2000 Conference Proceedings

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TECHNIQUES AND TECHNOLOGY FOR TEACHING STUDENTS WITH VISION IMPAIRMENT

Leah J. Vickery, Coordinator
Adaptive Computer Technology
Robert Bell 134-A
Ball State University
Muncie, Indiana 47306
765.285.2286
FAX: 765.285.1797
Lvickery@bsu.edu

The ability to effectively instruct students with vision impairment (VI) has always proven to be a challenging field. For generations, the tried and true methods of providing manually produced Braille, an abacus, and auditory instruction were the mainstays of education. Today, the inclusion model of education, along with rapid advancements in technology, has changed the scope of instruction models for students with vision impairment. Special education and VI teachers are afforded less time with individual students and are often asked to work with computers and other technologies outside of their area of training and expertise. Therefore, a primer of basic technologies for the visually impaired, along with techniques for their utilization, is invaluable to teachers in the field.

A LONG STANDING ISSUE FOR STUDENTS WITH VISION IMPAIRMENT HAS BEEN ACCESS TO PRINT, AND NOW MULTIMEDIA MATERIALS. Production of Braille with stylus and slate or a Perkins writer has virtually become a lost art, having been replaced by software translation packages and computerized embossers. Complex mathematics and scientific notation can also be transcribed more efficiently with the use of technology, as well as creating graphics.

Large print production can be achieved with basic word processing software and laser printing. This is usually recommended over using a photocopier, which often renders less than optimal results. As a general rule, large print does not exceed a thirty-six-point font. Both Braille and large print production can be streamlined when the documents are made available on disk. Many of the recent changes in copyright law dramatically improved access to books and other forms of information on disk. This has greatly reduced the man-hours necessary to reproduce in an accessible media.

Another method of access for students with low vision to print materials is closed circuit televisions. Both black-and-white and color versions are available in portable, desktop, computer-add-on and head-mounted models. The ability to place standard size information under a camera and magnify, from two to thirty-two times the original copy, onto a monitor provides access to those with residual vision.

Students with vision impairment can also access print materials with a scanner, desktop or hand-held, and optical character recognition (OCR) software. The technology has improved tremendously over the past ten years and can now be considered a reliable means to read, as built-in proofreading capability edits and corrects many of the errors previously considered unacceptable. Print material is placed in the scanner and the image is converted to a text-based document on the computer, which can then be magnified to a larger font or verbalized with appropriate technology.

Tactile graphics can enhance instruction and access to information for students with vision impairment. Instructors are no longer restricted to creating haptic representations with pipe cleaners, kite string and hot glue guns. Today, software is available to scan and manipulate graphics and then reproduce them in a tactile format. Print information associated with the graphic can be transcribed to Braille as auxiliary information. The tactile representation can be further explained when a slate with speech capability is programmed to describe the graphic in more detail. It is recommended you keep the graphics as uncluttered as possible. In order to accomplish this, it may be advantageous to create layers of information, instead of trying to place everything on one sheet.

Multimedia, as well as video and live presentations can be greatly enhanced by the use of audio description for the visually impaired. Either scripted or ad lib, an unobtrusive narrative can provide valuable information to otherwise inaccessible aspects of these materials. Whether describing facial expression and body language, or providing details to instructional materials, a student with vision impairment is given a greater opportunity to understand concepts with more depth.

Although it is not always possible to locate textbooks on cassette, many other types of literature are now readily available as taped sound recordings. This should encourage students to more explore other areas of interest.

ACCESS TO COMPUTERS, EITHER MAINFRAME OR PERSONAL, HAS BEEN AN ONGOING SAGA OF SUCCESS AND DISAPPOINTMENT. Students with vision impairment should be taught basic QWERTY keyboarding skills as soon as their hands have grown enough to maintain proper placement. The use of adhesive keycaps with enlarged print, various color schemes or Braille embossment, as well as tactile locator dots, can greatly benefit in the learning process of touch-typing.

It is also possible to teach students with vision impairment, who are also Braille readers, to use one-handed keyboard entry. A software solution is to remap the standard keyboard for a single hand use or to configure to a Braille keyboard entry. A hardware solution is possible with a seven key entry system. Either choice will allow the user to input with one hand and continue reading Braille with the other hand. Access to the computer with peripheral devices, such as a mouse, can be accomplished with haptic representation.

Students with low vision can reduce eyestrain and subsequent fatigue with the use of screen magnification and/or an over-sized monitor. Computer operating systems now have limited magnification capability as an option. The Windows environment can be modified within the system control panel and Macs have CloseView software on the utilities disk. If this does not provide ample magnification, then specialized software is available. One of the most common complaints of any magnification of the computer monitor is the inability to see the entire screen at one time. It will require patience for the instructor and the student to learn to scroll around the screen and locate information.

Students who are blind now have many choices in how they access computers. The traditional method of speech output is still the mainstay. It is imperative to choose a screen reader appropriate to the users skill level. Screen reading software provides a gateway for input and output of the computer to be routed to synthetic speech. Although internal and external voice synthesizers are still available, most of the screen readers on the market today will work with multi-media cards provided at the time of the computer purchase.

An alternative to speech output is to use a refreshable Braille display. This device provides a tactile representation to information presented on the computer monitor. They can be configured to display either grade one or grade two Braille. For some students, it is beneficial to display in grade one in order to master spelling and other fundamental literacy skills.

AUXILIARY DEVICES PROVIDE ADDITIONAL SUPPORT IN AN OUT OF THE CLASSROOM. Students with vision impairments can also benefit from auxiliary devices, both in and out of the classroom. It is no longer necessary for VI’s to carry a laptop computer with them in order to have or save information.

Dictionaries with LCD screen enlargement and voice output are invaluable. It can also be beneficial to purchase a model with thesaurus capability. Younger students can enhance their spelling skills with a unit which has built-in vocabulary games. These should come equipped with earphone jacks to allow independent usage without disruption of the classroom.

Calculators with LCD screen enlargement and voice output are available to allow VI students to more fully participate in math courses. There are models on the market with full scientific functions as the student moves into more advanced course work. Ready access to calculations and graphing should encourage VI students to pursue careers in the sciences.

Personal digital assistants, whether portable or pocket-sized, can provide increased levels of independence for students. The units may have standard QWERTY, Braille entry keyboards or operate by voice recognition. The ability to store and retrieve information, schedule events, and perform simple calculations is necessary for all students.

ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY SKILLS HAVE COME INTO A NEW ERA WITH TECHNOLOGY. The traditional white cane, dog guide and Braille compass have now been used for decades to provide independent mobility. The fundamental skills necessary to use these tools are well founded and can be enhanced even further with the advent of technology in this area.

The laser cane, as well as other sonic devices, can provide information as to the location of obstacles and warn the visually impaired user of dangers or locate established landmarks. Whether hand-held, worn around the neck or mounted to a wheelchair, infrared and sonic mobility aids can add considerably to the user’s skills and abilities.

A compass equipped with speech output allows the user to discern orientation efficiently and easily. Tactile graphic maps of landscape and floor plans, along with other computerized mapping and directional software, have increased the potential for independent travel.

Infrared systems are also available to provide orientation information by transmitting audio from fixed locations to pocket-sized receivers equipped with an earphone.

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS AND CONSIDERATIONS FOR CLASSROOM AND EXTRACURRICULAR EVENTS ARE AS FOLLOWS: There are many similarities in working with students with residual vision and those who do not. Auditory cues and verbalization will be critical in either case. The instructor should always be aware of whether the student ever had usable vision in order to gear the presentation to their individual skill level.

Basic organizational skills are critical for the visually impaired. Tactile markings, either with locator dots or Braille labeling, promote independence. Additional auditory modifications can make environments less difficult to navigate without compromising the academic setting.

Information regarding adaptive technology and accessible media is an ongoing area of interest on the Internet. Special education and VI teachers will find a wealth of resources on products and potential solutions. Vendors of adaptive technologies often offer demonstration versions of their software in order for teachers to evaluate their products and gauge their effectiveness. Specialists in the field are also available to answer questions and offer suggestions through various list serves and bulletin boards.

Teaching students with vision impairment in today’s classroom will present challenges. Technology can not possibly address all of the issues in education, yet it can provide powerful tools to be utilized in the learning experience. Instructors must be resourceful in selecting appropriate adaptive devices, as well as ensuring proper installation and training, in order to assist their students in achieving their academic goals.

SUGGESTED WEBSITES:

http://www.artswire.org/ArtsWire/ad/index.html – Audio description

http://www.wgbh.org/wgbh/pages/ncam/currentprojects/captionedmovies.html – Audio description

http://www.rit.edu/~easi/audio/graphics.html – tactile graphics

http://www.execpc.com/~chpi/techbrl.htm – Braille production

http://www.upshawinst.org/downloads/nemeth_tutor/index.html – Braille production

http://www.lowvision.org/ - Braille and large print production

http://www.ga.wa.gov/ada/lgprint.htm – large print production

http://ifla.org/IV/ifla64/049-124e.htm – copyright information

http://www.dgp.toronto.edu/people/ematias/papers/ic93/ic93_ohk_1stEd.html – one-handed keyboard

http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf99/exhibitors.html – links to VI product vendors

http://www.brailleinstitute.org/Links-Adapt.html – links to VI product vendors

http://www.ed.gov/offices/OCIO/asstech/index.html – Dept. of Ed. Assistive Technology Program

http://www.rnib.org.uk/wedo/services/edtu/speech.htm – compare screen readers & synthesizers

http://www.empowermentzone.com – searchable resource site

http://trace.wisc.edu/tcel/tbase/index.html – searchable database

http://abledata.com/index.html – searchable database

http://www.rit.edu/~easi/resource/kaitlin.html – compare input & output devices

This listing of websites does not constitute an endorsement of products or services by Ball State University. It is only meant to serve as a resource for additional information.


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