Tips for Working with Individuals who are Blind

Tips for Working with Individuals who are Blind

Compiled by Karen Carl

RNIB Royal National Institute for the Blind Factsheet
In conversation

Talk naturally. Don’t talk down, or address all your remarks to a companion as though the blind person were not there. Don’t be afraid to say ‘nice to see you’. Blind people say it too. The words to avoid are the pitying and sentimental ones like ‘Oh, poor thing, what a terrible affliction’.

Meeting blind or partially sighted people
If you are meeting a blind or partially sighted person for the first time, you may wonder how to behave. The obvious advice ‘behave normally’ may not be much help. Here are some suggestions, gleaned mostly from blind and partially sighted people, to put you and your friends at ease.

Blind people
Blind and partially sighted people come from all sorts of backgrounds. Some are clever; some are not. There are blind sportsmen and women, gardeners and chess players, teachers and typists, lawyers and housewives, computer programmers and physiotherapists, social workers and telephonists. Some blind people are young, but most are elderly because sight loss is most common in later life. Sight loss is rarely total: most blind people can see something, though it may not be very much.

When you go up to a blind or partially sighted person and say hello, say who you are in case he or she doesn’t recognize you or your voice. Address him or her by name, if you know it. If not, a light touch on the arm will indicate who you are speaking to.
Before you move away, say that you are about to leave. Anyone feels foolish talking to an empty space.
You should always lead a blind person from in front; never push him or her ahead of you. Explain things he or she can’t see.


Ten Tips When Meeting Blind People
When we meet, please remember these tips.
1. People who are blind are ordinary people; use a normal tone of voice when speaking.
2. When walking with you, I’ll take your arm if I need assistance. I am responsible for my own mobility.
3. When you enter the room, let me know you’re there. If others are with you, introduce us.
4. The door of a room or car left ajar can be a hazard as well as toys on the floor. Watch out for projecting lampshades; I hate to break things.
5. While eating, I will utilize ordinary table skills and cut my own meat. When dining in restaurants, I’ll want to know the complete menu.
6. There is no problem with your saying “my view is” or “I’m always glad to see you.”
7. I consider myself a person just like you. If a blind person receives proper guidance and training, blindness becomes only a physical nuisance, not a tragedy.
8. When entering a new environment, I want to know the layout. A verbal description will usually suffice. When I don’t know, I’ll ask.
9. I’ll be glad to discuss blindness with you if you’re curious; however, it’s an old story to mc. I have as many other interests as you do.
10. In giving street directions, say: “Three blocks ahead, cross third intersection, turn left two and a half blocks, and the building is on your right.


Tips for Working With an Itinerant TVI
1. Use the telephone or email! Your TVI won’t know that you have questions or concerns unless you let her know. Don’t try to “make do” until the next scheduled visit. That can be frustrating for everyone. When in doubt, call your TVI

2. Set aside a block of time to talk to your TVI during her visit to be able to share observations and concerns immediately in a relatively distraction-
free environment.
3. Let your TVI know what you need. If you need an observation, some suggestions for adaptations, or if you want to observe the TVI interacting directly with a student, tell your TVI. Every classroom has different needs and every teacher has a different level of comfort with vision issues. Let your TVI know what she can do for you.
4. Establish a schedule with your TVI and plan for those visits. Make your needs clear. Let your TVI know if you feel you need frequent services or if, on
the other hand, you are comfortable with the vision issues of your student and prefer to call your TVI on an as needed” basis.
5. Make a list of questions to ask before each visit
6. Remember, a TVI’s job is to provide technical assistance in an area in which classroom teachers aren’t usually trained. Make good use of your TVI. We’re here to help.
Lisa W. Pniner, edited by Karen Carl



by Carol Cusrellano, edited by Karen Carl

The Goal of Independence
• The overriding goal is for the blind child to become a competent, self-sufficient, independent person.
• The blind child needs the same information, education, and experiences which sighted children require.
• He/she needs to know the same things others need to know in preparation for his/her future; i.e... Going to college, having children, holding down a job, etc.
• the blind child will use alternative techniques where the sighted will use eyesight.
Essentials A Blind Student Must Learn.
• On whom to focus.
• Teacher’s expectations.
• To respond quickly to teachers instructions.
• How to respond: e.g., facing the teacher so teacher can tell he/she is paying attention, raising hand high, when to lower hand, when to answer aloud in unison with class. etc.

