What Are Accommodations and Modifications?

Children who are blind or low vision can do virtually all the activities and tasks that sighted children can do, but they often need to learn to do them in a different way or using different tools or materials. For instance, your child may need reading materials in braille rather than in print or may need to examine a live rabbit with her hands to understand what it is, rather than learning from a picture in a book. Other examples might be arranging a classroom to let your child sit close to the science teacher who is demonstrating an experiment or allowing extra time to complete a test that the whole class is taking.

Depending on your child’s abilities and needs, they may need such adaptations to participate in the curriculum and various activities in school as well as to make use of instructional materials. Your child will most likely learn about such adaptations from his or her teacher of students with visual impairments or orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor.

Such adaptations in school are usually referred to by the terms “accommodations” and “modifications.” Different school systems attach different meanings to these terms, but “accommodation” usually refers to a change in the way your child is taught or tested without changing the standard of learning or performance or the requirements that she needs to meet. Some examples include having extra time to complete assignments, using braille or large-print materials, having assignments or tests broken up into smaller parts, or completing assignments in a quiet setting away from other students. “Modification” commonly refers to a change to what your child is learning or tested on that changes the standards or requirements she needs to meet. Being taught material at a lower grade level or having to complete fewer items on a test are examples of modifications. Because these terms are not used in the same way in all school districts, it will be helpful for you to learn how your school district defines them.

Accommodations and Modifications at a Glance

Typically, students may require accommodations and modifications during the school day for various activities in the broad areas of

The following guide provides examples of accommodations and modifications that may be helpful for students who are blind or low vision in each of these areas. It is intended to provide you with a tool for working with your child’s educational team to plan accommodations and modifications that will assist her. The ideas listed are only representative examples offered to stimulate your ideas and may not be appropriate for your particular child. It is also important to keep in mind that your child may need different solutions in different situations—no one device or technique will be the answer to everything.

Instructional Accommodations and Modifications

Children with are blind or low vision need to have access to both written and oral instruction and to demonstrations in all subject matter. Accommodations and modifications can help a student better understand the instruction provided by the regular education teacher in the classroom.


AdaptationExplanation and Examples
Hands-on experiencesReal-life examples of pictures or actual objects are used in instruction; for example, real coins are provided when pictures of coins are shown in a book.
ModelsModels of objects that are primarily visual are used, such as objects rather than pictures to represent the planets in the solar system.
More easily readable visual aidsYour child receives his or her own copy of information that will be displayed on an overhead or whiteboard or chalkboard.
Clear directionsExplicit language is used when giving directions, such as “Pass your papers to the right,” rather than “over here.”
Extra time for responses in classYour child may require extra time to respond to class discussions because he or she needs more time to read an assignment.
Oral description or narrationOral descriptions are provided of visual display material; for example, an exhibition of fine art would be described or portions of a video or film would be narrated during times when there is no dialog.
Experiential learningYour child has the opportunity to experience concepts directly that others may view in pictures or from a distance; for example, if the class is learning about farm animals, your child might visit a farm.
Verbalization of writingInformation that is being presented on a whiteboard or in an overhead is spoken aloud as it is being written.

Accommodations and Modifications for Instructional Materials

Instructional materials need to be put into an accessible format for students who are blind or low vision. It is important that all materials be considered—not just textbooks, but worksheets and all supplemental reading materials. It is also important for your child to receive them at the same time as their sighted classmates who read print.


AdaptationExplanation and Examples
BrailleTextbooks, worksheets, and all materials used in instruction are provided in braille.
Tactile graphicsPrinted maps, diagrams, and illustrations are provided in a tactile format.
Audiotape materialsBooks and other print materials are provided in audio format.
Electronic accessMaterials are provided in an electronic format to be accessed with a computer or electronic notetaker; for example, your child uses an online encyclopedia to do research for a term paper or reads a textbook in digital format.
Print book for parentsIf your child reads in braille, he receives a print copy of a textbook for your use.
HighlightingMarkers and highlighting tape are used to enhance the important parts of text.
Large printLarge-print books are used for instruction or portions of books, such as a map, are enlarged as needed.
ManipulativesPhysical items (such as small toys, buttons, or beads) are used to demonstrate mathematical concepts or used in art classes to complete a tactile drawing.

Accommodations and Modifications for Assignments

To make the best use of their education, students need to be responsible for all classroom and homework assignments. Additional time or alternatives to visual tasks may be important modifications for your child.


AdaptationExplanation and Examples
Extra time for completionYour child may need extra time because of his or her reading or writing speed or the kind of tools required for reading or writing.
Descriptive responseYour child may provide a written description of a project instead of a visual representation. For example, the class assignment might be to make a drawing of a cell viewed through a microscope. The student who is blind instead provides a written description of the cell rather than a drawing.
Use of modelsYour child provides a model for an assignment rather than a two-dimensional representation.

Accommodations and Modifications for Classroom Testing

Different types of accommodations and modifications can help students with blindness or low vision take their class tests along with their sighted classmates.

