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Self-Determination Units and Lessons

Use with Strategies for Communicating with Others about Access Lesson 12:  Personal Preferences for Access to Visual Media

Directions:  Indicate which method of access you use most often for each of media.

  • RP-; I use regular print (no optical devices)
  • LP- I use large print
  • B/T- I use braille/tactile materials
  • OD- I use an optical device (telescope, magnifier, cell phone, tablet)
  • WH- I can do this if someone helps me
  • X- I can’t do this yet

diagrams and charts in science / social studies books            
small visual screens (cell phone, microwave key pad)            
store receipts            
food boxes and cans            
my handwritten notes            
board games            
library books            
Interactive board or classroom board            
projector screen            
computer monitor            
information on classroom walls            
sporting events & performances            
school assemblies            

Alliance of and for Visually Impaired Texans – The Alliance of and for Texans (AVIT) is trying to grow its email listserv to ensure fast notification to those interested in its upcoming legislative efforts. Many legislative actions have very short notice, so fast communication is critical. This AVIT Listserv will be the primary means of sending information related to a bill AVIT is working on requiring O&M evaluations for all students being considered for eligibility as visually impaired. Sometimes we have less than 24 hours notice that an action is about to occur.  In addition, the AVIT Listserv provides a way to communicate on a variety of issues related to consumers and professionals who are visually impaired, blind, or deafblind.

A-Z Deafblindness - A long list of listservs and other great resources.’s Retail Savings Guide for People with Disabilities provides a detailed look at ways those with disabilities can stretch their dollars. Discounts, services, and special offers for people with disabilities are widely available, but very few businesses will mention their willingness to help simply because the risk of offending someone is just too big to risk saying something. Managing a disability can be tough, but you don't have to handle it all by yourself. The bottom line is: if you can save money, why not do it?

Family Matters blog - TSBVI blog for families.

Finding Wheels - There is a new listserv called finding_wheels that is a discussion venue for people to talk about transportation issues for children and young adults with vision impairments and strategies to assist young people in exploring their transportation options. The listserv is an extension of the curriculum Finding Wheels which Dr. Penny Rosenblum and Dr. Anne Corn co-authored. They wanted to set up a place where people who are using Finding Wheels or working with students on transportation issues could share ideas. To join the listserv send a message to . In the message write "subscribe finding_wheels, your e-mail address First Name Last Name." If you would prefer to send a message directly to Penny at , she would be happy to sign you up for the listserv.

Jewish Guild Healthcare - This organization provides a variety of information and support to parents of children with visual impairments, but you may want to check out their tele-support (conference calls) around such topics such as Cortical visual impairment, Retinopathy of prematurity, Leber Congenital Amaurosis, Autism spectrum disorders and visual impairment, Hermansky-Pudlak Syndrome, CHARGE Syndrome, and Achromatopsia.They also offer groups for high school students planning to attend college and for the sighted siblings of blind and visually impaired children. - See more at:

Lista de Correo (listserv) Encontrando Ruedas - Hay una nueva lista de correo (listserv) llamada finding_wheels (encontrando ruedas) la cual es un área de discusión para que la gente platique sobre cuestiones relacionadas con el transporte de niños y jóvenes adultos con impedimentos visuales así como estrategias para ayudar a los jóvenes a explorar sus opciones de transporte. El listserv es una extensión del plan de estudios Finding Wheels (encontrando ruedas) que escribieron las doctoras Penny Rosenbum y Anne Corn. Querían establecer un lugar donde pudiera compartir ideas la gente que está usando Finding Wheels o trabajando con alumnos cuestiones de transporte,. Para suscribirse a esta lista de correos envíe un mensaje a . En el cuerpo del mensaje escriba “subscribe finding_wheels, su dirección de correo electrónico Nombre Apellido.” Si lo prefiere puede enviar un mensaje directamente a Penny a , a ella le encantará suscribirlo a la listserv.

Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired Distance Learning videos - View videos on a variety of topics related to visual impairment and deafblindness.

There are few other resources as valuable to family members of children with visual impairments and deafblindness as state and national family organizations.

State Organizations (Texas)
National Organizations (United States)

 State Level


Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas - The mission of DBMAT is to promote and improve the quality of life for all Texans who are deaf-blind multi-handicapped, deaf multi-handicapped, and blind multi-handicapped.  Listen to a message from the members..


Texas Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments - The Texas Chapter of the NAPVI supports parents of children with visual impairments. - Listen to a message from the members..


Texas Chargers - Texas Chargers, Inc. encourages, educates, and enriches individuals and families living with CHARGE Syndrome.   - Listen to a message from the members..


Texas Hands and Voices - Texas Hands & Voices (TX H&V) offers support, information and resources in an unbiased manner to families with children who are deaf and hard of hearing.  Our outreach activities, parent/professional/community collaboration, and advocacy efforts are focused on enabling Deaf and Hard-of-Hearing children to reach their highest potential.  - Listen to a message from their members.


Texas Parents of Blind Children - Texas Parents of Blind Children (TPOBC) is the state chapter of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), a division of the NFB of Texas, a national membership organization of parents and friends of blind children. Our state chapter was formed at the NFB of Texas State Convention in 2006 in order to reach out to parents of blind children and provide vital support, encouragement, and information. - Listen to a message from the members..


Texas Parent to Parent (TxP2P) is committed to improving the lives of Texas children who have disabilities, chronic illness, and/or special health care needs. TxP2P empowers families to be strong advocates through parent-to-parent support, resource referral, and education. 


The ARC of Texas - The Arc of Texas creates opportunities for all people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to actively participate in their communities and make the choices that affect their lives in a positive manner.


Texas Project FIRST, created by parents, for parents...this web site is a project of the Texas Education Agency and is committed to providing accurate and consistent information to parents & families of students with disabilities

Family to Family Network

The mission of Family to Family Network is to help families of children with disabilities by providing information, training, referral and support 13150 FM 529, Suite 106 Houston, TX 77041 Phone:  713-466-6304 Email:  Website: Texas Project First Website:    

 National Level





The Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS) Foundation is a family support organization that exists to ensure early and accurate diagnosis of CdLS, promote research into the causes and manifestations of the syndrome, and help people with a diagnosis of CdLS, and others with similar characteristics, make informed decisions throughout their lives.

The CdLS Foundation is a national non-profit organization that has served people with CdLS and their families since 1981. The Foundation’s mission is reflected in its slogan: Reaching Out, Providing Help, and Giving Hope.

The Foundation is the only organization dedicated to CdLS in the nation. It distributes a number of publications to families and professionals caring for children with CdLS, and hosts meetings and conferences where researchers and families can meet to exchange information. The Foundation also acts as a facilitator between families and professionals, utilizing a team of professionals who lend their expertise to those caring for a child with CdLS.


National Association of Parents of Children with Visual Impairments - NAPVI and the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) are so pleased to bring you our web site,, an online, multimedia community for parents and guardians of children with visual impairments. FamilyConnect gives parents, grandparents and other caretakers a place to find comprehensive resources and support 24 hours a day, with access to message boards where they can talk to other parents, compelling videos featuring real-life families, parenting articles, a mom-authored blog, and links to local resources. The site also features sections dedicated to multiple disabilities, technology, education, and every age group from infants to teens. Visitors to can also create a personal profile and receive information on news and events based on their child's age, eye condition, and location.  Listen to a message from NAPVI.


National Family Association for Deaf-Blind - NFADB exists to empower the voices of families of individuals who are deaf-blind and to advocate for their unique needs.  NFADB Videos on Deaf-Blindness (English long and short versions), Spanish (NEW)

General Information about Training from TSBVI

There are many, many opportunities for parents and family members to access training to help them in their roles as caregivers.  One quick place to learn about all the training activities occurring throughout the year is the Statewide Calendar of Training Events which includes trainings offered by education services centers, family organizations, and others.  In most cases funding is available through DARS-Division of Blind Services and/or TSBVI Outreach Programs to help parents travel to  events that are out of town (lodging, gas, meals) and any registration costs.  For more information about accessing this support contact Jean Robinson at  or Edgenie Bellah at 

You may also want to check out the events offered by Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

TSBVI Workshops and Conferences

TSBVI TETN Broadcasts

TSBVI Webinars

TSBVI Outreach Family Leadership Series

TSBVI, DBS and various Education Service Centers work together to help family members become well-informed competent leaders. These events take place in various locations around the state each year.  To learn more about these events and where they will be offered each year, contact Jean Robinson (512-206-9418) or Edgenie Bellah at (512-206-9423).  Parents have the opportunity to attend the following workshops/training sessions:

  • Eye Play – designed for parents with younger children (birth to five years). This training is an overview of the special education system and how to become an effective partner. It is full of basic information, giving parents an opportunity to meet other parents of children with visual impairments; it also encourages families to envision the possibilities for their children. Family members become knowledgeable about active learning techniques and materials that teach concepts leading to communication and literacy for children with vision and/or hearing loss, including those with other disabilities.
  • IDEAL Partners – Quality Education for your Child with Sensory Impairments - This training in an in-depth workshop on the special education process, how to read and understand their child's Individualized Education Program (IEP), discover strategies that leads to positive outcomes for their child's education and to build their confidence in their role as a member of their educational team.
  • Personal Family Leadership Series – This four weekend training is designed not only to help parents and other adult family members (siblings, grandparents, aunts, and uncles) in becoming more knowledgeable and stronger advocates for their children, but also how to step outside their comfort zone to be leaders in the community. The theme of the training is Know Yourself, Know Your Child, and Know Your Community. It provides training in the areas of peer mentoring, raising a child with a visual impairment and deafblindness, quality educational programming and utilizing community resources. The goal is for family members to join with others to improve and shape services not only for their child, but other children across the state.
  • Family Leadership within Different Systems Series – this is the advanced level of the family leadership training. Over the course of three weekends participants meet leaders in the areas of legislative, medical, state agency, community, and educational systems; learn about various leadership opportunities within existing systems; and, broaden their understanding of the issues surrounding visual impairments and blindness beyond their own child. In this training the participants design, develop and complete a personal project that will impact services and support for children with visual impairments.

State Training Events for Families

Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas

Texas Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments

Texas Chargers

Texas Parent to Parent Conference


National Training Events for Families

Spanish-speaking Teleconference

A series of nationally sponsored family phone calls, free to families, conducted in Spanish are currently being presented. One is for families with children who have hearing and vision problems and one is specifically for families of children with CHARGE.  Follow either of the links below to get more information.

Llamada de Familia-a-Familia

Llamada de Familia-a-Familia con Niños con el Síndrome de CHARGE

Webinar: Transiciones en la Vida del Estudiante con  Sordo-Ceguera 

Patrocinado por: National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB), National Family Association for Deaf-Blind (NFADB), New York Deaf-Blind Collaborative (NYDBC), California Deaf-Blind Services (CDBS)

Para los bebes, niños y jóvenes adultos que tienen una combinación de pérdida auditiva y visual o sordo-ceguera es instrumental que sus padres comiencen con ciertas rutinas a una edad temprana, para prepararlos a las distintas transiciones que los estudiantes van a tener a lo largo de su carrera académica y eventualmente en su transición a la vida adulta. Estar enterados con anticipación de cómo manejar estos cambios, tanto de lugar, gente o de ambiente entre otras cosas puede ser beneficial para nuestros hijos. Por esa razón NCDB, NFADB, NYDBC y CDBS les ofrece esta sesión en el tema de “Transición” a las familias de habla hispana que tienen un niño que es sordo-ciego. Esta sesión va a ser interactiva y ustedes pueden hacer preguntas que se contestarán al final de la presentación. Si desean recibir una copia de la presentación, favor comunicarse con Clara  o Myrna 

Charge Syndrome Foundation 12th International Conference

The 12th International CHARGE Syndrome Conference is taking place July 30 - August 2, 2015 in Chicago, Illinois. With more than 70+ breakout sessions, poster presentations and demonstrations, the conference offers a broad range of topics for participants of all experience levels. Program information highlights are now available so attendees can begin to think about the sessions that will be of interest to them. 

