Technological and Medical Interventions
Margaret Griffin, M.Ed.Stud. State Coordinator, Vision Impairment Service, Tasmania, Australia
Successful Technology in The Classroom
Author: Margaret Griffin, M.Ed.Stud., State Coordinator, Vision Impairment Service, Tasmania, Australia
This paper will discuss technology solutions for students who have visual impairment. Access to information, and the capacity to interact with that information in a broad variety of ways, is fundamental to a rich curriculum experience. Through provision of technology solutions that are viewed as learning tools, students with visual impairment have greater opportunity to achieve access and equity. The paper will describe four different students using a variety of technology solutions. Their stories will demonstrate the importance of educators providing students with a skill base that empowers each individual to creatively solve problems and choose technology solutions that are effective for a particular curriculum purpose. The studies will also provide evidence of how current trends towards a “kit of tools” that are lightweight and portable are enhancing students’ capacity for learning across home, school and community settings. Before discussion of these students, the paper provides information on factors which directly influence the success of technology in the classroom.
Technology that can provide an impact on students' learning requires a number of attributes. These attributes have been identified by teachers (Tasmania, 2004-5) who have worked with students with visual impairment over extensive time periods and include:
- Durability: The equipment needs to be strong and robust, withstanding usual classroom activity and used inclusively within a range of classroom contexts. Reliability: If equipment is not reliable, students and their teams lose faith. They will not have reason to commit to the ongoing work required to build an effective skills base.
- Portability: Equipment that is portable enhances access. It expands learning opportunities by giving students with visual impairment the ability to use their tools in range of home, school and community environments. The capacity to use learning experiences from all aspects of life positively influences students' outcomes in the general school curriculum. Learning is not “static” and confined to a conventional classroom arrangement.
- Lightweight: Where possible, lightweight solutions are an advantage, enabling students to independently manage their equipment, and move easily between different contexts.
- Professional Support: Ongoing commitment from technology companies to provide practical support as needed is another building block for classroom success. It is not acceptable for students to experience “down time” because of technical difficulties with equipment. Building partnerships with specialist technology companies supports technology applications being used in a sustained and effective manner.
- Compatibility. This means that a technology solution can if necessary link in to other equipment. For example, the Mountbatten Pro can interface with laptops to move files and enable the successful movement of curriculum material.
- Connectability. For key tools such as the Braille Note, the Pac Mate or the Mountbatten Pro, the ability to connect to broader school networks enables students to immediately access information in the medium of their choice.
Technology costs for solutions that provide refreshable Braille or sophisticated magnification options are still considered high in comparison to mainstream generic equipment. However, these new technologies provide students with the ability to “transform printed information into a format or medium that meets their needs” (G. Kapperman & J. Sticken, 2000, 501). It is therefore essential to pursue the necessary funding to enable the purchase of quality technology solutions.
One method of obtaining the appropriate level of funds to purchase equipment is by building cooperation and collaboration between state education departments and specialist support agencies. The consequent financial partnership enables joint funds to purchase specific high cost technology components such as the Braille Note or the Pac Mate, (electronic Braille notetakers) or to consider a sophisticated magnification option like the My Reader (portable video magnifier). In Tasmania, a partnership with Royal Guide Dogs Association, has secured the funding required to purchase high quality options.
Some schools have developed a funding plan which enables the purchase of hardware and software to be obtained over a two - three year plan (Tasmania, 2005). This approach has been beneficial for students who require access to both auditory and Braille options within their program. In the first year the annual funding would purchase a computer and the recommended specialist auditory software program. In the second year, a refreshable Braille display unit could be purchased and added to the computer. Now the student would have access to both auditory and Braille. Refreshable Braille display units can connect to a desktop or laptop and work in conjunction with screen reading programs (Anderson, 2003).
Within state education departments, it is also important for educators to have “longitudinal vision” by understanding that an initial economic investment provides this student population with increased opportunities to achieve long-term educational success. Other researchers in the area of vision impairment, including Kapperman and Sticken (1996) and D’Andrea & Barnicle (1997) directly connect success in schooling and employment to each individual’s ability to gain access to information. Andersen (2003) provides useful information on the range of funding sources available in different parts of the United States
Specialist companies with specific expertise in assistive technology can work extensively with teachers, students and families to share their knowledge. The purpose of their work is to ensure that equipment capabilities are practically understood, and a working knowledge of the equipment is developed by the student and their support team. Professional learning is a continuing process in building capacity with the user and their supporting families, schools and teams. For schools and families in rural remote areas, access to support is particularly important in ensuring that equipment is used optimally. Manuals rarely enable “here and now problem-solving.”
Some examples of the strategies (Tamanian Resource Teacher Team, 2004 - 5) that may build partnerships include:
- utilising the expertise of senior company representatives in direct professional learning workshops which involve students, class teachers and families.
- establishing company phone support in the form a help-line.
- interschool visits to share and review how particular technology is being used.
- sponsoring the development of specialized technology newsletters which aim to give students, schools and families information on how technology is being used.
All these strands can contribute to effective technology use and operation. At the “coal face” in everyday practical classroom activities, the specialist knowledge that is developed through collaboration and partnership sustains the role of equipment as an enabling technology opening new learning pathways.
Considerable time is required to review new assistive technology. A review process involves gathering information, trialing equipment within the school and home setting, and then providing formal and informal feedback on the features and suitability of particular equipment. Teachers, students and families need to actively contribute to the review process. The review process addresses specific questions which include:
- What is the cost of this piece of technology?
- How does it assist the student to access the curriculum?
- How does it improve or extend on their existing access to information?
- What skills are required to operate the technology efficiently and effectively?
Student participation in the review process assists the development of critical thinking skills about how technology is meaningful within the program. For example, a grade 6 student recently reviewed the Quicklook Hand Held Magnifier (Tasmania, 2004). The Quicklook is described in more detail later in this chapter. Firstly the student was provided with a Quicklook for a four-week trial period. During this period, the student’s observations and experiences of the positive and negative aspects of this portable video magnifier were formally recorded in a table format
School, Home, Community Setting
What I Used It For
This information was formally shared with her supporting team at an IEP meeting. As a consequence, the team had an informed view on how the Quicklook could assist the student with incidental learning with environmental print in both home and community settings.
Teachers can also obtain more formal product reviews from publications such as Access World, or through more formal evaluations in specialist journals of vision impairment. A range of leading educators contribute to these publications. A range of researchers including Andersen (2003) and D’Andrea and Barnicle (1997) have suggested the following ways of keeping up to date with change:
- attendance at national technology conferences
- the organization of technology expos to showcase new equipment
- participation in on-line discussions with other teachers using particular technology solutions
- building links between students and adults who are successfully integrating the use of technology into careers and daily life
In 2005, Tasmania will trial the “Jot A Dot,” a Braille notepad which is lightweight, low-cost and intended for incidental daily Braille writing in the same way as a pad and pencil might be used. The review will involve:
- Loan of a Jot a Dot directly from the supplier to three students who are blind
- Formal observations by teachers of use within school setting
- Feedback from participating students
- Collection of information and formal discussion of outcomes via each student’s IEP meeting
Upgrading equipment and software is an essential part of maintaining relevant and functional technology options for students with visual impairment. If computers have limited RAM (random access memory) and/or an inefficient processing speed, they cannot run assistive software programs effectively and enable students to work at the same rate as other students. Students with visual impairments' computer equipment (desktop or laptop) also needs to be compatible with their school technology networks. This is because all students are expected to integrate internet research skills, email, and other on-line activities into their everyday classroom program. In many schools students require access to the intra-net for information to complete particular subject assignments. If student’s individual equipment cannot connect into the broader school network, the student is disadvantaged.
Visual Screen Technology: Key types of assistive technology (Kapperman & Sticken, 2000) which enable access to visual screen information include:screen enlargement options that provide each student with the capacity to customize the screen to particular requirements. Zoomtext and Magic are two examples of sophisticated enlargement software. These programs also have auditory options enabling further choice in how they interact with print. This type of software is regularly updated to ensure that it works efficiently with changes in operating systems. screen reading programs that enable students to navigate the computer by auditory options. JAWS and Window Eyes are examples of this type of program. Additionally these programs can connect with Braille display units. software that converts information to Braille has the capacity to store a Braille file and provide the student with Braille copy by either a refreshable Braille display or hard Braille copy.
Braille Note-Takers: Other specialist equipment (electronic Braille note-takers) also requires upgrading. The development of email, internet and media player capability for the Braille Note is an example of how specialist companies have recognized students' needs to access the same programs as all students. These features could be obtained by purchasing upgraded hardware (motherboard) and software for older Braille Notes. Alongside their peers, students can now email teachers, receive feedback on-line, and participate more effectively in all aspects of the curriculum. Braille Notes purchased after 2003 had these features as part of standard components. Further information on the Braille Note is available at www.humanware.com.
