Concept Development for Independent Living Skills

One of the things I am most passionate about in the field of blindness and vision impairment is concept development. Concept development is a term that most people who work in the field have heard before, but that often falls by the wayside in the busyness of daily life. The premise is simple: people who are visually impaired or blind often miss out on learning some of the very basic concepts that most sighted individuals pick up on through observation. In order for a blind or visually impaired person to learn these concepts, it often takes intentional instruction. As a person with a vision impairment, I can attest that this is no myth. As I have grown, I have come to realize how many little things I have missed along the way that sighted people around me just seem to know naturally.

For students transitioning to adulthood, concept development is a crucial component of success. Knowledge is not only useful but also empowering, and promotes confidence and self-determination.

In this post I address some of the main concept development areas centered around independent living skills in adulthood. In each of the 5 major areas, I outline a number of different ideas that a student’s teachers or family members can address. The ideas are designed to apply to students with a range of abilities and life experiences. A student who may not be able to live independently in the future can still benefit from being exposed to some of the things below. Likewise, even the highest functioning student may still require intentional teaching to grasp some of these concepts. Try not to make assumptions about what a student knows already—there are often knowledge gaps in unexpected places simply due to lack of experience. Many of the ideas below are there because I have encountered individuals with these particular gaps in understanding. Keep in mind that I am focusing specifically on concepts, not on major skills (i.e. what is a vacuum, not how to vacuum).

groceriesGrocery Store

Many students have been to a grocery store with an adult before. Some may have even practiced buying groceries with a personal shopper. But just walking through a store really isn’t enough for a student who is blind or visually impaired to really understand how it works. Try taking your student to a grocery store with a focus not on how to shop, but on concept development. You can address some of the following questions:

  • Where are things located throughout the store? What is at the front? What is at the back?
  • How is food displayed in the store? Boxed and canned goods? Meats and dairy? Produce? What about special displays?
  • How does a deli counter work?
  • How much do different items cost? Store versus name brand? Why is one jar of salsa more expensive than another?
  • Product options—how many choices do you have when buying something like toothpaste? How do you choose?
  • What do different items look like? Some students don’t know that spaghetti comes in a box, tomato sauce comes in a jar, or even that an orange comes in a peel
  • What does a checkout counter look like? What about a self-checkout?
  • Where are the price tag and scan codes located on different items?
  • How do you bag groceries? How do you hold the bag open when putting items inside? Which items should be packed together? Separated? Which items should you put on the bottom or on top?

nuts and boltsHome Goods and Repair:

A group of orientation and mobility instructors I know once took some students on a trip to Home Depot. I thought their idea was brilliant. Try taking your student to a home goods and repair store and address some of the following questions:

  • Where does indoor light come from? What do lightbulbs look like? How do you change a lightbulb?
  • What are various tools for and what do they look like? Hammer? Wrench? Pliars?
  • What is a screwdriver? What are screws? How do you use a screwdriver and why?
  • What is duct tape, packing tape, masking tape, etc.? What are their uses?
  • What do different kinds of sinks look like? Toilets? Shower stalls, etc.?
  • What does a toilet plunger look like and how do you use it?
  • How do washing machines and dryers work? Where does the soap go? What is a lint screen and where is it?


This topic runs the gamut of understanding kinds of housing, financial components, utilities, and home care.

  • What are different kinds of housing options and what do they look like? Cape? Colonial? Motor home? High rise?
  • What is a basement? Attic? Crawl space?
  • How much does a house cost where you live?
  • How much does it cost to rent an apartment where you live?
  • What is a security deposit?
  • What is a mortgage?
  • What are utilities and how much do they cost?
  • How does someone become homeless?
  • Where does the water in a home come from?
  • How does a home stay warm or cool?
  • What happens when the power goes out?
  • What kind of care does a yard require? Raking, mowing lawn, snow removal, etc.
  • What is public housing?
  • What does a smoke detector look like? A carbon monoxide detector? What do they sound like? Where are they typically located?

broom and dustpanCleaning

To address some of the following questions, it may be helpful to let your student feel her way through a cleaning supply closet, exploring things like brooms, mops, toilet brushes, etc.

  • How can you tell when something is dirty? Clothing? Countertops? Floors? Toilets? Dishes?
  • What is a stain and how does it come out?
  • Which types of foods or products stain clothing or carpet and which do not leave stains?
  • Which kinds of clothing can be cleaned in a typical washer/dryer and which cannot?
  • What kinds of house cleaning supplies are available? Which supplies are multipurpose and which are specifically for floors, glass, etc.?
  • What safety precautions should be taken with cleaning products?
  • How do you clean a counter or tabletop?
  • What does a vacuum look like and how does it work?
  • What is a garbage disposal and what can go in it? How do you use a garbage disposal safely?
  • What items can go in a dishwasher and what should be washed by hand?
  • When does something need a simple wipe down and when does it need scrubbing?
  • How do you open a new trash bag? How do you close up a trash bag that is full?

kitchenFood and Cooking

Try letting your student explore a kitchen, including kitchen utensils in cabinet drawers and foods in cupboards and the refrigerator. As long as safety and sanitation precautions can be taken and your student is comfortable with it,, don’t exclude the sharp items in the kitchen or even the raw meat or eggs. If there is an opportunity to explore these, it is an extremely important component of understanding how food gets to the table.

  • What do various foods look, feel, smell like in uncooked form? Fruits and vegetables? Meat? Eggs? A child who loves mashed potatoes may have no idea what an uncooked potato looks like.
  • What food can you eat raw and what must be cooked first?
  • What food is stored in a cabinet or pantry and what must be refrigerated?
  • What can go in the freezer?
  • Which foods can go bad and which are nonperishable?
  • How can you tell if a food has gone bad?
  • What foods can be prepared in a microwave, toaster, toaster oven, etc.?
  • Which materials are safe to put in a microwave and which are not safe?
  • What information is included on packaged foods?
  • What do various electronic kitchen appliances look like and what do they do? Blender, hand mixer, etc.?
  • What do various manual kitchen appliances and utensils look like and what do they do? Can opener, peeler, spatula, ladle, etc.?
  • What does it mean to fry, boil, bake, steam?

Despite the lengths of these lists, they are by no means exhaustive. Please feel free to comment below and add your own ideas to the mix.

living skills collage

Total Life Learning by Wendy Bridgeo,‎ Beth Caruso,‎ & Mary Zatta

Cover of Total Life Learning

The Total Life Learning curriculum was developed for students ages 3 to 22 who are blind, visually impaired including those students who have additional disabilities or are deafblind. The focus is on the development of life and career goals that enable student to maximize independence, self-determination, employability, and participation in the community.