Differentiated Instructional Strategies - Visual Impairments

Team members working with students with 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 visual impairment or blindness on skill development in mathematics
  • Early math development is very dependent on accessing visual information to form basic concepts. Students with visual impairments may not have had the incidental learning opportunities necessary to understand on- to-one correspondence and number relationships (Silberman & Sowell, 1988). 
  • 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.
  • More advanced math skills may be compromised because of difficulties recognizing geometric forms and shapes and completing computations that are multi-step.
Ways to help students with visual impairments or blindness succeed in mathematics

The following strategies are provided to promote access to math content, based on SOLs, for students who are visually impaired or blind. Appropriate instructional strategies for each child MUST be based on accurate and current information about the child’s sensory functioning so that instructional and environmental adaptations match the child’s needs. Current vision information, including medical evaluations and a thorough functional vision assessment, is essential to team planning for academic instruction, including mathematics.

Instructional and Environmental Strategies

  • Arrange seating according to the requirements of the assignment and students’ needs; close proximity to the teacher and activity/materials may be desirable.
  • Adapt materials to match learners’ needs (large print, regular print, Braille). Keep in mind needs related to lighting, visual contrast, and reduction of visual clutter.
  • Provide appropriate visuals including charts, figures, tables and allow plenty of time for verbal descriptions of materials.
  • Provide ample time for exploration and play with manipulatives before requiring students to complete the tasks.
  • Provide an individualized amount of wait time for student to process information and respond.
  • Consult with assistive technology specialists to discuss possible low- to high-tech devices for increasing independence and participation. Some students benefit from CCTVs (closed circuit television), light boxes, and other devices to enlarge or magnify print and numbers.
  • Help students organize homework notebooks by using tactile cues and adapted paper to easily access information and materials.
  • Provide verbal directions and descriptions of everything that is written on the overhead or blackboard, or provide materials to students in advance of the lesson to allow them to be better prepared for the content and pace of instruction.
  • Use memory strategies, including rhymes and mnemonics, to help students remember multi-step tasks.
  • Consider length of assignments and how much repetition is important to demonstrate competency.
  • Spell out new vocabulary while introducing math concepts. Make sure new concepts and vocabulary are linked to previously introduced lessons.
  • Prepare adapted materials in advance of the lesson so that students can be involved in activity at the same time, not later than the rest of the group.
  • Make the introduction of a new concept as multisensory as possible. Provide students opportunities to see the problem, record it, move around to participate in an activity related to the concept, and explore manipulatives used in the activity.

Links and Resources

Silberman, R.K., & Sowell, V. (1998). Educating students who have visual impairments with learning disabilities. In S. Sacks & R. Silberman (Eds.), Educating students who have visual impairments with other disabilities (pp.161-185). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.

Information about strategies and available commercial products through The American Printing House for the Blind Inc.: http://www.aph.org/index.html

Information about assistive technology to promote access to math content: http://www.abledata.com

Information about instructional strategies and technology suggestions for teaching math concepts from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: http://www.tsbvi.edu