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General tips for students' benefit

Navigation in the building and classroom.

Find out if the student is sensitive to noise.

Individuals who are blind rely on sound for navigation and understanding the environment they are in. For example, walking into Brown hall, this is an audio map of what a blind person might hear.

Once you walk through the doors, you are assaulted by the sound of voices coming from your left. Straight in front of you, you can hear someone rehearsing in 129, but the sound appears louder from diagonally to the right, so you are aware that the door is open and that there is a wall in front of you.
As you take your first two steps, the sound opens up on your right, so you are aware of an opening off that way, realizing that it is a stairway going up as someone walks down.
Turning left, you wade into the sea of people, dodging bodies and backpacks and instrument cases. the sound of people talking bounces off the walls on your left and right, and when the echo changes you turn left.
The echo changes so you know you're at the stairwell so you turn left again and enter it.
Logic states that the stairs going up, which you are looking for, would be on the right hand side, so you move that way narrowly avoiding a stream of people just leaving a class.
Walking up the stairs is easy because you find the railing, and follow it.
as you finish walking up the stairs, you hear the opening to the left so you are aware of the doorway, but as you step to the left to go through, you step in a bucket placed there to catch water from a leaky roof.

this can be difficult in music classes sometimes because there sometimes is a sound overload which will confuse the student. It will lead to frustration. If the student is more sensitive, getting ear plugs can help. Also, show them a way to get away from speakers, trumpet players, or whatever the source of the overload is.
Keep in mind that sensitivity to sound can vary, and the way people cope will be different.

Now, what was that about the bucket?

consistency within the classroom.

That bucket that I mentioned in the audio map above is one example of what can happen due to unexpected change. Almost as a rule, band rooms change configuration regularly, and obstacles are constantly shifting (especially in percussion). My suggestion is, don't move things if at all possible, and if it is necessary, let the student know ahead of time.
This tendency towards consistency has sometimes lead people to believe that visual impairment is linked to autism.
However, think of it as though you drive the same way to work or school every day. For three years it's the same, then one day, there's a detour.
Now, after you get used to the detour you end up in some strange parallel universe and all the roads and directions are scrambled. Are you frustrated yet?

teaching tips

lecture time, or not playing time

When at the board, avoid the following phrases.

If you think about it, the reason why those are bad things to say are obvious, so let's move on.

describing what you are writing

Say what you are writing on the board. Also, some students who are blind may be visual/tactual learners, so maybe give them a large print or Braille handout as the situation warrants.

playing time

In a general music setting, always either walk the student or have a student take them to their instrument if the layout has changed. Otherwise, after a few times, they should be able to get the hang of the route themselves.
If they are playing an orf instrument, during the younger years, take off the unused bars, but as they grow older and become familiar with the instrument, it's my opinion that removing the bars is detrimental to performance enhancement, especially when it's not necessary for the other students to do the same.
Model hand-over-hand for mallet grip, and model what they will play. Also, try and get resources to get Braille music as soon as possible so they can read along.


Don't grade any differently because of visual impairment, but be flexible for certain situations. For example:


In a public school it isn't as difficult, but it is still an issue that researching a topic takes a lot longer for a visually impaired student. There are two main reasons why this is the case.
  1. the student takes longer to read Braille or large print (this is often the case).
  2. If the student has a reader, the reader may not know enough about the subject matter and/or the assignment to adequately help the student.

sometimes the amount of time researching the subject is so much more involved than the teacher expects for the assignment, and perhaps that the point of the assignment could get done a different way, such as working with a partner, or if that's not an option, as an alternative assignment that is less a lesson on research skills and more on the subject matter.

social behavior

A lot of social interaction is visual, and sometimes a student who is visually impaired may not pick up on a social cue. If an inappropriate behavior occurs, make sure to address it privately with the student.

interactions between students

Younger students will often make fun of things they don't understand or things that are different, so the best way to avoid this is to inform the class, with the student's permission, about the disability. Also, any adaptations or modifications that are made, try not to make so obviously to the rest of the class.

