Comparing Smart Home Devices for the Blind and Visually Impaired

In this video, Macy compares the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod in terms of accessibility for the blind and visually impaired. 

Tips for English Teachers with Blind or Visually Impaired Students

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 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.

The Pros and Cons of Being Blind in 2020

In this episode of the Challenge Solutions Podcast, Caitlyn, Cole, and Macy discuss the pros and cons of being blind in 2020 from murder hornets, to Covid, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Be sure to stay tuned for the bloopers at the end!

Tips for Band Directors with Blind Students

Many blind students take an interest in music and participate in school band programs. In this video, Macy gives ten tips for band directors with blind students in their programs. The following text is a summary of the video.

Tip 1: Have reasonable expectations for your blind student. Like sighted students, blind students differ in musical knowledge and ability. As a teacher, you should not expect your blind student to be an advanced musician when they walk into beginning band. You should assess their skills just like you would with any sighted student. 

Tip 2: Cater to your student’s needs. There is no right or wrong way for a blind student to learn music. You could make recordings explaining and playing the student’s part, or you could opt to use braille music. There are pros and cons to each method, so it is up to you and your students to decide which will work best for your situation.

Tip 3: Ask questions about what works best. Ideally, your student will tell you exactly what they need, but when it comes to music, many blind students have little experience and are not sure what will work best for them. It is important to ask if the methods you are using in the classroom and when transcribing or recording music are actually beneficial to your student.

Tip 4: Do not substitute learning by ear for music theory. Your blind student may be able to learn his or her pieces just by listening to them, but it is still important that you explain the concepts associated with print music. Rhythms, time signatures, and style markings are important for any musician, and if your student decides to transition to braille music, these skills will be necessary.

Tip 5: Keep the band room as organized as possible. The more organized your room is, the easier it will be for your blind student to navigate. If possible, arrange the chairs and stands before class so they can learn the layout of the room. In addition, if it is possible to put them on the end of their row without sacrificing your sound, this will make it easier for them to access their seat without bumping into their neighbors’ equipment. Also, have specific places for oil, grease, reeds, and percussion equipment so your student can find what they need when they need it and not have to worry about tripping over misplaced supplies. 

Tip 6: Assign a band buddy. There are going to be times when your student needs help, both in rehearsal and at concerts and events. It can be a good idea to assign one of their peers to help whenever necessary so they are not continuously teaching someone new how to help them. Look for someone that your student naturally gravitates toward. Be sure not to choose someone who will be condescending or try to help too much. If you are unsure about who would be best, you can always ask your student in private if there is someone they would like to help them. 

Tip 7: Be descriptive. Remember that your blind student cannot see you when you are conducting or writing on the board. If you want a specific expression that is not written in the music, you should explain it verbally. Also, if your student is memorizing their music, they are probably not familiar with the rehearsal markings in the piece, so you may need to explain exactly which section you are referring to in their part. 

Tip 8: Give your student one-on-one instruction. This is especially important in beginning band because you are building their musical foundation. Make sure they are holding their instrument correctly, sitting with good posture, breathing properly, and grasping all the music concepts you are teaching. Even after beginning band, it is important to work closely with your student to be sure they aren’t becoming overwhelmed or falling behind. . 

Tip 9: Include your student. You should be sure your student has everything they need, but try not to call them out in class or treat them any different from their peers. Don’t walk on egg shells or constantly worry about offending them. Also, consider them when planning band activities and trips, and try to find things to do that everyone in your ensemble can enjoy. 

Tip 10: Give your blind student as many opportunities as possible. Many band competitions and activities are not ideal for blind musicians, so you shouldn’t pass up any opportunity for your student to participate in activities that are accessible for them. Involve them in honor bands, solo and ensemble, and community performances. These extra events mean extra work for you, but your blind student will definitely thank you for giving them those opportunities and making them the best musician they can be. 

Helping the Blind One at the Holiday Gathering

In this video, Caitlyn shares five tips for helping the blind one at the holiday gathering. Large gatherings can be somewhat overwhelming and difficult for blind people to navigate independently, so these are some ways you can help.

1. Include them in conversation. Blind people do not have the luxury of walking up to whoever they want and starting a conversation. It is difficult for them to pick specific people out of a big crowd and walk up to them independently. Also, blind people cannot make direct eye contact, so sighted people often do not notice when blind people speak to them. You can help by simply going up to the blind person and starting a normal conversation. If they don’t know you very well, make sure you tell them who you are. You don’t have to make it awkward, just say something along the lines of, “Hey, (insert name of blind person), it’s, (insert your name). How’s it going?”

2. Offer to help them with food. Blind people have a difficult time in buffet settings and when people are passing dishes around the table. they can’t see what is in those pans, and no one wants them putting their hands in the pans to identify the food by touch. The best way to handle this situation is for a sighted friend or family member to serve the blind person. You can either guide your blind friend or family member through the buffet line, or you can let them know what is available, and they can sit down while you go through the line for them. Just ask them what they prefer, and they can let you know how to best help them.