 Expanded Core Curriculum - The expanded core curriculum (ECC) outlines the core content areas for all students with visual impairments and deafblindness that are the focus of the support provided by a teacher of students with visual impairments and certified orientation and mobility specialists.

Family Connect - Family Connect provides a series of videos for families of children with visual impairments and deafblindness.

Making the Sensational Happen - Video from the Blind Children's Center of Los Angeles.

Paths to Literacy - This website is the result of a joint project between Perkins School for the Blind and Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). By combining our resources and expertise, we hope to assist educators and families in the quest to provide literacy experiences for children who are blind or visually impaired.The information on this site ranges from a basic overview of literacy to various stages of development and special challenges, as well as an exploration of different media (print, braille, auditory strategies). We encourage you to add your ideas and questions, so that this will be an interactive hub of resources.

Perkins Scout - Perkins Scout is a searchable database of carefully evaluated online resources related to blindness and visual impairment.

Perkins Webcasts - Perkins series of on-demand webcasts are presented by experts in the field of visual impairment and deafblindness. Whether your interests are professional or personal, you will find topics of interest.

Project SPARKLE - Website for parents of children with deafblindness that provides informational training modules.  To access this website you must first contact your state deafblind family support consultant to get a username and password; in Texas this is Edgenie Bellah - 

Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired On-The-Go Learning - Parents can find a wide range of videos and web-based broadcasts on a variety of topics on TSBVI's On-The-Go Learning site.

(de Primavera 2006 Ver/Oír)

English version of this article (Versión Inglesa)

Por Mary Sue Welch, Miembro del Directorio de la TSBVI, Dallas, TX

Resumen: Un Miembro del Directorio de la TSBVI comparte sus recuerdos de esta escuela y reflexiona sobre la forma en que ellos han tenido influencia en la persona que ella es hoy día.

Palabras Clave: familia, ciegos, discapacidades visuales, experiencia personal, Historia de la TSBVI.

Nota del Editor: El siguiente es un extracto de la contribución de Mary Sue a la página dedicada a los Recuerdos del Sesquicentenario en el sitio web de la TSBVI. Lo invitamos a leer por completo su fascinante artículo en ¿Tiene alguna anécdota divertida sobre la escuela? ¿Se encariñó con alguno de los profesores que tuvo aquí? Por favor, contribuya con su propia historia o con una historia sobre sus amigos o familiares que pudieran haber asistido a esta escuela.

Mi vida no siempre ha sido un cuento de hadas como es hoy. Actualmente, vivo en el piso número 23 de un edificio muy alto en el centro de Dallas con una maravillosa vista de la ciudad. Mi esposo (que también es ciego) tiene un buen trabajo y compró un automóvil Mercury Monterrey nuevo, de color negro, que es conducido por un maravilloso joven. Este joven me lleva de compras y facilita nuestras vidas de muchas maneras. No, no siempre he tenido una vida así.

Fui la hija ciega de una familia blanca, vidente, de clase media de Huntsville. Sí, mi madre, mi padre, mi hermano Walter Charles, mi medio hermano Tommy y mi media hermana Marie eran todos videntes. Tenían otros problemas, pero ninguno era ciego. Mi madre dice que mi nacimiento fue tormentoso y que ella experimentó grandes dolores físicos. Muy a mi pesar, ella nunca me describió como un bebé hermoso. En realidad, me dijeron que tenía una tez azulada y que nunca tuve los ojos abiertos cuando me llevaban a mi madre en el hospital.

Mi madre simplemente pensó que estaba dormida todo el tiempo, pero mi padre se preocupó. El día que llegué a casa, mi padre me llevó al dormitorio y me alumbró en los ojos con una linterna. Mi ojo derecho respondió, pero el izquierdo no hizo absolutamente nada. Después de compartir sus preocupaciones con mi madre, ellos se separaron. Cuando tenía seis semanas de edad, comenzamos las visitas a los oftalmólogos que duraron hasta que tenía tres años, cuando un médico de Austin le dijo a mis padres que no se podía hacer nada respecto a mi visión. Les recomendó que planificaran enviarme a la Escuela para los Ciegos de Texas y que me preparara para mi vida como una persona ciega. Realmente, creo que las cosas fueron más fáciles para mis padres en ese momento porque sabían qué esperar.

Me fui de casa para asistir a la Escuela para los Ciegos de Texas el 26 de septiembre de 1954, el día después de cumplir seis años. Temprano ese domingo en la mañana, mi abuela materna tuvo un derrame cerebral. Mi madre estaba desolada, pensando que perdía a su madre y a su niña. A pesar de eso, mis padres me pusieron a mí y a mi equipaje en el automóvil y me llevaron a Austin. Fue un acto muy generoso que les agradezco hasta hoy.

Les dijeron que no podrían visitarme ni llamarme durante tres semanas. Les explicaron que yo necesitaría ese tiempo para aclimatarme a mi nuevo entorno. Me dejaron jugando en los balancines con mi primer amigo en la escuela. Todo estuvo bien hasta la noche, pero entonces comencé a extrañar mi casa. Los padres de turno en la residencia no eran muy cariñosos, así que lloré hasta que pude quedarme dormida sin recibir consuelo de nadie. No se permitía que los niños salieran de la cama, pero ellos habrían ido a consolarme si hubieran podido. Los padres de la residencia pensaron que sería mejor que aprendiera por medio del sufrimiento y así lo hice.

A la mañana siguiente, realmente comencé mi entrenamiento para adquirir independencia ya que aprendí a hacer mi cama. Me imagino que fue un desastre, pero ahora puedo hacerla bastante bien.

Mi profesora de primer grado tenía una voz muy hermosa. Ella era tranquila y amable y la quise mucho. Comenzó a trabajar conmigo en Braille de inmediato. Me encantó y aprendí rápido. Todavía me gusta el Braille y estoy tomando un curso para ser transcriptora de Braille certificada ahora que ya soy vieja.

Recuerdo mi primera visita a la biblioteca de la escuela como un hecho que marcó mi vida. Estaba fascinada con tantos libros en un solo lugar. Con el transcurso de los años, pasé gran parte de mi tiempo estudiando y leyendo en la biblioteca. Los libros han seguido siendo una verdadera fuente de placer para mí durante toda mi vida. Agradezco a nuestra maravillosa bibliotecaria por incentivar mi amor por la lectura y mi deseo por saber más sobre los demás. Probablemente ella estaría un poco desilusionada si supiera que los libros que más me gustan son las novelas de misterio y las con tramas legales. Creo que ella habría querido que me gustaran los clásicos.

Aunque nunca fui buena en música, tomé lecciones de piano durante 7 años. Mi profesora de piano siempre me incentivó. Me decía que aunque nunca pudiera tocar bien, aprendería mucho sobre la confianza en mí misma y la serenidad gracias a mi entrenamiento musical. Pienso que fue a partir de esos días que desarrollé el gusto por hablar en público. Mi música también logró mi aceptación como una adolescente en mi grupo de Rainbow Girls. Yo era músico y eso era mucho para las niñas que no podían tocar ningún instrumento. A propósito, ingresé a las Rainbows con la ayuda de mi profesora de cocina en la escuela. Le mencioné que estaba interesada y ella me presentó a sus amigas que me auspiciaron.

Me gradué de la Escuela para los Ciegos de Texas en 1966. Asistí a la escuela durante unos años muy interesantes. Más que las grandes aceras que dividen el campus en la mitad, separando el lado de las niñas del de los niños. Incluso dentro del edificio principal, había escaleras y fuentes de agua separadas para los niños y las niñas. Y por supuesto, nos sentábamos en lados separados en el auditorio. Hasta que tuve 16 años, tenía miedo de beber de la fuente de agua de los niños por temor a quedar embarazada. Debíamos tener mucho cuidado de tomarnos las manos en el pasillo porque si el director nos veía hacer eso, la pareja daría mucho que hablar. Teníamos una calificación en conducta y una vez tuve una C simplemente porque bebí de la fuente de agua equivocada. ¿O fue porque me sorprendieron besándome en la fuente? Fue una de las dos. De todas maneras, tuve problemas en casa y en la escuela.

Cuando pienso en mis días en la Escuela para los Ciegos de Texas, recuerdo todo tipo de sonidos y aromas. Aún percibo algunos de ellos cuando visito la escuela. El edificio principal aún huele a libros – no sólo a libros – a libros en Braille. El timbre no es exactamente el mismo que cuando yo era estudiante, pero me encanta oírlo sonar. Aunque sé que puedo usar cualquiera de las escaleras, sigo usando la “escalera de las niñas”. ¡Sólo esa es la correcta!

Recuerdo especialmente las mañanas de invierno. Usábamos radiadores de vapor para calefaccionar nuestros dormitorios. Muy temprano en la mañana me despertaba el sonido de esos radiadores mientras se calentaban. Sonaban con un ruido estrepitoso y luego silbaban y me encantaba oír todo ese ruido. Me sentía segura. Me aferraba a uno de mis libros en Braille y leía hasta que sonaba el timbre para despertarnos.

La primavera era casi tan buena. Teníamos reuniones los lunes, miércoles y viernes en el auditorio de la escuela. Los miércoles eran nuestros favoritos. Casi siempre teníamos recitales de estudiantes ese día. Las ventanas del auditorio estaban abiertas. Los pájaros cantaban y nuestros amigos hacían sus presentaciones. Eran momentos maravillosos para todos nosotros.

Como una pequeña niña en la escuela, me encantaban los días de lluvia. A veces los padres de la residencia nos preparaban dulces de chocolate o palomitas de maíz. Escuchábamos historias en la radio o simplemente jugábamos adentro. Teníamos pequeñas sillas en el dormitorio justo de nuestro tamaño. Aún podía ver un poco entonces y recuerdo que estaban pintadas de color rojo, azul, verde y amarillo. Reuníamos todas las sillas en la parte de atrás del dormitorio y construíamos un bote – al menos lo que percibíamos como un bote.

Los sábados asoleados, a menudo íbamos a patinar afuera o jugábamos juegos como Red Rover, Red Rover. Esto sólo podía suceder después de que terminábamos nuestras tareas domésticas. Siempre teníamos que hacer nuestras camas, sacudir los muebles, limpiar el piso y limpiar los radiadores. No nos desagradaban esos trabajos. Nos daba la sensación de estar a cargo de nuestros dormitorios. Al menos eso era lo que yo sentía. Aprendíamos responsabilidad y cómo cuidarnos nosotros mismos y nuestros hogares.

En mi último año en la escuela tuvimos a un nuevo superintendente. Bill Allen había sido el superintendente por 40 años y jubiló el año en que nuestra escuela fue integrada. El nuevo superintendente tenía a sus propios niños y las cosas en el campus cambiaron enormemente. La integración se realizó sin dificultades, al menos yo no supe que hubiera dificultades hasta hace poco, cuando leí la historia publicada aquí por Gene Brooks. Simplemente estábamos felices por conocer a algunos chicos nuevos. Por primera vez tuvimos un Consejo de Estudiantes y votaron por mí como presidente. También tuvimos por primera vez un anuario y yo fui co-editora de The Wildcat. También gané el prestigioso premio Crisco por mis habilidades para cocinar y para coser.

La graduación fue triste y emocionante, como lo es para todos los jóvenes alrededor del mundo. Planeaba ir al college, pero estaba terriblemente asustada de que nunca pudiera aprender a movilizarme por el campus. Aunque había sido miembro de la Sociedad de Honor Nacional, no tenía mucha confianza en mi habilidad de aprender sin el apoyo de la escuela. Además, estaba enamorada, así que cuando tuve la oportunidad, opté por el amor y me casé poco después de cumplir 18 años.

