Students with Sensory Impairments

This section may be useful in supporting colleges to create home learning programmes for their learners who have a severe hearing and / or visual impairment, where one sense doesn’t fully compensate for the loss of the other resulting in significant barriers to accessing information, communication and mobility. This also includes learners with cortical visual impairment, auditory processing disorders and sensory integration challenges.

Sense College, Portland College, National Star College and Henshaws have produced top tips for creating home learning programmes for this cohort dividing them into five main categories: Access; Environment; Structure; Planning Activities; and Recording Progress.


For this cohort there is no one size fits all approach. Often activities and materials are adapted to suit the particular needs of the individual. Access to information is potentially one of the largest barriers to learning for individuals with sensory impairment(s). Below is suggested advice for minimising barriers to accessing information through tips for adapting materials to suit individuals who fit into this heterogeneous group.

  • Follow communication Passport and Sensory or Therapy Assessments. Everyone is individual, the specific needs of a young person with a sensory impairment is unique to them. Therefore, it is essential to follow an individual’s communication passport and specialist assessments in order to tailor their activities and resources to meet their specific needs. National Star College have provided some best practice advice for assessment.
  • Format learning materials. Use the correct font size, contrasting colours, and reduced visual clutter. For tips on presenting accessible information see Henshaws Presenting Clear Information for People with Visual Impairment.
  • Utilise accessibility features. Zoom video conferencing offers screen share features in which you can share a section of your screen to reduce visual clutter. Many devices have built in accessibility features including audio reader, voice note features, Reader View which allows the user to amend page and font colour as well as font style and size.
  • Minimise disadvantages and social exclusions. For example, beware of features in Microsoft Teams video conferencing where only 4 video screens appear at one time. Set ground rules to prevent disadvantaging learners in a group session. Some learners might rely on lip reading or BSL. Hearing impaired learners might not be aware they need to make a sound to pop on screen for others so see them.
  • Use appropriate vocabulary. Use words, signs and symbols the learner understands. Focus on concrete themes until language skills allow for more abstract ideas. Avoid the use of stimuli which might provide incorrect clues about what’s going to happen next particularly sensory objects associated with activities in college that could cause confusion and disappointment.
  • Support parents to fulfil the role of a communication partner while the individual is without this resource.


Creating an environment that facilitates learning, communication and independence is a key factor in success for learners with sensory impairment. Below are some top tips for creating an inclusive environment.

  • Reduce environmental distractions. For some individuals their sensory impairment may have led to underdeveloped habituation skills. This means they may not be able to ignore or block out meaningless sensory information which can create additional difficulty in concentrating or processing key information.
  • Create an optimum environment. This will depend on the specific needs of the individual some examples to consider are minimising visual clutter and avoiding busy work spaces. Present visual information against a plain, contrasting background, avoid glare from windows and avoid objects appearing in space.
  • Find the right environment to learn in. Where is most suitable place for a particular activity to occur? Is it in the living room, office or an outside space? Is the parent happy for you to suggest use of items within the room as part of the session? Can you take a virtual tour of the home to look at other suitable environments and activities that could be used to support the session? You may see things differently to a parent.
  • Establish a working space. Create a suitable set up where the learner has access to the equipment they require in an organised way. A desk lamp might be needed for additional task lighting for those with poor visual acuity.  Where possible, table top work should be completed somewhere separate to other household activities, including relaxation / family time, to reduce anxiety and support learners who have difficulty with compartmentalisation.
  • Offer practical activities. Activities that are easy to create and deliver in the home are likely to be more successful. Incorporate daily living activities around the house this will support individuals to become more independent in home. Provide advice on specialist equipment for improving independence in the home.
  • Create a ‘calm / safe’ place. It is important that we all have time to relax and feel safe, especially at the moment, some learners will benefit from a ‘calm down’ or ‘safe’ space within the home to help the learner find a place to retreat to. See link for guidance of creating safe places from Portland College.


During this period of home learning, learners are likely to be experiencing a wide range of emotions. Their usual routine and structure has been disrupted and they may be struggling to cope with this sense of uncertainty. Below are suggestions for creating structure to support wellbeing through home learning.

