Strategize for Students with Vision Loss

Visual impairments range from low vision to blindness and can demand a variety of strategies. MENC member Elise Sobol urges educators to

  • work closely with the special education team in school district including the assigned vision teacher where applicable, and
  • consult the student’s Individual Educational Program (IEP) to match any and all accommodations and learning supports.

These supports may include an assistive device such as a cane, technology and transcription software such as a Braille printer to translate text and music, a therapy animal such as a seeing-eye dog, or a teacher aide, depending on the student’s educational needs.

Instructional Strategies

Sobol has had success with the following:

  • Make the music room accessible and free of floor wires for sound equipment, etc.
  • Seat students in the front of the room and away from potential glare.
  • Enlarge print per individual student needs. Lighthouse International recommends 16 to 18 point font depending upon typefaces.
  • Use contrasting colors; white on black is more readable than black on white.
  • Use tactile props in classroom music. Keep them simple and proof them with your fingers, not your eyes. Try different texture materials, rough like sandpaper, raised like playdough and pom-poms, or pipe cleaners—check art supply stores for variety to suit lesson plan.
  • Use audio enhancement for visual directions.
  • Enhance memory with sequential learning.
  • Record parts and lessons on MP3/CD/tape for classroom focus and home practice.
  • Keep a consistent classroom set up with good lighting so the student can make a mental map of the classroom. Notify student of and describe any changes made to the classroom.
  • Above all create safety in space and place for music learning and fun.

Books to Read Aloud

Sobol recommends reading the following in the classroom:

  • A Picture Book of Louis Braille, by David Adler—Braille became blind at the age of 4 and learned to play the organ, violin, and cello.
  • Knots on a Counting Rope, by John Archambault and Bill Martin Jr.—A moving story of a Native American who was born blind and had a special mission.
  • Helen Keller: Courage in the Dark by Johanna Hurwitz—The story of her indomitable will and devoted teacher.
  • I Am Potential: Eight Lessons on Living, Loving, and Reaching Your Dreams by Patrick Henry Hughes and Patrick John Hughes—Born without eyes and malformed limbs, Patrick became a member of the marching band at the University of Louisville.
  • Biographies of musician role models such as Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, José Feliciano, and Nobuyuki Tsujii (Gold medal winner, Van Cliburn Competition).


Elise S. Sobol teaches at Rosemary Kennedy School, Wantagh, New York (for students with multiple learning disabilities, including those with autism and developmental difficulties) and is the chairperson of Music for Special Learners of the New York State School Music Association. Her strategies appear in her book An Attitude and Approach for Teaching Music to Special Learners.

—Linda C. Brown, September 2, 2010, © National Association for Music Education (