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

Approaches to Visual 'Disability'

"For me, my disability is a fact and not a problem. I'm not living the life of a disabled person. For sure, I have to handle some things differently from other people. But it's not so different from the life of someone who is not disabled. In any case, who is really not disabled?"
Thomas Quasthoff, opera singer
"While people have impairments, the environment — attitudinal as well as physical — can be disabling. It is simplistic to attribute problems about disability to individuals who are said to ‘have’ this or that disability when the reality is that many such problems disappear when environments are accessible. And although there is little that staff in higher education can do to change the facts of students’ impairments, there may be scope for altering the environment of higher education, which, like any environment, may be disabling."
Teachability Project (Shaw, 2000)

Reflecting the sentiments expressed in the quotations above, the term ‘visual impairment’ is used throughout this guide, rather than the currently more common ‘visual disability’.

Following the WHO (2000) definitions, the present guide considers the provision of learning support for students with visual impairments, whose experience of disability is as a result of the interaction between their impairment, the learning environment, and its social organisation. In common with other guides in this series, the social model rather than the physical model of disability is seen as the best approach to empowering the visually impaired student in the field. The Overview Guide to this series (Healey et al., 2001) discusses various models of disability in more detail, and indicates their relationship to subject-based and educational issues in the context of student disability.

Page updated 14 December 2001

GDN pages maintained by Phil Gravestock