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How to Help Students with Visual Impairments or Blindness?

Visual Impairments and blindness

Do you want to know the latest inventions for the blind and visually impaired people?

“MIT develops a vibrating wearable to help people with visual impairments navigate”

“World’s First Braille Smartwatch Lets Blind People Feel Messages on Screen”

“BlindPAD’s tablet makes visual information tactile for the vision-impaired”

Make Your Own Tactile Vest

Were any of those headlines reached your newsfeed? Probably yes.  In fact, they garnered the most liked and shared topics about “blind and visually impaired” in the world of social media.

From the simple to the most complex one, time and again several innovations and inventions were made and discovered. Why? Is it because of need, love, concern, passion, frustrations, or money? For whatever reasons, they geared towards one goal, to at least make the lives of the blind and visually impaired people a little better!

There were 27743 blind and visually impaired students (age 3-21) who received special education and services under IDEA for the school year 2015-2016.

(Reference: Children ages 3 through 5; students ages 6 through 21)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) officially defines the category as “an impairment in vision that, even with correction, adversely affects a child’s educational performance. The term includes both partial sight and blindness.”


  • Eyes that don’t move together when following an object or a face
  • Crossed eyes, eyes that turn out or in, eyes that flutter from side to side or up and down, or eyes that do not seem to focus
  • Eyes that bulge, dance, or bounce in rapid rhythmic movements
  • Pupils that are unequal in size or that appear white instead of black
  • Repeated shutting or covering of one eye (as noticed with Julian)
  • Unusual degree of clumsiness, such as frequent bumping into things or knocking things over
  • Frequent squinting, blinking, eye-rubbing, or face crunching, especially when there’s no bright light present
  • Sitting too close to the TV or holding toys and books too close to the face
  • Avoiding tasks and activities that require good vision


  • Early intervention – A system of services to support infants and toddlers with disabilities (before their 3rd birthday) and their families.

(More info here: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/babies/)


  • Special education and related services – Services available through the public school system for school-aged children, including preschoolers (ages 3-21).

(More info here: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/schoolage/)


Visual Impairments and blindnessChildren with visual impairments can certainly learn and do learn well, but they lack the easy access to visual learning that sighted children have. The enormous amount of learning that takes place via vision must now be achieved using other senses and methods.

Hands are a primary information-gathering tool for children with visual impairments. So are the senses of smell, touch, taste, and hearing. Until the child holds the “thing” to be learned and explores its dimensions—let us say, a stuffed animal, a dog, a salt shaker, or a CD player —he or she cannot grasp its details. That is why sensory learning is so powerful for children with visual impairment and why they need to have as many opportunities as possible to experience objects directly and sensorially.

Families, friends, and others can support sensorial learning in many ways.

“Mmmm. Do you smell dinner?” appeals to the child’s sense of smell.

“Listen to that bird singing outside” calls to the child’s hearing. You might also say, “That’s a robin,” which gives the child a name for the bird that sings the song he or she is hearing.

“Your clothes are so soft today” speaks to the child’s sense of touch and helps the child build a picture of the “whole” from the many details.

Being able to see enables us to capture the “whole” of an object immediately. This isn’t so for children with a visual impairment. They cannot see the “whole,” they have to work from the details up to build an understanding of the whole.


Children with visual impairments need to learn the same subjects and academic skills as their sighted peers, although they will probably do so in adapted ways. They must also learn an expanded set of skills that are distinctly vision-related, including learning how to:

  • move about safely and independently, which is known as orientation and mobility (O&M);
  • use assistive technologies designed for children with visual impairments;
  • use what residual vision they have effectively and efficiently; and
  • read and write in Braille, if determined appropriate by the IEP team of the child after a thorough evaluation.

These are just some of the skills that need to be discussed by the student’s IEP team and included in the IEP, if the team decides that’s appropriate. Each of the above skill areas—and more—can be addressed under the umbrella of special education and related services for a child with a visual impairment.

(Excerpt from parentcenterhub.org : Visual Impairment, Including Blindness)


Instructional Accommodations

Environmental Accommodations

Assessment Accommodations

Electronic or enlarged paper copy of teacher notes

Use of camera to copy notes from board

Additional time for: visual activities, reading, writing

Verbal directions to accompany visual demonstrations

Large print material/ e-text

Use word processor for written work

Uses technology (laptop, smart phone) to assist in organization and presentation of information

Scans worksheets or requests electronic files

Sit near the front of class

Use white chalk on clean blackboards

Use dark markers on charts/ whiteboards to maximize contrast

Allow extra time for tests, exams or summative tasks

Large print version of the test (size 14 or 16)

Electronic version of test to be completed on computer if requested by student

Use of computer based graphing software for math

Allow typed responses for all written summative work


(Source: https://teachvisimpstudents.wordpress.com/visually-impaired-students/sample-iep/)



  • 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.

