Written by Althea Ocomen
As fully sighted individuals, it is especially difficult to understand what a school day may be 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 they have access to a Certified Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) and/or a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) for a professional input. But what practical tips can we implement now for teaching visually impaired students in classrooms?
1. Always use names
Always use a visually impaired student’s first name when addressing them to prevent confusion. This way, they will know you are talking to them and not someone else. When passing in hallways, instead of merely saying, “Hi,” have people announce their name, as students may not be able to recognize faces. An example, “Hi Arianne, it’s Mrs. Cory, how are you doing today?” Encourage fellow students to do the same because this fosters communication 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 to close, or in normal conversation, like saying “see you later!” Also, provide ample time for children to inspect any objects presented for exploration. This may be time spent in addition to exploring it.
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 also follow what the other students are following. 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, making it very difficult for them to understand.
Always give oral instructions. Do not provide your students with a handout that contains assignment instructions because they will not understand. Visually impaired or blind students in your class may have difficulty seeing the words and learning what is expected. Instead, you should always give oral instructions for every assignment and activity to provide a better learning environment.
4. Safety first
Students need to understand the “rules of the road” and always use the right-hand side of hallways or the right railing to prevent future accidents. 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.
5. Examine your own beliefs
Be aware of your acceptance and beliefs on what a blind or visually impaired student can do. This is crucial in your classroom and role as a professional in their future careers. Your acceptance of a student who has a visual impairment will serve as an example to all the students in your class, therefore they should be treated with equal respect.
13, L. (n.d.). Strategies for Helping Children with Visual Impairments to Develop Listening Skills. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.pathstoliteracy.org/blog/strategies-helping-children-visual-impairments-develop-listening-skills
WikiHow. (2019, September 13). How to Teach a Blind or Visually Impaired Student. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.wikihow.com/Teach-a-Blind-or-Visually-Impaired-Student
Laura Richards on December 5, 2. (2018, April 12). 10 Tips for Teaching Blind or Visually Impaired Students. Retrieved November 18, 2020, from https://www.weareteachers.com/teaching-blind-students-visually-impaired/