Tengo la fortuna de participar en el Directorio de la TSBVI. Me da un gran placer compensar en algo a la escuela que me enseñó independencia y confianza en mí misma. Aquellos viejos edificios me refugiaron y creo que muchos de nuestros profesores realmente nos amaban. Este lugar, esos tiempos, me ayudaron a ser lo que soy hoy día.

¡Esa es la pregunta! ¿Quién soy? Soy una profesional, una esposa, una madre y una persona ciega. ¡Soy yo! Y eso me hace muy feliz.

by Jim Durkel

What is a portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of work. It is easiest to imagine the portfolio for an artist or a writer; these portfolios would contain photographs of the artist's works or samples of the writer's writing. It may be a little harder to imagine how a portfolio for an intervener would look.

Before discussing how a portfolio for an intervener would look, lets look at why an intervener might want to create a portfolio.

Why create a portfolio?

A portfolio is evidence of your skills and talents as well as a record of training you have done. The portfolio can be used as a "scrapbook" to help you remember and reflect your successes, it offers you an opportunity to think about ways to improve your skills, and it can be used as proof of your abilities and accomplishments during annual performance reviews or when interviewing for a new position. Many colleges are using portfolios to document life accomplishments and are offering their students course credit for these accomplishments.

In your role as an intervener, you are working as a paraprofessional in the public schools. With the enactment of the Federal "No Child Left Behind" legislation concerning quality public education there are new guidelines concerning the qualifications of paraprofessionals. A portfolio is one way to document that you have these qualifications.

What can be in a portfolio?

Portfolios can be as simple or as elaborate as you wish. It is important that materials be organized in some way so that proof of an accomplishment is easy to find and is clearly labeled. A portfolio is not merely a collection of materials that have been stored willy nilly in a cardboard box. Nor does a portfolio need to contain an example of everything you have ever done. A portfolio is an organized collection of samples of your accomplishments designed to show case your skills.

These samples can take many forms. For example, a portfolio may contain a copy of a post-secondary degree or copies of certificate of attendance from workshops or conferences. The portfolio might contain video tape segments of you engaged in an activity with a student. It might contain a copy of materials you adapted for your students. Just keep in mind that the portfolio is a record of your work, not of the student's work. (Though you can create a separate student portfolio to document your student's accomplishments and progress.)

Here is a partial list of what might be in the portfolio. This list is not necessarily complete!

  • A summary of your credentials/qualifications/etc. which might include:
    • Your resume (you might want to include job descriptions from relevant experiences)
    • Results from any written exams you have taken relevant to being a paraprofessional in the public schools
    • Copies of post-secondary degrees
    • Copies of school transcripts (possibly including high school), especially showing relevant classes, like sign language or child development (you may want to include course syllabi to highlight the content of the classes)
    • Certificates of attendance for workshops and/or conferences (you may want to include the agendas for these trainings to highlight the content of the training)
    • Professional certificates, like those for sign language interpreters, Braille transcribers, or day care providers
    • Descriptions of relevant personal experiences, such as having a child of your own with disabilities
    • Copies of previous work performance evaluations
    • Letters of recommendations from employers (especially supervisors or professionals who directed your work)
    • Copies of any relevant honors or awards
  • Written samples of your work, which might include:
    • Data collection sheets that highlight how you collected and organized data
    • Samples from a school-home communication book (make sure you have permission from the child's parents and other relevant school personnel, if necessary)
    • Communication other team members
    • Articles you might have written for a newsletter
    • Handouts you might have developed for an in service training or workshop
  • Examples (either the material itself or photographs) of materials you have created or material adaptations you have made
    • Samples of materials in Braille
    • Samples of communication boards
    • Samples of adapted games
    • Samples of experience books
    • Samples of calendar systems
    • Adapted recipes
    • Bulletin boards you created
    • Adapted worksheets
  • Samples of the student's work that reflects your role as an intervener:
    • A hard copy of TTY conversations with the student that highlight your support of the student's performance
    • An experience story written by the student that includes references to you and your role during the experience
    • A video tape or photographs of you supporting student success in some activity, for example:
      • An independent living activity, such as grocery shopping or cooking
      • The student ordering an item at a fast food restaurant
      • The student interacting with peers
      • The student engaged in a recreation/leisure activity
      • The student engaged in an academic (reading, math, science, etc.) activity
      • The student in PE
      • The student using some piece of adapted equipment, including low vision aids, mobility devices, note takers, assistve listening devices, communication devices, etc.
      • The student engaged in a recreation/leisure activity
  • Samples that demonstrate your competency in some procedure or instructional technique, for example:
    • Video tape of you interpreting for the student
    • Video tape of a conversation with the student that highlights your skills at facilitating the interaction
    • Video tape of you checking hearing aids or assistive listening devices
    • Video tape of you acting as a sighted guide for your student
    • Video tape of you providing various levels of prompts and reinforcements
    • Video tape of any medical procedures you have been trained and authorized to conduct (such as tube feeding) (you might want to include written evidence of the training)
    • Video tape of you implementing positioning and handling techniques you have been trained and authorized to do (you may want to include written evidence of the training)
    • Video tape of any sensory integration activities (such as brushing) that you have been trained and authorized to do (you may want to include written evidence of the training)
  • Evidence of your thinking about your role as an intervener, for example:
    • Excerpts from a journal where you reflect on the student's progress and what you might do keep doing or change
    • Excerpts from team meetings (with permission from other team members) that highlight your suggestions/thoughts
    • Reflections from some article you read/workshop you attended/video tape you viewed that gave your some ideas about something to try with your student
    • A professional development plan for yourself

Some hints for organizing the portfolio

  • Consider making an index for the portfolio. The index might follow the recommended competencies for an intervener.
  • Consider using a 3 ring binder for as much of the material as possible. Where video tape is used, make sure the video tape is clearly marked with a reference to the competency or skill demonstrated on the tape.
  • If you are including materials that don't fit in a 3 ring binder, consider storing all the materials together in a storage box
  • The portfolio is not static. You can add new material and take out old material that is no longer representative of your work.

A primary role of the intervener is to be a bridge (not a barrier) to the world for the child who is deafblind.  This means, in part, building independence and curiosity about things, facilitating social interactions (especially with peers), and expanding communication interactions with others. 

Some Typical Barriers

  • The child is unaware of people and things in his/her environment.
  • Because the intervener is always there, others think they can’t communicate directly with the student. 
  • The intervener does things the student is capable of doing either because it saves time or because they feel sorry for the student. 
  • Interveners step in too quickly and deny the student the opportunity to find his own solution or to receive support from a peer or the teacher.

Possible Bridges

  • Make the student aware of his/her environment and the people in it. This includes letting the student know who comes and goes from an area, key events that take place, and where important people are located relative to the student.  Be the student’s eyes and ears and help him/her know what is going on.
  • Teach others to interact directly with your student even if you must be the “interpreter” for much of the interaction.
  • Don’t do for the student what they are capable of doing on his/her own.  Look for ways that the student can at least participate partially in the activity.
  • Encourage the student to try to find solutions and wait for him/her to ask for your help whenever possible.  This teaches important self-advocacy skills.

Gretchen Jackson and Jackie Yingling from The Advocacy Center in Rochester, NY pose five questions to help paraprofessionals determine the level of support they need to provide a student at any given time.

  1. Is this something the child can do independently?
  2. Can this be modified so that the child can do it independently?
  3. Is this something the child can do with a peer partner?
  4. Is adult support the only way the child can do this activity?
  5. If yes, how can the adult support be made “invisible”?

Your challenge:

  • Take several activities you currently do with your student (e.g., eating lunch, participating in a reading group, playing on the swings).
  • Ask your team to help you think about these five questions related to these activities. 
  • Try to find several new strategies for completing these activities that would give your student more opportunities to participate directly with others or be more independent. 
  • Utilize these strategies for a week or so and see if the student needs more or less support than you had given previously.

A Difficult Part of Your Job

Finding the exact amount of support to provide to your student in any given situation is not easy.  In fact, it is probably the most challenging part of your job.  Without enough support the student may become too frustrated or fearful to experience all the learning opportunities the world has to offer.  With too much support, the student may think that without you, he/she can do nothing. 

Here are some other suggestions you might consider:

  • Wait a minute before offering help, see what the student will do on his/her own.  Learning to ask for help is an important self-advocacy skill.
  • Time the student to see how long it actually takes to do the activity or step on his/her own.  What may seem like a very long time may actually only be a minute or two.
  • Encourage the student to seek help from peers or directly from a teacher, facilitate the interaction only as much as is absolutely necessary. 
  • Don’t offer more prompts and cues than the student needs.  Give him/her time to remember or figure out what he should do.
  • Let you student have the pleasure of making a mistake and dealing with the consequences.  We all learn from our mistakes.

Always remember, your goal is to be a bridge not a barrier!

(Originally published in Spring 2006 SEE/HEAR Newsletter. Web Resources have been updated 4/2017)

By Holly L. Cooper, Ph.D., Outreach Assistive Technology Consultant, TSBVI

Abstract: This article describes and illustrates a variety of tactile writing systems used with individuals with blindness. Tactile codes included are New York Point, Boston Line Type, American Modified Braille, Moon type, Fishburne and standard Braille. Alternative media including Tack-tiles and tactile symbols are also discussed.

Key words: Programming, Braille, tactile symbols, tactile writing, reading.

This year, 2006, is the Sesquicentennial anniversary of the founding of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. In 1856, when TSBVI was founded, not only was Texas on the frontier of the American west, but education for people with blindness and visual impairments was also at the frontier of education. At the time there was no standard tactile reading code for people with blindness. In recognition of the advances and changes in blindness education in the last 150 years, we present an overview of tactile reading and writing codes for people with blindness.


Braille, the reading and writing code currently used in the U.S. and other English speaking countries by readers with blindness and visual impairments, was invented by Louis Braille. Braille was a Frenchman who lost his sight from an eye infection caused by an accident with his father’s leather working tools in childhood. Louis Braille developed his ideas for a tactile code system adapted from French soldiers who wanted to be able to read notes in the dark. Louis Braille modified this 12-dot system into 6 dots and had written in Braille and taught others by 1832. Braille was introduced in the U.S. about 1860 and was taught at the St. Louis School for the Blind and other schools.

The Braille Alphabet A through J

There have been many other tactile reading media for people with blindness in the past 200 years. Originally, most reading instruction was done with books made with raised or embossed letters created by wetting paper and printing with an ink printing letterpress. People also learned letters and reading by using carved wooden letters arranged into words, and letters made with bent and twisted wire. It was long thought by educators of blind people that having a tactile code different from letters that sighted people read would separate blind people from the mainstream of society and limit the amount of reading material to which they had access. Special reading codes would also mean teacher training was more demanding, and finding teachers able to work with students with blindness more difficult. Around the same time Louis Braille was developing his code, other codes were also being developed. Many blind students secretly learned Braille and other dot-based tactile writing codes when their schools officially taught embossed letters. Ultimately the dot-based letters of Braille became the most widely accepted tactile reading code in English speaking countries, and most of the world.

Boston Line Type

Boston line type was developed by Samuel Gridley Howe, the founder of the New England School for the Blind (later Perkins School for the Blind) in Massachusetts. Since at the time there was no reading medium for people with blindness, Howe developed an embossed simplified angular roman alphabet without capitals which he called Boston line type. He published the first book in Boston line type in 1834, and this type continued to be the primary tactile reading code used in the United States for the next 50 years. The American Printing House for the Blind first published books in Boston line type, and it was the official code used by students at Perkins until 1908.

