2004 Conference Proceedings

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INNOVATIVE USES OF TECHNOLOGY FOR STUDENTS WHO ARE BLIND/VISUALLY IMPAIRED

Presenters
Jill Ethridge
T.K. Martin Center for Technology and Disability
1111 Hardy and Morrill
Mississippi State, MS 39762
Phone: 662-325-1028
Fax: 662-325- 0896
Email: jethridge@tkmartin.msstate.edu

Stacy Butler
Rehabilitation Research & Training Center on Blindness & Low Vision
150 IED Bldg Mississippi State, MS 39762
Phone: 662-325-2001
Fax: 662-325-8989
Email: sbutler@colled.msstate.edu

Technology plays an increasingly important role in the classroom for students. The use of technology in the schools allows students with disabilities to access the general curriculum in regular education classrooms and promotes literacy among students with disabilities (Craver & Burton, 1998). In fact, educators believe that assistive technology is having a positive impact in the classroom; however, teachers are continuously trying to build their technology skills during the school year, sometimes through an online course while teaching (White, Wepner, & Wetzel, 2003). For some teachers, it becomes overwhelming and seemingly impossible when a student who is blind or visually impaired enters their classroom. Instantly, all of the techniques they have been utilizing seem to be useless for a student who is blind or visually impaired. This may lead them to immediately discontinue the use of any technology until an evaluation and equipment is bought or, even worse, act like the! child can see it and continue with little or no plans to improve the student's access to technology. In a recent report by the ARC, it was noted that assistive technology is under utilized because of a lack of training for teachers and a lack of awareness on the part of families (Wehmeyer, 1999). At times, it seems the lack of awareness is also shared by teachers, not because they do not want to know what is available to them but they simply do not know where to look.

One advantage that the teacher has, especially when working with a student with a visual impairment, is that the corporate world of technology has seen the need and is beginning to address this issue. Now, a person can find the accessibility features built into the Windows operating system and make adjustments to suit their needs. Educators are able to research specific topics on the Internet and find resources for educational materials. However, the problem still remains of what can be done with what is available.

One has to consider that when a teacher is instantly moved into the role of providing accommodations to a student who is visually impaired, there is typically no previous experience of working in this field. This presentation will help provide strategies, techniques and ideas for adapting classroom activities. Techniques for developing an environment that meets the needs of the entire classroom community will be discussed. For example, a young student may have difficulty seeing well enough to move around the classroom to different work areas. A simple modification may be to put textured tape on the walking path for the child to follow, keeping in mind to keep the toys picked up and out of the walkway.

Additional examples may include covering windows, making a simplified work area to reduce glare and focus concentration, use of a calendar box, the use of puff paint to outline graphs, charts, and pictures, and the use of household items to make products more accessible. In order to connect these ideas with the practical application in the classroom, the presenters will be utilizing video tapes showing how a student and teacher can work together to make the classroom more accessible.

In addition to the use of a video demonstration tape, the presenters will also have hands on examples of additional products. Methods for providing participation opportunities for each student will be covered. This will provide an opportunity to show teachers how simple adaptations can be made in the classroom for younger and older students. Teachers will also be encouraged to share problem situations they have encountered in making their classrooms accessible.

References

Craver, J. & Burton-Radzely, L. (1998). Technology Links to Literacy: A Casebook of Special Educators' use of Technology to Promote Literacy. Maryland: Handicapped and Gifted Children.

Wehmeyer, M.L. (1999). Assistive technology and students with mental retardation: Utilization and barriers. Journal of Special Education Technology, 14 (1), 48-58.

White, E.A., Wepner, S.B., & Wetzel, D.C. (2003). Accessible education through assistive technology. T.H.E. Journal Online. Retreived September 23, 2003 from http://www.thejournal.com/magazine/vault/A4321.cfm. 


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