Expanded Core Curriculum for Students with Vision Impairments

The goal of education is to prepare students to participate in society, and for most people, vision is fundamental to learning. For students with vision impairments, there may be limitations to learning including in the areas of concept development, language, movement, and other development. For this reason, children with vision impairments may need to learn to use alternative means and strategies for reading, writing, interacting socially, and performing various daily tasks.

It is important to remember that each child is a unique individual and their educational program needs to be tailored accordingly.

Educators define core (whole school) curriculum as the knowledge and skills taught by regular class and subject teachers during students’ primary and secondary schooling.

For students with vision impairments, experiences and concepts casually and incidentally learned by sighted students may need to be systematically and sequentially taught to students with vision impairments. Indeed, students with vision impairments may need instruction in a variety of specific skills – identified as the Expanded Core Curriculum.

The Expanded Core Curriculum refers to essential additional disability-specific skills for students with vision impairments. Students with vision impairments – low vision or blind – is unique, and so are the additional skills each student will require in order to achieve success in their educational setting.

Expanded Core Curriculum

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology, also known as access technology, is any device or service that increases participation, achievement or independence for a person with a disability. Assistive technology may include devices designed specifically for people with vision impairments, such as braille displays, electronic magnification, optical magnifiers and Daisy players. Access technology can also include an enlarged mouse pointer, devices with voice output, and commonly used aids such as white canes, visors and sunglasses.

The efficient use of assistive technology increases access to the core (whole school) curriculum and enables students with vision impairments to learn and participate along with their sighted peers.

Efficient use of assistive technology includes touch typing and the use of key commands. Training in the efficient use and maintenance of assistive technology and increases the potential for maximum involvement in all areas of curriculum and in life.

  • Access technology for students with vision impairments – links to a range of options which may offer assistance to students with vision impairments including enlargement, voice output, scanning, electronic magnification, audio players and recorders, braille embossers
  • Checklists, cheat sheets & curriculum materials – for audio devices, braille options, magnification etc (coming soon)

Career Education

Career and vocational education focuses on skills, experiences, and adaptations necessary to understand, prepare for, and access the world of work.

Career and vocational education may need to be specifically designed to take into account students’ experiences and needs – general instruction may assume a basic knowledge of the world and of work based on prior visual experiences.

Career and vocational education for students with vision impairments should begin in early childhood. This can provide learners with vision impairments of all ages the opportunity to learn first-hand about the variety of work people do, through strategies such as role-playing, peer mentoring, and job shadowing.

Career education should be structured to address personal strengths and weaknesses, work habits, ethics, workplace social skills, vocational interests, personal options, and specific skills training programs. Older students may require instruction in employment-seeking skills, employment-keeping skills, financial management, adult service providers, training programs, etc. Work experience is very important for teens.

Unemployment and underemployment continue to be a leading issue facing adults with vision impairments, making this area of the expanded core curriculum vital for students of all ages.

Compensatory Skills

Students with vision impairments require compensatory skills in order to interact with the core curriculum.

Compensatory skills, including communication modes, involve the use of tools, adaptations, modifications and behaviours that maximise the student’s opportunity to interact with the learning environment.

The communication modes of students with vision impairments will vary depending on degree of functional vision, impact of additional impairments, and the task to be undertaken. Students may use braille, large print, regular print with or without optical aids, tactile graphics, object and/or tactile symbols, audio materials, or any combination of these.

Other compensatory skills may include, but are not limited to: writing adaptations, computer keyboarding, study and organisational skills, exam techniques, abacus, and accessing information through the auditory and tactile senses.

Low vision and blindness may result in the need for specialised instruction in concept development, spatial awareness and listening skills.

Independent Living

Independent living skills and personal management skills are an essential and often overlooked need area for students with vision impairments. This area encompasses all the tasks and functions people perform, according to their abilities, in order to live as independently as possible. These needs are varied and include among others, skills in personal hygiene and food preparation, money and banking, time management, home management, and organisation of personal belongings.

