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

Geography, Fieldwork and the Visual

Visual impairment impacts on fieldwork

When attempting to relate visual impairment to fieldwork, the following principles are important:

There are a number of ways in which eye conditions can impact on fieldwork activities. Mann (1999) indicates some of these:

Ocular albinism
difficulties with scanning, tracking, depth perception, rapidly shifting visual points, reading
Cataracts
wide variation in visual acuity (though full visual field usually maintained), and near and far vision often adversely affected
Diabetic retinopathy
fluctuating visual acuity, distortion of vision, and possible impairment of visual field
Glaucoma
progressive loss of visual field, poor visual acuity, impaired peripheral and night vision, and difficulty in adapting between light and dark
Macular degeneration
loss of central vision (hence reliance on eccentric or sideways looking), difficulty in discerning fine detail and reading, and problems in colour discrimination (especially reds and greens)
Nystagmus
blurred vision, difficulty in scanning and tracking, and problems with depth perception
Optic atrophy
variable loss of vision and/or total blindness
Retinitis pigmentosa
night blindness, narrowed field of vision (resulting in tunnel vision).

According to the Scottish Sensory Centre (SSC, 2000a; 2000d), visual impairment impacts are likely on the following visual capabilities:

Staff responsible for designing fieldwork will need to determine which field activities are likely to be compromised by deficiencies in any of these visual capabilities. They should then consider adopting a suitable course of action. (See the accompanying document on Field Study Strategies.)

Fieldwork difficulties due to visual impairment

There is no single universal difficulty; each visual impairment will impose its own set of demands and limitations. When undertaking fieldwork, visually impaired students may experience difficulties with a variety of tasks, including:

On the positive side

It is important to recognise that visually impaired students may have counter-balancing strengths in other areas. Staff as well as students should therefore do their best to discuss with the student their particular strengths, and to harness these abilities during field work. For example, groups should consider using the visually impaired student's abilities to compensate for weaknesses in other members of a field work team.

Other advantages include the stimulus given to staff to rethink the accessibility of the fieldwork experience to all students, not simply to those with a visual impairment. (This point is discussed further in the document on A Generic Model for Learning?) Finally, as mentioned in the introduction, the experience of having a visually impaired student undertake a geography course and participate in fieldwork can enthuse and inspire staff and fully sighted students alike.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock