A Magazine for Parents and Teachers of Blind Children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Volume 31 Number 2 Special Issue: Technology
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2012 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230 • (410) 659-9314
www.nfb.org/nopbc • [email protected] • [email protected]
Volume 31 Number 2 Special Issue: Technology
Dallas Site of 2012 NFB Convention
A Letter from the Editor
The Promise of Accessible Technology:
Challenges and Opportunities
by Mark A. Riccobono
A Beginner's Guide to Access Technology for Blind Students
by Steve Booth and Clara van Gerven
HOPES AND REALITIES
The Dream of the Past, the Hope for the Future
by Gary Wunder
Technology and Education in the Twenty-First Century
by Dr. Denise M. Robinson
Mainstream Access to E-books: What Works, What Doesn't,
and What Is Still Unclear
by Amy Mason
The Future of Digital Publishing: An Optimist's View
by George Kerscher, PhD
Breaking Down the Barriers: Bookshare Celebrates
a Decade of Digital Access
by Betsy Burgess and Valerie Chernek
Can We Erase Our Mistakes? The Need for
Enhanced Tactile Graphics
by Al Maneki
If You Can Imagine It, You Can Draw It
by Richard Baldwin
LaTeX: What Is It and Why Do We Need It?
by Al Maneki and Alysha Jeans
What's the Score? Issues in Standardized
Testing for Blind Students
by Pat Renfranz
You, Me, and the LSAC: Fighting for a Fair Shot on the Law School
Admissions Test, and Winning
by Sean Whalen
High Tech, Low Tech: Tools that Help Our
Daughter Access the World
by Richard Holloway
From Handouts to Digital Files
by Marshall Flax
"Just Do the Best You Can"
by Trudy Pickrel
My Techno Life
by Anna Catherine Walker
Life in the Mainstream
by Laura Bostick
Adventures in NFB Childcare
by Carla McQuillan
The 2012 National Convention Youth Track
by Meleah Jensen
ODDS AND ENDS
Future Reflections is a magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. It is published quarterly by the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. Future Reflections is available free of charge to subscriber addresses in the U.S. in regular print and audio formats and via email, or it can be read online on the NFB website. Canadian subscriptions are $35.00 per year, and other foreign subscriptions are $75.00 U.S. per year. Checks should be made payable to the National Federation of the Blind and sent to the NFB, Attention Future Reflections, 200 E. Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230.
For an email subscription to Future Reflections, visit <www.nfbcal.org/listserv-signup.html> and follow the instructions.
To subscribe to Future Reflections in print or audio format, send an email to [email protected]. Put "Subscribe to FR" in the subject line and include your preferred medium in the body. Please include your address, whether you are the parent of a blind child, a teacher, or other subscriber. If you are a parent, include your child's name and birth date.
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all 50 states plus Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
What is different about the NOPBC?
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
• create a climate of opportunity for blind children in home and society.
• provide information and support to parents of blind children.
• facilitate the sharing of experience and concerns among parents of blind children.
• develop and expand resources available to parents and their children.
• help parents of blind children gain understanding and perspective through partnership and contact with blind adults.
• function as an integral part of the National Federation of the Blind in its ongoing effort to achieve equality and opportunity for all blind persons.
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at <www.nopbc.org>. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
• National and State Parent Seminars and Conferences
• Future Reflections Magazine
• NOPBC Website
• Books and Videos
• Blindkid & Other Listservs
• Early Childhood Conferences
• Pop-Up IEP Website
• Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest
• Slate Pals Pen Pal Program
• AAF Free Braille Books Program
• Share Braille Book Exchange
• Writing Contests
• Junior Science Academy
• Youth Slam High School Science Academy
• National Center for Blind Youth in Science Web site
• NFB-NEWSLINE® Newspaper Service
• Where the Blind Work Website
• Free White Cane Program
• Blindness 411 Facebook Group for Teens
• NFB-LINK Mentoring Program
• Scholarship Program
• Straight Talk about Blindness Video Series
• Parent Leadership Program (PLP)
The 2012 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Dallas, Texas, June 30-July 5, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel at 2201 Stemmons Freeway, Dallas, Texas 75207. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Hilton Anatole staff only, not Hilton general reservations. Call (214) 761-7500.
The 2012 room rates are singles, doubles, and twins $63 and triples and quads $68 a night, plus a 15 percent sales tax. The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $60-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2012. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
Rooms will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2012, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our block of rooms for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
Guestroom amenities include cable television; coffeepot; iron and ironing board; hairdryer; and, for a fee, high-speed Internet access. The Hilton Anatole has several excellent restaurants, twenty-four-hour-a-day room service, first-rate meeting space, and other top-notch facilities. It is in downtown Dallas with shuttle service to both the Dallas/Ft. Worth Airport and Love Field.
The schedule for the 2012 convention will follow our usual pattern:
Saturday, June 30 Seminar Day
Sunday, July 1 Registration Day
Monday, July 2 Board Meeting and Division Day
Tuesday, July 3 Opening Session
Wednesday, July 4 Business Session
Thursday, July 5 Banquet Day and Adjournment
NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND
2012 National Convention Preregistration Form
Please register online at <www.nfb.org/registration> or use this mail-in form. Print legibly, provide all requested information, and mail form and payment to:
National Federation of the Blind
Attn: Convention Registration
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place
Baltimore, MD 21230
Please register only one person per registration form; however, one check or money order may cover multiple registrations. Check or money order (sorry, no credit cards) must be enclosed with registration(s).
Registrant Name _____________________________________________________________
City _____________________________ State __________________ Zip ___________
Phone ____________________________ Email __________________________________
___ I will pick up my registration packet at convention.
___ The following person will pick up my registration packet:
Pickup Name ____________________________________________________________
Number of preregistrations ____ x $25 = ____________
Number of pre-purchased banquet tickets ____ x $50 = ____________
Number of pre-purchased barbeque tickets ____ x $40 = ____________
Total = ____________
1. Preconvention registration, banquet, and barbeque sales are final (no refunds).
2. All preregistration mail-in forms must be postmarked by May 31.
by Deborah Kent Stein
I am a confirmed technophobe. I use a computer every day, almost all day long, but each innovation stirs a sense of dread. My anxiety spikes at the thought of upgrades and incompatibilities, and every learning curve feels steeper than Mount Everest.
Despite my fears, however, I celebrate the countless ways that technology--and access technology in particular--has improved my life. At any time of the day or night I can download a book, search for an address, or buy a new sweater, all without leaving my desk. Cell phones, iPads, and global positioning systems are only a few of the amazing devices that have transformed our world in recent decades.
All of this dizzying change can have its downsides. For those of us who are blind, websites and gadgets become barriers when they are not fully accessible in nonvisual ways. Blind children in today's classroom have unprecedented opportunities, yet they also face access challenges that were unimaginable just a few years ago.
The articles in this special issue of Future Reflections explore access technology for the blind from many perspectives. Teachers, parents, technology developers, and blind users share their expertise and experience. Denise Robinson and Richard Holloway describe how technology enables blind students to function independently in the mainstream classroom, while Trudy Pickrel shares her story of pitfalls and frustrations. Amy Mason reviews the access capabilities of a variety of commercial e-book readers, and Betsy Burgess and Valerie Chernek show how Bookshare has become a major resource. Al Maneki, Alysha Jeans, and Richard Baldwin write about promising new technologies that may revolutionize blind people's access to science and mathematics.
If you are new to access technology, some of the material in this issue may be rather daunting. A good place to start is the overview article by Steve Booth and Clara van Gerven. The authors explain many of the basic terms and concepts that you will encounter elsewhere in this issue.
"Will technology facilitate unprecedented access to education for all, or will it be the force that segregates students with disabilities into an unequal learning environment?" Mark Riccobono, executive director of the NFB's Jernigan Institute, posed this question to the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. The education of our blind children and youth hangs in the balance. It is critical for all of us, techies and technophobes alike, to become acquainted with the issues and work to build a future of equal access for everyone.
by Mark A. Riccobono
From the Editor: Mark Riccobono serves as executive director of the NFB's Jernigan Institute, the research and education arm of the National Federation of the Blind. On February 7, 2012, he addressed the US Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (generally known as the HELP Committee). A video of the committee hearing, including Mark's presentation, can be found at <www.help.senate.gov/hearings/hearing/?id=15eea6a0-5056-9502-5d55-b899d73ef5f9>
Chairman Harkin, Senator Enzi, and members of the committee, I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you on behalf of the National Federation of the Blind. Today's hearing deals with a critical question of civil rights in the twenty-first century--will technology facilitate unprecedented access to education for all, or will it be the force that segregates students with disabilities into an unequal learning environment?
Technology offers a new accessibility paradigm. In its basic form, digital content is accessible to everybody. It can easily be moved, converted, and translated into the form required by each individual student. By universally designing technologies to handle a broad range of physical and sensory interfaces, we can achieve the equality in education that we seek. But in order to reach that goal, we must move beyond the old model of accommodation.
Imagine a classroom where the iPad is used daily. A blind student now has the possibility of equal participation by using the built-in technology to access the same content and functionality as her sighted peers. She can connect a refreshable Braille display to read the lesson the teacher uploaded just moments earlier. She can enter quiz answers in Braille, and they can seamlessly be translated into print and instantly transmitted to the teacher for grading. She has unprecedented access--and this is not the future, it is achievable today.
Alternatively, our blind student might be shut out of the curriculum if her school adopts Google Chromebooks or Apps for Education, MyITlab, Barnes and Noble's Nook, Amazon's Kindle, or any of the dozens of other inaccessible systems and devices that are being used to facilitate learning today. A school that wants to fix inaccessible technology which already has been deployed faces the reality that the reconfiguration will be expensive and is unlikely to result in a solution that is equally effective and equally integrated. If the student chooses to file a formal complaint, she faces the personal and professional costs of taking that action. She has unequal access to education. This, too, is not the future--it is the reality for many students with disabilities today.
Congressional leadership begins with swift action to significantly improve accessibility within the federal government. We should no longer accept anything less than complete accessibility of technologies purchased and deployed by the government. Similarly, all technologies used, developed, and disseminated as the result of federal grant awards must unquestionably be accessible. We need strong, functional, and enforced standards for educational technology. Furthermore, the liability for failure to meet those standards should extend beyond the schools to the technology manufacturers and distributors. Government leadership could help make accessibility a core element of training for all IT professionals, and we should collect and disseminate best practices in accessibility.
America should be a world leader in the use of technology to educate and empower each of its citizens. This is a rare opportunity to establish a standard that will significantly improve access to education, promote innovation, and provide our nation with both economic and social benefits. We know the type of future we want, we understand the promise of technology, and we must now provide leadership to secure that future and fulfill that promise for all Americans.
Reprinted with updates from Future Reflections, Winter/Spring 2006, Volume 25 No. 1
From the Editor: Parents and teachers sometimes struggle to determine which access technology will best meet a child's needs. The International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind (IBTC) can be a valuable resource. In this article, members of the IBTC staff review some of the access technology options available today.
The International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC) was founded in 1990. It is a comprehensive demonstration and evaluation center where the National Federation of the Blind has collected every type of speech output and Braille technology, both hardware and software, available in the United States and Canada, and some items from other countries as well. The IBTC takes calls and provides tours and demonstrations on weekdays by appointment between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. Technology specialists assist parents, teachers, and students to identify the products best suited to meet educational, professional, and personal needs. For a consultation by phone, call (410) 659-9314 and select the option "Technology Answer Line." To arrange for a tour or an extended visit to the IBTC, call (410) 659-9314, press 0 for the operator, and ask for Community Relations. Mrs. Patricia Maurer, director of community relations, will make sure an IBTC technology specialist is available to assist you when you visit.
Below are descriptions of the major products that provide access to the world of computing for blind users. The term access technology refers to the whole category of items that provide access to the computer. You may have heard the terms adaptive technology, assistive technology, or compensatory technology. However, for clarity and consistency, we will refer to these specialized products as access technology.
First, a word about hardware and software. Hardware is equipment. A computer with its keyboard and monitor is hardware. Software is the program that runs on the computer's hardware.
Whether your child is a toddler pecking at the keyboard or a graduate student analyzing statistics for a dissertation, complete access to a computer is an essential ingredient to success. Computers are available in a number of flavors and shapes. The most widely used operating systems are Microsoft Windows and Apple's OS. Windows is still the dominant system, though Apple is increasingly popular. Desktop computers provide the most power for the money, but portable systems are pretty inevitable for most students. The choice depends on how the machine will be used. For basic use (web, mail, word processing) a high-end netbook will do the job. For more power, a laptop is the best bet. Finally, for those users who need a very light machine that is faster and more powerful than a netbook, the ultrabooks are a good compromise.
