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Penny R. Cox & Mary K. Dykes
• Basic traffic safety • Playground boundaries • Cafeteria use • Computer use in library or media center • “Readable” maps and charts • Verbal (auditory) alternatives • Emergency procedures
You need to answer many questions: Can everybody exit the building quickly in the event of an emergency? Can all students locate and use water fountains? How about items on bookshelves in the classroom or library? Or special learning centers in the classroom?
We can appropriately teach students with visual impairments in general education settings. But we must be sure that we are informed about students’ visual abilities and their affect on learning and integration in the general classroom environment.
This article discusses strategies for including students with visual impairments into general education settings. The article provides a starting point from which general educators can begin to learn about visual impairments and build skills that will benefit all their students (see box, “Commonly Used Terms”).
Categories of visual impairments reflect more than just visual acuity. Students’ ability to use vision, as well as how much they use other senses for learning, are aspects of each category (Bishop, 1996; Turnbull, Turnbull, Shank, Smith, & Leal, 2002). The terms low vision, functionally blind, and blind are often used to describe and categorize levels of vision. Each category is considered in terms of the degree of acuity and its implications for students’ learning.
The following terms are frequently used by professionals who work with students who have visual impairments. Understanding these terms will allow general education teachers to communicate with other support personnel more effectively.
TEACHERS NEED TO DESIGN
APPROPRIATE EXPERIENCES TO
Students with visual impairments lack opportunities for incidental learning that occur for their sighted peers almost constantly (Hatlen & Curry, 1987). Without such opportunities, associating words with elements of the environment is difficult. Thus, it is important that such associations be supplemented with input from other senses and through alternative activities.
The limited nature of visual associations
for students with visual impairments
has classroom implications.
Absence of or reduced visual cues, such
as a schedule written on the chalkboard
or seeing the clock, can prevent these
students from following classroom procedures
or anticipating coming events. Students need opportunities to become
acquainted with their classmates.
Because students with visual impairments
may not readily associate names
and faces through incidental classroom
experiences, teachers need to design
appropriate experiences to help build
relationships among all students in a
class. Physical orientation of students to
classroom routines or other events that
take place during the day is important
and must occur as soon as possible
once the student is assigned to the
ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY
TRAINING CAN HELP STUDENTS
Students with visual impairments should move around the classroom or other areas of the school just as their sighted peers do. Free movement around school is an essential part of successful school experiences. Orientation and mobility training helps students accomplish this goal. Koenig (1996) stated that such training “promotes safe, efficient, graceful, and independent movement through any environment, indoor and outdoor, familiar and unfamiliar” (p. 260). Orientation and mobility skills help people know where they are in relation to their surroundings and how to safely navigate within their environment (Turnbull et al., 2002).
Relevant skills for the school setting include knowing where landmarks are throughout the school setting; being familiar with the layout of classrooms and common areas such as the library, gym, and cafeteria; and knowing where exits, restrooms, the main office, and other relevant areas are. Students need training in the school’s emergency procedures, such as fire, tornado, or earthquake drills. Orientation and mobility skills are also important in outdoor areas such as playgrounds and bus loading zones (see Figure 1 on page 70 for a checklist of skills for classroom teachers).
Different types of mobility systems are available, including sighted guides, canes, guide dogs, and electronic devices (Hill & Snook-Hill, 1996). Orientation and mobility specialists can help determine the best system to use for individual students; as well, the specialists can provide information about the preferred system and any training general education teachers may need.
Figure 1. Checklist for Outdoor and Indoor Orientation and Mobility Adaptations
Students with visual impairments placed in general education classes usually get support services from a vision specialist (Heward, 2000). Such topics as learning through other senses, instructional and curricular adaptations, and appropriate resources and materials are the domain of vision specialists. General educators will find these colleagues a valuable source of information and assistance that will help them capitalize on students’ abilities (see Figure 2 above for a checklist of classroom materials and strategies for teachers).
General education teachers serving students with visual impairments must work in collaboration with vision specialists. Vision specialists should be a part of the team of professionals working to ensure that students are receiving appropriate services and accommodations. Vision specialists can help determine what goals and related services should be included on the individualized education program (IEP) of the students, as well as what types of accommodations are needed in the classroom. General educators who consult regularly with vision specialists are better able to fashion learning experiences appropriate for their students.
Students with visual impairments use tactile and kinesthetic input to learn about their environments. Such input should not be thought of as “lesser senses” to use in the absence of vision, but as another system through which learning takes place (Klatzy & Lederman, 1988). Tactile and kinesthetic input can provide students with information about objects they come in contact with and use.
Any visual materials used in classrooms need to be adapted for use by students who do not have the visual skills required for the task. Charts, models, maps, and graphs will have greater educational value for students with visual impairments if they can be “read” using the sense of touch. For example, outlining map boundaries with string enables students with visual impairments to use their sense of touch to read maps.
Whenever teachers use manipulatives, models, or other equipment, students with visual impairments need the opportunity to use their tactile and kinesthetic senses to become familiar with the objects to benefit from their use in lessons. Teachers should introduce students with visual impairments to materials and equipment used in activities such as science experiments before the activity. If students have the opportunity to learn about the materials or equipment before the activity begins, they will be more able to concentrate on the concept being taught rather than on what equipment they are using. Toward this end, a specialist will assist students and general classroom teachers with adaptations as needed.