The Mountbatten range of Braille computers is another example of how specialist technology has been upgraded over the last 7 years. The Mountbatten Pro is the latest version of this Braille computer. It has a broader range of features than the original Mountbatten. . In particular, the new Mountbatten Pro offers more refined auditory options and easier connections with mainstream computers. In this state (Tasmania, 2004-5), these features were considered important for young learners beginning Braille and students using Braille as a secondary medium.
In each case, there is an ongoing need to ensure that the latest version of the software is available as this provides the compatibility with latest hardware operating systems. Companies such as Freedom Scientific offer discounts on the cost of upgrading to the latest version software by the purchase of a Software Maintenance Agreements (SMA). The SMA provides concessions to the cost of upgrades.
Assessing Students' Technology Needs
Author: Margaret Griffin, M.Ed.Stud. State Coordinator, Vision Impairment Service, Tasmania, Australia
All students require a comprehensive assessment in order to select appropriate learning tools. A Learning Media Assessment (LMA) is one way of evaluating learning tools that may be appropriate for students with vision impairment in terms of determining their current and future needs. At the heart is gathering critical evidence of how students use different senses to interact with their environment. It assists educators in analyzing this evidence to confirm the student’s primary learning medium. A strong multi-disciplinary team is required to have input into this process. As a consequence the LMA identifies:
- Learning strengths and medium options
- Educational needs
- Data relevant to determining students' primary learning medium – vision condition, stability of vision, functional vision skills, stamina and efficiency in current learning medium
- Future directions and learning pathways
- Contextual and family considerations
- Technology solutions, purposes and options (M.C Holbrook, & A. Koenig, Renwick Centre Conference Paper, November, 2001).
The LMA is described in detail in Corn & Koenig's Learning Media Assessment of Students with Visual Impairment (1995). It provides a systematic methodology for collecting and analyzing the data necessary for effective decision-making. Further work by Corn and Koenig (1995) provides educators with other assessment tools to evaluate the effectiveness of different Print Media for students with low vision. Current research indicates that the process underpinning LMA must be one of ongoing evaluation to ensure that students with visual impairment are provided with quality learning options responsive to changing needs and individual purposes.
Students with visual impairment who have taken an active role in the assessment of their needs through the LMA require opportunities to network with other students who are using specialist technology. Peer support and peer tutoring can be used extensively to develop students' capacity to use their technology effectively. Some students may be the only one with a visual impairment in their particular grade or school. For this reason specialist resource teachers can arrange camps, seminars and workshops which provide the opportunities for co-operative learning. In this state (Tasmania 2003 - 05), there have been a series of structured camps and workshops which are designed to:
Build skills with particular equipment such as the Braille Note, Prisma Video Magnifier, or ScannaR Create user networks and enable students to find applications such as email to sustain ongoing informal contact Provide students with learning experiences which give them the opportunity to utilize technology within broader everyday life Provide students in rural/remote areas with direct contact with other students with visual impairment and the time for shared dialogue and the interchange of ideas on how their technology works within their program.
This photo shows two students with visual impairment participating in a regional workshop on the Braille Note undertaken in Tasmania in 2004. The sessions were lead by Ramona Mandy, National Blindness Products Consultant for Humanware in Australia. As a leading company representative and also an experienced and regular user of the Braille Note, Ramona was able to personalize learning to each student participating in the workshop.
At the same regional workshop, students experiment with independently using the ScannaR. The ScannaR is a flat-bed scanner that will scan and read any text document. The hard drive capacity will record up to 500,000 pages of text. It has the capacity to link directly to a Braille Note for file transfer of scanned documents. This means that student have instant access to a Braille document in a portable manner. In Tasmania (2004), a ScannaR was placed in the regional library, so that students with visual impairment could visit the library select texts, independently scan documents and then transfer a Braille file to their Braille Note. More information on the ScannaR is available on the Humanware website cited earlier in this chapter.
Some of the positive outcomes of access to a variety of technology tools and the skills to utilize these effectively have been noted by students and their supporting teams (Tasmania 2004 -5). These include:
- Students are now able to move more fluidly between different learning mediums and focus on success with their learning.
- Students who are primarily Braille users indicate that access to refreshable Braille and the ability to download material into Braille via their Braille Note has increased their success and significantly increased their participation in all aspects of the curriculum.
- Resource teachers believe that this approach which encourages students to be multi-skilled is in line with the requirement of flexibility and problem-solving that are such an integral part of curriculum delivery.
- Support teams believe that the focus is always on building lifelong learners who are proactive and empowered decision-makers, confidently able to articulate their technology needs and use it for fulfilling roles in life.
- Early access to technology has influenced students’ readiness to take on more sophisticated solutions.
Senior Secondary Students Using Braille
Author: Margaret Griffin, M.Ed.Stud., State Coordinator, Vision Impairment Service, Tasmania, Australia
Tom is a year 12 student attending a regional year 11 and 12 college. His primary medium is Braille. He is completing a range of subjects with a view to undertaking Business Studies course at a local technical college in 2006. Tom’s subjects include, English, Music, Home Economics, Lifeskills and Computer Design. In each subject he is achieving consistent grades.
Tom’s current equipment includes a Braille Note, Mountbatten Brailler, a Perkins brailler, a laptop equipped with JAWS. The laptop has the capacity to interface with school IT network, his Braille Note, and the Mountbatten. Connectivity and compatibility are essential to the efficient operation of this technology platform. A partnership between the state education department and leading specialist blindness agency has been responsible for securing the funding necessary for this equipment.
Tom manages this kit of equipment independently.
- Efficient Grade 2 Braille skills
- Sound Keyboard skills
- Efficiency with managing windows working environment predominantly using Word applications and Media Player.
- Sound understanding of the Braille Note. He can apply a competent knowledge of Keysoft suite of applications that run on the Braille Note. This software has been written specifically to meet the needs of students and adults with visual impairment to manage and transfer files between different equipment.
- Independent user of email and internet a Braille Note in home, school and community settings
- Competent JAWS user – using this for some internet access, and for operating the laptop independently
These skills are applied on a daily basis to successfully operate his technology platform to meet his curriculum requirements. Currently he is completing several term 1 assignments. Tom uses the Braille Note (BN) for all subjects, transporting it to classes and managing all aspects of its operation independently. The BN is a lightweight, sophisticated computer with an inbuilt refreshable Braille display as pictured in the photo on the left where it is connected to the ScannaR.
Tom is working on several assignments. He is able to review his work by using the refreshable Braille screen. In addition he has the option of using complementary voice speech software, another feature of the Braille Note. First drafts can be printed out, and given to teachers for feedback. For final publishing, the document is transferred to a Memory Card. As a card reader is attached to the laptop, the Memory Card can be inserted and accessed on the laptop. Final published presentation is completed on the laptop, as Tom likes to use all the formatting features of Word. He then prints out or send his assignment by email attachment to his teachers. Tom transfers the completed Braille copy back to his BN, and has a folder filing system for all school work. Tom’s teachers easily interact with this technology platform. The card-reader system enables the easy transfer of course materials.
This year Tom has identified technology skills that he believes will further his independent living and recreational skills. These focus on use of his independent use of the Internet for daily living tasks such as banking and listening to music. To facilitate this process, a young adult with severe vision impairment will lead individual tutoring sessions. In the area of Music, Tom’s skills with the MP3 player feature of the Braille Note will be refined by utilizing the internet, and developing a knowledge of suitable music sites, He has also indicated that he feels confident to research and find the most effective mobile phone considering the accessibility features and how these could be customized to meet his needs.
Tom will also continue with his Skills to Work program undertaking a course in a local call centre. Already he has emailed the supervisor via the Braille Note, requesting his timetable and course materials for the first module. These will be forwarded by email attachment. During the holidays he will familiarize himself the required course work materials, and commence the course without experiencing delays in obtaining Braille copy. For some work, Tom prefers a Braille hard copy, Once again the interface between the Mountbatten Brailler and laptop can provide this access.
On completion of Yr 12, funding will be applied to enable the purchase of preferred equipment for post-school options. Tom has indicated that the most vital components are:
- Braille Note
- Laptop with JAWS.
To this point, all students exiting the state system have been successful in receiving appropriate funding for required resources. For Tom, there has been a deliberate and continuous emphasis on building skills to take on technology solutions and use them for his own purposes.
When Tom was in primary school, the Perkins and slate and stylus were his only learning tools. Both of these pieces of technology still have a valid place within his program, although Tom clearly defines the enormous freedom that the Braille Note delivers in making Braille copy available incidentally in his daily life.
This case study illustrates the power of technologies such as the Braille Note to enhance the quality of students' learning. Other PDAs such as the Pac Mate also offer exciting possibilities.
