Providing Learning Support for Blind or Visually Impaired Students Undertaking Fieldwork and Related Activities

Field Activities

Data collection and recording

Some of the generic issues relating to basic field-related skills are covered elsewhere in this guide — e.g. note-taking using a braille embosser, laptop or Dictaphone in the Note Taking section. However, some thought may need to be given by tutors to helping the blind or visually impaired student transport their essential equipment to and from field study sites.

Field investigation

The following list indicates some of the more common fieldwork tasks, and the kind of accommodation that might need to be made for blind or visually impaired students. However, as has been stated in other parts of this guide, each student will need to be treated on an individual basis, because different forms of visual impairment will impact differently on the ability to participate in field-related activities.

Some of the problems associated with key field study activities are summarised below. It should be noted that most problems can be minimised or eliminated by effective preparation, student briefing and training on campus before the fieldcourse begins.

Interacting with people

Most fieldcourses involve students carrying out interviews in the field, to gather qualitative and/or quantitative data. These may be with experts, local ‘voices’, or members of the general public, and may take place out in the street, in homes or in offices. Visually impaired students can have difficulties with various elements of interview activity:

A general idea is to work in pairs for interviews, with each student taking turns to ask questions or record answers.

Observing and measuring the environment

One of the most common field activities involves gathering qualitative and quantitative data through observation surveys. This can include:

Recording sheets or pre-printed forms can help in capturing the data, reducing the need for writing text. Some activities involving sight (e.g. traffic counting, landscape sketching) are always going to be difficult for the blind or visually impaired student. But careful use of student helpers (e.g. the sighted student doing the looking) or appropriate technology (e.g. a camera or video-recorder doing the recording) can often be used as enabling devices.

Where more systematic and instrumental data gathering and mapping activities are involved, the visually impaired student may not be so disadvantaged. These include:

Here, the use of computer-based technology such as a portable PC or computerised data logging kit may make it possible for the visually impaired student to carry out the recording largely unaided. If personal digital assistants (PDA) with speech output and PCs with voice entry are available, then this makes the task even more accessible.

Studying documentary evidence

Where fieldwork involves access to written records, whether contemporary or historical, then the visually impaired student moves onto fairly familiar territory. As long as the 'guardians' of the relevant materials (e.g. a museum curator, company archivist or environmental agency librarian) are brought on board, then a certain amount of textual analysis may be possible and fulfilling. Again, the pairing of visually impaired students with sighted students is a useful strategy to adopt.

Evening follow-up work

In the evening there is an opportunity to sift through information gathered during the day, undertake data entry tasks or even begin preliminary data analysis. For the visually impaired student, a talking calculator or PC with voice synthesiser would be extremely helpful.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock