in a timely manner
  • the student’s preferred format may change from one activity to another
    eg braille for Maths, etext for novels


  • ensure that the student is in the most appropriate seating position
  • consider vision impairment – where is the student’s best field of view
    (including null position for nystagmus)?
  • consider low vision aids – if the student is using a telescopic aid,
    they may need to sit towards the back of the room
  • is access to a power point required?


  • if possible, keep classroom environment static
  • keep the classroom tidy eg put chairs under desks
  • alert student to any changes in the room layout
  • a student may need extra work and storage space because of equipment,
    braille books etc
  • encourage efficient organisation of learning materials and technology
    so students can set up and pack up quickly
  • if the student has a laptop or other heavy items, they may like to consider
    using a suitcase on wheels
  • encourage the student to develop good study and exam techniques
  • encourage use of diary or planner


  • each student will have his/her own distance for reading – don’t be concerned
    if this distance is very short – most young students are able to focus
    at short distances
  • reading stands may help avoid back and neck pain
  • consider the size of stimulus used eg toys, items on worksheets – do
    the diagrams need enlarging or reducing?
  • consider offering the student their own example of an item being demonstrated
    for close inspection
  • consider the size and colour of print on the white board
  • allowing the student to move to the board or sit at the front of the
    group may improve visual access
  • consider allowing the student to access the board using iPad or other
    technology eg the iPad can be synced with the interactive whiteboard
  • use of the ‘pinch and zoom’ feature on the iPad may improve access to
    whiteboard and worksheets


  • students with a vision impairments may require additional time to investigate
    and respond to a visual stimulus
  • allow the young student additional organisational time eg when asked
    to pack up and collect school bag, coat and homework – meanwhile work
    on streamlining for best efficiency
  • it may be appropriate for students to view stimulus material prior to
    the class eg models, complex diagrams
  • it may be appropriate for students with vision impairments to perform
    fewer tasks than their sighted peers eg half the maths examples

General teaching stragegies

  • ensure that students have their learning materials in their preferred
    format – braille, etext, audio, large print – at the same time as their
    sighted peers
  • use black felt pens on a clean whiteboard
  • read out loud as you write on the whiteboard and spell new words as
    you go – this will assist the student with impaired vision who may not
    be able to see the board
  • email students information and worksheets or use a flashdrive to transfer
    files to and from students
  • reduce visual clutter – leave out unnecessary detail on worksheets and
    on the whiteboard
  • consider vision fatigue – signs of vision fatigue include red eyes,
    rubbing eyes, watering eyes and/or headaches. Allow for rest breaks or
    alternate visual with non-visual activities eg listening to audio materials.
  • each student will have his/her own distance for reading – don’t be concerned
    if this distance is very short – young students are able to focus at short
  • encourage the use of reading stands which may help avoid back and neck
  • verbalise activities using directional language eg today’s spelling
    words are on the section of the whiteboard nearest to the door
  • allow the student to hand out materials – this will help them to know
    where the other students in the class are
  • provide verbal cues eg say the student’s name and verbalise what is
    about to happen
  • use verbal rewards and praise as the student cannot see a smile or nod
    of approval
  • ensure all relevant staff including replacement teachers are aware of
    the student’s vision impairment and the related implications
  • encourage eye contact and appropriate body language
  • encourage appropriate social skills
  • encourage “looking” by using words such as “look”,
    “find” and “see”
  • encourage the use of low vision aids and other technologies to improve
    access to the learning environment
  • insist on the use of touch typing and key commands to make computer
    use efficient
  • see also information about Art, Career Education, Physical Education, the Expanded
    Core Curriculum
    and Core Curriculum