Compensatory Access Skills

Photo shows a young student exploring a page of braille with tactile markers

Image shows a logo with a hand exploring a tactile bar graph.Compensatory skills allow students with visual impairments to access and communicate information about the world. These skills encompass the following areas such as concept development, spatial awareness, listening skills, study and organizational skills, and use of specialized materials and equipment (Guerette, 2017). Compensatory skills provide students with visual impairments with the skills they need to effectively access the core curriculum and collaborate with their peers.

On this page:

Check out the Compensatory Skills section in #Outreaching - the blog of the PRCVI Outreach Team.

Connections to the BC Curriculum – Core Competencies

""The British Columbia K-12 Curriculum emphasizes Collaboration as a core competency. Collaborating “involves the skills, strategies, and dispositions that people use to work together to pursue common purposes and accomplish common goals”. The curriculum identifies three facets of collaborating:

  • Working collectively
  • Supporting group interactions
  • Determining common purposes

Compensatory skills and strategies enable students with visual impairments to work collaboratively with their peers by lowering the access barriers to shared action and learning. 

Compensatory Access Skills – Students with Visual Impairments

Students with visual impairments often must use unique strategies to access information about the world and communicate with others. Compensatory access skills are crucial because they enable learners to understand the world around them, organize their environment efficiently, and communicate effectively with others. Direct instruction in these skills allows students to effectively access areas of the core curriculum and provides them with strategies to collaborate with others.

Research indicates that young adults with visual impairments face numerous barriers once they enter the workforce (Shaw, Gold, & Wolffe, 2007). Compensatory skills equip young adults with many of the skills they will need in the workforce, such as accessing print independently, keeping work organized, and using specialized equipment in work environments. 

Examples of Compensatory Access Skills

  • Placing tactile markers in strategic locations on a keyboard during the process of learning to touch type.
  • Using a magnifier to examine a picture in a library book that is not readily available in an alternate format.
  • Effectively organizing materials and resources while researching and writing a report.

Resources to Support Instruction

PRCVI Library Catalogue

Poppe, Karen J. Beginner’s Abacus Kit. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.  [Resource Kit]
Two-rod abacus for teaching fundamental abacus skills with instructional booklet. 
American Printing House for the Blind. APH Cranmer abacus. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind. [Resource Kit]
The original 13-rod Cranmer abacus - dimensions: 15.56 cm wide by 8.26 cm high. 
American Printing House for the Blind. Draftsman tactile drawing board. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind. [Resource Kit]
Students use a variety of tools to create raised lined in a special film (included) to create tactile graphs, maps, and images. 
Orbit Research. (2013). Orion TI-48 Plus talking graphing calculator. Louisville: KY: American Printing House for the Blind. [Device]
Students can access graphs on the calculator through speech output of coordinates and audio tones. Loans available only to students in grades 10-12. 
American Printing House for the Blind. (2012). Tactile treasures: Tactile color edition. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind. [Resource Kit]
Informal assessment and instructional tool supporting early concept development through raised images of real objects in Thermoform paper. 
American Printing House for the Blind (2015). Tactile graphic line slate. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind [Device]
Similar in function to a standard slate, but allows the user to create different raised lines (e.g., dotted, dashed).
McClennan, MN, et al. (1998). The Good Tactile Graphic: Guidelines, Resources, and Samples. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind. [Resource Kit]
Instructional resource (booklet + DVD) intended to show professionals the features of effective tactile graphics. 
TacWorks Assistive Technology (2016). Tactile Caliper [Device]
This tactile caliper is an innovative device that allows students with visual impairments to measure with a great degree of precision to 1/16th of an inch. The caliper uses raised pins that create a mechanical refreshable braille display.

Web-Based Resources

Accessible Media, Inc. (AM). AppTV. Retrieved from:
Hosts outline useful and accessible mobile apps in short online segments.
Brauner, D. (2016, September 9). Teaching the talking graphing calculator to the visually impaired student.
This article from Paths to Literacy highlights a number of instructional videos and interviews around teaching the use of a talking graphing calculator to students with visual impairments. These calculators are available on loan from PRCVI.
Iowa Educational Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired. Abacus Video Training. Retrieved from
Training video on introducing the use of the Cranmer abacus to students. 
Litman, Jane. Hey, where do I plug this in? Oh, it's an ABACUS! Retrieved from:
Resource created by a BC-based TVI that provides a brief introduction and rationale for teaching the abacus. 
Perkins School for the Blind. Strategies for Teaching Touch Typing to Students with Visual Impairments. Retrieved from
Image shows a QWERTY keyboard with two hands positioned over top.Check out this page from Paths to Technology on teaching touch typing skills - it's about more than finding the best typing program! 
Provincial Outreach Program for Students with Deafblindness (n.d.). Using Calendar Systems. Retrieved from
Resource page from our friends at POPDB on creating calendar systems for students with deafblindness. Photos provide examples of many different tactile and object cues, as well as tips for constructing/maintaining systems.
Willings, C. (2019). Time management for visually impaired students. Retrieved from
Strategies and app suggestions for promoting time management skills and essential concepts.


Guerette, A. R. (2017). Compensatory Access. In M. C. Holbrook, C. Kamei-Hannan, & T. McCarthy (eds.). Foundations of Education, Volume II: Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youths with Visual Impairments (pp. 875-913). New York, NY: AFB Press.

Shaw, A., Gold, D., & Wolffe, K. (2007). Employment-related experiences of youths who are visually impaired: How are these youths faring?. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 101(1), 7-21.

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