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Visual Impairments Accommodations within School

A Guide to Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act

What are Visual Impairments?
Visual Impairments can include mild vision loss to total blindness. Many students with visual impairments need some type of accommodation or modification made within school. It is important to remember that as vision loss can be so wide ranging, each student’s needs must be considered on an individual basis.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 is an equal rights law for people with disabilities. Section 504 pertains to public institutions that receive federal funding, such as public schools systems. To qualify for services under Section 504 and individual must have a disability that interferes with one or more life functions such as: caring for ones self, performing manual tasks, walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, and working. Section 504 is focused on providing accommodations to ensure equal access to school related programs and activities.

Many students with visual impairments require accommodations to allow for equal access to school related programs and activities, both academic and non-academic. To find out if the student meets eligibility for Section 504 contact the school’s Section 504 representative and request an evaluation. Make requests in writing and keep a copy for family records.

What is a 504 plan for accommodation?
A 504 plan for accommodation is developed and written if the student meets eligibility criteria under Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. The plan is a written document describing the types of accommodations and who will execute them so the student will have equal access to school related programs and activities. The accommodations within the plan are developed for the individual student and his/her specific needs. When writing a 504 plan discuss in-classroom accommodations, and non-academic accommodations if necessary.

Accommodating students with visual impairments
Accommodations give the student with a disability the opportunity to participate equally with non-disabled peers. Accommodations for students with visual impairments can include:

  • brailled books and other written materials
  • books on tape
  • large print books
  • braille labels on signs, vending machines, bathrooms, etc.
  • note takers and scribes
  • appropriate seating to allow for maximum visual contact with the chalkboard/teacher
  • assistive technology
  • optical scanners (reading machines)
  • text enlargers
  • voice activated computers

Non-Academic Activities
As mentioned earlier, 504 plans are to provide equal access to programs funded with federal dollars to people with disabilities, this includes ALL school sponsored activities and events such as:

  • assemblies
  • plays
  • talent shows
  • student government
  • clubs
  • the lunchroom
  • playgrounds
  • the library

504 plans must look at all aspects of student life. Plans should address any non-classroom activity the student may want to be involved with. An accommodation may be very simple or may be more complex based on individual need, but are necessary to provide access as guaranteed by law.

Prepared for Parents & Guardians
by Jacqueline M. Wells

This document was funded in part from a grant from WisTech to the Wisconsin Coalition for Advocacy through the National Institute of Disability Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR); U.S. Dept. of Education. Fall 1998.


  1. Individuals with Disabilities Education Act PL 94-142
  2. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  3. Ruesch, Gary, M., eds. Special Education Law and Practice: A Manual for the Special Education Practitioner. Harshman, PA.: LRP Publishing, 1996.
  4. Cornell University. Implementing the Americans with Disabilities Act: Working Effectively with People Who are Blind or Visually Impaired Program on Employment and Disability School of Industrial Labor Relations, April 1994.