Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Overview of English Language Learners

Is the student already proficient in another language?

Young girl who is blind stands facing female instructor at close distance.

Students with limited English proficiency may need additional support to develop English language literacy.  Instructional strategies will depend on whether or not the student is proficient in another language already.  For example, if a student is able to read and write in Spanish (large print or braille), he or she will have different needs than a student who is not yet literate in any language.  In addition, students with deafblindness whose first language is ASL (American Sign Language) will have different requirements.  Since braille instruction is based on materials that are in English, the staff need to be sure that the vocabulary and language which are used in instructing braille are appropriate for the student.

What is the student's cultural background?

Instructional programs must take into account the needs of children with limited English proficiency.  It may be necessary to adapt materials to reflect the experiences of children who have been raised in different cultures or with very different backgrounds.  For example, a story focusing on a rocket ship or an elephant may have little or no meaning for a child who has had no previous exposure to these things. The culture and values of minority groups must be given respect and understanding in the educational program.

Should ELL students be taught contracted or uncontracted braille?

Students who are learning English as a second language may initially need to use uncontracted braille.  In her article Reading for Everyone: Expanding Literacy Options Cyral Miller points out that "these students rely on their knowledge of a written language they have already learned, and may become confused by needing to master new symbols and writing rules in addition to the new vocabulary. For some of these students, alphabetic braille was described as a gateway to literacy; a successful entry point from which they could move on to fully contracted Grade 2 Braille."


Is it better to teach a student braille in her native language or to introduce Unified English Braille (UEB) right away?

  • the student's age
  • command of English
  • reading level in native language
  • other learning difficulties

How can we address so many different needs when a student is blind and also an English Language Learner?

It is especially important to work closely as a team when there are so many different specialists involved.  For a student who is an English Language Learner with a visual impairment,  there may be a TVI (Teacher of the Blind and Visually Impaired), a Teacher of English as a Foreign Language, a reading specialist, a special education teacher, and a general education teacher all participating on the educational team.

Points to remember:

  • The child is a child first!  A student who is an English Language Learner and who also happens to be blind or visually impaired will have most likely have complex educational needs.
  • Someone needs to be monitoring progress.  If the student is not making progress, it is essential that all members of the team meet to plan a more effective program that meets his or her individual needs.
  • There should be a primary case manager or person who is responsible for coordinating the pieces of the student's program.  This person should pull the team together on a regular basis and be sure that there is good communication among all people working with the child.

Are children who are deaf considered to be English Language Learners?

Some children with deafblindness are fluent in American Sign Language (ASL) and this is considered to be their first language.  ASL is a different language from English and, thus, materials in English should be at the appropriate level for the student.

For more information, see ASL/English Bilingual Programming and Early Childhood Education  from The Laurent Clerc National Deaf Education Center at Gallaudet University.

Is braille the same in all different languages?

World Braille Usage

World Braille Usage includes 133 languages that have been transcribed into 137 different braille alphabet and punctuation codes, and represents 142 countries.

What issues are important when teaching students of multi-cultural backgrounds?

It is important to teach all students with understanding and respect, and this is especially important when working with students of diverse backgrounds.  Personnel Preparation programs should seek to include sensitivity and awareness to multicultural issues in the training of teachers.