A “blindness awareness” presentation is a good way to foster understanding,
acceptance, and respect for the blind student in the classroom. A blindness
awareness presentation can help sighted students become familiar with the tools
and techniques of blindness and learn ways to interact with and include the
blind student in activities.
The session can help students realize that their blind classmate is a student
just like them who will be learning the same subjects and doing the same
assignments but who might be using different tools to get the work done. A
blindness awareness presentation can be made by the teacher of the visually
impaired, a skilled blind adult, the student himself along with a parent, or a
volunteer from an organization such as the National Organization of Parents of
Beware of Simulation
Teachers are often tempted to use simulation exercises to raise awareness and
“to show students what it is like to be blind.” In these exercises, sighted
students don a blindfold and then attempt to perform various tasks or walk
around the school building being guided by a classmate to “build trust.”
What are the goals of such exercises? Sighted students will probably have
trouble performing tasks under blindfold that they are accustomed to doing with
their eyesight. Is the goal to show them how hard it is to be blind? Sighted
students will probably be nervous giving over their safety to a guide who is
walking them around. Is the goal to show that blind people are helpless and
dependent and must put their trust in good-hearted sighted people in order to
get anywhere or to keep from falling down a flight of stairs?
Before you embark on such an activity, think about what you want the students to
learn. Wearing a blindfold for a little while might show what it would be like
to suddenly lose vision, but it certainly does not show what it is like to be
blind. Real blind people learn a series of skills that enable them to perform
tasks without or with very little eyesight. Likewise, real blind people learn
mobility skills so that they can trust themselves and get where they need to go.
If children are blindfolded but are not taught any of the skills that real blind
people use, they are likely to emerge from a simulation experience feeling that
blindness is scary, sad, and difficult. Is this what you want them to think
blindness is like?
Instead of fostering acceptance, understanding, and respect, these exercises
engender sadness, fear, and pity. Instead of thinking of their blind classmate
as a potential friend, students can end up feeling more distant from their blind
classmate and feeling sorry for him or her.
A better way to foster understanding and promote friendships is through a
presentation that will promote respect for the blind student and the skills and
tools she will be using.
Read the stories of Erik Weihenmayer, the blind man who successfully climbed Mt.
Everest, Abraham Nemeth, the blind mathematician who created the Braille code
for mathematics, and Geerat Vermeij, a blind biologist. Your students might
enjoy learning how to read and write a few simple words in Braille. You can
purchase the program Braille Is Beautiful for your class or school. This
curriculum program provides an educational video, a history of Braille,
biographies of famous blind people, Braille games and activities, tools for
writing Braille, a Braille service project, and other materials for learning
about blindness and Braille. These stories and materials will provide background
and factual information for the following possible discussion topics:
How do blind people accomplish tasks?
What jobs do blind people do?
How might blind people use their other senses?
What skills and tools do blind people learn in order to do their schoolwork, get
to the supermarket, cook a meal, do their jobs?
How does Braille work?
How can we get our blind classmate into games?
Ask your presenter to show students items such as print-Braille and large print
books, Braille and large print rulers and tape measures, a Braillewriter or
slate and stylus, a talking and large print calculator, a talking dictionary, a
coloring screen, Braille and large print playing cards, a bell ball, etc.
Cane Travel Discussion and Demonstration
A cane travel discussion and demonstration is effective in helping students
understand that their blind classmate will be learning travel techniques that
will enable him to move about safely and independently. Discussion topics can
include the following:
How do blind people move about independently?
How can a person get information without eyesight?
How does the cane work?
In addition to demonstrating basic cane use, your presenter can show students
how a blind person gets information through the cane, identifies different
surfaces, gets around obstacles, and goes up and down stairs.
Trying It Out
Give students some hands-on experiences with the tools and techniques of
blindness. Here are some examples:
Have the blind student or adult presenter write each child’s name in Braille on
a piece of paper that the children can take home.
Point out that the number five on a phone pad usually has a tactile marking that
blind people use as a reference point when dialing; let students try to find the
marking using their sense of touch. Some might then want to locate the other
Children often wonder how a blind person can eat without being able to see. Put
several plastic forks and spoons in a bag; have the students reach in the bag
and retrieve either the spoons or the forks. They will see how easily they were
able to discern which was which. Then have them close their eyes and see if they
can get a spoon to their mouths. Point out that they probably brush their teeth
Brainstorm with the class about how people could accomplish various tasks
Set up role play situations in which one child closes her eyes and a partner
tries to show her an object. Students will soon see that using words and putting
the object into the blind child’s hands will be effective.
Brainstorm ways to get the blind child into games. For example, in a game of
kickball, instead of rolling the ball to the blind student, the ball could be
placed in front of him or her.
Activities like these teach skills and broaden awareness. The blind child will
probably enjoy the attention given to his methods; the sighted children will
enjoy the success they experienced and the understanding they gained and will
feel empowered to interact with their blind classmate. These experiences will
foster the idea that their blind classmate can be a friend and an equal, and
friendship and equality beat charity and pity any day.
This article was adapted by the author,
Carol Castellano, from her book:
it Work: Educating the Blind/Visually Impaired Student in the Regular School"
Information Age Publishing, Inc.
The article first appeard in
Future Reflections Winter/Spring 2006.