In order to gain full and independent access to a computer, a blind student must use a screen access program. In the case of Mac computers and devices, this software is preinstalled and does not need to be purchased; however, the user does not have the option of using any other screen access program. The screen access program provides synthesized speech output, using the computer's soundboard and speakers. As the individual enters data on the keyboard or navigates a program, the screen reader announces the text that is displayed on the screen. In addition to reading the literal text, the program provides important contextual information necessary for navigation. For example, when the user presses the "Start" key the screen access program will announce, "Start, Menu." This tells the user that the word "start" is highlighted and that the computer has displayed a menu. A menu is navigated with the up and down arrow keys.
Programs offered by third-party developers can be installed on the PC by the user. Priced from $895 to $1,100, two programs dominate the US market. JAWS from Freedom Scientific and Window-Eyes from GW Micro are both well-established programs. It is safe to say that the screen access program is the most fundamentally important access technology that a blind student is likely to use.
Other options are available, some of which are low-cost or even free. While such programs can be a good solution for basic use, they will not support some of the more advanced functionality. For more information on screen access software, please check <http://www.nfb.org/technology-resource-list>.
A Braille embosser, sometimes referred to as a Braille printer, is a piece of very specialized computer hardware. The embosser allows Braille files that have been created on the computer to be produced in hardcopy for your child to read.
Embossers are priced from $1,900 to $80,000. As a practical consideration, schools and students typically spend from $2,000 to $4,000 to purchase a new embosser that is appropriate for individual use. Embossers in this price and performance class are either single-sided or interpoint. Interpoint embossers create Braille on both sides of a sheet of Braille paper, while single-sided models produce Braille on only one face of the page.
The fastest Braille embosser available cannot produce even one dot of material unless a Braille translation program is installed on the computer. Three programs are most prevalent today: the Duxbury Braille Translator, Braille2000, and MegaDots.
Duxbury Braille Translator--The Duxbury Braille Translator, or DBT, is a Windows program. As such, it will remind you of a word processor or the WordPad feature of Windows. As with a word processor, you can enter text directly from the keyboard, creating your own documents for Braille production as you would create a new document for print reproduction. You can also import files from existing sources, again as with a word processor. The range of files that can be imported is quite wide and includes common formats such as Microsoft Word, ASCII text, and HTML (web pages). Some important file formats are not supported directly, most significantly PDF files.
Braille2000--Braille2000 is a Braille translation package primarily designed for transcribers who are using six-key input. It is also XML aware: you can read and write Braille XML files as well as translate XML print text into Braille. Braille2000 works with Windows XP, VISTA, and Windows 7.
MegaDots--MegaDots is a styles-based program that operates in a DOS window on a PC. A variety of documents, including all current Word versions, can be imported. The program is particularly popular among transcribers for its power in editing large quantities of Braille. Transcribers are among the most important members of the team of educational professionals because they bring properly formatted Braille materials to your child.
Once the file is entered from the keyboard or imported, the unique properties of DBT and MegaDots reveal themselves. With the click of a mouse or a simple key press, the file is translated into contracted Braille. Only a translated file can be sent to the embosser for output in hard copy.
Significant limitations exist in the arena of automatic conversion of files, and some knowledge of formatting is required when creating original files in DBT or MegaDots. Because most imported documents will suffer the effects of conversion from one format to another, or will not have the necessary markup or styles required for proper Braille formatting, intervention by a skilled human is often required.
Note: It is important to point out that blind children--like sighted children--learn about the proper formatting of materials by observing the format of the textbooks and handouts prepared for them. Long before anyone teaches it, children learn about headers, indenting, italicized characters, etc. Improperly formatted Braille will give blind children wrong or conflicting information about formatting. In other words, despite the advances in technology, the human element in Braille production is still important.
First introduced by Blazie Engineering in the mid-1980s, these easy-to-use personal organizers now allow a user to create documents, read text, keep addresses and appointments, check email, use the Internet, and access a list of special utilities (such as specialized GPS, dictionaries, and tutorials). All notetakers include speech output as well as either a Braille or a QWERTY keyboard for entering data. Many have refreshable Braille displays.
Here are some distinguishing characteristics that set notetakers apart from computers. Notetakers offer immediate access to information without boot-up time. Notetakers use mobile versions of Windows or Linux operating systems rather than the full systems that operate on regular computers or laptops. Notetakers offer at least some specialized programs and functions that address the specific needs of the blind. Notetakers typically offer Braille functionality and, in the case of those with a Braille keyboard, can be operated with Braille input exclusively. It is important to note, however, that notetakers are not designed to be independent devices--they don't allow for the kind of power usage and advanced editing that a student or professional needs. A computer must be part of the equation, with the notetaker providing specialized functionality and portable use.
Notetakers are produced in families with several variations on a basic theme. As many as six models may be available, all of which share a common software and hardware design. Examples are the BrailleNote family of products from HumanWare, the BrailleSense line from HIMS, and the Pac Mate Omni products from Freedom Scientific. Two kinds of input are available, Braille and QWERTY (or typewriter). Each of these is available with an integrated 32-character Braille display, an 18-character Braille display (40-cell or 20-cell in the case of the Pac Mate line), or with no Braille display, providing output with speech only. Units that offer a refreshable Braille display also provide spoken output that can be used in conjunction with the Braille display or turned off for "Braille only" operation.
With Windows, today's notetakers can interface directly with a PC. Files can also be saved to various kinds of storage cards or to a number of standard storage devices, such as thumb drives or external hard drives. When disconnected from the notetaker, these storage devices can be connected to a PC for file transfer or used as a Braille display of the PC output.
The range of functions supported by today's notetaker dwarfs the first generation of Blazie products. The user can create basic documents and can even access and edit Word documents; however, most major formatting requires a full computer-based word processor, as no font information is available. Notetakers will hold almost limitless contacts, support email, web browsing, audio file playback (including real-time streaming from the Internet), global positioning system technology (GPS) for navigation and orientation, and a host of other features. Pac Mate Omni also gives access to Excel and PowerPoint. All of the current notetakers can read DAISY books and Audible books, as well as electronic Braille files and PDF. With proper authorization BrailleNote and Pac Mate support books from Learning Ally. Likewise, the BrailleNote and Braille Sense can read NLS BARD audio books. Notetakers can print directly to a Braille embosser or be connected to a conventional printer for text output.
We mentioned above that notetakers can be connected to a computer and used as Braille displays with screen access software. There are also dedicated refreshable Braille hardware devices that can be connected to a desktop or laptop computer to provide Braille output for the print text on the computer screen. Called refreshable Braille displays, these devices allow the user to interact with his/her computer using Braille. They are called refreshable because the unit is made up of a line of pins that move up and down to display the Braille dots. Braille displays also have navigation keys so the user can move around the computer screen without taking his/her hands from the display to perform tasks. It is important to note that screen access software such as JAWS or Window-Eyes must be present in order for the Braille display to function on a computer using the Windows operating system. On Mac computers, the preinstalled VoiceOver software will provide speech and support Braille displays. Braille displays are available in units from 12 to 80 Braille cells. The larger 80-cell unit makes it possible to display an entire line of print text as seen on most computer monitors. Braille displays can be moved from one computer to another, as long as each computer has appropriate screen access software (and in some cases the hardware drivers, which can be downloaded from the manufacturer's website). Prices range from $1,000 for a 12-cell display to over $10,000 for some 80-cell displays.
Flatbed scanners are common hardware devices that can be found anywhere computer equipment is sold. They are generally used to scan photos into electronic files on a PC. However, they also can be used to scan text material. When used in conjunction with a specialized optical character recognition (OCR) program for the blind, the scanned text can be read aloud immediately in synthesized speech. This makes virtually any typed or printed material accessible to the blind user. More and more, OCR software now also uses some specific cameras for scanning, since these are faster than flatbed scanners. These cameras can be purchased directly from some of the OCR software vendors, such as Freedom Scientific and ABiSee.
Scanners can read many kinds of documents, but not all. Handwriting cannot be recognized yet, and some formats are difficult to render with speech, such as complex tables or graphical information. It takes many hours to scan a large book, placing page after page on the scanner. A document feeder can speed up the process, but the book must be cut apart. The cameras mentioned earlier can provide significantly higher speeds than scanners, though it is a bit harder with those to keep from accidentally covering text.
Two popular OCR programs for blind users are Kurzweil 1000 and OpenBook. Both of these programs come with speech output and can read documents aloud as they are being scanned. Other features include editing and bookmarking. Other electronic files may be opened and edited, including some PDF and HTM files. These programs allow files to be saved for future use or translation into Braille. They can be used to create MP3 audio files and to open DAISY files.
For those who want a portable solution for OCR, ABiSee's Eye-Pal and the KNFB Reader Mobile are good solutions. The KNFB Reader Mobile hosts the OCR software on a Nokia N82 cell phone, making it perfect for on-the-go use. Handouts at a meeting, labels on products, and restaurant menus are easy to access with the KNFB Reader Mobile. The Eye-Pal is more appropriate for book scanning. It requires a laptop or PC as well as the Eye-Pal camera. The camera, which incorporates a folding stand, weighs about a pound and works with any computer that has the software installed. It does not have the powerful editing features of Kurzweil 1000 or OpenBook, but it has outstanding book scanning speeds.
A flatbed scanner may be purchased from most computer stores for approximately $200. The specialized OCR software for the blind is available for about $1,000. Sighted teachers and those who want to scan large amounts of material, saving the files for later reading, may use less expensive, commercially available OCR software. However, these cheaper programs will not allow the user to listen to the material as it is being scanned.
Portable DAISY players provide access to books with navigation, allowing the reader to skip to page, chapter, or section headers. Many of these players also provide other features, such as music storage, voice recording, and podcast support. The players listed below are some of the more feature-rich units.
Book Port Plus: This pocket-sized book player and digital recorder packs many features into its small case. The Book Port Plus supports Secure Digital memory cards (SD cards) with capacities up to 32 gigabytes. Built-in text-to-speech software will read DAISY-formatted books and text files in a variety of formats, including TXT, RTF, and HTML. Human-recorded books from the National Library Service, Learning Ally, and Audible.com are also supported. Users can connect an NLS cartridge, flash drive, or USB-powered CD-ROM drive to Book Port Plus for additional connectivity. Book Port Plus also includes features designed to make it a powerful digital recorder, including stereo microphone input, a built-in microphone, the ability to edit recordings, and the ability to turn your recordings into digital talking books.
American Printing House for the Blind. Price: $329.00.
BookSense: This compact digital book player that fits easily in the palm of your hand comes in two configurations. Both include the ability to read books, documents, and play back audio files. Supported book and document formats include DAISY (text and audio), TXT, RTF, HTML, DOC, DOCX, HTML, XML, and formatted Braille in either BRL or BRF files. The media player supports playback of MP3, MP4, OGG, WAV, WAX, MP4A, WMA, and Audible file formats. Files are stored on a high-capacity SD card. The BookSense can also function as a digital recorder with output in either WAV or MP3. The BookSense XT includes all of the previously mentioned features and adds Bluetooth output (supporting stereo Bluetooth headphones), 4 GB of internal memory, and an FM radio receiver.
HIMS, Price: BookSense, $349; BookSense XT, $498.
Victor Reader Stream: The Victor Reader Stream plays DAISY (including National Library Service, Learning Ally, BookShare.org, and NFB-NEWSLINE®, MP3, Audible, and text files. The unit has an internal speaker and an integrated microphone that allows the user to record voice notes. There is audible feedback for battery level, volume level, speech rate, and book position. The user can adjust the reading speed. The unit has a telephone-style keypad for navigation and control. Files are stored on an SD card.
HumanWare. Price: $359.
As phones become ever more like computers, it would be foolish to neglect them as bona fide tools for learning. Right now, the most obvious choice for a phone-with-benefits is the iPhone. The iPhone, like the Mac, runs VoiceOver, Apple's screen access software, and supports the use of a Braille display. No other phone currently offers this type of functionality with the same level of accessibility. Some simpler phones have speech for menus and texting, while the Android phones have all the horsepower of the iPhone without full access. Mobile Accessibility from CodeFactory for Android gives access to ten of the basic apps.
In the iOS line, the iPod Touch falls between the iPhone and the iPad and offers some of the same benefits--email, calendar, and other basics as well as DAISY/Bookshare reading with the Read2Go app, access to Learning Ally with its app, and so on.
Tablets--small computers with touch screens--are terrifically popular at the moment. They are everywhere. Unfortunately, they are almost entirely useless to blind students. The "almost" is on account of the lone shining example of the iPad, which, like its iOS brethren, has VoiceOver and excellent baseline accessibility (though many third-party apps are inaccessible). iPads are common in education and can really help a blind student--but the third-party app accessibility issues can really throw a wrench in the works.
The cost of the technology listed here can add up pretty fast. However, not everyone needs every piece of equipment in order to get satisfactory access to computers and/or print information. We invite you to contact our access technology team at the IBTC for more information and advice about which products are suitable for your needs and pocketbook. We do not sell any of these products in the IBTC. Our mission is to help people get the information they need so they can compare the products offered by various vendors. For a consultation by phone, call (410) 659-9314 during regular business hours, Eastern Time, Monday through Friday, and select the option, "Technology Answer Line." You can reach us by email at [email protected]
Other excellent sources of information about access technology are the NFB monthly magazine, the Braille Monitor, and the Access Technology Blog and Technology Tips, all of which you can find at <www.nfb.org>.