3. Describe things. Blind people can enjoy holiday decorations, but they won’t know they’re there unless someone tells them. You can describe things like lights, Christmas cards, interesting wrapping paper, ornaments, etc. If there are tactile decorations like snow village pieces, you can guide their hands so they can feel of them. Be sure to describe what is happening in games like Dirty Santa, and let them know what they are opening if you exchange gifts.

4. Offer to sighted guide them. It can be very difficult for blind people to navigate in party settings. even if they are very familiar with the setting, they will have a hard time knowing who and what is between them and wherever they’re trying to go if the place is crowded. If you’re going outside or to another room, ask if your blind friend or family member wants to come with you. This gives them an opportunity to move to a different area if they want without having to specifically ask someone for help.

5. Don’t make them feel like the blind one in the room. It is okay to ask questions about their blindness if you’re curious or not sure how to interact with them, but try not to make every conversation you have with your blind friend or family member center around their disability. You can have an interesting conversation with a blind person that has nothing to do with blindness. Most blind people do not allow their lives to revolve around their disability, and while most of us are happy to answer questions, we also get tired of constantly educating people. Try asking your blind friend or family member about school, work, their hobbies, or anything else that you’d talk to a sighted friend or family member about.

Christmas Activities for Blind and Visually Impaired Children

In this video, Macy shares ten Christmas themed activities to do with blind or visually impaired children. These activities can be done as a family or with a group of friends. However, the blind or visually impaired child will most likely need a significant amount of one-on-one interaction, so be sure that they are fully included if you choose to do these activities with a group of sighted friends or family members.

1. Ice-skating. Many blind and visually impaired people do not fully understand the concept of ice-skating, so getting to experience it for themselves can be exciting and help them understand it better when their sighted peers talk about it. Of course, you shouldn’t just set your blind child free on a public skating rink full of other people. It is ideal to rent the rink so you have it to yourselves or go at a time when it is mostly empty. Your blind child will also need a sighted guide to stay with them at all times while they are skating. It is best if the guide is already an experienced skater. Also, remember that it is normal and okay if your blind child falls down. Sighted people fall while they are skating all the time, so it is fine for your blind child to do the same.

2. Christmas music. Music is something that blind children can enjoy with little to no modification. Take your blind child caroling, help them learn to play a Christmas song on an instrument, or simply listen to Christmas music together.

3. Decorating. Decorating for the holidays is an excellent opportunity to teach your blind child valuable life skills. Blind children cannot see the decorations around them, so they may need specific instructions on where to place decorations so that they are visually appealing and appropriate. Teach them how to arrange the decorations by height, make sure everything is facing the correct way, put the nicest ornaments at the front of the tree, etc. Remember that the goal is for them to be decorating their own house as an independent adult some day. Try to keep the activity fun though. It should be an enjoyable learning experience.

4. Shopping for friends and family. If you are able to shop in a physical store, this is an excellent opportunity to work on orientation and mobility skills. Explain the layout of the store to your blind child and have them work on their cane skills while you shop. If you’re shopping online, older children can work on their technology skills and control the device with their screen reader while you describe the items. If your child is younger, you can simply describe the items and explain what you’re doing. You can also work on financial skills by giving your child a budget and having them identify, count, and pay with their own money.

5. Christmas crafts. Most Christmas crafts that sighted children do are already appropriate for blind children since many of them are tactile. Try making clay ornaments, decorating stockings with jewels, making beaded ornaments, etc. The possibilities are endless when it comes to crafting with your blind child.

6. Baking. Baking is an opportunity to teach your blind child many skills like measuring, stirring, frosting, using cookie cutters, and so on. Older children can learn to use the oven and read their own recipes using a screen reader or smart home device, and  your blind child can set the timers using a phone or other accessible device.

7. Making Christmas cards. There are many ways to make Christmas cards tactile. You can use puff paint to outline shapes for your blind child to fill in, there are all kinds of tactile stickers available, and children who are fluent in braille can use braille to create Christmas designs and braille their own messages. Click here for some braille Christmas designs.

8. Wrapping presents. This is a skill that is difficult for blind people of all ages, so don’t expect perfection from your blind child. Gift bags and decorative boxes will probably be their best friend, but you should still teach them the skill of wrapping presents so they understand the concept. Teach them which way the tape should go, how to fold the paper and make nice creases, and how to tie the bows. Try to buy textured wrapping paper and bows that will match everything, especially if your child is totally blind. Let your child braille on label paper, and place the braille next to your print on the name tags. Remember that it’s okay if the packages look like a blind person wrapped them as long as they try their best and learn some new skills.

9. Watching Christmas movies. Movies are a huge part of our culture, and it is important for blind children to have context for the movies that their sighted peers are referencing. Not all blind children will be interested in watching movies, but if they do express an interest, try to find audio described Christmas movies or describe them yourself while you watch the movies together.

10. Writing letters to Santa. Have your blind child braille the letter or type it on the computer depending on their skill level. Let them hand write the address on the envelope if they are able to write print legibly, or create the address label on the computer if they are using a screen reader. Take this opportunity to discuss where the information goes on the envelope and explain how the mail system works. Consider having Santa write them a braille response.