Activities of Daily Living: Teaching Blind Children Everyday Organizational & Living Skills

boy reaching for a strawberry

By Karen and Jay Stiteley

Karen and Jay presented this information at an LCA conference for parents of children who are blind. They were both very accessible and their presentation made a lot of sense. Below we’ve reproduced their notes (with permission, of course). Read on to learn some great ideas on how to teach daily living skills to blind children…

The first area to consider when wanting to introduce Activities of Daily Living (ADL) into either a resource classroom setting or itinerant program is a foundation of Consistency and Developing Memory Skills. These skills are also fundamental in Planning and Organization.

Consistency includes:

  • The student is the one to determine the placement of items, some guidance may be offered to ensure that the student is not making more work for themselves by having to crisscross back and forth across the work area. Example, When doing dishes in a double sink, if all the dishes, to be washed, are setting to the right side of the sinks, then the wash water should be the first sink to the left, then the drying rack should be in the left-hand sink.
  • Remember to be aware of and work toward the student’s dominant side. (left or right handed)
  • The student should also be responsible for retrieving the desired object, not family, teacher aides, other classmates, or the teachers themselves.

Memory includes:

  • Developing the memory through practice. If the student has some memory problems (not cognitive impaired) then teaching some memory techniques can work.
  • If a student does have some cognitive impairment then make use of tape recorders, braille or large print lists placed in obvious places to assist with the established systems.
  • Planning and organization skills are not something that need to occur only at school. The organizational systems should begin at home.

Fundamentals of Labeling

  • Braille Dyno Tape Labeler, Braille writer and Howe Press labeling Frame, Braille on Dymo tape with slate and stylus.
  • 20/20 pens, vis-a-vis pens, Sharpie permanent marker, (various colors) on contrasting paper.
  • Tactual markers such as crimped safety pins or buttons sewn on shirt tail or waist band of slacks in a specified pattern.
  • Understand and arrange for appropriate lighting for the low vision individual.

Levels of Labeling Categories:

  • Permanent–appliances: microwaves, washers and dryers, stoves, etc.
  • Reusable–kitchen supplies: canned goods, spices, different bottle shapes (ketchup versus mustard) similar shaped bottles, use olfactory to distinguish, such as salad dressings.
  • Disposable–quick, one time read: post-it notes for large print or braille where it needs to be only used for short time, or one reading
  • Tactual–for the non reading student, use recognizable shapes to specify items, such as a shapes, circle, square, or triangle. Rubber bands, held in place with masking tape, even if bands break the tape holds them in place for counting purposes.

Home Systems

  • Clothing–Group long sleeve shirts, short sleeve shirts, casual clothes, and dress clothes into separate parts of the closet.Label the clothes with some tactual means of identification that will go through the laundry safely and intact. For example, sewn-in braille color tags, crimped safety pins in a specific design, sewn-in number of buttons that means blue, red, yellow, etc., with a secondary means of knowing whether there are stripes or patterns to the outfit.
  • Sock locks–Means of keeping pairs of socks together, during washing, or socks that are tactually identifiable from other socks, minimize the number of different colored socks.
  • If a student has memory problems with these systems, the above mentioned taped, brailled, or large print list can be placed in an adjacent location, taped to the wall, on a shelf in the closet or in a drawer in the room. This establishes a pattern of consistency.

Food and canned goods:

  • Labeling foods, canned goods have the opportunity to have reusable labeling systems. For instance, a rubber band, a brailled strip of paper with a hole punch, will allow a student to identify items in the cupboard, use them, remove the label and place it in a box for later use. This placing in a box also provides a grocery list. The labels can be taken to the grocery store and provide the list and place the label on the items as they go into the basket. This way when they return home it is already labeled while at the store.Planning is in large part an exercise in problem solving. The first step in problem solving is to realize that you have a problem, then to determine all the options that might solve the problem. Once all the options have been identified, then the options can be reviewed for disadvantages and advantages. Once these have been reviewed there are usually several final choices for one to choose from. This latter part is important for if another person is involved in solving this problem, they are always more receptive in working out the problem if they have choices. This system has been named SODAS. Identifying the problem is the Situation Options is the brainstorming phase, Disadvantages and Advantages is obvious and Solutions are the choices for solving the problem.

