Differentiated Instructional Strategies - Deaf-Blindness

Students who are Deaf-Blind have both a vision and a hearing loss that negatively affects their educational programs. Deaf-Blindness does NOT mean totally deaf and totally blind. In fact, most students with Deaf-Blindness have some residual vision and some residual hearing. It does mean that the student will not gain enough information from his/her vision to compensate for a hearing loss and, likewise, will not gain enough information from hearing to compensate for a vision loss (Alsop, 2002). Deaf-Blindness is a disability of access to information and requires specialized teaching strategies, with a heavy emphasis on communication instruction.

Team members working with students with dual sensory impairments need to carefully consider each student’s unique needs and learning style, as well as the demands of the task. Strategies are offered to provide a starting point for thinking about possible adaptations. It is important to remember that all team members should have input into decisions regarding instructional strategies.

Possible effects of Deaf-Blindness on skill development in mathematics
  • Early math development is very dependent on accessing visual and auditory information to form basic concepts. Students with Deaf-Blindness do not experience the incidental learning opportunities necessary to understand one-to-one correspondence and number relationships (Alsop, 2002).
  • Math content is very dependent upon understanding concepts of space, time, distance, and quantity. These concepts are largely based on visual information and experiences exploring the environment and manipulating objects.
  • Math instruction traditionally has relied heavily on visual information and a great deal of verbal direction and explanation. Students with Deaf-Blindness will require other sensory input, additional time to process information, and directions/explanation adapted to reflect their mode of communication (sign language, pictures, etc.).
Ways to help students with Deaf-Blindness succeed in mathematics

The following strategies are provided to promote access to math content, based on Virginia’s SOLs, for students who have dual sensory impairments. Students with Deaf-Blindness will require on-going adaptations and accommodations in mathematics to compensate for the reduced and/or distorted information available through vision and hearing. Decisions regarding instructional strategies must be made based on accurate and comprehensive assessment of the child’s vision and hearing and involve all team members.

Instructional and Environmental Strategie

  • Involve the student in the brainstorming process; ask him/her to make suggestions about environmental and instructional strategies that are helpful. 
  • Provide directions and instructions using the student’s preferred and strongest mode of communication. Many students will benefit from total communication approach including spoken language, tactile information, and sign language. 
  • Provide information to the student to indicate that a new task is beginning, the expectations for the lesson, and prepare the student for transitions to new activities. Consistency across routines will facilitate learning.
  • Allow opportunities for repetition and practice of previously introduced material.
  • Work with other team members to identify appropriate homework options and requirements.
  • Provide appropriate visuals including charts, figures, tables and allow plenty of time for descriptions of materials and activity (in child’s preferred mode of communication).
  • Provide ample time for exploration and play with manipulatives before requiring students to complete the task.
  • Use hands-on learning experiences that incorporate a multisensory approach and rely on information available through touch, smell, and movement.
  • Capitalize on sense of touch through the systematic use of math manipulatives throughout the grade levels. Pair students with peers while vocabulary specific to the lesson is introduced and allow them to practice related concepts with manipulatives.
  • Provide the level of prompting needed for the task and specific to the child’s strengths. For example, rely on verbal prompts and language for introducing concepts to a child who has better use of hearing than vision. 
  • Provide optimal lighting conditions to capitalize on the student’s residual vision. Reduce glare, increase contrast between materials, manipulatives, and ensure that the size of the materials and print are appropriate for the student’s vision.
  • Consider close proximity to the activity and teacher during instruction. Positioning of the student and the materials must be based on understanding the child’s acuity and any field loss concerns. For example, a child who has a field loss on the left side will need materials presented on the right side. Accurate information about the child’s vision and hearing and how those losses impact access to information are CRITICAL.
  • Consider the acoustics of the environment and whether extraneous noises can be reduced or eliminated during instruction.
  • Optimize use of additional support staff, including interpreters and interveners, to assist the child in accessing classroom information and concept development.
  • Carefully consider the arrangement of the classroom so that mobility is encouraged and comfortable for the child. Experiencing a simulation of dual sensory impairments may assist in identifying features of the environment that need to be adjusted.
  • Consult with assistive technology specialists to discuss possibilities of low to high tech devices for increasing independence and participation. Some students with visual impairments will benefit from light boxes to increase contrast between objects and background and/or other devices to enlarge or magnify print and materials. Students with hearing impairments may benefit from amplification systems or assistive listening devices. 
  • Provide instruction at an appropriate pace, frequently checking for understanding and reteaching concepts as necessary.
  • Provide appropriate wait time for the student to respond to instruction or directions.
  • Have classmates identify themselves as they answer questions and participate in class discussions to allow the student to orient to the speaker.
  • Consider having the primary instructor positioned in one location during the lesson, away from glare and optimizing contrast with background materials.

Links and Resources

Alsop, L. 2002 (Ed.). Understanding DeafBlindness: Issues, perspectives, and strategies. Utah: Ski-Hi Institute.

Downing, J. (1996). Including students with severe and multiple disabilities in typical classrooms. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes.

Haring, N., & L. Romer (Eds.). (1995). Welcoming students who are Deaf-Blind into typical classrooms: Facilitating school participation, learning, and friendships. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Virginia’s Deaf-Blind Project located at the Partnership for People with Disabilities at Virginia Commonwealth University. Website provides information about Project services, including professional and family supports: http://www.twc-deafblind.state.va.us

For information about services provided through Virginia’s Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired: http://www.vdbvi.org

D-B Link provides wealth of information about characteristics and needs of students with Deaf-Blindness: http://www.tr.wou.edu/dblink

For information for interveners, other professionals, and families: http://www.tsbvi.edu/Outreach/deafblind/index.htm

For information regarding materials, teaching strategies and student characteristics: http://www.tsbvi.edu/Outreach/deafblind/info.htm

For information about Helen Keller National Center (family organizations and technical assistance services): http://www.hknc.org

For information about instructional use of touch cues for students with visual impairments and dual sensory impairments: http://www.projectsalute.net