With older students, they tend to ignore what they don't understand or what is different. This can result in deeper problems as the student becomes a teenager, studies, which I was unable to see completely, showed that teenagers who were blind had a higher risk of emotional disorders. Take this scenario for example.

It's Friday night. Adam is blind and has very few sighted friends. As he leaves school on the special bus that drives him home, which is outside the district and 30 miles away, he thinks about what he's going to do tonight.
Adam is a Junior in high school and all the people he knows have their license, so he figures he might try asking someone to do something.
He looks up his acquaintance John Smith in the school directory, and dials the number.

"Hey, John, want to hang out?"

"Yo, hey Adam, Sure, can you meet me up by school?"

"Umm, no, my parents are gone and I don't have a ride, can you pick me up?"

"Uhh... You live far away, right?"

"Not that far, just half an hour."

"Ahh, sorry dude, it's too far."

Now after it is repeated several times, Adam will feel awkward about asking people to do things, and eventually, he will just stop.
So, as an educator, how can you enter into the students' social lives and try and correct this?
well, the thing that comes to mind is to really just work a lot on group projects. After all, an ensemble is a team and to work well together we should all know each other, right?
Just put the students in a situation where they need to interact in the classroom and they will transfer it out of the classroom, hopefully.

materials a visually impaired student might have

a student who is totally blind or has no usable vision

A person who is completely blind will often have the following materials/aids in the classroom.

the cane

the cane is what most students who are blind will use for navigation. DO NOT move or tamper with it without the student's permission. And no, it's not called a stick or rod.

Notetaker, braillewriter, or computer

The notetaker is basically a word processor and nothing more. The student will either use speech or a Braille display to read and edit work. A good way to compare it to something familiar is to a palm pilot.
The braillewriter is what most younger students will use. It is basically a typewriter, and It uses special heavy paper. It's also not very quiet.
With the new technology of this era, it's most likely that students will just bring a laptop that has a screen reader on it to take notes and do in-class assignments.

Braille books

Braille books are huge, especially textbooks. One of two things will happen. either the book will be stored in the resource room, or they will be stored in the classroom.
Personally, I preferred my books in the classroom because when I needed to switch volumes I didn't have to go back to another room to go find it. Just to put it in perspective, the average textbook will have anywhere from five to forty volumes, and the Braille to print ratio is about three to one, so three Braille pages is approximately one page of print.

A partial, or a student who has some usable vision

They may use the following within the classroom depending on level of vision.

large print books

These books are not as cumbersome as Braille books, but they are larger and often will come in several volumes. It is beneficial to keep the book in the classroom as well.


This is a device that is basically a binocular cut in half. they use it to focus on things more clearly, however it is recommended that they sit near the front so they can see the board.


This is basically a TV monitor with a magnifying glass attached. the student will use this to read handouts, books, or whatever they can put under it that needs reading. It allows them to change contrast, magnify, and focus on what they need to focus on.

Frequently asked questions

  1. How many fingers am I holding up?

  2. What can you see?

  3. Do you dream?

  4. Do you dream in color?

  5. Do you know sign language?

  6. How do you do that when you're blind?

other resources

Here are some links that will take you to some places that will help you find out more. Music Education Network for the Visually impaired homepage where you can find out more about Braille music. National Federation for the blind
note: NFB material I personally don't find the best, but some people think that the NFB way is the only way. Some stuff is good, some isn't, so just close your eyes and see if it's something you would like. American council of the blind Freedom Scientifics� homepage Homepage of Human ware, another technology site.

Hopefully that got you started. I found a lot by just googling as well, but those are the main sites that you may want to visit. also feel free to email me if you have any questions.

This document was completed on Sonday, April 15, 2007 at 11:00 PM by Michael Grunze
Edited slightly by Aaron T. Spears on April 16, 2007 at 10:46 PM
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