• The Art of Adapting Pre-school Activities for the Visually Impaired

    Posted by JACINDA DANNER on 7/17/2014

    The Art of Adaptations:

                                                                    Artwork and Table Activities for Young Children with a Visual Impairment

     Children with visual impairments can have difficulty with some fine motor activities and games. Even a simple task like coloring, cutting, then gluing a drawing on paper can have special challenges if vision is also an issue. The goal is to have the materials adapted so that the child can concentrate on the skills being learned, not having to work hard on visual tasks.

     Materials Adaptations:
    Some materials will be easier to see, visually recognize, and examine with a few Adaptations. At first, use large, easy to see and use materials, then as skills are mastered, change the materials to include smaller, more detailed items.

     1.    Balloons and beach balls move more slowly than more traditional balls. This will allow your child more success as she learns new gross-motor activities.

     2.    Use large bright balls for new kicking and throwing activities.

     3.    Use brightly colored, high contrasting colors for fine motor activities:

    a.    Beading and Lacing:

                      i.    Learn to bead and lace with pipe cleaners with large beads

                     ii.    Progress to thick shoelaces

                    iii.    Wrap tape (ex: colored electric tape) to strengthen tip of string

                     iv.    Outline holes with contrasting color (marker around hole; hole protector-stickers, etc.)

    Environmental Adaptations:

    With seatwork, games, and crafts, children may need to reach further than they can clearly see and may also have difficulty with depth perception, especially at a distance. These suggestions may help keep your child from knocking over, losing, or continually searching for pieces that get out of ‘visual reach’, especially items that roll, are stacked, or can be spilled.

     1.    Specific Activity Area: Place items within a clear border to keep all items together. 

          a.     Use a placemat, tray, solid colored cloth, etc.

          b.    Border the area with high-contrasting colors.

          c.     Use colored paper (plastic) plates or bowls, boxes, trays, etc.

          d.    Use metal cookie sheets, especially for magnetic letters and toys

    2.    Beware of Clutter: Place items in their own containers for easy access.

          a.    Keep simple containers in easy reach for different, especially new, tasks.
          b.    Paper and plastic plates, bowls, Tupperware-type containers, egg cartons, ice-cube trays, muffin tins, etc. are all great for crafts and activities.

    3.    Playing games: Keep game materials together and compartmentalized so parts are easy to reach, easy to find, and to see independently.
          Ex: Simple activities or board games (Beading, Candyland, Chutes and Ladders): 
           i.    Place entire game or game parts on high contrasting, solid-colored tray, cloth, or paper to better see card piles, dice, etc. 
          ii.    Use or make Large Print dice (use a wooden block (yellow or white) and add numbers/colors with thick Sharpie).                                                                      iii.    Keep dice in clear container with lid on for shaking so you don’t lose them.
          iv.    Use clear Tupperware-like container to keep cards in. This will make for easy access, and make cards harder to knock over when reaching.
          v.    OR Place cards or tiles in a drawstring bag for easy shuffling.

    1. Appropriate Adaptations for each skill
        a.    A pile of beads can be appropriate if learning to scoop or sort.
         b.    Beading or making crafts using specific colors will be easier when beads are organized. 
    *Sizes of Items:  As you decrease size and contrast, give time to practice. If her skill decreases or time to complete the tasks increases with the smaller size (after given time to practice), this size is too small at this time. Change size, contrast, lighting, until her best skill level is achieved again.

    Using these small adaptations as a guide will allow young children with visual impairments to learn visual motor tasks and play games with ease. 

    Jacinda Danner, M. Ed.




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  • 'Shaping Up' Drawing and Art Projects for the Visually Impaired

