This article presents in brief the causes of visual impairment in modern times
and sets the theoretical framework
along with giving some practical tips of the teaching methods the teacher of
foreign languages should follow in
order to maximize the performance of the visually impaired students in the
Vision problems encountered in various individuals may be due to genetic causes,
childhood diseases, viral
infections, brain tumors, injuries, or even transmitted diseases. These causes
can bring on a number of types of
visual disabilities, which vary as to the severity of the condition caused.
Individuals with serious vision
impairment face a number of difficulties which spread in many areas of their
development process as integrated
personalities. These areas are related to the kinetic development and their
orientation, their social and emotional
development, their linguistic development, as well as their cognitive
development. Therefore, the educational
process involving people with vision problems should not only play the role of a
simple provider of knowledge
and skills but should mainly function as a link which contributes to the
understanding of the reciprocal interaction
between the individual and the society that surrounds it.
Regarding the educational process, we can distinguish two main categories of
vision impairment: low vision
and blindness. The low vision students are usually users of printed educational
material, but may require the use
of additional equipment and materials. The extent of visual disability depends
on the physical sensing attenuation
of the student’s eye, the age of the student at the beginning of the visual
impairment, and the way that the
attenuation occurred. The vision can also be variable or may be affected by
other factors such as improper
lighting, dazzling lighting, or fatigue. Therefore, there is no “typical”
student with impaired vision problem. The major challenge faced by students with
visual disabilities in the educational environment is the overwhelming
number of visual materials to which they are continuously exposed through
textbooks, school summaries, school
programs, school boards, simply by writing, etc. Furthermore, the increased use
of video, computers, compact
discs, and television are added to the already large number of video materials
to which the students have only
limited access. Overcoming the students’ optical limitation requires unique and
personalized strategies based on
the specific visual disability of each student and their ability to communicate
(e.g., Braille, speed listening, etc.).
General Behavior Guidelines for the Teachers
Address the class when entering and leaving the class or site.
Call the students by their first names if you want to attract their attention.
Use descriptive words such as straight forward, left, right, etc., according to
the orientation of the student’s
body. Be specific when giving directions and avoid using vague terms with
inappropriate for use information,
such as “there”, “here”, “this”, etc.
Describe, in detail, the visual events related to the learning activities.
Describe and familiarize through the sense of touch the student with the
classroom, the laboratory,
equipment, supplies, materials, etc.
Provide verbal notification of possible class change, additional meetings, or
Offer to read written information for a student with a visual impairment, where
Please mention your name, do not assume that a student with a visual impairment
will identify you by the
tone of your voice even if you have met before.
If asked to guide a student with a visual impairment, mention your name, offer
your services and if they are
accepted, offer your hand to the student’s palm. Tell them if they need to
ascend or descend stairs, tell them if the
door is to their left or their right, and warn them of possible dangers.
Inform the student verbally whether you intend move or need to end a
If a student with a visual disability is part of your class, constantly control
the learning environment to
ensure that it is sufficient and ready for use.
When communicating with a student who has a visual impairment, always mention
your name as well as the
name of any other present in class.
Do not pet or touch a guide dog. Guide dogs are working animals. If the dog’s
attention is distracted, it may
be dangerous for the person with a visual impairment.
Try to perceive the low noise produced by a portable brailler.
Use an audio signal or a tactile signal where normally an optical signal is
It is not required to speak loudly to people with visual impairment.
Lesson Presentation by the Teacher
By verbally spelling a new or technical word, you help the student with visual
impairment, as well as the
An enlarged text with activities, instructions, or reading a detailed course can
be used by a person with
impaired vision for the description of three-dimensional tactile models.
Use an overhead projector to give instructions step by step. Cover all
instructions except for the one you
want to be followed.
Use an opaque projector whenever possible to zoom a text or a manual.
All colored objects used for identification and associated with a lesson, an
experiment, or with other uses
must be named with a Braille label maker or otherwise codified.
Describe, in detail, the visual events, the visual means, and the guidelines
including all relevant aspects
related to vision.
Use a narrator without any visual problems or a video with a verbal narration to
describe the visual images of
the videos or the compact discs. Describe in detail all the relevant visual
events or the text which is written on the
Where necessary, have the materials of the course written in Braille, or use an
extended activity manuscript
for classroom handouts.
Provide three-dimensional tactile models, paper with embossed lines or
thermoform paper in order to
complete drawings or graphs with a tactile shape when needed.
Whenever possible, use real objects (realia) in three-dimensional presentations.
Modify teaching to use listening or tactile presentation.
Use paper with embossed lines for temporary tactile presentations.
Allow students to use a tape recorder to record their presentations.
Modify all handouts and activities so that they are available in a suitable
form, for example, normal printing,
large scale printing, Braille, or audio recording, depending on how students
Teaching English to the Visually Impaired
English language is part of foreign language learning in the educational system.
Foreign languages have
always been regarded as a demanding course intended for the most talented
students. However, attitudes and
methodology have changed and foreign language today is a subject included in the
curriculum, as is the
mandatory selection of a second foreign language, not only in Greek, but in
schools all over the world. It is now
widely accepted that the study of a foreign language is an important pillar in
the education of students, providing
both practical and professional benefits, as well as to the realization of a
more comprehensive education.
Additionally, the students themselves choose to learn a foreign language on
their own, motivated by the chances
for a more flexible professional mobility and increased opportunities for
tourism, entertainment, and
communication. For all these reasons, the great majority of students choose to
learn English as their first foreign
language, since now English is the language of trade and financial systems, as
well as of the film and music
The teaching of foreign languages to pupils with visual impairment presents some
difficulties in relation to other subjects taught.
