Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Students with Low Vision Describe Their Visual Impairments and Visual Functioning

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

Students with Low Vision Describe Their Visual Impairments and Visual Functioning

Article excerpt

Abstract: In the study reported here, the responses to a survey that was designed to determine the knowledge of their visual impairment of 51 students with low vision were analyzed. Although the students described their visual weaknesses and strengths, they had limited knowledge of, and difficulty communicating about, the medical aspects of their impairments.

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People who accept themselves recognize that they have a variety of personal attributes, some of which may be negative, and do not permit these negative characteristics to detract from their sense of dignity or self-worth (Tuttle & Tuttle, 1996). Individuals who positively judge their own value are said to have high self-esteem. Tuttle and Tuttle (1996) noted that a prerequisite to healthy self-acceptance and positive self-esteem is the acceptance of one's visual impairment (blindness or low vision) as one of many traits that influence who one is.

Among Tuttle and Tuttle's (1996) recommendations for facilitating effective growth and self-acceptance in individuals with visual impairments were to assist in the development of self-awareness of their attributes, personal values, and feelings, and in the exploration and refinement of their knowledge about themselves, their feelings, and others' perceptions of them. Activities that they described for nurturing self-esteem specifically included learning events that are designed to increase self-knowledge, knowledge about others and their responses to visual impairment, and knowledge of one's visual impairment.

Sacks (2006, p. 13) emphasized that "one of the most essential ways in which families and professionals can assist students with visual impairments in developing a strong social identity, is to help them understand and communicate their visual disability to others." In addition to the important relationship between knowledge of self and positive self-esteem, there are other reasons why students with visual impairments should be taught about their visual impairments. Understanding and accepting oneself as a person with a visual impairment helps others to feel at ease and, therefore, to decrease barriers to interaction and ultimately to establish relationships (Sanford & Burnett, 2006). Throughout their lives--in school, at work, and in community environments--people with visual impairments frequently encounter situations in which they are faced with explaining their visual functioning to others who may misunderstand it. Counteracting stereotypes and misinformation cannot be accomplished without a good understanding of one's visual impairment (Erin, 2006). Similarly, knowledge of one's visual impairment is critical to effective communication with professionals who are well informed about disorders of the eye and their impact on functioning. Since students with visual impairments, particularly those with low vision, are likely to be lifelong consumers of eye care services, it is important that they be prepared for these future interactions with knowledgeable eye care professionals.

Having a thorough understanding of one's visual impairment and its effect on others and having practiced methods of communicating information about it provide a student with some of the key skills that are necessary to become a self-advocate, an important component of self-determination. Individuals who have a depth of knowledge of their visual impairments can make informed judgments of how much of that knowledge, if any, to disclose to various people with whom they interact. Using that judgment to request, deny, or redirect assistance allows them to feel more in control of both casual and more formal situations (Erin, 2006).

Finally, a sound understanding of one's visual impairment bas vocational implications. Knowing one's visual abilities and limitations is essential when making decisions related to one's future career. Being able to communicate clearly the impact of one's visual impairment and the accommodations one uses to perform essential job duties, as well as being able to set potential employers at ease, is important during job interviews and, later, in working with fellow employees (Wolffe & Johnson, 1997). …

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