(Access more of the Strategies here: ttaconline.org)


  • It’s okay to say “look” and “see.” Even fully sighted people use their other senses in the context of looking at something. Visually impaired people might look at things in a different way, but “seeing” is in the perception (rather than the eye) of the beholder.
  • Audiovisual presentations and demonstrations are made accessible to severely visually impaired students by providing verbal explanations. Read what is being written on the board and/or describe what is pictured in the presentation. Allow the student time to handle tactually adapted materials.
  • Saying “over there” and pointing to something the student can’t see are not useful with a blind student. Instead, spatial directions must be given from the STUDENT’S perspective. Remember that the student’s left and right are opposite yours when you are facing the student.
  • Seat or encourage the visually impaired student to come to the front of the classroom or presentation area in order to be certain that s/he hears all instruction/explanation correctly.
  • Braille materials take an exceptionally long time to order and/or prepare. Textbook committee members should be aware of this and be certain that braille textbooks can be ordered in January for the following fall so that they can be transcribed in time. Extra time may be required for math and technical books, as Braille mathematical notation requires a unique certification that many literary braille transcribers do not possess.
  • Classroom handouts, especially those with pictures or diagrams, also require a great deal of time to transcribe into braille and tactile formats or verbal descriptions. Classroom teachers are wise to provide materials to be transcribed at least two weeks ahead of time, preferably on disk, as some text can be transcribed using computer translation software.
  • Expect the visually impaired student to complete the same assignments as the rest of the class. Due to alternative media, assignments may take a visually impaired student longer to complete. An average of double time for Braille or tape is a good rule of thumb. Due to time constraints it may occasionally be necessary to reduce the number of examples to be completed for classwork or homework (such as in math problems), as long as the student is able to demonstrate that s/he understands the concepts and/or skills exhibited within each example.
  • Independence is of primary importance! Be patient. Observe the student, silently encouraging independent problem-solving skills. Wait until the student asks for help and provide minimal assistance only as needed to build self-confidence and independence.
  • Avoid leaving doors and drawers ajar or chairs out from under tables and desks. Either keep furniture consistent or inform and/or involve the student in rearranging.
  • Address all students by name so that the visually impaired student can learn to associate names with voices of classmates. Address the visually impaired student by name as well, so he or she knows when he or she is being spoken to.
  • Encourage the student’s use of proper posture, eye contact as much as possible and proper social etiquette. Discourage any inappropriate mannerisms to maximize the student’s physical and emotional health, as well s the student’s social, educational and career potential.
  • Always treat the visually impaired student equally with other students. This includes discipline and special privileges as well as involvement in extracurricular and leadership opportunities.
  • Give the visually impaired student as many opportunities to help others as to be helped by others.
  • Please don’t presume that just because the student can’t see and is using other learning mediums that the student is incapable. Try to allow the student to use their strengths in the areas they have to learn.
  • All students, including those with visual impairments, learn at individual rates.
  • Summary: As much as possible, treat the student the same as any other student and your example will encourage classmates to do the same.

(Reference: Classroom Strategies for Regular Education Teachers who have Visually Impaired Students)


