As fully sighted individuals, it’s hard to really understand what a school day is like for a significantly visually impaired or blind student. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, each student’s vision needs are individual to them, and it’s important that these students have access to a Certified Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) and/or a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) for consult and professional input. But what practical tips can you implement now for teaching blind students?
Charlene Laferrera, MEd is a Certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired. She’s spent 30 years working in various school systems including the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA with students ranging in age from birth to 22 years of age. Magali Gueths, MEd, has been a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist for 15 years working in various locations and school districts. Magali has a fully blind son so innately understands the needs of blind and visually impaired students. They provide the following tips for teachers:
1. Always use names
Always use a visually impaired student’s first name when addressing them. This way they will know you are talking to them and not someone else. When passing in hallways instead of saying, “Hi” have people announce their name as students may not be able to recognize faces. An example, “Hi Sara, it’s Mrs. Murphy, how are you today?” Prompt fellow students to do the same because this fosters connection in the school community.
2. It’s okay to use words that reference sight
Don’t avoid words like “see” and “look.” Just like their sighted peers, these words should be part of a blind or visually impaired student’s vocabulary to connote how they see, whether by touch, bringing things close or in normal conversation, like saying “see you later!”
3. Don’t gesture, always verbalize
When writing on the board, always verbalize what you are writing so the student has access to that information and can follow along. Use positional and directional concepts like above/under, on top, behind/in front of, left/right etc. and use descriptive sentences like, “The ball is next to the door” instead of “The ball is over there.” Avoid words and phrases like “here,” “there,” “over here,” “over there,” and gestures that provide direction, i.e. pointing to a location without verbalizing what is being pointed to because visually impaired students cannot see that.
4. Avoid asking if a student can see something
Don’t ask a student, “Can you see this?” They often can see it, but that does not mean that they can access it or read it. Instead ask: “Can you find X?” or “Can you identify all the words and numbers without guessing?” or “Can you see some parts of the board better than others?”
5. Correct seating is crucial
Always favor the stronger side of the student’s vision due to visual field deficits. For example, if the student only uses his left eye, he would need to sit on the right side of the classroom away from the windows. Seating facing a light source (sun, windows) should ideally be at their back.
6. Contrast, contrast, contrast!
Use contrast for everything. Think, “bold, big, and simple!” Use bright balls in contrast with the floor at gym. Stairs should have at least the first and last steps taped with a contrasting color (typically yellow) at the edge of the step.
7. Follow the leader
When in line, direct their attention to the child in front of them using color of clothing or hair and have them model/follow what that child is doing (stopping, walking straight, turning, etc.), always moving slowly for safety.
8. Be a confident sighted guide
If you need to be a sighted guide for a preschooler, offer two fingers or your wrist for them to hold. You are not holding them unless it is for their safety. For older students, they hold just above your elbow with their dominant hand.
9. Safety first
Students need to understand the “rules of the road” and always use the right-hand side of hallways or the right railing. Use boundaries like cones in the gym, lines on the pavement to follow from school to the playground, etc. If there are changes to the classroom, walk the student through alone so they know where things are.
10. Examine your own beliefs
Be aware of your own acceptance and your beliefs surrounding what a student who is blind or visually impaired can do both in your classroom and as a professional. Your acceptance of a student who has a visual impairment will serve as an example to all the students in your class.
Do you have any tips for teaching blind students or those with visual impairments? Please share in the comments.