By: Carmen Willings
Updated October 28, 2017
Students who are blind or visually impaired will typically need adaptations to access printed information throughout the language arts program. Literacy and reading skills are foundational skills that will allow the student to access all areas of the curriculum. It is the role of the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) to determine the student's primary reading mode. Although the student should develop strong auditory skills, it is essential for the student to learn to read print and/or braille.
Students with low vision will typically use printed materials. Some students may be able to read print without any adaptations but the majority of students with low vision will require large print or magnification devices in order to comfortably read print for short and sustained reading activities. For students who need large print, magnification devices should be considered as they allow a student to access all printed information so they are not dependent on what has been enlarged for them.
Speed and Stamina
Many students with low vision will read at a slower speed than their sighted peers and have less stamina for reading longer passages. Although teachers may be inclined to reduce the amount of reading and have the student read for shorter periods, this strategy does not help develop greater speed and stamina. Alan J. Koenig and Evelyn J. Rex discuss this very issue in the Foundations of Low Vision chapter on Instruction of Literacy Skills to Children and Youths with Low Vision. They recommend encouraging the student to read extensively to increase speed and stamina. Recommendations are similar to those with students who are sighted. They include repeated readings, paired reading, choral reading and echo reading. With that being said, it continues to be important to teach the student to recognize signs of visual fatigue and learn strategies for dealing with it (ex. take short breaks, change from reading a text to listening to a recording of the text, or changing position)
Conducting a reading inventory as part of the student's Reading Media Assessment, such as the Jerry John's, will help to identify the students reading rate and the student's level of independent reading, instructional reading level and the student's frustration level.
If a student is a braille reader, they will need significant support in the production of materials in braille. The TVI or braillist will need plenty of advance notice on worksheets and other activities and information that needs to be produced in braille. Braille books should be available for the student at home as frequent reading experience is critical for success and good braille reading skills. The TVI will collaborate with the classroom teacher, the student and the parents to ensure the student has braille materials available at home. Parents should be encouraged to be involved in fostering children's interest and love of literacy and books. Parents with students who are future or current braille readers will typically need assistance in locating books and materials in braille.
Environmental Exposure to Braille
The goal for the braille learner is to recognize braille or other tactile symbols as easily as sighted people read print. Early exposure to print/braille is important. Students should be exposed to a wide variety of print/braille in books and in the environment. Future braille readers or possible braille candidates MUST have daily exposure to braille in a literacy rich environment that is fully accessible. This daily exposure (at school and at home) will help students make the connection between what is written and the spoken word. Provide students with opportunities to read class schedules, daily messages, cassette tape labels, recipes, menus, and notes from teachers. Also provide opportunities to read transcriptions of classmates’ writing, and a wide variety of children’s books transcribed into braille. Incorporate braille on: bulletin boards; braille names on desks, cubbies and lockers; classroom signs, rules and posters; and calendars.
Literacy Rich Environment
Find functional uses for braille, such as labeling personal belongings (lockers, notebooks, CDs, and so forth), recording telephone numbers, and writing homework assignments or shopping lists. For those less familiar with braille, a braille labeler can be used to make braille labels, although it can only produce uncontracted braille. Braille clothing labels can provide daily exposure to braille as well. Model the use of braille (as when reading aloud to the student) and use braille for sending messages and other functional purposes.
Shared reading provides an opportunity for the student to participate in reading with a reader that reads with fluency and expression. When you are reading together with a student who is learning braille, be sure that the student's fingers are in contact with the braille as you read. Encourage the student to use a light touch ("Smooshing" the braille will make it unreadable!) and not to "scrub" the braille. Also, encourage the student to smoothly "track" along the lines with the pads of the fingers on both hands from left to right as you read. In the beginning, it is not necessary for the student's fingers to be on the same words as you are reading - this will come later with more formal instruction. As the student gets older and more experienced with books, you may want to read only when they are tracking. This way the student will begin to understand that to read braille, you must keep your hands moving! After a shared reading experience, the student should be encouraged to re-read the story independently either silently or aloud.
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Due to the nationwide shortage of vision professionals, it can be challenging to locate personnel. Announce a job vacancy on the Job Exchange of Teaching Students with Visual Impairments, an online listing of jobs specific to the visual impairment field.
Rogow, Sally. Language, Literacy and Children with Special Needs. Pippin Publishing, 1997. This book focuses on the importance of supporting students with special needs so they can participate and be integrated into the educational mainstream. Rogow outlines a variety of approaches that will help teachers ensure that learning happens for everyone.