vision, literacy and practice: adult educators' mini-grant projects addressing issues of vision and adult learning

The following projects were undertaken during a two-week period in November, 2003, as part of a larger national effort, supported by the National Foundation for the Blind, to connect adult educators to knowledge and resources pertaining to adult learners with vision impairments.

A copy of a report detailing the two workshops, (held November 7 and 21), from which these projects emerged, is available upon request. Workshops were designed and facilitated by Maria Elena Gonzalez, Sally Gabb and Janet Isserlis, in a collaboration between SABES Southest and LR/RI, and supported by the AFB.

Rita Brutto, Quincy Community Action Program, Unit on the eye and vision

Skills: Reading , some phonics, vocabulary and comprehension, writing, observing, noting cause and effect, drawing conclusions, dramatizing

Materials : Trade books (see resource list)

Sight by Laurence Pringle (available in QCAP and Thomas Crane Library, Quincy or Old Colony Network)

Eyeglasses by Margaret J. Goldstein (Thomas Crane Library and Old Colony Network)

For My Patient : Cataract, available from ophthalmologists' offices

Diabetes from A to Z from the American diabetes Association (Spanish language edition also available

Large paper (flip chart size), markers ,worksheets (included), mirrors , cardboard tubes from paper towels or toilet paper, magnifying glasses.

Internet Access

Unit Procedure Outline

Preview worksheet to determine students' individual level of current background knowledge

Brainstorm to determine group background knowledge--record on large paper and post

Vocabulary for Parts of the Eye worksheet phonics exercise for pronunciation and recognition. Use with Glossary

Glossary from Explore your Senses: Sight and Eyeglasses can be used with vocabulary sheet for independent work.

Read in Explore your Senses:Sight pages 6-16 Discuss , Use mirrors to identify parts of our own eyes.

Vocabulary for Vision and Eye Diseases: same as previous vocabulary worksheet

Internet, How Low Vision Persons See Things
and print outs 'Help For People with Impaired Vision' and 'Illuminating Solutions'

Read in Explore your senses: Sight pp 16-20 Or Eyeglasses 9-13 for vision

Hands on:

Experiment using cardboard tubes over one eye with the other shut to judge peripheral vision. Experiment with magnifying glasses and old eyeglasses looking for concave and convex lenses.

Look out the window at a building far away. Note the size it appears compared to real size. Discuss perspective.

Read Diabetes A to Z pages 67-71 for eye diseases (students with background in an area can read, otherwise, teacher should read to ABE students.) Discuss. Refer to chart made of original knowledge. What has been clarified? enhanced? corrected?

Study Sheet on all of above topics done in pairs, alone, group

Demonstrations of how to help a person with low vision: walking, at the dinner table, when approaching or introducing (SABES resources material available at QCAP)

Post papers containing names of all books put out for reading independently and have students write comments (ratings, etc.) graffiti style

Review worksheet can be used as evaluation tool

Resources for Vision

For My Patient: CATARACT, Pacific Medical Press, 1969, ISBN 0-9608 102-6-9
Summary: booklet given to cataract patients by their doctor, describes and illustrates parts of the eye, functions; the growth and removal of cataracts, surgical procedures, post op care and question and answer section

Sight / by Laurence Pringle, Benchmark Books, NY, 2000,ISBN (Explore your senses), ISBN 0-7640734-0
Included: bibliographical references, index and glossary. Summary: Describes parts of the eye and how they work: discusses such topics as color blindness, visual perception, eye care and more, Juvenile literature, approx GLE 4-6

Eyeglasses / by Margaret J. Goldstein, Carolrhodea Books Inc Mn,1997, ISBN 1-57505-001-3 Juvenile literature, approx GLE 4-5, -(household history); Includes index and glossary

Summary: discusses the history and development of eyeglasses; includes a brief explanation of how the eye works and the vision problems that glasses can correct.

Diabetes from A to Z , 4th edition what you need to know about diabetes, simply put, American Diabetes Association, Alexandria, VA, 2000, ISBN 1-58040-035-3(pbk), approx GLE 5-6+
includes index, numerous tables, diagrams, materials on prevention, disability rights, catalog of related books by Am. Diabetes Assoc. (popular works)

Addressing Issues of Disabilities in an ESOL Classroomx

Lisa Clark, Family Literacy Program,Pawtucket Public Library, Pawtucket, RI 02860, 401-725-9261

As has been noted both in the first workshop [of the two in this series] and the writings of Sylvie Kashden and Robby Barnes (Kaizen Program, Seattle), learners with blindness/visual impairments and other disabilities are not a common demographic in ESOL classrooms. This is not a case of unusually low incidence among the immigrant and refugee population, but instead a result of these individuals not seeking the services they need because of family and cultural pressures, fears, or lack of knowledge regarding their rights. Additionally, most ESOL program are understaffed and overbudgeted and may not provide prospective students with the proper tools and accommodations that would make the experience useful for the learner.