A finger gliding across embossed type, probably Boston Line Type

New York Point

William Bell Wait, working in New York in the middle 1800’s, developed a point code for readers who were blind that used characters which were two dots high and one, two, three and four dots wide. Working at New York Institute for the Blind, Wait began teaching this system to students and invented a point writing machine called the Kleidograph which allowed for easy production of text without the use of slate and stylus. New York Point was widely used by schools for the blind in the United States in the late 1800’s. Mary Ingalls, the sister of Laura Ingalls Wilder author of the Little House books, learned New York Point and embossed letters at Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in the late 1870’s and 80’s.

new york point alphabet

American Modified Braille

Joel Smith, a piano-tuning teacher at Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts, developed the American Modified Braille Code in the 1870’s. When developing his system, Smith designed characters he believed would be fast to read and an efficient use of paper. This code was used in 19 schools for the blind in the United States, including Perkins. American Modified Braille assigned the fewest dots to the characters that occur most often in the English language. If you look at American Modified Braille, you will see the familiar three dot high and two dot wide characters, but dot configurations correspond to different print letters and letter combinations than standard Braille today.

American Modified Braille alphabet letters A through J


Before the development of Braille writing machines, people writing Braille used a slate and stylus. The slate held the Braille paper and provided a template for the dot locations, and the stylus was used to punch holes into the paper. Since the dots are raised, the person had to learn to write in reverse from the back of the paper. Frank Hall, superintendent of the Illinois School for the Blind, developed a personal Braille writing machine in the late 1880’s. In the next decades, other inventors developed writers for Braille and New York Point. Since most machines were not mass produced, their reliability and consistency of writing varied widely. In the 1930’s, the American Foundation for the Blind commissioned a Braille writer from a typewriter manufacturer. It was heavy and not durable enough for practical use. Later, David Abraham of the industrial arts department of the Perkins School For the Blind worked to develop a Braille writer at the urging of Gabriel Farrell, director of Perkins. He had a model working by the early 1940’s but the war years limited manufacturing. After World War II, Abraham’s Braille writer went into production and was on the market in 1951 as the Perkins Brailler.

Since the Perkins Brailler is available to students who read Braille in the United States at no cost through a quota funds system with American Printing House for the Blind, it is the most widely used method of writing Braille in the U.S. However, many other Braille writers are available, particularly in Europe. Now the Tatrapoint is available in the U.S. from Maxiaids. It is lightweight and easily portable with some components made of high-impact plastic. The adaptive model allows adjustment to accommodate different hand and finger sizes. Quantum Technology in Australia recently released a small manual brailler called the Jot-A-Dot. It uses letter weight paper of a small size and is intended for taking short notes. The same company also makes the Mountbatten Brailler, an electronic Braille writing device which talks. Some models interface with computers and ink printers. The Mountbatten provides good support for people helping students who read Braille, but who don’t read Braille themselves.

Braille Writing Devices

slate stylusperkins braillewriterjot a dotmountbatten brailler

Braille Writing Devices Pictured from Left to Right: Slate and Stylus, Perkins Braillewriter, Jot-a-dot, Mountbatten Brailler


William Moon of Great Britain lost much of his sight in childhood from scarlet fever. After finishing school in the mid 1800’s Dr. William Moon experimented with a variety of raised alphabets for teaching reading and writing to blind students. He eventually settled on Moon type, a raised line code based on print letters. Still used in Britain for people with learning or fine motor difficulties, and those who have lost their sight later in life, Moon type is believed by its supporters to be easier to learn and more tactually simple to discriminate than Braille. Although almost unknown in the U.S., books in Moon are available from the Royal National Institute for the Blind and are available in Canada and Australia as well as Great Britain.

Moon can be generated with computer software today. Duxbury, readily available in the U.S. has an English Moon translator available in their “translation tables” menu. Files can be embossed in a “dotty Moon” style with an Enabling Technologies embosser with a Moon setting. Some Moon fonts can be found on the Internet for use with a computer.

Moon books are still produced through a modified typesetting process. Reading materials are now also generated with Moon Writers, thermoform machines, computer Moon fonts printed on swell paper, and Moon translation software and embossers. Moon can also be handwritten with a stylus on plastic sheets with a frame guide in a manner similar to using a slate and stylus to produce Braille. A Moon teaching curriculum is available from Royal National Institute for the Blind in Great Britain.

Moon letters A through J

Moon Type embossed on paper


The Fishburne system of tactile writing was developed in 1972 by S. B. Fishburne. Mr. Fishburne became acquainted with some blind adults and found that many of them were not able to read Braille. He developed a tactile alphabet, which is larger than Braille, to be used primarily for labeling items used by people in daily activities. Fishburne is typically used for labeling objects, containers and appliance controls, not for literary purposes.

The complete Fishburne alphabet

A Fishburne labeler and magnetic labels


Since standard Braille is always the same size, each character 1/8 inch wide by 1/4 inch high, it can be difficult for people with motor impairments or problems with tactile sensitivity to read. Even Jumbo Braille is very small. To address the issue of literacy for individuals with significant disabilities, Kevin Murphy developed Tack-tiles. Tack-tiles are small Lego-sized blocks with Braille dots on each. They are used primarily in educational settings to teach Braille to very young children and those with additional disabilities. Tack-tiles can be used to create a computer keyboard labeled with Braille using the Intellikeys keyboard. Tack-tiles are available with all Braille symbols, including punctuation marks and contractions. Specials sets are available for math and Braille music. For many students with visual impairments and additional disabilities, Tack-tiles and a computer are the best or only means to literacy.

Tack-tiles displaying, "Braille is fun!" in uncontracted Braille.

Tactile Symbols

While not traditionally considered a literacy medium, the use of tactile or tangible symbols has become widely used with students with deafblindness or visual impairments with additional disabilities. Educators seeking to expand the opportunities for such students to communicate and participate in supported literacy experiences in the classroom are using tactile symbols in a variety of learning activities. These symbols are used in communication boards, labels in the classroom, and children’s literature books and language experience stories. While there is no standard vocabulary of tactile symbols as there is the widely used Meyer-Johnson picture symbol system, some recommended standards do exist. The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired maintains an illustrated dictionary of picture symbols on our website. American Printing House for the Blind now has a kit called Tactile Connections with instructions for making and using tactile symbols.

A teacher-made page from a book using a combination of tactile symbols and Braille states, "'A' does the can crushing job. She collects the cans and crushes them in the can."

Access to Literacy

Early in the twentieth century the widespread use of many different tactile reading codes and systems made learning to read a challenge for learners with blindness. Disagreement about which code was easiest to read and the most efficient use of paper led to the “War of the Dots” between educators in English speaking countries. A uniform English Braille system was agreed upon in 1932 which included the alphabet and grade 2 contractions. Since that time discussion about other tactile modes of literacy has been limited. In the last five years, concern about access to literacy for individuals with visual impairments and additional disabilities has given rise to discussions about the use of uncontracted Braille, Tack-tiles and other large format Braille, Moon type or other embossed letters, and tactile symbols. While the adoption of standard Braille has given tactile readers access to a large amount of material and more consistent quality of educational experiences, consideration of access to literacy for all learners should prompt educators and parents to broaden their definitions of tactile reading and consider the use of alternative tactile media.

Note: Embossed materials including Boston line type, Moon, New York Point, Fishburne and Tack-tiles photographed courtesy of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Learning Resources Center teaching materials and archives.

Web Resources

  1. Joel Smith and American Modified Braille
  2. American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
  3. David Abraham, Developer of the Perkins Braillewriter
  4. Moon and Duxbury
  5. The Getting in Touch with Literacy Conference
  6. Paths to Literacy
  7. History of Tactile Reading Codes
  8. Mary Ingalls and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School
  9. MaxiAIDS: Products for Independent Living
  10. All About Moon
  11. Deirdre Walsh's article Story Boxes and Story Boards for Students with Multiple Disabilities
  12. Quantum: Maker of the Mountbatten Brailler and the Jot-a-Dot
  13. Samuel Gridley Howe and Boston Line Type
  14. Tack-Tiles Braille Systems
  15. TSBVI's Tactile Symbol Directory (with DIY directions and photos)
  16. Visual Impairment Centre for Teaching And Research (VICTAR)
  17. Robert Irwin's article As I Saw It (War of the Dots)
  18. William Bell Wait and the New York Point System of Reading for the Blind

Spring 2000 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)


By Dr. Wendy Drezek, Infant Teacher, San Antonio, Texas

Children normally learn language through their interactions with people and things in the world. They learn the give and take of communication. They learn that language gets them what they want. They learn what words mean by watching what is happening while adults talk. They get feedback from others through their facial expression, posture and proximity, as these make communication more or less effective. All this learning depends on vision.

When vision is poor, children get less information about the world. They get less feedback about the effect of their communication on others. They may be more passive and interact less with people and things on their own. Children with poor vision are less aware of distant objects, and request and refer to them less often. Adults try to help by doing more for the children so the children have less need to initiate communication. Meaning is less clear when the 80-90% of information that is visual is absent or unclear. So, children with visual impairment frequently have weak language.


In traditional ways of assessing early language, children are asked questions or required to identify objects or pictures. They don't have opportunities to generate their own responses. Their responses are prestructured by adults. These approaches may assess a child's ability to imitate responses or follow directions, but they don't access what the child can initiate to change the environment.

On the other hand, totally unstructured collections of language have a different limitation. For example, you can keep a running log of the child's utterances, and analyze it only for length, syntax and meaning. If you don't consider the appropriateness of the language to the situation, however, the child's ability may be overrated. Children with visual impairment frequently use long correct sentences without appropriate content. Repeated questions and echoed speech are examples of correct structure with inappropriate content. The problem of prestructuring can again occur if adults cue all the language.

Traditional assessment can be supplemented to address the children's ability to use their language systems without adult structure. To assess a child's ability to create language in a situation, a language log using specific guidelines is necessary. The observer and child must have shared the activity, for example frosting a cupcake, so the observer knows what the content should be. In this situation, two kinds of assessment are useful. First, the observer can booby trap some aspects of the activity so the child has to generate new language to get what is desired. (The observer might provide a frosting can which is sealed so the child has to request help to get to the frosting.) Then, after the activity, the observer and child talk about it, with the observer using "Tell me about the cupcake" as the only cue to assess what information the child can produce.


The problems with improving language are similar to those of assessment. Much of standard language programming relies on prestructured responses answering questions, labeling, imitating, pointing to selected pictures or symbols, or highly cued responses. While these can be useful parts of a program, the goal of any language program has to be a child who can initiate and create communication without adult structure.

The first step in any language program is to make sure there are things the child wants, so communication has a purpose. For many children, such desires are evident. For some children, wants may need to be fostered through appealing activities or especially interesting objects. Doing less for a child, and "not understanding" what the child wants unless the child communicates, encourage more requesting. To build meaning, children will need systematic exploration and activity which pairs language with hands on experience of the available world. Signs, pictures and objects can be invested with meaning by being paired repeatedly with action and many sensory experiences.

Natural consequences are used at the earliest stage of language acquisition to get more output and more specific language. A child can choose between a snack or a favorite toy or nothing. Gradually the child will learn to choose the symbol or use the word or sign for the desired end. Using "ba" which is used for ball, to try to get a cookie, results in a physical therapy activity on the ball. "Kuh" gets the cookie.

Booby-trapping, or building in problems that require language to solve them, is one way to encourage the child to produce language without cues. Responding to a repeated question by ignoring it, or to an echoed statement by responding to its meaning rather than its intention, are natural consequences which make that kind of communication less rewarding. If Bob, who wants a cookie, says, "What do you want Bob?" to get the cookie, and no one gives him a cookie since the question is addressed to himself, he will learn eventually that an echoed question is not a request. If the adult thinks, "I know he wants the cookie." and gives it to him, Bob is learning that an echoed question is an appropriate request. In general, any adult interpretation of inappropriate statements as appropriate will weaken the child's language.

