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Tactile Books for Students with Visual Impairments

Learn how to make different types of tactile books for students who are blind or low vision, including those with deafblindness or multiple disabilities

Tactile books are a great way to foster the development of literacy skills with any child who is visually impaired, including children with other significant disabilities. These can be used at home for enjoyment, to support understanding and anticipation of activities or as an independent leisure skill.

At school tactile books are a must for supporting literacy instruction, for use in developing concepts and honing sensory efficiency skills.

Types of Tactile Books

Here are some of the different types of tactile books you can create:

Experience Books:

An experience book is a book based on an experience the child had (i.e. trip to zoo, grocery store). The book is then used to retrieve memories of that experience and assists the child in the language development around the experience; can also become an experience book if the experience will be repeated. 

Object Books:

“An object book is a book containing real objects. These objects should be taken from the student’s activities and experiences, so they will be meaningful. This is the first type of book that should be used to introduce a tactual learner into the wonderful world of reading.”

Smith, Millie and others (2002). Object Books.

Routine Books:

A routine book is a book that organizes a student’s day or activity set; a book version of the calendar box. When the activity or step is done, the student will turn the page.

Story Boxes (book bags): “A story box is a way for young children with visual impairments to experience a story. When selecting a story for the child, choose one that is simple and tells about familiar objects and concepts. Collect corresponding items in a box or bag. As you read the story to the child, allow him/her to hold the item. The number of items and complexity of the story should be suited to the child. Often, simple is better.”

Drissel, Norma (1997).

Theme Books:

A theme book is a book that focuses on a topic (i.e. transportation, restaurant, demographic information). The books are then used to supplement the instruction of that topic.

Book Making Tips

  • Whenever possible, it is always a good idea to make the book with the child.
  • Create the book based on the child’s level related to the type of tactile material the child will understand (i.e. if still using real objects, book should be made with real objects that have meaning to the child).
  • If including text, compose the text with the child and/or get help from the speech-language therapist.
  • If using pictures or tactile drawings, keep the graphic as simple as possible without losing meaning.
  • Glue one object per page to begin with, and then increase the number of objects as skill level increases.
  • Glue envelopes or Ziploc bags to pages or the back of book to hold items inside.
  • Use textures the child tolerates.
  • Use a progression in moving from the concrete to the abstract: start with solid objects, then go to raised line figures, then to embossed figures, and then braille figures. 
  • When using symbols, remain consistent in the way you make the symbol (so not to confuse the reader) – collaborate with speech therapist, classroom teacher, teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing, and/or the parent.
  • When finishing the book…bind it with rings or in binder if you are planning on adding additional pages at a later date or reordering the pages once child is familiar with the order.
  • Change the location of where book is bound (i.e. instead of left side, use top) to prepare child for other books bound differently.
  • Tag the cover of the book with an object, large print, picture, or braille that is specific to the book to aid child in identifying the book.
  • The cover should be either a different kind of paper or larger than the “text” pages. Card stock, poster board, braille paper, plastic are some examples of possible items to use for pages…depends on the need of the student and items being used
  • Keep page numbering system consistent, for example, print page number top right, braille page number bottom right.
  • For a child with CVI, color should drive the selection of objects, outline of pictures, or background page. For example, if you are using Boardmaker, outline the picture in the child’s preferred color: use the option of color or black and white.
  • Books should be tactilely FUNCTIONAL, and may not be visually appealing.  That is okay!
  • Books should be loved, and therefore may have a short life span….much like “The Velveteen Rabbit.”

Here are some examples of materials made by Texas teachers at a workshop held at Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston that was presented during the summer of 2015 by Liz Eagan, TVI from Bastrop, TX:

This concept card was part of a set to show the growth of a tree. Roots are displayed. The image is created by store bought items as well as things found in nature. 

tree concept card
Tree concept card

This is an interactive card for the student to work on matching. This teacher made additional cards in different order as well as a simple AB pattern cards where the final object in the pattern the student completes.

matching interactive card
Interactive card for matching

This is a board book on color. Each page focuses on a different color and has different shades of the color included. 

board book on color
Board book on color

This is an interactive book designed to work on positional concepts.

tactile book page
Page of tactile book with the word “around” with a metal ring around a star shape

Creating Books Using Microsoft Word

You can use Microsoft Word to create books that can be shared between the student with visual impairments and sighted peers or teachers.  

When creating a book using Microsoft Word as the foundation for the book you are creating, consider the audience for whom you are creating the book :

  • Student with low vision
  • Student with little or no vision
  • Educational team working with student (this includes the parent/guardian)

It is important to make sure you meet all their visual and tactile needs within the single document.

