Students with limited vision need a multisensory approach to learning. In addition to using their vision when it is effective and efficient, they should be encouraged to develop both listening skills and tactile skills.

To develop full literacy skills that will last throughout life, students with low vision should be taught to read and write both print and Braille. They must also develop the ability to determine which medium would be most appropriate for the task at hand. Instruction in Braille must be thorough. Only if the student gains sufficient speed and fluency can Braille be a realistic and efficient choice for a given task.

Braille instruction must begin as early as possible in the student’s education. Students who receive Braille instruction infrequently, such as two or three times a week, will not achieve fluency. Braille should not be treated as an isolated, irrelevant subject, but must be incorporated into the student’s curriculum and school day. The student should be expected to use Braille for the various subjects that he is studying. As the student matures, he should be able to choose whether to do a given task in print or in Braille based on efficiency.

Attitudes play a major role in determining what and how much a student learns. The TBS is the leader in shaping student and parent attitudes toward Braille. The attitudes of everyone in the school, from the administrator on down, are important. To maintain objectivity everyone needs to think about how their own attitudes or fears may influence their action. As Dr. Schroeder explained, research indicates that “Braille is more than a tool or means of literacy for the legally blind people who use it; it may be part of their identities as competent persons with disabilities.” He found that low vision adults who learned Braille had higher self-esteem and were more comfortable with their blindness than those who knew only print.

A low vision student will never achieve fluency in reading unless he can develop speed. Students who read both print and Braille should be expected to read on grade level. Setting up Braille pen pals and arranging for blind mentors are two ways that a TBS can provide additional practice in Braille reading and writing for their student. Immersion in Braille is crucial if the student is to become fluent in Braille reading and writing.

A discussion of future literacy needs should be a part of every IEP review for a student with low vision. Research demonstrates that partially sighted adults who use Braille are more likely to be employed than those who use large print. Since the purpose of education is to prepare each student for the future, it is most appropriate to review the student’s reading ability in light of future education and job needs.

The only sure thing in life is change. Education should prepare each student to meet life’s changes. In the following article, Dr. Eric Vasiliauskas, who has two blind sons, describes what happened when one of his boys experienced a rapid loss in vision. We hope that this article and this book helps other low vision students and their families be as prepared as possible to meet all of the challenges that the future may hold.


Here Today, Gone Tomorrow: The Day the Lights Went Out

By Eric Vasiliauskas

With his hands on his Braille notetaker, a preteen speaks into a microphone.
Because his parents insisted on early, intensive Braille instruction, a young Vejas Vasiliauskas holds his head high and engages his audience as he gives a speech using his Braille notetaker.

We always knew that there was a chance that our kids would lose their residual vision, most likely either from retinal detachment or progression of their glaucoma. Then last summer, the day before a long-awaited summer family get-away vacation, my elder son informed us that suddenly everything seemed darker. His local retinal specialist squeezed him in that afternoon and explained that the reason for the sudden darkening was a small retinal bleed and he reassured us that this would likely be self-limited and get better with time. It did seem to initially improve a bit, but never quite got back to normal.

Over the months that followed, he would experience intermittent flashes of light and at other times a transient sensation of a curtain being drawn or a light switch being turned off and then later on again. At first with each dramatic worsening, we would rush off to the university hospital to see one of his ophthalmologists, but as time went on these occurrences and fluctuations seemed to almost become routine. We searched for a reason, but there had been no obvious inciting event, nor trigger for the random fluctuations. After failed attempts with laser therapy, we were referred out of state to a world-renown retinal specialist to surgically address the particular issue.

The weekend before the surgery my wife and I sat down for a heart to heart talk with our 13½ year old. We discussed that there was a chance that the surgery might not work and that he could even lose his eye, in which case everything would then be completely dark. He calmly responded that he was aware of the possibility. He shared that his perspective was that what he was personally going through was easier than what some of his friends had gone through, before they lost their remaining vision and had to have their eyes removed.

He stated that he knew he had the skills to do well. He knows Braille; he reads well over 200 wpm and can type faster and more accurately on a Braille notetaker keyboard than I can on my QWERTY keyboard. He had attended summer NFB Buddy Programs where all the kids train and experience life under sleepshades for 3-4 weeks. There, he and his friends worked on a whole host of blindness skills and each time he returned home more confident and a better traveler. He thoughtfully reflected aloud, that if he lost his residual vision, he would just have to try harder and be more focused in areas where he needs more work.

Following the surgery, his vision initially stabilized somewhat, but in the weeks that followed his vision deteriorated. I remember getting a call at work one day. The lights had dimmed greatly once again, but this time they hadn’t come back on. It occurred in the midst of eighth grade English class. Our son thought that perhaps one of his classmates turned the lights off. He maintained his composure and sat through the rest of the class, but when he went outside afterwards, there was no change, that sunny Southern California afternoon. A few hours later, some light perception returned. As the weeks passed, it seemed increasingly likely that our son would indeed not only not regain his residual vision, but lose what little remained.

In the end, following a number of procedures, both in-state and out-of-state, and months of uncertainty, our 14-year-old’s remaining retina detached completely a few months ago. We always knew that there was a possibility of total vision loss, never-the-less the reality of it actually happening was a bit of a shock—it was no longer a theoretical possibility. Nearly a decade and a half after embarking on our blindness journey, and despite the collective best efforts of all—ours and his various eye specialists—just like some of his friends and acquaintances around the country, what vision he and they once had, is now gone.

My wife and I had a discussion with our son the evening that it became clear that what visual perception he had was permanently gone.

Imagine our surprise when he said that he felt that he was actually lucky. He felt glad that if he was destined to lose his residual vision, it was occurring now and not at some later time-point, explaining that he had met blind individuals who had lost their vision later in life, where the vision loss had a much bigger impact requiring retraining and necessitating the learning of new blindness skillsets at a later time when they can be more difficult to master.

He said he knew he would be fine.

He has the Braille skills.

He has the BrailleNote skills and is refining his computer skills.

He is academically a strong student.

After our talk that particular evening, he finished his homework.

Once his assignments were printed out, he picked up his slate & stylus and Brailled an identifying label of the front page of each assignment before filing them away in his backpack—just like any other night.

A few months have passed—we are preparing for his transition from middle school to high school.

He did not, and does not, feel lost, anxious, or depressed about the future.

I’m so glad we were proactive.

I’m so glad we pushed the Braille and technology skills early on when so many “experts” insisted that he was “too young” for this.

I'm so glad we pursued the extra O&M training.

I’m so glad we listened to Dr. Ruby Ryles and others in the NFB who encouraged us to send our son thousands of miles away for 3-4 weeks each of the last few summers to spend time with other blind kids and the blind counselors of the Buddy Programs in Louisiana and Minnesota where he learned he could perform activities of daily living, travel, and just have fun all under sleepshades—a setting in which the kids could not use the excuse of “I can't do it because I’m blind” for the friend or the counselor they would turn to was blind as well.

I can honestly say that from a functional standpoint, there is no noticeable difference in his academic or day-to-day performance now compared to last year. In fact his head positioning, body posture, and sense of truly accepting personal responsibility for the rest of his life have actually improved.

Rather than feeling distraught or sad, I must admit that I too feel so very lucky—for he has mastered his blindness skills to the level that “the day the lights went out” was in most ways not all that different than other days.

[Chapter Five]  [Contents]  [References]