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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Crystal Johnson, TAPVI Secretary

Abstract: A parent of three teens with Retinitis Pigmentosa shares her thoughts about the NAPVI 2015 National Family Conference.

Keywords: blind, visual impairment, parenting, families


The NAPVI 2015 Conference in Chicago was a very informative and touching experience for me and my husband, Jason. We have three boys affected by retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and have been learning about the disease for the past six years while trying to keep up with our kids and decide exactly what they need, why they need it, and how they need it for it to get done.

We listened to doctors that are dedicated to finding ways to prevent and treat different eye diseases. We heard about stem cell research, gene therapy, neuro-protective factors and photoreceptor transplantation. It was refreshing to learn about the progress that has been made in research. The doctors shared the outcomes of several case studies. Parents were warned to choose wisely before including their own child in a research study. Being in a research study in the early stages may prevent your child from participating in future more promising studies. Surgical studies particularly are concerning because they could cause irreversible damage.

We received information about the transition to college and scholarship opportunities. We learned how important it is for students to be connected to school and the community, to be prepared to learn and participate and to be ready for all opportunities.

Matt Simpson from USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) was one of the keynote speakers. He spoke about growing up blind and wanting to play sports. He was extremely inspiring. Our kids are very athletic and involved in school sports and we worry about what will happen when that is no longer available to them. With USABA there is an answer and we are excited to follow up and get our sons involved in this organization at the local level.

We attended a FamilyConnect session that showed how the website links families to information, help and support. They asked for feedback from parents so they can be sure the website is relevant. We met Emily Coleman who is a parent of a child with a visual impairment and a teacher of the visually impaired. Emily responds to questions and comments posted on FamilyConnect and has her own blog.

Everyone at the conference was so welcoming. I plan to keep in contact with some of the wonderful families we met from a variety of states. The information was overwhelming and I’m trying to sort through all of it. The most inspiring were the other families. I’m learning to be more patient with my children.

It’s not easy to understand what our children are going through on a daily basis. I don’t know what to expect in the future but that will not stop me from learning. I realized that a truly special child is one that overcomes anything that tries to stop them no matter the disability. When the child acts like it’s no big deal on top of it…that’s inspirational. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to attend this conference and I encourage others to join the NAPVI families.

Go to “Faces of TAPVI” on Facebook for more information.

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


Your child’s optometrist has recommended that he or she receive special services for children with low vision. This information is for you to use as you prepare to speak with your child’s teachers and school administrators.

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) (ages 3 - 21), his or her school will provide:

  • Access to the general education curriculum
  • Accommodations
  • Special education and related services
  • Assistive technology services

Low vision services apply to these provisions. They should be, but are not always available through IDEA. They include:

  • A clinical low vision evaluation
  • The purchase of optical and/or electronic devices, and
  • Instruction in the use of the devices


Clinical Low Vision Evaluations

These evaluations are conducted by ophthalmologists or optometrists with a low vision specialty and are considered a “related service.” Under IDEA, there are two related service provisions that apply to this evaluation. 1) a medical evaluation to improve a child’s functioning within special education, and 2) an assistive technology evaluation. For a child with low vision, one part of a clinical low vision evaluation is to determine if optical and/or electronic devices will assist your child.


Assistive Technology

Under IDEA, schools purchase assistive technology devices that will improve your child’s functioning in school. Once a device is included on an IEP the school becomes responsible for purchase and maintenance of the device. If a child needs a device for homework, and it cannot be transported home, a duplicate device may be purchased by the school.


Instruction in the Use of Optical and Electronic Devices 

IDEA also provides for instruction in the use of assistive devices. For optical and/or electronic devices that will be used in classrooms and within your child’s school, your child’s TVI will provide this instruction. This instruction includes the use of handheld, spectacle mounted, and electronic devices for seeing at near (e.g., books) and at a distance (e.g., whiteboard). A certified orientation and mobility specialist  (COMS) will provide instruction for your child in the use of distance devices for such tasks as reading street signs and finding addresses. They are ready to help your child to use his or her functional vision.


I hope this information is helpful to you. Please contact your child’s school to request low vision services. For a copy of the IDEA law, go to:

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Chris Montgomery, Deafblind Education Specialist Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract/Editor's Note: Students with deafblindness (DB) are considered a low-incidence population nationally. These students require specialized support to access environmental information, to develop communication, and to develop concepts about the world around them due to the significant impact caused by the combined loss of vision and hearing.

Keywords: deafblind students, mentor program, teachers


Unique Needs of the Deafblind Student Population

Students with deafblindness (DB) are considered a low-incidence population nationally.  These students require specialized support to access environmental information, to develop communication, and to develop concepts about the world around them due to the significant impact caused by the combined loss of vision and hearing. Although local districts may provide vision and hearing services, there is often a gap in specific planning and programming to address their educational service needs due to the lack of available professionals with training specific to deafblindness at the local level. Many districts struggle to find the internal resources to accommodate the educational needs of these students and their families (Blaha, Cooper, Irby, Montgomery, & Parker, 2009).

