Educators and Therapists

An Approach to Literacy for Children With CVI1

Published with permission from author, Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy.

Teaching literacy skills to individuals with CVI requires an approach that is founded on the essential principles of literacy but may vary from approaches used for individuals who have ocular forms of visual impairment. Individuals with CVI may be best able to access literacy when materials and methods are adapted in accordance with the CVI characteristics at the level of a current CVI Range© score.  (40)

Progression of Interventions to Support Literacy for Individuals With CVI

Step 1: Objects are presented in isolation with appropriate use of language to build toward identification of salient features. For example,“This is your red spoon. A spoon has a long handle and a hollow part for scooping food.” (41)

Step 2: Additional versions of the object are presented to promote generalization of the target object. Language input provides salient features. For example,“These are all spoons. Some are silver and shiny, others have color, but all of them have a long handle and a hollow part for scooping.” (41)

Visual discrimination is the ability to perceive the visual similarities and differences in targets. It is a basis for the cognitive task of comparative thought. Visual discrimination can initially be taught through matching or sorting activities. In discrimination tasks the goal is for the individual to decide which objects share visual traits, rather than attempting to derive the correct language label. (43)

Example: “Show me an object (spoon) like the one I am holding.”

Visual recognition of an object or image includes the use of the language label associated with the target. In this part of the process, the individual is asked to locate a specific item named. (44)

Example: “Look at these objects and find the spoon.”

Visual identification activities are the next level and are the most difficult of the three learning tasks. In addition to being asked to (1) discriminate the visual similarities, and (2) recognize a name and locate an object that matches the spoken label, in visual identification, the individual must (3) produce the label. (44)

Example: “What is this called?”

Salient features of a fire truck:


windows in front


Step 3: Objects are paired with exact photo image. (41)

Object + image on light box

Object + image on tablet

Object + image in black background book

Step 4: Salient features are taught.

Definitions of salient features are embedded into instruction or routines in the classroom or at home. Salient features are descriptions of two or three defining visual details that are true of the target all or almost all of the time. (41)

A reference catalog for salient features is provided, such as a booklet, notebook, or electronic file (e.g., a shareable Google doc), with sections for meaningful objects used across the day. For example, objects related to meal time, self help, play and leisure, school, environments, animals, symbols. (41)

Sorting activities are used to reinforce salient features and build comparative thought. Practice sorting classes or groups of the same name but varying representations of target items, such as birds, cups, balls, cats, etc. Practice sorting two-dimensional representations of the same classes or groups. (42)

Step 5: Symbols, including words, are introduced. (42)

Phonemic awareness of letters and sounds

Visual descriptions of letters or symbols incorporating salient features

Discrimination: “Show me one like...”

Recognition: “Show me the...”

Identification: “What is this called?”


Salient features of the letter b

b: tall letter, line that goes straight down with a circle in front at bottom


Selection of pairs of high-motivation personal words that are visually discrepant (e.g., go and baseball) (42)

Teach salient features of the sight word. (42)

Color highlight and outline of the word pairs to create precise word shapes. Use the Roman Word Bubbling App (created by a CVI dad!). The app is still a beta version with continuous upgrades until the full version is launched. (42)

Use a range of approaches to reinforce salient features of words: (1) Match printed words to the empty color outline shape of the word. (2) Sort words into groups of the “same” words. (3) Match the color word outline to the print word. (4) Match the print word to the color outline word. (42)

Use comparative thought language throughout to help refine the similarities and differences of objects, images, or environments. (42)

Books—hardcopy or backlit device (tablet or light box) (42)

"Write" using words learned or being learned (e.g., teacher- and student-made stories generated from the student's interest and experiences that incorporate the learned sight words). (42)

Place one or two words into word shapes in an age-appropriate book in the context of a phrase or sentence (42)

Develop a word wall, personal word catalog, or inventory (42)

Procedures to Support the Learning of Words for Students With CVI

Sight words are more visually accessible when they are presented as a single-shaped form. They are essentially memorized as whole shapes with salient visual features. For kids with CVI, letters within a word are viewed as a complex array and are difficult to visually process. Individuals with CVI should be taught the sounds made by letters, even if they are not able to independently identify each letter by name. Check out this resource—created by a CVI mom who is also a special educator and curriculum specialist—that includes the methods and script for teaching words to students with CVI. To make a copy for your own files, go to File and select Make a copy. 

CVI and the IFSP/IEP

Salient Features

1Roman-Lantzy, C. (2019) Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles. Louisville, KY: APH Press, 40-44.

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