Although it would be ideal to find a way to serve every adult who needs English instruction, most ESOL programs, at least in Rhode Island, are not in a position to recruit students. Without a different perspective in the international (and native-born American) community, many teachers will not encounter students with visual impairments in their classrooms. Therefore, another approach to the issue of learning, vision, and practices is to address these issues in the classroom without waiting for visually-impaired students. Not only can teachers discuss the issues of disabilities and differences, but they can also educate students about the causes of these disabilities and the legal rights of people with disabilities.

There are many different ways to incorporate this topic into lesson themes that most ESOL instructors already teach. Unfortunately, it is difficult to find ESOL textbooks that include this kind of information, so the teacher may have to supplement the prescribed curriculum in traditional, textbook-based classes. Examples of lesson themes are:

  • children's schools - including the rights of children with disabilities to receive services and be mainstreamed as appropriate
  • health - causes of vision loss, vision loss prevention, the need for regular vision screenings/checkups, information about bilingual eye care professionals and resources for finding and using interpreters as necessary
  • civil rights and equality- include Americans with Disabilities Act in lessons on discrimination and equal rights
  • descriptions - expand the usual lessons on physical characteristics (blond, thin, etc.) to include vocabulary for describing physical differences (e.g. blind, deaf); descriptions for objects should include other characteristics besides appearance, e.g. smell, feel, weight, tactile activities with hidden items
  • culture - how are people with disabilities treated in different cultures? what expectations are there for these individuals? what services are provided for them?
  • advocacy - many classes are already involved in issues of advocacy, ranging from the need for a parking lot to more funding for adult education; advocacy can also include helping family and friends get the services to which they are entitled
  • giving directions - including egocentric (in relation to a person's position, e.g. "on your left") and exocentric (in relation to the world, "next to the bank") frames of reference, blindfold walks for braver students (especially children, in a family literacy setting)
  • Resources for Incorporating Issues of Disability in ESOL/Family Literacy

  • for the adults, there are easy readers, such as My Deaf Son (by Umtul Nisa) and Looking Forward (Inma Suarez), both published by Peppercorn Press, and learners can be encouraged to write about their own experiences for others to read
  • for the children, books such as Mom Can't See Me (Sally Hobart Alexander), My Friend Leslie(Maxine Rosenberg), I Have a Sister, My Sister is Deaf (Jeanne Whitehouse Peterson), Amy: The Story of a Deaf Child (Lou Ann Walker)
  • juvenile nonfiction series can be adapted for adults; series include Imagine from Rourke Press (titles include Imagine Being Blind, Imagine Being Paralyzed, and Imagine Having Epilepsy) and Don't Turn Away from Gareth Stevens Childrenšs Books (for example, Seeing in Special Ways: Children Living with Blindness and On Our Own Terms: Children Living with Physical Disabilities)
  • biographies of famous and important people with disabilities (Helen Keller, Louis Braille, etc.)
  • Note: Lisa will continue her work, through a research mini-grant; read about it here

    see also:,

    Tutoring Blind and Visually-Impaired ESL Students, KAIZEN PROGRAM for New English Learners with Visual Limitations

    Teaching English as a New Language to Visually Impaired and Blind ESL Students: Problems and Possibilities, Sylvie Kashdan , Robby Barnes , Kaizen Program for New English Learners with Visual Limitations and Cecilia Erin Walsh , St. James ESL Program.

    Danielle Conte and Allison Cathles, YMCA International Learning Center

    The YMCA International Learning Center serves ESOL students in the Fenway area of Boston, MA. Recently, for the first time since our program began, we are serving a student who is legally blind. This student inspired me to participate in the two-day workshop, Literacy, Vision, and Practices with intentions to help improve our program so that we may best serve this student in the area of ESOL as well as be prepared for future visually impaired students who enter our program. The following work came about out of our agency's interest to meet our students' needs. This is a work in progress that needs to be revised. There will also be a follow-up interview conducted. We are considering having this assessment translated but only after we consider who is designated to perform the assessment interview.

    The following is an oral assessment designed for students who are visually impaired. It is to be completed by the counselor or designated administrator. This is a confidential interview. No information will be released without the verbal or written consent of the student. This interview is given so that we may meet our student's needs and create the best learning environment for our student so that he/she may meet his/her ESOL learning goals. This interview is strictly voluntary. The student may choose not to answer any or all of the following questions.