Orientation and Mobility

Orientation and Mobility is a vital area of learning for students with vision impairments. It emphasises the basic right of people who have vision impairments to travel as independently as possible, enjoying and learning to the greatest extent possible from the environment through which they are passing.

Students will need to learn about themselves and the environment in which they move from basic body image to independent travel in rural areas and busy cities. Developing body concepts, spatial awareness, orientation strategies and an understanding of the world are building blocks for age-appropriate, independent travel for students who are blind or who have low vision.

Students need to develop problem-solving strategies necessary to travel in familiar and unfamiliar school and community settings. Further, they may require training in specific skills such as cane use, road crossing, and use of public transport.

Optimising the use of residual vision may require the use of low-vision aids such as telescopes and sunglasses, or strategies such as wearing hats or visors to reduce glare.

For further information regarding Orientation and Mobility services for children, contact:

Recreation and Leisure

Recreation and leisure skills are important for quality of life during the school years and beyond. Recreation and leisure skills may need to be deliberately planned and taught to students with vision impairments.

With adaptations, modifications and safety considerations, students who are blind or have low vision can participate in many of the same individual and group activities enjoyed by their sighted peers. Modifications can be as simple as:

  • playing tennis with a larger ball for a student with low vision
  • using a T to bat from rather than pitching the ball in baseball
  • running with a sighted guide, each holding one end of a shared length of rope OR
  • under-inflating a ball so that it is easier to catch

In addition to traditional games and activities which can be played, with adaptions or modifications, by people with vision impairments, there are also blindness-specific games such as Goalball, Swish and Blind Cricket etc, which are designed to be played with low or no vision. Australia fields international teams in each of these sports and Goalball is a Paralympic sport.

Basic motor skills, as well as cooperative play strategies, may need to be taught in a specific manner in order to maximise success. Students may benefit from exposure to a healthy balance of solitary, social, passive and physical activities.

Students should be aware of local, state and national organisations that promote inclusive recreation, leisure and sporting activities for people with vision and other impairments. A high correlation has been shown between recreation experiences, satisfaction with life, self-esteem and success in the workforce.

Self-determination

Self-determination encompasses defining and achieving goals based on a foundation of knowing and valuing oneself. It comprises a knowledge of self and others, personal management, effective communication, self-advocacy and advocacy within systems, decision-making, goal-setting and problem-solving.

Self-determination may be as basic as making choices but may also include accepting and declining help, managing equipment breakdowns, disclosing vision impairment to a future employer and dealing effectively with bullying.

Sensory Efficiency

Visual efficiency skills refer to the manner, technique or approach a student uses to complete a visual task as effectively and efficiently as possible. With thorough, systematic training, most students with functional vision can learn to use their remaining vision better and more efficiently.

Using the best strategies to maximise acuity levels is one component of efficient visual functioning. Interpreting visual information is another component. Efficient use of vision, aided by optical and non-optical aids and strategies, correlates highly with success in the classroom. Students can learn about their eye condition and how it affects visual tasks, what aids and strategies are most useful, and how to explain their visual needs to others. Efficient study skills, exam techniques and management of visual fatigue can also assist.

  • the Statewide Vision Resource Centre has published a comprehensive resource for teaching visual skills – download Visual skills: A curriculum guide (coming soon)
  • vision fatigue – signs, strategies etc
  • visual perceptual skills – is a great resource for free downloadable worksheets

Social Interaction

Effective social interaction skills are essential for students with vision impairments. Sighted children and adults have learned almost all their social skills by visually observing other people and behaving in socially appropriate ways based on that information. Individuals who are blind or who have low vision may not be able to learn the skills of social interaction in this casual and incidental fashion. They may require thorough, careful, conscious, and sequential teaching.

Effective social interaction skills enable the student to participate in healthy and safe social relationships, seek information to solve problems, and participate in recreation/leisure activities.

Understanding the role of body language, facial expressions, gestures and vocal tones is especially important when the visual cues cannot be used.

Students with vision impairments need to be effective self-advocates. They should be able to accept or decline help graciously. Instruction in these skills may mean the difference between social isolation and a satisfying and fulfilling life as an adult.

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