Sex Education for Students who are Blind or Visually Impaired

Unfortunately, many students who are blind or severely visually impaired are not afforded the same level of sex education as their sighted peers. One problem is that high quality sex education instruction includes the use of pictures in textbooks and videos. Obviously, print pictures are not accessible to students who are blind or severely visually impaired. The pictures must be rendered into forms that the students can comprehend.

Many people, including some teachers, mistakenly believe that merely describing the images verbally is enough for people with visual impairments to understand pictures.  This isn’t the case.  We know that when a picture is verbally described to a person who is blind and then the person who is blind is shown several objects which resemble the picture, and only one of the objects is actually the object being shown, the person who is blind will struggle to pick the right object consistently when using their sense of touch and attempting to follow the description of the object.

Others think that making raised line drawings of the pictures for the youngster to examine with their fingers is adequate. But we know that people who are blind struggle to interpret the raised line drawings without sighted support.  We also know that while a 3-dimensional object presented in raised lines can be accurately understood by those who have sight, the same is not true for persons using their fingers to examine the raised lines. This is because when 3-dimensional objects are represented using lines on a two-dimensional plane, a flat surface, which is completely a visual concept. The use of vision and subtle visual cues like perspective and shading and relative size all combine to enable sighted people to view pictures of 3-dimensional object accurately.  The sense of touch cannot be used to interpret all of those visual supports representing a 3-dimensional object because the different tactile graphics would overlap each other making the line-drawing unreadable. In other words, a two-dimensional representation of a 3-dimensioal object is a completely visual concept that does not lend itself to interpretation by touch.

This means that if we want children and youth with visual impairments to really understand what those pictures in health class are conveying, the pictures of sexually-oriented structures commonly used in sex education should be displayed as 3-dimensional objects. But we also know that many people are sensitive about talking about human reproduction and health. For example, some people think that the use of anatomically correct models of male and female genitalia is improper in the school setting.  Some people are uncomfortable with using clinical terminology to describe human anatomy.  When we are talking about the educational needs of people who are blind, we have to recognize their need for accurate and accessible information about their own bodies and health.  Thus, when it comes to sex education, parents should insist on the use of anatomically-correct models to make certain that their child has the same access to the information as their sighted friends. Parents can assure that their child who is engaged in the school’s sex education program has equal access to the information by talking with their child’s teachers and making certain anatomically-correct 3-dimensional models are used.  They can also ask their child’s educational team get a copy of a book published by the American Printing House for the Blind on the topic of health education. The title of the book is Health Education for Students with Visual Impairments: A Guidebook for Teachers. The third chapter in the book describes in detail the proper methods for teaching students with visual impairments who are in sex education classes.  Highly rated by those who have used it, the guidebook can be purchased for $89 by calling APH at 800-233-1839. You can check it out on the APH website.

APH Health Education for Students With Visual Impairments

Learn more about this important health education topic and Health Education for Students with Visual Impairments: A Guidebook for Teachers by joining authors Drs. Gaylen Kapperman and Stacy Kelly for a Family Connect Webinar How Can Parents and Caregivers of Students with Visual Impairments Make Certain That Their Student Receives Meaningful Sex Education on October 29, 2020 at_3:30pm – 5:00pm Eastern, Registration is free.