The photo of the Pac Mate
In Tasmania, the intention is to trial a Pac Mate and examine critically whether there are advantages to this PDA for particular sections of the student population. For example, the Pac Mate operates from a Windows working Environment, and has its own version of JAWS as an inbuilt feature. These attributes could be advantageous to students who have experienced a sudden severe loss of vision as it could harness their visual knowledge using this reference system as they adapt to tactual and/or auditory interaction with information.
Early Childhood Students Using Braille
Author: Margaret Griffin, M.Ed.Stud., State Coordinator, Vision Impairment Service, Tasmania, Australia
Leila is a young prep-aged student (6) currently enjoying a successful transition to full-time schooling. She is totally blind as a consequence of retinoblastoma. Whilst she is a primary Braille user, Leila’s IEP has emphasized developing her abilities with all sensory information to build strong conceptual understandings.
Leila enjoys playing and learning with technology tools. She has developed basic skills with the Mountbatten Pro, a lightweight and versatile Braille computer and, of course, is competent with the Perkins Brailler.
Leila’s little fingers easily manage the Mountbatten Pro layout, which is compact and ergonomically designed. She can independently use the Mountbatten to produce writing that is at an early stage of development.
The skills underlying this ability include:
- Ability to identify by touch all the parts of the Mountbatten
- Ability to understand the keyboard layout
- An early understanding of Braille and how to play and make patterns with the dots
- Ability to independently turn on the Mountbatten, load paper and write some key known words, such as her name, and some individual known words.
Like, all the children in the class, Leila is embarking on an exciting literacy and numeracy pathway. The Mountbatten Pro has a range of options to support and engage young learners during this critical early phase of their development. Firstly Leila can easily depress the keys and emboss Braille, receiving an immediate hard copy. There is also a speech option which, when activated, provides immediate auditory feedback on what is written. Leila’s use of this option is closely monitored by the class teacher and specialist resource teacher. The aim is to ensure that Leila is developing tactual review skills and not building an over-reliance auditory information. In this area, Leila progress is critically reviewed via regular IEP meetings.
Leila’s Mountbatten is tough and durable, able to withstand life in a hectic classroom. She is able to sit alongside her sighted peers without her equipment immediately imposing a physical barrier and diminishing opportunities for cooperative learning.
The Mountbatten Pro is an attractive piece of equipment. Students around Leila are learning about Braille from Emma, the class teacher, and her teacher assistant. The ability to plug a keyboard straight in to the Mountbatten has aided this classroom sharing. Children can write their name or a message to Leilla on the keyboard and receive a Braille copy or have the Braille copy read by the speech option. All young learners enjoy the immediacy of this Braille and auditory feedback. More importantly they are learning that Braille is just a medium for fun shared literacy activities. A comprehensive review of the Mountbatten Pro by F.M. D’Andrea is available in Access World (Volume, 6, January 2005).
Another product that connects to the Mountbatten is the small LCD screen called a Mimic
This translates Leila’s Braille to print, meaning that her teacher who is still acquiring knowledge of the Braille code knows immediately what she is writing and can give appropriate feedback and guidance.
At this stage, Leila is using her Mountbatten at a basic level. Gradually, through the strong IEP process that underpins her individual program, she will acquire skills to manage files on the Mountbatten. Currently the focus is on learning through rich play experiences.
Leila’s mum, Sylvia, is more competent in the more complex features of the Mountbatten. She can use Monty, a specialized translation software package to move file information from their home computer to the Mountbatten. A love of literacy sharing has been developed from this home base. Linking home and school equipment provision is a vital springboard for all students' learning.
Leila’s family and school are closely connected to a leading company technology specialist who has expertise with Mountbatten. He has taken a direct role in empowering all the family to use the Mountbatten. A carefully sequenced professional learning program has reassured the school that ongoing advice and technical support are available.
All members of Leila’s team are keen to trial this Jot A Dot which they have seen at a small local technology expo. It has also featured on a national televisions program called “The New Inventors”.
In the photo a young boy is brailling numbers onto his Uno cards. The JotaDot has direct six key braille entry. Braille can be produced on any type of paper with 20 cells of Braille produced per line. There is no power or battery requirement so the cost per unit is very reasonable. It is ideal for incidental daily activities such writing notes, jotting down phone numbers, lists for the supermarket ,etc. In the classroom, it would be useful for young children participating in whole group activities, or school excursions providing a way of producing Braille that is low cost. The website provides a comprehensive list of the features of this new technology.
