What should Ms. Milton consider when planning her room?
Page 6: Helping Students Navigate the Classroom
It is valuable for students with visual disabilities to have an understanding of the layout of the classroom and its furniture, as well as of the skills necessary to move about the room safely.
Listen as Sharon Sacks discusses how teachers can alert students with visual disabilities to classroom transitions or changes in the physical environment (time: 0:52).
Sharon Sacks, PhD
Professor, CSU-LA Charter College of Education
Division of Special Education
The O&M Specialist
Consult with your O&M specialist regarding what level of independent movement you should expect for any given student with a visual impairment. Many students who are blind or visually impaired will learn to move independently in a safe and efficient manner. Often, O&M specialists will come before school starts and orient the students to the classroom and teach them how to travel to other points of significance within the school environment.
The O&M specialist should approach orientation to the classroom in a systematic manner. One common method is to teach the students to explore the perimeter of the room first to establish a reference point, to label each of the walls, and to note all points of significance along each wall. Then, the O&M specialist can continue with a pattern of systematic exploration for the interior of the room.
Sample tactile map of school hallway
Another method O&M specialists may use in conjunction with the above method or as an alternative approach is to create a tactile map for a student so that he or she can establish a better understanding of the “big picture” of the classroom layout and/or the school environment.
This is a sample tactile map of a school hallway. It is a white poster board with black rectangles connected to form the shape of the school. The bottom of the poster is labeled “Second Floor.” There is a north symbol in the top-left corner of the page, pointing to the left. Starting from the bottom, left-hand side of the poster there is a black, vertical rectangle labeled “D wing.” At the end of the D wing, in the middle of the page, is a long, horizontal rectangle that extends all the way to the right side of the poster. At the end of this horizontal rectangle is a protruding vertical rectangle labeled “B wing.” From the left halfway down the horizontal rectangle is a protruding vertical rectangle labeled “C wing.” Between C and B wings is a downward vertical rectangle labeled “A wing.” Throughout the hallway rectangles are yellow hash marks, gray circles, a few red rectangles, and yellow squares. Each of these symbols represents some portion of the hallway landscape. To summarize, starting from the left is D wing pointing down from the middle horizontal hallway, then C wing pointing up, A wing pointing down, and B wing pointing up.
Some commonly used techniques for safe travel are described below.
To increase safety during students’ independent movement, the O&M specialist may instruct students to use self-protective techniques, such as upper-body protective technique and lower-body protective technique.
Upper-body protective technique
Lower-body protective technique
Another technique the O&M specialist may teach students to use is trailing to locate pertinent information or destinations.
The Classroom Teacher
When the teacher needs to help students with visual impairments locate destinations within the classroom, it is important to resist the temptation to take the students by the hands or otherwise physically push, pull, or steer the students. It is beneficial for the teacher to encourage the students to move independently—at their ability level—about the classroom to conduct various activities or gather materials.
First grade teacher
Listen as Betty Hurst, an elementary teacher in Nashville, TN, discusses her experience helping a blind student navigate the classroom (time: 1:10).
Often, verbal directions assist students in locating materials or destinations within the classroom. When using verbal directions, it is important to use clear and precise terms to aid students’ orientation. The following are a few tips to consider when giving verbal directions.
Specific directions, considering students’ current levels of spatial understanding. Some examples, from simple to more complex, include:
- Directionality/laterality phrases
- The bookshelves are to your left.
- Your spoon is directly to the right of your plate.
- Positional terms, using prepositions
- The storage cabinet is next to the bookshelves.
- Evan’s desk is in between Emily’s desk and John’s desk.
- The chalkboard is 3 feet in front of you.
- Clock-face directions
- Your water glass is placed in front of you at 1 o’clock.
- The bathroom door is 90 degrees to your right.
- Compass directions
- Exit the classroom through the south door.
- The teacher’s desk is in the northwest corner of the room.
Vague directions and physical gestures. Specific examples of what to avoid include:
- Using vague phrases such as “over there” or “right by you” or “look out!”
- These are not specific enough to provide the direction that students with blindness or other visual disabilities need.
- Pointing to objects or directions
- If you must, be sure to give clear verbal directions, too.
- Having the student count steps
- Although the general population (or perhaps just Hollywood) holds the common belief that counting steps is fundamental to the orientation of a person with a visual impairment, frequent use of counting steps between destinations is not an efficient method of developing spatial orientation.
Ms. Milton has learned a lot about Evan’s and Emily’s travel skills from the O&M specialist. Click here to test your knowledge of orientation and mobility skills.