In this video, Caitlyn provides ten tips for English teachers with blind or visually impaired students. These tips are primarily meant for elementary and high school English teachers, but some will apply to college classes as well.
1. Maintain communication with your blind student and/or their TVI, (teacher of the visually impaired). All blind students are different, and each blind student is going to have a different level of comfort and skill with English classes. This post can serve as a set of general guidelines, but ultimately, only your student and their TVI will be able to tell you how to best meet the student’s individual needs. Make sure that both your student and their TVI know what is coming up in your class at least a week in advance. This gives them time to find accessible copies of the materials and modify assignments as needed.
2. Use accessible materials. Most of the materials used in English classes are already accessible or can be easily made accessible by a TVI. However, it is important to verify that accessible copies of the material are available in your student’s format of choice. This is especially important for reading material and online content.
3. Ask your student if they are comfortable reading aloud before having them do so in class. Blind people are perfectly capable of reading, but the average braille reader reads significantly slower than the average print reader. Some braille readers will be comfortable reading aloud in class, and others will not. If you have a student who is comfortable reading aloud in class, it is ideal to let them know which passage they will be reading ahead of time so that they can find it in their book. If your student relies primarily on screen readers and audio books to complete their reading assignments, they will not be able to read aloud in class.
4. Understand that blind students may have a hard time navigating certain pieces of reading material. Books downloaded from volunteer-operated websites like bookshare.org often have issues in the braille, and the page numbers do not always line up with the print books. Also, blind students cannot skim quickly through the text, and navigating to specific places with braille or a screen reader will take longer. Try to let your student know where you will be starting in the reading material ahead of time so that they can navigate to the correct place before class starts. If the page numbers are off, it may be helpful to give them a chapter heading or a specific sentence that they can keyword search along with the page number.
5. Give your blind student extra time to find their place in reading material and complete lengthy reading and writing assignments. It will take your blind student longer to find their place, read things, and complete assignments. A lot of blind students will be able to keep up with the pace of an English class, but some may struggle. Allow them extra time as needed if you notice that they are struggling to keep up as a result of their visual impairment.
6. Understand that visual formatting is hard for blind students. Blind students do not get a good sense of the visual layout of things from braille or audio. Things like shape poems will be difficult for them to follow. They may also have a hard time with MLA formatting and citations. Don’t hold them accountable for formatting errors that come as a result of their assistive technology failing to report the formatting correctly. However, you should still hold them to formatting standards and expect them to correct the errors when they are pointed out. One solution is to have them show you their assignments before they submit them so that you can check the formatting and let them know what is wrong. If they fail to ask you about the formatting, and there are formatting errors in the finished product, they should lose points. However, if they ask you to check it and correct the errors while you watch, they should get formatting credit.
7. Avoid matching assignments for your blind students. Blind students can not look back and forth between two columns and draw lines between them. They have to scroll up and down between the list of choices and the definitions, and it is hard for them to keep track of things. One solution is to have the TVI put the matching choices in hard copy braille or a separate document so the blind student doesn’t have to scroll, or you can simply give them an alternative assignment with multiple choice or short answer questions.
8. Encourage braille literacy whenever possible. Braille is slower than print, but it is still very important. Braille gives blind students an understanding of grammar, punctuation, and formatting that screen readers and audio books simply cannot provide. Don’t ask them to read aloud to the class if they aren’t a fluent braille reader, but encourage your blind student to read braille for their independent reading time and assignments.
9. Encourage your student to become familiar with software like Kurzweil 1000 and Voice Dream Reader. These applications can help them read, navigate, and annotate complex pieces of reading material. They will also help them convert inaccessible material independently, which is a skill that will help them in almost every aspect of life beyond your classroom.
10. Challenge your blind and visually impaired students just as you would challenge your sighted students. It can be extremely difficult for blind students to excel in your class, but they can do it. While you should make accommodations as needed, you should also hold them to high standards. Don’t give them a passing grade that they did not earn just because they’re blind. Be the teacher who expects the blind student to succeed instead of letting them slide through the cracks.