Self-Determination Skills

Students cheering at the BC Regional Braille Challenge.

Image shows a logo with an award ribbon.Self-determination is a combination of “skills, knowledge, and beliefs and enables a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behaviour” (Field, et al., 1998, p. 2). Self-Determination skills include self-knowledge, self-advocacy, decision-making, and problem solving (Wolffe & Rosenblum, 2014).

"In order to value others, we have to know our own worth" 
- Patty Berne, quoted in Alice Wong's Disability Visibility. 

On this page:

Check out the Self-Determination 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 Personal Awareness and Responsibility as a core competency with the goal that all students “understand and take responsibility for their actions, including their learning; [...] make constructive and ethical decisions about their personal and social behaviour; and […] recognize and accept consequences, understanding how their actions affect their own well-being and that of others.”

The curriculum identifies three facets of personal awareness and responsibility:

  • Self-Determination
  • Self-Regulation
  • Well-Being

Self-Determination Skills – Students with Visual Impairments

Students with visual impairments access and interact with the world in unique ways. Self-Determination Skills are critical for these learners, as they need to possess effective self-advocacy toolkits to ensure that they obtain the specialized tools, learning materials, and programming supports to thrive at home, at school, and in their communities. Direct instruction in these skills promotes independence and self-advocacy and addresses areas where students with visual impairments may be at higher risk for greater dependence on others (Wilton & MacCuspie, 2017):

  • Increased risk of over helping or restricting action by peers, caregivers, and school staff, negatively impacting self-efficacy, independence levels, and expectations of personal control over outcomes (see Online Resources for 19 Ways to Step Back).
  • Inaccurate or incomplete understanding of cause-and-effect relationships in the environment if functional routines are inaccessible.
  • Fewer opportunities for meaningful decision making that impacts the course and quality of the student’s life.

Examples of Self-Determination Skills

  • Making meaningful choices in activities or contexts that are relevant to the student (e.g., choosing an outfit to wear to school).
  • Can articulate details about one’s visual impairment and communicate functional implications for informational and advocacy purposes.
  • Understands provincial, federal, and international legal frameworks and conventions on the rights of persons with disabilities and how these are relevant.

Resources to Support Instruction

PRCVI Library Catalogue

American Printing House (2012). The Transition Tote system: Navigating the rapids of life. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind. [Resource Kit - braille format]
Transition Tote materials teach middle school, secondary, and transition students with visual impairments essential skills for learning about themselves and the world of work. Materials are also available in large print.
Cleveland, J. (2007). Empowered: An activity based self-determination curriculum for students with visual impairments. Austin, TX: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. [Professional Text & Resource]
Complete curriculum for teaching self-determination skills. Includes professional resources and student response materials. 
Glaser, E. A., & Burgio, M. (2007). All children have different eyes: Learn to play and make friends. Vidi Press. [Enlarged Print].
Story featuring students with a variety of visual conditions, highlighting individual interests and strengths. 
Ladau, E. (2021). Demystifying disability: what to know, what to say, and how to be an ally. New York, NY: Ten Speed Press.
Excellent resource for educators and other allies covering a range of topics including disability etiquette, disability history, as well as recognizing and addressing ableism. When working with students on self-determination skills, teachers can use this book to start conversations about anti-discrimination and advocacy. Alternate format versions available from CELA.
Maffei, P. (2014). Quick & Easy Expanded Core Curriculum: The Hatlen Center Guide. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind. [Professional Text]
Flipbook with one short ECC-focused lesson per card - designed to be completed in 5-15 minutes. Opportunities for teaching and reinforcing self-determination skills are identified in select lessons. 
PRCVI. Titles featuring visually impaired characters and/or with stories about blindness or low vision. [Resource List]

When teaching self-awareness and self-advocacy skills, it can be helpful for students to read and share stories about visual impairment and featuring visually impaired characters (fiction and biography). Use the descriptors below to search for titles in the PRCVI online catalogue:

Smith, K. (2007). The elephant in the room: For teens with visual impairments. Flaghouse. [Professional Material]
Written specifically for teenagers who are blind or visually impaired. Topics include friendship, a sense of humor, dating, popularity, imagination, self-advocacy, and careers.
Tuttle, D. W., & Tuttle, N. R. (2004). Self-esteem and adjusting with blindness: The process of responding to life's demands. Charles C. Thomas Publisher.
This classic text by Naomi and Dean Tuttle is a trusted reference when understanding the process of adjusting to vision loss and creating a network of support around a learner that fosters the development of self-determination skills.

Web-Based Resources

APH ConnectCenter (2023). Self-determination skills and the Expanded Core Curriculum. Retrieved from
Family-focused content introducing self-determination skills, with information on the role of the TSVI and tips for promoting self-determination at school. 
Image shows the Blind Beginnings LogoBlind Beginnings - Youth Leadership & Pre-Employment Programs
This weekend training for older teens and young adults with visual impairments offers opportunities to develop leadership skills including communication, personal budgeting, and public speaking.
Limitless Podcast from Blind Beginnings
The Limitless Podcast and Limitless Blog are resources run by blind and partially sighted youth. They explore a wide variety of topics from accessibility and independence to interviews with blind and visually impaired professionals to leisure activities and interests. The Limitless Blog is a companion to the podcast and provides articles written by blind and partially sighted youth
Brown, D. (2011). Self‐determination is for babies, too! Retrieved from
Article looks at steps and strategies to lay the groundwork for self-determination skills among young children who are deafblind. 
Eyes on Success Podcast
Eyes On Success is a podcast focusing on technology, services, and daily living tips for people with visual impairments. Each episode is a success story about accomplishments in academics, employment, sports, or pastimes or descriptions of aids that enable visually impaired people to achieve goals.
Image shows the top of a poster with the title 19 Ways to Step BackHudson, L. J. (n.d.). Promoting independence: The 19 Ways to Step Back. Retrieved from
Check out the Perkins School site for a web version of this classic resource. Share with educational teams, families, students - anyone promoting independence and self-determination!
PRCVI. (November, 2020). Braille alphabet for classroom presentations. Retrieved from
This resource, created by a BC teacher of students with visual impairments, can be used to build awareness of braille, create connections between students with visual impairments and their peers, and provide a platform for students to create awareness about the tools and technologies they use within the classroom.
Wehmeyer, M. L., Davis, S., & Palmer, S B. (n.d.). 10 steps to independence: Promoting self-determination in the home. Retrieved from
Ten key steps for families to support students' capacity for self-determined behaviour. Content is not specific to visual impairment but is relevant nonetheless. 


Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). A practical guide for teaching self-determination. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Wilton, A. P. & MacCuspie, P. A. (2017). Self-Determination. 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.

Wolffe, K. E. & Rosenblum, L. P. (2014). Self-determination. In C. B. Allman & S. Lewis (eds.) ECC Essentials: Teaching the expanded core curriculum to students with visual impairments (pp. 470-509). New York, NY: AFB Press.

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