There are a number of ways in which spelling may pose special problems for students who are blind or visually impaired:
- limited access to written words
- braille contractions are based on whole or partial words, and do not follow phonetic structure
- decreased exposure to writing process activities, in which "invented" spelling is explored
- word patterns may be less obvious at a quick glance
The Importance of Access to Written Words
Students with visual impairments may have more difficulty spelling than their sighted peers because they may have had less exposure to written words. Some tips for increasing access to written words:
- Label things in the environment in large print and braille. This includes putting the child's name and the names of others in both print and braille on chairs, lockers, and desks, labeling areas in the classroom.
- Provide consistent access to materials in the preferred medium. This includes bulletin boards in large print and braille, items in the classroom (e.g. blackboard, door, sink), and locations around the school and classroom (e.g. library, bathroom, gym).
- Provide all materials in braille or large print, including all text books, worksheets, and free reading. While audio materials provide broad access to many things, the use of braille or large print is important for the development of other skills, such as spelling and punctuation.
- Talk to children about signs in the environment and what they mean. Words such as "stop", "exit", "fire" appear frequently as we move through the world, but students who are blind or visually impaired may not be able to see these signs. Similarly labels of boxes and other products, advertisements, and names on stores or street signs can be spelled out to students to help to increase their opportunities for incidental learning.
Students who are blind or visually impaired will benefit from many of the same techniques as their sighted peers when it comes to process writing. The use of invented spelling encourages children to express themselves without regard for correct spelling, punctuation or grammar. The belief is that helping a child to enjoy writing will ultimately make him or her a better writer than will initial drilling. Using this method, students can begin to develop dictionaries of the words that they misspell, and in this way they will be motivated to learn to spell words that are the most meaningful to them.
It may be more difficult for a student with a visual impairment to see word patterns at a glance, in the way that their sighted peers might. Point out patterns to students and help them to learn word families, rhyming words, and different endings.
Contracted versus Uncontracted Braille
The decision of whether to teach a student contracted versus uncontracted braille often spills over into the topic of spelling. Students who are taught uncontracted braille learn to read in much the same way as their sighted peers, because one braille cell corresponds to each letter of the alphabet. In this way, students learn to sound words out and can work on spelling and decoding words along side of their sighted peers. With contracted braille, some words are spelled out, some have contractions of parts of the word or shortened word forms (for example, ing, ed, ou, sh) and some words use a single cell contraction to represent a whole word (such as "p" for "people" or all six dots for "for"). Most books for braille readers use contracted braille, and learning contracted braille will give students access to these materials. While contracted braille has the advantage of being faster for some students, for others it poses particular difficulties with spelling. Students who learn to read contracted braille may need special instruction in spelling.
California Department of Education (2006)
Includes spelling standards, using contracted and uncontracted braille.
Building on Patterns: Primary Braille Literacy Program: Kindergarten Student Kit - UEB
Available from American Printing House for the Blind
Hearing Words Versus Reading Words
by Robert Leslie Newman; Braille Monitor (July 2008)
Newman discusses the advantages and disadvantages between reading braille and using speech output or other auditory strategies for reading. He offers specific suggestions for improving spelling for readers using auditory materials.