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A Hands on Workshop to Help Elementary School Children Learn About Visual Impairments

Presented at AER 2002, Troonto
By Sarah Abdelnour, O&M Specialist
Blind Children’s Learning Center
Santa Ana, California

Download presentation book

1.0 - Introduction and Overview of the Workshop

This hand’s on workshop is designed to help elementary school-aged children learn about visual impairments. It provides an opportunity for sighted peers to learn about a low incident disability and to broaden their understanding of visual impairments. If it is presented in a class where there is a visually impaired student, it helps the sighted peers develop an understanding of their friend.

It can also be used with teachers and other support staff involved with students who have visual impairments as an inservice. The workshop serves as a great refresher for the teachers/aides about the demands these children are faced with in school and how taxing they can be mentally and physically. For staff newly involved with a VI student it also works very well to teach them about visual impairments.

This package includes all the information you will need to prepare for and set-up the workshop. The workshop begins with an information session. I have provided an outline for you to use. After the introduction, the students will rotate through a series of stations. Each station focuses on a different aspect of visual impairments and has a hands-on activity for the students to do and learn from. There are also information cards (provided in this package) that can be placed at the stations to provide more information for the students about how that particular station relates to visual impairments. There are 8 different station ideas for you to choose from. Feel free to invent and add on your own. Each suggested station in this package lists the supplies that are needed, instructions and follow-up activity suggestions. At the end of this package, I have copied two sets of question and answer sheets that can be photocopied and handed out for the students to take home with them. One is about guide dogs and the other is a list of common questions asked about visual impairments. Use your judgement as to whether they are appropriate for the age group you are doing the workshop with.

2.0 - Set-up and Preparations

2.1 Necessary Preparation Prior to the Presentation

  • · Ask the teacher to divide the class into groups of 4 –6 children
  • · The number of groups determines the number of stations to choose
  • · Number each group ahead of time
  • · Ask the teacher to have desks cleared and grouped together according to the number of students per group and stations
  • · See if the teacher can find a volunteer to help out
  • · Arrange a starting time for first thing in the morning or after lunch
  • · Photocopy information hand-outs (included in this package)
  • · Prepare station supplies
  • · Prepare information cards for stations (card samples are included in this package)

2.2 Plan for Day of Presentation

  • · Allow 15 – 20 minutes to set up stations before class arrives
  • · Begin with introductory information session to provide an overview of visual impairments, causes, and what it is like (a general one is included in this package)
  • · Allow 5 minutes at the end of introduction for questions
  • · Go through every station and explain what they will be doing; answer any questions
  • · Call out group numbers with students and direct them to their starting station
  • Allow for 10 minutes per station with 3 –5 minutes in between.

3.0 - Introductory Presentation Notes

Use these notes as a guide to begin the workshop. It provides a general overview for the students and gets them to start thinking about visual impairments.


Introduce yourself, how you are involved with visually impaired people and explain that they will be learning how visually impaired people use their senses and equipment to obtain information.

Question 1: Ask the students what they think it is like for someone with a visual impairment.

Answer 1: Explain how most visually impaired people are able to see something. It can range from detecting light from dark to seeing large objects to seeing everything, but blurry.
It is also important to stress that everyday activities such as crossing streets and going to school seem very difficult, that visually impaired people receive special training. The special training allows people with visual impairments to do everything sighted people do, just differently.

Question 2: Visually impaired people have to rely on their other sense for information. What are the five senses?

Answer 2: Smell, taste, hearing, touch and sight. Describe to the students how a visually impaired person may use smell to help them know they are passing a bakery, taste to enjoy their food, hearing to help them cross the street, touch to read Braille and remaining vision for reading large print signs.

Question 3: What are some causes of visual impairments?

Answer 3: Explain to the students that causes of vision loss in children are often different than adults. In children it can be caused by premature birth, genetics, accidents, cancer or eye conditions such as glaucoma. As people get older, there are other eye conditions that happen such as macular degeneration or cataracts that can cause vision loss.

Question 4: How do visually impaired people get around?

Answer 4: Visually impaired people can get around in many different ways and it depends on the amount of vision they have. Most people use a white cane. Some people choose to use guide dogs. People who have vision may be able to travel around without using either the cane or the guide dog but use a monocular to help them when needed.

4.0 - Station Ideas

There are eight station ideas for you to choose from. The number of stations should equal the number of groups you have divided the students into.


Objective How the sense of smell can provide information.Using the sense of smell, students will distinguish between different odors provided.

