How Do People With Low Vision…Take Art Classes?

I have always loved to draw and create visual media projects. My mom signed me up for art classes when I was younger to help with my dysgraphia and coordination issues, and having an appreciation for visual art has really helped me, especially in college. However, some of my art projects over the years have been very indicative of my low vision. Here are some tips I have learned from taking art classes in public school with low vision.

No two people see art the same way

When I was in fifth grade, my art teacher put a picture on the board and encouraged the students to draw a copy of it. They later said that my art was unlike anything they had ever seen- instead of intricate lines and shapes, I drew giant blobs, and didn’t pay much attention to size or other elements of the picture, just the colors. Several years later, we realized that I was drawing what I saw through my blurry eyesight.

Don’t grade on accuracy

In my high school Spanish class, students were assigned a project to research a famous Spanish artist and recreate one of their paintings. The painting recreation had to be exact, and it was worth a high percentage of the overall grade. My parents tried to get me exempt from such harsh grading policies, given my dysgraphia, but the teacher didn’t budge. This was very frustrating for us. The final art project turned out to be a very minimalist painting of a dot in the center of the paper- and even then, my sighted brother had to help me a lot.

Simple can be challenging

For a project in sixth grade, my teacher wanted us to draw intricate patterns on paper, similar to zentagles or paisley patterns, and have us use a variety of colors and textures. With no depth perception, I have issues perceiving different textures and seeing small patterns. Instead, I chose to do a simple template with rich, contrasting colors. This project was still very challenging, but not frustrating to complete.

Use high contrast tools

My eyes cannot perceive pencil on paper, as the gray lead on white paper provides poor contrast. Colored pencils can also be difficult for me to see. Because of this, my teachers allowed me to frequently use crayons, pens, and markers, as I could see those more clearly and pay more attention to my art.

Cutting inside and outside the lines

Even to this day, I am not very good at using scissors. When I am asked to cut along dotted lines, I not only have trouble seeing the lines, but I have trouble following them too. As a result, there are many jagged edges, or pieces that are too large or too small. Having someone help me cut out items is extremely appreciated.

Gluing things down

I always had issues when working with white glue and glue sticks, as I could never tell how much I used, or if I had used too much/not enough. The purple glue sticks and glue pens helped me to not only see where I put glue, but also keep me from spilling it everywhere.

Poor visual references

No one really understood how poor my vision was for many years, including me. I remember in seventh grade for English class, my teacher asked us to illustrate a poem for class. When I finished my illustration, my teacher asked me what I had drawn, because they couldn’t tell what it was, and neither could the rest of the class. I don’t think I was even sure what I had drawn- I think it was supposed to be a horse outside of a building. Luckily, my teacher did not take points off for my terrible artwork.

Take additional precautions

Because I am very talented at knocking things over and spilling them, my art teachers always took extra precautions when setting up the art tables. Some examples include having a water bowl resting in a larger bowl for watercolor, smaller diameters for lids on glitter, and putting butcher paper underneath my paper while I worked.

Not the best at cleaning

When I worked at a day camp, I was assigned one day to clean up the paintbrushes. Because of my vision, I did such a poor job that I was never asked to clean the paintbrushes again. Understanding when an item is completely clean is sometimes difficult for people with low vision, and they may need additional help or reinforcement.

Embrace creativity

Even though I see art in a different way, I still love finding ways to express myself through visual media and have a strong appreciation for art. While I am not in an art major, the skills I learned from art classes have helped me tremendously in my software and web design classes in college. I am lucky that I had many teachers that were understanding and accommodated my low vision long before we knew how bad it really was.

Dear Elementary School Teacher

I’m one of your new students for the year. You may have read my SAP, 504, or IEP- or maybe I don’t have any of those yet. I’m still a little kid, so my support staff and my parents are still trying to figure things out. During the year, I would like to ask that you remember these ten things, so that I may be able to thrive in your classroom. I might admit these things, I might be too scared to say them, or I might not realize I need them. After all, right now I think that everyone sees the world just like me.

I color outside the lines, because I can’t see the lines

When you hand me an intricate coloring page and tell me to color inside the lines, I might just scribble all over the page. I have no idea where the lines are, except maybe the large bold ones. In my mind, I am following your directions.

I can’t see my friends on the playground, so I stay in one place

With all the kids running around on the playground, I can’t keep track of who is who, or where they are going. For the most part, I stay in one area, like on the swingset, and wait for my friends to come find me. I’m not antisocial.

Computer games and applications might not be enlarged

Before you hand me a computer game or mobile application, check to see if it can be enlarged or made accessible- this checklist will help. If I stop interacting with the game or application, I might have come to a point where I can’t see it anymore.

Also, when the rest of the class is learning how to use technology, make sure there are accessibility settings enabled on whatever device we are learning about.  Here is how to make iPad accessible (it takes less than ten minutes), how to make Android devices accessible, and also how to make Windows 10 accessible.

If I can’t read something, chances are it’s because I can’t see it

When I seem to be having difficulty reading, it might not be the words themselves I am having trouble with, but how they are written. Use clear, bold fonts and enlarge them for me. If I’m having trouble reading handwriting, type it for me.  Here’s an example of print accommodations.

I have trouble identifying everyday things, like money

When you hand me a $1 bill and a $5 bill for the money activity in class, I might not be able to tell the difference between the two, as they are the same size and color. Work with the teacher of the visually impaired or other staff member to teach me about money. I might have issues with other everyday objects too, like clouds, flowers, people, or textures.

Don’t judge me on my ability to catch a ball

When you toss a ball at me, I can’t see it coming, so I won’t catch it. Yelling my name in a crowded room before throwing it won’t help either- I am a child, not a bat, and don’t have echolocation. Don’t assume I have an intellectual or neurological disability based on whether I can catch a ball or not.

I don’t know how bad my eyesight is

I’m still young and getting used to my vision impairment. I might have had this for a few years, or have been born with it. I don’t know what perfect vision is like, and likely believe that everyone sees just like me.

Recommend me for services as soon as possible

If you think I could benefit from occupational therapy, speech therapy, reading support, or other types of interventions, please recommend me for them. Feel free to suggest new accommodations for my SAP, 504, or IEP too, and attend my meetings when you can.  Early intervention is key, as elementary school lays the foundation for middle school, high school, and eventually college. It is amazing what a small amount of help can do.

My vision is probably going to get worse

Since I’m still growing, my vision is going to change, and it will likely get worse. I might need larger print, Braille, or more assistance in the classroom. Don’t remind me of how I used to see, as I am likely frustrated that my vision has changed.

Also, please don’t try and take my new glasses off my face to see them, or crouch down and stare at my glasses. You’re invading my personal space, and the light will hurt my eyes.

Don’t yell at me

I’m not faking my bad eyesight, and I don’t understand why I see the way I do. Don’t get angry at me or my family because you don’t want to teach a student with low vision. It’s not my fault, nor is it theirs. I just want to learn.

I’m really excited to be in your class this year, and thank you in advance for the influence you will have on me. I hope you become my new favorite teacher!


Your new student with low vision