In School

  • Keeping up with schoolwork: Using a separate binder for each class or one binder for all classes with dividers that have been Brailled or identified with large print markings.
  • For the student who has too many books to carry and adding one more binder, could make use of folders with pockets to hold their papers. Tradeoffs to this situation are the braille paper of the larger size fits in the APH folders, unless only 8.5×11 inch paper is used.

Record keeping in file drawers:

  • Labeling folders in print is good for the low vision person, using the Vis-a-vis or 20/20 pens for the name of the file. Sometimes it is difficult to write large enough for the low vision person to read the names while it is still in the drawer, this could be due to lack of lighting, ability to get close enough to read, etc. So it will be necessary to pull the file out to read the name. As they pull out the file they could use a large chip bag clip to affix to the file in front of the one they pulled out, this makes it easier to return the file and maintain alphabetic order. Or they could put just a wide object in the slot where they remove the file such as a book.
  • For the braille reader, it can be a little easier, for reading the file folder name. When labeling the folder the braille should go on the back of the folder tab, this way the student can curl the fingers over the back of the file folder in the drawer and be able to read the folder name without pulling the folder out of the drawer. The same ideas can work for marking the place as it did with the low vision individual.
  • The locker: Ideally, the visually impaired student will not have to share a locker. The lock issue could be solved by the use of a lock opened by a key, if a Click lock does not work. Be sure that there are two or more keys to the lock that are at the school not home. The same with the combination of a Click lock.If possible, arrange for an extra shelf to be installed midway in the locker to offer more organizational opportunity for the student. Structure the locker like their day, the bottom could be for the books needed for the beginning of the day, the middle shelf for late morning classes and the top for the end of the day.

    If lockers are not used, then containers of some type can be used for separating the smaller items and containing them. Zipper bag for putting the slate and stylus, specific pocket for placing the abacus or portable talking calculators, etc.

Electronic notetaking devices:

  • Develop a consistent naming procedure, such as the notes for history class will all be in one file, with dates inserted so that the search feature can find specific days or dates.
  • An assignment file can be very useful for each class to ensure that all the information is taken down and in a specific place.
  • When using a computer or a device that has large storage capability, chapters, grading periods, etc. can separate courses.
  • The consistent method of naming files can be very helpful. In the case of books that have been scanned into a computer an abbreviated code can be used for the various book names.
  • If scanned books are an option, and are being read by a word processing program, then a system of grading the information can be used. Placing an X at the left margin of some important sounding information will allow for easy location through the search feature of the word processing program.
  • Establish a consistent manner of writing in names in a phone book, decide if in a braille device cap signs will be used or not. Write phone numbers with spaces instead of dashes. This allows for dialing with one hand and reading with the other either in the refreshable braille option or speech.

Curriculum Connections

This section will show how to integrate the curriculum with the various ADL skills. There will be overlap between the various areas.


  1. Measuring: reading recipes utilizes fractions, 1/4 cup, teaspoon, etc., plus, literary or Nemeth Code, re-enforcement.
  2. Setting timers teaches 15 minute versus quarter hour, time telling skills, etc.
  3. Time and distance: Planning for the grocery store trip, how to get there, how long it will take to get there, learning and understanding bus schedules if applicable. Coordinate with O&M instructor.
  4. Budgeting: figuring costs, taxes, learning about product brands, coupons, use of abacus, talking calculator, etc. creating a check register or use of a talking checkbook program.
  5. Technology: shopping on-line, Pea Pod, using the calculator of a portable electronic note taker.


  1. Cleaning supplies: teach how to use for directional sprays, what is dangerous if ingested, gets into eyes, organized patterns, circular or overlapping patterns, etc. Natural cleaning supplies, such as vinegar, baking soda, club soda, etc. can be a good alternative.
  2. Effects of temperature on foods, best storing methods, molding of long kept foods.