Supplies Needed 1. Set of 10 containers (film canisters work well) filled with 10 different smelly items such as: parmesan cheese, vinegar, vanilla, shampoo, cinnamon, coffee, chocolate, coconut, apple, orange

Set-Up Place small amount of each item into separate container. Label each container with a number.***BE SURE TO ASK TEACHER ABOUT ANY ALLERGIES IN THE CLASSROOM

Instruction Starting with container number 1, open up the lid and each student will smell the item and then pass it along to the person beside him/her until all students have had a turn. Continue with container 2 and so on. Adult supervision is recommended.

Follow-Up Have students think of smells in the community that will give them an idea of where they are.


Objective For students to get an idea of what it is like to move around without their vision.

Supplies Needed 1. Blindfold 2. White cane (if desired)

Set-Up None required

Instruction Demonstrate sighted guide. Have student’s pair up. One person will wear a blindfold and the other will be the guide. Students will walk to the water-fountain to get a drink and walk back. The partners then switch. A white cane can also be used along with the blindfolds.

Follow-Up Have the students discuss situations where they think it would be difficult to travel without having sight.


Objective For the students to use their hearing to distinguish between sounds.For the students to learn how much information their hearing can provide.

Supplies Needed 1. Record 15 – 20 different sounds onto a cassette tape. As you record, number each sound so the students are aware of when there is a new sound starting.

Record each sound for 10 seconds. Examples are: traffic, microwave, dishwasher, television, people talking, truck backing up, bacon frying, children playing, dog barking, bathtub running, car starting up. 2. A cassette player in the classroom.

Set-Up Have the tape rewound and ready in the cassette player. If you want, you could have a sheet of paper for the students to write their answers onto.

Instruction Students will listen to each sound as a group and guess what the sound is. They can rewind the tape and listen as much as they want in the time provided.

Follow-Up Have the students discuss sounds they might hear in the environment that could help them figure out where they are.


Objective For the students to learn what braille looks like and how it is brailled.

Supplies Needed 1. Brailler 2. Braille paper 3. Brailled alphabet cards for every student, 4. 10 silly sentences brailled, 5. Paper for the students to transcribe the sentences 6. Braille books7. Example of tactual maps or graphs

Set-Up Have paper loaded into the brailler

Instruction Students have several activities they can do at this station:· Try brailling their name on the brailler· Braille the alphabet· Transcribe silly sentences· Look at braille books

Follow-Up Students could read a book about Louis Braille. They could talk about where they have seen Braille out in the public.


Objective For the children to use their sense of touch or hearing to play games and solve manipulative puzzles.

Supplies Needed 1. Blindfolds for each member of the group2. Activity for each group member. Suggestions:a)Tactile dominoesb) Matching texturesc) Matching soundsd) Deck of braille cards

Set-Up Have an activity and blindfold set up onto each desk at the station.

Instruction Each student will have a few minutes to try and complete the task. In the case of braille cards, they can use the time to just explore them and feel the braille. When a student finishes, they can pass it along to the person beside them.

Follow-Up Students can discuss how different things feel such as: animals, trees, streets etc.


Objective For the students to experience a dual-sensory loss.

Supplies Needed 1. Five containers for each pair of students in a group.2. 15 beans for each pair of students in a group.3. One blindfold for each pair of students in a group.

Set-Up Partners need to be sitting across from each other.Place containers side by side in a row.Beans are placed in front of one of the seats.Set of instructions for the table because the person who will be blindfolded is not allowed to know what the task is ahead of time. See below.

Instruction Partners sit across from each other. One partner will wear a blindfold. Neither partner is allowed to speak. The sighted partner has the task of instructing the blindfolded partner to place one bean in the first container, 2 beans in the second container, 3 beans in the third etc. etc. all without speaking.

Follow-Up Learn about sign language. Read a book about Helen Keller.


Objective For the students to use their sense of touch to describe and label objects.

Supplies Needed 1. A bag with different items inside. Examples: baby sock, Popsicle stick, leaf, spoon, toothbrush, Q-tip, Band-Aid, toy truck.2. One blindfold per group.

Set-Up Place all items into a bag that can’t be seen through.

Instruction One at a time, a blindfolded student will reach into the bag, locate one item and pull it out. The student will describe and attempt to guess at what he/she is holding.

Follow-Up Have students write a paragraph describing in detail one object, such as a tree.


Objective For students to use descriptive words such as left/right/top/bottom/big/small to describe a picture to their classmates for them to draw.

Supplies Needed 1. A picture of patterns or geometric shapes. *See example included with package.2. Blank sheets of paper for each student 3. Pencils for each student in the group.