    Posted by JACINDA DANNER on 5/1/2014
    As I looked on the wall at all the creative Kindergarten drawings on the bulletin board, I knew I needed to make a change.
    Each child had colorful, lovely drawings to match the "Letter of the Week." Pictures of Babies with Bottles Baking Bread, and Blue Birds Bouncing on Beds, filled the room. This was one of those short, quick assignments that was not in the lesson plans, The students quickly completed their pictures with crayons, and my student, who is blind, was no exception.
    My student had playful marks, squiggles, and lines in crayon. Words had been written below by the classroom teacher, then later transcribed into braille. However, when asked, the waxy marks had no particular meaning for him. He could not feel the crayon marks well, and even when he could, using a screen board to raise the lines, his explanation of the picture changed each time.  In his world, these were simply blank pieces of paper, or at best another page with random waxy residue on it, that he was then asked to tell a story about. No wonder the picture's explanation changed and morphed at each telling. 
    The lesson goals were sound: use your own artistic interpretation of common "B" words to assist in your understanding of the letter names and letter sounds. For the student without the ability to see his creation, crayon drawings were fun, but had no read-back ability, and therefore did not assist in his ability to gain meaning from the words and letters below the art. On the contrary, the story about the page changed each time, so meaning from the braille letters and words listed below the picture seemed meaningless, as well.
    I made the change using basic shapes... Drawing skills can start early for children who are visually impaired or blind. I find that using shapes as a foundation for drawing can help in more areas than just art. Using shapes as your basic communication about pictures and drawings can create a strong infrastructure of some artistic as well as spacial skills that will last a lifetime. 
     -Shape names
     -Shape        concepts
    -Positional  concepts
     -Relationship  to... 
    Circle, oval, rectangle, trapezoid 
    Square/Rectangle similarities and differences
    Small, medium, large, bigger, smallest, tiny, huge     
    On, off, next to, over, under, below, above,  
    Number names and amounts, first, second, last, all, none, etc.
    Next to, same, different, over, below, etc.
     Human Face
     Person's Body  
     Animals(4-  legged)  
    My work began with a review of specific concepts. He knew his basic shapes, and even terms like 'oval'. Basic concepts like up, down, on, off, next to, etc. were also part of his regular vocabulary. The concept of left and right was emerging, as well. Sizes like small, medium, large, smaller, bigger, biggest, were also in common use. Number concepts are also important- two eyes, four legs, "place two small circles next to each other".
    Then we began with very common 'pictures'. Faces, people, animals, the sun, trees, etc. Learning how to make a balanced, proportionate face is truly useful for many assignments and art projects. By providing a set of cut-out shapes of all sizes, we are able to create many basic pictures that others can recognize and the child can feel and distinguish easily, as well. 
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  • Things People Who are Blind Wish You Knew

    Posted by Students from Mat-Su Borough, Alaska Reported by Jacinda Danner on 3/31/2013

    Child feeling a fossil  

    1.             Please mention my name so I know you are speaking to me. Tell me your name each time we meet. 

    Think about how many people you know by sight. You still may not recognize people immediately, especially in different settings, with different haircuts, etc. People who are blind recognize people by their voices, but many voices can be similar. Asking, “Who am I?” just by voice is no fun. Being overly impressed when I know who you are by voice is also not a huge accomplishment. You know who I am by looking, and I may know who you are by listening.

    2.            Please use words like “see” and “look”. I may “watch” a movie by listening, but I use these words, too. There are a lot of meanings to “see”, “look”, “watch”, etc.

    3.            Please speak normally. Speak directly to me, and face me. Use my name so I know you are speaking to me. Don’t get nervous, talk too fast, or shout. I am just like you.

    4.            Please don’t make a big deal of my listening skills. My hearing is good, but not supernatural. I need to listen more and rely on what I hear, so I have strong listening skills. Close your eyes for 5 minutes and you will hear new sounds: the fan, curtains flapping, people chatting two rooms away. After 5 minutes, your inability to look around has improved your listening skills, too. I have years of listening practice, and am not distracted by visuals. Be impressed, but please don’t call attention to it.

    5.            I use all the vision I do have. Almost all people who are ‘blind’ have some vision. This may be just the ability to see dark from light, while some can see large shapes, or even color. Some of us can see you coming down the hall, but you are a big, moving blur. Even if I look both ways before crossing the street, please don’t think I’m pretending to be blind, or don’t really need my cane. I need my tools: magnifier, long white cane, braille, and even all of my remaining vision, to be independent and safe.

    6.           Shaking hands & High-fiving is a two-step process for me.

    a.    Handshake: If we are meeting, and we both say, “Nice to meet you,” I’ll  probably put my hand out. Help me out by grabbing it for the handshake.

    b.   Please tell me if you want to shake my hand: “Let’s shake on that,” or similar. I’ll put my hand in your direction. You can find it and shake.

    c.    If you want to “Give me five” or “High-five”, tell me, then touch my hand first. 

                                                  i.     Say,“Great! Give me five!”

                                                ii.     Place your hand under mine, face up, touching it lightly.

                                              iii.     Don’t move your hand. I’ll move my hand back and slap yours.

                                              iv.     Don’t flinch : )

    7.            Giving me something is also a two-step process. First tell me, then have it lightly touch my hand.

    a.    When you say, “Here’s your prize,” I’ll put my hand out.

    b.   Have the prize lightly touch my hand, and I will take it.

    c.    If you forget to tell me first, you may be there all day holding it out because I can’t see your gesture.

    d.   If you don’t have it touch my hand, groping about is usually not very successful for me and can be embarrassing.

    8.            Please say, “Of course you can.” Have high expectations for me, just like you do for everyone else. Try not to pre-judge. This is my life, and it is just fine. I don’t really think about my vision or vision loss much at all. This is just who I am. Please try not to show pity, help too much, try to fix me, or assume I can’t do something because I can’t see well.