Below is a list of companies that manufacture many of the products described in this article. Check to learn if there is a distributor in your area who may be available to demonstrate the product and to help with setup and initial training.
American Printing House for the Blind (APH)
1839 Frankfort Avenue, P.O. Box 6085, Louisville, KY 40206-0085
(502) 895-2405 or (800) 223-1839
Freedom Scientific, Blind/Low Vision Group
11800 31st Court North, St. Petersburg, FL 33716-1805
(727) 803-8000 or (800) 444-4443
Tech support: (727) 803-8600
by Gary Wunder
From the Editor: After a long career as a computer programmer, Gary Wunder now serves as editor of the Braille Monitor, the primary news publication of the National Federation of the Blind. He is president of the NFB of Missouri and has held a seat on the NFB Board of Directors.
When I turned six, I learned about the magic of Braille. All of a sudden words like cat and dog, that people kept spelling for me, actually made sense. No longer was I simply memorizing strings of letters to make words. I learned what the letters c, a, and t felt like beneath my fingers. It was wonderful to read and write; my only sadness was that my parents did not understand what I wrote for them, and I could not read anything they wrote for me. I dreamed that one day I could write on my Perkins Brailler and have my words translated into print. I dreamed, too, of a device--its size and shape unknown--that would put into Braille everything my family wrote to me.
My dream grew as I got older. At first I attended classes where my teacher could read my Braille lessons. Later, when I moved into classes where I was required to transcribe my Braille assignments into print, the dream became a prayer. The transcription process was time-consuming and prone to error. When I wrote an essay or term paper, I created my first draft in Braille. After reading it over and finding mistakes or better ways to express what I wanted to say, I wrote a second draft in Braille. When I liked it well enough to give it to the teacher, or when the deadline loomed and I had to go with whatever I had, it was time to turn my Braille creation into print. This entailed sitting at a typewriter, reading a line of Braille, typing it in print, and putting my hand back on the Braille page to find my place again. I repeated the process over and over until the paper was typed.
The process was riddled with setbacks. If I mistyped a character, I couldn't erase it. The error was permanently captured on paper. If I backspaced and typed the correct letter, I simply placed it on top of the first one. Sometimes the letter was readable, but many times it was not. The strike-over counted against me as a typographical error or even as a misspelling. Furthermore, there was no spell checker to warn me that what I wrote wasn't a real word. I was in trouble, too, if I realized that a sentence in my final draft was repetitious or didn't make sense. I had no way to move sentences or paragraphs, no way to insert the all-important word that would make my essay clear.
I shared most of these editing problems with my sighted classmates, who also turned in typed or handwritten assignments. But as a blind student, I faced a problem that did not plague my sighted peers. As I transcribed my assignments from Braille, I had no way to read what I typed. If the phone rang as I was typing a sentence, should I ignore it and go on working? Or should I answer the phone and risk forgetting where I had left off? If I finished the sentence and took the call, had I spaced twice after the period, or had I stopped right after the punctuation mark? If I was called away to dinner, could I remember exactly where I'd left off in my transcription? Sometimes I asked my parents or one of my siblings to check for me, but if I rolled the paper up enough for them to see what I had written, I might not manage to roll it back to the precise point where it had been before. Misalignment was definitely unacceptable, and meant I had to retype the whole page.
Transcribing was my least favorite part of school assignments, yet I was grateful that the typewriter had been invented. I was proud to have a device that enabled me to write print. I liked to turn in my papers along with my classmates, and I enjoyed writing letters that my aunt and grandmother could actually read. Transcribing was tough, but it was the way I did things. Whining and complaining were out of the question. Besides, there was always that dream. Someday things would be easier, more fun, and less complicated.
In school I liked nothing better than reading. Reading amazed me back then, and it still amazes me today. By running my fingers over lines of dots, I traveled in my mind to places that I might never visit in real life. Those bumps I read caused me to cry when Old Yeller met his end, when Black Beauty was mistreated, or when a family dog got lost in the desert and didn't know what animals to fear in the wild.
I was fascinated by space travel and the technology that made it possible. Once I read a small, softcovered book that explained the difference between a jet engine and a rocket. It showed why one would work in the atmosphere and the other would not. When I explained the difference to my mother, I felt astonished to be teaching her something she didn't know. She was excited, too. That evening she asked my father if he knew the difference. She demonstrated how well I had taught her by giving her own explanation of propulsion systems.
Reading gave me another dream: the dream that one day Braille would be as compact as print, that one Braille book would fit neatly between two covers. When I was in the early grades, a three-volume Braille book wasn't a problem at school. It could be stored in the massive bookcase in the special room for blind students. When I moved into regular classes, however, I could only carry one volume of the book I needed for a particular subject. If the teacher referred to a page at the beginning of the book and then leaped to a section at the end, my lone Braille volume, containing two chapters, couldn't compare with a print book.
Today hardcopy Braille books are still far bigger than books in print, and most sighted parents can't understand them unless they find the time to learn the Braille code. But technology vastly reduces the gap between Braille and print. I can carry fifty books on my BrailleNote and still have room to write articles like this one. I wrote part of this article as I relaxed in my living room, using a BrailleNote on my lap. Part of it I dictated as I dressed for work. Before it reaches you, I will proofread using a regular keyboard, a Braille display, and a speech output program.
Some of the technology I use is a dream come true; some is so novel that I didn't have the imagination even to dream of it. I am, however, in good company; even science fiction writers missed the value of the personal computer and the concept of the Internet. Who ever thought that one day we would all be connected by our smartphones, laptops, and specialized devices for the blind? Forty years ago a long-distance phone call was so expensive that my family planned it for a week in advance.
Now we have devices that let us turn material into print, Braille, or audio formats by entering a few simple commands. What do I dream of today? I dream not about new technology that will help the blind, but about keeping up with the technology being created for the general public. In the past I could purchase any washer or dryer in the store and, within fifteen minutes, place Braille labels on the buttons and dials to indicate critical settings. The hot-water setting was at four o'clock, the warm at six, and the cold at nine. Oven temperature was easily set by placing dots at 250 degrees, 300, and so on. Today it is hard to find any appliance that can be labeled readily. Many devices have flat surfaces that are sensitive to heat and pressure. The process of looking by touch for the right place to press activates buttons unintentionally. Some appliances use touch-screen technology; if one can't see the menus, it is impossible to operate these devices without sighted assistance. Apple Computer and a few other companies have found ways to make touch screens accessible to blind users. However, few companies give a thought to the needs of blind consumers, and these valuable innovations seldom are incorporated into the home appliances we need.
Today it is very easy to scan a print book, using an optical character recognition (OCR) program, and generate a copy in Braille. Ironically, however, as we finally gain almost limitless access to Braille books, print textbooks are becoming obsolete. In today's classrooms, electronic books offer students searchable text and the ability to go to countless links for further information. Some links lead to more text and others to audio files or to an audio and video combination. Since today's technology makes it easier to produce graphics than ever before, pictures and diagrams are now essential tools for conveying information. Unless blind students can access the information presented graphically on the screen, they will be at a serious disadvantage at every level of education.
Solutions to the problem of textbook graphics will be found, as they are found for nearly every problem we face. Some of these solutions may be automated, but many will require human intervention, perhaps in the form of scripts that convey the necessary visual content of a given page. The implementation of these solutions will require time, energy, and commitment.
In many ways the personal computer levels the field between blind and sighted persons. Yet it also creates unintended barriers. New software designs render buttons, boxes, and text entry fields invisible to screen readers. Such designs provide a unique look and feel for the sighted user, but they have the effect of erecting a KEEP OUT! sign for the blind. Likewise, screen readers cannot handle most image files, a format frequently used to present books and periodicals online.
I dream of a time when designing nonvisual accessibility into programs and products for the general public is as unremarkable as constructing a ramp at a crosswalk. But dreaming isn't enough. It takes more than dreaming to bring about change; it takes hard work. The work I do is coordinated by the National Federation of the Blind. Many dedicated people work beside me to see that blind people will not plunge into a hopeless digital divide. Computers can shut us out, or they can open new and exciting possibilities in our lives. We have the chance to determine what our future will be. I put my trust in us, in all of us who share my dreams. Our dreams aren't merely pleasant diversions. They are a plan for action and a roadmap to success.
by Denise M. Robinson, PhD
From the Editor: Dr. Denise Robinson is a teacher of the visually impaired in the state of Washington and an active member of the Professionals in Blindness Education Division of the NFB. In this article she explains how the technological revolution creates academic opportunities for her blind and low-vision students. Her account may sound like a futuristic dream, but in some classrooms it is reality.
Today's advances in access technology and technology in general enable blind children to progress in their learning as quickly as their sighted peers. In the past, worksheets and other class handouts had to be transcribed into Braille by a teacher's aide or a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). Frequently these materials were not ready by the time the student needed them, and the student had to do his/her work at a later time. The blind student completed assignments using a Perkins Brailler and handed the finished work to an aide or TVI to be transcribed into print for the classroom teacher. Often there was a long delay before the work could be transcribed. Several days might pass before the blind student received the teacher's feedback. By then the class had moved on, and the student had nearly forgotten the long-ago assignment.
Only a few years ago, hardcopy Braille books were the best option for textbooks and recreational reading for blind children. Obtaining and storing dozens of Braille volumes presented an array of difficulties. Often the needed Braille textbooks did not arrive by the beginning of the school year. A student might wait months or even years to read a book he/she wanted.
No longer do blind children have to wait indefinitely for the next title in their favorite series to come out in hardcopy Braille. No longer do they have to listen to what is going on in the front of the classroom without text or visual feedback. No longer must blind students wait for a TVI to transcribe their class assignments into print.
Access technology allows blind children to input and output assignments as quickly as their peers can, or even faster. Blind children can start tapping keys on a computer keyboard at two or three years of age, just as sighted children do. During the pre-school years, blind children can develop touch typing skills, using a computerized Braille keyboard or a computer keyboard with speech output and a Braille display. With this preparation, blind children can read and write as well as or better than their sighted peers by the time they enter kindergarten.
Instead of transcribing each worksheet by hand, word by word, today's aide or TVI scans it and uses a Braille printer to create a Braille copy. Sometimes it isn't even necessary to scan a printed sheet. The aide can download the work from the Internet, or the classroom teacher can email the work to the aide for embossing. Without a fuss, the blind child can have that last-minute work the teacher came up with for the day.
The child completes the assignment using a computer or Braille device such as a BrailleNote or Pac Mate. If he is in first or second grade, he prints it out and labels the paper in Braille, preferably using a slate and stylus. When the teacher hands the work back, the blind student knows what it is. Later, when his computer skills have improved, he sends his work to the teacher by email. The teacher uses the Track Changes feature to insert comments on the student's work. When the student gets the file back, he can use his screen reader to read the comments exactly where they appear in the document. It is just as if he were reviewing comments the teacher penciled on a page. The blind student can do all of this by himself--no sighted help needed.
If the child exclusively uses a BrailleNote or other special device for the blind, she may be at a disadvantage in the classroom. When a child is using a Braille device, I have seen classroom teachers show reluctance to give feedback as they pass her desk. The fear factor may be quite high. Teachers have told me they have a hard enough time using their own technology; the blind child's technology is unknown and mysterious. If the child asks, "How do I do this?" the classroom teacher probably doesn't know the answer--and no one likes to appear ignorant! Teachers are not trying to be cruel, but it is human nature to avoid things that seem frightening.
The teacher's comfort with technology may be a factor in deciding which tools the blind student uses in the classroom. In order for the child to fit in and do everything her peers are doing, a computer with a screen reader and a Braille display may be the best choice. A Braille notetaker can be supplemental until the child is so skilled with the notetaker that no fear prevails around her.
When a young blind child works on a computer in class, the regular education teacher can check her work, give her feedback, and move on--just as she does with her classmates. If anything goes wrong with the computer while the TVI is away, any technician at the school can resolve the issue and the child can go back to work. When a problem arises with a Braille device, the school technician is powerless to help.
Until recently, Apple products were largely inaccessible to blind users. Blind students were limited to the use of the PC and ran into problems in school districts that had invested in Apple hardware. Apple's VoiceOver technology has now made the Macintosh computer and such products as the iPhone and iPad accessible off the shelf. With speech output and a Braille display, the Mac or iPad are now as versatile as the PC.
I will never forget the first time I introduced one of my blind students to the Worldwide Web with its treasure of e-text books and information. Even today, my students are amazed to discover how much the Internet can offer them. When a child realizes he can go to a website such as <www.bookshare.org>, type in the name of a book, and download it to his laptop or notetaker, his face is not big enough to contain his smile.