The creation of regional centers for children with deafblindness began in the 1970's. These centers provided a national network for pilot program development, and sharing of information, and tended to be staffed by people with specialized training. The regional centers had the responsibility to develop direct service for children with deafblindness, prior to the enactment of mandatory educational legislation. While acknowledging the shortcomings of this time period – notably, the segregation of the deafblind student population - there were two significant characteristics that should be mentioned: the proliferation of college programs dedicated to personnel preparation in deafblindness, and stable federal funding. These programs were able to insure a steady supply of trained teachers and specific teaching practices designed to serve these students to develop within the field. (Collins, 1993).

Following the 1970s, educational philosophy shifted away from centralized programming and toward local inclusive settings. As the population of students with deafblindness moved to local communities it has presented some challenges for students with low-incidence disabilities as well as some benefits. With students who are deafblind being served at the local level, they have greater access to the standard curriculum. Recent national child count data shows over 60% of students who are deafblind are attending local schools and 26% are participating in standard instruction (Schalock & Bull, 2013). In addition, students who attend local schools are able to live at home and participate in their family's daily routines. 

The picture, however, of access and support for students is a complex one.

Many local school districts have difficulty providing appropriate instruction in the classroom. They may be unable to provide dedicate personnel to a position focused on such a low incidence population. In some districts in Texas, The Texas Deafblind Project has seen an increase in hiring interveners (trained paraprofessionals) to provide students with access to information, communication and social support.  Although the role of the intervener is designed to provide direct support to students, it is not meant to replace the role of teacher, who is charged with designing instruction and providing guidance to the student's entire educational team. When a student does have access to an intervener, our outreach staff members have observed challenges when that intervener does not have access to support from qualified professionals. Such challenges include the student not having access to appropriate assessment, lacking deafblind specific IEP goals, and family members laking information about the intervener’s role on the team. Our team’s collective experiences with these challenges caused us to examine both the need for teacher training and the role of the teacher in serving students who are deafblind.

Recently, the Office of Special Education requested that National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) engaged in a national assessment of the needs for improving intervener services in the United States. This survey included consultation with parents, technical assistance providers, administrators, higher education faculty members, interveners, and teachers. NCDB found a need for more teachers of students with deafblindness to support the intervener practice.  NCDB specifically recommended that interveners have “knowledgeable supervisors and access to experts in deafblindness that may provide consulting and coaching”, thereby bolstering the intervener’s role and providing more comprehensive educational planning for students who are deafblind (NCDB, 2012).

A few university personnel preparation programs provide designated coursework for professional service students who are deafblind, currently only two states, Utah and Illinois recognize specific certification for a teacher of students with deafblindness.  Nationally, teachers of students with visual impairments (TVI's) and teachers of students who are deaf and hard of hearing (TDHH) are providing much of the support for IEP development and classroom instruction. In many cases, these two teaching disciplines lack the expertise specific to teaching children with deafblindness, and local and regional support is provided by state deafblind technical assistance projects.

The field of deafblindness is currently supported, in large part, by federal grant funding to the state deafblind projects. Without recognized state or national certification and dedicated money for well-established personnel preparation programs for teachers of students with deafblindness, our field is in a precarious place.

The Beginning: Mentor Program Teachers of Deafblind Help Define and Explore the Practice

In an effort to develop and enhance educational services to students in Texas who are deafblind, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) mentor program initiated a pilot project in 2009.  Five teachers were selected in three education service center regions to take part in this Deafblind (DB) Mentor Project based on their dedication to deafblind students.  For the first three years of this pilot, each teacher participated in training provided by Robbie Blaha, who is a certified teacher of students with visual impairments, as well as a certified teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing.  Ms. Blaha is currently a consultant with the Texas Deafblind Project with the TSBVI Outreach program. Over a three year span, the five teachers participated in training on topics such as assessment, communication for deafblind (DB) students, strategies and issues related to behavior, and sensory accommodations for the IEP.  As a group, these mentors in training made inroads into the field of deafblindness by developing and reviewing materials specific to students with deafblindness.

One of the documents developed by the mentor pilot participants and the Texas Deafblind Project was the “Roles and Responsibilities of the Itinerant Teacher of Deafblindness.” This document outlined eight points specific to the job of the itinerant teacher of students with deafblindness (TDB) and was used to determine training topics for the TDB Pilot Program. Further refinement, discussion, and field trials of the “Roles” document was included in the TDB Pilot with later drafts being developed to include self-contained models.

Partnership with local districts to address the challenge

In 2010, our project began looking again at how we might address this need for a recognized teacher of deafblindness role. Through conversations with two administrators in the Houston area, we discovered commonalities when comparing deafblind student populations and goals for each of their districts. Both administrators were invested in the idea of the best possible programming for their students with deafblindness, and were looking for innovative models to train staff.