  • Establish a routine. Help individuals and their family establishing a routine for each day with scheduled breaks for food, drink, movement, exercise and relaxation.
  • Encourage consistency. Having consistent sleep, wake up and eating patterns can support wellbeing.
  • Use a planner or calendar system. Selecting and using an appropriate planner can help individuals gain some control over their routine. It can help learners be more independent, communicate about the day ahead and support those who have little to no concept of time anticipate events via structure. See guidance on using daily planners from Sense College.
  • Provide wellbeing support. During the Coronavirus Pandemic learners are likely to be experiencing a wide range of emotions that they may not have experienced before and could be unsure how to communicate these. It is best to work on emotional literacy skills and coping strategies when an individual is calm. Try adding some wellbeing activities into an individual’s schedule. Portland College have provided some examples of wellbeing learning activities.
  • Minimise Sensory Overload. Apply the less is more rule in sensory learning activities. Avoid stimulating more than one sense at a time. Individuals may struggle to process sensory information from more than one sensory channel at a time. Be aware of the individual’s response time. Pause and give time for a response before stepping in.
  • Use repetition to develop memory skills.

 Planning Activities

Careful planning can improve the quality of home learning materials and online sessions.

  • Use age and level appropriate material. There are lots of online materials created for learners with sensory impairment however many of these are aimed at children. Be sure the activities and links you send home are suitable.
  • Trial scenarios. Practice activities with a colleague particularly if it has not been delivered remotely before to pre-empt issues and improve your sessions.
  • Embed learning within individual’s interests. Activities that include learner’s interests or have motivational factors are likely to be more appealing and lead to successful engagement in completing college work.
  • Be creative and fun. Be creative to capture your learner’s attention, make learning meaningful, motivating and engaging. Dress up, use different sounds and make it fun.
  • Be flexible. Change it up if it’s not working, adapt the programme or session. Advise families to build up the length of the sessions gradually. Initially, learners may only engage for 5/10 minutes, listen to their ‘voice’, try to reengage, move on or end the session when they indicated this. For online sessions aim to gradually work up towards 30 minutes’ slots.
  • Be patient. Take time to build rapport with the learner, this is a different approach. React to each individual’s needs and pace appropriately. Learning should be an evolving scheme building on prior knowledge and experience. Pushing the individual before they are ready can cause confusion and break trust.
  • Embrace opportunity. This is an opportunity to bridge the gap between home and college life. Coach the parents through strategies so they can apply them too. Share successful techniques.
  • Ensure activities have clear instructions. Provide guidance or instruction to deliver a task. Provide information about what learning looks like. Consider sending a video clip to demonstrate specialist techniques.
  • Be mindful. Consider which activities might be best and when is the best time for them to be carried out. Some learners might be more alert and ready to learn in morning. Afternoons may be better suited to therapy. However, if your activity over alerts / dysregulates them this may impact on the rest of the learner’s day.
  • Be successful. Make the session bite sized and end on a positive.
  • Be aware of affordance. Use resources, technology available at home and consider the space that may be available.
  • Be practical. Create learning that is suited to the home environment, but can be mapped to curriculum learning and individual targets. For example, see My Scavenger Hunt Sensory Story provided by Sense College.
  • Avoid assumption. Avoid any assumption about what is already known. Learners can be very different in the home environment.
  • Follow planning. Do not throw in random filler tasks without purpose.

Recording Progress

Recording progress effectively ensures learning can be tracked and developed over a period of time. It will enable a college to monitor the quality of material, respond quickly to develop learning and identify unmet needs.

  • Record sessions. This is an opportunity to review and evaluate what you have put in place, and opportunity to improve your delivery.
  • Track small steps. Use reflect logs to monitor small step in progress over a period of time. See Reflective Log template and guidance provided by Sense College.
  • Communicate with the parent. Find out what suits them.  Support parents to feedback on sessions. Ask them to set up the next session in a particular way so that it’s more engaging. Ask for video clips so you can carry out observations and evaluate learning.
  • Recorded contact with parents. If parents prefer to give verbal feedback over the phone of via video call capture this as evidence.
  • Avoid overwhelming parents with complicated tracking sheets. Inconsistent feedback is better than nothing at all. Create a system in college to organise evidence from home learning this will enable you to coordinate and create a consistent system for mapping progress to individual targets and learning areas. For example, develop and use a Home Learning Event Log category if you use Databridge. There is another section of the Natspec Home Learning project that focused on progress and feedback.