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Tip Sheet: Access to Literacy

These tips provide practical suggestions for increasing access to literacy for students who are blind or visually impaired.

Reading materials

This Top Access Tip Sheet from Positive Eye is designed for teachers working with students who are blind or visually impaired to promote access to literacy.  It is available as a handout in the attached pdf document.  For more tip sheets, visit:



Print access

  • Ensure print materials are available in child’s preferred access method.
  • Plan ahead to ensure this is possible.
  • Use Typoscope (reading guide) or black line marker to keep place in the text.
  • Provide training, to develop the technique of moving the marker across the line and down the page of text.
  • Use screen magnifier, scan book into computer, use LVA or CCTV.
  • Read aloud to child.
  • Use DVD or CD to enable child to listen to the story independently.
  • Facilitate rest breaks to manage visual fatigue.

Child uses a slant board


Reading Environment — Position of Book

Suggestions: May be helped by the use of a Sloped board or a Reading Stand 

Let child find best viewing position, then assess, working to make that position more comfortable by using a sloped desk, a reading stand, by tucking the chair nearer the table, by using a different chair, by putting a cushion underneath them or by raising the reading stand with a book underneath.


Development of Visual Perception Skills

Child may need training in the area of visual perception skills, due to their visual condition causing limited development in the area of visual perception abilities. Not all children will have sufficient vision to develop these skills to maximum efficiency without training, which can help them to use their remaining vision more efficiently. E.g.: Adequate hand-eye co-ordination is essential for both reading and writing. Figure background perception is the ability to select a symbol, figure word or phrase from its background necessary for word attack skills, reading ability and research techniques. The ability to perceive shape and size is necessary if the child is to recognise known words in different colours, sizes, typefaces, set also in unfamiliar contexts.

Position in space and spatial relationships are an important perceptual ability to the discrimination of letters having similar form but different positions e.g. p and q, d and b.  Also important to the ability to distinguish the sequence of letters in a word, or words in a sentence.  Child requires scanning, tracking and locating skills to read fluently. Child may require a specific planned targeted intervention to support efficient use of the vision they have.

In the early years setting or foundation stage

A young boy plays in the sand

  • Use large clear letter shapes
  • Writing in the sand, tracing letters, use of magnetic letters, 3D letter shapes, pipe cleaners, wiiki stix, modelling dough, tactile surfaces with the letters positioned on them
  • Hand over hand (or hand under hand) modelling
  • Use of stencils with a brightly coloured dot to indicate the starting point
  • Clear, block outlines that the child can trace between the lines
  • Support understanding of concepts and the written word with concrete experience, story bags, real experience, using touch, smell, taste, listening opportunities to enrich access.


PhonicsU for umbrella

Phonics can be learnt in line with the class, but supported through one to one additional sessions if necessary. 

  • Provide real objects to support understanding of sounds.
  • Make a phonic picture book, make phonic boxes containing objects and phonic cards to match sounds to objects.


Understanding the story

  • If working with a young child, introduce objects or representations of the characters in the book, or items that represent parts of the story.
  • Use flash cards and introduce characters, such as Chip, Biff, and how they fit together as a family.
  • Use clearly adapted pictures with their names on separate cards and play games of matching the names to the pictures.



Child may struggle due to being unable to see whole word or words incidentally around them.  The lack of incidental exposure to print may mean it takes them more effort to learn correct spellings in the first place. Spelling can also be a learning issue for a blind child using contracted braille, where whole words or letter combinations may be represented by single braille characters. A child doing spellings in contracted braille would also need to learn them in uncontracted. It is important to ensure knowledge of spelling the word out in uncontracted braille is secure.



Punctuation is reinforced through reading, so this also may be an area needing additional attention, ensuring adaptations are clear and well contrasting.


Access to non-fiction books

  • Difficulty in accessing large range of non-fiction books. Use of support assistant, to work under direction of child.
  • Child needs to develop the skill of researching, thinking of headings that information may be found under, understanding ways in which information is classified.
  • Assistant may read or transpose information into large print or braille.
  • Use of CCTV, LVA, Internet and scanner to aid independent research.


Speaking and Listening

  • Child needs support to develop listening skills from an early age as this will be an important part of accessing the curriculum. Sometimes the child may prefer to listen rather than read, or speak rather than write.
  • May miss non verbal gestures, and body language and the messages they convey during conversation.  May misinterpret information as a result or be unaware of certain elements in a conversation unless clarification is given.
  • Equally may need to support child with an understanding of their own facial expression and body language.
  • May need to explain or interpret the child’s body language or facial expression.
  • Address all learners by name helps child to keep track of who is speaking and when to speak.


Oral Reading Activities

Helpful if the child is given advance notice so that cues can be selected, highlighted and the dialogue looked at and practiced beforehand with the child.  The child is then able to focus more on expression and meaning and not on the mechanics of accessing the text.



Position the questions first and then the passage, so that the child reads the passage with a view to answering the questions. Or, split the passage in half, with two questions at the beginning, followed by the portion of text containing the answers to those two questions, followed by the remaining questions and the rest of the text.


Creative writing

Most children start to tell or write stories based on their own experience or their imagination.  Children with severe visual impairment may have less material to draw on to  construct these stories, because their own experiences may have been limited.  They may need support in developing creative ideas.


Teaching Braille

Alarm clock

  • Teach and develop knowledge of braille alphabet linked to the child’s learning dispositions then with this secure knowledge in place the child can be included in class phonic work activities.
  • Using real objects will enhance and support the teaching and learning of phonics, making sure child knows what the words mean to start with and by placing them in the context of an activity if need be.  Examples: Fan and pan, Pen and hen, Fig and dig , Log and cog.
  • Use braille clip together letters (available from the RNIB) to support the teaching of phonics. [These are also distributed in the USA here.]
  • Make phonic boxes and matching phonic cards to practice and reinforce  knowledge.



For ideas of specific resources and materials, see the Tip Sheet.

Access to literacy for children who are blind or visually impaired


A staff person evaluating a student with low vision
Tips and guides

Braille/Print Literacy Issues and the Learning Media Assessment

The days of the week in a binder with velcroed cards and object symbols.

The Weekly Review

Title of presentation Literacy Materials for CVI: Make and Take workshop

Make and Take for Beginning Readers