These 9 easy classroom adaptations can help kids with CVI

Here are 9 easy classroom adaptations that benefit not only children with CVI, the leading cause of blindness — but all students in all classrooms!

A photo showing the perspective of a student at a desk in a classroom that is adapted for CVI.

Classrooms are distracting for most kids. For kids with CVI, they can be downright overwhelming. Chatter, music, busy displays, and tons of activity can undermine focus. 

That’s why it’s important to remember: When we talk about accessibility for kids with CVI, it’s not just about adapting educational materials. The whole environment has to change—and it can!

There are plenty of research-based adaptations that can increase visual attention and perception, helping kids with CVI access learning. In fact, many of these adaptations are helpful for all students.

The following list is derived from an excellent presentation by Emily Cantillon, Perkins CTVI

Here are 9 helpful classroom adaptations for kids with CVI to share with your team:

1. Sit in a student’s seat.

View the world from a student’s perspective to understand what might create barriers to their access. Some kids may look out the window, classroom door, or toward a teacher. Each seat has a different perspective. 

What to ask:

All of these variations will impact a student’s accessibility to the environment. By sitting in the student’s seat and knowing what visual behaviors are impactful for them, your child’s team can make needed adjustments.

2. Remove decorations.

Too many decorations or materials on classroom walls can negatively impact all students’ access, and this is particularly true for kids with CVI.

For example, it can be hard to know where to focus when there are multiple areas with bright, attention-grabbing designs and colors. Decreasing the number of decorations helps a child’s brain know where to look and decreases the chances of another visual grabbing attention.

A  visual-tangible symbol board on a classroom wall is covered by a black cloth to create visual simplicity for students with CVI.

How to do it:

3. Have a two-wall space.

This space can function as a secondary work area for kids with CVI, with fewer visual stimuli. It’s especially helpful during busy classroom times, like stations.

How to do it: 

4. Use solid-colored paper.

Clutter on a page of text or math problems can hurt visual attention and recognition. If, for some reason, a student with CVI has an inaccessible learning material, a piece of solid-colored paper can increase the accessibility of class materials for students with CVI by decreasing and isolating visual information.

The paper can be positioned to show only specific words or problems while aiding tracking and scanning.

How to do it:

5. Use color.

Color helps our brains code, categorize, and recognize the world—and our classrooms. It’s helpful to assign students a particular color: a matching red binder, coloring box, and scissors. Add color to specific landmarks in the room and school environment. In all scenarios, it’s important to use color intentionally to create a pop-out effect from environmental visual clutter.

How to do it:

For more ideas on how to intentionally and systematically use color for access, read the Impact of Color.

6. Use adaptable lighting.

A room’s lighting can change the mood, energy, and access to materials. Glare could harm a classroom’s accessibility, diminishing visual access.

Having adaptable light means lighting a room in multiple ways. The impact of light can affect all aspects of visual access for a student with CVI. Lighting both helps and hurts; it’s important to be mindful and have the tools at hand for a quick solution.

How to do it:

7. Monitor noise.

Research shows that extraneous noise hinders learning. Research also shows that students with CVI’s visual skills are impacted in the presence of auditory stimuli. We know: In school, environmental noise is unpredictable—and it’s one of the most challenging areas to accommodate. But there are ways to reduce noise.

How to do it:

Read our article about sensory integration and its impact on vision to learn more about multisensory inputs and CVI.

8. Keep materials organized.

Classroom organization helps visual accessibility. In one survey, 87% of students said that, if their classrooms were neater and more organized, they’d perform better in class.

It makes sense: When we search for materials, our brain has to map, plan, predict, and analyze the environment, which can be visually fatiguing. An organized and predictable environment saves visual energy, and retrieval becomes a motor memory. Decreased visual clutter helps the brain organize its environment, aiding visual attention and recognition for students with CVI. 

How to do it:

9. Use technology.

Technology can aid the implementation of the eight other strategies and adds an additional level of accessibility. 

Technology can allow for color highlighting on the lines of text or have the text read aloud. Materials can be adapted, and familiar images can be imputed to replace an abstract image. Materials can be cut and zoomed, so students only see one line at a time instead of the entire page.

How to do it:

While this list of adaptations is not a replacement for a comprehensive, robust educational program that’s rooted in assessment results, teachers can use these ideas as a starter pack to accomodating students with Cerebral/Cortical Visual Impairment.

Best of all, these adaptations can create an environment where all kids can find success.

Looking for MOre CVI Resources for the Classroom?

Asiyai, R. (2014). Students’ perception of the condition of their classroom physical learning environment 

and its impact on their learning and motivation. College Student Journal, 48(4), 716.

Barrett, P., Davies, F., Zhang, Y., & Barrett, L. (2017). The holistic impact of classroom spaces on learning in specific subjects. Environment and Behavior, 49(4), 425 451.

Das, M., Bennett, D. M., & Dutton, G. N. (2007). Visual attention as an important visual function: An outline of manifestations, diagnosis and management of impaired visual attention. British

Journal of Ophthalmology, 91(11), 1556-55.

Fisher, A. V., Godwin, K. E., & Seltman, H. (2014). Visual environment, attention allocation, and learning  in young children: When too much of a good thing may be bad. Psychological Science, 25(7), 1362-1370.

McDowell, N., & Budd, J. (2018). The Perspectives of Teachers and Paraeducators on the Relationship between Classroom Clutter and Learning Experiences for Students with Cerebral Visual Impairment. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 112(3), 248–260.×1811200304 

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