Knowledge is Power for Children with Blindness or Low Vision:

How Knowing Your Own Body Keeps You Safe

Incidental Learning of Everyday Concepts

Sighted kids learn by watching. They see others do daily tasks (Turnbull et al., 2013). Most learning, over 80%, comes from what they see (Turnbull et al., 2013). They learn many things just by looking. Like watching birds fly or fireworks. This is called incidental learning. They learn from what’s around them. Children watch people and activities. They do this without help or lessons (Kelly, 2018).

Impact for Understanding Body Concepts

It’s key to know how blindness affects learning for children who are blind or have low vision. This is true for body awareness and safety. Topics like their bodies and sex organs are sensitive but important. Children who are blind or low vision can’t learn about their bodies just by seeing. Much of this learning is by watching from afar. For example, sighted children see what body parts are covered at a pool. They notice differences in gender and setting. Sighted children learn without talking about it or touching anything. They see body parts’ sizes and locations in many places like school, parks, and pools.

Teaching What is Missed from Incidental Learning

Kelly (2018) further explains the impact of incidental learning on students without vision or with very limited access to visual information:

For students with visual impairments […], these naturally occurring opportunities to gain visual information are not the same as they are for students who are sighted. Incidental learning opportunities must be explicitly taught to students with visual impairments through meaningful instruction that includes extra explanations, descriptions, real-world activities, and repeated experiences. (p. 108)

Children who are blind need direct teaching about many concepts they cannot see, using other sensory information. Unlike students with sight who learn by observing the world, children with blindness or low vision require explicit instruction on these concepts. This challenge becomes especially significant for taboo topics not freely discussed in polite conversation and for concepts involving items that are not or cannot be examined by touch.

This article aims to highlight the challenge that children with blindness or low vision face in the incidental learning of everyday concepts related to the human body. The purpose of this article is to provide the foundation for realistic solutions to this problem in order to empower children with blindness or low vision with accurate information about their bodies that they can use to keep themselves safe and empowered as they grow.

Use Explicit Language and Human-Like Toys to Support the Realistic Conversation

Parents, caregivers, and teachers can work together to intentionally fill the gaps created by the lack of incidental learning opportunities about one’s own body for children who are blind. Kelly and Kapperman (2013, 2019) and Migliozzi (2020) have suggested and outlined many of the following recommendations for teaching children who are visually impaired with and without additional disabilities about their own bodies and the bodies of others in meaningful ways:

  • It is never too early in life to use frank and direct language with children who are blind about the human body and their bodies, in particular.
  • With younger children who are blind or low vision, keep this conversation simple to establish a language to talk about their body.
  • Together with younger children who are blind or low vision, sing and use the traditional actions that go along with the familiar “head, shoulders, knees, and toes” song but fill in other body parts along the way too as the child moves from their head to their toes.
  • Clarify with the child which body parts are suitable for open discussions with others and which body parts should be kept for private conversations with trusted adults in their life.
  • As a starting point, we recommend discussing with the child which parts of the body they should always cover and which parts they have the option to cover. During this discussion, take the time to provide an explanation for why certain body parts should always be covered.
  • Encourage the child to use their human-like toys to demonstrate their understanding of information by labeling body parts themselves.
  • Explain where the body parts are located exactly and use available human-like toys to provide an example of what you are talking about with the child.

Understanding Different Bodies

  • Talk about body parts during outings. Explain what people wear and why. Do this in different places.
  • Be honest about body parts. This includes size, shape, and location for both genders. Use the right words, even for sex organs. This helps children who are blind or low vision develop an understanding of bodies.
  • Use dolls or human-like toys at home. Label each part with them. Use clear language. This makes learning fit the child’s age.
  • Also, describe body parts for both genders. Use toys to show where these parts are.
  • For children who are blind or have low vision, start with basic body facts. This includes sex organs. Explain when to use medical words and when slang is okay. Give examples of both. Show how each affects people. Teaching these language differences is important. It helps these children understand like their sighted friends and everyone else.
  • Above all else, teach children how knowledge about one’s body means that they have the information they need to have control over one’s body and make choices about one’s body.

