Low Vision on the Road

Authors: Cindy Bachofer, Ph.D., CLVT, TSBVI Low Vision Consultant

Keywords: Low vision, optical device, low vision device, accessibility, self-advocacy, community based instruction, CBI, monocular, telescope, magnifier.

Abstract: “Low Vision on the Road” is a program offered through the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired and coordinated by Cindy Bachofer. In this article, Dr. Bachofer explains the rationale for the program and its benefits to students. This example illustrates a sample of activities that might be provided during the program.

“I can’t stop spinning I’m so excited!” Lyra and three peers who also have low vision in elementary grades were gathering for a full day of activities that had been planned by their TVI/COMS staff and TSBVI Outreach staff members. A primary goal of the day was to create excitement for children to see things on their own—and to feel good about using tools and strategies that are different from their peers. Program models are available for both elementary and secondary age groups, and activities are customized to student interests and sites to explore in the community.

The “Low Vision on the Road” program discussed in this article took place in the fall of 2016 at the Region 9 Service Center in Wichita Falls and was led by members from TSBVI Outreach, Cindy Bachofer, Low Vision Consultant, and Lynne McAlister, Education Specialist. Planning meetings took place earlier in the semester as staff selected activities for the elementary students’ day that focused on using vision (with and without optical devices) to see interesting things all around them. Students with low vision frequently are not aware of the important visual information that their peers are noticing in the classroom and beyond, such as on the playground, at the hardware store, in the science museum, etc. Adult support and instruction are essential for them to first build their visual curiosity and then to develop visual strategies and skills with tools to see more throughout their day. Each activity in the schedule emphasizes exploration and self-awareness of one’s visual abilities.

Even at a young age, students are used to hearing comments about their eyes and their vision being different. They are likely to hear questions such as “why do your eyes shake like that?” or “why do you hold things so close to your eye?” We started the day with a group activity to learn about eye anatomy and to practice the language needed to respond to such questions. The group worked together to build a life-sized eyeball with objects commonly found around the house. Each student became a “part” of the eyeball by holding up a representative object and giving a brief definition. For example, a large clear plastic salad serving bowl represented the cornea and the student read from the label card, “I’m the cornea and like a windshield, I protect the eye and stop things from getting in it.” Another student further down the line held up a plush bath mat and said, “I’m the retina or the back wall of the eye where cells take the light signal and send it to the brain” . This had students up on their feet while learning and set an interactive tone for the day.

The students were eager to show what optical devices (magnifiers, monoculars and telescopes) they currently used and to compare these with different styles in the same power or updated models. We did a few quick spotting activities such as reading small print on a food package or identifying the picture at the end of the hallway to make sure everyone was ready to take it outside!  Our first stop was the River Bend Nature Center in Wichita Falls where everyone was able to examine (either at near or distance) critters that crawled or flew, and a few that walked. We used scavenger hunt questions to guide students as they moved from one nature center area to the next. Sometimes it seemed that the nature center residents (e.g., insects, amphibians) wanted to be examined as they “posed” against the aquarium glass, giving time for a student with a magnifier to check out scales on a snake’s skin or spots on an arachnid’s shell.

Five young students stand against a railing on a deck outside. They are all holding monoculars to their eyes.

Students using monoculars to spot landmarks in the distance that they had visited that morning at the River Bend Nature Center

Using a monocular or telescope to find butterflies with bright markings poised on bushes in the conservatory was an especially motivating spotting game. As we moved outside to the wider space of the grounds, students used the monocular to search for birds and animals, both in and out of enclosures, and to identify landmarks shown on the map in the distance. A picnic lunch on the breezy pavilion had everyone recharged for the next scavenger hunt activity–more exploring with their eyes and tools.

Following lunch, we traveled to a popular grocery store and students were able to find out how many decisions their parents must make when they are shopping. Grocery stores are a visually rich place, and with their devices, every aisle held exciting things for students to explore. Using a monocular, the overhead aisle directories let students know if this aisle had cereal or soap. Rather than walk all around the produce section in search of bananas, for example, this group of young shoppers figured out that the monocular let them “scope the scene” and know which direction to go. Next it was down to details and examining the print on food packages–so much information! We read the store ad for the not-to-miss sales, we compared the nutritional information on brands of favorite snacks to find the lowest fat grams and sugar, and we checked price against weight and number of servings for the best deal. We read labels on baked goods and cakes through the pastry case glass (a motivating mid-range viewing task with the monocular) and checked out smelly fish (a safe distance with monocular viewing) in the fish market. The places visited today had so much to see—and these devices let everyone see more!

We returned to the Education Service Center with just enough time for students to share a favorite highlight of the day and set a new goal:

  1. What was the most interesting thing they had seen that day?
  2. What was something they wanted to see with their device at school or at home?

The day had been all about “I want to see it” and “I know how to use my eyes and my tools to see it”. Along the way, we also had a lot of fun.

Contact Cindy Bachofer, or 512-206-9434, at TSBVI Outreach Programs to request a Low Vision on the Road for your region!

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