Instructional Strategies

Instructional Strategies for Working with Students who are Visually Impaired

High Expectations 

Expect that your student who is visually impaired will do many things independently and with excellence. Expect that the team will be able to find ways to enable the student to access materials and understand concepts. Remember that a vision loss does not prevent a student from learning. A vision loss is inconvenient but it does not have to be educationally handicapping.

Speak Normally 

Your visually impaired student is much more like your other students than she is different from them. Use the same expressions you do with your other students. It is fine to say things like, "I'll see you" or "Take a look at this." It is impossible to avoid words like see, look, or watch and there is no reasonable substitute. To a blind student these words mean more "sense" or "perceive." Use a normal conversation vocabulary and avoid a condescending approach. If the student does something poorly, tell him so. Also give credit where credit is due. Use normal tone and volume, the student is blind not deaf.

Extend time limits or reduce assignments

The reality is that despite our high expectations using braille and other technology can take longer than using standard textbooks and ways of accessing materials. Be willing to be flexible in extending time limits or reducing the length of assignments while still giving the student opportunity to demonstrate what has been learned.

Modify assignments creatively

There might be times assignments have to be modified. A student who is visually impaired might need to write a paragraph instead of drawing a map. It might make more sense for them to listen to information then to actually read it in braille. 
When possible tell the teacher of the visually impaired about your upcoming units and lessons well in advance to give them some time to plan special materials and adaptations to help you and the student. A print version of a diagram showing the parts of a flower. There are blanks for the students to fill in to label the diagram.Tactile Graphic of the parts of a plant made from braille, marker, and hot glue In the example above one option would be for the teacher or a peer describe the picture and have students give their answer verbally. (This part of the diagram is below the the ground, there are a lots of little white things that grow down and suck up water.) Instead of answering verbally the student could write their answer. But how will the teacher know which answer goes with which blank when they are ready to grade it? Another option is for the diagram to be made into a tactile diagram. This one was made with marker and hot glue. The spots where the labels are to go have braille numbers. There was a word bank in braille on a previous page. The student may still need to be oriented to the diagram, but after that they may be able to complete it independently. They can write the word that goes in each blank next to the number they are labeling making it easy for the teacher to know which answer goes where.

Demonstrate new concepts

Sometimes there are concepts a student who is visually impaired has not developed because they have not seen it on TV, watch someone else do it, or just missed visual information. There may be times it is helpful to bring real objects in or have students actually do an action instead of just reading about it. Show as much as possible rather that just telling. A student holding a real earthworm. The student can feel the size, texture, and movement of the earthworm.

Added work space

Braille and other technology takes up a lot of room. Extra space may be needed by the student. However, it is also important to make sure in giving the student extra work space the student is not isolated from the class and opportunities to develop friendships.

Identify yourself

When speaking to the student identify yourself, especially when they are not encountering you where they normally do. It can really help to not create awkward moments for the student. See our video demonstrating this.


As you are writing on the board also speak it aloud. Try to differentiate for the student the key points for their notes versus when you are just talking and explaining. When you show pictures, maps, and diagrams try to provide rich verbal descriptions enabling the student to get meaning from it as well as your other students. (It is also possible to make tactual graphs and maps when we have materials ahead of time.) When you respond to students consider the nonverbal feedback you are giving and if you should verbalize any of this for students who are visually impaired, like saying yes instead of nodding or good job instead of just giving a thumbs up. Since the student will do a great deal of learning through listening it is important that they are paying attention. Expect him to face you at all times when you are talking to him or him to you. His head should never be down, the only exception is when he is working.

Copy of board or overhead notes

While it is good for students who are visually impaired to take notes because of how the action of writing can help memory. There may be times it is more efficient to give a copy of notes - either so the student can focus on content and can follow along to see spelling rather focusing on the task of writing the notes and maybe struggling to spell unknown words. At other times the student may take notes but if notes are incomplete or have misspellings it might be helpful to have a copy of the teacher notes for study purposes.

Be aware of color contrast/glare

Many students who are visually impaired but do use print are impacted by color contrast and glare. Be aware of the reduced contrast with copies on dark paper or looking at an overhead with classroom lights on. Glare from windows and overhead lights can also cause problems.

Limit noise

Noise can be very distracting for students who are visually impaired.

Vary activities

As with all students, students who are visually impaired benefit from learning in a variety of ways.

Peer/reader assistance

There may be times when it is appropriate to have a peer help students. This is also a great opportunity to foster friendships. Do give the peer feedback in how to help but not do for the student who is visually impaired. A peer could read a section of a book or website. A peer could play a game with a student. A peer could help the student with taking notes or make sure they heard the teachers answer to a question that needs written down.

Encourage student to move about to obtain information

Moving up to see the board or over to get information from a poster for example. Provide appropriate materials- good contrast, limited small details Any materials that need adapted into braille are needed at least a week in advance.

Encourage student to use adaptive materials and equipment

Some students will be reluctant when it makes them stand out as different. Praise students when they use their tools and turn in high quality work. IMG_20160331_141345.jpg

Discourage mannerisms (rocking, head down, eye poking)

Students with visual impairments are often seen with these mannerisms but they are not helpful for forming friendship and other social situations. Help students to be aware of these mannerisms.

Ask the student “What works?”

They probably have ideas about what strategies they prefer. Maybe they prefer reading materials in paper form to use with a magnifier or in PDF form to view on an iPad. Maybe a peer could read them a chapter or they could listen to the audio book or they could read it in braille. They probably know what might work best for them. If you are not sure if a student can see something, ask them if they can.