Use these strategies together. Go back to them as a child grows. This gives more details about the human body, including sex organs. Blind or low vision children learn about male and female bodies this way. These strategies are just a start. They help these children understand their bodies. You can add more methods that fit their needs.

Knowing One’s Body is Empowering for Safety and Social-Emotional Learning

Research shows that children with disabilities face more risks of abuse than others (Westat, 1994). It’s key for blind or low vision children to know their body parts. They also need to understand social rules about these parts. Knowing about their bodies helps kids in many ways. It aids their thinking and social skills (Westat, 1994). When these children know about their bodies, they can talk to trusted adults. They stay on par with sighted kids who learn these things without trying. This knowledge includes understanding both male and female bodies. It covers all parts, including sex organs..

Additional Readily Available Resources

For those seeking more information related to the education of children who are blind or low vision in the area of human sexuality, the following resources:

  • The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) published a guidebook in 2019 entitled Health Education for Students with Visual Impairments: A Guidebook for Teachers that reflects the National Sexuality Education Standards (2012). This guidebook designed for use by parents and educators of students with visual impairments includes many recommended resources and instructional strategies for meaningful health education.


Kelly and Kapperman (2019) highlight that using the right words is key when teaching students who are blind or have low vision. These students can’t rely on sight to understand important details or unclear descriptions. They miss out on casual learning, so they need clear descriptions, extra explanations, more chances to experience things, and real-life activities (Kelly, 2018).

If visually impaired students don’t get simple, correct, and meaningful information about the human body, they might end up guessing things on their own (Wild, Kelly, Blackburn, & Ryan, 2014). Migliozzi and Witmer (2014) transition goals for blind or low-vision youth should highly individualize, taking into account their unique circumstances and objectives.

Nearly 50 years ago, the New Outlook for the Blind journal stressed that students with visual impairments need to really understand their bodies (Holmes, 1974). There was a clear need in 1974 to teach children who are blind or have low vision about their bodies. This need is even stronger today because the world is more complex.


Future of Sex Education Initiative (2012). National sexuality education standards: Core content and skills, K-12 [a special publication of the Journal of School Health]. Retrieved from

Holmes, R. V. (1974). The planning and implementation of a sex education program for visually handicapped children in a residential setting. The New Outlook for the Blind, 68, 219 -225. 

Kelly, S M. (2018). Interventions for students with visual impairments. In F. E. Obiakor, & J.P. Bakken (Eds.), Viewpoints on Interventions for Learners with Disabilities (Advances in Special Education Vol. 33). (p. 107-126). Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.  

Kapperman, G., & Kelly, S. M. (2013). Sex education instruction for students who are visually impaired: Recommendations to guide practitioners. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 107(3), 226-230.  

Kelly, S. M., & Kapperman, G. (2019). Sex education. In Health Education for Students with Visual Impairments: A Guidebook for Teachers. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Migliozzi, J. (2020). Addressing issues of sexuality for with students who are visually impaired . Perkins School for the Blind.

Migliozzi, J. & Witmer, J. (2014). Don’t see, must tell: Teaching students who are visually impaired and deafblind about human sexuality. Division on Visual Impairments Quarterly, 59(2), 26-31.

Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., Wehmeyer, M. L., & Shogren, K. A. (2013). Exceptional lives: Special education in today’s schools (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Westat, Inc. (1994). A report on the maltreatment of children with disabilities. Washington, DC: National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect.

Wild, T., Kelly, S., Blackburn, M., & Ryan, C. (2014). Adults with visual impairments report on their sex education experiences. Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, 4(2). Retrieved from

Wild, T., Kelly, S. M., Kapperman, G., Ilic, S., & Brewer, S. (2019). Health Education for Students with Visual Impairments: A Guidebook for Teachers. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.