2001 Conference Proceedings

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How the California School for the Blind Uses the VirTouch System

James Carreon, Technology Coordinator
California School for the Blind

Introduction

Blind and visually impaired students have always had difficulty accessing graphics in their academic career. Charts and diagrams need to be obtained early and raised line diagrams created for the student. The purpose of this paper is to provide information about the use of the Virtouch tactile mouse by students at the California School for the Blind. After testing this device over the last year and a half, we have identified uses and strategies that enable students to work with graphics, created or scanned into a Windows computer.

Equal Access

Concepts are built using models, diagrams, maps and symbols to build images. Sighted people use these tools to create mental images of things they cannot see such as an atom, city or solar system. Until now, blind students have not been supplied with the same tools in order to form their own combination of mental images and concepts. VTS provides a blind user a virtual representation of the actual computer screen. In this way the student can build a mental image and cognitive map of the contents of the computer screen VTS uses several channels to help the blind user create a mental map. Touch Movement of the hand Audio Visual - for those who have some vision. Multiple channel input enhances the memorizing and analytical process.

The Virtouch Tactile Mouse The Virtouch tactile mouse is a device about twice the size of a standard computer mouse. It contains three cells of 32-pins each that rise and fall as the cursor moves over a graphic on the computer screen. The student places his hand on the mouse, gently resting his fingers on the three cells. The student is then able to explore the Windows graphical user interface and well as "look" at individual diagrams. With the software that comes with the device, graphics can be labeled so the student can receive an auditory description of various parts of the graphic. Training Training is a critical issue for the students using the tactile mouse. The Virtouch system comes with training software that teaches the student in a logical and sequential manner how to use the mouse. Students begin by tracing simple vertical and horizontal lines on the screen. They progress through intersecting lines and basic symbols of everyday objects such as a chair and a house. As students become familiar with the mouse, more complex items are introduced such as basic travel routes, the school map, and teacher created graphics. These diagrams can be created using almost any drawing program The teacher can then label various parts of the map so the student can obtain an audio description at key points. Games enhance the learning process. The built-in games include moving along a pathway with tactile and audio feedback, centering the mouse cursor and firing at a target, and "shooting down" enemy aircraft. The Virtouch tactile mouse has enhanced student learning in the following areas:


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