How to bring history to life for children with vision impairment

Post date: 
Monday, 27 July 2015
children on wesc foundation trip

In June, the WESC Foundation’s Julian Davey took three students with vision impairment on a school trip to St Petersburg, Russia. He shares his approach to teaching history and drama to blind and partially sighted young people.

What works well when teaching blind and partially sighted young people?

A variety of approaches: speech software, embossed diagrams, a great use of words and outside visits! Anything tactile is good, anything solely visual is less good.

How do you adapt your resources?

Avoiding visual clutter is important, especially for learners with cerebral visual impairment. Each student has unique needs when accessing materials, such as font sizes, their braille level, coloured paper, task lighting and so on.

Above all don’t overload learners with too much information and allow them time to process things.

I use a lot of clips of people from films, plays, and TV programmes in my drama and history lessons. Students don’t want to hear my voice all the time!

What are your students studying at the moment?

I teach the Northern Council for Further Education Drama qualification, which is a practical programme of developing basic acting skills. It’s less theoretical than other exams. Directing each student to develop their body language and facial gestures is a challenge if they can’t see!

Who went on the St Petersburg trip?

Four members of staff accompanied three students, each with their own special needs. Generally being out of comfort zones and routines presented very worthwhile challenges.

Why St Petersburg?

Having studied twentieth century Russian history for A Level we wanted to see where Lenin and his mates led the revolution! We concentrated on the historic sights of St Petersburg.

I'd been before so knew it would be a real challenge. Russia is not very disability friendly, with little in the way of drop steps, ramps and lifts. And those metro escalators were a particular challenge for Tom who uses a wheelchair.

Why are trips abroad so important?

We went mainly to complement their Russian studies, but it was about much more than that. I doubt they’ll have such an opportunity again; it is not an easy destination, and the rewards were great. The challenges fostered a team spirit, stretched their temperaments and their abilities to adapt.

And it was good for the people of St Petersburg to see blind and partially sighted British students accessing all that it has to offer.

Want more detail?

You’ll find five blogs from the trip published by the Times Educational Supplement on WESC’s website.

Top tips for accessing history

  • Include only essential information on handouts.
  • Use audio or video clips to create an impression of the period.
  • Assume nothing. A student with vision impairment may not have had the same life experiences as sighted peers. They may need more input from you to understand how features such as hills and rivers might have had a bearing on the outcome of a battle.
  • Bring in artefacts for students to handle.
  • Invite students to act out images in paintings and photographs and engage in role play. Discuss body language and what is shown in visual stimuli.
  • Young people who operate well in a familiar environment may need more support in an unfamiliar place on a school trip.
  • Students with vision impairment need much longer to make sense of a map. If possible give it out before the lesson. Modified maps should include only essential detail. Some students will need to develop their tactile skills in order to appreciate maps.

History resources

For more advice on making history accessible for your learners with a vision impairment download RNIB’s free National Curriculum Guide at our Teaching and Learning guidance page. 

Be Well Prepared!

Well Prepared! our guide to modifying examination, assessment and curriculum materials for blind and partially sighted learners includes information about making history resources accessible.

To order your copy (Price £15), call our Helpline team on 0303 123 9999 or email [email protected].

For more information on accessible resources, visit our education resources section.

History learning materials

Check out RNIB Bookshare for nearly 300 accessible history images, and hundreds of accessible texts for the history curriculum. Load2Learn is a fantastic free resource.

Got a question about teaching history to children and young people with vision impairment? Why not post it on the VI Forum


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