The Internet is the best place for a student to get his favorite book or find information for a research project. When the class goes to the library, our blind children go to the library's computer and download the books they need. They can begin reading before their peers have checked out print books for themselves. Using screen reading software on a thumb drive, blind students can carry computer access with them.
In general, I have found that blind students prefer to read books from a Braille device such as the BrailleNote. They turn off the speech for a sense of peace, settle in a comfortable chair, and read away happily. I have heard many stories from parents who say, "Time for bed," turn out the lights and shut the door--only to find that their child has continued reading with the BrailleNote until he falls asleep.
Reading e-text on the BrailleNote is wonderful, but there are also advantages to downloading books to a computer. Students often work on class assignments in teams. When the sighted students can read from the blind student's screen, they can work together easily. The blind student's notes for a project can be emailed to the other team members.
The board at the front of the classroom has now been brought to the fingertips or desktop of the blind or low-vision child. Many teachers today work from document cameras or use a computer that views the front of the room. A blind child can connect to the teacher's computer with the BrailleNote, reading from the display and taking notes on the computer. If the teacher uses a document camera, the blind student hands a tablet such as the DigiMemo to a sighted classmate. The sighted student writes notes on the tablet and hands it back to the blind student. The blind student plugs the tablet into his computer, translates the handwritten notes into text, and saves it in Word for later reference.
With a simple VGA splitter, the teacher's document camera or computer can be hooked to a monitor on the desk of a student with low vision. The image at the front of the room can be seen at close range, right at the student's desk. Like the blind child, the child with low vision also can use the DigiMemo to get notes from a classmate.
Smart boards once presented major barriers for blind and low-vision students, but advances in technology have eliminated most of the problems. Students with low vision can access the smart board with the same techniques described for the document camera. The blind student can be handed the flipchart image documents on a thumb drive as soon as he walks into the classroom. The student opens the flipchart image, saves it as a PDF file, translates it with OpenBook or Kurzweil software, and launches it into Word to create a text document. Then he adds to the flipchart notes along with the rest of his classmates. If the student needs to translate handwritten notes from the board, he puts them through his handwriting software program. The notes can be saved as a text file and utilized with the screen reader or Braille display.
Text messaging and Skype allow the TVI to stay in contact with blind students who may be scattered over a wide geographic area. During class, the child can text the TVI to ask a question about her access technology. She can receive a quick response and continue with the lesson. For lessons on Braille or other blindness skills, the student calls the TVI on Skype. The TVI, who may be hundreds of miles away, can view the child's computer screen as clearly as if they were sitting at the same table. The teacher's aide can learn from the TVI along with the child.
Virtual teaching offers tremendous possibilities for blind students. In the past, few TVIs were available to serve blind children in rural areas. Now, through virtual instruction, geography is no longer a barrier. An Internet connection is all that is needed to bring the instructional team together.
When a question arises, anyone on a child's team can instantly text for an answer. When I was strictly an itinerant teacher, I had no communication with my students during the long hours I spent on the road. With virtual instruction, I can be in as many places as I need to be. I will teach whatever tool the child needs to learn. Teachers can easily use a combination of face-to-face and virtual instruction for fuller communication and training.
My students, assistants, and I use all of the methods I have described here. There are ways to meet every challenge. Ask the questions, find the answers, and go on to access the world!
by Amy Mason
Reprinted from the Braille Monitor, January 2012, Volume 55, No. 1
From the Editor: Electronic books, or e-books, promise to bring the blind community equal access to reading matter for the first time in history. Yet, in many cases, a gap yawns between promise and reality. In this article, Amy Mason treats us to a hard-hitting evaluation of the e-book readers currently on the market. Amy is a member of the Access Technology Team at the National Center for the Blind in Baltimore. Among her many responsibilities, she staffs the International Braille and Technology Center for the Blind.
E-books are an extremely popular topic these days. Ever since Amazon introduced the Kindle and built the first really successful mainstream e-book reader, more and more people are talking about, buying, and using e-books. E-books are produced in several formats on a number of competing platforms at varying prices. Readers use them for many purposes: leisure, education, reference, and work.
E-books are an especially exciting development for print-disabled and blind readers because their properties make them ideal for finding alternative forms of access. When an e-book is presented in an accessible format on an accessible e-book reader, the user can choose to read the book using text-to-speech, Braille, or magnification. Furthermore, accessible e-books in an open market benefit everyone. Publishers gain access to an otherwise untapped revenue stream--those who cannot access traditional print materials. The general public gains access to books that are even more flexible and feature-rich than they were before, while blind and other print-disabled users, for the first time in history, gain access to the same books and publications at the same price and at the same time as the rest of society.
Unfortunately, the landscape of e-book reading technology is littered with hundreds of combinations of file formats, devices, and platforms. These competing platforms and devices include varying levels of accessibility and different methods of access. To add to the confusion, some sites for purchasing e-books are less than forthcoming in mentioning features that might affect a book's accessibility, so it is difficult to find the best solution.
In this article we will look at several of the major e-book-reading platforms, their accessibility features, major drawbacks, and other pertinent information, so that users can make informed choices about what platforms and file types are likely to be of most use to them.
Because of the complexity of the current e-book-reading landscape, this article will focus on dedicated hardware devices: Apple iOS software, Mac, and Windows PC support. None of the tested e-book readers on the Android platform at the time of testing were accessible. Windows Phone 7 doesn't contain support for access technology at this time, and Symbian phones are becoming difficult to purchase since they are no longer manufactured. Therefore, these platforms are ill-suited to comparison in this article.
Blio is a fairly new e-book technology. It was created by KNFB Reading Technologies to provide e-books that are visually appealing; laid out like their print counterparts; and, most excitingly, accessible to screen-access technology. The Blio platform has the backing of Baker and Taylor, one of the largest e-book publishers in the market, and it already has a large collection of materials in many areas of interest. Furthermore, on small-screen iOS devices the VoiceOver experience is fairly pleasant. It is possible to read by line, by word, or by character; to jump to different chapters and pages; and to read continuously or page by page. Finally, the Blio iOS e-book reader allows reading with a Bluetooth Braille display.
Unfortunately, this is where the joys of using Blio end. While well-intentioned and technologically impressive, Blio seems to have gotten so wrapped up in the final product and its visual presentation that many accessibility details have been overlooked or poorly implemented. For instance, for the PC, Blio's website mentions the system requirements for running the program (Windows XP SP3 or newer and JAWS versions 11 or newer). It does not mention that running Blio with JAWS requires Windows 7. Next, once it is up and running on Windows, Blio works well until the user has a reason to tab away from its window, the computer goes to standby, or the program loses focus. After any of these common events, it is no longer possible to read the text by any element larger than word by word. If the user attempts to do so, the program skips about half of the words on the page. The only fix we found in testing the program was to reset the computer, since restarting JAWS and Blio is not enough to cause the program to act correctly. Moreover, changing the book view has been known to cause the program to crash. Last of all, there appears to be a bug in the iPad version of the software which causes it to try to read an entire page of text when the user attempts to read by line. Thus, although Blio has a good start, its producer still has a fair distance to go before the product is truly a trustworthy solution.
The CourseSmart e-book provider allows users to access textbooks through an online web portal that can be successfully navigated either by the Mac or the PC. It is built on a rental model, which means that books from the system are available to students for either 180 or 360 days continuously. Books cost about 50 percent of the price of their print versions. A blind software user has to contact the CourseSmart organization's support team and ask for the accessible reader to be enabled. Once this task is completed, it is possible to move through the text using standard navigation commands supplied by the screen reader. The text is presented in a page-by-page layout, meaning that the user sits at the computer and flips pages. The navigation is fairly well laid out, and, since the CourseSmart reader exposes the text to the screen-access software being used, it is possible to navigate character by character, word by word, line by line, and so forth. Furthermore, the layout of the system allows for movement by chapter or by jumping to specific pages in the text. Since it is exposing text to the screen reader directly, CourseSmart also allows the use of a refreshable Braille display.
To make CourseSmart fully accessible, developers can make improvements in two areas. First, not all of CourseSmart's selections are marked up for navigation. We did not test CourseSmart's ability to move through a marked-up text because the textbooks we acquired for this project did not contain the markup. It is possible to request that a title be marked appropriately and to have it available within as little as two weeks. Unfortunately, a two-week delay could put students at a severe disadvantage. Second, the CourseSmart app for iOS is not accessible, though a student can get around this by using the website with the Safari browser on iOS devices. CourseSmart is a fairly usable system that could be spectacular if these problems are rectified.
EPUB is one of the most widely known and used formats for providing e-books. It was developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum to provide a reflowable, platform-independent electronic book. It can come in several different variants that provide various levels of accessibility, from completely accessible without restriction to completely inaccessible. The EPUB format is based on several web formats that are accessible in large part.
A major problem with EPUB is the current lack of support of mathematical formulas in an accessible format, which often allows publishers to print math in the form of graphics on the page instead of readable and searchable text. A more far-reaching problem arises from digital rights management (DRM) schemes that force books to be read on inaccessible platforms or keep texts from being searched or read aloud.
Unprotected EPUB files are accessible primarily because they are built to be navigated very much like HTML documents. They contain similar structural elements, and, if the reader being used is accessible, the book is likely to be accessible as well, unless it contains inaccessible charts, mathematical formulas, or illustrations.
EPUB's popularity is likely to continue to grow even further with the forthcoming EPUB version 3. EPUB 3 will include a number of enhancements such as the ability to embed video and audio directly into the publication, sync audio to on-screen text, support advanced document layouts, and enhance accessibility of EPUB documents. This is very good news for blind e-book readers. Some of the most interesting changes that affect accessibility for blind users include formal support for MathML (a mark-up language that makes it possible to represent complex mathematical formulas on screen and with screen-access software), support for pronunciation lists within EPUB to assist with using the file with text-to-speech, integration of key DAISY components, and support for multiple style sheets to improve the reading experience, no matter what device is being used.
Several mainstream and blindness-specific book-reading platforms will read unprotected EPUB files. Some of the more accessible mainstream options include Google Books (on the desktop with Firefox and JAWS for Windows, VoiceOver and Safari on the Mac, and the app for iOS), the Ibis reader for desktop and mobile devices capable of rendering HTML 5 webpages, and iBooks on iOS devices.
Several forms of protected EPUB are on the market from myriad sellers, but some of the most widely circulated are encoded with a protection scheme from Adobe Systems. E-books.com, Google Books, Kobo, and OverDrive sell or lend EPUB files that have been protected by this scheme and are tied to specific reading platforms, many of which are completely inaccessible, such as the hardware-based Sony Reader. On the PC or Mac, users can gain limited access to these books with the Adobe Digital Editions platform, but they have to download the version 1.8 preview from Adobe Labs instead of the mainstream version (1.7.1).
This is not the only platform limitation, however. The biggest problems revealed in our most recent tests were a lack of granular navigation and the general lack of robustness of the software on both the PC and the Mac. A user is limited to navigating page by page on the Mac. On the PC it's difficult to tell whether the navigation by character, word, and line was intentional or caused by instabilities in the software, because the navigation worked when a document was opened once but not the next time. It was possible to read these books with Braille display support, but the text would often appear to a Braille reader to be highlighted, whether or not it actually appeared that way on screen. The software was generally buggy, crashing several times while being tested. Perhaps most frustrating for PC users, the program works only with version 12 of JAWS. Older versions of JAWS as well as other screen readers for Windows cannot access the text on screen, so a number of users are left without even the rudimentary accessibility that Adobe Digital Editions provides.
While we are discussing the Adobe platform, it is important to look at the OverDrive Media Console. OverDrive is a platform used by a large number of libraries around the country to check out digital books to patrons. The OverDrive Media Console is the primary medium for accessing these files on mobile devices such as the iDevices. The news about this platform is mixed. It is important to note that OverDrive's program is not fully accessible. Generally it can be worked around if a user is patient and not too picky about the level of control. For instance, there is a problem with the pop-up dialogs. The program will allow a user to use VoiceOver to read the answers of the dialog but not the question being asked. For instance, in a dialog that reads, "This program is not linked to an Adobe account," with buttons for signing in and creating a new account, the only information passed to VoiceOver is that on the buttons, so the dialog reads, "Sign up" and "Sign in with Adobe ID." The messages for accessing download information also are not all passed to VoiceOver, so it is difficult to get accurate information about the state of the files being downloaded.
After the user has downloaded a book and has been signed in to Adobe, it is possible to open the book, which offers a screenful of text between a list of settings on top and a page-turning tool and status messages on the bottom. When tested, it is possible to touch a section of text on the screen and start reading from that point on the iPad and iPod Touch. However, the screen does not update as VoiceOver reads past what is available visibly on screen. This means that, although users can start reading and even read line by line and character by character, if they simply explore, they will land back on the visually displayed text, even if that is several pages behind where they are in the book.
