2002 Conference Proceedings

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INSTANT ACCESS TO BRAILLE: REFRESHABLE BRAILLE IN THE INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM

Presenters:
Katie Beaver
Center for Assistive Technology
University at Buffalo
515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214
kbeaver@buffalo.edu 

Christine Oddo
Center for Assistive Technology
University at Buffalo
515 Kimball Tower
Buffalo, NY 14214
coddo@buffalo.edu


School systems face the challenge of finding successful strategies for the inclusion of students who are blind and who use braille. Braille, a complex language used for both reading and writing, consists of raised dots that represent letters, combinations of letters or words. General education teachers are often not able to read or write in braille. Braille is taught by teachers of the visually impaired (TVIs). Most often, TVIs work with students and teachers on a part-time, itinerant basis, converting instructional materials into braille for the student to read, and converting braille materials created by the student into print for the teacher, classmates and parents.

Students who are blind are at a severe disadvantage accessing inclusive classroom materials and participating in the general curriculum. This disadvantage increases with each grade as the amount of reading and writing increases. Hardcopy braille occupies considerably more space than printed material. Braille versions of general education textbooks are not always available. The manual production of braille becomes overwhelming and there simply is not enough time to convert all instructional materials into braille. Computer systems using scanners, braille translation software and braille embossers are sometimes used to generate braille, but these systems are complex and not readily available in the general education environment.

The benefits of using refreshable braille include: 1) timely access to textbooks and instructional materials in braille; 2) immediate tactile feedback through the refreshable braille display thus eliminating the need to produce hardcopy braille; 3) facilitate reading skills because it allows students who are blind to independently control the process of interacting with the text; 4) capability of utilizing resources from technology enriched classrooms including reviewing information copied and saved to disk from CD-ROM and the Internet; and 5) facilitate communication between students who are blind and their teachers, classmates and parents by providing the capability to quickly convert and print materials. Advances in technology have introduced an innovative alternative to hardcopy braille, called "refreshable braille," providing instant braille access to material stored electronically.

Educational materials may be scanned into the computer and saved onto a single 3.5" floppy disk, or may be provided by the publisher in electronic format. Refreshable braille displays use moveable small pins that raise and lower as needed to form braille characters. After a line of text is read, the user can "refresh" the display by pressing a button, and read the next line. Refreshable braille displays are now built into portable braille note-takers that can be used for both reading and writing. While refreshable braille technology is available, a system for providing and integrating this technology into the general education classroom is not. This session will discuss a project that will develop and document a system for integration of portable braille notetakers with refreshable braille to students and school teams in New York State. The presentation will include the process for 1) the provision of refreshable braille systems and training, 2) the conversion of print learning materials to electronic format, 3) a formative evaluation, and 4) dissemination of project materials and findings.


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