So-called compensatory skills are needed to access the general curriculum. This includes learning experiences such as concept development, spatial understanding, study and organizational skills, speaking and listening skills, and any adaptations necessary for accessing all areas of the existing core curriculum, to include access to printed materials.
Many learners with low vision use standard print with magnification devices. Some learners may require both print and braille. Learners with multiple disabilities, including deafblindness, may use a tactile or object symbol system for literacy.
A student’s communication needs vary depending on the degree of functional vision, effects of additional disabilities, and the task to be completed. Learners with deafblindness and other disabilities may use alternative communication systems such as tactile sign language, symbol or object communication, augmentative communication devices, or calendar boxes.
Specialized instruction in concept development may be of significant importance when visual observation is limited. These learners benefit from instruction offered with specific and sequential hands-on, sensory-based lessons to build a broad base of experiences. In the higher grades, many mathematical, geographical, and scientific concepts must be taught with adapted materials and strategies for students who are unable to learn from pictures and visual diagrams. A learner with little or no vision may have fragmented understandings of the world without systematic tactile exploration and clear, verbal explanations. Some concepts are fully visual, such as colors, rainbows, clouds, and the sky. Some are too large to experience completely, such as buildings, mountain ranges, and oceans. Other items are too tiny or too delicate to understand through touch, including small insects, a snowflake, or an item under a microscope. Further, some items are inappropriate to explore through touch such as wild animals or toxic substances. Due to these challenges with direct exploration, the resulting fragmented concepts can impede social, academic, and vocational development.
Learners with visual impairments need systematic instruction to learn efficient use of their senses. Instruction in visual efficiency must be individually designed and may include:
- Using visual gaze to make choices;
- Tracking car movements when crossing the street;
- Responding to visual cues in the environment; and/or
- Using optical devices such as magnifiers and telescopes.
For most learners with visual impairments, an increased reliance on tactual skills is essential for learning and should be considered as part of IEP development. A concept that may be readily captured at a glance by a sighted student, such as relative size, may require more detailed hands-on interaction and repetition to be tactually understood by a learner with who is blind or visually impaired.
Further, systematic instruction in auditory skills may be needed for successful mobility and to help students learn to effectively use their hearing to respond effectively to social cues, travel safely in schools and across streets, learn from recorded media, and use echolocation (the use of sound waves and echoes to determine where objects are in space) for orientation.