Adapting materials for Blind and Visually impaired students
Chris N. Wilks, M. Ed.
Arkansas School for the Blind
Students with low vision and blindness are a very diverse group, with needs as individual
as the student, and in order for the student to benefit from instruction, he or she needs to
be able to access instructional materials. Unfortunately, many classroom teachers may
not always have a great deal of training on how to service this population, and the
students often suffer.
The good news is that many instructional modifications can be made with very little cost.
In many cases, common sense, not training, can be the best asset to the classroom
If a student with blindness or low vision is going to be placed in your classroom, here are
a few basic steps on how you can best service that student.
Step 1. Identify the condition.
Students with no functional vision are fairly easy to identify, but students with low vision
have a variety of conditions that must be identified accurately so that the
accommodations can be appropriate. The misconception here is that all students with low
vision must be given large print, but this is not always the case. Here are some common
characteristics of various low vision conditions:
Reduced visual acuity-the student requires magnification or enlargement to see materials
Reduced visual fields-The student cannot see as wide of an area on the page.
Sensitivity to light-The student experiences discomfort in conditions of bright light
Need for extra light-Some students may need high amounts of light (rod-cone
Color blindness-Student cannot distinguish colors.
Involuntary loss of ocular motor control-the student may not be able to control his or her
eyes from moving, and can experience fatigue after extended periods of near reading
The students should have a Functional Vision Assessment in their IEP files with the
conditions identified, and, ideally, specific recommendations for instruction. If this
document is not present in the IEP, you should notify your special education staff
immediately and make arrangements for this procedure to be done by your school
district’s itinerant vision specialist.
Step 2. Determine what modifications need to be made, and how you can adapt the
Once you have identified the specifics of the condition, as well as the learning style of
the student, you will have a better idea of what the special needs are for your student, and
you can begin to modify the materials.
Not all of these procedures will be appropriate for all students, but here are some things
Make the print bigger or bolder-This can be done easily on a copy machine or printer,
and the FVA should have some recommendations for a font size. If the student also has a
visual field loss, large print may not be the answer, but for a student who has common
nearsightedness, this can be a benefit.
If you are enlarging something, make sure that you consider other factors as well. For
example, if you are enlarging a graph for a math class, make sure that you also enlarge
the ruler by the same percentage, if measuring must be done.
Simplify the materials-Textbooks are notorious for providing a variety of graphics and
text boxes throughout the book, and these can complicate access to text. When possible,
materials that contain visual clutter should be simplified.
There are a variety of Optical Character Recognition (OCR) products out there that allow
you to scan the textbook and edit with a word processor.
Positioning-Some students can access standard materials, but must hold them very close
for reading. If you want to keep heads off of desks, then reading stands are available at
relatively low cost.
Controlled lighting conditions-Some students will require a great deal of light, and others
might experience great discomfort under standard lighting conditions. Many reading
stands have light built into them for students that need extra light, and students with
photophobia would benefit from classroom placement away from windows. If possible,
some classroom lights should be turned off.
Magnification-I’m a fan of using low-tech when possible, and some very good magnifiers
are available in standard retail stores. If a student can access regular print materials with a
$5 magnifying glass, then I would recommend that over a $2000 Closed Circuit
Television (CCTV). Some students may also need to use a monocular to access materials
on the chalkboard/whiteboard, and these are also available at a relatively low cost.
High Contrast Colors-If you are giving a handout to a classroom that uses colors, then
pastels may not be as good of a choice as richer colors.
Tactile materials-Braille readers should be provided Braille materials at all times, but it
doesn’t stop there. These students should also be able to access pictures, graphs, and
other things that the rest of the class can do in order to develop good concepts.
In particular, 3-D tactile models should be provided in Math and Science classes, and
many of these modifications can be done easily. You can make any picture into a 3-D
model with puff paint, liquid leading, or even Elmer’s Glue.
Auditory materials-Books on tape are available for many textbooks, and most of the
classical literature that is covered in English classes. But these are no substitute for a
good description in a lot of cases, and creative teachers can really make a lot of
experiences come alive for students by providing auditory feedback on the environment
for the student.
Step 3. Determine if the modification is effective
A substantial amount of follow-up will be required to make sure that the student is
benefiting from the changes, and it is dangerous to assume that the modification will
consistently be effective. Kids can often be too embarrassed to ask for help if they can’t
access the materials, and in many cases will say nothing. If they say that it is working, it
doesn’t mean that they are telling you the truth.
Once again, common sense should help you determine if your modifications are effective.
Assistive Technology Devices and Software
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few Assistive Technology devices
that are available to help your students:
Screen enhancement-Software is available that can enlarge the screen, or provide greater
color contrast for students with low vision.
The most popular products that are on the market are Zoomtext, made by AI Squared
(http://www.aisquared.com/index.htm), and MAGic made by Freedom Scientific
Screen Readers-Students with no functional vision can access computers with software
that reads all of the file commands and text to them.
The most popular products that are on the market are JAWS, made by Freedom Scientific
(http://www.freedomscientific.com/), and Window-Eyes, made by GW Micro
Optical Character Recognition (OCR)-Software used in conjunction with a compatible
scanner that allows you to scan text and edit the text with a word processor.
The most popular products on the market are Open Book, made by Freedom Scientific
(http://wwww.freedomscientific.com/), and Kurzweil 3000, made by Kurzweil
educational systems (http://www.kurzweiledu.com/).
Embossers and Braille Translators-text files can be easily converted into Braille
documents using software and an embosser.
Several embossers are available at Freedom Scientific
(http://wwww.freedomscientific.com/), and translation software is available from
Duxbury Systems (http://www.duxburysystems.com/).
Notetakers-Various devices, approximately the size of a Computer Keyboard, are
available for students to use in class.
A couple of the more popular products include the PAC Mate, made by Freedom
Scientific (http://www.freedomscientific.com/), and the Braille Note, made my Visuaide
Large Print/Talking dictionaries/calculators-Several products are available.
Franklin manufactures several talking dictionaries (http://www.franklin.com/), and you
have a wide selection of talking calculators available.
Closed Circuit TVs-Essentially devices designed to provide high levels of magnification.
Freedom Machines-Made by Vision Technology (http://www.visiontechinc.com/).
Quick Look-Available at Sight Connection (http://www.sightconnection.com/).
Talking Typer-Made by the American Printing House for the Blind
(http://www.aph.org/), this product is a program to help teach keyboarding skills to
students with no functional vision.
Math Flash-Also made by the American Printing House for the Blind,
(http://www.aph.org/), this product provides talking flashcards to help children with math
Signature guides/writing templates-Available in a variety of independent living catalogs,
this helps students with blindness and low vision sign their names, write checks, and fill