In each district there were high numbers of students with deafblindness, which allowed for the identification of an area of need within the district. Training topics were selected through a combination of needs assessments and pre-established roles of the TDB. This ability to channel our efforts was vital as it allowed administrators to designate and assign staff time dedicated to deafblind student caseloads. We then worked with administrators to select personnel based on the staff’s own histories of interest and dedication to working with students with deafblindness. Out of this mutual desire to explore and define this specific role, the “Teacher of Deafblind” pilot was born.

Teachers in the districts identified as TDB’s for the pilot, had either (or both) endorsement in auditory impairment or visual impairment. Complementary to the TDBs, teams were formed around them that included either a TVI or TDHH (depending on the TDB’s background – TDHH or TVI), and orientation and mobility specialists (O & M's). Other team members were included in the training sessions as appropriate.

In addition to the two districts in the Houston area, the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), also participated in the pilot. The deafblind student population at TSBVI typically fluctuates between 15-20 students annually. The role of the TDB is different than that of most local districts, with self-contained, deafblind specific classrooms, low teacher to student ratios, and residential programming. It was felt that TSBVI’s “center-based” model would be complementary to the local district model and could function as a resource of practice for other pilot participants.

From June 2011 through May 2013, seven TDB's and their administrators met with our project staff to define the unique skills and practices for serving students who are deafblind.  Our model for training was made up of a series of seven training workshops. The workshops were then immediately followed by direct on-to-one consultations between the TDBs, Regional Service Center 4 consultants, and Outreach staff. The follow-up consultations were meant as a way to more directly apply the ideas and concepts of our training sessions to the TDB’s deafblind student caseload.  During our workshop meetings, we often split the administrators into a separate group in order to focus on larger systems change topics.


Stay tuned for part II of this article in the Spring & Summer issue of Texas SenseAbilities in which we describe how the Teacher of Deafblind pilot was expanded to include a new cohort of teachers to help test the model. Information about the technical assistance provided, student, TDB, and systems outcomes will be included, along with further thoughts on how TSBVI’s Deafblind Project Outreach continued development of the Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Program.


Blaha, R., Cooper, H, Irby, P., Montgomery, C., & Parker, A. (2009). Teachers of students with deafblindness: Professionalizing the field. Council for Exceptional Children: D.V.I. Quarterly, (54) 3, 49-51.

Collins, M. (1993). Educational services: Presentation. Proceedings of the National Symposium on Children and Youth Who Are Deaf-Blind. (203-219). Teaching Research Publications. National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness [NCDB]. (2012). Recommendations for improving intervener services. Retrieved from

Schalock, M.D. and Bull, R. (2013). The 2012 National Child Count of Children and Youth who are Deaf-Blind. Monmouth, OR: National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness, Teaching Research Institute, Western Oregon University.

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Chrissy Cowan, Mentor Coordinator, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach

Abstract/Editor's Note: The author discusses factors that challenge and strategies that support students with low vision in the school environment.

Keywords: vision impairment, optical devices, lighting modifications


As you work with students with low vision, there are general adjustments that can be made to classroom environments that will enhance visual functioning. The following should be considered for each individual student, based on information from a functional vision evaluation.

Consider the Etiology

Familiarize yourself with the characteristics of the most predominant visual conditions resulting in low vision and their effects, such as retinitis pigmentosa, ocular albinism, retinopathy of prematurity, optic nerve hypoplasia, cortical visual impairment, cataracts, coloboma, nystagmus, central scotoma, glaucoma (this list is not complete). A current (October 2015) web resource for this is “Visual Impairment”. For each etiology, look for such things as:

  • Effects of Light: cataracts cause light to be scattered over the retina meaning that bright light and glare will usually cause problems for the student, whereas the student with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) will require high illumination. Glare for some would be disastrous. Overhead lighting might be too low/high, depending on the etiology. Illuminated screens (any type of lighted display) would be difficult for some, necessary for others.
  • Field Deficits: students with Stargardt’s Disease can have a central acuity loss, making staying on a line of print difficult without specific training. Students with retinitis pigmentosa tend to lose the peripheral field, thus making large print and/or enlarged maps/charts/graphs/photos difficult to scan.
  • Eye Motor: students with nystagmus tend to have problems shifting gaze from one target to another (typical of copying assignments).


A work surface and/or computer work station that is poorly arranged in regards to lighting would reduce visual efficiency. Whereas marketed reading stands straighten the student’s posture and elevate the reading material, students typically need to write on the same (slanted) surface. Look on occupational therapy websites, such as, for a writing stand that does not have the ridge at the bottom which makes writing uncomfortable. Or, use a 3 inch 3-ring binder turned sideways to slant work at an angle. 


It takes the student with low vision longer to find things. Students need to access their materials quickly, so storing for quick retrieval is necessary. Consider a small, stick-on battery operated closet light that you press for inside desks and other darker spaces. Backpacks will need folders and other organizational containers to keep papers organized, and smaller objects in desks should have dedicated containers. The TVI will need to check and reinforce that an established system is used consistently.


  • Work Surfaces: with some eye conditions, a lamp might be necessary to put light precisely where it is needed. If an outlet is nearby, the APH lamp is wonderful. Another option is a battery powered OttLight that can be moved from room to room. When positioning the light, make sure the student’s head or hand does not occlude the light, or that the light is shining on the student’s face. Students with albinism or cataracts might have difficulty with too much ambient light and/or glare, which can cause headaches and have a “wash-out” effect on certain materials. Tinted lenses might be beneficial for some, or a light blue filter placed over the reading surface could change the contrast (watch for glare off of shiny surfaces). Avoid seating that is directly under harsh overhead lighting or near a large window.
  • Overhead Projector Screens and Interactive White Boards: when the target surface is lighted or bright, students with lighting issues may have difficulties. The classroom lighting can be adjusted to accommodate, or in extreme cases, the student may need to have a desk (print) copy if significant copy work is required. There are apps available that connect the student’s tablet with the teacher’s computer or the interactive white board that would provide a clearer copy for the student.

Writing Tools and Materials

Provide adapted paper and writing tools, and adjust lighting and positioning of materials (see writing slant board above) if needed. Examples of writing tools include drafting pencils (or #1 soft lead, available in art/craft stores) and fine point felt tip pens, such as a Flare® pen. Students may perform better with bold line paper, or commercially available wide ruled notebook paper with darker lines (compare these at the grocery store—some are darker than others). Gradually move toward fewer adaptations as the student becomes more proficient.

Optical Devices

If the student has been seen by a low vision specialist, start by making sure the prescribed optical devices are on hand and the student has learned how to use them correctly. Devices that tend to be handed to students by well-intentioned people should be avoided (for example: full page magnifier, bar magnifier). Electronic near devices are best used for “spot” viewing, and will slow the student down when reading longer passages. If a video magnifier is in the room, find out if it is being used consistently. If it is not (perhaps due to portability, placement, too much enlargement) consider retraining the student on a handheld or stand magnifier. There are now products available from APH and Region 4 Education Service Center, designed for teaching optical device use. Refer to Looking to Learn: Promoting Literacy for Students with Low Vision, D’Andrea and Farrenkopf, Eds., AFB Press. 

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Adam Graves, Education Consultant, Deafblind Outreach Program, TSBVI

Abstract: This article provides information on the development and implementation of an evaluation tool for conducting informal functional hearing evaluations for students with deafblindness and/or multiple disabilities.

Keywords: deafblindness, deafblind, deaf, hard of hearing, evaluation, functional hearing


Over the course of the past year, the Texas Deafblind Project of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) has been developing a tool to help teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing (TDHH) describe how students who have difficulty responding to formal diagnostic hearing tests, such as those with deafblindness and/or multiple disabilities, use their hearing in a functional way. The assessment (which has been titled the Informal Functional Hearing Evaluation or IFHE) is designed to help record information about the behavioral responses of students with deafblindness to a variety of sounds in multiple settings. The information obtained from the IFHE can guide the development of accommodations and instructional strategies for the IEP team, as well as provide valuable information for educational audiologists as they perform subsequent diagnostic testing.


In the fall of 2014, Chris Montgomery, Adam Graves and Kate Hurst from the Deafblind Outreach Program at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired began a five-part webinar series describing and explaining hearing issues for students with deafblindness. During the course of theses webinars, the team conducted interviews with educational audiologist Lisa Sutherland and with Susie Tiggs, the educational lead for the Texas network for low-functioning deaf students. Much of the conversation with these hearing specialists centered on the fact that most audiologists and teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing (TDHH) do not have experience in working with students who are deafblind. As a result, many hearing professionals typically require additional information about how to identify the ways in which a child with a combined vision and hearing loss is using their hearing. In addition, the need for students who are deafblind to be able to hear, identify and listen for environmental sounds for the purposes of orientation was also discussed.

The team realized that the need for assistive listening devices to help provide access to environmental sounds makes a comprehensive functional hearing assessment especially important for a child who is deafblind and lacks formal language. This is because sighted children with a hearing loss are often provided with assistive listening devices that are programmed to block out environmental sounds in order to help eliminate auditory distractions and allow the child to focus on speech. As the team began to explore the differences between the hearing needs of sighted children and those with a visual impairment, they discovered the difficulties that arise when conducting standard audiometric testing for students with deafblindness and multiple disabilities. The importance of a comprehensive informal hearing evaluation that would be applicable for students with vision loss became very apparent. 

Susie Tiggs provided the team with a number of resources and evaluation tools that provided functional hearing information for deaf or hard of hearing students who had typical vision but were unable to use formal language to answer questions or offer descriptions of what they were able to hear. The evaluations that the team encountered when researching evaluation tools that are currently available relied heavily on observing changes in the student’s eye gaze and visual attention as indicators of the child’s responses to specific sounds. Despite the emphasis on visual response in these assessments, Chris and Adam worked with a team from TSBVI to try to adapt the most comprehensive of the evaluations to collect hearing information on a student who seemed to be using his hearing in a manner that did not appear to be consistent with some of his audiological information.

After talking about the adaptation of this existing evaluation tool with the TSBVI team, it became apparent that the evaluation they were attempting to use did not adequately describe how the student was using his hearing in a functional way. More importantly, the evaluation did not provide any guidance on how to create a list of recommendations that could be included in the student’s communication report or list of accommodations. The team then reached out to the Texas School for the Deaf (TSD) and the Perkins School for the Blind to discover if those institutions were currently using or were aware of a functional evaluation that was specifically designed to provide information and recommendations on hearing needs of this low incidence population. When both TSD and Perkins indicated that they were interested in using a functional hearing evaluation specifically designed for these students, the team set about to develop just such a tool.

The Deafblind Difference

The most significant difference between the IFHE and similar functional hearing inventories is that unlike other functional hearing tools, the IFHE is specifically designed to account for the difficulties that students with deafblindness and multiple disabilities have in localizing and identifying sound sources due to their loss of vision. More emphasis is placed on encouraging the teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing to observe and document the child’s specific bodily behavioral responses to sounds. The IFHE places an increased emphasis on observing behaviors other than visual attention to help confirm that a student has heard, recognized, or understood a specific sound, even for students with some vision. 

One example of the way in which the IFHE attempts to address hearing issues that are unique to deafblindness can be found in its description of some of the difficulties that a student with a hearing and visual loss may have in localizing sound sources. It includes an explanation of some of the subtle ways that a child might indicate that he has heard a sound when he cannot orient toward it, such as small arm or leg movements, changes in vocalizations, or changes in head position.

The IFHE also contains an extensive interview section so that parents and caregivers can help provide an inventory of non-visual responsive behaviors that the TDHH should be aware of when completing the evaluation. In addition, there is a section for Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to include recommendations based on the observations recorded in the assessment tool. Recommendations that are made in the IFHE can then be incorporated into the student’s communication report and Learning Media Assessment. By including a section for recommendations on instructional delivery, based on the student’s deafblindness and other impairments, the IFHE should help teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing and teachers of students with visual impairment collaborate to create a more detailed description of the child’s multisensory needs. Improved collaboration can then inform the team on how to best address the child’s sensory needs through a variety of instructional strategies across multiple settings and environments.

The IFHE is currently undergoing a review process during which a select group of experts in the field of deafblindness will provide comments, corrections, and suggestions to prepare for the distribution of the evaluation. At the conclusion of the review, the IFHE will undergo a period of field-testing with the collaboration of the National Center on Deafblindness (NCDB) before it is made available to the public. During the field testing process, teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing will be asked to conduct an Informal Functional Hearing Evaluation on a deafblind student for whom they are currently providing services. Teachers will then be asked to complete a survey to measure the effectiveness of the IFHE as an evaluation tool and to provide feedback on how this evaluation may be implemented or improved.

The TSBVI team hopes to have a version of the IFHE available for field-testing beginning in January 2016. If you or one of your team members is interested in participating in the IFHE field test, please email Adam Graves at to obtain a copy of the evaluation and discuss the field-testing protocol. 

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Charlotte Cushman, Manager of Paths to Literacy

Abstract: Suggestions for introducing literacy awareness and love of stories to children with visual impairment or deafblindness who are not yet able to read

Keywords: early literacy, reading aloud, story boxes


One of the first and most important things to remember when introducing books and literacy experiences to a young child with a visual impairment is that the child is a child first. While there are certain tips and techniques that will make reading more meaningful and pleasurable for children who are blind or visually impaired, many of the same principles apply to ALL children. Sharing quiet time together with a family member, teacher or other special person enjoying stories that are funny or interesting is something that all of us love, regardless of our age or the amount of vision we have.

1. Share your love of reading by reading aloud with your child every day.

It is important to set aside time each day to read with your child. This does not mean that you have to read a book from cover to cover or make the child listen to each and every page. This means that you show your child that books are something special to be enjoyed and that they can make life more interesting and fun.

2. Choose times and places that are quiet, comfortable and free from distractions.

Life is often busy and can be chaotic, especially when juggling schedules and other children. Turn off your cell phone and the TV, sit close to the child, and really focus on exploring books and literacy materials together. Be sure that the child is comfortable, with proper positioning, so that she can focus on you and the story rather than on trying to sit up. This simple act of sharing focused time together will help to create a routine that is special and enjoyable for both you and the child.

3. Choose books that relate to the child’s own experience.

Many young children who are blind or visually impaired have limited experience with the world, and if they have additional disabilities or are deafblind this is even more true. Books about rocket ships or monsters will have limited meaning to children who don't know these concepts, and it is best to begin with simple books that relate directly to a child's own experience. One favorite that many children enjoy from a young age is Little Rabbit's Bedtime. It includes familiar routines, such as taking a bath and brushing teeth, and real objects can be shown to the child while reading the book (i.e. a real toothbrush and washcloth).

For older children or children with multiple disabilities Lunch Crunch offers a simple story line where you can use real carrots, crackers, etc. to accompany the story.

4. Use objects to support the story, in place of illustrations.

As with the examples above, real objects can be used to illustrate and expand the story. These can help children to identify objects mentioned in the story (e.g. a pair of shoes) or to encourage them to act something out (e.g. brushing hair). Story boxes are collections of items from a given book that are stored together with the book in a convenient way. There are many examples of story boxes on Paths to Literacy.

5. Add textures or bright colors to call attention to important parts of the page.

The type of adaptation used will depend on the individual child, including the amount of vision they have and the specific vision condition. CVI or Cortical Visual Impairment, for example, often calls for different types of adaptations. In general textures or bright colors can be used to call the child's attention to a certain part of the page or to make the meaning clearer.

6. Use interactive language to make the story more engaging and meaningful.

Stories can be a wonderful way to help children to draw the connection to their own experience. For example, "José went to the grocery store in this book. Do you remember when we went to the grocery store yesterday?"

7. Provide books in braille and/or large print.

Braillable labels or sheets can be created as overlays that can be added to individual pages. There are also many sources of braille books, some of which are free. Work with your child's teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) to identify sources of books or to find help creating braille books. One parent had the idea of hosting a book making party!

8. Encourage the child to be actively engaged in the handling of the book.

Invite the child to:

  • Find the cover
  • Open the book
  • Turn the page
  • Find the "top of the page"

9. Create tactile books with the child, based on their experiences.

Experience books are created by collecting real objects associated with a given experience and making them into a book. When possible, include the child in collecting and saving the materials and helping to make them into a book. For example, when going out to eat, get an extra straw and bring it home to glue onto a page in a book telling about the experience.

10. Store the books and other literacy materials in an accessible place that the child can find.

Designate a shelf or cabinet that the child can locate and reach. Label it with braille or a tactile symbol or picture to indicate that this is where books are kept. Encourage the child to find the shelf and choose a book to look at. Invite her to return the books to the shelf after reading time, so that she will learn about where things are stored and can thereby take a more active role in selecting books and making literacy an active choice in her life.                                                                                                   

Most important of all -- Enjoy!


To read more about literacy for young children who are blind or visually impaired, please see:

We invite you to register for Paths to Literacy, which is a collaboration between Perkins School for the Blind and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. To register for this free site, visit You will receive weekly email notification of new blog posts on various topics related to literacy and children with visual impairment.       

Paths to Literacy is also present in many social media platforms. See the following links:

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Petra Hubbard

Abstract: The author discusses teaching daily living skills, responsibility and self determination to children with visual impairment at a variety of ages as their skills develop

Keywords: daily living skills, responsibility, independence, chores


Ensuring that each child with a visual impairment has age-appropriate daily living skills and is responsible for chores has benefits, both for the present and the future of the child. Parents often do not make their child with a visual impairment responsible for chores for a variety of reasons, but parents are not doing themselves or their children any favors by not allowing them to be equal contributors to their families. Not having chores will put the child at a disadvantage compared with his or her siblings who may feel the division of labor is unfair. More importantly, the message that the child with a visual impairment receives is that they are less capable, and not an equal contributor to the family. This will impact their feelings of self-confidence, self-reliance, and self-worth.  Having regular chores builds a child’s sense of self-esteem and will encourage a good work ethic and a can-do attitude as they become accustomed to completing a job under the supervision of their first “bosses,” their parents. Regular chores give the child consistent practice with many skills so that these skills become second nature. The individual with a visual impairment will become accustomed to what it takes to run a household so when the day comes to live independently, they will have the experience and confidence to be successful. Having a visual impairment does not mean never having to do dishes! 

So, what are the various types of daily living skills? The areas include eating skills, personal hygiene and grooming, clothing management, food preparation, household duties and maintenance, communication, organization, personal record-keeping, and financial concerns.