Set-Up Have the picture face down on the table with a sheet of paper and pencil at each desk.

Instruction The students will sit down at the desks without looking at the picture. As a group, they will choose one person to look at the picture while the remaining students will be drawing. The person describing the picture is not allowed to show the others in the group the picture until they are finished. The person looking at the picture will do their best to describe to their friends what the picture looks like.

Follow-Up Have the students write a set of directions to get from their house to a store, or school.

5.0 - Information Cards

These information ‘cards’ can be copied and glued onto colored paper to be used at stations for additional information about visual impairments. At the bottom of each ‘card’ is a number that corresponds to the station it could be used along with.5.0 INFORMATION CARDS

5.1 The Sense of Smell

How a visually impaired person uses smell:

  • · To help them know where they are
  • · What’s cooking for dinner?
  • · To help recognize a person by their perfume or cologne
  • · To know if food has gone bad
  • · To learn about what is going on around them (smell of cut grass, rain, flowers)

5.2 The White Cane

  • · 1931 the white cane became a symbol indicating that somebody was blind or visually impaired
  • · the white cane is designed to be used as a device to walk with and also to help identify visually impaired people
  • · it helps people to walk around safely
  • · the cane can help someone find changes in surfaces such as grass or pavement, it can help find curbs, stairs or objects in the path

5.3 The Sense of Hearing

How a visually impaired person uses hearing:

  • · To listen to traffic and figure out when it is safe to cross a street
  • · To help them walk a straight line
  • · To figure out who or what is in a room
  • · To find open doorways or hallways
  • · To locate objects (trees, walls, posts) in their path

5.4 The Sense of Sight

How visually impaired people can use their remaining sight:

  • · To find objects (trees, walls, chairs)
  • · To read signs
  • · To see color
  • · To recognize people

5.5 Braille

  • · Braille was invented by Louis Braille
  • · Braille is a system of raised dots called a ‘cell’
  • · A braille ‘cell’ is a combination of 1 – 6 raised dots arranged like the 6 on a dice
  • · Each letter, word, punctuation, number or musical note can be made up using different combinations of these dots
  • · Grade I braille is learning each letter on it’s own
  • · Grade II braille is groups of dots to represent combinations of letters such as ‘ing’ in the word swimming.
  • · Braille is can be done on a brailler, a special computer laptop or typed onto a regular computer and printed with a special braille printer called an embosser

5.6 The Sense of Touch

How visually impaired people use touch:

  • · To look at objects
  • · To identify money
  • · To read Braille
  • · To find their clothes
  • · To get information about their surroundings by using a white cane (slopes in the sidewalk, grass, pavement
  • · To help cook food; cooked chicken feels different than raw chicken

5.7 Deaf-Blindness

  • · Deaf-blindness is the combination of both hearing and vision impairments.
  • · People with deaf-blindness have different hearing and vision impairments. A person may be hard of hearing and totally blind, or profoundly deaf and partially sighted, or have complete loss of both hearing and vision
  • · A person with deaf-blindness experiences the world through any vision or hearing they have and by using touch, smell and taste
  • · Deafblind people communicate through various types of sign language that can be done in the hands of the deaf-blind person
  • · Deaf-blind people travel around by using a person guide or some people use a guide dog along with sound devices

6.0 - Example for Descriptive Drawing – Station 8

The following design is a sample that could be used for the descriptive drawing. Make your own design if you wish.


7.0 - Questions and Answers About Guide Dogs

Courtesy of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc.,
San Rafael,CAThese questions and answers provide the students with additional information about guide dogs.
7.0 Questions and Answers About Guide Dogs
Courtesy of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc., San Rafael,CA

Q: What is a Guide Dog?
A: A Guide Dog is a dog trained to help a blind person get around.

Q: How does a Guide Dog help a blind person?
A: A Guide Dog helps its blind partner by walking the person around obstacles like telephone poles, mail boxes, street barricades, and by refusing to lead the blind person into a street when cars are coming.

Q: Does the Guide Dog know where the blind person wants to go?
A: No. All the Guide Dog does is follow orders; so the blind person has to know where the store of the post office or the bus stop is and then give the dog a series of commands in order to get there. Samples of commands are: “Forwards,” “Left,” “Right.”

Q: How much does the blind person pay for the Guide Dog?
A: Nothing. The dog, the training course, all food and housing during the course, the dog harness and other equipment are provided for free. Plus, we send an instructor to visit each of our graduates regularly to make sure the person and dog are doing all right.

Q: Can any blind person get a Guide Dog?
A: Any legally blind person who is 16 years old and physically fit can apply for a Guide Dog.

