Instructional Strategies for Students with Visual Impairments
- Incomplete and/or distorted visual information interferes with concept development crucial to growth in literacy skills. Foundation skills, such as oral language and vocabulary usage, may be affected by lack of incidental learning opportunities.
- Visual impairments may negatively affect the child’s ability to comprehend spoken and written words and may increase the length of time required for the mechanics of literacy (following written material, locating key information, organizing information to be referenced at a later time).
- Involve the student in the brainstorming process. Ask the student 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 a multi-sensory approach that includes spoken language and tactile information.
- 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 team members, student, and family to identify appropriate homework options and requirements.
- Provide access to visuals presented at an appropriate distance and in the child’s visual field and allow plenty of time for descriptions and exploration of materials and activity.
- Use mutual exploration and modeling strategies (hand-under-hand and hand-over-hand) as appropriate to encourage exploration of materials and activities. Team members need to be aware of tactile sensitivity issues.
- Consider environmental adaptations such as lighting conditions, contrast between materials, and the use of tactile cues in the room to promote independence and mobility.
- 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 how that loss affects access to information are critical.
- Carefully consider the arrangement of the classroom so that mobility is encouraged and comfortable for the child. Experiencing a simulation of a vision impairment may assist the child’s team 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. Other options include Braillewriters, closed-circuit televisions, and screen enlargers.
- 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 and adults identify themselves as they answer or ask questions and participate in class discussion to allow the student to orient to the speaker.
- Consider having the primary instructor positioned in one location during the lesson and away from glare.
- Begin literacy activities by drawing on the concrete experiences of the learner. Start with vocabulary that is relevant to the student and provide supplemental experiences to help the child comprehend the meanings of new words.
- While various reading approaches may be effective, students with visual impairments will need systematic instruction to effectively learn to recognize words, comprehend text, and use effective written language.
- For beginning readers, pair real objects with representations (pictures, miniatures)
- Encourage all reading efforts, including pretend reading and pretend writing. Consult with reading specialists to identify student’s stage of literacy and appropriate activities to move student to next level.
- Use repeated readings to build fluency and comfort level.
- Consult vision teacher and other team members about strategies for teaching Braille, when appropriate. Keep in mind the need for direct instruction, practice activities, consistency in instructors and expectations. See links below for additional Braille information.
- Comprehension is strengthened by teaching the student specific strategies for increasing understanding. Students should be taught to ask who, what, where, and why questions to check their understanding of text material.
- Written language should be taught systematically across all content areas and draw on the real-life experiences of the student.
- Mechanics of writing, such as capitalization, punctuation and spelling, should be taught by teaching self-monitoring techniques (Silberman & Sowell, 1998).
- Teach new vocabulary at a controlled pace and provide opportunities for interactions with peers (McNaughton, Hughes & Clark, 1994).
- Consult AT specialists regarding the use of computer software that can be used to assist with writing assignments and reading of text.
McNaughton, D., Hughes, C.A., & Clark, K. (1994). Spelling instruction for students with learning disabilities: Implications for research and practice. Learning Disability Quarterly, 17, 169-185.
Sacks, S.Z. (1998). Educating students who have visual impairments with other disabilities: An overview. In S. Sacks, & R.K. Silberman (Eds.), Educating students who have visual impairments with other disabilities (pp. 3-38). Baltimore: Brookes Publishing Co.
Silberman, R.K., Bruce, S.M., & Nelson, C. (2004). Children with sensory impairments. In F.P. Orelove, D. Sobsey, & R.,K. Silberman (Eds.), Educating children with multiple disabilities: A collaborative approach (pp.425-525). Baltimore: Brookes Publishing Co.
Silberman, R.,K, & Sowell, V. (1998). Educating students who have visual impairments with learning disabilities. In S. Sacks, & R.K. Silberman (Eds.), Educating students who have visual impairments with other disabilities (pp.161-185). Baltimore: Brookes Publishing Co.
http://www.vdbvi.org for information on Virginia’s Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired
http://www.tsbvi.edu for information on teaching emergent literacy skills in Braille
http://www.brailleauthority.org for The Braille Authority of North America
http://www.brailleinstitute.org for The Braille Institute
http://www.tsbvi.edu/Education/index.htm#Braille for Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired