Friday, 24 February 2012

Supporting the adolescent who has suddenly lost his sight

In one of my schools I have recently begun supporting a young man who has lost his sight due to a brain tumour.  He has no useful vision in one eye and the other is about 3/60 with restricted visual fields. He can only see detail three or four inches from his face. Print has to be ultra large (24point) and activities such as looking at texts and pictures on the white board or watching television have become a thing of the past. In many ways it is the worst case scenario, because all his life he has had perfect vision and has lost it in his early teens, in the midst of his adolescent years, just as exams are looking up and he is barely a couple of years from adulthood. In addition he is a very able student on track to gain high grades. Outwardly he seems to be coping remarkably well, though it is clear from comments he occasionally makes that he is going through a form of grieving for his loss (as you would for a close relative who has died). 

Support for such a young person in a setting that is quite unprepared for such a scenario has been a real challenge. For this reason I want to share today some ‘pointers’ that I sent to all his teachers so that they have a little more of an idea how to modify their teaching to suit his needs.  What follows is little more than a note I sent out to staff (unedited I might say), and a lot of the ideas have come from sitting in class with him over the past few weeks and seeing the struggles and frustrations he is having. 

Supporting Mo in class
Some pointers here, they may not all be practicable or you may have other suggestions yourself. It is envisaged that some of the modifying can be done by the support teacher, if received in time.  

1. Giant enlarged print is difficult to navigate quickly simply because fewer words are on the screen or page. Therefore clear precise instructions from the class teacher (CT) will help Mo and his support teacher (ST) to navigate a page of writing and find the right line/word when moving from one section to another quickly. If pages, paragraphs and/or lines are numbered it helps Mo / ST to find a section more quickly. 

2. Handouts / texts need to be modified in advance. If text is handwritten it may need to be retyped into print. A page of printed text can be scanned via an OCR programme and enlarged. Mo needs 26 point text in bold Arial font. 

3. ST can often seem to disturb the class / and the CT when talking to Mo; this needs to be kept to a minimum. Sometimes the ST needs to read a text to Mo; this may disturb pupils but it is a trade-off: reading a text is quicker and saves using equipment. 

4. CT should read out all text (or delegate it to pupil) when working from a handout or text book and when writing on the board. Reading it twice is even better! 

5. The pace of the lesson can be too fast for Mo. It might be considered to slow down the pace a little to match Mo’s speed of access.

6. Texts need to be provided to the ST well in advance of the lesson to allow time to modify them. Advance preparation is essential and judgements have to be made about whether to use A4 enlarged print, electronic magnifier, or a reader. 

7. It is really helpful if ST has a grasp of the subject matter to be able to assist Mo. Sometimes it may be appropriate for the ST to work directly with Mo in a small SEN room and go through the content on a one-to-one basis. Familiarity with the exam texts and subject matter will be very useful in those circumstances.  

8. Mo is unable to write independently without a scribe or at the very least a good quality magnifier. 

9. It will be useful for the ST to make notes in the lesson for Mo. These should be in giant print (26 point). 

10. Laptop. Mo has difficulty with the glare coming from the screen. He also finds it hard coming too close. Mo cannot read the letters on the keyboard and so will benefit from large high contrast letters on the laptop keyboard. Touch-typing will be a useful skill for Mo to learn. 

11. For the time being we will assume Mo cannot access the board, therefore a handout of what is on the board will be very helpful. 

To sum up:
a.    Advanced planning and modifying of work is essential
b.   Low vision electronic aids are not a substitute for modified texts. All texts should ideally be adapted to 24 point size.
c.   Handwritten texts on handouts should be adapted into print. Give Mo a copy of board notes.
d.   Ideally texts should be provided in electronic format for Mo to enlarge on the laptop. If he has a pen drive that he carries around all his work can be put there and he can take responsibility for collecting it.


  1. Re point 1: One way of managing this is to create a pdf from Word document and then mark the line or paragraph so they can be found quickly from the pdf contents menu (that takes more time of course). I have not done this with school handouts / texts yet but it may work. - Maurice

  2. A very interesting topic. This could be a guideline to everyone, this is a must-read article. I know it is hard for him to do the things he wanted to do now that he can't see but as long as he still lives, nothing is impossible. I wish him good luck in all his future endeavor.