Q: Is it O.K. to pet a Guide Dog?
A: Ask the blind person for permission first. Sometimes when a stranger comes up and pets it, it distracts the Guide Dog from its work.

Q: Why don’t all blind people use Guide Dogs?
A: Not every blind person wants a dog. Some blind people prefer using a cane or going places with friends who can see. Having a Guide Dog is a big responsibility. The dog needs care, food, grooming, attention and love. Some people are allergic to dogs.

8.0 - Common Questions About Blindness

By National Federation of the Blind

These questions and answers provide the students with additional information about blindness.

What kind of jobs do blind people have?
Just about anything. Here's a list of some occupations in which blind people are working today -farmers, lawyers, secretaries, factory workers, computer programmers, insurance salespeople, chemists, housewives, doctors, and many, many more. If you believe you can do the job, and if your employer believes you can, there are very few jobs blind people cannot do. It is most important for blind people to have the chance to choose whatever job they want, and for the public to give blind people the opportunity.

What causes blindness?
There are many things which cause blindness. Sometimes babies are born blind, but most blind people become blind later on. Glaucoma, cataracts, and diabetic retinopathy are the three most common causes of blindness today. Many older persons lose their vision from macular degeneration. Some people become blind through accidents.

Where do blind children go to school?
In the past most blind children went away from home to attend residential schools for the blind. Now, however, most blind children are able to attend school in their home communities. Blind children in public schools are in regular classrooms, and use a cane and read and write Braille. These blind students might work some of the time with a special teacher who would also help get the special books needed by blind children. These Braille books would contain the same things your books would have in print. Blind children take the same classes that the other kids the same age take.

How does a blind person identify money?
Coins such as nickels, pennies, dimes, and quarters are easy to tell apart. They all are different sizes, and quarters and dimes have ridges around them, while pennies and nickels are smooth. There are many ways that paper money—like one, five, ten, or twenty dollar bills—can be identified. The most common way to tell paper money apart is to fold the bills in different ways. When we get money back from someone else, we ask which bill is which and then fold it.

How do blind people identify their clothes?
Most articles of clothing will have at least one distinct way of identifying them by feel. They will have different buttons or snaps or bows or ties or the fabric or texture will be different. Some dresses or skirts will have belts or elastic at the waist or different kinds of pockets. In this way, blind people can tell their clothes apart by touch, and they can tell what clothes match each other.

How do blind people recognize colors?
Some blind people are able to see some colors. Sometimes a blind person might have enough vision to see all colors, or maybe he or she can only tell bright colors. Some blind people can see some colors but not all of them, or they might have a hard time telling blue or black or brown apart, or pink from white. Some blind people do not see any colors. It is important to learn about colors even if you cannot see them. You need to learn what colors look nice together, and what colors do not match, and about stripes, plaids, and other patterns. This is important for clothing and decorating. You need to understand that the sky is mostly blue and grass is mostly green, and the colors of the ocean and the colors of leaves in the fall are just as important for the blind to know as everyone else.

How do blind people read Braille?
It takes some practice to become a good reader of Braille, just as it does with print. We learn Braille by feeling the different dots in each Braille “cell” and memorizing what the different combinations of dots stand for. Today blind people use Braille to take notes in high school and college, to write letters, to read books and magazines, to keep addresses and phone numbers, to keep recipe files, to write books and other materials, and to do the other things you might do using print. There are special libraries that provide Braille and recorded books and magazines for the blind free of charge. Most states have one or more of these libraries where blind people can borrow these materials.

How do blind people cook?
Blind people can use the same ovens, microwaves, and other kitchen tools and appliances as the sighted use. We can put Braille labels on the microwave touch buttons, and some blind people like to use Braille or a special marking glue to put dots on some of the stove or oven temperature dials. We can tell by the smell, sound, temperature, time of cooking, texture, and consistency how our foods are cooking. Some blind people, just like some sighted people, will enjoy cooking more than others.

How does a blind person tell time?
There are watches that open up so a blind person can feel where the hands are and can feel Braille dots at the different hour points. There are also talking watches that speak the time and have an alarm built in.

How does it feel to be blind?
When you are newly blind, in the beginning, it can feel frustrating or scary. This is because you have not learned how to do things for yourself as a blind person. But once you learn the skills that blind people use, you no longer feel that way. Blind people do the same things as sighted people. We go to school or work, and we do the things that we need to do. We do this naturally, without even thinking about being blind. The blindness becomes just another part of who we are and what we are like. We don't think about being blind every day, just like you don't think every day about whether or not you have red hair or brown hair.