“I Can Do It!”: Promoting Self-Determination Skills

Editor’s note: October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM). To help your young person who is blind or low vision prepare for a satisfying adult life and meaningful employment, you can work with them on the skills of The Expanded Core Curriculum for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired which include self-determination skills. Self-determination skills will enable your child to recognize their interests, needs, and goals, and work toward achieving them.

“I Can Do It!”: Promoting Self-Determination Skills 

When one hears the words self-determination, a variety of definitions come to mind. Self-determination is defined as knowing what you want and how to get it, choosing and setting goals, and then working to reach them, advocating on one’s own behalf, solving problems, and making decisions about one’s life. In other words, self-determination is defined as how one controls their own life. Having self-determination means you know your needs, your desires, interests, strengths, and limitations, and you know how to use this information to make choices each day.

Self-determined people make things happen in their lives. They are goal-oriented and apply problem-solving and decision-making skills to guide their actions. They know what they do well and where they need assistance. Self-determined people are empowered actors in their own lives. They are not merely acted upon, or directed, by others.

Self-determination is particularly important for students who are blind or low vision. The skills leading to enhanced self-determination, including goal setting, problem-solving, and decision making, allow students to assume greater responsibility and control of their lives from early developmental milestones throughout the high school transition years into postsecondary education and careers.

Promoting Self-Determination

Promoting self-determination has been recognized as best practice in the education of adolescents with disabilities since the early 1990s, when the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandated increased student involvement in transition planning.

Efforts to build self-determination skills are integrated into the practices of schools that provide high-quality transition programs. However, promoting self-determination should not begin in high school. Students in elementary and middle school need to receive such instruction as well.

Promoting self-determination involves addressing the knowledge, skills, and attitudes students will need to take more control over and responsibility for their lives.


According to Willings (2019), “Students need to understand their eye condition and its effects to effectively communicate and advocate for their needs.” Family members, teachers, and friends can help individuals who are blind or low vision develop a knowledge of their eye condition and its effects. Willings (2019) states, “The student should learn how to:

  • Answer questions about being blind or low vision
  • Communicate their visual diagnosis in easy-to-understand terms
  • Explain the purpose of services that are received
  • Explain personal visual restrictions and side effects
  • Communicate limitations in specific sports.”

For more in-depth information from Teaching Visually Impaired please visit https://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/self-determination.html.

Identifying and Communicating Needs

Students need to understand and be able to communicate their needs. Suggestions on working on self-determination include teaching the student how to: seek help when needed across all settings; recognize and request needed adaptations for learning materials and formats in all environments (e.g., tactile graphic, braille, accessible technology); and communicate accommodations needed to be successful in reading class, when in new environments, or if the student does not understand what is being presented (Willings, 2019).

For more in-depth information from Teaching Visually Impaired please visit https://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/self-determination.html.

Problem Solving

A student who is blind or has low vision will not only need to learn how to self-advocate but also how to problem solve and come up with a solution to their problem. Students should be encouraged by their families and teachers to develop problem-solving skills. Skills families and teachers can help students practice are identifying steps to take when a visual issue occurs, asking for assistance, moving closer, utilizing strategies to maximize usable vision, and using problem-solving methods when barriers occur in daily life (Willings, 2019).   

For more in-depth information from Teaching Visually Impaired please visit https://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/self-determination.html.

Benefits of Self-Determination 

Students move beyond high school and into adult life. Having developed self-determination provides greater success in their daily living, secondary education, and independence. Students who have an understanding of their own strengths and interests are able to use this information when making job and school decisions. Students who can describe their own disability and its related needs are able to share their needs and self-advocate in their schooling, in employment, with family members and friends, and with staff that provides support in their daily lives.

When students make their own choices and decisions, they take ownership of what happens in their lives and what activities they participate in. Students who learn skills related to self-determination become adults who have the skills to demonstrate self-confidence which can help the student build successful, happy lives.

Learn more:


Willings, C. (2019, June 9). Self determination for students who are blind or visually impaired. Teaching Students with Visual Impairments. Retrieved September 23, 2022, from https://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/self-determination.html https://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/self-determination.html