    9.           Please include me in EVERYTHING! We will figure out how I can do it later.

    a.    My friends or I have played or participated in:

                                                  i.     Regular Tee-Ball and Little League "I use a beeping baseball. I like baseball!”- 4 year old girl, totally blind

                                                ii.     Track and Field and Cross Country Running “My running guide is alongside, both of us holding my favorite tether.”

                                              iii.     Wrestling- “I like to use my cane all the way to the mat, where I hand it off to the referee, just to freak out the opponent. When we wrestle, I just feel what moves he is making.”- 8th grader

                                              iv.     Competitive Swimming- “I fold up my cane at the pool’s edge, and can see the huge black line on the bottom of the pool to know when to turn.”-7th grader

                                                v.     Kayaking or canoeing alone on a lake. “I leave a radio playing at the lake’s edge so I can get back.”- 10th grader

                                              vi.     Shop Class, Sewing Class, Home Economics Class, Art Class. “I use a ‘push-stick’ or guide so my fingers don’t get too close to the saw blade, needle, etc. I might have braille or special tactual marks on my equipment (saw, sewing machine, stove), or raised lines on the floor to keep me oriented to the woodshop space. In art class, I like to know what color I am using, and what looks good together.” – combination of quotes from all students

                                            vii.     PE- “I like my Adapted PE teacher. She brings bright balls that beep and shows me how I can play the games, too.”- 2nd grader.

                                          viii.     Bicycling Club: “We borrowed a tandem bike (bicycle built for two) and had a teen volunteer ride in front. I checked the bike before we left, decided how fast to go, and made sure my guide had all her safety equipment on.” (2nd grade)

                                              ix.     Those who are blind participate in: downhill skiing, Judo, cross-country skiing, ice-fishing, school tumbling class, dog show presenter, presenting to a Congressman, and much more. 

    10.        I don’t need to feel your face. Feeling people’s faces is a myth, and is just in the movies. I know who you are: I can tell how tall you are, what perfume you like, and I truly know you by the expression in your voice and how you treat me.

    11.         Explain visual jokes, television, or movies. If I ask, a few words to explain visual things on the movie really helps. Most new movies have a free option for “Video Description” on the DVD or download. This is great, and doesn’t interrupt the dialogue at all.

    12.         Please don’t help me without asking. I will usually ask if I need help, and teach you how to help or guide me. Sometimes I don’t do things like you do, and may take a little longer for some tasks. Ask if I need help, but please don’t be offended if I say, “No”. I have worked very hard to be independent.

    13.         My cane has to touch something for me to know it is there. Don’t be upset if I hit your toes with my cane or worry about me tapping the door with my cane before I move through it. That is just how it works. “Yep, using a cane is a contact sport.”- 10th grade student new to a cane.

    14.        Please be kind and respectful. Almost everyone is great and helpful. However, we have all had at least one experience with a bully, or other mean or insensitive behavior.

    a.    “A kid in the lunchroom hid my hamburger, and finally put it on the floor in the corner, saying, “Can you see it now?” I ‘accidentally’ spilled ranch dressing on his face. He got in trouble, I didn’t.”- 11th grader

    b.   Overheard between two high school girls, both cane users. “What do you do when kids at school hide your cane?”

    c.    A teenager was trying to buy food at a convenience store. “I was just thinking about what I wanted to buy. The clerk grabbed my wallet. He thought I couldn’t count my money, and was trying to help by picking out the correct bills. I was quick enough to hold on, showed him how I fold it, and that I was OK.”

    d.   “Placing obstacles in my path, throwing things at me and laughing, rearranging furniture, moving or taking my stuff, calling me names, taking me to the wrong place and leaving me, making fun of my eyes, or how I have to do things (braille, cane, etc), - have all happened to at least one of us. Usually we fend for ourselves, but if we ask for help, please take it seriously.” 11th grader combining everyone's experiences

    15.        Help others treat all with respect and kindness. Most people just need more knowledge, empathy, and education. Maybe reading this will help them, too.