The Transmission of Meaning
A key feature of language teaching is that while in other courses communication
is used to teach the course
content, in foreign languages content is used to teach communication. The
non-verbal methods of communication
are key players in the teaching of meaning, while in most classes where
languages are taught, vision plays a dominant if not an exclusive role.
Consequently, the teachers of the visually impaired who are unable to use
visual means to support their teaching, must look for new ways to facilitate the
teaching of the target language
without making compromises regarding the transmission of meaning.
Means and Materials
Today foreign language teaching is greatly based on vision. The meanings are
often transmitted visually,
using pictures, maps, and diagrams which are inaccessible to the visually
impaired students. One solution is to
prepare differentiated material which is though time consuming and costly. The
students who use customized
sources and material lose many physical-random learning opportunities and the
chances to strengthen the
incentives of the secondary information which is contained in the original
material. In addition, students’
opportunities to choose by themselves the readings which they find pleasurable
Reading and Writing Skills
The difficulties in reading and writing in all subjects met by students with
vision problems are commonly
accepted, but are significantly increased in the case of learning a foreign
language. The readers may have a
particular difficulty with the handwriting of a foreign language. Another
difficulty might be presented in the use
of documents (catalogs, brochures, etc.) to be read which vary in font sizes,
interpretation codes and sometimes
present peculiar text arrangements. Moreover, stresses are often not so visible
and should be highlighted.
The Braille users follow a more unified system, with different types of
difficulties. Each language has
different abbreviations. Despite the use of the first degree Braille for foreign
languages in order to include
symbols for stresses and symbols for common words, a risk of confusion still
remains. Students from a point and
on will have to either learn to use the Braille code of the foreign language,
which requires a very good command
of the Braille code of their mother tongue to avoid confusion, or to work with
Access to Reference Material
A particular point of difficulty for students with visual impairment is their
effective access to dictionaries
whose use is a major problem for both printed text users and Braille users.
Volunteer readers can be a solution to
this. In this case, however, the use of the dictionary is a troublesome
dependence on others for the students and is
not a skill of the student. Talking computers and mobile signs in Braille can
help, but what is really needed is a
complete and effective talking pocket dictionary with good pronunciation.
Use of Information Technology Where Appropriate
Despite the students’ with visual impairments relative familiarity with the use
of computers, the
commercially available software for language learning is mainly visual. The
sound synthesis systems available
for text editing vary in capacity to produce foreign languages and mobile
Braille signs are expensive. CD-ROMs
can provide reading materials with sound, but when it comes to its selection,
teachers should make sure that the
visual elements are not the dominant ones.
Reading comprehension during an assessment may be a big test for the memory
since the student does not
have the opportunity to keep notes in order to be helped. The additional time
given to the students as to complete
the examination is necessary, but it puts to test their physical endurance and
their ability to concentrate.
Foreign Language Learning Practices for People With Vision Impairment
It is obvious that the main challenge in foreign language learning for people
with vision problems is to
reduce the importance of the element of visual representation without affecting
the transmission of the meaning.
This can be achieved by introducing a limited number of vocabulary and ideas,
using tactile objects, the sense of
smell or taste, and sound effects, but care must be taken so that all students
fully understand what they experience,
which in a relatively numerous class might not be possible. Moreover, the use of
objects, relief maps, charts, and
all kinds of recorded sounds is advisable.
It is generally accepted by most teachers that, for the transmission of the
meaning of foreign words, they use
their mother tongue more than they would like to. One suggestion would be the
“code change” until the students
gain an initial level of understanding. The method to achieve this is to use the
target language first, repeat the
word in their mother tongue and then again in the target language. Gradually the
support of the mother tongue is
withdrawn as the students will begin to learn the meaning of each word. The
disadvantage which can result from
this method is the confusion created regarding the continuous and alternating
use of different languages.
Inevitably, when it comes to students with visual impairments, more emphasis is
laid on acoustical stimuli.
Some strategies that can help the learning process are: the use of homonymous
words (Μητέρα - Mother),
speaking clearly, emphasizing on already known words and the tone of voice. A
student may also be asked to
explain something to the whole class. Controlling comprehension in this way is
necessary to avoid verbalism,
which is the use of words and phrases without fully understanding their meaning.
Another approach to teaching students with visual impairment supports the use of
physical expression to help
speak in the foreign language. Role plays and dramatized dialogues not only help
students to develop orientation
and mobility skills, but also help them put to use the language of a particular
meaning and practice linguistic
expressions. An active and multisensory approach is encouraged in this way.
Learning and reciting simple songs
or poems or encouraging the students to create improvised rhyming lyrics and
songs can also be very helpful.
Finally, another feature that enhances the motivation of the students and
supports understanding by giving
meaning to learning is to negotiate the content of learning. This will
inevitably be done in the students’ mother
tongue and since in this way students fully understand what are learning, the
advantages outweigh by far the
disadvantages of the use of the mother tongue.
Sofia Christidou is an Experienced English Teacher, holding a Ba in English Language and Literature from the Department of English Studies of the School of Philosophy AUTh, Thessaloniki, Greece. Skilled in Translation and Interpreting, Technical Translation, Translational Research, Adult Education and Special Education.
Foreign Language Learning for the Visually Impaired in the Region of Central
Problems and Suggestions
University of Western Macedonia, Thessaloniki, Greece