It is also very difficult to get the OverDrive reader to respond to attempts to change the page, so moving by page to get back to where the user was is not a simple process, and seemed to occur more by accident than by design. Also, although this platform has not been tested with the iPhone 4S, each iPhone 4 that was tested crashed when attempts were made to use VoiceOver to read an EPUB book in the OverDrive Console.
Finally, it should be noted that OverDrive also provides functionality for receiving and reading audio books through the library lending system. These are Windows Media Player files with embedded DRM, which ties them to the player or to Windows Media on the PC. Although the same problems with the program's main interface still exist, it is possible to use and enjoy these audio books once one is past the unlabeled dialog boxes.
Google Books is one of the most interesting options on this list. With over three million books in the public domain and for purchase, Google has one of the largest collections of books available. This number is impressive, but it comes with some limitations of which the user should be aware. Many Google Books offerings are scanned images of the text only, so these titles will not be accessible to any screen reader. If they are downloaded, they come in the form of inaccessible PDFs. Other books, however, are available from Google labeled as "reflowable text." Once again, these are EPUB files. Some are in the public domain and contain no digital rights management, but those that are not in the public domain are protected with the Adobe Digital Editions DRM. This is not a barrier to reading the books from Google Books on the Google Books app or in a browser, but, if users wish to download the materials, they are tied to using Adobe Digital Editions to access this type of file.
The Google Books reading experience is certainly better than a number of other options on this list, but a user has to play by Google's rules to get the system to work, and some accessibility barriers to purchasing books from the website still exist. Users can browse and purchase books with screen-access software, but at the time of this writing they will find one major barrier to independent book purchase. Google has a list of environments the book is suited to and a second list that contains information on whether the book is reflowable text or scanned images, and all book titles list this information. Next to these items on the screen is either a green checkmark or a red X. These very important graphics absolutely cannot be detected or read by screen-access software, which makes it impossible to determine whether a book is an accessible file or not without sighted assistance.
If users surmount this hurdle, they will find that they can read their purchases or download them in the e-book reader that Google provides on its website, if they are using Firefox and JAWS on a PC, Safari and VoiceOver on a Mac, or an iOS device and the Google Books app with VoiceOver. If these conditions are met, it is possible to use the navigation in a book to move by chapters or sections and read by page, line, word, character, or any other increment supported by the screen-access software. It is possible to use a supported Braille display in all of these environments as well. The system does require a fair amount of interaction from the user. The pages of text seem to be rather small, meaning that the user is fairly regularly turning pages to continue reading. This is more of an inconvenience than a deal-breaker, and it seems to be in the nature of most commercial e-book-reading systems.
Apple's iBooks is a platform for reading EPUB files on the iOS family of devices: iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. It has a smaller library than those of some of the other reading devices mentioned in this article, and it uses its own proprietary DRM scheme, which means that you have to read iBooks with the iBooks reader. Since this has not been made available to desktop users on either Windows or the Mac, users must own an iOS device to get anything out of the service. This said, iBooks is one of the most accessible options available for reading commercial e-books today. It is possible to move by character, word, line, paragraph, or page by using Apple's VoiceOver package. Furthermore, though its presentation is a little awkward, it is possible to read iBooks with a refreshable Bluetooth Braille display. It is also possible to search text and navigate by elements such as headings and links when they appear in the text. Finally, full navigation of the text is possible in all of the iBooks which can be purchased from the iTunes store.
The Barnes and Noble Nook is built primarily on EPUB technology but uses another unique DRM scheme. At this time very little can be said about the Nook because its bookstore, desktop software, mobile software, and dedicated hardware-reading devices are all inaccessible to blind users.
The Amazon Kindle has a large library of materials, a well-designed hardware reader, wide hardware availability, and a terrible record on accessibility. Of the large number of Kindle platforms and dedicated devices, only a small fraction have any accessibility features that make them even remotely usable by blind readers. The Kindle 3 hardware reader and Kindle for PC with accessibility plugin (another specialized download) are the only confirmed options for reading Kindle materials with text-to-speech. Kindle on iOS and Mac is inaccessible to VoiceOver. Older Kindle hardware readers do not allow for text-to-speech control of the menus, and in the case of the least expensive Kindle ($79) or the recently released Kindle Fire, there are no accessibility features whatsoever. Text-to-speech can be turned off by the publisher on the Kindle 3, so not even all content can be accessed. The web browser and purchase functions are also not accessible on this device. Reading is limited to start/stop, the ability of the device to remember where you stopped, and basic speed controls. It is not possible to go back in the text, spell words, read by sentence, search, or otherwise control the voice being used. Finally, because text-to-speech is considered an experimental feature, it may be discontinued later by Amazon.
The Amazon Kindle for PC provides a slightly better experience, insofar as it is possible to go forward and backward in a book, read continuously or by page, and read sentences. Amazon has chosen to allow JAWS and NVDA users to navigate menus with the screen reader, but it has implemented its own commands and voice to read the actual text on the screen. This means that there is no Braille support for the experience, and users are unable to read in smaller increments than by sentence. Thus, although some rudimentary access to Kindle books is available, it is not nearly enough to use the books for anything but the most casual reading.
Adobe's PDF is a fairly common format for technical materials such as manuals and heavily formatted materials such as textbooks. It is used for other types of portable documents more than it is for books, but it certainly has a presence on the e-book scene. Once again, these files can be anything from perfectly accessible to completely inaccessible. In the case of PDF, however, the reasons are different. Although DRMed PDFs exist, they are not prevalent and thus are not a barrier to access in most situations. Inaccessible PDFs often result from scanning the text of a book without performing optical character recognition on the scanned images or from failing to consider the way that a book will flow when presented by a screen reader. Unfortunately, it is difficult to determine how a given PDF will function until you actually try to use it.
Several platforms are available for accessing PDF with differing levels of accessibility and user-friendliness. On the PC, PDFs can be accessed by using Adobe's Acrobat Reader. If the book is well marked up and does not consist simply of images of the text, the navigational experience can be as pleasant as reading a well-made HTML webpage or Word document. On the Mac, Apple's PDF viewer will expose the text for navigation and search, but it does not recognize navigational elements such as headings that are recognized on the PC. On iOS devices, PDFs can be accessed using iBooks, but only to a limited extent. The PDF document allows for only page-by-page navigation. This is bearable for some tasks but can be a deal-breaker if users are working with texts that require careful scrutiny, if they need to read specific passages in greater detail, or if they must have spelling information.
In an ideal world, all the major e-book technologies would be accessible to print-disabled and blind users. These book platforms would allow users to browse, purchase, and consume content in the most comfortable and appropriate manner for the user's needs and the type of content consumed. All e-book platforms fall short of this laudable goal. Some options work fairly well and allow reasonable access to text, but all of the platforms discussed in this article need improvement.
E-book platform publishers can do a number of things to improve the experience for print-disabled readers, several of which would not be difficult to implement. First, although it is understandable that books that were created inaccessible cannot be transformed overnight, it should be a long-term goal to migrate to accessible technologies, and in the short term to ensure that books are clearly marked if they are image only or otherwise inaccessible in their present condition. Second, it is imperative that the book-purchase model allow users to buy books independently from whatever portal the platform uses.
Once the user has a book, the e-book reader being used should be built to comply with the standards of the operating system it sits within. It should allow screen access and magnification software to access the book player's controls and the text inside the book. If this occurs, the user will be able to read the text in the most comfortable and robust way for the text at hand, whether magnifying a chart, reading computer commands in Braille, or checking the spelling of an author's name so that the user can purchase the next book in the series.
When dedicated devices are created, the creator should ensure that users have a method for turning on any accessibility feature independently. Furthermore, the device's access software should be robust enough to work reliably and allow meaningful interaction with the text at the character, word, line, paragraph, section, page, and chapter levels, as well as providing access to any other features of the device available to print users. It would be best if book-reading platforms would allow for continuous as well as paginated reading; they both have advantages for different reading styles and materials. Allowing for highlighting of words as they are read aloud could also help people learning to read in print for the first time or for those attempting to learn other languages or for those with some learning disabilities.
Users of e-readers must have access to the tools and features that make e-readers useful to print readers. For instance, search, highlight, annotate, and bookmark text are generally standard features of e-reading platforms, and they need to be available to blind users. Finally, if at all possible, e-book creators need to do away with special accessible versions of their software. Instead, accessibility changes should be rolled into the main program. If for some reason the program needs to be specially configured, installed differently, or used differently, the necessary commands to get the program running successfully should be available from the page where the e-book reader is acquired by users who are not print-disabled.
E-books on the open market are a fascinating and exciting development when they are implemented accessibly. They allow blind and print-disabled users to read unheard-of amounts of content at the same time, price, and convenience as their print-reading peers, if the books and reading platforms are created to be accessible. Accessible e-books make it possible for print-disabled readers to enjoy a novel, get an education, advance in their careers, learn new skills, and join in all of the other activities enjoyed by the book-reading public.
It goes without saying that the world of technology is evolving from day to day, almost moment to moment. Since the original publication of this article, some interesting new developments have come to our attention. They still await our rigorous testing, but they sound promising.
1. BLIO has released an accessible reader for Android.
2. Adobe Digital Editions and and BLIO have both released new versions that claim to have improved accessibility.
3. BLIO's problems with the iPad have been resolved.
by George Kerscher, PhD
From the Editor: George Kerscher is dedicated to developing technologies that make information not only accessible, but fully functional for persons who are blind or have print disabilities. As secretary general of the DAISY Consortium and president of the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), Kerscher is a recognized international leader in document access. He is the senior officer of accessible technology at Learning Ally in the US. He chairs the DAISY-NISO Standards Committee and the W3C's Steering Council for the Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI). He is one of the authors of the EPUB 3 Standard, and he serves on the US National Instructional Materials Standard (NIMAS) board.
At a time when print sales are flat, sales of digital books and other reading materials are soaring. A major resurgence of the digital book began in 2009. Now, in 2012, it is clear that we have reached the tipping point.
Many factors have led to the digital book revolution, but the single most important phenomenon is the growth of portable technology. Today people can choose from a dizzying array of smartphones, iPhones, tablets, iPads, Kindles, Nooks, netbooks, and laptops. These devices allow users to read everything, everywhere, at any time.
The traditional print publishing world gave absolutely no consideration to accessibility. No features could be added to a print book that would make it usable by a blind person. The very nature of printed books defied reuse and repurposing; the book was frozen in time, space, and format. A completely new version was required in order to serve persons who are blind and print-disabled.
In the early 1990s publishers began to use computers to create digital files which were then turned into hardcopy books. Few publishers imagined a future where the consumer would read digital books on a computer or personal device. Publishers did not think about ways that their files might be reused to create customized products, such as a collection of chapters from several books for a particular course taught by a particular professor.
The mainstream e-book movement took hold briefly in 1999. Then, in 2003, the tech bubble burst, and the digital book industry collapsed. I suspect that many publishers felt relieved; they were very comfortable in their print-based world and did not really understand the business that digital books represent.
A handful of enlightened publishers did recognize the importance of creating their content--i.e., their real intellectual property--with an eye to repurposing, reuse, and longevity. They ended up with a head start in the digital publishing race.
In many respects the digital publishing world is completely different from the world of print publishing. The major difference for persons with disabilities is that full accessibility is clearly possible. Both the published content and the reading systems that present materials can be made accessible. The born digital book should be natively accessible to persons who are blind and print disabled.
Via refreshable Braille devices and computers with screen readers, blind people were among the first users of e-texts, beginning in the 1980s. It was logical to tap this rich body of experience in the development of commercial digital books. From the earliest development of commercial digital publishing, blind people and organizations that serve the blind community have been deeply involved. The Digital Accessible Information System Consortium (better known as the DAISY Consortium) participated in ongoing discussions with publishers and even drove many of the developments. Members of the consortium are the organizations throughout the world that provide blind people with library services. DAISY Full Members from the US are the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS), Learning Ally (formerly Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic), Bookshare, and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB).
In the United States, government entities have taken a strong stand on accessibility. In 2011 the US Department of Justice issued a "Dear Colleague Letter" to educational institutions, laying out the requirement that they purchase and use accessible digital books and accessible reading systems. On the international scene, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities requires nations to make their information and communication technology (ICT) accessible. A proposed treaty before the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) would enable the cross-border exchange of accessible digital books. The World Blind Union (WBU), an advocacy organization with delegates from 190 nations, is driving much of the WIPO treaty initiative. In the industrial world, persons who are blind make up only a small percentage of the population. In developing countries, however, the percentage of blind people is much higher. Eventually accessibility of the products will open a larger market and lead to larger growth in sales.
The first generation of digital books simply consisted of electronic versions of trade books ported to a handheld reading device. In publishing lingo, trade books are novels or popular nonfiction titles such as memoirs and self-help books. Such books consist primarily of text. They have very basic structure and little formatting, making them easily adapted for the early reading systems. Consumers quickly discovered that these digital books had two big advantages. For one thing, they could be purchased at any time of the day or night and were immediately available as digital downloads. Furthermore, many titles could be carried at once on a single reading device.