Assigning chores should start before kindergarten, such as putting toys and clothes away, helping to set the table, clearing and wiping the table, helping with simple food preparation, making their bed, and putting trash in a waste basket. As the child grows, the complexity of the chores can increase, but remember that they will have to be taught. People with visual impairments do not have the same opportunity for learning through casual observation the way people with full sight can, so they must be directly taught how to perform skills safely and effectively. Parents may need to learn some of the special techniques that can be helpful because essential skills can be practiced and refined in the natural context of home. Also, the child's teacher of students with visual impairment (TVI) can facilitate informal assessment of the student’s current skills and may teach daily living skills. There are several instructional arrangement options: pull-out of class for instructional time, consult with the classroom teacher about modifications they can naturally incorporate into their regular programming (especially in the upper grades where Home Economics classes might be chosen), provide direct instruction before or after school, or have a special summer IEP. Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Service/Division for Blind Services (DARS/DBS) has Rehabilitation Teachers who can provide instruction in the home, and in some areas, DBS offers special programs and events that incorporate daily living skills. The DBS Transition program will help families learn about options for continuing to build and practice skills after the child becomes an adult. Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) in Austin offers short term and summer programs that teach daily living skills. Region 10 ESC offers technical assistance to teachers of students with visual impairment within the region on how to address activities of daily living, and the Region 10 ESC Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Planning Committee offers events every year, some of which address daily living skills.

The ultimate goal for anyone is a happy, productive life including full independence and employment, full involvement in the community, and a wide network of friends and loved ones. Acquiring the skills to pursue these dreams has to start early. It will take a village to get there.


There are many additional resources for learning about special techniques, equipment, and environmental modifications for daily living. 

TSBVI has an extensive website, and a search for "daily living skills" will yield many links to websites, curriculum, and free articles. 

The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) at also has many resources. In addition to what is available on their website, AFB has a branch office in Dallas with a model apartment which demonstrates many useful pieces of equipment for daily living skills.

American Printing House for the Blind at has many articles and information.

Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services/Division of Blind Services (DARS/DBS) at offers articles and links to more resources.

The National Federation of the Blind (NFB) at has articles and additional resources. 

The Hadley School for the Blind at has free correspondence courses available to visually impaired persons, and some, including the course on Independent Living Skills is also available to the parents and teachers of students with visual impairment.

A search for "daily living skills for the blind" on will yield many instructional videos.

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Wearable Technology: A Motivator for Fitness?

Abstract: In this article Superintendent Daugherty shares information about the agreement between TSBVI and the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) to implement a National Fitness Challenge on the TSBVI campus.

Keywords: TSBVI, Blind, Visually Impaired, United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA), Fitbit


The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired recently signed an agreement with the United States Association of Blind Athletes (USABA) to implement a National Fitness Challenge program at TSBVI. With funding from USABA and the Anthem Foundation, approximately 25 students will be wearing Fitbit devices on their wrists to monitor physical activity for the next 9 months.  One of the strategies being used by USABA to promote fitness is to connect these Fitbit users with other participants locally and around the country in order to develop a social network of people striving to reach fitness goals.  Along with some sports tournaments such as goalball and a  Paralymic/Olympic Day, TSBVI and USABA aim to use the wearable technology and social networking so popular among young people to influence students towards an interest in life-long fitness.

USABA is housed at the Olympic training facilities in Colorado Springs.  It is an organization for serious athletes who want to compete at the highest level in paralympic sports. It is a testament to their commitment to fitness for all that they have reached out to 9 organizations such as TSBVI without any requirements on the athleticism of the participants. It is my assumption that USABA realizes that increased fitness among all students will lead to a larger pool of developing athletes who might one day decide that they want to be involved at a higher level.

TSBVI offers many opportunities for students to participate in physical fitness and sports activities during the day, in the evenings, and on weekend competitions with other schools. Students coming to TSBVI often say that the opportunity to be on a sports team is something they highly value. Still, there are many students at the school who are way less active than is desired by those of us who worry about the long term impact of a sedentary lifestyle. Perhaps this snazzy looking, wearable technology found in the Fitbit will be a motivator that gets traction and kid-to-kid buzz about fitness.

Students with more significant disabilities can be at even higher risk for insufficient physical activity as part of their daily routine.  Some may not personally connect with sports or the pursuit of fitness goals in the same way promoted by USABA, but everyone is going to have a higher quality of life if fitness is part of their routine. It’s encouraging to read that walking 30 minutes a day at a comfortably brisk pace delivers about 90% of the benefit of more strenuous exercise. If walking is not an option, then a stationary or tandem bike might be a good fit.

One of the better resources on fitness for students with visual impairments of all ability levels is Dr. Lauren Lieberman, the founder of Camp Abilities ( USABA can be reached at . At TSBVI, Kristine Seljenes  is at for information about the school’s Fitbit program. In Texas, the regional Education Service Centers are generally aware of sports and fitness activities available within their regions. The Sports Extravaganza held annually in the DFW area draws a big turnout and is a great place to introduce a young person to fitness and the fun of competition. 

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Scott Bowman, Interim Assistant Commissioner, Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services – Division for Blind Services

Abstract: : Mr. Bowman reviews the legislative changes for the programs in the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services and discusses plans underway to make a successful transition.