It will strengthen language independence more to ask, "What do you want?" at free play, so the child has to use the internal system to form a response; than to play 20 Questions and give multiple choices. At the very early stages of language, however, choices are essential, and even inappropriate responses may need to be encouraged. For some children, consistent responses will need to be identified, developed and refined.

The language logs can also be analyzed for kinds of language use, weakness in the appropriateness of the language, and to assess the depth and overall strength of the child's language. Specific patterns can then be identified and addressed. For instance, if Suzy calls a broom a "sweep-it-up" and a watering can a "pour-it-out," it is clear that she has trouble relating the function of an object to its label. This can then be addressed in activities in which functions and labels are stressed.


Traditional language assessment and programming may produce an inflated evaluation of the child's ability to use language independently. It may be useful to include measures and activities to assess and encourage spontaneous appropriate language.

Editor's note: If you have questions, or would like more in-depth information about this unique approach to language development, Wendy can be reached by e-mail at .

By Jim Durkel, Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, TSBVI Outreach

Originally published in the Summer 2003 edition of See/Hear newsletter.

There is a term used by professional cooks called "mise en place." Translated from French, it means something like "put in place" or "prepared ahead of time." It is the idea that when cooking, the first step is to measure all the ingredients and line them up in the order in which they will be used. The thinking behind this is that it might not be convenient to be in the middle of a recipe and discover that you need to get and measure some ingredient. By using the idea of "mise en place," you also don't run into the problem of trying to remember if you have already added a certain ingredient to what you are cooking; if the bowl with the measured ingredient is empty, then you added it!

There is a similar idea related to house cleaning. Experts in this area will tell you to fill a bucket or caddy with all the cleaners, paper towels, rags, etc. that you need to complete cleaning tasks. The thought here is that you can take these materials from room to room, instead of having to go from the room you are cleaning back to where the materials are stored, then back to where you were cleaning.

This kind of organization is important for all children, especially those with visual impairments. Thinking about an activity before it happens, thinking about what materials will be needed, reviewing the steps that will be needed to complete the activity, then gathering all the materials ahead of time saves time and effort.

Take the example of "mise en place" while cooking. As a person who is sighted, it often takes me several minutes to locate an ingredient, especially if it is something I don't use very often. (And yes, my kitchen is organized!) Sometimes it just takes time for me to look in the cabinet where I keep the herbs and spices to find the turmeric, which I rarely use. Sometimes the time I take to look for an ingredient is all the time that is needed for what I am cooking to burn or get lumpy or, well, you get the idea. And I really hate it when I have started to cook something and am half way into the recipe when I realize that I don't have any turmeric at all! If I had measured all my ingredients ahead of time, I could have saved myself some problems.

As parents and teachers, we can help children with visual impairments develop organization skills in several ways. One way is that we can model these behaviors. Children who are sighted might be able to see me organizing my space as I get ready to do something. For a child with a visual impairment, I might want to "think out loud" as I get ready for this task.

To continue with the example of cooking, as I get ready to make dinner I might read the recipe out loud and say things like: "OK, first heat the oven to 350 degrees." "Next, I need a 13 by 9 inch pan. Lets see, all those pans are in the cabinet under the toaster oven." "Next I need a bowl and a mixing spoon." "I think I will measure out everything before I start mixing." By saying these things out loud, we provide a model for our children to copy later.

Think about other tasks during the day. Do you make grocery lists before going shopping? Do you write down the names of items that you need as you use them up? Do you look through the refrigerator and cabinets to see what you need before you go shopping? Does your child know about how you get ready to go shopping?

What steps do you follow when you get ready to pay bills? Do you get your checkbook, a calculator, envelopes and stamps ready before opening this month's bills? When you finish paying one bill, do you start a pile of the bills that are ready to go to the mailbox? Does you child know that you do these things regularly as part of paying bills?

As teachers, when we are getting ready to do a lesson with a child, do we model organization? Do we have materials ready ahead of time? Do we have the area arranged? Have we made our organizational strategies obvious to our students? Do they realize that we have made a plan ahead of time?

There are many different ways we can help ourselves be organized. Think about dresser drawers. Some of us may organize by similar clothing items: all the socks go in this drawer, undershirts go in that drawer, etc. Others might organize by association: gym socks are in the same drawer as gym shorts and shirts we wear when exercising. It doesn't matter what your system is if it works for you. What matters is having a system, and then helping a child use the system that works for them. Doing this proactively may help prevent some behavior problems later. It is not fair to yell at a child for taking so long to get dressed if we have not helped her learn how to organize her closet and dresser. (If she has a system and doesn't use it, however, then some consequences might be appropriate!) This also means that as a parent, I should soon stop putting clean clothes away for my child and make that her job. Putting clothes away is part of developing and learning to use organization skills.

Children with visual impairments often have quite a bit of stuff they need to use during the school day. It is up to us as teachers to help create a system in the classroom that helps the student find their materials easily. We then should expect the student to be responsible for using that system.

There are many ways to organize a study space or a desk. Some us might want to arrange things in drawers; others may want everything in its own container on top of the desk. Go to "The Container Store" and see all the different ways you can organize a desk or drawer or closet! Then go back and think about how you can organize a space with materials already in the classroom or with things you can buy at "The Dollar Store"!

Sometimes storage is what is needed. I saw a student that had a small cart on wheels. The cart had several shelves that held a Braille embosser, Braille paper, the child's abacus, and other materials the child needed. This student could then roll the cart with all his materials to wherever he was working.

Sometimes having a clearly defined workspace may be the problem. This is especially true when students work in small groups at tables. How can we let the visually impaired child know where her workspace starts and ends? Does she need a mat to help her have landmarks so she can easily find materials? Maybe she needs a tray to keep her things from rolling into another group member's space.

Does the child need help organizing materials? Ask the child for his ideas and talk with him about his preferences. Some people may want to organize materials in a left-to-right fashion: whatever I need first is to the left side of my workspace, and what I need last is the farthest to the right. Other people may like to organize in a top-to-bottom fashion, starting with the first material at the top of the workspace and the last material at the bottom. Again, what matters most is that we help our children find a system that works for them and then help them make using that system a habit. Teaching the child to put something down in the same spot is not teaching obsessive-compulsive behavior. It is teaching the child a strategy that can save the time and effort it takes to search over and over for materials.

For younger children and children with multiple impairments, organization helps support the development of concepts. Consider the example of making nachos. We can help the child understand the concept of "making nachos" by getting all the materials and ingredients we need ahead of time. "Making nachos" becomes associated with having a plate, chips, grated cheese, and hot peppers. We help the child further understand the concept of "making nachos" by arranging the materials and ingredients in the order in which they will

be used: first the plate, then the chips, then the peppers, and then the cheese. When we reach the end of the ingredients, it is time to put the plate in the microwave.

For older students, we can use these same organizational strategies to help them make associations and develop categories. Asking questions helps students organize their thinking and make a plan. For example, we can ask: "Where are chips stored, in the cupboard or in the refrigerator?" "Where is cheese stored?" "Where do you buy cheese, at Sears or at Krogers?" "In the grocery store, where do you find cheese? Is it in the produce aisle? Is it at the meat counter?"

Organization can support concept development, and that supports better thinking and problem solving. "A place for everything and everything in its place" can become a powerful strategy for teaching and learning.

Note: Many of these documents are forms. They are presented as MS Word .doc files for downloading. Some of the documents are mostly text - they are presented as html files with link to a Word version.

Table Of Contents

Preface (.doc - 34k)


Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing at Risk for Vision Loss (.doc - 43k)

Vision Quick Check (Appendix A-1) (.doc - 36k)

Preparation for the ARD When Vision Loss is Suspected (Appendix B-1) (.doc - 26k)

Informal Vision Skills Inventory (Appendix C-1) (.doc - 32k)

Vision Testing Plan (Appendix D-1) (.doc - 53k)


Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired at Risk for Hearing Loss (.doc - 41k)

Hearing Quick Check (Appendix A-2) (.doc - 58k)

Preparation for ARD When Hearing Loss is Suspected (Appendix B-2) (.doc - 32k)

Informal Auditory Skills Inventory (Appendix C-2) (.doc - 32k)

Audiological Testing Plan (Appendix D-2) (.doc - 48k)


TEA Q & A (Appendix E)

Questions from Issues Regarding the Assessment of Vision Loss in Regard to Sign Language, Fingerspelling, Speechreading, and Cued Speech for the Student Deafblindness (Appendix F)

Making Sure the LMA, FVE and Communication Assessments Address Dual Sensory Loss (Appendix G) (.doc - 24k)

Deafblind Eligibility and Census Checklist (Appendix H) (.doc - 54k)

Documenting Instructional Considerations for the Student with Deaf-Blindness (Appendix I) ( .doc 151k)

IEP Quality Indicators for Students with Deafblindness:

Word Version (.doc) 
PDF Version
Spanish Version (doc)
Spanish Version (pdf)

Texas Deafblind Census (Appendix K) (.doc - 57k)

Cover Page

The development of this process was undertaken as one of the goals of the Region 12 Deafblind Stakeholders in an effort to identify all students who have combined vision and hearing loss or deafblindness. The Teachers of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Teachers of the Visually Impaired are currently being trained on how to follow the process, so that children who have already been identified as either deaf, hard of hearing, blind or visually impaired are more systematically evaluated for additional sensory impairment. This process will be field-tested during 2003 in Region 12. Additional plans include training school nurses, speech-language pathologists and diagnosticians about the process in the future.

Core Group

  • Robbie Blaha, Teacher Trainer, Texas Deafblind Project
  • Leigh Crawshaw, Deaf Education Teacher/ Private Consultant
  • Tina Herzberg, Education Specialist, Education Service Center Region 12
  • Ann Johnson, Deaf Education Consultant for the Northeast Texas Cluster
  • Kate Moss, Teacher Trainer, Texas Deafblind Project
  • Shelia Mosser, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Killeen ISD

Other Contributors

  • Ann Adkins, Teacher Trainer, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Visually Impaired Outreach
  • Gigi Brown, Early Childhood Specialist, Texas Deafblind Project
  • Janet Chlapek, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Temple ISD
  • Ramona Egly, Deaf Education Teacher, Killeen ISD
  • hris Krasusky, Special Education Coordinator for AI/VI, Killeen ISD
  • Jenny Lace, Teacher Trainer, Texas Deafblind Project
  • Stacy Shafer, Early Childhood Specialist,
  • Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Visually Impaired Outreach
  • Heather Sullivan, Deaf Education Supervisor, Temple ISD
  • Amy Tange, COMS, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD
  • David Wiley, Transition Specialist, Texas Deafblind Project

With Special Thanks To:

  • F. Keith Busse, M.D.
  • Marty Murrell, Special Education, Texas Education Agency
  • Sha Cowan, Services for the Deaf, Texas Education Agency

Educational professionals are aware of the requirements under IDEA that each child in special education will have “a full and individual initial evaluation, in accordance with §§300.532 and 300.533, before the initial provision of special education and related services to a child with a disability under Part B of the Act.” 

IDEA notes:

(b) A variety of assessment tools and strategies are used to gather relevant functional and developmental information about the child, including information provided by the parent, and information related to enabling the child to be involved in and progress in the general curriculum (or for a preschool child, to participate in appropriate activities), that may assist in determining—

(1) Whether the child is a child with a disability under §300.7; and

(2) The content of the child’s IEP.


(g) The child is assessed in all areas related to the suspected disability, including, if appropriate, health, vision, hearing, social and emotional status, general intelligence, academic performance, communicative status, and motor abilities.

(h) In evaluating each child with a disability under §§300.531-300.536, the evaluation is sufficiently comprehensive to identify all of the child's special education and related services needs, whether or not commonly linked to the disability category in which the child has been classified.

It is important that we be sure about how both vision and hearing function in children who we know are deaf or hard of hearing or who are visually impaired or blind, if we want them to be successful in their educational settings.  Children with multiple disabilities certainly need the best possible functioning of their vision and hearing to help them overcome their physical and/or cognitive challenges.  We need to always be asking ourselves as educational professionals, how is this child using his/her vision?  How is he/she using his/her hearing? 

Sometimes we think that a child may have problems with hearing and vision, but for some reason we are not sure.  Perhaps the child has other additional disabilities that make it hard to test for vision and hearing loss, or maybe the child has been getting by okay and is suddenly starting to fall behind.  Whenever we suspect there is something wrong with either of these senses, we MUST follow-up and try to learn more.  Not only because the law requires that we do, but as caring professionals, we want to make sure the child has as few obstacles as possible to learning.  If he or she needs some special accommodations, modifications or instructional strategies, we want to make sure he/she receives them.

This manual was developed to help guide an educational team, especially the Teacher of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Teacher of the Visually Impaired, through a process of checking on the student’s ability to use both of his distance senses so critical in classroom instruction.  These materials are intended as tools.  There is no requirement to use these forms or this process.  There may be other tools that work equally well or better than these.  Please feel free to copy these forms and use them as you like.  Let us know what was helpful and what needs changing. 

About the Development of This Document

This document was developed by a group of individuals over a period of two years between in 2000 and later field tested throughout Texas.  We would like to thank the individuals who gave their time to participate in this process:

Core Group

  • Robbie Blaha, Teacher Trainer, Texas DeafBlind Project
  • Leigh Crawshaw, Deaf Education Teacher/ Private Consultant
  • Tina Herzberg, Education Specialist, Education Service Center Region 12
  • Ann Johnson, Deaf Education Consultant for the Northeast Texas Cluster
  • Kate Moss, Teacher Trainer, Texas DeafBlind Project
  • Shelia Mosser, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Killeen ISD

Other Contributors

  • Ann Adkins, Teacher Trainer, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Visually Impaired Outreach
  • Gigi Brown, Early Childhood Specialist, Texas Deafblind Project
  • Janet Chlapek, Teacher of the Visually Impaired, Temple ISD
  • Ramona Egly, Deaf Education Teacher, Killeen ISD
  • hris Krasusky, Special Education Coordinator for AI/VI, Killeen ISD
  • Jenny Lace, Teacher Trainer, Texas Deafblind Project
  • Stacy Shafer, Early Childhood Specialist,
  • Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Visually Impaired Outreach
  • Heather Sullivan, Deaf Education Supervisor, Temple ISD
  • Amy Tange, COMS, Cypress-Fairbanks ISD
  • David Wiley, Transition Specialist, Texas Deafblind Project


Students who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing at Risk for Vision Loss

Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired at Risk for Hearing Loss

Hearing Quick Check

Vision Quick Check

By Kristi Sprinkle, Intranet Developer and Unofficial Historian for TSBVI, Austin, TX

Abstract: This article describes some of the interesting moments in the 150-year history of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Key words: School for the Blind, history, sesquicentennial, advancements

Editor’s Note: We are currently celebrating the Sesquicentennial of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired—150 years. This history is being preserved in a museum being created on campus. At a recent sesquicentennial assembly, some interesting highlights discovered in researching these years were presented to the TSBVI staff by Kristi Sprinkle, who has taken the role of campus historian. In place of Dr. Phil Hatlen’s usual article from TSBVI, we have chosen to print the text of Kristi’s presentation.

To understand the significance of the year 2006 for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, you’d have to understand where we came from—not necessarily the buildings we lived in, but the kind of people we were and what our predecessors did.

When Elisha Pease, Texas’ first governor, took office, there were few schools for the blind in the Southwest and, in fact, only a handful in the US—less than 20. But in Texas, we had a great opportunity when Governor Pease established our public school system, and in 1856 we, as well as the School for the Deaf and the Insane Asylum, were created, even though there were less than 1800 people living in Austin at that time. In November of 1856, we rented the house now known as the Neill Cochran House on San Gabriel St., six blocks from the Capitol. This was our very first home.

It was at that house that the first pupil arrived, one Robert McKeachern, on December 29th of 1856. As a 17-year old teenager, Robert couldn’t get away with much, as he was under the thumb of not only the Governor’s personal physician—who became our first superintendent, but also his wife. By the end of the school year in 1857, the school had a total of seven students and one teacher. In comparison, today, TSBVI serves almost eight thousand students through on-campus instructional programs and outreach services across Texas.

By 1860, we were living in the new home for the Institute—a place of our own at the corners of Red River and 19th Street—a city block now owned by the University of Texas. At this time in our history, the Superintendent was our maintenance man, and was responsible for maintaining the grounds, including working on the pipes and trimming the hedges. If you can imagine Dr. Phil Hatlen mowing the campus lawns, or painting the dorms, then you might have a clear picture of what was expected back then.

But other roles at the school would also seem a bit odd to us today, however necessary and proper they were 150 years ago. For example, the principal, even into the late 1930s, was also the superintendent for Sunday school. It was mandatory that each student attend chapel every day as well as church on Sunday. And teachers were required to help with Sunday school with no extra pay.

In the early days, even on the current campus, the matron made sure that students followed the rules and kept to their schedule of activities while in the dorms. There were no Residential Instructors, but “housemothers” who often had charge of 15 to 18 pupils each. At this time, the Superintendent disciplined every misbehaving student. It was usually his job to notify the parents of the child’s mischief. For example, a 1923 letter to one parent went like this:

Dear Mrs. West:

Your letter of October 17th was received yesterday and I have made inquiries in regard to the matter. There was nothing much the matter. Maude Harris, a friend of Frances’, told Frances that Edna Brown said that Louise Wilson said something about her. On investigation, it seems that Louise Wilson didn’t mention Francis, but said something about Maude Harris. So it seems there is no reason in the world for Frances to get excited or worked up. In fact, Maude Harris is not right bright, and so it seems there was nothing really serious as I feared when I received your letter...

Yours sincerely,

Superintendent EE Bramlette.

Teachers did not have an easy job, either. They were responsible for escorting the students on all off-campus visits, and often went home with the students to help them with their studies and report to the parents. There were two resident teachers for each dorm. These teachers also taught regular classes at the school, while having to look after the students in the dorm after hours and on Saturday and Sunday. For these extra duties, they were compensated solely by free room and board.

Other jobs on campus emerged over the years, as well. The “transportation guy” was the one who polished the buggy and took care of the horses, including making sure the barn was mucked out, the animals were fed, and the horseshoeing was done. He would also make sure that the mules, donkeys or horses of the travelers from El Paso were fed and tended. When the trains arrived in the 1870s, this person would meet the students at the train station and escort them to TSBVI. Often TSBVI would pay for the return trip of the guardian who escorted the student to Austin.

In the early 1900s, the school’s farmer was the ultimate job coach, getting students to help him and supervising boys who wanted to learn about gardening, poultry or hog raising as a means of making a living when they left TSBVI. On the land behind our current location, our farmer grew 225 bushels of corn, 6 tons of oats for livestock, 6 tons of sorghum cane for molasses, and 2 tons of hay. He also tended various 6 to 10-acre gardens, and with student help, grew beets, English peas, mustard, radishes, onions, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, snap peas, shallots, okra, cucumbers and cantaloupes. Although the school wasn’t self-sufficient after the move to our current location, these gardens and the farm greatly reduced the school’s food budget.

There were other items we made in the interest of self-sufficiency. Girl students took sewing classes from our resident seamstress to make dresses for themselves and for the entire school. The students also made shoes for the residents of the school. The industrial arts pupils made brooms, selling them door-to-door here in Austin as well as to other state institutions.

So instead of placing students in local businesses as we do today, many of our students learned a trade at the school. Basket weaving, bead work, sewing, gardening, animal husbandry, piano tuning, musician training, chair caning, mattress making (with locally grown cotton) and broom making. One year, we made and sold 15,000 brooms.

In the late 1860s, after the Civil War devastated the Texas economy, we relied on the businessmen who were on our school board, some of whose names can still be found on the streets and monuments that dot the Austin landscape. Lewis Hancock, the namesake of Hancock Center and Hancock Drive, built the first and longest standing golf course in Texas. He also owned an Opera House where many of our students were graduated while Hancock was on our board of trustees.

Then there were the Littlefields of Littlefield Hall, Littlefield Mall, and Littlefield Fountain fame. George Littlefield was a cattle and land baron who owned one of the first banks in town—a bank that would also hire a famous local writer and scoundrel named William Porter (aka O. Henry). George Littlefield was on our board with Lewis Hancock in 1874. He donated the original 40 acres for the building of the University of Texas and was one of the first trustees there, as well.

During the forty years following the Civil War, the superintendents for our school emphasized vocational skills. These leaders also believed in physical education, and every student was required to participate in physical fitness on a daily basis. This was usually a recommendation from the physician on staff—and in the formative years of our school, that physician also happened to be the superintendent. Again, can you imagine Dr. Hatlen doing a tonsillectomy on one of our students? Dorm F and Dorm C were once used as emergency hospitals. Things have certainly changed.

Finally, by the turn of the century TSBVI superintendents were hired more for their educational background than for their skills as a physician or as a man of the cloth. We kept the vocational skills training, but reading, writing and arithmetic—and keeping up with the kids in public school—seemed more important. The routine of a child circa 1905 went like this:

  • 6:00 A.M. - rise for an hour for exercise;
  • 30 minutes for breakfast;
  • 30 minutes to study and 30 minutes of chapel (including a lecture from the superintendent about the current events of the day);
  • 8:30-12:30 classes were held followed by an hour for lunch;
  • 1:30-5 P.M., classes again;
  • 5:00 an hour of recreation in open air, only a half hour for supper, and then two hours for study and preparation for classes;
  • at 8:45 P.M., students were allowed to retire for the evening.

Wednesdays and Sundays were mandatory bathing days. There was no contact between the boys and the girls at any time unless supervised by an adult at the school. Mail to and from the opposite sex was forbidden and grounds for dismissal from the school—as was tobacco chewing and smoking, especially for the girls.

The school’s cook and assistant received goods fresh from local farmers, baked bread, and produced things like buttermilk and butter. Large quantities of fruit, such as peaches, were bought and canned before we had refrigeration, supermarkets, and even before Amy’s Ice Cream. Because the school had no refrigerators until 1930, ice was brought in from local icemen, one of whom was Mr. Zilker, of Zilker Park and Gardens.

There are those who will tell you that this school once had a famous visitor named Helen Keller. But there were others of local fame who were quite influential in our world. A local black leader named Norris Cuney Hare was unrelenting in his battle to create a place like ours, but for underprivileged black children. Despite never having been elected to any state position, this man almost single-handedly pushed through the Legislature the bill that would create the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind colored youths on April 5, 1887. This institute remained open until 1943, when it combined with the state orphan home in Corsicana to create the Blind, Deaf and Orphan School in Austin, where Norris Cuney Hare’s daughter taught music and wrote about their lives.

In 1965, during the struggle for equality for all people, the Blind, Deaf and Orphan School disbanded and its teachers and pupils joined our current schools for the blind and deaf. It was from the Blind, Deaf, &Orphan School that TSBVI attained longtime administrator Matthew Caldwell, as well as other fine teachers and staff.

In the early 1980s, the students and staff of the TSB Deaf-Blind Annex became part of our main campus, abandoning the old Confederate Widows Home on 38th Street. Along with the students and staff, impaired students, including those with multiple disabilities.

