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Where Am I? Teaching Spatial Concepts to Students with Visual Impairments

cover of ECC Essentials: Teaching the Expanded Core Curriculum to Students with Visual Impairments (Paperback)

From ECC Essentials: Teaching the Expanded Core Curriculum to Students with Visual Impairments, Carol B. Allman and Sandra Lewis, editors

Spatial concepts relate to the location or position of stationary and moving elements in the environment. Understanding and managing the many spatial concepts inherent in general learning and specific to travel require a coordinated approach to assuring the greatest level of mastery possible.

Teachers of students with visual impairments have many opportunities at school, in the classroom, and during lessons—and many unplanned opportunities—to help teach and reinforce these useful concepts. Here are some ideas:

  • Use descriptive language when talking about home, school, classroom, or field trip environments.
    • rather than handing the student scissors for a craft project, describe the location as “near your left hand next to the paintbrush.”
    • describe the position of other students who are lined up to a student with a visual impairment who uses a wheelchair for mobility, so that he understands who is in front and who is behind in the line.
    • describe the height of the fence enclosure at the zebra exhibit at the zoo by encouraging the student to raise his cane vertically to see that the fence is taller than both he and his extended cane
  • Plan activities that promote the understanding of spatial concepts. For example, have students help create the classroom bulletin board. During the activity, encourage the use of terms such as bottom, top left corner, next to or underneath, to help students locate items and add new ones to the board.
  • Provide appropriate adaptations of instructional materials for general education teachers to ensure access to curriculum that addresses aspects of spatial concepts, ranging from simple through complex. For example, loan to the general education teacher a small drawer set containing craft supplies, beads, and other small items to substitute for worksheets that are used to teach placement and position concepts to young children. Allow the O&M specialist to use the same drawer set for positional concepts assessment. Or, bring three-dimensional objects to support geometrical concepts in general education math.
  • Coordinate with the O&M specialist to plan units on spatial concepts. For example, a map unit planned with the O&M specialist could coincide with a basic geography unit in general education. Plan together a few simple maps to start with. While the teacher of students with visual impairments teaches map-reading skills in the classroom, the O&M specialist can work with the student to gather materials and identify landmarks in a familiar residential area in order to construct his or her own map. Students with dual sensory impairments will also benefit from creating maps or landmark cards that can be used for orientation during routes or for calendar boxes.

Knowing where one is in relationship to other people, places, and important things is essential to purposeful movement. Keeping track of those relationships while moving is a dynamic, cognitive process. Learning that process depends on a coordinated effort by all of the teachers in a student's life.

For more information about teaching O&M skills to students with visual impairment, read ECC Essentials: Teaching the Expanded Core Curriculum to Students with Visual Impairments, Chapter 7: Orientation and Mobility by Diane Fazzi. This book is available from AFB Press at

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