Dear General Education Teachers

A teachers stands at the front of a classroom of eager students with hands raised. Smiling, she points at a student.

Written By Cody Laplante

Cody M. Laplante is a certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments located in the capital region of the United States. With a Master’s Degree and Graduate Certificate in Assistive Technology, Cody founded eye.t to provide live and asynchronous training options to children, adults, professionals and parents to ensure that all people with visual impairments can have access to a computer.

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Published on

August 27, 2023

Note: TVI’s, this one isn’t for you. Send it on to your students’ classroom teachers. We’ll see you in the next one.


Hey!

So I guess you are here because you have a student in your class this year that has a visual impairment.

Here’s the deal. A “visual impairment” could mean lots of different things. But, if you are reading this, your student probably reads (or is learning) braille and uses (or is learning to use) a computer to access most of their information. 

You probably have a lot of questions. I’m here to help answer them.

Question 1: What is a TVI?

A TVI, or TSVI is a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments. Your student’s TVI (probably the person who sent you this article) will be your number 2 resource on everything regarding your students vision. 

Side note: The number 1 resource on your students vision is… your student.

Tip: Feel free to ask them. Most students are fine with it.

Anyway, TVI’s are special education teachers that are specifically trained to teach students who are blind or have low vision. That special training usually involves a few braille classes, some eye anatomy classes, oh and teaching blind students all day, every day. They will either have the answers to your questions or will know where to look.

The TVI’s job is to make it as easy as possible for YOU to develop an effective teacher/student relationship with your student.

Tip: Your student’s TVI will become your greatest asset!

Question 2: How will they read?

Depending on where your student is in their learning process, they will most likely be most comfortable with reading braille or listening to audio. If they are a full-fledged braille reader, they will most likely get assignments and books in hard copy braille. 

Now, some things that you need to consider when using hard copy braille:

  • Braille is BIG. The books are big, the paper is big. It’s just…. big. When you receive a braille textbook it will come in multiple volumes and perhaps even multiple boxes. 
  • Check the Volume and Page Numbers: When asking your student to find a page in their book, make sure they have the right volume. The page numbers are usually on the front cover. 
  • Print page numbers are at the top. When telling your student to find a page number in their book, make sure they are looking in the top corner. There is a totally separate “braille page” numbering system at the bottom corner. Don’t worry about those for now. Remember how I said braille is big? One print page could be multiple braille pages. If looking for page 39, the first braille page will say 39, then a39, b39, c39 and so on until they reach page 40.

Tip: A good system for managing those braille books will save you time in the long run.

Question 3: How will they write?

The most basic form of writing your student will use is a “Perkins Brailler”. I placed a picture below.

Perkins brailler sits against a white background.

Basically, it is a braille typewriter. The student will roll the paper in, and then type in braille. Simple!

The less simple part about this… once they are done (I’m assuming you don’t know Braille), you’ll have to find your student’s TVI to get that work transcribed.

Tip: Use the Perkins Brailler only when you need to. It is heavy, clunky and will not allow you to give your student immediate feedback.

Question 3: Wait a Minute You Said Something About a Computer…

Right right, the computer. 

So here’s the thing. Your student is most likely working with their TVI to learn how to use a computer. The way they use a computer is with a Screen Reader like JAWS, NVDA or Chromevox.

A Screen Reader is a piece of software on your student’s computer that reads aloud the elements on the screen. The main things you need to know about a screen reader are that when using a screen reader, a user will most likely not use the mouse, but instead will know various keyboard commands to navigate the screen.

Downsides: It is a little… complicated. It requires a lot of experience for a student to become comfortable enough with the computer to be able to use it without having to think about it.

Your student’s TVI will keep you up to date with their progress, but in the meantime, here is what YOU can do to help when your student is using their computer.

  1. Remember, they are doing 2 things at once: They are thinking about HOW to access your content, and they are trying to LEARN your content at the same time. Be patient and give them grace. They need it.
  2. Make things as easy as possible for them. The easiest format you can give your student access to is a Google Doc or Microsoft Word file. Things like Google Slides, Powerpoint, most websites, etc. CAN be accessed using a screen reader, but your student needs to learn to use each one. If you’d like to use those resources, connect with your student’s TVI for guidance. They might need to do some instruction beforehand.
  3. Don’t Get Discouraged with Technology: I’ve had many teachers that shy away from the computer because they feel it is a barrier to their student learning the content. My answer: Yes, your content is important but so is your student’ learning to use a computer. ‘s computer literacy. Think about putting in the work with your student now, so that in a year, (or five) from now, their interactions with their teachers can be even more seamless. Your student’s computer literacy will serve them multiple times over as an adult.

Tip: Encourage your student to use their computer as much as possible. It gives you immediate access to their work, and teaches them to use a computer…. a lifelong skill.

Question 4: So the TVI Will Adapt All of the Materials… Right?

Even with the computer, your student will most likely need adapted materials but in many cases, relying on the TVI to make materials will make YOUR JOB HARDER. Here is why?

  1. The TVI does not know the content: Sending a TVI a science lab to adapt on their own, will most likely result in either (1) multiple emails back and forth with questions. or (2) an incorrectly adapted assignment. Why? They don’t know what you are trying to teach. They’ll either need clarification or will not get it right.
  2. The TVI is probably not in the building all day: This means that the TVI will need time (a week or more) to plan figure out what you need via email, find a building that has a copier or braille printer, and then schedule time to drop off the materials at your specific building. As A result, you’ll need to plan a week or two ahead in order to give the TVI enough time to get things in order….  oh yeah and you cannot change anything.

Here is what the TVI CAN do:

  1. Create anything you need in hard copy braille.
  2. Develop any graphics that need to be made tactile:
  3. Order any books that you need in braille
  4. Answer any questions you have about how to adapt an assignment
  5. Help you develop a system with your student to ensure you can get electronic assignments directly to them.

Tip: Adapt your own materials. It makes your job a lot easier.

Your Year Will Be Awesome

Now listen, I’ve been a classroom teacher and I’ve been an Itinerant TVI. I’ve gone through this process from both sides. Every school year I’m reminded of the same thing…..

It will be fine.

I know this is probably a surprise, but if you follow the tips in this letter, your year will go much more smoothly than you are thinking it will.

Now, here is something that you may not know: There is a whole community of blindness professionals that service blind learners each and every day. Just look at this website… at our company. That is all we do.

With this new student of yours, you are now a part of this community. Your student’s TVI is your conduit to the rest of us, but please remember that you can always reach out if you need additional support. We are all here rooting for you and your new student, and I, personally, wish you all the very best this school year.

Cody

Resources

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