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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.
As with all areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum, it is important for teachers to not only address the student's current needs, but to prepare the student for their future. Most students will need to develop some level of handwriting skills.
Students with Low Vision
Some students with low vision will need very little accommodations or specialized instruction to develop legible handwriting or a legal signature. Other students, on the other hand, will need a considerable amount of support. Students need to develop legible handwriting that can be read by themselves and others. As with all areas of instruction, the instruction will be most meaningful when practiced within the context of meaningful activities that are age and developmentally appropriate. Depending on the student's needs, the school's occupational therapist may be a great resource to assist in developing these skills.
Using Optical Devices
Depending on the student's level of vision, the student may need an electronic magnifier. An electronic magnifier can be used not only to view information at near (and distance if the magnifier has the ability to toggle between near and distance), but also to use to complete writing assignments. The electronic magnifier allows the student to sit upright, adjust the magnification, and adjust the contrast to meet their individual needs. Unlike handheld magnifiers, the student's can view information hands free.
Using Non-Optical Devices
As stated in the Increasing Contrast page, bold line paper can be used to assist students in writing within a given space. As the student's writing develops and improves, you may transition to paper with lines that are not as bold or less width. According to Foundations of Low Vision (p.295), "The goal is to work toward normal line spacing because writing with normal-sized letters not only conforms to societal expectation, but provides the student with a greater speed of writing."
Writing tools such as 20-20 pens or soft-lead artist pencils or pens that provide increased contrast can also be helpful for students. Providing students with task lighting is yet another option for students.
Students may also benefit from a slant board to change the position of the writing surface. Bookstands that are designed specifically for persons with low vision help reduce postural fatigue by bringing the work closer to the reader’s eyes. Some students prefer using a three ring binder of various widths as it does not draw as much attention to themselves. Consider placing shelf liner on one side to create a non-slip surface for books. Use a clamp on the writing side if necessary to position paper so it does not slip down.
If a student is not able to produce print that is legible to themselves or others or if the student experiences visual fatigue during writing activities, it is important to instruct the student in keyboarding skills. Teaching tactual keyboarding skills will also minimize the need for a student to shift their gaze when copying information or taking notes. Instruction in tactual keyboarding skills (Teaching the location of keys so the student does not become dependent on hunting and pecking for the keys.) should be taught to students who are blind or visually impaired early and deliberately. Developing keyboarding skills provides students with a lifelong skills.
Students with Minimal or No Vision
Students with little or no vision should be instructed in how to write letters in order to write quick notes to sighted friends and teachers as not all peers and teachers are familiar with braille. More importantly, the student should be provided with many opportunities to practice the signature including appropriate situations so they can begin to understand the importance of a signature and when it is needed.
Developing a Signature
There are several approaches that can be used to teach students how to sign their names. Students should be encouraged to create their initials, sign both their first and last name and sign their complete signature within a confined space using a signature guide.
The Mangold approach focuses on learning the strokes involved in the formation of cursive letters. After the students learns the strokes, they are taught how to put those strokes together and practice one stroke and one letter at a time. As one step is learned, the next stroke or letter is added until the signature is complete. This approach recommends forming letters in the size that is appropriate and not using a larger board as the student employs muscle memory.
The Braille Cell method is the method that teaches students the formation of letters using the dot positions of the braille cell. A student is instructed to use their memory of dot locations to form letters. The letters will initially be squared off, but the student can then be encouraged to curve the letters.
Using a Signature Template is another method of teaching students to develop a signature. The template, which uses enlarged letters, can be purchased or created and used to show students the formation of the letters. Students can trace the letters to learn the formation. The student is then instructed in transferring those strokes to raised line paper. The students will need to learn to use a smaller size signature.
Write Readable Words & Short Notes
In addition to a signature, it is important for students who are braille learners to learn to write words and short notes in in print/written form. This will allow the student to write quick notes to those who are not familiar with braille.
Allow student to use felt-tip pens (black or color) or 20/20 pens if the student needs a darker line and increased contrast. Usually preferred in black and available in various widths, these pens produce a bold letter or diagram. The use of different-colored markers will often help a student emphasize sections of his or her notes when scanning would otherwise be difficult. Similarly, allow the student to use a mechanical pencil as these pencils don’t become dull. A highlighting pen can be used to draw student’s attention to certain words and improve contrast between the print and the page.
Bold Line Paper
For students who find it difficult to see the lines on regular writing paper, bold line paper is available in various formats, including graph paper, large-print staffs for music notation, and writing paper. This paper has dark lines and/or enlarged spaces for students who have difficulty using regular lined paper.
If the student needs to be able to erase, as most students will, the Faber-Castell #8B is a bold line pencil that does not run or smudge and provides a bold line. It has a soft lead that requires a gentle press to write. It can also be erased unlike markers.
Raised Line/Embossed Writing Paper
Raised line paper can help guide students in handwriting by teaching line orientation assist with correct letter and word spacing. Raised line paper can be purchased in black line only or with red and blue lines which may be helpful for students with low vision. These papers can be obtained from a variety of retailers including APH, amazon, therapyshoppe, Maxi-Aids and more.
The ReadWrite Stand, available from APH, can be used for reading and writing tasks. It has a metal apparatus mounted on the back that accommodates three additional angles apart from the resting angle of five degrees.
Script Letter Board
This Script Letter Board, available from APH, provides a way for students to explore upper and lower case cursive letters. Students can use a pencil or stylus to trace the incised script letters,
There are a variety of signature guides that can be purchased from a number of vendors. The signature guide to the right, from APH, provides an opening with an elastic band. The band provides a guide for writing and flexes to allow for the descenders of letters.