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  • Using Volunteers: Sport Buddies for the Visually Impaired

    Posted by Jacinda Danner on 3/13/2013
    Cross Country Skiing during PE class, after- school Bicycle Club, Cross Country Running... Yes, you can!
    Children and adults who are blind and visually impaired have done all of these activities and so much more. I believe in saying, "Yes, of course you can!" then figuring out how. 
    Several years ago, a 3rd grader who is totally blind decided to join her school's Cross-Country Running team. The wonderful school staff was excited and very supportive. I made sure I would be there as a running guide. This was a great plan, but I wanted the child to not have to run with an adult all the time. At the same time, I realized I was having very long days, starting early and ending after 5pm. It was time for a change. 
                                 Runner who is blind with guide, stretching before the race.
               5th grade runner with high school volunteer guide. The purple tether is their favorite for distance runs. 
    My little 3rd grader needed a running guide, but her running peers deserved to run their own races. Being forced to run another person's pace was not what they signed up for. I could continue to be her guide, but I really feel children should be with their peers, when possible, and not have to be 'supervised' by teachers all the time. All the children on the team, blind or not, should have the opportunity to run with some freedom and independence-without a teacher by their side.
    Cross Country Running
    Track &
    Field Events
    Tandem Bicycling
    So much more 
    Finding and Training a High School Volunteer:
    Provide an application:
      • Announce in school bulletin
      • High School Honor Society
      • High School Counselors
    • Choose wisely. Ask for references.
    • Spend several sessions with the volunteer and athlete.
    • Train both members of the team.
    • Provide an Emergency kit:
      • Bandaids, coach phone numbers  
      • Bright safety pins for both runners
    • When volunteer guide, athlete and coaches feel confident, leave them supervised by coaches
    • Be available to return to re-teach or introduce new skills
    • Attend the games or meets, as needed. Let the Sport Coordinators know about the athlete's needs and any accommodations.
    • Upon completion, provide: Letter of Reference, Thank you letter, Certificate, Picture, etc. 
    A great solution was found: I began looking for a volunteer. At times, the cross country team runs alongside a road, up hills, and even crossed a major road. I felt another adult was not the best solution for independence and keeping strong friendships.  Another elementary school student was not the answer for safety. In the end, I considered searching for middle school students, but found a high school student who could drive herself to the elementary school to help out. Since then, I have always relied on responsible, mature high school students to assist. 
    My application consisted of a permission form for the school activity, contact information, parent permission, picture and video permission, a sport schedule, and an explanation of the expected duties. I also asked about any experience the student had with work, sports, and helping others. I was not afraid to ask specifically for a girl or boy. I decided the 3rd grader would be happier with a girl volunteer, and it worked out beautifully. References were invaluable. I found the volunteer (and the subsequent volunteers through the years) to be very excited, eager, and interested in doing a great job. 
    Training was a blast. It started with basic Human Guide (Sighted Guide) practice, and followed with specifics about the sport. We had different tethers for different running tasks, and demonstrated all the needed sport techniques. I observed them as a team during practices to support and correct. Most Sport Buddy teams can be let go after three training session (sometimes just two). The 3rd grade student loved being with a cool high school student. She and her friends wanted to run together and chat with the high schooler. Great social skills, too. 
    In the end, we always invited our Sport Buddy to a little party or get-together. She was then presented with a certificate, picture of the running team, and a letter of reference from me. These little mementos are generally very special to the teenagers. I feel I can never do enough for them. A great volunteer is quite invaluable to my student's success.  
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  • Colored Overlays for Children with Learning Disabilities

    Posted by Jacinda Danner on 2/1/2013
                          Colored Overlays and the Effects on Reading
    Colored Overlays pertain to people with learning disabilities (LD), which can include visual processing issues. These DO NOT generally  pertain to people with true visual impairments. I am often asked about this topic, and include it here for use by special educators, parents, and as general information.                                
    Irlen Syndrome is visual processing difficulty involving difficulty filtering light. This was previously called Scotopic Syndrome (an older term). It has been observed that a very small percentage of children  and adults with reading difficulties are assisted by use of specific, personalized, colored plastic sheets placed over their reading material. Some people find glasses with colored tints help as well.
    People with this visual processing difficulty have distortions when observing reading material. Born this way, they often do not know the print seems to move or wiggle until introduced to the colored overlay that helps the distortions appear to stop. This affects a very small percentage of people, and is controversial whether this is truly a syndrome, and whether colored overlays are very effective. Through observation and anecdotal research, many feel these overlays create great positive changes that improve their reading experience. 
                         Photo of turquoise blue overlay on text.
    Distortions include:  (See distortion examples on Irlen Institute website- http://http://irlen.com/distortioneffects.php )
    • Blurry
    • Halo-    The words appear to double, having a doubled shadow next to each letter.
    • Rivers-  The spacing appears distorted: wheresom ew ordsa re cr owded,oth ersspace dinc orrectly.  
    • Seesaw- Lines of print run in diagonal directions, letters crisscrossing over each other.
    • Swirl
    • Washout- Varying levels of text light and dark contrast
    • Shaky 
    Click the below link to access a document about the Basics of Overlays.
                       Basics of Colored Overlays 
                               Photo of various colored overlays                                  

    See this Worksheet on Colored Overlays and Ordering:
                How to Order Colored Overlays 
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Last Modified on January 3, 2018