Methods for Literacy

We all use a variety of methods and tools to read and write and obtain information, including calendars, watches, signs, print in magazines and books, and words on a computer screen. In the course of a day, you probably use a number of literacy tools for writing, such as a pen, pencil, and computer keyboard. Like you, your child with visual impairments and additional disabilities will need to have a variety of literacy tools. The tools that are most helpful to him will be those that match his needs and whose use he can understand, the ones that he can use most easily and effectively.

If you and your child are working with and as part of an educational team, various options will be considered for your child, such as reading print or reading braille, or using another method, depending on his physical and cognitive abilities. The teacher of students with visual impairments will use a process called a learning media assessment to see which options are the best ones for him, by gathering information about how your child uses his various senses to get information from the environment. On the basis of this process, the teacher can determine which sense—touch, for example—your child uses most effectively to obtain information and can also help prepare materials that your child can use to learn.


If your child has usable vision, he may be able to use print for reading and writing. Through a functional vision assessment, which evaluates how your child uses any vision he may have, the teacher of students with visual impairments can determine what size print he sees best. The teacher can also look at what combination of print and background color your child can most clearly and easily see.

In order to view or read print, some children may need the help of optical devices such as a magnifier or monocular. These optical devices need to be prescribed for your child by a low vision specialist who conducts a clinical low vision evaluation.

Print can be found not only in books and magazines, but also on signs, on labels, and in many other places in the environment. It can be handwritten, such as on a shopping list, or it can be printed or generated from a computer, such as information printed out from an Internet site. Helping your child find functional ways to use his devices to read print at home and in the community—that is, ways that are useful to him or produce a positive result he enjoys—will increase his awareness of print and his motivation to read it. For example, he might use his monocular to look for a sign at the mall so he can find a store he wants to visit.


Braille is a system of raised dots that people can feel with their fingers and that represent letters and words for people who are blind or have severe low vision. Many children who are braille readers and have additional disabilities learn the alphabet in braille. You and other family members and friends can also learn braille so that you're able to braille notes, labels, and other items for your child and read what he may have written. If your child has a teacher of students with visual impairments, this teacher can show you the braille alphabet and how to create it.

If your child is going to be a braille learner, look for opportunities for him to use braille as the two of you go about your daily routines. For example, he can have a braille label on his favorite box of cereal, a list in braille of the times and channels his favorite television shows are on, a braille shopping list, and directions in braille to a place to which the two of you are traveling.

Child holding cane and reading sign in braille To understand braille children need to see it in the environment. On a mobility lesson this 4th grader and his instructor explore braille signs around the school.

Symbol Systems

Print and braille each use symbols—letters or braille dots—to represent words, which are in fact themselves symbols that represent objects or thoughts. Instead of reading print or braille, or words, your child may use a different, more concrete kind of symbol system to represent his thoughts and to have others communicate thoughts to him. These types of symbol systems usually use pictures or tactile symbols that can be felt, but they can also use alphabet symbols or words in print or braille, depending on what is most usable by a child. The symbols are usually displayed in some fashion, such as on a bulletin board or in a book, and your child might express himself by pointing to the symbol that conveys what he wants to communicate. Most symbol systems for children with visual impairments and additional disabilities are designed specifically for the individual child. (See Symbol Systems for more information).

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