School for the Blind

The front entrance of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in Austin, Texas.

A yellow school bus bearing the name of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired along its side.

The Classroom

Students at schools for the blind and visually impaired learn subjects in the classroom similar to those of sighted students; the difference is that many utilize a wide range of assistive technologies as learning tools. According to the Council of Schools for the Blind, visually impaired students also learn an expanded curriculum of unique skills — such as mobility and orientation — that are used “to gain independence at the same level as their sighted peers.”

The Curriculum

The typical core curriculum at schools for the blind includes traditional subjects such as science, history, health, math, language arts, social students, economics, and fine arts. Educators of visually impaired students can adapt existing curricula for visually impaired learners in order to make them more accessible. Teachers may give students one-on-one attention, or help them with note taking and translation in the classroom. Classrooms in schools for blind often emphasize smaller group activities in order to maximize students’ ability to participate.

Schools for the blind differ from sighted schools in that they feature an expanded core curriculum consisting of independent living skills, social interaction, orientation, and mobility, as well as technological, career, and communication skills that are specific to the visually impaired. Educators teach students how to read braille, but they also teach life skills such as how to safely cross streets, navigate stairs, ride public transportation, and do basic household tasks such as laundry. The campus environments of many boarding schools for the blind also serve as part of the expanded curriculum: At the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, for instance, modular homes on campus serve not only as dormitories, but as an instructive environment in which to teach independent living.

The Technology

Assistive technologies are often crucial for students with visual impairments. While some textbooks may be written in braille, others may have to be translated ahead of time. Text magnifiers and braille note machines allow students to type in braille, and braille printers can translate the braille into text for sighted teachers to read. Reading materials may be printed in large print or braille. Most students use some type of electronic reader that may incorporate speech, or translate the text into “refreshable braille,” using a machine that raises the appropriate dots on a flat surface. In some cases, a low-vision student may use a combination of speech output devices, braille, and large print. Educators must also be attuned to student needs, as not all blind or visually impaired students require or can use the same assistive technologies.

Some assistive technologies used in schools for the visually impaired include:

Braille embosser
These devices print out computer-generated text as embossed braille characters on paper.

Closed-circuit television (CCTV)
CCTV systems use a video camera with a zoom lens to magnify text or images and display them on a monitor.

Portable note taker
Students type information on these portable pieces of equipment, which can then send files to a printer or save them to a computer. The files may then read using a speech synthesizer or refreshable braille display. Many of these devices have braille keyboards and built-in speech output.

Refreshable braille
Conventional braille is embossed permanently on paper, but refreshable braille presents mechanical and tactile print on a flat surface with holes, by raising small plastic pins to form the characters.

Screen magnifiers
Visually impaired readers use this software to magnify portions of computer screens.

Screen readers
These software programs convert text on a computer screen into speech or braille.

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