Students with Deteriorating Vision
Louie is a 13 year old boy diagnosed with hereditary Optic Neuropathy at the age of 10. At that time he experienced a sudden and dramatic loss of central vision and was referred to the vision resource team for assistance.
In order to determine effective learning tool for Louie, a Learning Media Assessment was conducted. This was regularly reviewed in order to ensure that options remained responsive to any changing needs. The LMA process identified Louie’s difficulties with regular-sized print and the instability of his vision condition. Further Low Vision Clinic review had provided advice on magnification levels that could assist Louie to utilize his peripheral vision more effectively.
Since that time Louie has acquired competency with using sensory information in new and different ways. Technology has assisted Louie to:
- Maximize his functional vision
- Commence building the necessary tactual skills to learn and use Braille
- Develop complementary pathways which include using auditory information to progress skills in both the above areas.
- Recapture a “love of learning” and develop confidence in relation to his personal future.
Louie has access to a range of technology to support curriculum access. His program has focused on:
- Cultivating enjoyment of activities presented in different mediums
- Cultivating flexible thinking and preparedness to trial and review different learning tools
- Building effective skills with a laptop using a Windows Working Environment
- Building effective skills with Zoomtext, an enlargement software that enables users to customize options to their individual preferences
- Developing greater efficiency with keyboarding skills and knowledge of keyboard short-cuts
- Building independent problem-solving to use the Mountbatten, to write Braille, manage and store files, and linking this to particular curriculum activities
- Ability to use speech options to support visual and tactual learning.
At the heart of all these areas has been a whole team approach to building Louie’s self-esteem through a time of huge change and adjustment, reassuring of options and opening new pathways to learning. As a consequence this young high school student is optimistic, open to challenges and emotionally ready to take on new learning. School-based learning is positively influencing broader community participation. For example, recently Louie requested assistance in producing a Braille copy of prayer and hymn materials having decided Braille was a more effective medium for this particular reading task.
Another strand of Louie’s program focused on building competency with the laptop. With the provision of the enlargement program Zoomtext. Louie’s ability to interact with print in comfortable and meaningful way was available. As a strongly visual learner with good basic computer literacy, Louie was soon able to customize Zoomtext to his own requirements. Individual support also progressed. Louie’s ability improved to navigate the keyboard and use the keyboard effortlessly.
Broader interaction with print was more difficult. The LMA process had confirmed that N36 was Louies’ working print size. To enable access to this level of enlargement, a range of magnifiers were trialed and finally the Smartview, a video magnifier available from Humanware, was selected. The Smartview range of video magnifiers has several different models with a range of features that can support students or adults with who require high levels of magnification and high contrast settings. In Louie’s case a more basic Smartview was selected.
The photo on the left is the Smartview taken from the humanware website.
This Smartivew enabled Louie to:
- Independently select the appropriate level of magnification
- Use a comfortable reading table which could be easily manipulated
- Increase the capacity to place texts of differing thickness and not receive a distorted image
- Have optional computer access.
A Smartview was available for school use, and a local interest group provided another for home. In the classroom an integrated workstation assisted the management of Louie’s equipment. Research work by M. D’Andrea in Looking to Learn (2000) provided ideas and resources for effectively utilizing video magnifiers. A comprehensive chapter, “Activities and Games for Teaching Children to Use a CCTV,” provides teachers with an understanding of the skills required in learning to read and write while using a CCTV. The chapter highlights the importance of teachers understanding the skills that student must develop in order to perform reading and writing tasks effectively. In Louie’s case, this was considered an essential part of developing his functional vision skills.
Through the LMA process, a long term goal identified by Louie and his team was the development of effective Braille skills. At a sensitive developmental stage, it was important to Louie that his new equipment looked “cool.” Over a term, Louie commenced learning Braille using the Mountbatten and gradually tuning in to both tactual and auditory information. This process will continue as Louie is encouraged to develop efficient grade 2 Braille skills and then apply them to particular learning tasks. In the future it is envisaged that he will access a PDA with refreshable Braille such as the Braille Note. There is anecdotal evidence that the instant feedback available from refreshable Braille enhances student’s efficiency in reading Braille.
A third strand of Louie’s program is looking at building his skills to use JAWS, a screen reading program. To this point Louie has been a little reluctant. Earlier difficulties with enlargement options conflicting with JAWS diminished Louie’s enthusiasm for using this program. This has now been addressed with another software Magnification program, Magic being available.
