Importance of Literacy as Part of a Student's Program

Student pressing keys on a Perkins braille writer independently. Her Intervenor's hands are nearby in case she needs support.
Student learning to use a Perkins braille writer as part of her literacy program.

Literacy skills have a direct effect on a person's quality of life and play a critical role in the framework and functioning of society. Literacy is woven throughout "every aspect of daily life, from learning new academic knowledge to active citizenship to finding and maintaining employment, not to mention the satisfaction and pleasure that can be experienced through using literacy to participate in leisure and recreation" (Copeland & Keefe, 2019, p. 143). Additionally, literacy is crucial for all people because it increases opportunities for learning, employment, social interactions, and overall well-being (Ruppar, Gaffney, & Dymond, 2015). 

The combinations of visual and auditory differences vary widely between individuals and have a “profound effect on learning, especially in relation to communication and concept development, which are the foundations of literacy” (Cushman, n.d.). While one student reads print and communicates through speech, another student reads braille and communicates via American Sign Language (Cushman, n.d.). 

Some students with deafblindness have additional disabilities and do not use alphabet-based communication (Cushman, n.d.). Other forms of symbolic communication may be used for literacy and communication, so the definition of literacy needs to go beyond the traditional definition of “reading and writing.”  Examples of non-traditional symbolic communication may include objects, textures, gestures, signalling, and images.

A wider definition of literacy connects us in ways that go beyond the traditional definition of reading and writing. Communication broadens the definition of literacy by including the multitude of ways that people can engage with one another. Sharing experiences, communicating ideas, and engaging in dialogue are ways to demonstrate literacy abilities. All students, no matter their age or perceived abilities, can be included in, and benefit from, literacy experiences that are tailored according to the individual's needs and abilities (Bruce, Nelson, Perez, Stutzman, & Barnhill, 2016). 

In BC, all students are entitled to an education that involves literacy instruction ("Education for the 21st Century," n.d.). The expectation that all students participate in literacy instruction resides within the prescribed curriculum that has been designed to support all learners across all disciplines and according to each student's abilities. The BC First Peoples' Principles of Learning (n.d.) document also supports inclusive education: an individual's well-being is important, and it is essential to cultivate a sense of belonging and connection with the learning community. 

The body of research in literacy development and evidence-based practices is small in the field of deafblindness. Knowing that literacy skills are linked to a better quality of life, it is essential that teams look to develop literacy programs for students with deafblindness. For students with deafblindness, literacy instruction needs to reflect their unique needs. Below, you will find some literacy strategies (with links to more information) that are emerging evidence-based practices that may be helpful for the student you support.

Talk with your POPDB teacher about your student's literacy program, from screening or assessment to program implementation, ideas, and resources. Be sure to include your Teacher for Students with Visual Impairments and Teacher for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing when implementing literacy programs to ensure instructional strategies and access technology are appropriate. 

Note: a qualified Teacher for Students with Visual Impairments is required to teach braille literacy programs.  

National Center on Deaf-Blindness

The National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) hosts a comprehensive section on literacy for students with combined visual and auditory differences. The website was designed for teachers, family members, and other related professionals who are starting or looking to strengthen literacy instruction for students with deafblindness. Literacy is for everyone and is directly tied to quality of life. 

On the website, you will find a helpful literacy skills checklist for rating literacy-related behaviours as you begin a literacy program for your student. The authors offer instructional strategies and resources for students with deafblindness at all levels of literacy instruction. 

Paths to Literacy

Designed for teachers, families, and other professionals, Paths to Literacy (Perkins) is a tremendous resource for all things related to literacy for students with deafblindness. The site contains research, instructional strategies, and real-life examples. Dive in and get started!

Experience Books

Experience books are one of the most versatile teaching tools that you can use with a student with deafblindness. Experience books are an excellent way to work on literacy skills, communication, and concept development. These books are motivational for students with deafblindness because they are created WITH the student and are about the student in some way - whether they are about the student specifically or encompass the student's unique learning needs. On the POPDB website, you can find an article by Mamer and Monaco about using Experience Books that you will find helpful. In the article, they discuss individual considerations and provide suggestions for making entries to Experience Books meaningful.

Storybox Ideas from Norma Drissel

Storyboxes (story bags or story baskets) are collections of items that correlate to characters or items in a story. The items enhance understanding of characters and events in the story, encouraging tactile exploration and the use of hands, building concepts, and developing language. Hands-on literacy experiences are valuable learning opportunities for students with deafblindness. 

Making Choices

Choice making is a stepping stone to developing more formal literacy skills. Choice making fosters communication and gives students with deafblindness an opportunity to have some control over their lives. Students with deafblindness should have opportunities for making meaningful choices throughout the day in natural environments. At this website, you will find a great choice making procedure that may be helpful when working with your student. 

Provincial Outreach Program for the Early Years

The Provincial Outreach Program for Early Years Literacy (POPEY) is a provincial resource for all students in BC. Our friends at POPEY have many literacy strategies and ideas available on their website. While their literacy menus are not specifically written for students who have different visual and auditory entry points, you may find some of their literacy suggestions relevant, fun, and easy to incorporate into your student's literacy program.  

Shared Reading

Shared Stories are a "promising practice for increasing comprehension for students with limited communication in the literacy of their age group" (Mims, Browder, Baker, Lee, & Spooner, 2009, p. 419). A shared story, also known as a read aloud, is an interactive literacy instruction technique where an adult and student read a story together so the teacher can model good reading skills ("Shared Reading," n.d.). 



BC Ministry of Education. (n.d.). Education for the 21st century. Retrieved February 27, 2024 

Bruce, S. M., Nelson, C., Perez, A., Stutzman, B., & Barnhill, B. A. (2016). The state of research on communication and literacy in deafblindness. American Annals of the Deaf, 16(4), 424 -443. 

Copeland, S. R. & Keefe, E.G. (2019). Literacy instruction for all students within general education settings. Research and Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 44(3), 143-146.

Cushman, C. (n.d.). Overview of literacy for children and youth who are deafblind. Paths to Literacy. Retrieved April 25, 2024. 

First People's Principles of Learning (n.d.) Learning ultimately supports the well-being of the self, the family, the community, the land, the spirits, and the ancestors. Retrieved February 27, 2024.

First People's Principles of Learning (n.d.) Learning is holistic, reflexive, reflective, experiential, and relational (focused on connectedness, on receiprocal relationships, and a sense of place). Retrieved February 27, 2024

Mims, P. J. Browder, D. M., Baker, J. N., Lee, A., & Spooner, F. (2009). Increasing comprehension of students with significant disabilities and visual impairments during shared stories. Education and Training in Developmental Disabilities, 44(3), 409-420. 

Ruppar, A. L., Gaffney, J. S., & Dymond, S. K. (2015). Influences on teachers' decisions about literacy for secondary students with severe disabilities. Exceptional Children, (81)2, 209-226.