1999 Conference Proceedings

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Strategies for Providing Access to the Computer for Students with Visual Impairments

Suzanne Feit
IntelliTools South
Simi Valley, CA

Scott Schafer
Novato, CA

The computer provides a multisensory environment that can offer students both visual and auditory feedback. Students with visual impairments need the added dimension of touch. Tactile overlays can provide the kinesthetic feedback these students are seeking. Participants in this workshop will learn how to adapt curriculum overlays for use with students who are blind or visually impaired.

Several techniques will be stressed to provide students with maximum support. These include the addition of tactile stimuli to an existing overlay using a number of different conceptual approaches. Another, is use of the program, ClickIt!(, to add auditory scanning and selection sounds to an existing software program. This enables a student who is blind or visually impaired to hear the name of the object as it is being scanned and make a selection based on auditory cueing. A third approach is the use of a Braille overlay with the talking word processor, IntelliTalk(.

Tactilization of Overlays

Tactile overlays, using a variety of shapes and textures, can provide feedback to help students practice the skills they need as well as promote independence. Students get immediate feedback from the computer and can explore and learn at their own pace. Participants will see how easy it is to adapt overlays with tactile materials.

To begin, participants will view a simple IntelliPics activity. The activity employs an overlay that utilizes the IntelliKeys( keyboard. As each key on the overlay is pressed, a different action occurs on the screen. To make this activity accessible to someone who is visually impaired, a transparent overlay, that fits over the original overlay, is used. By adding different tactile elements to the transparent overlay, each key now is accessible to a child with a visual impairment.

There are different approaches to tactilizing overlays. In some cases, a shape or a texture is used repeatedly to represent a particular key. For example, certain overlay keys such as READ, PRINT, RETURN, or DELETE are used on many overlays. Whenever a child encounters a rough square, for example, he/she will know that means PRINT.

Another approach is to use objects that have an attribute in common with the content of the key. If the picture on the key is of a apple, a round object might be used. As overlays become more abstract, this is difficult to do, but has been successful with very basic overlays used with young students.

Many tactile overlays employ Braille. Braille strips can be pasted on the overlay. Clear plastic overlays can be used with Braille printers so that Braille text can be printed directly on the overlay.

Different tools that are helpful for adding tactile elements to overlays will be introduced. These include glue guns, Velcro, Braille printers, and Megadots.

Participants will view a variety of activities from the IntelliTools Web Activity Exchange and discuss how to make them accessible to students with low vision using the above techniques.

Adding Scanning Sounds with ClickIt!

Next, participants will view an Instant Access Overlay that IntelliTools has developed for one of the Broderbund Living Books. (Instant Access Overlays have been developed for almost all the Living Books.) These files have been created with the IntelliTools program, ClickIt!. In the commercial version, the files have been programmed to scan objects on the screen without providing any auditory feedback. Participants will learn how these files can be modified by adding auditory and selection sounds. These sound files will provide feedback to students who rely on auditory feedback to make a selection. The same technique can be used with any ClickIt! file.

Using IntelliTalk( with Blind Students

For older students, participants will view a Braille keyboard overlay to be used with IntelliTalk, the talking word processor from IntelliTools. This keyboard uses the Braille alphabet and Braille symbols for some of the commonly used function keys. The letters are placed very close together so students can easily access them with only a slight movement of the fingers.

Techniques for using this overlay with students will be discussed including using the various speech options in IntelliTalk such as speaking letters, words, and sentences as the student types.

Participants will be introduced to the IntelliKeys( Setup Overlay. This overlay is used to regulate special settings such as the repeat rate. Some students are unable to lift their fingers quickly after they press a key, causing many unwanted keystrokes. To prevent keys from repeating, the repeat rate can be adjusted. Now when students hold down a key, it will not repeat until they lift their finger and press again.

The Setup Overlay can also be used to adjust the response rate - the time required to activate a key on the IntelliKeys( keyboard. If a student tends to press unwanted keys on the way to selecting the desired key, or needs to press on a key a bit longer to read the Braille, the response rate can be slowed down to suit his/her needs.

The Key Content for each key on the Braille overlay will be reviewed. A list of the Key Content for each key will be given out along with a template disk and tutorial for making and using a Braille Overlay.

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