• How to interpret questions expressed in “teacher language.” For example, in ordinary English a “who question” would be answered with a name. But in the classroom, “Who can tell me what 5 plus 2 is?” means, “Raise your hand.” A “how many” question would ordinarily get a number for an answer, but in the classroom “How many of you put the big hand on the 3?” means raise your hand if you did it that way. Hearing the teacher say your name (getting called-on) usually means, “Say the answer out loud.”
• Where and when to move.
• The pace of the class.
• To know what other children in the classroom are doing.
• How to interpret activity around him/her.
• How to participate fully.
• Eventually, how to figure out all of the above by him/herself.


Skills of Blindness
• Braille reading and writing is the equivalent of print reading and writing (see Quick Braille Lesson).
• Cane travel is essential to the child’s independence (see Cane Travel.)
• Looking at objects with the hands. The blind child gets information tactually just as sighted children get it visually.
• Doing things by touch instead of by eyesight.
• Tactually exploring a room to make a mental map and find out where things are placed.
• Developing and using other senses. “Hmm. Smells like Mr. Thomas, the janitor, waxed the floors last night. Feels like it, too. Nate says it's fun to slide on waxed floors. I don’t hear anyone coming; maybe I’ll give it a try!”
• Developing and using memory. “Mom, I just remembered it’s Tuesday night and we have library period on Wednesday. I have to return my book along with that form the librarian wanted parents to fill out. You put the book on the shelf in the den after we finished reading to each other yesterday. I can’t reach it; can you get it down for me?” “I remember teacher saying that Melissa had thick, long hair. I wonder if Melissa would like this big barrette set for her birthday.”
• Developing and using sound localization, that is, the ability to tell where a sound is coming from. “Jenny, I think your pencil just dropped. It sounds like it rolled toward the door; look under Peter’s chair, it might be there.” “That sounds like the door of the storage closet in the back of the room. Must be time for art; I can hear Mrs. Mullin getting the cans of paint out.”
• Learning to ask for information. “Who just walked into the room?” “Is this the bus for the 4th grade skating party, or the bus for the 3rd grade trip to the zoo?” This also includes learning to give a polite, but firm “No thank you,” when assistance is not needed.


Assisting on the Road to Independence
• Help from teachers and aides should be aimed at teaching the child to do the task for him/herself, not doing it for the child.
• Many times teachers can give information instead of help; e.g., give directions to what he/she needs instead of getting it for the child.
• Child should be able to learn any task that is repeated each day; e.g., opening milk carton at lunch. Assume the child can learn the task.
• If the child is not doing something the other children are doing, teach him/her how; if something must be done for a child on a regular basis, let parents know. Perhaps it can be worked on at home.
• By understanding and respecting the alternative skills the child is developing, classroom teachers can help the child progress in these skills.
• The child may need extra time in the early grades to do things independently. This must be balanced with general classroom expectations.

Be More Verbal
• Use children’s names when you speak to them: Encourage other children to us names, too.
• Use description when modeling action; e.g., “Fold the paper lengthwise” instead of “Fold the paper like this.” this will help the blind child interpret situations.
• Explain your routine a bit: “I’m handing out the papers to each child. I’m so happy you’re all being quiet.” Again, this will help the blind child interpret situations which he/she cannot see.
• Explain illustrations in a story when they help carry the plot.
• Think about attributes in addition to color when describing or referring to objects: such as shape, weight, texture, size, use, location, quantity, etc.
• Give the blind student the opportunity to get things for you by describing the object and giving verbal directions to the location: e.g.. “The square container on the back left corner of my desk.”

• Explain completely visual situations; e.g., the principal comes to door, puts finger to lips, and silently beckons children to her.
• Use normal language like “look” and “see.”

