Students with visual impairments and multiple special needs require a multi-sensory approach to learning to develop and maintain skills and concepts

Many years ago, upon pulling up to a drive-thru banking machine, my then toddler stated confidently from the back seat that she would like to order a small French fries. Though telling of our dietary habits, it made me realise that she was learning incidentally through routines and experiences. Students with visual impairments and multiple special needs do not have these types of incidental learning experiences due to their sensory and/or motor impairments. This leaves the student with scattered skills and educators trying to figure out a way to fill in the missing pieces.

Each student has their own individual style of learning. This can be a combination of visual, tactual, auditory, olfactory, and movement. Students with visual impairments and multiple special needs require a multi-sensory approach to learning to develop and maintain skills and concepts. Educators are faced with the challenge to deliver curriculum, manage physical management plans, stay current with the latest technologies, perform assessments and complete data.

They must set the bar high for student achievement by believing that the student will not only meet this goal, but also exceed it. It is also the educators responsibility to deliver materials that match each student’s unique learning style. Combining materials and assistive technology tools created through the Universal Design for Learning and presenting content in different formats support the learner with visual impairments and multiple special needs.

Joy Zabala’s SETT Framework looks at the (S)tudent, (E)nvironment, (T)ask and (T)ools. The student’s team collaborates to determine assistive technology implementation and its effectiveness on student learning. Information gathered through the SETT Framework, such as student access method, learning medium, student preferences and learning environment, give educators a plan for delivering curriculum content and life skills.

There are two assistive technology tools that I use to deliver curriculum content and functional life skill topics to students with visual impairments and multiple special needs. These are SwitchIt! Maker 2 and ChooseIt! Maker 3 (CM3), both from Inclusive Technology. SwitchIt! Maker 2 is a self-authoring tool used to make switch-accessible, electronic books used on the computer. SwitchIt! Maker 2 also has a print option which is used to create adapted books.

CM3 is a subscription-based, on-line program that can be used on the computer or through apps on an Android or iPad. This program can be used to assess what the student already knows by creating pre-tests taken before each curricular unit. CM3 can also be used to make cause-and-effect, choice-making activities, games, and quizzes. Using these tools in combination creates a predictable routine and allows the student to focus on the content instead of the process.

Every educator needs that magic bag of tips and tricks that turns curricular content into a format that is accessible and user friendly for students.
Read on to find out how you turn all of this…

Various items purchased at local budget stores to support the curricular theme ‘Parts of the Plant’

Various items purchased at local budget stores to support the curricular theme ‘Parts of the Plant’

…into this!

Adapted Book created using the ‘Print Book’ feature in SwitchIt! Maker 2 software; Voice Output Communication device mounted with velcro on a cutting board with the use of an actual object (seed packet) used as a symbol; High Contrast Number Line created with foam core board, laminated number symbols with seeds for tactile numeral representation

Adapted Book created using the ‘Print Book’ feature in SwitchIt! Maker 2 software; Voice Output Communication device mounted with velcro on a cutting board with the use of an actual object (seed packet) used as a symbol; High Contrast Number Line created with foam core board, laminated number symbols with seeds for tactile numeral representation

SwitchIt! Maker 2
SwitchIt! Maker 2 software program has the features to create a range of print and electronic books relating to curricular themes. Auditory learners and students that use switches to access their world, can independently read curricular themed books in an electronic format. SwitchIt! Maker 2 offers a variety of features including the use of high contrast presentation, use of photographs, graphics, symbols, recorded voice, audio and video clips, and large print.

Using the ‘print book’ feature, high-contrast, adapted books can be created. Laminate each page to add Braille and textures for the tactile learner. Binding the book and adding ‘page fluffers’ (foam or other material that adds space between pages of a book to make pages easier to turn) support physical access needs. Adapted books can be presented on tilt boards, PVC frames or binders, placed in the student’s field of vision or within reach for tactile exploration.

Each student should have their own copy of the book presented in the medium that meets their learning style. The content of the book should be broken down to one main concept per page. For every concept, an object should be presented to reinforce the concept in its actual form or representation. It is suggested to create routines and read each book every day for at least a few weeks. Repeated exposure to the materials fills in the missing gaps created by the lack of incidental learning experiences.