Import Boardmaker Pictures into a MS Word Document

  1. Open a Boardmaker template that has pictures about the size you want
  2. Place picture(s) on template
  3. Close symbol finder window
  4. Click on picture (so you get orange dotted box around symbol) you want
  5. Click on EDIT then CUT or COPY
  6. Open document you want picture in, find location where you want to place picture click on EDIT then PASTE

Insert Clipart or Pictures into an MS Word Document

  1. Open you Word document and draft the text of the book.
  2. Determine which visual images you want to illustrate the book.
  3. Find the text block for a specific image and place you cursor where you want the image to appear.
  4. Using the “Insert” tab on your toolbar, select “clipart”.  
  5. When the Clip Art dialog box opens, enter a search term for the object you want to help you find an appropriate image.
  6. Click on the image you choose and it should appear in the appropriate place in your document.
  7. Click on the image, then go to the “Picture Tools – Format Picture” tab.  Here you can adjust the size and alignment of the picture to suit your needs.  You may also want to compress the image so that the file is not so large.
  8. You can use the same process with photos, except you choose “photo” under the “Insert” tab to add photos from your collection.

Once you have your book laid out with the text and images, print out your book on appropriate size and weight of paper. Then you can determine how to add tactile features and or braille to the book.  

Here are some examples of materials shared with Texas teachers at a workshop held at Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston that was presented during the summer of 2015 by Liz Eagan, TVI from Bastrop, TX. These were to aid the teachers as they go back to their districts create their own for their students.

IEP example girl sitting on chair

Sample IEP Book – Often times I’ve created books to help students with a particular goal. This book is based on demographic information. In this type of book, I typically ask parents for a photo of the phone in the home (or cell phone), a picture of their house, etc. to help the student learn their information. Yes, that is a 5-year old me in the picture above.

peanut butter jelly toast and a knife

Peanut Butter Sandwich – This is an experience book to help my student and her family repeat the experience for homework. After the book was made, braille was added to the pages to help my student read the book. Print was for the parents.

girl with glasses using iPad with older girl

White Cane Day – This is another experience book to help my student verbalize what all she did that day and share her experience with others. Braille was also added to the bottom of the pages. 

Creating Tactile Posters

A tactile poster can be nice way to create a collection of things that can be found in a particular setting.  For example, you might make a poster of things you can find in a flower garden or under water.  The student can explore the poster as a prompt to create a story or to discuss other things that might be found in a specific location.  

These could be used before and after an experience, somewhat like an experience book or bag.  For example you might make a poster about a walk on the playground including things you find along the way.  Before the next walk on the playground, review the items you found before and then look for new items as well as the objects you already found.

It might also be something that the student could create with a sighted peer: figuring out what should be on the poster and describing what it material each thing is made of how that thing feels.

A tactile poster might also be a nice leisure activity for some individuals in the same way you or I might enjoy looking at a coffee-table book of images.  This is also a nice way to encourage tactile exploration with a child.  See more at:  Tactile Posters

tactile poster
Tactile poster of garden scene with grass, flowers, butterflies and trees
tactile poster
Under water tactile poster

Tactile posters are a nice way to create materials to: 

  • adapt currently used materials
  • enhance the curricular materials
  • expand on the concept/skill 
  • teach a new concept/skill

Tactile Poster Tips

  • Use lots of glue!
  • Keep areas open to secure to the wall (pins or staples)
  • Try to keep the items light in weight (not always possible)
  • No sharp objects
  • Use a variety of realistic textures
  • Here are some examples of materials made by Texas teachers at a workshop held at Region 4 Education Service Center in Houston that was presented during the summer of 2015 by Liz Eagan, TVI from Bastrop, TX.
insects science poster
Tactile poster about insects

This is a poster designed for a science lesson on insects. The plant life helps show the insects in their ‘natural’ environment.

fall poster
Tactile poster about Fall

This poster is designed to aid in the describing of fall and its changes. 

Tactile Materials

Student with visual impairments generally benefit from the use of tactile materials to support learning.   Though some of these materials may be purchased from sources like American Printing House, many (if not most) of these are homemade.  

Where to Get Ideas

Here are some ideas of where to go to get ideas and find the necessary raw materials you will need to make tactile materials and what to do with left over materials.

Where to Get Materials

Craft Stores

  • Art supply stores
  • Hobby Lobby
  • Michaels

Department Stores

  • Container Store
  • Target
  • Wal-Mart

Economic Advantage Stores

  • Big Lots
  • Dollar General
  • Dollar stores
  • Dollar Tree
  • Family Tree
  • Resale stores

Fabric Stores

  • Hancock Fabrics
  • Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft Stores

Home Improvement

  • Ace Hardware
  • Home Depot
  • Lowes

Office Supply

  • Office Depot
  • Office Max
  • Staples

Teacher Supply Stores

  • Crystal Teacher Supply
  • Lakeshore Learning Store
  • Southwest Teacher Supply
  • Human Life Forms
  • Art Teachers
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Student’s family
  • Janitors
  • Nature walks
  • Neighbors
  • Yard / Garage Sales

Online Sources

What to Do With the Leftovers?