However, the early reading systems had serious limitations. They could not handle highly stylized materials, such as textbooks, that had sidebars, illustrations, and a variety of font sizes. There was no way to produce material in languages such as Japanese that did not employ the Western alphabet. Print books still posed serious competition. After all, print books offered wonderful resolution, could be carried anywhere, and did not require batteries. Nevertheless, by the end of 2010, sales of digital trade books in the US surpassed those of print titles.
EPUB 3, the Enhanced E-Book of the Future
EPUB 3, developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), is the open, royalty-free standard for the new generation of digital books. The file extension "epub" identifies the file format. EPUB was built from the ground up with accessibility for blind and print-disabled readers in mind. Experts in accessibility and publishing technology from the DAISY Consortium worked shoulder-to-shoulder with the large tech companies and the publishers to deliver a format with astounding capabilities.
EPUB 3 has a foundation in HTML 5, a format that is rapidly becoming incorporated into countless devices. In addition, EPUB 3 boasts support for:
Math (using a code called MathML)
SVG and JPG graphics
Audio and text synchronization (using media overlays)
Non-Western languages including Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Hebrew, and Arabic
Rich navigation of the full document
Comprehensive accessibility for blind and print-disabled readers
I dare you to trump that with the old print book!
It is essential that both the EPUB digital publication and the reading system that presents it must be accessible. A perfect EPUB document will not be accessible unless it is presented in a reading device that talks and has controls a blind person can use. There must be a handshake between the reading system and the EPUB content. Both must be accessible.
By design, the EPUB 3 document should provide high levels of accessibility. All the text, in the correct reading order, must be available to access technology (AT) or the built-in accessibility of the reader. For example, if you open an EPUB 3 on an iPhone or an iPad, using the iBooks application, VoiceOver will be able to read all of the content in that EPUB. The same is true for other reading systems that can process EPUB 3.
On October 11, 2011, EPUB 3 was officially announced as the digital publishing standard. As with all standards, it will be implemented over time. In the next year or so, those of us who worked on the standard expect to see it implemented in reading systems from many, many sources. We also expect authoring tools to build in support for the creation of EPUB 3. How long this will take is not known, but the initial response is very encouraging. I have never seen such rapid uptake of any standard before!
Where are blind people in this digital future? I am an optimist. I believe the traditional digital trade books should be fully accessible directly from the commercial outlets, right now. Educational publishers will need to make sure that persons with disabilities can use the multimedia digital books they produce. To make these formats accessible, captions and descriptive video must be included. Developers of reading systems will need to design mechanisms to turn these features on and off. Of course, the full text in textbooks must be accessible, with no barriers standing in the way.
Graphics will need descriptions, and tactile materials must be made available. Methods for providing descriptions of graphics are under development. The means to provide files for tactile printing or even new 3-D model printing are in progress. All of these innovations must be incorporated without interfering with the mainstream reading experience.
The study of mathematics should get a real boost from the inclusion of MathML in the digital book. Because MathML is not a picture, interesting ways to present and manipulate the mathematical content can be developed. It should be a lot of fun to see this area evolve; we are beginning to see it already.
Finally, I can envision animations and interactions inside the digital book. Imagine a rectangle that represents a greenhouse. The reader can control the amount of sunlight and the resulting growth of the plants. The reader can vary the humidity and temperature and see the resulting changes in growth. This is a simple example, but I guarantee that such exercises will become commonplace in the digital book or related learning experiences. All of these innovations can be made fully accessible to persons who are blind and print-disabled.
I encourage everybody to purchase fabulous digital books. Insist on full accessibility of the digital book and the reading system you choose. With the books and devices we buy today, we are going to set the pattern for the future.
by Betsy Burgess and Valerie Chernek
From the Editor: Like most blind people born before the digital age, I grew up in a book famine. Only a handful of the books and periodicals published in print each year ever appeared in Braille or as audio recordings. Sometimes I waited years to get my hands on a book that I longed to read.
Using digital technology, Bookshare has ushered in an astonishing new age of abundance for blind and print-disabled readers. This article describes this extraordinary resource and looks back on how it all began.
By fourth grade, Krystian was reading Braille using his BrailleNote. He was thrilled that he could read the Harry Potter series and other books for pleasure and still keep up with his schoolwork. Krystian had all the books he needed through his membership in Bookshare. Bookshare (<www.bookshare.org>) is an online library of more than 140,000 accessible digital books, including textbooks, teacher-recommended reading, literature, popular novels, bestsellers, reference materials, postsecondary journals, newspapers, and periodicals. "I really like using my BrailleNote and Bookshare," Krystian says. "Now I can carry all my books on one device, rather than lugging around big Braille volumes. I'm discovering new adventures in reading." Through Internet connectivity, Krystian can download books directly to his BrailleNote, or he can download books to a computer and transfer them on a USB thumb drive.
When Alexis lost much of her sight in middle school, her grades plummeted, and so did her hopes of graduating. By ninth grade she was skipping classes, and she talked about dropping out. Luckily, the director of low incidence disabilities in her district intervened. She paired Alexis with the Victor Reader Stream, a handheld device that uses text-to-speech technology to read books in a synthesized voice. She also signed up Alexis for a free Bookshare membership. Alexis had not yet learned Braille, and text-to-speech provided her with the help she needed. "I waited for books a lot, but now I feel like I finally fit in better in my classes," she says. For the first time, Alexis made the honor roll, and within two years of joining Bookshare she was back on track.
Chrichelle, a high school student, likes to study on her iPad using the Bookshare app Read2Go. With this app, she can enlarge the font of the e-text to a size that is comfortable for her. "Digital books and technologies helped me knock down my reading barriers," she says.
Ashley Seymour just finished her studies at Michigan Flint University. She finds digital books from Bookshare with the search-for-book feature in her text-reading software, Kurzweil 1000. Ashley likes to download books to her computer and convert them to MP3 files for on-the-go reading. "College students with print disabilities can really benefit from a Bookshare membership," she says. "I received many of my required textbooks and journals at the start of school. It was fast! Bookshare helps to equalize the learning field for students who are blind or have low vision."
Bookshare's goal is to break down barriers to access and to ensure that individuals with print disabilities have equal educational opportunities. Membership is free for US students of all ages who have qualifying print disabilities, thanks to an award from the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). If your child or student is blind, has low vision, a reading disability such as dyslexia, or a physical disability such as cerebral palsy or traumatic brain injury, he/she may qualify for Bookshare. Adults with qualifying print disabilities can also join for a small annual fee. Visit <www.bookshare.org/membershipOptions> to learn more. [Note: Bookshare’s URLs are case sensitive.]
Instead of waiting months for a book to be transcribed into Braille or recorded by a live reader, blind students instantly can download any book in the Bookshare collection. Through Bookshare, schools can more easily deliver timely access to the curriculum. With necessary materials available at last, students who had been placed in separate settings can function in mainstream classrooms. They learn self-reliance and long-term independence, rather than dependence.
More than 190,000 US students and other individuals with qualifying print disabilities get accessible books from Bookshare. They can download and read more than 140,000 titles; about 55,000 of these titles are available to readers in other countries. Approximately half of the titles in the collection were contributed by publishers as digital files. The rest of the collection has been built by volunteers and in-house staff who scan books; universities that share books scanned on their local campuses; and K-12 textbooks downloaded from the National Instructional Materials Access Center, or NIMAC. Approximately two thousand new titles pour into the collection every month. At times that number is even higher, when a publisher sends a large number of titles digitally. In its application for the OSEP award, Bookshare committed to add 80,000 new educational titles. It has already exceeded that goal.
If a book is not already in the collection, teachers and students can ask Bookshare to scan it. The best way is to send the book to Bookshare directly. Keep in mind that the spine will be cut off so that the pages can run through a document feeder. On request Bookshare will return the chopped book to the sender. Even if you are sending the book, please submit a request so the team will know the book is on its way. To submit a book request, provide the ISBN number, title, and author. The Collection Development Team gets very busy over the summer and fall. The sooner teachers and students submit their requests, the better! If it is not possible to send the book, Bookshare will purchase and scan it; however, the organization prefers to have the books sent in order to conserve resources and serve more students.
US members can order Bookshare books in embossed Braille through a partnership with TechAdapt Inc. Please email [email protected] with the book title, author, and ISBN number, if available. TechAdapt will contact you with embossing options and pricing. Only books that are rated "excellent" or "publisher quality" can be embossed. (Embossing is not available for newspapers and magazines.) You can have embossed books sent to you or mailed to someone as a gift.
Textbooks from the NIMAC contain images. Books from publishers also contain images if images are included with the digital file. Over time, Bookshare intends to tackle the challenge of retaining images in scanned books. Already an exciting new project is underway, using volunteers and crowdsourcing. This initiative is made possible by a new tool called Poet, developed by the Diagram Center, another OSEP-funded project. With the help of dedicated volunteers, Bookshare is adding image descriptions to many titles in the collection. To learn about the project or to volunteer to assist, please read the Bookshare blog.
Two types of Bookshare membership are available: organizational and individual membership.
1) Organizational Membership
Any US school that serves children with qualifying print disabilities may obtain a free organizational membership in Bookshare. Having your child on a school membership is necessary so that teachers can download K-12 textbooks. Schools may sign up as many teachers or students as required to download books on behalf of students.
2) Individual Membership
You'll probably want to sign up your child for an individual membership even if he/she receives textbooks through the school's membership. With an individual membership your child will be able to download books for recreational reading, helping to establish a lifelong habit of reading for pleasure. With an individual membership, students download as many books as they want on any subject of interest. Membership for students in the US is free. The fee for adults and individuals in many other countries is $75 for the first year, including a $25 setup fee; and $50 for every year after that. Some countries have discounted or prorated rates paid by government or nonprofit agencies. To learn more about membership in a specific country, please visit Bookshare's international membership page and click on the country in question.
Both schools and parents, on behalf of their students and children, can start the membership process at <www.bookshare.org>. Proof of disability is required and can be provided by a qualified professional. Typically, schools have a trained professional on staff who can certify that a student qualifies; otherwise, a family doctor, ophthalmologist, optometrist, neurologist, psychiatrist, etc., can sign the proof of disability form. The membership qualifications page on the Bookshare website has more examples of certifying professionals. When signed, the individual faxes the form to Bookshare. The fax number is on the form.
Note that if a student is already signed up on a school membership, an easy process is built into the site, enabling a teacher to get individual membership for students. Further details about membership can be found at these links:
Taking the First Steps--Parent Community Website
Does Your Child Qualify?
How to Find Books on Bookshare Tutorial--YouTube Video
What Are the Free Reading Tools?
What Other Access Technology (AT) Devices Read Bookshare Books?
Learn More about Read2Go, a Portable App Available for $19.99 at the iTunes Apple Store.
The development of optical character recognition (OCR) software in the 1980s allowed blind people to scan print books and turn them into accessible digital files. Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Arkenstone Reading Systems, realized that the same books were being scanned again and again by individuals with disabilities, wasting enormous amounts of time and energy. He envisioned a library of digital books uploaded by the people who scanned them and available for download to others who wished to read them. Such a library would eliminate duplication and save vast amounts of effort.
After careful investigation, Jim Fruchterman learned that an exception in the US copyright law, the Chafee Amendment, (17 USC Section 121), made it legal to distribute books in specialized formats to people with disabilities. Specifically, the language says it is not an infringement of copyright for an authorized entity to reproduce or distribute copies of a previously published, nondramatic literary work if such copies are reproduced or distributed in specialized formats exclusively for use by blind people or other persons with disabilities. Jim's research and inspiration led to the founding of Bookshare.
In March 2012 Bookshare announced its tenth year of serving children and adults with disabilities around the world. The collection, the technology, and the membership have grown incredibly since the early days. To honor its first decade, Bookshare encourages educators, parents, and students to join in a worldwide virtual celebration. Ideas about how to participate are posted on the Bookshare website, blog, and Facebook page. Visit often and help the mission continue to grow.
by Al Maneki
From the Editor: Until 2007 Al Maneki worked as a mathematician with the US Defense Department. Since his retirement he has been actively involved in several projects sponsored by the NFB Jernigan Institute. He does occasional tutoring in mathematics and is very active in the NFB of Maryland. He still finds time to dabble in mathematical problem-solving, and he is an avid reader with eclectic tastes.
Ever since my childhood in Hawaii during the 1940s and 1950s, I have heard over and over that blind people cannot draw diagrams. Based on that premise, it was assumed that we could never study geometry, the hard sciences, or engineering. In fact, I was told, blind people shouldn't even think about entering the scientific professions.
Nevertheless, I heard occasional stories about exceptions to this rule. When I asked about these successful blind scientists and mathematicians, there was a ready answer--they must have become blind as adults. Even though they performed their work without vision, the memory of sight endowed them with the ability to succeed.