    Interviewed by



    Are you legally blind? ________________________________________

    What is your diagnosed medical condition? ___________________________________________________________

    When were you diagnosed?

    How can we make your classroom experience better? (arrange the room, use different lighting, use different color handouts, etc.)

    Have you used recording devices in the classroom?

    If yes, how do you like using recording devices?

    If no, would you like to try using a recording device in the classroom?

    Have you accessed organizations for the blind? If yes, which ones?

    Is there anything we can help you with in terms of finding out information or contacting organizations?

    Are you interested in learning Braille?

    Have you used any computer programs that have worked for you? If yes, which ones?

    Is there anything you'd like us to know about you or about making your experience here a good one?

    Is there anything else you'd like to know about?

    Maureen Fleury and Arlene Silva - OCCC, Birdgewater State Hospital

    Servicing the Vision Impaired at M.C.I. Bridgewater

    In 1995, the librarian at the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Bridgewater, Massachusetts for the criminally insane wrote and obtained a twenty-six thousand dollar grant to procure materials which would service the legally blind and vision impaired patients at M.C.I. Bridgewater.

    Over the years. MCI Bridgewater has had at least fifteen patients who were either diagnosed as legally blind or vision impaired. In addition, many patients suffer from various vision problems due to the side-effects of certain pyschiatric medications. It should be noted that more research and investigation should be conducted into the short and long-term side effects that some medication might have on possible vision impairment.

    In light of these problems, the librarian was able to obtain the following materials and tools to assist these individuals and improve the quality of their lives:reading glasses, magnifying sheets, large print books, books on tape, large print texts, GED Braille materials on tape, the Aladdin Embassador Book Reader 3000 and two computer programs- The Open Book and Jaws Enlarging 5.0

    In conclusion, other resources are also available through the Perkins School for the Blind and the Industrial Braille Class at Bay State Correctional Center in Norfolk, MA.

    Submitted by: Maureen Fleury, Special Education Teacher (Old Colony C.C.)

    Student Profile at Bridgewater State Hospital

    Student X was dually diagnosed as mentally retarded/mentally ill at an early age. We have no record of how he became blind, but the patient claims he fell out of bed and became blind.

    He was declared legally blind at eleven years old. He was sent to the Fernald Green Blind Unit until he was sixteen years old. He was later sent to the Perkins School for the Blind from the age of sixteen to twenty-two. From there he was sent to a group home until the age of twenty-nine.

    At the age of 29, X committed his crime. He has been incarcerated by the Department of Corrections for over twenty-five years.

    During his incarceration, a counselor contacted the Massachusetts Commission for the Blind which supplied a tape player with talking books which he has used for many years.

    Today he has access to:
    - Specialized glasses
    - magnifying sheets for the Computer Lab large print books
    - Books on Tape
    - The Alladin Embassador Book Reader 3000
    - Two computer programs for the visually impaired

    *Due to CORI statutes, we may not provide confidential information on any specific inmate. The information provided is a compilation of students that have participated in my classes throughout my tenure with the DOC.

    Submitted by: Arlene Silva

    RFBD's Conversion to Digital Format: What does that mean??

    Andrea Henry, Disability Specialist, Bristol Community College developed a one-page document delineating upcoming changes ( to digital formats) in the materials produced by Recordings for Blind and Dyslexic

    Barbara J. Rose, BCC/TPS Adult Education, Taunton

    To answer the question: How do I assist a person who is legally blind to obtain an education and get their GED?

    The suggestion is for each program to keep on hand a list of resources for referral of students that may need accommodation to complete their goal.

    Barbara developed a very location-specific handbook, to be made available to staff and participants of the Head Start Program where she works, and also included, in her presentation, the outdated version of that handbook, previously made available to staff and students.

    Areas covered include:

    local hotlines
    abuse, domestic violence, victims of crime line, child care, food, health, housing, info/referral, legal , poison, substance abuse, addictions, suicide

    education, training
    Amercian Red Cross, local community colleges and adult learning centers, job training resources, library, career centers

    health care, health centers and clinics

    mental health, counseling


    social services
    family assistance/support, support groups, community services, adolescent services, parenting assistance

    financial assistance and resources
    heating assistance, food, social security, departments of housing, health and human resources


    government, advocacy and legal resources

    (Note: in many areas, resource books already exist - in print and/or on line. Having access to current information, particularly in areas related to vision and other dis/abilities is important to supporting adult learning and general functionning in communities).

    Vision, Literacy, and Practice Ngaio Schiff, SCALE Project

    I pursued two separate, vision-related issues here at SCALE.

