Accessing Academic Classes for Teenagers
Your child who is blind or low vision needs to develop increasing independence in all aspects of life. This includes independence in completing schoolwork. Having appropriate materials and tools needed to carry out assignments on their own is essential to becoming a self-sufficient individual as well as for academic success.
Moving on to Middle and High School
As your child moves on to middle school and then high school, schoolwork becomes increasingly complicated. Your teenager will be dealing with classes in a number of different subject areas. Furthermore, your child will likely have a different teacher for each subject. And, as the subjects become more advanced, the reading and other materials they need to master tend to become longer and more complex.
Middle and high school subjects often contain more math and science symbols, graphs, and charts that have strictly visual components. These often need to be adapted for someone who is blind or has low vision. It’s important to ensure your child has access to the complete curriculum—the teaching materials and methods the general education teachers use to provide instruction in the classroom. This can be challenging.
Your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) will need to work closely with the classroom teachers to make sure your child will have access to the same materials, classroom activities, and information their classmates do at the same time. This way they have the same opportunities to learn as their peers. Getting this accomplished in a timely fashion, however, requires cooperation and communication from all parties concerned.
In addition, you and your child may have to work closely with classroom teachers to be sure they have the same high expectations you have for your child’s academic success. If your child wants to go on to college, they will need to complete, at a minimum, the standard high school core curriculum, which includes the following subject areas:
- English—4 years
- Mathematics—3 to 4 years
- History—2 years
- Social Studies—2 years
- Science—2 to 3 years
- Foreign Language—2 years
Each area of the high school curriculum can be adapted for students who are blind or low vision.
Unless there are special circumstances, your child has likely mastered the fundamentals of reading. In English classes, students will most likely be reading novels, plays, and short stories of different genres. They’ll have reading for other classes as well. The materials needed to be read may be made available in several formats, including:
- Standard print
- Standard print using optical devices
- Large print
- Audio format, either played on an MP3 player, a computer, or a portable notetaker or personal digital assistant (PDA)
- Electronic format to be used on a computer as enlarged text, braille output, or auditory output
(See Overview of Alternate Media and the Technology section for more information.)
Access to Books and Reading Materials
Some teens prefer to have reading materials in more than one format so that they can choose which option to use at any given time. Your teen with low vision may be able to read a book in standard print when using a video magnifier (sometimes referred to as a Closed-Circuit Television, CCTV). However, their reading speed using this method may be significantly slower than that of sighted classmates. Therefore, your child might choose to listen to a recording of the book so that they can move more quickly through the material. Your child may then use a video magnifier to read the worksheet needing to be complete based on the book.
It is important to keep in mind that listening to material and reading it in either print or braille is not the same thing. They require two different types of skills. As long as your teen has a solid foundation in reading, listening can be an excellent supplement. However, if your child relies solely on listening to gain access to information that exists in written form and can’t read print or braille, then your child will be limited when it comes to crucial everyday tasks that require literacy, such as reading a job application, a bank statement, or directions on a medicine bottle independently.
By high school, most teens have mastered the fundamentals of writing. They’re learning to refine their writing in classes such as English Composition. They also need to use writing to complete assignments for all of their other classes. Your teen who is blind or low vision has several options they can use when writing, both for personal use and for assignments. These include writing
- using pen and paper (with bold-lined paper and a dark marker);
- in braille;
- on a computer, which allows the user to print out what is written in either print or braille, as well as to share the information electronically; or
- on a portable notetaker or (PDA), using either a braille keyboard or a standard QWERTY keyboard, which can be connected to a computer to print or share the information.
Most people today use several forms of writing. You most likely use both pen and paper and a computer regularly. You may also take electronic and audio notes on a smartphone. Like you, your teenager needs to be proficient in different ways of writing so that they can choose the method that is best to use for any given task.
For many teens who are blind or low vision, math and science classes present the greatest challenges. Much of the information in math and science is presented visually. They use charts, graphs, symbols, and formulas. Despite the challenge, it’s important for your teenager to realize that a person who is blind or low vision can succeed in learning these subjects and can have a successful career in the math and science fields.
Your teen may understand math and science concepts more fully if the TVI previews them ahead of time. It is the responsibility of the math or science teacher to teach the concepts. However, the TVI may need to introduce your child to the material and the concepts that may be presented visually in the classroom. Your child can then understand concepts better when they’re taught to the entire class.
Here are some of the methods used to make math accessible to your student:
- The abacus is a tool for computing mathematical problems, including addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, decimals, and fractions. The abacus can serve as pen and paper for a student who is blind or low vision and should be one of several tools your child has in a personal “toolbox” of options to use for completing math assignments. The TVI can teach your child how to use it if they are not already proficient.
- A special braille code, called the Nemeth code, was invented for mathematics by Dr. Abraham Nemeth, who was blind and needed a way to write down high-level mathematical equations. The TVI will introduce new Nemeth code symbols or UEB math code symbols to your child, if your child reads braille, as they are needed for the material being taught. The TVI will also be responsible for preparing assignments and other materials for math class in Nemeth code for your child.
- Your child may use a corkboard with push pins and rubber bands to graph equations, or your child may use a talking scientific calculator to compute work.
- The TVI may bring in a model of an object the class is studying such as a volcano. Your child can better understand the location of craters or how lava flows.
- The TVI is responsible for preparing tactile graphics. Tactile graphics include representations of pictures and other visual items that your child can feel. They also include simplified or enlarged visual images of materials such as charts and graphs. Your child may have an assistant who works specifically on adapting materials. As noted earlier, the TVI will need to work closely with the classroom teacher to develop a system of communicating and transmitting the materials the class will be using so that they receive them with adequate time for preparing the adapted materials.
- Your child may use a talking scale, a test tube and beaker with large-print numbers, or a microscope connected to a video magnifier to view specimens. The TVI can bring in the appropriate tools that will make the curriculum more accessible for your child when your child receives information from the classroom teacher about what will be happening in upcoming lessons.
- Your teenager may need to work with a partner or a small group on some aspects of science class because they involve strictly visual elements or because they can be dangerous for your child to do alone. In this case, peers can assist your child in participating in the activity and with gathering the information needed to complete the assignment. Because science labs are often done with partners, this should not pose a problem.
Geography and History
For most teenagers who are blind or low vision, the challenging part of geography and history is the extensive use of maps. The TVI will need to provide the maps in an accessible format for your child. Tactile graphics may have raised markings or an enlarged or simplified visual representation. It is important that your child practices reading maps and other similar materials, such as pie charts, bar graphs, and timelines, so that they can use the information maps provide in completing assignments.
The TVI might also provide models to help your child grasp concepts. If the class is studying a historical event, the use of actual objects may help your child grasp the concepts better.
The TVI, the classroom teacher, and your child will need to work together to determine what adaptations your child needs to access the geography and history curriculum. The classroom teacher may show videos about different populations or wars during class time. If these are not available with audio description, they will need to be described to your child. The TVI can work with the classroom teacher or a few of your child’s classmates to help them understand how best to describe the visual material to your child.