Auditory Learning and Accommodations
Auditory input provides another way students can gain information. Teachers should not assume, however, that students will understand verbal input in the same way and at the same depth as other students understand visual input. Auditory language triggers the creation of mental images that correspond with words. Images are recalled to assist students in comprehending verbal language (Barraga & Erin, 1992). A student with visual impairments is likely to have fewer and less detailed mental images to correspond with verbal language. Such images may differ according to a student’s individual experiences and verbal input he or she has received from others (Whitmore & Maker, 1985)
General education teachers should observe and interact with students with visual impairments in an effort to determine whether individual students understand verbal input. The teacher must check for comprehension during class discussions and when giving directions. If students are having difficulty understanding what the teacher says, the teacher may need to clarify or expand on their background knowledge or vocabulary.
Organizations providing services for people with visual impairments offer audiotaped textbooks. Classmates can be designated as notetakers for students with visual impairments. Class notes can then be audiotaped or transcribed using an enlarged font or Braille.
General education teachers may also develop verbal or other auditory cues as signals for attending to important information or particular events. Teaching listening skills is also important. Efficient listening is crucial to classroom success for students with visual impairments. Improved listening skills help students with visual impairments increase their spoken and written communication and reading skills (Heward, 2000). Teachers can consult vision specialists to determine appropriate auditory accommodations for each student.
Most students with visual impairments have some usable vision. Their visual learning can become more efficient if they can enhance their skill to use their vision through training or the use of assistive devices. Observe students to determine that they have visual skills sufficient for locating and tracking visual materials. Vision specialists can offer assistance in developing students’ visual skills and in making accommodations necessary for helping students use their vision in productive ways. Such services include making maps, adapting reading materials, and assisting in general accommodations.
Many options are available for teachers selecting reading and writing materials for students with visual impairments. According to their needs and preferences, students may use printed or Braille materials. Printed materials should be clear and be printed using an easily readable font. Providing an easel to hold reading materials can help students with visual impairments do close work more easily (Barraga & Erin, 1992). Black felt-tip pens and soft lead pencils are useful writing utensils for students with visual impairments because of the increased amount of contrast they create against white writing paper (Koenig, 1996). An extra light source at the student’s work area can be helpful for some students (Heward, 2000). If a student can benefit from an additional light, the light’s placement should be determined in collaboration with the vision specialist.
Some simple strategies for using printed materials can help students with visual impairments learn visually without requiring huge adjustments to the classroom environment. Simply holding books or other materials closer is enough to help some students with visual impairments (Heward, 2000). Using magnification devices or largeprint materials are two accommodations that are often implemented in the classroom (Barraga & Erin, 1992). Such equipment and materials are available for students who need them.
Here are other considerations for general education teachers to remember during lessons and when preparing materials for use in the classroom (see Figure 2).
Technological advances have created many products that are advantageous for students with visual impairments, both for input and output of information. Equipment is available that helps students with visual impairments by “reading” printed material, providing braille printouts of what is seen on the computer monitor, and converting braille to print. Some word processors print in traditional text or Braille.
Choosing appropriate technological
adaptations for students with visual
impairments entails numerous and
complex considerations that are beyond
the scope of this article. Teachers and
school teams should make such decisions
in consultation with the vision
specialist, according to each students’
CHARTS, MODELS, MAPS, AND
GRAPHS WILL HAVE GREATER
EDUCATIONAL VALUE FOR
The academic curriculum appropriate for students with visual impairments is determined by their cognitive abilities. The goals and objectives set for students without visual impairments do not need to be changed for a student due solely to a vision problem, though the methods for accomplishing the goals may be different.
Many students with visual impairments, however, require instruction in additional curricular areas. Teachers and schools frequently need to emphasize orientation and mobility training, daily living skills, and social skills for students with visual impairments. Again, the vision specialist should be actively involved in curricular decisions.
Daily Living. Lack of opportunities for incidental learning may make it necessary for students with visual impairments to receive specific instruction in daily living skills. Barraga and Erin (1992) mentioned some daily living skills that are important to consider. Selfcare skills that need to be assessed to determine the need for instruction include dressing, taking care of clothing, eating, and preparing food. Teachers often need to provide direct instruction in skills such as housecleaning, safety, home maintenance, and money management. Depending on the nature of the skills, they may be taught by a teacher certified in vision, an occupational therapist, or an orientation-and-mobility specialist. Vocational rehabilitation counselors may be involved in planning and providing transition services for students seeking postsecondary education or training or preparing to enter the work force (Torres & Corn, 1990).
Social Skills. Research has indicated that students with visual impairments are behind their peers without impairments in social skills development (Erin, Dignan, & Brown, 1991). Without the benefit of certain visual cues, some students may not have learned behavior appropriate in social situations. Students with visual impairments may need to be taught how to extend their hand to shake hands or how to use their hands to gesture appropriately when talking. Conversational skills, such as making (or simulating) eye contact or how to orient themselves to others spatially (Barraga & Erin, 1992), are important for successfully integrating students with visual impairments into general education settings.
As inclusive programs for students with disabilities increase in number, general education teachers will need to understand the effect that disabilities have on students. Such understanding will allow them to make appropriate accommodations and adaptations to design inclusive educations for students with disabilities. Visual impairments affect students in a variety of ways. General education teachers who are aware of the implications of visual impairments on students’ learning will be able to provide their students with educational opportunities that will lead to successful academic and social experiences.
THE COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN