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Kaizen:  Program for New English Learners with Visual Limitations

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Meeting Complex Challenges with Wholistic Solutions

The Need for a Specialized Program

Challenges in Programs for Visually-Impaired proficient English Speakers

Challenges in ESL Programs for Sighted Students

Kaizen's Services

Kaizen's Staff 

Kaizen means Continuous Improvement in Japanese.

Kaizen addresses the specialized instructional needs of blind and visually-impaired immigrants and refugees learning English as a Second Language (ESL) in the greater-Seattle area.


The program also provides training, consultation and support for volunteers and professionals working with beginning, intermediate and advanced new English learners who are blind or visually impaired. 

It is generally recognized that people with visual impairments greatly benefit from specialized instruction in daily living skills, in reading and writing in accessible formats, and in the use of special aids and equipment.  People who are learning English as a Second Language (ESL) also require specialized training and educational services that take into account their needs as second language learners.  And new English learners with visual limitations usually have needs which are greater than and in some respects different from both the needs of Proficient English speakers who are visually impaired or blind and those of fully-sighted new English learners.  This means that simply adding together training, educational offerings and services designed for proficient-English speaking visually-impaired people and those designed for fully-sighted new English learners may not adequately meet their needs.

Meeting Complex Challenges with Wholistic Solutions 

The chances for new English learners with visual limitations to achieve their goals and realize their full potential are therefore greatly enhanced by specialized instruction which takes into account both their needs as visually-impaired people and as new English learners, and which teaches functional oral English communication and literacy in a way that is integrated and coordinated with their learning of the other adaptive skills they need. 

Kaizen is ready to help students develop the capabilities to utilize the resources and information they need to make decisions, advocate for themselves, take appropriate action, and improve their life situations.

The Need for a Specialized Program

New-comers with visual limitations face a triple challenge, simply to begin living independently:  They need to develop basic English proficiency, learn new adaptive skills, and learn about the new culture.  But because of the complex interrelationship between their communication capacities and the rest of their learning needs, this is often a greater challenge than most people realize.

Blind and visually-impaired new-comers cannot usually rely on the visual cues which fully-sighted new-comers can fall back on.  In order to begin to be independent, they therefore need to develop English communication skills much earlier than sighted immigrants and refugees.  Because they cannot rely on other people's gestures, printed signs or other visual cues in the environment, they need to quickly develop the capacity to communicate in English when performing such basic tasks as making purchases, paying rent and other bills, asking for and following directions for finding streets and addresses, taking buses or accessible vans, or dealing with accidents and emergencies.

Challenges in Programs for Visually-Impaired proficient English Speakers

Most programs devoted to assisting proficient English-speaking visually-impaired and blind people rely heavily on oral English for instruction, counseling and other services.  But this is precisely the area in which immigrants and refugees often face the greatest challenges.  Although these agencies utilize interpreters to help non-English-speaking students at the beginning of their adaptive training, many students who have begun this way have reported that it was a major challenge for them to learn the new adaptive skills and understand their possible options, even with highly competent interpreters.  Not until they became adequately proficient in English to communicate directly with their teachers and counselors were they able to fully benefit from these programs.

Challenges in ESL Programs for Sighted Students

Beginning ESL courses offered to the general public depend heavily on pictures, illustrations and other visual cues for introducing concepts and topics in the new language.  Because ESL instructors in these programs are not generally prepared to redesign their curricula and methods to fully integrate the needs of students with visual limitations, these learners are often at a great disadvantage in such settings. 

Blind and visually-impaired ESL students have an extra-heavy learning burden because they must struggle to adapt to the lack of visual cues, along with acquiring a new language.

Moreover, because teachers in ESL programs for fully-sighted learners are not usually familiar with how best to utilize large print, or how to use braille, accessible computers, or other accessible formats, they are not prepared to support these students in learning functional literacy. 

But, without developing authentic literacy skills as part of communicating in English, new English learners with visual limitations will not be able to take full advantage of educational opportunities or obtain jobs paying above-poverty-level wages. 

Kaizen's Services

Kaizen provides new English learners with visual limitations both individual and small group assistance in acquiring English proficiency, developing adaptive skills, and learning about the new culture.  The program gives beginning English learners the opportunity to develop communicative competence in the new language and familiarity with the new culture, and prepares them for entering orientation and training programs that serve proficient English speakers.

Along with general "survival" English, students are given English lessons focused on developing the basic communication skills that will enable them to most successfully utilize the specialized services offered by state and other agencies.  To support their beginning mobility training they are given extensive practice with the specialized vocabulary and usage related to the subject.  This greatly accelerates their learning because it enables them to communicate directly with mobility trainers to some degree.

Kaizen also helps beginning and intermediate English learners by laying an English communicative basis for acquiring a broad range of other adaptive skills. 

Kaizen is also committed to teaching authentic functional literacy.  Teachers combine lessons in English communication with instruction in reading and writing in braille or large print, through cassette recordings, synthesized speech, and other accessible formats.  They provide a context in which students can practice with materials and lessons that have immediate relevance to their personal situations as handicapped people learning a new language.

The program offers full and systematic vocational ESL.  We support students in learning the English oral communication and literacy skills they need for various present and future job activities.

Kaizen combines functional literacy in accessible formats, oral communication and student-centered lessons, to help students develop self-advocacy skills and knowledge of their personal rights.

By giving comprehensible English instruction relevant to their situations as people with visual limitations, Kaizen prepares students to benefit from training and orientation programs offered to proficient English speakers. 

Kaizen also offers students at all levels specialized and individualized exposure to their new environments by utilizing non-visual sensory modes thoroughly and creatively. 

By providing contexts adapted to students' use of non-visual cues, Kaizen prepares them to learn as equals along with fully-sighted students in a variety of settings.  It also gives them support as they participate in these programs.  

Kaizen's Staff

The program's instructors are ESL professionals familiar with the best current educational approaches and with the special needs of visually-impaired and blind new English learners.  They have had broad experience teaching refugees and immigrants in a variety of academic and community-based learning contexts. 

Kaizen's instructors are themselves authentic users of adaptive skills, including literacy in accessible formats required by people with visual limitations.  They are therefore able to provide integrated models and practice of literacy and other essential skills in a wholistic, meaningfully functional manner.  Such modeling is extremely important in promoting authentic use by students.

The program's instructors are qualified to assist counselors and others in evaluating students' current needs and skills, and to recommend appropriate types of specialized support. 

Kaizen also offers assistance to other professionals, groups and agencies through mentoring, consultations, workshops and informational presentations.

Instructors' Biographies

Kaizen is a non-profit corporation recognized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Federal Revenue Code.  Contributions to the program are tax-deductible.  Kaizen does not exclude any person in any way from participation as student, instructor, staff, board member, volunteer assistant, or in any other role because of race, ethnic, political or social background.  Kaizen welcomes and invites the participation of people from all backgrounds in furthering the purposes of the program.



KAIZEN:  Program for New English Learners with Visual Limitations

810-A Hiawatha Place South

Seattle, WA 98144-2824

phone:  (206) 784-5619

email:  kaizen_esl@literacynet.org 

web:  http://www.nwlincs.org/kaizen/