I don't know why I persisted in my study of mathematics. In part it had to do with a handful of college professors who did not want to deter me. As long as I was successful in their courses, they could simply pass me on to the next level without worrying about my long-term future. A few professors were genuinely concerned. They had no clear answers about career goals for me, but they sincerely believed that my abilities would carry me forward.
When I needed tactile diagrams to illustrate a concept in one of my math or physics courses, someone drew them for me. To everyone, professors and fellow students, who helped me with matters graphical and otherwise, I am eternally grateful. Some drawings were made on paper laid over a sheet of rubber. A raised line was created by running a dressmaker's tracing wheel over the paper, but I had to turn the sheet over to feel the lines on the back.
Diagrams could also be made with a remarkable device called the Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit. Recently I searched the Internet for the history of this device, but I could not find the exact date when it became available. It has certainly been around since the 1950s. Instead of paper, the Sewell Kit used thin sheets of Mylar plastic. The advantage was that raised lines appeared right side up, so I did not have to reverse the drawing to examine it. The limitation for blind people was that we could not create these drawings by ourselves because we had no way to erase our mistakes.
As it turned out for me and for other blind people who have pursued scientific work, the ability to draw diagrams was not essential. However, tactile diagrams were extremely helpful as we learned the necessary subject matter. It would have been useful to have the ability to render our own diagrams if and when the need arose.
Fast forward from my college days in the 1960s to 2008, a year after I retired from my work as a US government mathematician. Through a fortunate set of circumstances, I met Dr. Mike Rosen of the School of Engineering at the University of Vermont (UVM). His specialty is rehabilitation engineering. In a series of email exchanges we quickly discovered our common interest in enhancing tactile graphics technologies for the use of blind persons. I recognized that Mike Rosen was an exceptionally creative individual. We needed a device that would permit blind people to draw tactile diagrams and to correct their mistakes, and I felt certain that Mike Rosen would be instrumental in this work.
Mike taught a required course to engineering majors at UVM called Senior Experience in Engineering Design (SEED). The students are given problems to solve--projects posed and funded by private companies and nonprofit organizations. Mike Rosen and I outlined a possible program to build a tactile graphics device for use by blind people that would fit nicely into the SEED course if it could be funded.
I was so taken by Mike Rosen's enthusiasm and careful thought that I approached NFB President Dr. Marc Maurer. I suggested that NFB support SEED for the 2008-09 academic year to work on tactile graphics. Recognizing the soundness of Mike Rosen's engineering judgments and the importance of tactile graphics for blind people, President Maurer gave his enthusiastic approval. The NFB Jernigan Institute funded a SEED project for 2008-09.
As the instructor for the SEED course and the primary faculty advisor for the tactile graphics project, Mike Rosen recruited his teaching colleague, Dr. Mike Coleman, to assist in advising the team. Mike Coleman is also well suited for this work. He shares Rosen's enthusiasm for tactile graphics and brings additional expertise in rigid body dynamics, biomechanics, and robotics. The strength of the SEED course is that students are not told what to do by their advisors. As instructor, Mike Rosen attempts to provide a stimulating and creative environment in which his students can formulate their own solutions, working together to achieve a successful outcome by the end of the academic year. Very often, the students take approaches that are more novel than the initial ideas of their advisors.
Early in the 2008-09 academic year, the decision was made to design an eraser that would work with the Sewell Raised Line Drawing Kit. A remarkable insight was the idea that lines drawn on the Sewell Kit's Mylar sheets might be undone by applying the right amount of heat. Students tested this insight by heating an ordinary stainless steel table knife in a glass of hot water and applying the heated knife to the tactile drawing. As they say, "The rest is history."
At the 2009 NFB convention in Detroit, the tactile graphics SEED team exhibited the first prototype of a tactile eraser, constructed from a glue gun without the glue. The device was clumsy and didn't erase as cleanly as we expected. The high temperature range necessary to perform the erasures clearly posed an element of risk. However, the device's potential for performing erasures on a Sewell drawing was clearly established. With this demonstration in Detroit, future NFB funding was ensured.
At the 2010 NFB convention in Dallas, the SEED team exhibited a smaller, improved eraser. The team also brought the first prototype of a device to produce a Sewell drawing from a digital file containing a graphic image. This device consisted of a digital tablet connected to an X-Y plotter that was modified to produce tactile images on plastic sheets. With this success, Rosen, Coleman and their students were starting to put together an even grander scheme: tie the Sewell Kit and eraser to a digital tablet so that drawings can be digitized and sent to instructors or collaborators on the web. Drawings may be reproduced on a Sewell Kit on the receiving end, modified, and returned to the original sender.
By the time we met in Orlando in 2011, the SEED team was compiling a string of successes at an ever accelerating pace. Instead of using an ordinary pen to sketch on the Sewell Kit, we were now using a digitizing pen attached to a digital tablet. The tablet automatically stored the sequence of strokes into a file. At the remote end, a software driver controlling a robotic arm attached to a digital pen creates an identical drawing on a printer/plotter. This drawing can be modified and sent back. The cycle of exchanging tactile diagrams electronically is now complete. This was the vision presented to us in Orlando, though the details remain to be worked out.
These successes between 2008 and 2011 led to our decision to form the enterprise E.A.S.Y., LLC, which will be devoted specifically to conducting research in access technologies. Our corporate name is the brainchild of Mike Rosen. E.A.S.Y is the acronym for "Engineering to Assist and Support You." Dr. Marc Maurer has been most encouraging and instrumental in getting this venture started. At its annual meeting, the NFB Board of Directors voted to invest in E.A.S.Y., LLC. Because of this action, I now serve on the E.A.S.Y. Management Team. Our immediate priority is to bring our eraser to market. To this end, we are sending out six prototype erasers to teachers of the visually impaired and their students for testing. E.A.S.Y., LLC, will continue the work on developing the printer/plotter and digital tablet, making possible the digital storage, revision, and reproduction of tactile graphics.
Rosen, Coleman, and the SEED teams have spent considerable time in the blind community to assess the need for enhanced tactile graphics with erasers. In their interviews and discussions they have met with enthusiastic responses from consumers. Invariably people asked, "When can I buy this? How much will it cost?"
The electronic communication of tactile graphic images produced by blind persons is the logical next step in our drive to gain full access to professional opportunities. Through Braille and synthetic speech, we have been able to send text messages worldwide. It will be a wonderful day when we can send tactile graphics worldwide as well. E.A.S.Y., LLC, will be a vital element in this development.
We don't know exactly what the impact of enhanced tactile graphics will have on future professional opportunities for blind persons. It's clear that job prospects will improve for us when we have an additional medium for self-expression and personal communication. I believe I would have been a much better student in physics and chemistry if I could have constructed diagrams of lines of force and chemical bonds instead of simply picturing these constructions in my mind. During my career, when colleagues attempted to describe problems to me in terms of flow charts, I could only respond feebly, "Flow charts don't do anything for me." Will access to tactile graphics help us in the fields of psychology, economics, medicine, meteorology, and computer-aided design? I believe it will!
I've given much thought to using enhanced tactile graphics to teach blind people about perspective and projection. According to the dictionary, the term perspective refers to "representation in a drawing or painting of parallel lines as converging in order to give the illusion of depth and distance." By projection we mean, "a systematic presentation of intersecting coordinate lines on a flat surface upon which features from a curved surface (as of the earth or the celestial sphere) may be mapped." To sighted viewers, the value of an image on a page is derived from the fact that three-dimensional objects may be represented in two dimensions. More importantly, this representation is almost universal. It is understood and interpreted identically by nearly everyone in the industrial world.
Perspective and projection form the basis of the visual arts. Yet almost no attention has been given to teaching these concepts to blind people through the use of tactile graphics. Perhaps our sophistication with tactile graphics technology must progress further before blind people will be able to understand and work with perspective and projection. At this point the possibilities are tantalizing. Is it possible that someday, with the right tools, with training, inspiration, and a touch of genius, blind artists may emerge who will work in the medium of tactile graphics a la E.A.S.Y? Who knows!
While the talents of Mike Rosen, Mike Coleman, and the student engineers at UVM are crucial for the current developments in tactile graphics, we cannot overemphasize the importance of the NFB and the Jernigan Institute in this work. The NFB has provided the SEED program and E.A.S.Y., LLC, with more than funding. Without the Federation's knowledge about marketing in the blind community, and without the NFB's guidance about what blind people can do, E.A.S.Y., LLC, could have ended up on the scrap heap of well-intentioned companies gone bust. Beyond Rosen and Coleman--the old guard--we are training the next generation of researchers and engineers in the field of blindness. They will work hand in hand with us to create tools that we really can use.
The SEED students have come to our conventions with enthusiasm, energy, and a willingness to learn. They joined in our March for Independence in Detroit; they have attended our general sessions and heard the presidential reports; they demonstrated their prototypes in the exhibit hall; they attended meetings of our Science and Engineering Division and Research and Development Committee. The NFB's investment in the UVM SEED program and E.A.S.Y., LLC, is buying more than enhanced tactile graphics. It is helping to train the next generation of engineers.
The road to human progress is paved with trial and error, with mistakes and the ability to correct them. The modern computer-based word processor, with its wonderful delete key, has been a boon to blind writers like me. For the first time enhanced tactile graphics is giving us a means to erase and correct mistakes in our drawings. We have not yet transformed our tactile graphics capabilities with a delete key for the keyboard, but with the help of E.A.S.Y., LLC, and the NFB, we're getting there.
by Richard Baldwin
From the Editor: Richard Baldwin is a professor of computer information technology at Austin Community College in Austin, Texas.
Four years ago a blind student named Amanda Lacy enrolled in one of my computer programming classes at Austin Community College. She was bright, she worked hard, and she did very well in my course. Later I learned with surprise that she was struggling in a physics class. I knew that her difficulties had nothing to do with her innate ability. It turned out that the problem was her lack of access to course materials. Amanda had an electronic version of the physics textbook, but it contained hundreds of equations, pictures, and diagrams that she could not access with her assistive technology--a screen reader and a Braille display.
I felt strongly that blind students should not be excluded from the study of physics due to inaccessible materials. I offered to tutor Amanda, and we worked together for about four hours a week. Eventually I authored an online physics tutorial called "Accessible Physics Concepts for Blind Students."
Through my work with Amanda, I learned that blind students needed an effective way to draw and submit graphical homework assignments such as vector diagrams. Although several outstanding free drawing programs were available on the Internet, they were designed for sighted users. Most of them required the user to manipulate a mouse. For Amanda and other blind students, I wrote an accessible drawing program named SVGDraw01. The theme for this program is "If you can imagine it, you can draw it."
Amanda was thrilled when I sent her a preliminary version of the program. "Finally, I can doodle!" she exclaimed. Before she had the program, her physics professor allowed her to skip assignments that required sketches. Working with the new software, she could turn in her homework with the rest of her classmates.
Though the program is still under development, it already allows blind students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) courses to create drawings that mirror many of the figures and diagrams typically found in textbooks. The drawings can be printed for sharing with sighted teachers and classmates. Also they can be embossed for the blind student's own use and for sharing with other blind or visually impaired people.
The user interface for SVGDraw01 is straightforward and accessible with screen readers and refreshable Braille displays. It consists of menus, buttons, checkboxes, and fill-in-the-blanks text fields. For example, Figure 1 shows a form that would be filled in for the purpose of adding a circle to the drawing. This form is exposed by selecting Circle on the draw menu shown at the top of Figure 1.
Titles, instructions, and field contents are announced by typical screen readers, thus eliminating confusion on the part of the user as to what to do next. Pressing F1 at any point brings up the accessible on-screen instruction manual shown in Figure 2. This document also responds well to typical screen reader commands.
Blind and visually impaired students using this program can create both printed and tactile graphics, using the same thought processes they would use to construct a drawing on a graph board with pushpins, rubber bands, a protractor, and a measuring stick. One person might use the program to create and send a drawing file to a friend with the message, "Take a look at the cool floor plan of my new apartment." Another person might use the program to create and send a drawing file to a college professor with the message, "This is a free body diagram showing the magnitude and direction of forces f21 and f23, caused by the interactions among charges q1, q2, and q3."
Whether created by blind or sighted people, drawings usually consist of various shapes with color added for visual enhancement. With SVGDraw01, blind and visually impaired people can compose drawings using all or parts of the following shapes: lines, rectangles, circles, ellipses, and vectors. The program also permits users to add free-form shapes (polylines, polygons, and paths), along with text, to a drawing. Once a shape is created, it can be embellished through rotation, translation, scaling, and clipping. Existing shapes can be deleted from the drawing or reviewed without modification. If need be, attributes of a shape can be modified after it has been added to the drawing. More advanced features are available, including the ability to control the width of lines, as well as the color or gray scale and the opacity of the individual shapes.
All of these features are found in typical drawing programs designed for sighted users. The main difference is that SVGDraw01 does not require the use of a mouse for these features to be accessed. All of the program's features (with the exception of the experimental AudioTac display) can be accessed using the keyboard alone.