Helping the Blind Child Participate
• Find ways to adapt each activity so the blind child can participate: don’t ask if it can be done; ask how we can do it. Don’t make the blind student a “special helper;” he/she needs the same or equivalent educational experiences other children get.
• Use sound localization to direct child; e.g., he/she can join the other children by moving toward their voices; can listen for footsteps in order to follow in line: can come when called by walking toward your voice; can find the chair when you tap it with your hand.
• Model movements for songs or in gym by moving the blind student through the motions. Other students can learn at the same time by observing teacher and student. Let parents know if child has trouble with a movement; it can be practiced at home.
• Hands-on opportunities along with verbal descriptions will make experiences much more meaningful for a young blind child; e.g., on a trip to the nurse’s office let the child explore by touch the scale or other characteristic objects.
• With objects that ordinarily would not be handled, let the child (actually examine it if possible, before or after the activity.
• Tell the child to “look with two hands” or “use both hands” when examining something; a touch with one hand or a few fingers gives almost no information.
• Facilitate appropriate play with others and by self.
• Remind the child to face the person with whom he/she is talking.
• Help the child learn to face the correct way in general. A rule of thumb is to give the blind child the same instruction or correction you would give

• Position crayons correctly in the child’s hand for normal muscle development.
• If applicable, remind child not to press his/her hand to the eye, or engage in other inappropriate behaviors.

School Work
• For written work, worksheets or book should be on the table next to the Braillewriter for student to read: answer sheet should be in Braillewriter.
• If manipulatives are used, place in small box or tray so they will not fall off the desk.
• For marking answers, the blind student can use crayon, pencil, small pieces of Wikki Stix, magnets and magnet board, push pins. (The advantage of Wikki-Stix, magnets, and push pins is that the child can check his/her own work: with Wikki-Stix, work can be saved to take home.)
• Help child organize the work space; clear place in front and put materials in common sense places.
• Stick-on Braille (Dymotape) can be used for quick labeling.
• Sewell Kit, coloring screen, and hot glue can be used for making instant raised line drawings.
• Hi-Mark, t-shirt markers, Elmer’s glue, and Wikki-Stix can be used for outlining figures. (Hi-Mark and t-shirt markers must be used in advance, for they take hours to dry.)
• Stick-on Velcro, cork, felt, etc. can be used for variety on math worksheets.

Cane Travel
• The cane is held so that it lands about three steps in front of the feet, and is swept back and forth.
• The cane gives a preview of what is ahead: Is the way clear or is an object in the way? Stairs up or down, can be located and negotiated. Objects such as trash cans, chairs, desks, and outdoor play equipment can be located and identified. Sound is an important element in cane travel. As the blind child walks down a hallway he/she can use his/her hearing to tell the difference between a wall and an opening, such as a doorway or intersecting hallway. Therefore, the child can be given directions such as “the office is the first opening on the left” or “the gym is the second open door on the right”
• By listening to the sounds and echoes the cane makes when it is tapped, the child gets information about the space around him/her and, with practice, can tell how far he/she is from the wall.
• Textures and slopes beneath the feet—differences between tile, carpeting, concrete, etc.—will help the child know where he/she is.
• The child will use landmarks (the rug outside the office door, the hum of the water fountain, etc.) for self-orienting.
• The child will learn to make a mental map—information linking one part of the room or building to another—of an area.
• The child might not use the cane in the classroom but should always have it with him/her outside the room; e.g., cafeteria, playground, fire-drills.
office, gym. 

Braille Lesson
• The Braille “cell” is made up of six dots which correspond to the six keys on the Braillewriter. Dots are numbered 1 to 6 in a column two dots across and three down.
• Each Braille letter or other symbol is formed using one or more of the six dots.
• Capital letters are formed by placing a dot 6 before the letter.
• Punctuation marks look like letters but they are formed in the lower part of the cell.
• In “literary Braille,” the first ten letters are also the numbers when preceded by an arrangement of dots called the number sign (dots 3,4,5,6).

• In “Nemeth code” (math Braille), the shapes of the numbers are the same, but they are formed in the lower part of the cell.
• Braille has many contractions (such as Brl for the word Braille) in order to save space; contracted Braille is called Grade 2.