  • Encourage the student to use visual aids/resources that have been prescribed (e.g. glasses, magnifiers, big-print books, etc).
  • Seat the student appropriately in the classroom (e.g. in the middle towards the front).
  • Make sure lighting is suitable.
  • Photo of young boy against blue sky, being lifted in the air by two handsMake efforts to eliminate the risk of glare from the desk and whiteboard.
  • If possible ensure lights are coming from behind or to the side of the student.
  • Give clear instructions as the student may misinterpret gestures and facial expressions.
  • Consider the use of enlarged print/magnified worksheets.
  • The less configurations on a page the better (worksheets can be cut in strips and stapled together to present less work at a time).
  • Print materials need to be clear and dark.
  • Have lined paper for assignments (the darker the lines the better).
  • Nearpoint work should be limited to fifteen minutes or less. The student should be encouraged to look away from his/her work, sharpen a pencil or participate in another activity as this will allow the student to refocus his/her eyes so that the student is less likely to become fatigued.
  • Have students measure from their elbow to their fingers and tell them they need never get closer to their work than that distance.
  • Slanted desks may be of benefit to individual students.
  • Provide contrast on any visual materials used: black and white is best.
  • Avoid italic or ornate script. Remember that lower-case letters are easier to read than capital letters because they have a greater number of ascenders and descenders, making them more visually distinctive.
  • Supplement visual material with clear verbal explanation.
  • Require less copying from the board or elsewhere.
  • Increase oral activities.
  • Use concrete material and hands-on experience whenever possible.
  • Allow more time to complete tasks and provide breaks to combat fatigue.
  • Do not lower expectations because the student has a visual impairment.
  • Provide mobility and orientation training as students with visual impairment experience great difficulty in acquiring skills in direction, mobility and travel. This is particularly important at post-primary level where the student may have to move for individual subjects.
  • Arrange for other students to act as buddies and use peer tutoring. Peer-groups should be encouraged to include and support the student.
  • Use the student’s name when seeking his/her attention.

(Source: Special Education Support Service : sess.ie)



  • Provide ample time for children to inspect any objects presented for exploration. This may be time spent in addition to circle time, either before or after, describing the salient features of the object as the student manually explores it.
  • Before students participate in circle time, provide orientation to instructional materials that are regularly used, such as calendars, name charts, counting objects, and pointers. Children also benefit from opportunities to practice with the materials so that when it is their turn to put the new number on the calendar, for example, they have a greater level of comfort and familiarity.
  • Provide opportunities to practice the movements that accompany the songs that are regularly sung, explaining, when necessary, why they accompany the words in the song. For instance, when singing “I’m a Little Teapot,” one hand is held up like a teapot spout, while the other is hand is placed on the hip, as if forming a handle. A real teapot should be shown to the child as a model during description and practice.
  • Encourage youngsters with visual impairments to listen for the voice of their teacher or the person who is speaking during activities. Teach them to turn their bodies so that they face the speaker while seated. This will take practice until it becomes natural.
  • Teach children how to raise their hands in response to and when asking questions during circle-time instruction. This, too, will take practice.

 Strategies for Classroom Teachers

  • Choose a circle-time seating arrangement that places the student with visual impairment in close proximity to instructional materials and actions. In this way the child will experience the activity more fully, and teacher support will be nearby when necessary.
  • Use the names of children consistently so that the student with visual impairment will know who is called on or involved in an activity.
  • Use precise positional terminology during instruction. For example, when directing students to point to or place an object, use specific language, for example, “Put the counting bear in the ones cup on the right.”
  • Encourage the child with visual impairment to participate during circle-time activities by calling on him or her regularly, with the expectation that the child can participate fully. In the beginning it will support the child if he or she knows in advance that he or she will be asked to tell the name of the day, for example. Prepare the child for what to expect.
  • When presenting new ideas and concepts, link them to the child’s prior experiences and knowledge.

(An Excerpt from pathstoliteracy.org)



  1. Introduction
  2. The Importance of the Nemeth Code
  3. Producing Accessible Math Materials
  4. Applying a Multi-Sensory Approach and Universal Design to Math Instruction
  5. Technology Tools for Students Who Are Blind and Visually Impaired
  6. Helpful Teaching Aids for Students and Teachers
  7. Issues and Challenges with Standardized Testing
  8. Final Thoughts

(Full Article Here: perkinselearning.org)


  • Large Print
  • Braille
  • Audio
  • Digital Text
  • Additional AME Resources

(Discover MORE about AEM here: teachingvisuallyimpaired.com)

BLIND ETIQUETTE: Six Ways To Be Gracious Around People with Visual Impairments

  1. If you think someone who is blind may need help navigating, ask first.
  2. If your help is accepted, allow him or her to grasp your arm just above the elbow.
  3. If you see someone who is blind or visually impaired about to encounter danger, be calm and clear when you warn the person.
  4. Identify yourself when approaching someone who is blind, or when entering a room with them.
  5. Don’t pet or distract a working guide dog.
  6. Use “people first” language.

(Read the Article here: perkins.org)

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” – Helen Keller

We are not affiliated with any bloggers or organizations in this article.  But we do admire their advocacy and passion in helping educators, as well as parents, teach students with visual impairments and blindness.  We thought that by sharing their articles will aid, along with the newest inventions and innovations, lift visually impaired or blind people’s everyday lives.

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” – Helen Keller


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