Because of the hard work of the staff through the years, and because we have had leaders with vision, TSBVI is now recognized as one of the top schools in the country. So we are not just celebrating the school’s history, but the future of every child that has passed and will ever pass through TSBVI. We are celebrating every person who has ever worked here including those that do right now. I think we are all worth celebrating and are all important to this school and to its ongoing history. So Happy Birthday, everyone! It’s time to celebrate.

by Linda Hagood, TSBVI Life Skills Department

Originally published in Summer 1992 edition of PS News published by Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired Outreach Programs.

Pictures are often used as a graphic form of communication (a map, a chart, etc.) for individuals who have adequate residual vision. Tactile symbols are concrete representations developed for individuals who are totally blind or function as if they were totally blind and who have a practical need for a graphic language system. The system described here has been developed by the instructional staff in the Life Skills Department at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin Texas, and has been piloted with students in the program who are blind and deaf-blind. The tactile symbol system differs from the "textured communication symbols," described by Bailey (1992). It is standardized and linguistically-based. It also requires the individual using the symbols to have specific skills in the areas of communicative intent and symbolic development.

Tactile symbols can serve the same purposes as pictures. The background is coded by shape and texture to represent different meaning categories (see Chart 1). This helps the student and teachers organize the symbols by meaning categories. The shape and texture of the background give perceptual cues. For example the oval made of laminated plain poster board represents objects and the square made of needlepoint backing represents locations. Objects are glued to the background shape to represent specific vocabulary items. The symbols consist of small common objects or parts of objects mounted on these 2-3 inch backgrounds. Figure 1 shows examples of some tactile symbols. View the entire Directory to Standard Tactile Symbol List.

Chart 1

Chart 1 shows all of the meaning categories and their corresponding perceptual cues.
Objects Oval Laminated plain posterboard
Locations Square Needlepoint Backing (vinyl grid)
Actions Triangle Felt
People Circle Textured wall paper (bumpy)
Time -
Days of week
Emotions Heart Plain poster board
Function/miscellaneous Trapezoid Lined Braille paper

Figure 1 - Symbols for fire station and cola.
Fire Station Symbol: square shape with narrow horizontal rectangle in the middle, a square button the same height as the rectangle is in the middle of the rectangle. Cola symbol: oval shape of posterboard. Mounted in the middle of the oval is a cloth rectangle 1/4 the size of the oval, mounted on the cloth are 2 buttons.

Who can use tactile symbols?

The symbols are designed for individuals who are totally blind or demonstrate visual functioning which is so impaired that they cannot interpret pictures or written words. If individuals have adequate residual vision, they should be taught to use pictures or written words which are a more functional and universally recognized ways to communicate graphically.

The use of tactile symbols has been helpful with some individuals with cortical visual impairment who have enough vision to see pictures or written words. For these individuals, the symbols may be an alternative form of communication, or they may be a transitional step to learning a more standard graphic language system such as written words or Braille. Additional adaptations for using tactile symbols with cortically impaired individuals need to be developed. The techniques might include adding color coding to the system and assuring high visual contrast between the object used and the background.

The individual must be an intentional and purposeful communicator. He should be able to use objects, hand-guiding, gestures, signs or words to communicate with the clear expectation that the person they are talking to will understand and respond. If the individual is not using these more concrete forms to communicate you should not introduce the tactile symbols which are more abstract. The student must also show that he or she is intentionally communicating. Chart 2 lists indicators you might expect to see in a student who is ready to begin to use tactile symbols.

Chart 2 - Indicators of Intentional Communication

from (Levack,1991; MacDonald, J. and Gillette, Y. 1984; Manolson, A., 1984; Stillman, R. and Battle, C., 1984.)

persisting/altering behavior - A child extends arm to request lotion rubbing. When the teacher does not respond, the child hands her the lotion bottle.

orientation toward partner - A student calls his teacher's name when making a request or physically locates her before asking for more juice.

use of the communicative behavior in varied situations - An individual originally learns to use physical manipulation of an adult to request jumping on a trampoline, but begins to use this behavior to ask for more popcorn at snack time.

They must be functioning at a symbolic level of cognitive development. While some of the symbols used in the system are conceptually concrete representations, such as parts of objects (e.g. a Coke tab represents coke), others are more abstract (two crossed paper clips represent "work"). In order to learn the numerous associations used in the system, students must understand that symbols are arbitrary representations which do not always physically resemble the item they represent. To be considered for a tactile symbol system, individuals should demonstrate the symbolic skills shown in Chart 3.

Chart 3 - Symbolic Skills Needed for Using the Tactile Symbol System

(Rowland and Schweigert, 1990; Van Dijk, J. , 1968 ; Writer, J., 1987)

  • When given a juice pitcher, a student travels to the kitchen to make his snack.
  • When given a large spoon instead of the usual juice pitcher, the student travels to the kitchen to make his snack.
  • When given only the top of the juice pitcher, a student travels to the kitchen to make his snack.
  • Understanding of single objects as representations for activities
  • Understanding of alternate objects as representations for activities
  • Understanding of parts of objects as representations for activities

Why Would a Student Use Tactile Symbols?

Tactile symbols should be thought of as a communicative form or a strategy for teaching specific cognitive or communication skills. The goals in using tactile symbols should be related to skills such as improving organization and task sequencing, developing language concepts, or learning communicative interaction. Learning to label or recognize symbols is never a functional goal in itself. While labeling may be a step in learning to use the symbols, these symbols should be used for more functional tasks such as giving instructions or reporting on past events. It is easy to forget they are only one of many instructional strategies which can be used to teach functional skills. Individuals with sensory impairments need to use and respond to a variety of communication modes. For example, an individual might use a cup to tell you he wants a drink or he might take you to the refrigerator. You might take him to the bathroom, give him his towel and turn on the water to let him know that it is time for his bath. Tactile symbols are not meant to replace this more natural communication process, but they can supplement it.

How the Symbols Have Been Used at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

The symbols have been used for a variety of reasons. For some students tactile symbols are used as an alternate form of communication. For example motor problems might limit the intelligibility of signs or spoken communication. Individuals who use signs as their primary form of communication might use these symbols to interact with peers, co-workers, or others who do not sign. These symbols can be mounted on low-tech routine boards, used in communication books, or with voice-output devices as an alternative form of expression.

Within activities, the symbols have been helpful in organizing steps in routines. Symbols can be mounted left-to-right or in a vertical sequence on strips. The individual can "read" the symbol as a cue to the next step in a routine rather than relying on the instructor to tell them what to do next. This increases the individual's independence within routines. The symbols are also helpful in scheduling and organizing activities in longer time frames. They can be used to schedule activities into daily, weekly, monthly or yearly calendars.

Locations and materials can also be labeled with symbols to help individuals with orientation or to identify their possessions. The symbols have been used to label shelves in kitchens, classrooms, dresser drawers, and lunch sacks.

For deafblind and blind students the symbols provide a concrete support while learning speech or sign language. They can be used to teach communication skills such as choice making, expanding vocabulary, expanding concepts, and improving conversational skills. Chart 4 shows examples of using the symbols to teach these communication skills.

Chart 4

Choice making To cue a response On a restaurant trip, the student can be taught to place a chosen item on an "order" card which they take to the restaurant. The symbol for other items not chosen are returned to a storage box or "finished" basket.
Expanding Vocabulary To cue for additional information Pair symbols with objects, actions, people and places while doing routines. Mount symbols on an activity board and provide opportunities to use the symbols within the activity to cue requests for specific objects or instruct others in performing the activity. Use new vocabulary outside of an activity by placing several symbols related to the activity on a strip of paper (expansion strip) which can be read before or after the activity.
Expanding Concepts To broaden understanding of words To help someone understand that "restaurant" means more than the place to get a hamburger, different food items can be paired with the symbol for restaurant to help expand the concept.
Improving Conversational Skills To teach turn taking, responding to questions Use several symbols mounted on an extension strip to cue "conversation starters". Use blank shapes to cue, responding to questions and asking questions.

Considerations in Developing A Tactile Symbol System

During the past five years, the tactile symbol system used at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has grown from about 100 symbols to almost 300 symbols. However, the specific vocabulary may not be appropriate for other settings. Those who wish to implement a tactile symbol system may need to design their own vocabulary sets. The process of developing the system here at TSBVI has been a learning experience. It has required the active involvement of a large group of teaching staff to maintain standardization. A committee has been established which meets regularly to review students' progress in learning the symbols and to modify or add to the symbols. Before beginning to develop a tactile symbol system there are issues related to materials and instruction that should be addressed.

(1) Materials need to be inexpensive and easy to locate in discount stores or as "recyclable" parts of common objects. A library of symbol materials has been helpful to support symbol replacement. Materials need to be evaluated through student observation to be sure he or she can discriminate between symbols. The symbols also need to be evaluated for durability with daily use and modified if they can not be used in functional settings. Lists of symbols with descriptions of construction have been helpful in maintaining standardization. These lists are also shared with parents and others who interact with tactile symbol users.

Specific materials which have been very helpful include:

  • A die cutter to produce background shapes. (The cutter used in this program is the Ellison Letter Machine). Some of the students have learned to participate in cutting and making tactile symbols as part of their work experience.
  • Hot glue guns to adhere objects and velcro to backgrounds.
  • Velcro
  • Indoor/ outdoor carpet which adheres to velcro.

(2) Concrete symbols continue to be an important element in programming for individuals even after they develop language and can learn multi-step routines. Rather than thinking of tactile symbols only as an "alternative" form of communication, symbols should be considered an important support for teaching individuals who are deaf-blind or language disordered and who use sign or spoken language as a primary mode of communication.

(3) New symbols should be introduced within the context of an activity before using the symbol outside of the activity during calendar. For example, teach the symbol for "skate" during a skating activity; then use it to schedule the activity for the student.

(4) Before transitioning individuals from more concrete object symbols to tactile symbols a strategy should be developed. For example, staff at TSBVI introduce the most concrete or frequently-used symbols first. They may mount symbols on objects used in routines to provide exposure to the symbol. Later symbols would be mounted on baggies used to hold object symbols. The student then has the opportunity to functionally match the symbol to object cue during calendar conversations.

(5) You also need to provide multiple opportunities for individuals to use the symbol expressively across settings. It is easy to fall into a pattern of using the symbol only as a receptive cue for beginning an activity.

(6) Symbols should be accessible to individuals who use them. They should be stored in predictable locations, such as on an accessible wall or in a notebook. They may be organized by activity groupings or by meaning categories.

(7) Activities should be established to teach individuals to attend to and discriminate background shape and texture. Some successful activities used at TSBVI include:

  • non-communicative activities such as having the student sort background shapes when they help make the symbols.
  • games, such as tactile Bingo.
  • communicative activities, in which the blank background shape is used to cue the appropriate question form or a response to a question.


Developing the tactile symbol system at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has been an exciting process. We believe we have produced a valuable tool for improving communication skills. In creating and expanding the system, many staff members who were not previously involved in communication programming have become interested and active participants in teaching communication skills to individuals with multiple disabilities. As staff have become interested in the system, they have continuously found new functional applications for the symbols. However, it is important to understand the purpose and the limitations of this system before deciding to use it with your child.

Before this system is tried with your child, you should consider your child's communication skills and needs. Your child should be a purposeful and intentional communicator. He should be able to understand that single objects, alternate objects, and parts of objects can represent activities.

Consider his vision loss. This system is not needed if your child has enough vision to use other types of graphic language such as print or pictures. This system is designed for individuals who are totally blind or have very limited use of their residual vision. It may be appropriate for some individuals with cortical visual impairments, but it may require some additional adaptations to accommodate their particular visual concerns.

Be clear about your child's goal in using the tactile symbol system. Does he need an alternative form of communication to interact with peers, co-workers, or others who do not sign? Would the system provide concrete support in learning speech or sign language? Perhaps the tactile symbols are needed to prepare him for a more abstract system such as Braille. Tactile symbols have value as a graphic language system. They are not meant to be the only form of communication an individual uses, but should be viewed as a supplement to signed or spoken language.

