Toys & Play for Young Children with Visual Impairments

It is often said that play is a child's work, and in fact, children learn essential skills through play. Communication, motor skills, cognition, and social interaction are a few of the developmental areas that are stimulated by play activities. In this section, parents and teachers will learn how to select playthings, adapt them when necessary, create play space, encourage play, and provide appropriate structure and support.
 
Play, games, and recreation are important parts of learning for children who are blind or visually impaired, with or without other disabilities. These resources can help educators and family members find the right toys to support and stimulate the cognitive, physical, psychological, and social development of children with blindness or visual impairment.  More information about organized sport and adaptation of specific sports and games can be found in the Education category under Physical Education and Sports.   For a compendium of sports for visually impaired athletes, refer to The Encyclopedia of Sports and Recreation for People With Visual Impairments (Critical Concerns in Blindness). Author Andrew Leibs describes his book as "first consumer-focused guide to the new world of accessible sports and recreation that has exploded during the last decade." The encyclopedia covers sports adaptations, sports specific to the blindness community, and athlete profiles.
 
Below is a list of topics you'll find in this section. Click on a title to jump to a specific topic.

 

Toy Selection

WonderBaby.org
This page offers a sampling of toys and a list of tips to help parents select the best toys for children with blindness or visual impairments.
 
Family Connect
This article lists some of the features to look for when selecting toys for a child with visual impairment, as well as suggestions creating a play area.
 
National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
This list is made up of regular commercial toys that can be purchased through local shops or toy stores. The age categories are suggested by the parents, not the manufacturers.
 
Future Reflections, 12(2), 1993, National federation of the Blind (NFB)
This articles has tips for choosing equipment that can enhance a child's development, including commercial toys and household materials, and ideas for activities to enhance a child's enjoyment of play. This article is reprinted from the Overbrook School for the Blind's Parent Early Childhood Education Series.
 
American Foundation for the Blind (AFB)
Toy Industry Foundation (TIF™), in partnership with Alliance for Technology Access (ATA) and American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), has researched and tested hundreds of toys, and produced this comprehensive guide of the best toys for children with all types of special needs, of all ages, with different interests kept in mind.
 
Overbrook School for the Blind
Early Intervention teachers share a list of their favorite toys, with photos and a description of each one.
 
Future Reflections, 14(3) Fall 1995, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
This article by Terri Connolly offers creative ideas for activities using household materials as props for play.
 
WonderBaby.org
This page recommends specific toys for toddlers who are blind.
 
Future Reflections, 20(3), 2001, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Terri Connolly and Jill Brody share ideas for toys that enhance developmental skills at different age levels, such as movement, visual awareness, and object permanence.  A list of questions to ask when selecting toys is included.
 

Adapted and Switch-operated Toys

Los Angeles Unified School District
A catalog of adaptive switches, with image, description, and link to purchase. If you are trying to find the right switch for the right purpose, this is a great starting place.
 
Special Education Service Agency (SESA)
This document explains how to mount toys for students who do not have use of their hands or arms. (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
 
Alliance for Technology Access
Learn how to adapt a toy with a battery-operated switch using these step-by-step instructions. (PDF)
 
Family Center on Technology and Disability (FCTD) 
This issue of the FCTD newsletter has numerous articles on toys and adapted play, including what one can learn by observing children play, toy selection, and adapting toys with common household supplies; includes an annotated list of resources and toy vendors.
 

Organizations and Resources to Explore: Adapted Toys

Toy evaluations by an independent nonprofit agency that fosters play for children with disabilities. The online database rates the toys for suitability for children with cognitive, physical, sensory, or communicative disabilities (searchers may combine two categories).
 
Enabling Devices is dedicated to developing affordable learning and assistive devices to help people of all ages with disabling conditions.
 
The National Lekotek Center is a source on toys and play for children with special needs. Lekotek uses interactive play experiences, and the learning that results, to promote the inclusion of children with special needs into family and community life.
 
Oppenheim is the only independent consumer review of children's media.  Recommended toys are grouped by age level (infant, toddler, preschool) and by type of toy or equipment, e.g. active physical play, pretend play, bath toys, etc.
 
Special Needs Toys are providers of carefully selected games, toys, and other leisure products aimed at people of all ages with special needs.. 
 
The free Toys 'R' Us Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids lists 85 great accessible toys that are available nationally.
 

Learning through Play

Simplified Technology
Linda Burkhart outlines the many skills that can be reinforced through adapted play, including cognitive, communication, and fine and gross motor skills.  She also offers suggestions for expanding communication skills and interaction through play.
 
Let's Play! Project
This 20-page guidebook helps parents and early intervention professionals encourage play in the lives of children with disabilities.  Included are descriptions of six types of emerging play, advice on play materials, positioning options, and adaptations. (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
 
National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB)
This chapter from Peggy Freeman's book for parents of the deafblind baby with multiple disabilities discusses the importance of play and outlines six stages of play, with many simple activities to try at home. (Microsoft Word Document)
 
Family Connect for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments
This article presents many practical tips to help your baby learn to play.

Organizations and Resources to Explore: Learning Through Play

Hadley School for the Blind
This online course offers suggestions for toys and activities that teach children about themselves and the world around them.
 
Blind Children's Resource Center
This section of the BCRC site contains four articles: Learning to Play, How Does a Blind Child Play, Adapting Play, and Adaptive Aids Equipment and Toys.
 
National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB)
This section of the NCDB website has several articles about play and recreation for students who are deafblind.
 

Creating Play Spaces

WonderBaby.org
This article is full of practical suggestions for creating a play area in a small space, such as a laundry basket.
 
WonderBaby.org
Learn to design play areas that stimulate the senses of babies with visual impairments while making them feel safe and inviting them to explore.
 
See also the Assistive Device Center and learn more about how to design these spaces and adapted play equipment at Perkins.
 

Active Learning

Future Reflections, 23(2), Special issue 2004, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
This is an abridged excerpt from Dr. Lilli Nielsen's book, Early Learning Step by Step: Children with Vision Impairment and Multiple Disabilities. It outlines her Active Learning Approach and explains the importance of the learning environment.
 
Future Reflections, 24(1), 2005, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Stacy Shafer outlines some of Dr. Lilli Nielsen's recommendations for designing a learning environment for a child with visual impairments and multiple disabilities.
 
Future Reflections, 25(1), 2006, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Jean Bugbee shares her experiences using the Active Learning Approach with her adopted daughter, Renee.
 
Future Reflections, 25(2), 2006, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Sue Elan Holmes writes about her experience with the Little Room, and what the Active Learning approach has meant for her son, Jimmy.

Organizations and Resources to Explore: Active Learning

LilliWorks is the provider of Dr. Lilli Nielsen's specially designed Active Learning Equipment for North America, and also educates and consults on Active Learning topics.
 

Full-Text Articles

Associated Press
Students at California School for the Blind are helping to promote adapted tennis, invented in Japan in the 1980s
 
AblePlay
Toy evaluations by an independent nonprofit agency that fosters play for children with disabilities. The online database rates the toys for suitability for children with cognitive, physical, sensory, or communicative disabilities (searchers may combine two categories).
 
The Morning Call (Lehigh Valley, PA)
Lehigh County Youth Association has opened its rosters to deaf and blind players. Meet Nose guard Gage Dannecker and flag footballer Alonso Hernandez in this 2012 article.
 
National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCBD)
This section of the DB-LINK website has several articles about play and recreation for students who are deafblind.
 
VisionAware
Some easy ways to adapt your games and playing cards to accommodate players with low vision and braille readers.
 
Teachingvisuallyimpaired.com
Recreational activity is guided by a student's interests and abilities, and provides social skills development as well as physical activity. Read more about the importance of recreation, as part of the Expanded Core Curriculum, in this web post by Carmen Willings.
 

Web-Based Organizations and Resources

All in Play is a membership-based online playing card community that provides a range on gaming opportunities designed for players with limited or no vision.  Play solitaire, against a computer, against others, and in tournaments.  Free trials are available and varied monthly plans are offered.  Bella Online posted this review of the website.
 
Current release movie reviews by Jay Forry provide synopses, critique and accessibility information for fans of all genres.
 
National Public Radio
NPR maintains a community-edited guide to accessible playgrounds. Over 1000 listed parks and playspaces, including ideas for inclusion within your own neighborhood.
 
Unfictional, KCRW Radio In the episode "Skating in Darkness," Unfictional interviews individuals with visual impairments about the role of sports and recreation in their lives. Listen on Line or Download this episode by clicking the title above.
 

 

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