    1) YALD Follow-up

    As a follow-up to assessment information obtained by LD Specialists participating in the YALD project at SCALE last year, I met with two students. I focused specifically on assessor recommendations pertaining to vision.

    Both students made eye examination appointments. One obtained a new prescription for glasses; the other was told that his vision is fine. However, his assessor described this second student as having issues with tracking and visual fatigue. I met with him and with his instructor. I contacted a K-12 Reading Specialist/Special Educator who gave me a Literacy Tool Box (from Benchmark Education 1-877-BENCHMK). This supplied the student with a variety of tools to help with tracking while reading text ­ a white cardboard wand, a red acetate overlay, and highlighters.[1 ] I asked him to experiment with them to see what was most helpful. I also xeroxed a class handout on various colored papers to see what might be most comfortable for this student.

    I asked the student if he would feel comfortable using the tools in class if he was the only one using such tools. The student responded positively during our meeting. In the interim, however, he expressed some discomfort with the attention we were giving him, saying that his eyes had been tested and that he could read fine. At our next meeting, we talked about his discomfort. I reassured him that, though we had only been given limited funds to work with various learning issues and that he had been one of those selected, many other people could benefit from the assessment and tools he had received. I told him that our goal was to provide similar help to everyone and that our work with him was a sort of test/preparation for a broader program. He relaxed then and said that blue paper worked best for him. Though he found the wand helpful, he said that he felt he could read fine without it, too.

    This experience confirmed my belief that concepts of universal design are essential to the classroom. In this case, if all students were asked about their learning style/preferences at the outset of class, and all students were being given colored handouts with a minimum of visual clutter and a medium to large sized font and also were encouraged to use a range of tools in class to assist them with reading, tracking, and reducing fatigue, everyone's needs could be met without stigmatizing any individual student. In the same way, teachers need to use the blackboard more effectively by writing clearly, and constantly erasing extraneous material. In some classes, teachers use color as a visual cue to signal transitions from one subject focus to another. All these techniques need to be combined to create a comfortable visual environment for students, whether they be low-vision, LD, or have simply worked a long day before coming to class.

    In the second half of the Literacy, Vision, and Practice workshop, Bob McGillivray, a Low Vision Specialist working with the Carroll Center, said that in order to pick up more subtle vision issues, such as tracking difficulties, a person would have to see a Behavioral Optomologist.

    He also confirmed that it's hard to separate issues that have to do with the function of the eye from issues that have to do with visual processing in the brain. Many of our students have issues with both.

    As a result of this work, I am curious to find out if there has been research in visual tracking vs. visual processing and in the relationship between visual tracking issues and other important literacy skills, such as previewing and scanning.

    2) ADA/GED Accommodations

    I met with the ADA Coordinator/GED Chief Examiner to discuss the various accommodations available to blind and low-vision test takers. Students must have documentation of their disability. Blind students are generally referred to the Test Center from Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission or from a school such as the Perkins School for the Blind.

    Blind/low vision students can use an audio-cassette version of the test or a large-print version. Testers offer assistance with the cassette if necessary. A scribe is provided to write the student's answers on the answer sheet. Sometimes students write their own answers on a sheet of paper, and these are later transcribed onto the answer sheet so that the sheet can be scanned. Occasionally, students can make a case for a reader, but this is unusual.

    I was struck by the difficulties of this arrangement. Imagine having to rewind and fast forward over and over again trying to find from a passage the information you need to answer a question. Surely, it would be easier with a reader, as you could say, "Will you re-read the section aboutŠ.?"

    I was surprised that, when the GED was overhauled in 2000, it was not distributed to test centers as a CD with audio instructions and text-to-speech narration. So much software is available to make things easier to use, it seems that this would be much more adaptable for individual users' needs. One student might have the text on a computer screen adjusted to a large font and words highlighted individually as they're read, another might see better with white text on a black background. The idea that one size fits all in accommodation is erroneous and outdated.

    As with all accommodations, one of the goals should be to allow for as much autonomy as possible. An audio cassette -- even with an audio cue signal of beeps, would seem extremely cumbersome for anyone to use for the purposes of going back and forth through the text, and would make that person dependent upon a tester/assistant.

    I was disappointed to learn how little we've advanced, and how seldom technology is employed artfully to provide accessibility while optimizing the independence of the user.

    1) The Reading Specialist said that students using the wand or similar tracking paper should attempt to use it above the line they're reading or to hold it two lines below the line they're reading in order to encourage the eyes to continue to move ahead through continuous text.

    Eugenia White and Diane McManus are co-constructing a website designed to bring together, in accessible format, resources for and about adults with vision impairments, including tips for the blind. Upon completion of the site, a link will be provided.

    page created November 28, 2003

    updated December 9, 2003

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