At all times, Louie takes an active role in decision-making by confidently articulating his needs and demonstrating a willingness to critically review new products. In 2004, Louie reviewed the Quicklook, a hand held magnifier, and confirmed that this lightweight portable camera magnifier assisted independence in school and home settings. These are now available for loan to secondary students with severe low vision. Participating in school excursions, ordering from a standard menu in a restaurant, reading a bus-timetable, or filling in a print form are some of the incidental tasks that the Quicklook can do. It is just another tool that Louie has to draw upon in effectively managing all aspects of his visual impairment.
Louie has a range of technology options which enable him to effectively engage with all aspects of the curriculum. He is still acquiring skills to effectively operate and optimally use his technology.
Customising Options for the Vision Impaired
Janii is a young girl aged 7 with congenital nystagmus who attends a busy inner city primary school. She is legally blind. Like all the students in her class, she is still learning to read, acquiring more competencies on a daily basis and showing an even upward curve in her literacy and numeracy skills attainments. Through continuing assessment, Janii’s interaction with print is closely monitored. She comfortably works with N18 print size. A range of other physical adaptations in the classroom in relation to lighting, seating position, and tilt surfaces ensure that she is comfortably positioned to engage with different learning tasks. The ergonomic tilt board which is an important consideration is lightweight and adjustable and easily managed on a group desk arrangement.
Janii has access to a range of technology to support her learning needs. A desktop computer equipped with a lightweight LCD monitor is in her classroom. It is situated with four other class computers. Janni’s computer has the same operating system and suite of software as all other classroom computers. Janii’s class teacher integrates technology into daily class activities. Like all her classmates, Janii is becoming familiar with different Microsoft Office applications. At this stage of her literacy development she is learning to review her first draft and then publish a final copy, which can be done on the computer. Janii can easily open a word file and is currently learning about different features of Word. The enlargement software, Zoomtext assists this process by enlarging all the screen icons. Janii has this set to a 2X magnification. Other specialist software has also assisted Jannii’s functional vision and response to auditory information. For example, the specialist software program Balanced Literacy has been utilized. The interactive literacy materials provide students both auditory and visual feedback to students engaged in reading the talking books which are part of this programme. Information on this program is available at www.intellitools.com.
Janii really enjoys the visual arts area of the curriculum. She has great curiosity about the natural world around her. These curriculum areas are both learning strengths. Janii’s vision impairment means that it is more difficult for her to obtain the quality and quantity of information about the natural world in which she is so clearly interested. For this reason a colour video magnifier is an important component of her kit of individual technology tools. Jannii’s video magnifier is a Prisma.
The Prisma enables Jannii to magnify print, pictures, small objects and other items that capture her interest. For example, Jannii and the class have recently enjoyed looking at snails and caterpillars. Janii can see the fine detail and is motivated to learn how to operate the Prisma. The unit is lightweight and portable folding down into a compact suitcase which can move between home and school locations. It can connect into an ordinary desktop computer or connect to a TV screen as in the photo on the left. Further information on the Prisma is available on the Quantech website. Other students who may require higher levels of magnification and the capacity for sustained interaction with print may be assisted by other video magnifier options. In Jannii’s case, the Prisma has met a particular need assisting by:
- creating opportunities to extend her conceptual ideas through by bringing the natural world to her attention.
- enhancing ways in which Jannii can develop early literacy and numeracy skills by direct experience and engagement with picture books and other materials.
Like other students, Janii’s needs will be regularly reviewed so that changing needs are identified and addressed.
Larger Scale Braille & Alternate Format Production
In Tasmania (2005) students with visual impairment are supported by a flexible range of technology options that parallel the options described in the different case studies. Funding for these options has been obtained by a financial partnership with Royal Guide Dogs Tasmania. On another level, these students, their schools and families also have access to a Braille Transcription Unit. It exists as a production unit for Braille and large print production. It also accesses Braille and auditory and large print resources from mainland specialist library services. The work of this Unit complements individual student’s technology platforms by ensuring that high quality learning resources are supplied that extend each student’s opportunity to engage with curriculum materials. The unit also produces a range of tactual graphics that are linked to particular curriculum areas. For example, diagrams relating to mathematical concepts such as shape, size and measurement are produced within the unit.
The following technologies enable the Unit to meet production requirements:
- 5 x PC’s, operating with Windows XP
- 1 x INDEX Everest Embosser for large-scale Braille output. This cut sheet embosser also has the capacity to Braille tables and graphics with adjustable dot and line separation for better quality Braille graphics. The Everest embosser has the flexibility to play with the sequencing of book pages.
