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ECC at Perkins: Communicating the importance of compensatory access

Lessons that help students connect with others in a meaningful way, using any form of ‘speech’ that works.

Slater, who is deafblind, types an email to her Aunt Lori. Photo Credit: Anna Miller

Compensatory access and functional academics is one of nine life skills kids with visual impairments and multiple disabilities learn through the Expanded Core Curriculum at Perkins. These are the skills students need to have in order to learn their academic curriculum. For instance, a compensatory skill for a student who’s are blind might be braille, which helps them learn how to read. Other examples of compensatory skills include tactile symbols, sign language and recorded materials.

Here, we’ll look a bit more about why compensatory access is such a critical part of the Expanded Core Curriculum, and a few of the important considerations for teaching it.

Why is compensatory access so important?

Compensatory access lessons teach students how to acquire, share and process information, including the general education curriculum, in ways that don’t require sight or other senses.

For example, a nonverbal student who has both vision and hearing loss might not be able to have spoken conversations. So to communicate, they might use a voice output device equipped with a keyboard and pre-loaded with frequently used names and phrases. And that device might be set up so when they tap a word or letter on the screen, the device reads it aloud. This, as the student’s main mode of communication, would be a compensatory skill, taking the place of typical verbal communication.

How is compensatory access taught?

  • Everything must be individualized: The example above is very real. But as every student has different needs, every student also must build different compensatory skills. For instance, a student might use a picture of a smiling face to describe his feelings about an upcoming break. Another student might circle the word “happy” from the choices written on the white board.
  • But try as many things as possible: Recognizing that every child learns differently, it’s also important to give them as many opportunities to explore different modes of learning as possible. This both helps students expand their skill sets and gives more agency to the student, so they can make it known which ways work best for them.

What is the Expanded Core Curriculum

The Expanded Core Curriculum is built of of nine life skills Perkins students with visual impairments, deafblindness and additional disabilities learn on top of their core academics. It covers everything from using technology to independent living to socializing with peers — knowledge most sighted children acquire by observing everyday life. The Expanded Core Curriculum gives students who are blind, deafblind and have additional disabilities a toolbox of crucial skills they need to succeed at school, in social situations, at home, on the job and everywhere else.

Student practices white cane technique as her orientation and mobility instructor observes.

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A teacher and student communicate via sign language

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A mom holding her child smiling outside.

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