Keywords: Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services (DARS), Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC), Transition Services, Blind Children’s Program


As the 84th Legislative session adjourned on June 1 “Sine Die”, otherwise known as the last day of session, a new course was set for the programs administered by the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS).  On September 1, 2016:

  • The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) will operate all of the Vocational Rehabilitation programs (including General, Blind, transition services, and the Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center), the Business Enterprises of Texas program, and the Independent Living services (IL) for Older Individuals who are Blind.
  • The Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) will operate the Blind Children’s Program (BCP), Blindness, Education, Screening and Treatment (BEST), IL- Part B, Autism, Deaf and Hard of Hearing Services, Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services and Disability Determination Services.

As a part of transition, the affected agencies are required to submit a plan to the Health and Human Services Legislative Oversight Committee, which will review the plan and hold public meetings.  All of the members of the Oversight Committee have been named and will be co-chaired by Senator Jane Nelson and Representative Four Price.  A list of all the members can be found at the following link (  The Oversight Committee was created by the Legislature to allow for a more public and thoughtful vetting of the transition process. 

There is much to do in order to make this transition a success and to ensure that quality services are continued throughout this process.  To this end, DARS, HHSC and TWC have begun working diligently to map the processes that must occur.  DARS and TWC have held seven public meetings across the state to allow the public to address the transition of programs to TWC.  These were important meetings and we appreciate everyone who took time to attend.  Your participation makes these meetings worthwhile. 

TWC and DARS have recently completed a draft of their transition plan. This has been presented to the TWC Commissioners and will be sent to the Oversight Committee in the near future.  HHSC’s version of this plan will be submitted to the Oversight Committee in March.

DARS, HHSC and TWC are committed to making this transition a success; however, we cannot do this without your support. Your thoughts about these programs are important to ensure we continue to serve consumers in the manner best for each consumer.

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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals
Fall / Winter 2015


By: Excerpts for the Braille Challenge Web site

Abstract: The Braille Challenge is an academic competition designed to encourage students who are blind to emphasize their study of braille. This article provides information on the Braille Challenge and highlights Texas winners for the 2015 competition.

Keywords: Braille Challenge, braille


Congratulations to Harley Fetterman and Summer Johnson from Austin, Texas for being among the 15 students from across the nation that won honors at the 2015 Braille Challenge Finals!

Harley Fetterman, (Varsity) From Austin, TX. This entrepreneurial 11th grader hopes to one day develop a 2 ½ dimensional, refreshable, tactile screen that he can distribute through a company that he owns and manages himself! He is a board member of the Texas Association of Blind Students, is part of his school’s “All A” Honor Roll and was named “Camper of the Year” while attending Camp Discovery. He plays several musical instruments including the French horn, guitar, ukulele, mandolin and the saw. He and his family have traveled to all 50 states and together they choose to look at every situation in the most positive light and with humor. This is Harley’s 8th year attending The Braille Challenge and he has been reading braille for 11 years.  We invite you to read an article written by Harley’s mom, Beth Freeborn, from the Fall 2012 Texas SenseAbilities newsletter highlighting his experience when he competed in the 2012 Braille Challenge.

Summer Johnson, (Apprentice) From Austin, TX. Summer was a 1st place winner in the regional Braille Challenge in 2015. She wants to be a teacher when she grows up, so that she can teach people different things such as science, math, and Braille. Summer has participated in The Braille Challenge for 2 years.

Get Ready for the 2016 Braille Challenge!

The Braille Challenge is an academic competition unlike any other. This two-stage contest is designed to motivate blind students to emphasize their study of braille, while rewarding their success with fun-filled, but challenging, local and national events. Any visually impaired student who reads braille is eligible to participate in the preliminary Challenge contest events, which are held from January through the end of March throughout the U.S. and Canada. Contests are proctored by volunteer teachers for students visual impairment and scored locally according to our national guidelines by volunteer transcribers. Each contestant receives a braille certificate of appreciation and general feedback on their performance, which will be sent to families and educators in May.

This year The Braille Challenge will be held at 46 different sites and will be proctored by up to 80 individual teachers of visually impaired students from throughout the United States and Canada. The preliminary round is open to students of all skills levels, but the top-scoring 60 contestants nationally will be invited to Los Angeles in June for a Final Round—two days of competition, camaraderie and fun! Braille Challenge contest categories include reading comprehension, braille speed and accuracy, proofreading, spelling and reading tactile charts and graphs.

The Braille Institute Is gearing up for another exciting season of The Braille Challenge! Here’s where you’ll find all the latest news for teachers, finalists, parents, and Regional Coordinators. They also invite you to visit their Facebook page to get updates, engage with other contestants and their families, and share your #BrailleChallenge experience!

For 2016 contracted apprentice contests will be in Unified English Braille (UEB), freshman contests will be UEB Optional. As of January 2016, UEB will be the official braille code for the United States. Based on a review of state implementation plans and feedback from our Regional Coordinators, teachers and National Advisory Committee, most younger students will be transitioning to UEB in September 2015, but the transition from EBAE to UEB is less defined and not as consistent for older students. The goal of The Braille Challenge is to support the timely transition to UEB.

To learn more about The Braille Challenge, please visit The Braille Institute website. 

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