Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Blind Students Can Benefit Everyone. Here's How (2024)

As teachers prepare for a new school year, some will have a blind or visually impaired student on their roster.

Creating an inclusive and welcoming environment for blind students can feel daunting, particularly in general education classrooms and for teachers who haven’t worked with blind students before.

But doing so is critical to their success and is also beneficial for students without a disability. Research has shown that students with disabilities tend to perform better academically when integrated into general education classrooms, and their peers also gain an understanding and develop acceptance of people who are different from them.

About 3 percent of children younger than 18 are blind or visually impaired, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, there were about 48,000 blind students enrolled in schools in the United States, according to estimates by the American Printing House for the Blind. That’s a tiny fraction of the more than 49 million children enrolled in public schools altogether.

While blind students have their own Individualized Education Programs to outline their individual needs and accommodations, most are enrolled in general education classrooms, according to the National Federation of the Blind.

In Rockville, Md., Diana Garcia-Mejia teaches a class dedicated to pre-kindergarten students who are blind or have visual impairments. It’s the only class of its kind offered in Maryland public schools, aside from those offered at the Maryland School for the Blind in Baltimore. While Garcia-Mejia has spent her career working with visually impaired students, she has also focused on teaching and collaborating with teachers throughout her school to help them better accommodate blind students.

Garcia-Mejia in 2018 was named the National Federation of the Blind’s distinguished educator of the year.

In an interview with Education Week, she offered practical tips general education teachers can implement to make their classrooms more welcoming and inclusive for blind students.

Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Blind Students Can Benefit Everyone. Here's How (1)

What are some practical things general education teachers can incorporate into their classrooms to help visually impaired students?

I’m a really strong believer in the concept of “universal design for learning,” which is making content accessible to everyone by providing multiple modes of learning and then multiple ways for students to express what they’ve learned. By creating a lesson or environment that’s accessible to my students, I realized that those changes don’t make the lesson or environment inaccessible to sighted students, and in many ways, it can also be beneficial to their learning.

I think that realization would help a lot of general education teachers be more excited and realize that it doesn’t have to be necessarily extra work to just benefit one student.

What does that look like in practice?

One UDL-grounded strategy that I implement all day every day is hands-on, multi-sensory learning. For example, if we’re doing a math lesson, I might have students count a set of physical objects and then ask them to represent what they just counted however they choose to. It might be writing the numeral that they counted, like writing the number five in print, or in braille, or putting the same number of velcro shapes on a file—whatever that student has decided was best for them.

When I read a book aloud, I make sure that the images are easy to see—large and high contrast. I also describe verbally the images on the page, and use physical props to represent the concepts in the book. Sometimes you can have the students act out the stories as you go, which they really enjoy.

Speaking of books, it’s helpful to be intentional about finding materials and curriculum that students can see themselves in. That’s useful for every student, but can mean a lot to a blind student to read a book that has a blind character.

Are there any things teachers should consider when setting up their classroom?

When we talk about blindness, I think people often envision students who can’t see anything at all, but blindness is a spectrum that encompasses a lot of different visual impairments. Most of my students do have some vision, or at least light perception. So, for those students that have some vision, limiting their visual clutter makes it easier for them to find areas and objects within the classroom, and understand where they are in that space. That means limiting posters and visual aids on the walls and throughout the room.

I also think it’s something that helps all students better focus on what’s being taught.

I know that’s not the norm and some people, when they hear about bare walls and stuff, they feel like it could be a cold environment. So, when people ask me, “How do you make your classroom a warm and inviting space?” I think it comes down to making sure to explicitly remind my students that they’re loved and cared for, and make our time engaging and fun.

Do you have any advice about how to address (or not) the vision-impaired students’ disability if other students ask or are curious, especially in younger grades?

It really depends on the student. But in my classroom, especially for those students that I feel are confident and very talkative, I tried to give them the tools or help increase their confidence about speaking about their visual impairment themselves.

I have had some students that are able to, even as early as kindergarten, work with their support staff to prepare and then speak in front of their classroom about their white cane or their braille or eye condition. But you really just have to gauge their confidence and comfort with doing that. It’s up to them.

Honestly, part of how I get them excited is by just being excited myself. So, for example, when we’re using or teaching braille, I talk about it like it’s a secret code and tell them it’s a trick that will let them read in the dark, even when there’s no light at all. The students are like, “Wow!” and super interested. It also helps students that have progressive vision loss, where it can be kind of hard to put that in a positive light.

How do you encourage other general education teachers in your school to adapt to your students’ needs?

I do think once they realize UDL can help their general education students, too, that helps them get more excited. But also, from a teacher perspective, hands-on learning is more fun for students, but also for the teacher.

It’s so rewarding to be able to give a student access to something that they would otherwise not have access to, if it wasn’t for, in many cases, a minor change. Like, for example, our physical education teacher, for one of his lessons he put bells on the side of a balloon to make it auditory for a student who was totally blind. Suddenly, they were included where they wouldn’t have been before.

Who can teachers turn to for help figuring out how to best support their blind students?

The collaboration between the general education teacher and the student’s support staff—which may include a teacher or paraprofessional or orientation and mobility instructors—is really important.

