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Optimizing Online Learning for Students with Deafblindness or Multiple Disabilities

TSBVI teachers share tips for optimizing online learning for students with deafblindness or multiple disabilities, including ideas to create videos, reflection, connection, and identification of preferred sensory channels.

and by Sarah Steele

As a follow up to our last blog post Family Engagement During Remote Instruction of Students with Deafblindness and Multiple Disabilities, we wanted to share some strategies that we have found help to optimize online learning for students with Deafblindness or multiple disabilities.  This can be a difficult population to reach in a meaningful way through digital platforms, and much of the success of lessons and activities depends on the support of families and caregivers.  We have found that it is crucial to be respectful to the needs of individual families and sensitive to the challenges they are facing.  Ideally remote instruction can be a collaborative process, where teachers are working with families to identify goals and priorities to focus on in the home setting, when students are learning from home.

Create Specific Videos Based on Family Requests

  • ASL (American Sign Language) vocabulary videos centered around what the student is doing at home

    • Develop an ASL library specifically for the student’s primary caregivers to use at home. I created a Google Document for my student’s family to write in the student’s daily activities every day. As I read through the student’s daily activities, I began developing a list of signs correlated with what the student is doing at home. I then worked with a staff member familiar with the family to make short ASL videos of signs for the family to use at home. The videos were shared in Google Drive folders, and we limited each new folder to 10 signs each week to not overwhelm them. We then held a weekly meeting during which we would go through the signs and practice together with the student.

Screenshot of ASL videos in Google Drive

  • Note: We recognize there are many ASL libraries for individuals to access, however, we wanted to design a library catered specifically to this student. We chose to have a familiar staff member whom the family also knows in order to make the videos more personal and more likely for the family to feel comfortable and connected to the content. 

Screenshot of samples from the ASL Basics

  • Video Example:  “Music” in ASL

The video below shows the ASL sign for the word “music”.  Sharing a basic ASL sign with the family will enable them to practice it and reinforce it with their child.

  • O&M Videos for home setting

    • Collaborate with the Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist on your student’s IEP team to develop tutorial videos for the family to access. Keep the videos short and sweet with a clear description of the skill being addressed. Some skills to consider; hand trailing, protective techniques, squaring off, and verbal cues that the student uses when traveling in their environment. 

Reflect on How It’s Going for Each Student

  • If it’s not going well, gather data, and consult with the student’s IEP team. What’s working? What’s not working? Are there communication barriers? How can we meet the primary caregivers where they are?

How Do You Connect with Students via Zoom?

  • It’s helpful to draw on previous experience with the student, to re-connect and to build up their stamina.  Building on relationships can help to make Zoom sessions more meaningful for the student.
  • Building rapport with a student who is new to you via Zoom can be tricky. I started by talking to the student’s primary caregiver at home. Find out about the student’s likes, dislikes, triggers, favorite songs, favorite sayings, favorite foods, what tools help the student calm their body when escalated, what doesn’t help the student, etc. Primary caregivers are a powerful tool in getting to know the new student as they likely know the student best.
  • Once you get to start interacting with the student via Zoom, observe and take notes just like you would in the classroom. We must take the time to observe and meet the student where they are in order to build a new relationship and positive rapport with the student.
  • Let the student lead the conversation and interaction! 

Preferred Sensory Channels

  • Use the child’s preferred sensory channel when pre-teaching.
  • Students have different levels of vision and hearing.  Students with severe hearing loss and no vision obviously have limited access to Zoom/remote instruction. Some thoughts to consider:

    • What is the student’s experience with the pragmatics of a Zoom/phone conversation? Students who are used to tactile sign language conversations may not respond to questions being relayed to them through Zoom because they likely have limited experience and practice with that type of conversation. 
    • What materials can be sent to the family that will help guide conversations and interactions between the student and their primary caregivers? Note: It’s important to be mindful of the number of materials that we send home. We do not want to overwhelm families with materials that we are used to managing by might feel intimidating for caregivers.  
  • Be aware that students also have different levels of independence and abilities to access technology.

Collage of Optimizing Online Learning

See also Family Engagement During Remote Instruction of Students with Deafblindness and Multiple Disabilities.

Object card ring with a tangible cup and spoon on one for eating representation.
Activity and strategy

Reference Objects for Students with Multiple Disabilities and Visual Impairments

SAM symbols and meaning title
Activity and strategy

SAM: Symbols and Meaning

Student making orange juice with a teacher using a juicing machine.
Activity and strategy

Non-Visual Multi-Sensory Experiences for Students with Multiple Disabilities