Ways to Help a Blind Child Feel Comfortable
In unfamiliar places a blind child is most at ease walking with a friend, placing his hand lightly on the other child’s am at the elbow.
Let a blind child follow your lead. Never push him from behind.
In becoming acquainted with his new classroom the blind child will find it helps to have a few points of orientation, such as the sink or the door, and sound cues.
Allow the blind child to explore and find things for himself. Placing his hand here and there does not give him a total and meaningful orientation to surroundings.

Many Children Have Some Sight
Vision is a process which must be learned. Teachers can help those with some sight, no matter how little, to see what they are capable of seeing. In some cases vision is increased as it is practiced. Unfortunately, some individuals have vision of which they do not take advantage simply because they have not learned to use it.
Residual vision may be shown by light perception, color perception, or object perception. Many people have the misconception that if a person is blind he sees nothing at all. However, a legally blind person may still have some vision if he is taught how to use it. It is generally recognized that the use of whatever sight may remain does not impair or aggravate most eye conditions. It is interesting to note that many legally blind individuals can and do use print as their means of reading.
The child with light perception may be taught to use whatever he can see to help him to get about more adequately, comfortably, and with more sell-assurance.
The child with color perception may not be able to draw a picture in much detail. Yet he will probably enjoy working with bright colored paper, looking at colored pictures, or experimenting with paints and chalks at the easel.
Children with object perception should be encouraged to make maximum use of whatever sight they may have by giving them attractive materials, by providing comfortable lighting, and by initiating reasons for using that sight which the children understand. As in the case of a child with color perception, you might experiment in using kaleidoscopes, pictures of various sizes and colors, or colored paper.

Use of Color Words
Although we cannot know what concepts a blind person may have about the names of colors; we can help him develop a feeling and association about color words. Blind individuals are surrounded by people using color words. Although they cannot see the colors, they may develop an awareness of how others feel about Colors and how color words are used.
Fire is red and hot
Water is blue and cool
Pink is feminine and soft
It is a good idea to compliment a blind child when he wears a color which is particularly suitable to him. He should learn to know the pleasure which a good appearance makes to himself and to his sighted companions.

Use of Mental Conceptions of Surroundings
Try to help the blind child to build a mental concept of his surroundings. This mental picture, however, need not necessarily be in our own visual terms, but in terms which are meaningful to the child. Sometimes he reveals how things appear to him by making models in clay. Art work may show which parts of a total impression are most important to him and which parts are less meaningful. The blind child, for example, may express himself in terms of how the touch of things appear to him. It would seem odd for him to speak of the reflection of moonlight on rippling water, whereas he might discuss the ripple of a pattern of brickwork on a garden wall.
A Sixth Sense
There are individuals who tend to believe that blind people have a sixth sense, providential compensation, or extraordinary talent. Usually a combination of hard work, the cultivation of a good memory, and the development of latent natural faculties permit some blind people to function very well. The “sixth sense” is a poetic phrase having no foundation in truth.

The Use of Braille
All people have certain tools, such as printed books, which help them to learn and to communicate. Although blind children cannot see to use print they are most fortunate to have their own tool and method of communication which is known as braille.
8raille is adaptable for use in reading, writing, mathematics, music, foreign languages, and science. The classroom teacher need not learn braille herself, but she should be able to interpret its function to the class. The resource teacher or itinerant teacher will instruct the blind child in the use of braille.
Some blind persons and even relatives of blind persons tend to avoid braille because of its association with lack of sight. As a teacher you can show respect for this tool and interpret it to the class as a very useful method of communication.
Show it off to all the children. Some sighted children enjoy it as a secret code.
All children like name tags on their desks, lockers, or coat hangers in print and braille.
Valentines signed by a blind child in braille are just a little special and always fun for the s1ghted children to show at home.
Braille labels and signs in the room attract the attention of all children. So do braille calendars, clock faces, rulers, scales, and thermometers.

