While attending public school in Virginia, I had many opportunities to go on field trips with my class. This included historical sites, museums, special events, and many other places. Even though we didn’t know how bad my vision was, my teachers always were great about including me, and never discouraged me from going on trips just because I had an IEP. Here are my tips for going on field trips with vision impairments, including blindness and low vision- and a low amount of stress too.
Have a familiar chaperone
Whenever possible, my mom would chaperone field trips. This way, I would have a familiar person I could go to that wasn’t the teacher. Parents of my friends would chaperone a lot of trips too, so there was always a familiar face. If a familiar chaperone was not available, then the chaperone would make sure to identify themselves when speaking because I might not recognize who they are. This was as simple as saying “Hi Veronica, this is Mr. C” followed by the instructions needed.
Let the location know there is a low vision student
Call the field trip location ahead of time and specify there will be a visitor with low vision. They can tell you about resources available, or modify the tour so it avoids common obstacles such as stairs or areas that do not have fencing around them. For example, we went on a stairs-free tour of a local historical site since many students had trouble with walking up and down stairs. One of my friends who lives in New York had the option to explore areas of the 9/11 Memorial and Museum virtually so that they could better see the details of the exhibits, which was extremely helpful.
- Accessible Virtual Field Trip- The 9/11 Memorial and Museum
- VR For VI: How Visually Impaired Students Can Use Virtual Reality
Have a quiet place
When my middle school went to watch an IMAX movie at a museum, I had to leave ten minutes in because the 3D effect was making my eyes and head hurt. One of the chaperones, a parent of one of my friends, took me to another quiet area of the museum where I sat with them until the rest of the class returned. Two of my friends came to join me because they didn’t want me to feel left out, and the movie was apparently boring anyway. I really appreciated having somewhere to go when I was super overwhelmed.
Request accessible materials, if possible
Many popular venues have assistive technology and accessible materials available. Movie theaters often have assistive listening devices, also known as audio description, that can describe visual information over a secondary audio track. Many museums also have large print exhibit guides, and a growing number have audio description as well. Historical sites have audio guides and print materials available online, or even offer specific tours for guests with visual impairments. It never hurts to ask in advance, as there are often lots of cool accessibility tools available.
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Go to the Movies?
- Fast Facts About Audio Description
- Visiting The Gateway Arch Museum With Vision Impairment
Bring small assistive technology devices
If they are used regularly, bringing a video magnifier or other small, easy-to-carry device can help with exploring surroundings. A simple magnifying glass can also go a long way. For older students, using applications such as Seeing AI, Google Lens, or similar assistive technologies can help with image recognition and reading short amounts of text.
- Eschenbach SmartLux Review
- Microsoft Seeing AI And Low Vision Review
- Using the Google Assistant Camera with Low Vision
Don’t have the low vision student get off the bus first
One time, the school bus parked in front of a gravel pothole before a band event. The chaperones made me get off the bus first. Normally, I would have someone help me off the bus, since I wore a leg brace and had no depth perception. Nevertheless, they persisted.
I tripped off the last step of the bus, fell into the pothole, and broke my ankle. What was supposed to be a normal event turned into a very stressful one for my teacher, chaperones, and parents- not to mention fellow students. While not all low vision students are as accident prone as I am, it still doesn’t hurt to not get off the bus immediately.
- How Do People with Visual Impairments Use the Bus System?
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Deal With Injuries?
Have a buddy
In addition to a chaperone, having a fellow student help is invaluable. I usually would have one of my friends or another familiar person help informally guide me around an area. Now that I use a blindness cane, I frequently use my friends as human guides to help me navigate an unfamiliar place or at least keep me from falling down the stairs.
- How Do People With Visual Impairments Use Human Guides?
- Ten Signs You’re Friends With A Blindness Cane User
When walking around outside or viewing an exhibit, talk about what’s around. Is there a blue fish swimming by? Are there strawberry bushes on the left side? Or is there a set of stairs coming up? Verbalize these things to the entire group, so the student with low vision doesn’t seem singled out.
- How To Create Audio Description For YouTube With YouDescribe
- How To Describe Flowers for the Blind and Visually Impaired
Be careful with photos
Some students with low vision may also have photosensitivity, and be sensitive to flashing lights. Let chaperones and other staff members know if this is the case, so they know to avoid flash photography. I also recommend checking exhibits in advance to determine if there is a surprise strobe light or other source of rapidly flashing lights.
Understand if the student doesn’t want to participate
This is more common for older students, but understanding when a student would prefer to be excluded from trips is important. For example, I used to be very sensitive to loud noises, so I didn’t want to go to a military cannon firing event. I also decided to skip the movie theater field trips because I don’t really like movie theaters that much, and I’m sensitive to flashing lights. Thankfully, no one really insisted that I be included in these events if I didn’t want to be.
I’m glad that I was able to go on various field trips and explore my community, as well as surrounding areas. Hopefully these tips will help other students, parents, and teachers ensure that trips go smoothly, and that everyone is included.