  • For stickers or shapes that can be made easily into stickers, put in labeled envelope
  • Then store envelopes alphabetically in a filing cabinet for easy retrieval
  • Place smaller pieces (i.e. beads) in plastic bags
  • Store bags in a plastic tote, drawer, cabinet, etc.
  • Organize however it makes sense to you

Checklist for Making Decisions about a Tactile Graphic

When you start to make tactile graphics there are some key questions that should guide you.  

Why is this picture/map figure important?

Not every image in a book or material needs to become a tactile graphic.  Some images are simply included to make the overall document or material visually interesting.  You should always ask yourself why this image is important.  Does the student need this image to make a concept understandable?  Is this image something that the child will need to reference to respond to questions or participate in a discussion?  Understanding why this image is important will also help you determine key elements to highlight and those that may be ignored.  For example, if you are trying to teach a child facial features, including wrinkles in an image is not important.  

What are the most important elements to communicate?

This is similar to figuring out why a picture or map is important; what aspect(s) of the image is most important for the student to discriminate.  The fewer tactile details in an image, the easier it is for the student to access.  For example, if you are learning about the rivers in Texas, an outline of the state and the rivers might be all that you need to be feature.  However, if you are also trying to help the student know what major cities are on rivers, then you would need to include that information tactilely.

Who will use this material?

Age group

The type of tactile materials a toddler might need is very different from the type of material you will use with a high school student.  Younger students generally benefit from simpler images and tactile materials.  As a student ages and has more experience with tactile materials, more complex tactile materials can be created. 

Mental and physical condition

Individuals with mental or physical conditions that might limit the use of hands and fingers probably need simpler tactile materials.  These materials may also need to be a bit sturdier.

Ability or experience with reading graphics

Of course, students who are just being introduced to reading graphics will need much easier to read tactile materials than a student who has been using tactile materials for many years.

How will this figure be used?

With or without help from a sighted teacher or peer

If a sighted teacher is going to be using this material with the child, then they need to also be accessible to the teacher.  Make sure tactile materials include print images or words to help the teacher know what the image is all about.

With other children who are blind

If two children are using the tactile materials, both of the students’ needs and abilities must be considered when developing the materials.  Otherwise you may need to develop materials that are similar, but tailored to each child’s individual needs.  You may also want to create materials that can be modified easily for each child’s use.  For example, one child might have a face with only eyes, nose, and lips while another child might also have eyebrows, eyelashes, and teeth.

With actual concrete objects

Often times pairing tactile materials with real objects is important.  For example, a tactile symbol of a cup might be paired with an actual cup in a story.  It is important that the features of the tactile symbol also reflect the features of the real object, unless the child is so familiar with the symbol that it can be paired with any cup and still convey meaning.

Where will the material be used?

Some thought should be given to where the material will be used.  If materials are going to be used as part of a test instrument, there may be some strict guidelines on what can be conveyed.  A child who is learning to travel independently around campus using a map, needs a good bit of precision and thought to detail. Think about the setting and purpose of the materials being used.

How will the map be produced?

Since a map or tactile material may be used one time or many times, should guide you in thinking about how the material will be produced.  Of course, it is always better if you can produce materials that can be used over and over again.  But sometimes you need to create something that will only be used once and trashed.  Don’t spend too much time creating materials that are “use and lose” items.  If a material will need to be used many times put your energy into creating a master that can easily be copied or reused.

Source: American Foundation for the Blind Braille Literacy Mentors in Training: The Next Generation – Teaching Special Codes: Nemeth, CBC, and Tactile Graphics –Workshop in Fremont, California (August 7-9 1997) and Atlanta, Georgie (September 11-13, 1997). Diane Spence and Susan A. Osterhaus

tactile materials planning sheet
Download Tactile Materials/Book/Poster Planning Sheet
tactile book making party
Tactile book making party

Have fun with it!! Make it a party or a workshop in your area.

I got some really good ideas from these teachers who came out that day!

Resources About Tactile Materials

Want to learn more about tactile materials and tactile graphics?  Check out these resources!

tactile books collage
Woman relaxing on a chair reading on her electronic device.

Put Paths to Literacy on Your Summer Reading List

shiny fabric on a bar

A Little Breakthrough with this TVI’s Student Who has Complex Needs Including CVI

United State flag

United States Flag Braille Art Design