AdaptationExplanation and Examples
Extended timeYour child may need extra time because he or she reads or writes slowly or because of the tools he or she uses for reading or writing.
Use of manipulativesYour child may use manipulatives to demonstrate understanding rather than responding in writing to a question; for example, a first-grade student demonstrates an understanding of time by using a braille model of a clock to show the answers on a test.
Spelling tests for braille readersA student who uses contracted braille (which uses a number of contractions and shortened forms to write words) should also take spelling tests using uncontracted braille to make sure they can also read and write in standard English.
Dictation of responses to a scribeThe student verbally reports an answer, and a sighted person records the answer on the answer sheet.
Screen access to tests administered on a computerDepending on your child’s need to read in print or braille, appropriate screen access to text may be needed through enlarged text, refreshable braille, or a copy of the test in hardcopy braille.

Assistive Technology Accommodations and Modifications

Your child may need assistive technology tools to learn or to communicate with others. You can learn more about the range of assistive devices available for visually impaired children in the “Assistive Technology” section of FamilyConnect, but you may want to get started by browsing through the adaptations listed below.

Assistive Technology

AdaptationExplanation and Examples
Low vision devices (near)Magnification devices for viewing or completing near vision tasks.
Low vision devices (distance)Telescopes for viewing or completing distance vision tasks.
BraillewriterA mechanical tool resembling a typewriter that is used for writing or “embossing” braille.
Slate and stylusA portable tool for writing braille made up of two flat pieces of metal or plastic that are used to hold paper and a pointed piece of metal used to punch or emboss braille dots.
Electronic braillewriterAn electronic device for writing braille, incorporating a braille keyboard, which frequently has additional features, such as a calculator.
Personal digital assistant (PDA)An electronic device for organizing and managing data, often integrated with an electronic notetaker.
Notetaker (braille)A portable device for reading and writing in class, with braille output, often integrated with the features of a PDA.
Notetaker (speech)A portable device for reading and writing in class with speech output, often integrated with the features of a PDA.
ComputerA tool for literacy and learning activities and access to information, especially when equipped with specialized software and hardware.
Refreshable brailleA device that is connected to (or integrated into) a computer or notetaker and that represents braille text by means of pins that can be raised or lowered to form braille cells.
Speech access softwareComputer software that enables a computer to “speak” the text on the screen through the use of synthetic speech that announces what is displayed on screen.
Braille translation softwareComputer software that translates print into braille and braille into print.
Large monitor for computerA monitor that, by virtue of its size, provides larger images for students with low vision.
ScannerA device that copies print material and uses software to translate it into an electronic format so that it can be converted into a preferred reading medium.
Magnification softwareSoftware that enlarges text displayed on a computer or other screen.
Braille embosserA printer that embosses (prints) braille.
Print printerA regular printer to provide print text for sighted teachers and classmates.
Tactile graphics makerA tool that makes print images into tactile format that can be “read” through the fingers.
Word processorA computer software program for writing and manipulating text.
Electronic mail (email)Electronic mail sent through computers and other devices that is a communication medium for students to receive and return classroom assignments.
Talking calculatorA device that provides speech access to a calculator.
Large-print calculatorA calculator with large numbers on the keys to provide access for students with low vision.
Talking dictionaryAn electronic device that provides a dictionary with speech access.
Audio recordersA device for recording auditory information and listening to materials provided in audio format.
Digital playersA portable device to access digitally recorded audio books and materials.
Alternative computer accessA number of methods that allow a person with physical disabilities to use a computer, such as adapted keyboards and voice recognition technology.
Augmentative and alternative communication devicesSpecial communication devices for students who may have hearing disabilities or other limitations in communication. For example, some of these devices play prerecorded messages at the push of a button.
Adapted devices for daily livingA wide variety of devices adapted for use by people who are blind or low vision, including measuring devices, kitchen utensils, games and toys, and writing aids.

Accommodations and Modification to the Educational Environment

Students who are blind or low vision often cannot perceive information directly from their environment, but accommodations and modifications help them do so. Something as simple as the flexibility to sit closer to the chalkboard may meet your child’s needs, or it could be necessary to alter the physical arrangement of the environment by providing additional furniture, shelving, or access to electrical outlets for the operation of specialized equipment.

The Environment

AdaptationExplanation and Examples
Preferential seatingYour child is allowed to sit in the classroom wherever it is most beneficial; for example, where he has the best view of the board, away from a light source to reduce glare, or near a power outlet needed for an assistive technology device.
Flexibility to move within a roomA student with low vision is given flexibility to move closer to visual activities in the classroom, such as a demonstration being given.
Additional desk or work spaceSome students (especially those who read and write in braille) require extra space to place materials needed to complete classroom tasks.
Additional shelving or storage spaceBraille books and additional equipment require storage space, and adequate shelving should be provided for materials.
Appropriate lightingSome students benefit from additional lighting for literacy tasks; others are very light sensitive (photophobic) and require reduced lighting.

Accommodations and Modifications for Other Activities

Students who are blind or low vision need to be able to participate in all the educational activities their school offers, not just those that take place in the classroom.

Other Activities

AdaptationExplanation and Examples
Mobility toolsYour child may use a long white cane for travel or other travel tools or devices.
Adapted equipment for physical educationYour child may use adapted equipment, such as balls that beep, to allow participation in physical education classes and other physical activities.
Organizational toolsA variety of products can help students organize and manage their time and school materials, including notebooks, planners, and PDAs.
Emergency proceduresProcedures need to be created for the student and others to follow in the event of emergencies, such as the need to evacuate the school building.
Use of a sighted readerYour child may need to learn to work with a sighted reader to have access to print materials.
Other health accommodationsYour child may need other accommodations or modifications because of related health concerns, such as use of protective eye wear or head gear.