‘Rock Cycle’ adapted book created in SwitchIt! Maker 2, printed and laminated. Main concepts reinforced by actual object, sight-word card, and symbol attached to VO device. Daily repeated exposure to support vocabulary development

‘Rock Cycle’ adapted book created in SwitchIt! Maker 2, printed and laminated. Main concepts reinforced by actual object, sight-word card, and symbol attached to VO device. Daily repeated exposure to support vocabulary development

Literacy Bins
Each page of the adapted book has a main concept (vocabulary word.) Each concept has an object or, when unattainable, an object representation, ie tap light used to represent the sun. For every concept an object from the Literacy Bin should be presented. The Literacy Bin holds objects that represent concepts in each unit book. Each student should have their own book and their own Literacy Bin. Each time the page is turned and the content is read, the object is retrieved from the bin and presented to the student. Repeated exposure helps reinforce that concept. Eventually these concepts become prior knowledge.

Adapted book created in SwitchIt! Maker 2, laminated and bound with binder rings. Tactile graphic representing the circle shape of the sun. Tap light used as an object representation. When possible always use actual objects. Objects kept in Literacy Bins

Adapted book created in SwitchIt! Maker 2, laminated and bound with binder rings. Tactile graphic representing the circle shape of the sun. Tap light used as an object representation. When possible always use actual objects. Objects kept in Literacy Bins

Sight Word Wall
The main concept (vocabulary word) from each page is also presented using sight word cards. These cards are created in each student’s reading medium. This could be large print, Braille, photograph, symbol or object representation. During the unit, sight words are kept in the Literacy Bin and are presented to the student by placing them on a tiltboard positioned by the book or computer. Students explore the word each time the page of the book is turned. This is repeated throughout the unit. Upon completion of the unit, sight word cards are placed on a wall and are made available when students need a reference to recall prior knowledge.

Sight-word wall displaying concept/vocabulary words from thematic curricular units. Cards are made with recycled items or inexpensive items bought in bulk from local bargain stores. Sight-word cards have the vocabulary word in print/Braille, symbol or object representation. Sight-word cards are presented every time the concept is presented in the book

Sight-word wall displaying concept/vocabulary words from thematic curricular units. Cards are made with recycled items or inexpensive items bought in bulk from local bargain stores. Sight-word cards have the vocabulary word in print/Braille, symbol or object representation. Sight-word cards are presented every time the concept is presented in the book

ChooseIt! Maker 3 (CM3)
CM3 is an extremely user friendly electronic, choice-making program. Cause-and-effect choice-making activities, along with games, assessments and quizzes can be made quickly and shared with those that have a subscription. CM3 is used during morning meeting to select calendar and schedule choices and during core curriculum class time. CM3 is used during reading class to answer comprehension questions and make choices. Teacher-made activities can be pulled up spontaneously through the CM3 App on the iPad or on a computer/dynamic display communication device. Students make choices by directly selecting the answer through touch or by switch scanning. This is a valuable tool used to monitor information that is being learned and evaluate which information needs to be taught.

Using a head switch to access programs such as SwitchIt! Maker 2 and CM3 this student actively participates by turning the pages of an electronic book, making choices and answering questions. During maths class the students are presented with a tactile pattern on a contrasting background and are asked ‘What comes next?’ Using the scanning feature in CM3 students can make choices to answer questions

Using a head switch to access programs such as SwitchIt! Maker 2 and CM3 this student actively participates by turning the pages of an electronic book, making choices and answering questions. During maths class the students are presented with a tactile pattern on a contrasting background and are asked ‘What comes next?’ Using the scanning feature in CM3 students can make choices to answer questions

Extension activities
Inclusive Technology also offers a variety of switch accessible software programs and apps. Many of the apps are used to support the monthly themed curricular units. These apps are switch accessible and can also be accessed through teacher-made, tactile overlays for the iPad. Teacher-created prop kits are also used in cooperative turn-taking activities to reinforce subtraction skills in apps such as ‘Five Speckled Frogs’. One student uses the iPad to play/read/sing each phrase while the other student ‘takes away’ one frog from the log, using the ‘Frogs on a log’ prop kit. This promotes active participation and reinforces skills being taught during the core curriculum subjects.

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About Contributors

Jennifer Keenan is a special educator/assistive technology specialist in Baltimore, USA where she works with children and young people who are blind or visually impaired, including those with multiple disabilities. She has over 20 years’ experience of working in the field of SEN and is author of VICurriculum.

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