- Duxbury Braille Translation Software. The service has purchased a three- user license which is regularly upgraded. This enables documents to be accurately formatted in Braille. Specific information is available on the Duxbury site at www.duxburysystems.com/dbt.asp. Duxbury Braille Translation software that is compatible with Macintosh computers can also be purchased.
- 2 x Juliet Embossers have been placed in regional centres to facilitate smaller more localized and less complex Braille output. These are essentially Braille printers that have been connected to desktop computers and have the capability to produce quality hard copy Braille materials.
- HP scanner and OCR software. Scanning texts and editing for Large Print output. The scanner enables texts that will not be successfully enlarged by photocopying to be scanned in to a word document and then formatted to individual student requirements.
- Tactile Image Enhancer (T.I.E.) For production of hand drawn tactual graphics to compliment Braille output.
- Picture Braille is a simple drawing software package that permits drawn lines to be represented as lines of braille dots when embossed.
Currently the Unit is investigating two new technologies that offer exciting possibilities for all students with severe visual impairment. These are:
1. New Options for Sophisticated Tactile Graphics. The Viewplus Embosser is driven by a specialist software product called Tiger. The Tiger software program enables documents that are created in Windows programs to be translated and embossed directly from Windows. Immediately, this opens up huge possibilities in the production of tactile graphics. Staff have seen this demonstrated at the SPEVI (South Pacific Educators of Vision Impairment) national conference in January 2005. Features noted include:
- Savings in time through the Windows printer
- High resolutions graphics as the result of an innovative embossing technology – for example different dot height can be used in tactile graphics.
This technology has great potential for improving both the quality and quantity of tactual graphics available for students with visual impairments.
2. New digital reading technologies specifically designed for users who are blind or vision impaired. The Victor Reader Wave is a new talking book player. It is lightweight and portable and adapted to play DAISY books. DAISY stands for Digital Accessible Information System. A range of talking book libraries have worked towards the transition form analogue to Digital talking Books, using Daisy formatted materials. An overview of the Daisy Project is available at www.daisy.org.
Basically Daisy formatted material offer the reader an extensive range of features for interacting with that information. Some of the key navigations features for readers are
- The browsing feature which enables readers to browse through headings, chapters and pages.
- The capacity to place bookmarks and return to these references at a later reading.
- The capacity to access information with synthetic speech or via a Braille display.
The Unit will consider how Daisy formatted materials can be obtained and then what options are available for accessing this information. As digital talking books will be more readily available in the future, it is necessary to commence planning for how this technology can be most effectively supported.
- “Kit of Tools” A conceptual framework used by A Koenig & K Holbrook, (Renwick Centre. November, 2001) to describe how students could develop competence with a range of technology options as a means to participating in all aspects of the curriculum.
- Tasmanian Resource Teacher Team (2004 – 5) with specific input from Philippa Daniel, Senior Resource Teacher, Vision Impairment Service
- Gaylen Kapperman & Jodi Sticken “Assistive Technology,” in A.J. Koenig & M.Cay Holbrook (Editors) Instructional Strategies for Teaching Children and Youth with Visual Impairments, AFB, Press, American Foundation for the Blind.2000.
- Joan Anderson “Expanded Core Curriculum: Technology,” in Stephen A. Goodman & Stuart H. Wittenstein, (Editors) Collaborative Assessment: Working with Students Who are Blind or Visually Impaired, Including Those with Additional Disabilities. AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, 2003.
- Frances Mary D’Andrea & Kitch Barnicle “Access to Information Technology and Braille” in Diane P. Wormsely & Frances Mary D’Andrea (Editors) Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy. AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, 1997.
- M.C Holbrook & A. Koenig, “Learning Media Assessment” Conference Papers, Renwick, November 2001.
- H. Caton (Editor) Tools for Selecting Appropriate Learning Media. American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. 1994.
- Frances M. D”Andrea More than a Perkins Brailler: A review of the Mountbattern Braillers, Part 1 (Volume 6, Number 1), January 2005.
- Frances Mary D’Andrea “Activities and Games for Teaching Children to Use a CCTV” in Frances Mary D’Andrea & Carol Farrenkopf, (Editors) Looking to Learn: Promoting Literacy for Students with Low Vision, AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, 2000.
- Betty Dominguez & Joe Dominguez Building Blocks: Foundations for Learning for Young Blind and Visually Impaired Children. American Foundation for the Blind, New York. 1991