I have spent the past five years teaching students who are blind and
visually impaired. My experiences helping these students access the
general education curriculum using braille, large print, and assistive
technology have led me to think deeply about the the options all
students have to access information in the classroom. In order to learn
about how to provide all students with more engaging lessons using a
variety of sensory modalities, I attended the Universal Design for
For context, federal laws (IDEA, NCLB) require states to provide learners with
diverse needs—especially those with disabilities—opportunities to access
and achieve progress in the general education curriculum. However,
providing equal access involves more than supplying every student with a
textbook or a computer. Educators must ensure that the curriculum is
cognitively challenging and that all students are actively engaged in
learning and appropriately supported to reduce barriers to the
curriculum while maintaining high achievement.
Universal Design for Learning is a practice-oriented program, helping to
connect and align efforts at three organizational levels: classroom,
school and district. The UDL approach considers the variability of all
learners and offers educational methods and materials that eliminate
costly, cumbersome and after-the-fact adaptations. It requires the
collaboration of experts in teaching, educational administration,
policymaking, technology and publishing, and provides a blueprint for
creating flexible goals, methods, materials and assessments that enable
all students to succeed in the classroom.
This institute was held at the Harvard School of Education in Cambridge, MA. It was designed to enable
educators to acquire practical strategies to implement differentiated
instruction using a UDL framework in the classroom. My experiences at the UDL Institute allowed me to consider sensory
modalities and learning styles in new ways. I created strategies to use
in elementary and high school classrooms in order to more fully engage a
wide range of learners.
providing access to accessible
allowing the use of digital books and screen reading programs,
providing hands-on learning materials for all students to increase
I was able to meet educators and administrators from across
the country working toward a common goal of improving their schools
using UDL principles while being instructed by the leaders in UDL
research: Grace Meo, Tom Hehir and David Rose.
From a personal/professional perspective, my fellowship allowed me to problem solve and strategize with other educators
in order to find UDL solutions to many common classroom issues students
who are blind and visually impaired face.
I was encouraged to think about how all students could benefit
from adaptations made for students with visual impairments, such as
The opportunity to meet some of the leading researchers and policy makers in the field of special education was special, as was meeting leaders of schools implementing model inclusion programs and and learn why these programs are working.
Within Eanes School District, the UDL model now adds to existing differentiated instructional practices that teachers know by helping them reframe their thinking about
options to receive and produce work in class. We also added to the existing iPad initiative by encouraging multi-sensory options for completing classwork and broadening understanding of what assessment looks like. And the focus on learning differences of all helps promote a positive self-image for students in special education.
Students who are visually impaired are often the only students using other learning tools such as assistive technology, which can isolate them from their peers and make them feel less a part of the classroom community. A priority for classroom structures post-fellowship is to create environments where students feel a greater sense of community with their peers. My hope is that students who must use an alternate means of access will feel more comfortable during class. They will experience better social interaction with peers and have an increased sense that all students have different learning needs. Additionally, my hope is to make general educators more comfortable working with students who are visually impaired and to broaden their thinking about the range of options present in lesson design.
You can learn more about the Texas School for the Blind and Visually impaired on its website, Facebook and Twitter pages.
I hung out with some cool kids and incredibly inspiring teachers at the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, in Austin, to learn how smartphones are changing what its like to be blind. For WNYC’s Note to Self.
If you’re thinking about a good place to help out this coming fall in Austin, a great opportunity to consider is at the TX School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
This article on my news feed about blind twins Nikki and Kendal reminded me of this impressive school along 45th St. in Austin and the minor times I got to help out there–definitely a very fascinating experience and a place that I felt was commonly overlooked.
TSBVI is a public school for students that are partially to fully blind, housing students ages 6 to 21 during the week from areas all over Texas. The large campus offers an enriching environment for students to learn and opportunities for the community to be volunteers in classes like swimming and P.E., math, science and music tutors, and as personal guides while grocery shopping or helping with tasks such as reading the students’ mail for them.
The school provides comfortable settings for students to grow socially as well– their own prom, plays, student council, and an array of sports like track and field, cheerleading and goalball, a game with a three-pound ball containing bells where blindfolds are worn to even the playing field.
Gloria, the Director of Community Resources at TSBVI, says that volunteers hear about TSBVI every semester only by word-of-mouth or through fulfilling requirements for campus classes. Organizations like Social Cycling ATX have also had events like tandem biking with TSBVI students.