Guide for Assessing Persons with Disabilities - How to determine and implement assessment accommodations - Vision disabilities

What do you need to know about the disability?

Problems related to vision loss differ markedly from one person to another. Persons with vision disabilities who may require assessment accommodations include:

  1. Individuals who are blind and unable to access printed test material, even with magnification. While some of these individuals have light perception, they still need to receive all written information through sound or touch. Since persons who are unable to access print material function on the job using various types of adaptive technology, there is an important variation from one individual to another, in the types of formats they are most comfortable using for an assessment.
  2. Individuals who are partially-sighted, also known as having "low vision". These individuals have some usable vision, which enables them to read standard print with accommodations. These individuals can use their vision to access printed materials with large print formats, magnification, or other adaptive technology. The vision they have may also permit them to see the pattern or layout of graphs, charts, or diagrams. Partially sighted individuals may or may not be classified as legally blind7.
    Persons who are partially-sighted may have a range of eye conditions, which vary widely from one person to another in terms of the limitations they entail. The following are listed as examples only:
    • Low vision acuity across the visual field (lack of sharpness or perception of detail) that cannot be improved by corrective lenses;
    • Loss of central vision due to Macular Degeneration, a progressive eye disease, with varying degrees of peripheral vision remaining;
    • Partial vision loss due to cataracts, glaucoma or other diseases of the eye;
    • Restricted field of vision, with vision only in a narrow central vertical band, often called "tunnel vision"; and
    • Variable sight difficulties or sudden periods of vision loss, often associated with a chronic illness (for example: diabetes, multiple sclerosis).
  3. Individuals who have significant loss in both sight and hearing. This includes:
    • Individuals who are blind and lose their hearing, either gradually or suddenly;
    • Individuals who are deaf and lose their sight; and
    • Individuals who are blind and deaf, or have had both severe vision and hearing loss since birth or early childhood.
  4. Individuals with vision disabilities, such as colour blindness, vision in only one eye, or difficulty in adapting to changes in brightness.

What information or professional documentation is needed?

Persons with vision disabilities do not typically need to provide documentation from a qualified professional, as long as the limitations are permanent, stable and evident. In most cases, those in charge of establishing assessment accommodations can get all the information needed on the nature and extent of the functional limitations by consulting with the applicant.

Note that when the vision disability is associated with a chronic illness (such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis), documentation from the relevant attending professional for that condition may be needed. For more detail, please refer to the section on chronic illnesses.

What are the key elements to consider?

When determining assessment accommodations for persons with visual functional limitations, the following three elements should be considered:

1. The nature and extent of the person's functional limitations must be clearly understood.
The following questions may help to gather useful information:

  • How does the applicant usually access written material (for example: electronic format, Braille, large print, regular print, regular print with magnification)?
  • Is the applicant's vision disability progressive? What is the current stage of the condition?
  • Does the vision disability fluctuate as a result of a chronic illness such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis or is it affected by external factors such as time of day or ambient lighting?
  • Do light intensity or source, glare, spacing of text, or colour of print affect vision?
  • If the applicant read Braille, which grade (integral or abridged)?
  • How does the applicant usually record answers or write documents?
  • For an applicant who is deaf and blind, what means does he or she use to communicate orally in interviews or interactive exercises?
  • Does the applicant experience fatigue from eye strain or require frequent breaks, based on the method of reading written material?

It is important to reiterate that persons with disabilities are the first source of information on the way their limitations affect them and on how to accommodate their specific needs. Consequently, this information is usually gathered through exchanges with the person. To help you to gather these details, you may wish to refer to the questionnaire available in appendix 2.

2. A thorough knowledge of the assessment tool to be used is required. Depending on the assessment tool's characteristics, accommodations which are necessary for one tool may be unnecessary for another. Here are some considerations to help you identify the characteristics of your assessment tool.

For an interview:

  • Are written documents provided before or during the interview? If so, how much reading is involved?
  • Is there time to prepare responses prior to the interview?
  • What is the expected length of responses to be given orally?
  • Is there a written component? If so, how much writing is involved?
  • What is the time allotted?

For a written test:

  • Is it an essay-style exam, short answers or a multiple choice test?
  • Is it a case study, an in-basket exercise?
  • Is it an open book test?
  • How many questions are there?
  • How much reading and writing are involved?
  • What is the time allotted?
  • Will the instructions be provided orally or in writing?

For an interactive situation:

  • Is it a group setting? If so, how many participants are there? Is it advisable to inform other participants of the person's functional limitations? If so, who tells them, the person or the individual administering the interactive assessment session?
  • Is written documentation provided before or during the situation? If so, how much reading is involved?
  • What is the expected length of exercise to happen orally?
  • Is there a written component? If so, how much writing is involved?
  • What is the time allotted?

3. Knowledge of the qualification being assessed is essential. This information will help you ensure that accommodations do not modify the nature or level of the qualification being assessed. Considerations include:

  • What qualification(s) is(are) assessed by the instrument? It is knowledge, abilities/skills, aptitude or personal suitability? How is it defined?
  • Is there a speed requirement?
  • Does the level of the qualification assessed reflect the job requirement?

Determining appropriate assessment accommodations necessarily requires research and analysis of all three elements above; of the impact they have one another, and the application of the Principles for assessment accommodations. This analysis is the foundation of the rationale for the accommodations. This rational has to explain how the accommodations are enabling the demonstration of the person's qualifications, preventing his or her functional limitations from being a disadvantage. It also has to explain how the person is not being given an advantage compared to others in the appointment process, therefore, that merit is preserved.

Examples of assessment accommodations and considerations

The following are examples and considerations that may be helpful in determining assessment accommodations. It also includes a number of specific examples of assessment accommodations relative to possible functional limitations.

While reviewing these examples, keep in mind that accommodations are determined on a case by case basis and their appropriateness will depend on the nature and extent of the individual's functional limitations, the assessment tool to be used and the qualification to be assessed. Also, accommodations must resemble, if possible, the usual way in which the person would perform the task requested as if he or she was on the job, and must not alter the nature or level of the qualification being assessed. For more details, please refer to Determining and implementing assessment accommodations.

Adaptive technologies: In general, applicants should be provided with the devices or software that they use on a regular basis, both for reading material and for writing. Applicants' personal equipment may be brought into the testing environment and used, or they may be tested in their office in a supervised session. The use of applicants' own equipment has the advantage that it is configured appropriately for the individual, who is familiar with the settings, position of keys, etc. For a listing and brief description of adaptive technologies commonly used, see the glossary of adaptive technology and services in appendix 4.

Individual session: Individual assessment sessions are good practices in all cases where test administration differs from standard procedure. For example: when multiple formats or adaptive technology are used, when additional time or breaks are provided, or when interveners for a person who is deaf and blind are used.

Additional time: Additional time is normally required for accommodating persons with vision disabilities and, depending on the mode of accessing the test materials, the added time may be quite substantial. The required amount of time needs to be determined on a case-by-case basis. Not only do individuals differ widely in the extent of their sight limitations but the test formats and the type of adaptive technology that are used will influence the requirement for additional time. When additional time is required, consider separately the time requirements of the methods used for reading and providing answers.

Breaks: Extending test administration time usually means that breaks will be required, which are not included in the test administration time itself. Breaks will also be required if the applicant uses a method of reading that is very fatiguing, such as a magnifying lens. If the vision disability is a secondary result of another illness, breaks may also be required as part of the accommodations for that other illness. A stopwatch should be used to keep track of the exact time spent on assessment and the time spent on breaks

Choice of format for tests and preparation materials: Applicants with vision disabilities must have access to tests as well as to preparatory materials in a format that they can use efficiently. It is essential to determine the most appropriate format for each applicant, including the level of Braille or the required font size for large print, since what is necessary for one person may not be useful or appropriate for another. For applicants who are unable to access print test material, even with magnification, an oral examination instead of a written one may be considered, depending on the qualification assessed.

The most frequently-used formats other than standard print are:

  • Large print, generally defined as print using more than 14-point. A font size of 16- or 18-point is often considered standard but larger fonts may be required by applicants;
  • Electronic format for use with a large screen monitor and/or a screen magnification software;
  • Electronic format for use with screen reader or refreshable Braille display;
  • Audio format, including audio cassettes and compact discs;
  • Braille: Grade 1 (integral) or Grade 2 (abridged).

For providing answers to tests: It is good practice to allow applicants to use the adaptive technology they normally use to do similar task. Examples are:

  • Use of a computer with a screen reader;
  • Use of a personal computer with a larger font;
  • Use of a dictaphone, answers recorded are later transcribed onto the answer sheet by the test administrator;
  • Use of a reader or scribe, who enters answers directly onto the answer sheet;
  • A manual brailler, such as a "Perkins Brailler", may be used by the person to write answers, which can then be dictated to the test administrator or into a tape recorder
  • For multiple choice tests, adapted answer sheet may be used by some persons with low vision (for example, sheet with large squares in which to indicate an answer choice, instead of darkening circles) or allows them to circle directly on the test booklet.

For note-taking for interviews, simulations or interactive exercises, or for preparation for writing of long texts: It is good practice to allow applicants to bring in the equipment that they normally use for note-taking or preparation, depending on the particular assessment context. Two examples of such equipment are:

  • Portable electronic note-takers are very useful for note-taking in interviews or simulations, or for preparation.
  • A manual brailler ("Perkins Brailler") is often used for individual preparation.

Additional considerations for applicants who are deaf and blind

Assessment accommodations should be made based on the communication and reading modes adopted by the applicant in his or her daily work. An important communication strategy will be the use of interveners for applicants who are deaf and blind. Interveners provide auditory and visual information to a person who is deaf and blind using a variety of methods, depending on what works best for the individual. These methods include visual sign language, tactile sign language, tactile finger spelling, Braille, and large-print notes.


7 To be classified as legally blind, an individual must have a visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with the best correction. Persons with a severely restricted field of vision (no more than 20 degrees across) may also be classified as legally blind

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