If you have questions about the tactile symbol system or would like more information about how the system has been developed, please contact Linda Hagood in the Life Skills Department of Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.


Bailey, B.R. (1992) "Developing textured communication symbols for communication use." Traces (Vol. 2, 1).

Levack, N, editor (1991). Basic Skills for Community Living, pilot draft. Unpublished curriculum. Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Austin, Texas.

Manolson, A. (1984) It Takes Two to Talk: A Hanen Early Language Guide Book. Toronto: Hanen Early Language Resource Center.

MacDonald, J. and Gillette, Y. (1984). "Conversation engineering: A pragmatic approach to early social competence." Seminars in Speech and Language, 5, 3, 171-183.

Rowland, C. and Schweigert, P. (1990) Tangible Symbol Systems: Symbolic communication for individuals with multisensory impairments. Communication Skill Builders.

Stillman, R.D. and Battle, C.S. (1984) "Developing prelanguage communication in the severely handicapped: An interpretation of the Van Dijk Method." Seminars in Speech and Language, 4 (3), 159-170.

Van Dijk, J. (1968) "The non-verbal deaf-blind child and his world: His outgrowth toward the world of symbols." Sint Michielsgestel: Verzamelde studies, Institut voor Doven.

Writer, J. (1987). "A movement-based activity approach to education of students who are sensory impaired/ multihandicapped." L. Goetz (Ed.) Innovative program design for individuals with dual sensory impairments. Baltimore: Paul Brooks.

This article was originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of See/Hear Newsletter.
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Melanie Knapp, Parent, Missouri City, TX

Abstract: A mother shares her thoughts about connecting with her son, who is deafblind, while reading an experience book together at the doctor’s office.

Key Words: deafblind, family, personal story, experience books, expanded core curriculum

Editor’s Note: Melanie shared this story during the Transition Weekend we held February 21-22, 2004. I’ve asked her to share it with you, as I think it really brings home how anyone can access a story about an experience they are familiar with and “read” it with someone else. If you would like to learn more about experience books, including how to make your own, you can read the article “Creating and Using Tactile Experience Books for Young Children With Visual Impairments” by Sandra Lewis. You may access the article in the See/Hear archives at .

Gary and I picked up Christian, our 23-year-old son who is deafblind, from school one day so that we could take him to his doctor’s appointment. His intervener, Ann Bielert, and Christian had been to Whataburger that day, and had made an experience book about their trip. Christian brought his book home with him so we could talk about it. On each page of the book, they had glued an item they picked up on their trip beside a tactile calendar symbol that related to the item. For example, they had taken the plastic lid and straw from his drink and glued it next to his symbol for drink. While we were waiting in the examining room for the doctor, I pulled the book out so we could read it together. Christian and I read each page. He would feel the symbol, and I would sign to him, and then help him sign it. We were having the best time; he was smiling and laughing. We were just about finished reading when the doctor came in and asked what we were doing. Well, this was the perfect opportunity for me to I did. We read the book again. Christian enjoyed it just as much. Meanwhile, his other doctor came in, and she wanted to know about Christian’s book. We read it again. I was so proud of Christian. He loved it just as much the third time as he did the first. We laughed. Everyone was so impressed and had lots of questions.

This was “one of those moments” that you cherish and remember. It was the most incredible experience for me. We read this book together and I know he understood everything we talked about.

Web Sites

You might not know it, but individuals who are blind, visually impaired, and deafblind use web sites to access the world; however, many web sites, old and new, are either totally inaccessible or partially so. When educational sites are inaccessible, this creates an inequality, another barrier for persons with disabilities to endure. When web sites are designed from the ground up using W3C standards-based mark-up with an eye towards accessibility issues, a web site has a better chance of being a portal to the world versus a black hole, an empty page.

Online and Digital Instruction

There has been an upsurge in the number of companies and non-profits promoting educational software, online courses, and learning management systems. Some of these products have been designed with accessibility and usability standards from the ground up; some are retrofitting after discovering problems; and others are blithely unaware. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is not ambiguous--any product used should not leave people with disabilities at an educational disadvantage. Entities working within the educational market need to work within the legal framework of our field. Click on the following link to learn more about accessibility for online and digital instruction.

Media Players

Some might ask: Why would an individual who is blind or deafblind need access to content from a video or audio file? Much original content, including promotional, instructional, and entertainment is created with video cameras or audio recorders. Many people love to learn by watching; ours is a multimedia culture. Media clearly needs to be made accessible to people with disabilities in order for them to experience and to learn along with everyone else. The problem is often threefold: no captions, no audio description of the video, and a player that cannot be accessed by screen readers thus rendering the controls (play, pause, rewind, etc.) unreachable or the player invisible.

Section 504 Compliance

What does one do with the information above? School districts, administrators, teachers, parents, and students can start by becoming familiar with Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act. If new websites and software are being introduced in an educational setting a good question to ask salespeople, developers, and other interested parties is a simple one: Is this technology Section 504 compliant? What accommodations have been made to make the product accessible? Below are educational links on Sections 504 and 508.

Accessibility Links for Sections 504 and 508

      Web AIM on 

Rehabilitation Act of 1973--by Web AIM

      Special Education in Texas 

Section 504--by TEA

      Texas Project FIRST on 

Section 504 and Parents--by Family to Family Network

      Open Source definition for 

Section 504--by Wikipedia

English version of this article

Por el Dr. Phil Hatlen, Superintendente de Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired

Hace poco tuve el privilegio y el placer de dirigirme a un grupo de padres de niños ciegos y discapacitados visuales en un congreso en la ciudad de Galveston, Texas. Uno de los temas más populares entre los padres fue cómo se decide qué medio de enseñanza se va a usar. En otras palabras,¿cuáles de los niños deben ser lectores principalmente de braille y cuáles principalmente de la palabra impresa? Tuve la oportunidad de hablar de este tema un sábado por la tarde. Defasortunadamente, percibí que algunos de mis comentarios no fueron del todo claros y que algunos de los padres se fueron de la reunión con una impresión errónea o incompleta de mi opinión acerca de este asunto. Por lo tanto, escribo este artículo con la esperanza de que los padres que no me hayan comprendido tengan una mejor comprensión de mis convicciones acerca de la enseñanza con palabra impresa y/o braille.

La mayoría de los niños ciegos o visualmente discapacitados entran en cuatro categorías en relación con los medios de enseñanza. Algunos con toda seguridad podrán leer la palabra impresa, ya que la vista que poseen les permite leer en forma rápida y acertada, usando bien letra normal o letra grande o dispositivos ópticos. Para ellos la lectura no es difícil y conseguirán la rapidez de lectura y el grado de comprensión que suplen las necesidades tanto de la lectura educativa como de la lectura de placer.

Otros estudiantes leerán y escribirán en braille. Con frecuencia tales niños o son totalmente ciegos o bien poseen tan sólo la percepción de la luz. Al contrario de los mitos que han existido durante años en lo que concierne el braille, este medio de alfabetización no es ni torpe, ni lento, ni difícil de encontrar. El braille es un medio excelente para la lectura y la escritura y no es un sistema de segunda clase en relación con la palabra impresa.

Existe un tercer grupo de estudiantes a quienes les costará tanto la palabra impresa como el braille. Por lo general, tales estudiantes tienen otras dificultades en el aprendizaje aparte de la limitación visual. Estos estudiantes harán uso de otros medios de alfabetización. Uno de ellos es el aprendizaje auditivo. Otro método podría consistir en símbolos táctiles y cajas-calendario. Siempre existe un medio de algún tipo mediante el cual cada niño ciego o con discapacidad visual puede ser alfabetizado. Tal es el propósito de todo esfuerzo educativo.

Acerca del cuarto grupo existe cierta confusión y falta de comprensión. Este grupo consiste en los niños que tienen discapacidad visual y que tienen vista suficiente como para llevar a cabo algunas tareas y actividades de forma visual. Algunos padres y profesionales desean que tales niños aprendan braille. Otros defienden el uso completo de la vista existente, inclusive para la escritura y la lectura.

La confusión acerca de este cuarto grupo surge cuando no tomamos en cuenta que el braille y la palabra impresa son métodos equivalentes para la lectura y la escritura. Si pensamos que uno es superior al otro, corremos el riesgo de cometer graves errores en la educación de los niños. El Estado de Texas ha reconocido este problema y se han presentado proyectos de ley para colocar al braille y a la palabra impresa al mismo nivel, requiriendo que se complete una Evaluación de Medios de Aprendizaje con tales niños. Los resultados de tal evaluación pueden servir de guía excelente para las decisiones que deberán tomar los padres y maestros.

Lo que a veces complica la decisión basada en la evaluación de medios de aprendizaje es que los niños que van a aprender cómo leer la palabra impresa pueden recibir instrucción fácilmente en una clase común y corriente. Los chicos para los cuales se ha indicado el braille deberán contar con los servicios de un docente habilitado para la instrucción de niños con discapcidad visual. Los maestros de las clases comunes no están habilitados para enseñar la lectura y la escritura braille, como tampoco lo están los docentes adjuntos. En el caso de los niños que deben aprender braille, el docente habilitado deberá estar a disposición en la escuela todos los días. Los datos más actualizados indican que, para que los niños aprendan braille exitosamente, el docente para discapacitados visuales deberá poder enseñar lectura un mínimo de una hora por día.

A raíz de la falta de maestros para los niños con limitación visual en Texas así como en todo el país, a veces resulta difícil o bien imposible conseguir un docente habilitado para cada estudiante por el tiempo necesario de una hora por día. Si el docente habilitado tiene un exceso de estudiantes o bien un área geográfica excesiva por la cual es responsable, no estará disponible todo el tiempo que el estudiante lo necesita. Este es un problema gravísimo en el esfuerzo de proveer la capacitación de lectura más correcta y útil a este grupo de estudiantes. A veces, en algunos casos en los que no se presenta otra alternativa, el docente para discapacitados visuales puede consentir en que un niño aprenda a leer la palabra impresa aunque sería preferible que aprenda braille.

Lo que dije en Galveston fue lo siguiente: si su hijo tiene marcas de lápiz en la nariz cuando termina de escribir o si lee letras de una pulgada (2,54 cm) en un CCTV a razón de menos de 20 palabras por minuto, sospecho que está usando el medio de lectura equivocado. Si su hijo no puede leer una palabra entera a simple vista, es posible que no esté utilizando el medio de lectura que más le conviene. Existen varias pruebas para determinar el medio más adecuado para la lectura, sin embargo, el que más satisface tanto a los padres como a los docentes es el Learning Media Assessment (Evaluación de Medios de Aprendizaje), cuya administración a todo estudiante ciego y con discapacidad visual es requerida por el Código Educativo de Texas.

Padres: si no han visto los resultados de la Evaluación de Medios de Aprendizaje de sus hijos, les sugiero lo hagan. Si creen que tendría un mejor aprovechamiento utilizando otro medio de lectura, deben hablar con el docente especializado en discapacidades visuales de su hijo. Si el niño no está recibiendo instrucción de lectura y escritura con la frecuencia y duración que se aceptó en la reunión de la ARD, hable con el docente especializado de su hijo.

Los estudiantes ciegos y aquéllos con discapacidad visual tienen la buena fortuna de disponer de una variedad de medios para llegar a leer y escribir. Si los padres y maestros usan bien las opciones, cada niño en Texas podrá alcanzar una capacitación en la lectura y escritura que llegue al máximo, utilizando el mejor medio posible. Depende de los padres saber lo que necesitan sus hijos, trabajar conjuntamente con las escuelas para asegurar que estén de acuerdo sobre los servicios educativos ofrecidos y cooperar con el docente especializado en la discapacidad visual para que se asegure la mejor educación posible para los hijos.