Physical Disabilities

PART 4 - Physical Disabilities


◊ Overview ◊

◊ Interactions with Students ◊

◊ Guide Dog Etiquette ◊

◊ Classroom Strategies ◊

◊ Creative Solutions ◊




Students who are blind acquire information through tactile and auditory means. Some students want materials in Braille to enable them to read independently. Others do not use Braille but read textbooks and class materials by using a personal reader, audiotape, or electronic text.  Many students use a combination of these means.

Technological advancements in the last few decades have enabled persons who are blind to join the information age. Students have benefited from the use of electronic text; some information originally comes in this format, and other information is scanned from printed matter and then converted to text using optical character recognition software. There is direct print-to-speech output software and there are computers that translate from print to Braille. These devices allow the user to access text information easily and to produce work without the assistance of a sighted person. At De Anza, this equipment is located in the Computer Accessibility Lab (CAL), the Library, and the Library West Computer Lab. Students may use the equipment, and it is available to DSS Alternate Media Specialist for producing instructional materials in Braille, large print, or print-to-speech audio to meet students’ academic needs.

Students who are blind may travel independently to and from the classroom, or they may use assistance from DSS Mobility Services. If requested, a reserved seat in the class enables a student to more easily locate a place.

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Interactions with Students


Identify Those Present

When you enter the room, identify yourself and introduce others so the person who is blind can follow the interaction. If you greet someone you don’t know, gently touch an arm to indicate that you are addressing the person. Inform the person when you leave so the person isn’t left stranded.

Assistance Outdoors

Most people who are blind and who travel independently with a cane or a dog are well oriented and negotiate on their own. They request assistance from passersby if necessary. If someone appears as if they could use help, identify yourself, and ask if you can be of assistance. If your offer is accepted, use proper sighted guide techniques:

  • Let the person who is blind grasp your arm slightly above the elbow.
  • Move naturally so the person can follow the motions of your body.
  • Note verbally any obstacles or steps.
  • Be specific when giving directions.
  • Offer to accompany the person if it’s convenient.
Assistance Indoors
  • Help someone who is blind and in a new environment make contact with something physical—a wall, chair, or table—so the person is not standing without a physical reference.
  • Use auditory information to describe the layout of a room and where important things are located. The person may wish to touch or hold objects. When giving directions, make it plain whether you mean your right or left or the person’s right or left.
  • Guide the hand of a person who is blind to the back or arm of a chair to seat the person.
  • Alert a person who is blind to physical changes, such as furniture that has been moved. Consistent environments are easier to negotiate than ones that change.
  • Be alert to hazards. Doors should be completely open or completely closed. A cane can’t detect protruding items, especially those above waist level. Floor clutter is also dangerous.

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Guide Dog Etiquette

Many guide dog users enjoy sharing information with the public about their dogs, but a guide dog on harness is a working animal, not a pet. Resist the urge to pet, call, or distract a guide dog. If the dog is off-harness, feel free to ask if you can pet the dog. Guide dogs are legally permitted where dogs are otherwise prohibited. (See Board Policy and Information on Service Dogs in PART 2 of this GUIDE)


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Classroom Strategies

  • Submit textbook requests to the bookstore by the due date (or earlier) because procuring textbook materials on tape, on disk, or in Braille takes several weeks or longer.
  • Provide either the student or DSS with copies of the syllabus and handouts early, if requested, so they may be converted into Braille or put on disk or audiotape.
  • Assist the student in obtaining a note-taker. If a note-taker is absent, help to find a substitute if necessary.
  • Provide seating near an electrical outlet if necessary to record lectures.
  • Orient the student to a lab or class environment by verbally describing it and helping the student to explore the area tactilely. DSS can help place Braille labels or large print on lab signs and equipment.
  • Discuss lab safety procedures. Agree on an auditory warning signal for use in case of emergency
  • Encourage tactile exploration whenever possible. Provide tactile models, if available.
  • Consult with Disabled Student Services for availability and purchasing information.
  • Read aloud or describe all visual material on overheads and boards.
  • Assist the student in joining a group for collaborative work, and assign a partner in the lab for field trips and other special activities.
  • For exams, students who are blind use readers, scribes, and assistive computer technology. Exams may be taped or translated into Braille. Provide exams as early as possible to the DSS Test Accommodation Center. Procedures for test and quiz accommodations are the same as for students with low vision. (See Low Vision, Classroom Strategies, in PART 4 of this GUIDE.)


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Creative Solutions

Mark's major was History. He was blind and dreaded the transfer requirement in physical science, feeling this would be both difficult and of little interest. He settled on geology, primarily because of his interest in earthquakes as a Bay Area resident. As it turned out, the geology lab did present some challenges, even with an enthusiastic and competent lab partner who verbalized all the activities well. Rather than visually identifying the physical qualities of minerals and rocks, Mark had to memorize and recite them. The most challenging section of the course involved topographic maps although tactile imaging conveyed the concept. With the instructor’s consent, he substituted the topographic mapping project with an alternative assignment on earthquake theory. In the end, Mark passed the course, but more importantly, he gained a better understanding of both the scientific method and his physical world.


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Physical Disabilities Building:

Last Updated: 6/13/17