  1. Re-enforce braille reading and writing skills: create the menu, reading and writing the recipes, re-enforces literary or Nemeth Code. (Use thermoform paper to write recipes so that any cooking materials can be washed off.)
  2. Use technology to search for recipes either on a CD or Internet.
  3. Creating the shopping list: braille or large print re-enforces spelling skills.
  4. Use of low vision aids and appropriate lighting for reading stove temperature, recipes, etc.

Social Studies:

  1. Different Nationalities: research about different cultures, their foods, Holidays through the year as themes for the cooking experiences.
  2. Repetition of activities: slicing, dicing, peeling and paring of vegetables, remember one experience is not likely to make the students skilled in the activity.
  3. Technology: research through CD based books, or the Internet.

Language Arts:

  1. Spelling and grammar: Involve the students in the writing of letters, requests for small grants, the thank you notes once a grant is secured. (See section on funding.)
  2. Signature and handwriting: This for writing checks, signing for credit cards, etc. (Begin this at the same time sighted students are learning their letters and cursive, much easier to convince at that age, then later.)

Preparation options:

  1. Coordinate with the Home Economics department to make use of the kitchen.
  2. Electric skillet: can be done in the resource classroom, can prepare a wide range of dishes in this from scrambled eggs to hamburgers, to chicken, etc.
  3. Microwave cooking: This offers a wide range of choices and can meet different student skill levels, it will incorporate many of the above skills as well.
  4. Toaster ovens or specialty devices, like pizza makers, cookie ovens, George Foreman Grills, etc. (see funding options for more information).

Eating Skills

  • This doesn’t fall under any specific traditional educational curriculum, but is a critical skill to possess. Once the cooking has occurred in a classroom the students need to have experience with cutting meat, spreading condiments, etc.
  • Play Dough can be used as the ongoing cutting experience, spreading butter on a cracker, etc.

Restaurant excursions:

  • Sit down restaurant, not fast food. Can order off menu, no finger foods, can order hamburger, but must take off bun and use knife and fork.
  • Budgeting for their meals, including tax and tip (math skills).
  • Menu reading and understanding: this could be in braille, using low vision aids, or in some cases using access technology to read the restaurant web site menu, prior to arriving at the restaurant. (this may involve VI teacher securing the print menu prior to excursion and preparing it in braille ahead of time.)
  • Coordinating with the O&M instructor to either plan the bus, train, or walking route with appropriate students. While the others, need to learn to negotiate the cluttered environment of the appearance of randomly placed tables and chairs. Low vision students dealing with the potentially inadequate lighting for locating a table and reading menus. This could then bring out the advocacy skills of a student to request assistance of the restaurant staff for sighted guide.

Funding these projects

  • Write grants for technology to Delta Gamma, local Lions, Rotary, Optimus Clubs, etc. Grants could be for the funding of the restaurant excursions, so that students aren’t at disadvantage of the have and have not students. Paying for the groceries used in the cooking classes.
  • Approaching stores like Target, Wall Mart, Sears etc. for the small appliances mentioned above as the teacher of a resource classroom, involve the students in the writing of the grants and if received then the thank you notes.
  • Technology: research for local addresses, through the phone, web site, or phone book with a Video magnifier. Use the technology to write the request, printing out in braille or large print for proofreading purposes and use of spell checker. (Reading language arts)
  • Involve the parents whenever possible to observe how the students learn the different skills for follow up at home.

Itinerant Programs

  • Many of the same content listed above can happen in an itinerant program, but the difficulty comes when trying to take the time out of the regular class day. Some VI teachers arrange for a specific time in the day where they have the student outside of the regular classroom when some of these activities could occur. Coordinating with the home economics teacher for the use of the kitchen or at least part of it.
  • Another program is when several VI teachers combine their students at one location for part or all of a day to focus on these skills. Yet others make the commitment to use the facilities at the end of the day, shifting their work schedules on that day to start later. In these situations, they do have the critical component of parent involvement, because students then need rides home.
  • Develop a summer program with ADL skills as the focus, this may be a partnership with a local rehabilitation agency or school with kitchen facilities.

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