Playground Activities
You and your resource or itinerant teacher will adapt many of the usual games by methods such as using sighted partners, following the sound of a bell, and clapping hands. In the lower grades there has been little difficulty including the blind child in the games.
Some of the upper grade physical education presents more of a challenge, since there will be certain activities which are not suitable for blind children. There are games such as basketball, tennis, and football in which they cannot enter for competition. However, they may partake of most games for fun. For instance, the blind child can join in various ball games where the use of sound can enable the child to participate. It is important that he have a basic understanding of popular sports and understands their terminology. Blind people do enjoy following the World Series, football games and other sports events on television and radio. This will be of social value in discussing sports, a frequent topic of conversation.
To appoint the blind child as score-keeper or equipment custodian does provide him with a mental exercise, but not with physical education. He may enjoy this activity, but should not feel that his physical education will be so restricted.
Try t determine the blind child’s physical needs such as development of larger muscles, better balance, an even gait, ability to run and skip freely, and to correct posture. There will be sighted children who share some of the same needs, and these children may have their physical education together in such activities as using rings, trapeze, ladders, balancing boards, jungle gyms, and gym horses, and in doing tumbling, team stunts such as building pyramids and weight lifting. Although usually not possible on school grounds, bowling, swimming, roller skating, ice skating, and wrestling are favorable sports in which blind and sighted can participate together.
These are only suggestions of types of activities. The important thing is that the blind child is able to fulfill some of his own physical needs.

The Blind Child and His Schoolmates
Teachers about to have a blind child in class usually ask how to prepare the other children for the coming of this child. Let us remember that each child and situation differs so that it is unwise to make general statements as to how to cover specific situations.
However, many teachers who have had experience in teaching blind and sighted children together feel it better to begin school by calling no attention to the fact that one of the children in class is blind anymore than she would point out that one child has red hair or a Swedish name. Later, however, should the blind child be absent or Out of the room, she might hold a little discussion in which she guides the class to realize that although the blind child cannot see, he can participate in most activities. Many things will be difficult for him, but few will be impossible. The teacher can point out how the blind child achieves the same goals by using different means.
Children can easily be made to realize that we are all different. Some have difficulty with arithmetic, others in sports, some in reading or singing. There are children with a crippled leg, poor hearing or a weak heart. What is important is that each of us tries to do his best.
The teacher now has an opportunity to make positive use of an unfortunate Situation by enabling the children to see for themselves that everyone is endowed with different gifts. It is best to be thankful for what we have and make the fullest use of our abilities.
All children can learn from their relationships with those who are handicapped. It is the able teacher who makes the presence of a blind child an advantage rather than a disadvantage as she works with her students throughout the year.

All children must learn to make proper use of their time if they are going to satisfactorily increase their progress and development. Try to find avenues to keep the blind child active physically and mentally. A blind child has as much to learn, and the ability to learn as well and the same amount of curiosity as other children when he is given appropriate opportunities.
Encourage the blind child to move about. He can develop his natural inclination to explore and to learn. Your guidance can nurture such inclinations.
Have interesting things about that will make a visually-handicapped child curious and wish to move about. These may include:
A science table
The weeks cafeteria menu
Pets such as a turtle, hamster, or a mouse
A new braille book with an intriguing cover on the library table
Special notices on the bulletin board which change frequently
Blind children also like to share in classroom responsibilities and try things for themselves. They may contribute by:
Helping put away equipment Emptying waste baskets
Suggesting songs to sing Sharpening pencils
Leading the flag salute Passing paper
Making weather reports Going on errands
Watering the plants Dusting
Caring for pets
Much Learning Can Be Gained through Play
Let children see a reason for doing things. Many times suggestions can be developed through games. Rather than having a young child stringing beads aimlessly, why not let him learn the parts of a percolator, make something with hammer and nails, construct a building with blocks, or even prepare a cake or some jello. Playing with dolls gives practice in dressing and using snaps, buttons, and zippers. Children enjoy paint. c1ay, water and sand — they like to take apart and put together.
This list of after-school activities of some blind children gives an idea of the range of interests these children pursue.
Scouting, Wrestling, Roller skating, Sewing, Bicycling, French lessons, Rowing, Ice skating, Neighborhood play, Swimming, Music lessons, Horseback lessons, Brownies, Sunday School, Radio transmission
Some communities have part-time work programs designed to assist older students in finding suitable employment.