Provincial Outreach Program for Students with Deafblindness


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). Ruppar, Gaffney, and Dymond (2015) stress that being literate is crucial for all people because it increases opportunities for learning, employment, social interactions, and overall well-being. 

For students with deafblindness, the body of research in the area of literacy development and evidence-based practices is incredibly small. Knowing that literacy skills are linked to a better quality of life, POPDB Teacher-Consultants work with teams on helping develop literacy programs for students with deafblindness. The wider definition of literacy connects people to literacy 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 diaglogue are ways to demonstrate literacy abilities. All students, no matter their age of readiness, can be included in, and benefit from, literacy experiences that are tailored according to individual needs and abilities (Bruce, Nelson, Perez, Stutzman, & Barnhill, 2016). 

In BC, all students are entitled to an education that involves literacy instruction ("New Curriculum Info," n.d.). The expectation that all students participate in literacy instruction resides within the prescribed curriculum that has been redesigned to support all learners across all disciplines and according to each student's abilities ("New Curriculum Info," n.d.). 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. 

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. 


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.). 

Tips for using the Shared Reading Strategy with your student:

  • Talk about the title, cover, and author
  • If appropriate, use hand-under-hand to point out items and characters on the cover and throughout the book
    • If items and characters are tactile, feel the item and describe it
  • Talk about what the book may be about (work on prediction and anticipation)
  • Read the story using great expression and appropriate inflection and tone - be dramatic with voice, gestures, and signs
  • Periodically, pause and ask the student about what has happened. Perhaps, make predictions about what will happen
  • Ask questions about what has happened the story
  • Relate the story to the student's experiences and life
  • Ask the student to retell what has happened in the story
  • Re-read the story many times
  • Engage in follow-up activities such as crafts, acting or role playing the story


Story Boxes: A Hands-on Experience, by Norma Drissel

Story boxes (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. 

In addition to the above link on story boxes by Norma Drissel, Perkins School for the Blind has a number of resources on story boxes that you may find useful. 


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. For examples of real experience books made by Intervenors with their students with deafblindness, hover over the Resources Menu (above), then Experience Books. A list of examples of Experience Books on our website will appear. 

Need more reading on Experience Books? Check out:

Creating and Using Tactile Experience Books for Young Children with Visual Impairments by the Texas Deafblind Project

Tactile Experience Books by Paths to Literacy

Language Experience Books by Paths to Literacy


Choice Making

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. Making Choices, an article by Perkins School, has a great choice making procedure that you may find helpful: 

  1. Use real objects (fruit, toys, etc.) before moving on to symbolic representation (object cues, picture symbols, etc.).
  2. When presenting two choices, be very clear and give your student time to process. 
  3. Some student may always reach for the item on a particular side or the last option given. When this happens, pair a preferred item with a neutral or unappealing choice (note: NOT aversive). 
  4. Provide reinforcement for your student's choice. 
  5. When your student can make simple choices between vastly different items, then choice options can be more sophisticated (e.g., would you like to listen to music on the iPad or the radio?)
  6. Sometimes students will choose the second item, no matter what it is. Vary the way you present choices. 
  7. Present choices in ways that your student can understand. For example, be mindful that you present items in your student's visual fields and / or where they can reach them. 
  8. Increase the number of items for choice making when the student is able to choose between two items. 
  9. Remember, we are working towards the student making their own choices for leisure time without adult guidance.


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 deafblindness you may find the literacy suggestions relevant, fun, and easy to incorporate into your daily routine at home. Be sure to check out POPEY's weekly Home Learning Menus for new ideas that may peak your child's interests in literacy. POPEY also has a useful handout on Tips for Home Learning that includes considerations for supporting home learning such as creating positive routines, setting up the learning space, and daily learning experiences. 






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.

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 from https://firstpeoplesprinciplesoflearning.wordpress.com/learning-ultimate...

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 from https://firstpeoplesprinciplesoflearning.wordpress.com/learning-is-holis...

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. 

New Curriculum Info. (n.d.). Curriculum. Retrieved April 10, 2020, from https://curriculum.gov.bc.ca/curriculum-info

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. 

Shared Reading. (n.d.). ReadingRockets. Retrieved April 15, 2020, from https://www.readingrockets.org/strategies/shared_reading