They can help parse what might just be the student’s personality and what might be a trait or need specific to their vision that could be addressed through a certain accommodation.

Having regular time set aside to check in and talk with those staff members can be really useful and take some of the pressure off the general education teacher. You don’t have to do it all alone.

Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Blind Students Can Benefit Everyone. Here's How (2)
Caitlynn Peetz

Staff Writer, Education Week

Caitlynn Peetz is a reporter for Education Week who covers school district leadership and management.

Creating Inclusive Classrooms for Blind Students Can Benefit Everyone. Here's How (2024)


What are the benefits of inclusion of students with disabilities in the classroom? ›

Some of the benefits of inclusion for children with (or without) disabilities are friendship skills, peer models, problem solving skills, positive self-image, and respect for others. This can trickle down to their families as well, teaching parents and families to be more accepting of differences.

Are inclusive classrooms beneficial to all students? ›

Kids with special education needs who are in inclusive classes are absent less often. They develop stronger skills in reading and math. They're also more likely to have jobs and pursue education after high school. The same research shows that their peers benefit, too.

What can educators do to help students who are blind or visually impaired? ›

Describe and tactually familiarize the student to the classroom, laboratory, equipment, supplies, materials, field sites, etc. Give verbal notice of room changes, special meetings, or assignments. Offer to read written information for a person with a visual impairment, when appropriate.

How do you accommodate blind students in the classroom? ›

What are typical accommodations for students with blindness?
  1. Audiotaped, Brailled, or electronically formatted lecture notes, handouts, and texts.
  2. Verbal descriptions of visual aids.
  3. Raised-line drawings and tactile models of graphic materials.
  4. Braille lab signs and equipment labels; auditory lab warning signals.
May 24, 2022

Why is inclusion important for people with disabilities? ›

Disability inclusion is important because it helps ensure that people with disabilities have equal access to opportunities and can fully participate in society.

Why is an inclusive classroom important? ›

Inclusive practices are essential in education because every student deserves to experience and learn in an atmosphere of respect where they can develop and maintain friendships with other students and teachers in their schools and communities.

What is the impact of inclusion on students with disabilities? ›

Mainly, the social effects of inclusion are reduction of fear, hostility, prejudice, and discrimination as well as increase of tolerance, acceptance, and understanding.

What is an example of inclusion in the classroom? ›

An inclusive classrooms features students of all learning styles and ability levels. For example, an inclusive classroom could have a mix of gifted students, auditory learners, visual learners and students with disabilities such as ADHD, students who are in wheelchairs, and students with executive functioning issues.

What are some ways to run a successful inclusive classroom? ›

Inclusive Classroom Strategies
  • Define clear minimum standards for behaviour.
  • Enforce those standards consistently.
  • Deal with low level disruption in a sensitive way.
  • Create opportunities to listen to all children.
  • Develop a 'scaffolded' approach to learning.
  • Be aware of the specific needs of every child in your class.
Mar 2, 2022

Which method should be used to teach a blind students? ›

Students may use readers, Braille books, tape-recorders and computer equipment that give them access to required course material. In addition, some students may be able to use large print books, electronic visual aids or other magnifying devices for readings, and/or a large print typewriter for writing papers.

How do you adapt a classroom for visual impairment? ›

Selection and Adaptation of Materials

Use contrasting colors for all activities. Avoid using a patterned background such as a flowery or checkered tablecloth for work surfaces. Enhance toys that are not visually stimulating with colored tape to provide more contrast. Outline materials with a contrasting color.

How can you help a student who is blind or visually impaired interact with peers? ›

introduce self to others and introduce people to each other.
  1. give appropriate compliments and praise to others.
  2. use acceptable language with consideration for the person or people present, the setting, and the social situation.
  3. differentiate socially acceptable and unacceptable behaviors in a variety of situations.
Jun 9, 2019

How do you accommodate blind people? ›

If you see a blind person who seems to be in need of assistance
  1. DO introduce yourself and ask the person if he needs assistance.
  2. DO provide assistance if it is requested.
  3. DO respect the wishes of the person who is blind.
  4. DON'T insist upon trying to help if your offer of assistance is declined.
Jun 15, 2023

What are the modifications in a classroom for visually impaired students? ›

Some examples include having extra time to complete assignments, using braille or large-print materials, breaking assignments or tests into smaller parts, or completing assignments in a quiet setting away from other students.

How do teachers benefit from inclusion? ›

Inclusion is also advantageous to teachers because it allows them to strengthen their collaboration skills as they work together with other teachers, specialists, and parents to figure out the best education plan for their students with special needs.

What are the benefits of team teaching students with disabilities? ›

Benefits to students with disabilities include increased self-confidence and self-esteem, enhanced academic performance, increased social skills, and stronger peer relations (Walther-Thomas, 1997; Weichel, 2001).

What is an example of inclusion in special education? ›

Examples of inclusion in the classroom is providing access to the same routines and curriculum, encouraging participation of all students in activities done inside and outside the classroom, and holding all students up to the highest of standards regardless of a disability.

What are inclusive practices in special education? ›

Inclusion is realized when all students, regardless of their designation to receive special education services, are provided with targeted services, supports, and accommodations; allowing them to learn in the general education classroom, interact with peers, and engage the core curriculum.

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