Telling insights

27th April 2007 at 01:00
In the first of a new series, Gill Moore discusses visual impairment

When you discover you're going to be teaching a visually impaired child, the first thing to do is ask a few questions. What vision, if any, have they got? Only a small proportion of visually impaired people lack any useful sight. Others can distinguish between light and dark, see the general shape of things, see objects in a blurred way, or they may have peripheral sight (seeing only the edges of things) or tunnel vision. And have they been blind from birth or has their sight been deteriorating? This will affect the learner's development of concepts.

Although large print may enable some partially sighted learners to read, it will be tiring and more difficult to use contextual clues because they will not be able to see very much at a time. Reading and writing will take longer and require even greater concentration.

Others will read braille or Moon through their fingertips. Braille is a universal system of raised dots, representing all the letters of the alphabet and some common letter strings. Moon is simpler. It has nine raised characters based on the alphabet which are used at different angles.

It is an easier system for children with multiple difficulties.

Diagrams and pictures may present difficulties, even if they have been simplified and made tactile. The learner may not be able to take in the "whole picture" and it may not fit the concepts they have formed. It might be better for you to describe the content.

Tone is very important with visually impaired pupils since they cannot read body language. Smiling will come across in your voice. Check - subtly - that they are following what is being said. If something is happening that the pupil cannot see, explain it. Remember, it is easy for blind people to feel isolated and excluded.


Ask the pupil what help they need.

Alert the child when you are talking to them and indicate who is speaking in a group discussion.

Read out anything you are writing on the board.

Give written materials in advance to support assistants so they have time to adapt it.

Make lighting comfortable. Glare can be a problem and some visually impaired pupils are sensitive to bright light.

Minimise background noise.

Stand directly in front of the learner.

Use a large font in a sans-serif typeface such as Arial. Find out what size the pupil can access, remembering that the larger the font, the more difficult it is to take in whole sentences and the slower reading becomes.

Try to break up the text so it fits reasonably on to A4 sheets.

Use good contrasts. Heavy black type on a yellow paper may suit some learners.

Use tape recorders.


Blind and partially sighted children need lots of practical experience to help them to build up abstract concepts, so the activity-based learning routinely offered in nurseries is suitable. Children will enjoy finger rhymes and movement songs.

Share books, especially those with textures and sound effects. Use puppets to encourage talking. Explore toys that are brightly coloured or have lights and bells.

Name objects for a child. Draw their attention to the noises they can hear, such as traffic. Give lots of opportunities for sensory experience, including taste and smells. Tactile ways to learn about shapes and letters include textured letters and rollerball tracks

Gill Moore is a lecturer in basic skills and special needs governor


Teaching materials:

Accessibility devices and software, such as screen-readers, magnification programmes, voice synthesizers and Braille keyboards: www.abilityhub.comindex.htm

The Royal National Institute for the Blind:

Sense, a charity for deaf-blind children:

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