Figure 3 shows a doodle that was produced using the program. The doodle illustrates some of the things that can be drawn. When printed on an ordinary color printer to be viewed by a sighted person, the doodle would look as it appears here. If this doodle were embossed using a high-resolution, high-quality Braille printer such as the Tiger Embosser from ViewPlus Technologies, the colors and shades of gray could be made apparent in tactile form through the use of variable dot height. If the doodle were produced on a less capable embosser without variable dot height, the user would need to forego the shades of gray and convert the red, orange, or magenta colors to solid black or leave them white.
The program provides an instant visual display for the benefit of sighted teachers. This feature is also useful for blind and visually impaired students who may want to explore their drawing, using soundscapes such as those produced by the program known as the vOICe. An experimental screen display known as AudioTac is also provided. AudioTac makes it possible for blind and visually impaired people to explore a drawing tactilely with an auxiliary touchpad in conjunction with audio signals. The jury is still out on the usefulness of this feature.
The primary output from the program is a graphics file in a format known as Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). While many graphics file formats are in common use, SVG is the one common form that makes it possible to enlarge a drawing contained in a file without degrading the quality of the drawing. The user can zoom in on and emboss large-scale versions of complex portions of drawings. Drawing files that were previously created and saved can be imported back into the program for further enhancement or to be used in combination with new or other imported drawings. The SVG file format is currently compatible with Firefox 8, IE 9, Google Chrome 15, and ViewPlus IVEO. The output files are directly compatible with the Tiger line of graphic embossers from ViewPlus Technologies.
Amanda Lacy and I are developing an auxiliary program for free distribution. It will translate the SVG file format into a format called SIG. The SIG format is compatible with embossers that use the QuickTac software from Duxbury Systems, Inc. With the auxiliary program, named JpgToSig-A-01, the user will be able to emboss output files on several brands of embossers, including older models. The program accepts any of several bitmap image files as input and writes the enhanced version of the image into an output SIG file. While it is possible for a blind student to use the program, it is primarily targeted for use by teachers and others who assist blind students.
SVGDraw01 is available for free download and should run on any Windows operating system, Version XP or later. A download link for the program is available at <http://www.dickbaldwin.com>. The program is self-contained, and no special software or complex installation procedure is required.
Following my work on an accessible drawing program, I decided to tackle the inaccessible pictures and diagrams in electronic textbooks. One way blind students can understand diagrams and pictures is by embossing them, using any of several available embossing techniques. Basically, an embossed image is a document containing raised lines or raised dots that reproduce the image's salient features. Originally, I hoped to make it possible for blind students to emboss their own textbook images. For several reasons, however, this is still a dream.
The most common format for electronic textbooks is the Adobe PDF format. With existing software it is impossible for a blind student to extract most of the images in a PDF file intact. Numerous programs claim to extract the images from PDF files, but in most cases each image ends up in several different files that must be reassembled for embossing.
Since bitmap files use some 16 million colors and color combinations, there are about 16 million reasons why the embossed version of a full-color bitmap image often fails to produce satisfactory tactile results. To begin with, the embossing process often discards the information content from more than 16 million colors, ending up with an image that represents black and white or, at best, black and white with two or three shades of gray in between. To add further complications, unless the original image is very small, the spatial sampling will probably be reduced by a factor of five to ten in the embossed image. The bottom line is that it is very difficult to emboss full-color bitmap images and end up with high-quality tactile images.
Different embossing methods produce different physical outputs. Many of the older Braille printers have a graphics mode that allows pictures to be displayed by raising a subset of individual Braille dots to a standard height. The dot separation on those printers ranges from ten dots per inch to seventeen dots per inch. In contrast, the typical image seen on a computer monitor contains ninety-six dots per inch. When such an image is re-sampled down to a level that is consistent with the number of dots in an embossed image, much of the detail simply disappears.
Newer Braille printers have dot resolutions of up to twenty-five dots per inch, which is still very low compared to onscreen images. To simulate gray scale imaging, some of these new embossers can raise dots to variable heights. An experienced blind user can probably recognize dot heights representing black, white, and perhaps three gray levels in-between.
Some embossing techniques may convert the 16 million colors in a bitmap image to black and white through the application of a single intensity threshold. Others convert the 16 million colors to black, white, and several shades of gray through the application of several intensity thresholds. In either case, many colored pixels that are clearly distinguishable in the original graphic are indistinguishable in a four- or five-level gray scale version of the image. Detail that depends on the recognition of different colors simply disappears, and many of the salient features of the image are lost in the embossing process.
I have developed a mathematical image-processing algorithm which, in many instances, preserves much more detail than the typical intensity-based gray scale approach. This algorithm converts the original image either to black and white or to black and white plus three levels of gray--based not on absolute colors, but rather on changes in color. The images processed using this algorithm tend to have black outlines that define the salient features of the original image. In many cases, this method produces more meaningful embossed images than the typical approach based on the direct conversion of color intensity to gray scale.
To solve the spatial sampling issue, my programs make it possible to subdivide an enhanced image into panels. These panels can be individually embossed and then assembled into a poster-sized tactile image. While this is not an ideal solution, it is the best I have to offer at this time. An embossing system with an improved dot resolution is greatly needed.
The algorithm is packaged in a free computer program named ShapeExtractor02. It is designed for use with any embossing method that can accept JPEG image files as input. This program accepts any of several different bitmap image files as input and writes the enhanced version of the image into an output JPEG file. Both of these programs can be downloaded freely along with the program named SVGDraw01. Note that all three of these programs require the Windows operating system.
These programs can be used with bitmap images from any source. However, in the world of education for blind students, the images that need to be embossed are often contained in electronic PDF versions of course textbooks. The following procedure can be used to emboss images from a PDF textbook.
1. Open the PDF file in the free version of Adobe Acrobat and locate the image of interest.
2. Use the zoom capability of Acrobat to make the image as large as possible while still fitting on the screen.
3. Hold down the shift key and press the Print Screen key. This saves the current screen image on the clipboard.
4. Open any of many available image editing programs such as LView Pro.
5. Paste the clipboard into the image editor.
6. Crop the image out of the surrounding material, retaining only the portion necessary to contain the image.
7. Save the cropped image.
8. Open either JpgToSig-A-01 or ShapeExtractor02 and follow the usage instructions to convert the image to the desired black and white or black, white, and gray format.
9. Save the enhanced image in an output file and emboss it, using the embossing method of choice.
by Al Maneki and Alysha Jeans
From the Editor: Blind students in mathematics, science, and engineering courses encounter serious challenges as they attempt to translate complex equations from print to Braille and from Braille to print. Mathematician Al Maneki and Alysha Jeans, an electrical engineer working in Virginia, draw upon their experiences as blind professionals as they describe an option that has exciting possibilities.
Blind and visually impaired students in the fields of mathematics, science, and engineering often encounter difficulties when they need to present mathematical material to sighted instructors and classmates. Fortunately, advances in digital technology offer interesting possibilities. Technology may provide new ways for blind students to solve problems and communicate their solutions to the sighted world in written form.
In most classrooms, the teaching of mathematics, the physical sciences, and engineering relies heavily on visual representations. However, comprehension of the subject matter and the advancement of knowledge in these areas are not restricted to sighted people. Throughout history, blind persons have made significant contributions to these fields of study. In this article we examine a promising development that can help blind people prepare technical documents. It has the potential to permit blind persons greater entry into the hard sciences.
LaTeX (pronounced lay-tech or, alternatively, la as in lava and tech as in technology) was initially invented as a typesetting language for mathematical notation. It is text-based and non-graphical in nature. By typing standard text on a keyboard, one can represent all of the mathematical symbols from the most elementary to the most advanced. LaTeX can even be used to draw diagrams.
A number of common items are difficult or impossible to type on a keyboard, but are simple to produce using LaTeX. They include fractions, subscripts, superscripts, matrices, partial derivatives, and integrals. LaTeX gives the user extremely good control over the formatting of documents. Once it is mastered, it can be much easier to work with than a mainstream word processor when complicated formatting is necessary. LaTeX code is typed into a text file. The LaTeX software, computer, and printer do all of the work to produce a polished document containing readable mathematical notations. Although LaTeX was not created with this purpose in mind, it opens up possibilities for blind students and professionals in the STEM fields.
LaTeX is a language that can be learned by anyone, blind or sighted. To submit a math assignment in print, the blind student can type LaTeX code into a file and use the LaTeX software to compile that file into a visually appealing document with standard mathematical notations. LaTeX can convert text-based code into a PDF file for the student to print or email to a teacher or professor.
Recent developments have made LaTeX especially user-friendly for blind people. The MathType software from Design Science, the DBT software from Duxbury Systems, Tiger Software Suite from ViewPlus, and various screen readers have been designed to work together so that blind users can obtain either print or Nemeth Braille from a Microsoft Word file. When MathType is installed, it can interface with Microsoft Word and with DBT or Tiger Software Suite. The blind user types LaTeX code into a Word document (this works with Word 2010 and all other versions of Word of which we are aware). When the document is completed, the user simply hits "select all" and alt plus backslash. The LaTeX code is then automatically converted into mathematical symbols and notations, just as a sighted person would write them. At this point, a blind user may print the math document or send it via email. The same document may be embossed in Braille with DBT or Tiger Software Suite. Screen readers will not properly read the equations in the math document, but they will definitely read the LaTeX code. The user can "select all" and hit Alt plus backslash again to convert equations back to LaTeX. If the LaTeX file is written correctly, the blind user can safely assume that the converted math file will also be correct. DBT or Tiger Software Suite will either translate the LaTeX file into computer Braille or will translate the math file into Nemeth Braille.
One problem with using LaTeX and MathType in this manner is that currently there is no way to debug LaTeX code within Microsoft Word. Writing in LaTeX is akin to computer programming; strict rules must be followed about how equations are represented. If the user breaks one of these rules when typing a LaTeX equation, the process of converting the code to readable equations will not work. With luck, only the incorrectly written equation will be affected. However, a single error may affect the conversion of the entire document. MathType gives no indication of where or what the error is. The user can avoid such frustrations by creating the entire document in the LaTeX editor (such as the free open source TeXnic Center) and using it to compile the document into a PDF file. The LaTeX editor will point to error locations and indicate what the errors are. This allows the user to debug the LaTeX document. The use of MathType and Word has the advantage of being easier to pick up initially, since it requires less knowledge of general LaTeX. However, dealing with errors in the LaTeX code is a serious drawback.
LaTeX can allow the blind user to access some mainstream mathematical resources on the web. Some websites have LaTeX tags for their equations. A major example is Pikipedia. Refer to Wikipedia's article on the quadratic equation at <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadratic_equation>. If a blind person reads the formulas on this page with a screen reader, she/he will hear their LaTeX representations.
LaTeX has been very helpful to Alysha in school. It allowed her to gain access to homework assignments and lecture notes without having to use a reader or ask for the documents to be converted into Braille. Professors often create materials using LaTeX, so it was simple for them to send their LaTeX files instead of the inaccessible PDF files the rest of the class was using. Sometimes reading LaTeX can be a bit tedious, as it isn't really intended for that purpose. LaTeX is no substitute for Braille. However, knowing LaTeX was beneficial to Alysha, as it gave her immediate access to these documents.
If you are overwhelmed by our discussion of LaTeX, please be assured that we are here to help you. Before getting into specific details about this help, we want to point out that compiling a LaTeX document or converting it into Microsoft Word with MathType may not be necessary if the intended reader of the document is also familiar with LaTeX. If a blind student's algebra teacher knows LaTeX, she/he may be willing to read an assignment or test in LaTeX code. At the level of secondary school mathematics, LaTeX is not difficult to read, and can generally be comprehended from context.
According to its mission statement, the NFB's website <www.blindsciece.org> has been designed to serve as a "national clearinghouse of resources and expertise related to nonvisual scientific exploration." With the cooperation of this website's managers and the NFB Jernigan Institute, we are preparing some simple instructional materials on the use of LaTeX. In fact, the first part of our LaTeX tutorial may already be posted on blindscience.org when this article is published. The initial part of the tutorial will include the following:
1. Step-by-step instructions for installing MathType and connecting it to Microsoft Word.
2. Step-by-step instructions to connect MathType and Microsoft Word with DBT or Tiger Software Suite.
3. Step-by-step instructions on installing the TeXnic Center LaTeX Editor and the MiKTeX package associated with it.
4. Two example LaTeX files: one on the solution of a quadratic equation and the other on the solution of three simultaneous linear equations in three variables--these files contain mixed text and mathematical notations.
5. A guide to opening the above files in Microsoft Word or in TeXnic Center to produce either Nemeth Braille or PDF files.
6. Step-by-step instructions on using these files as templates to construct other LaTeX files using MathType or TeXnic Center.
No tutorial is written perfectly in its first draft. We hope that many teachers and students will use this material and send us their questions, comments, and suggestions. If there is sufficient demand, we will develop a more complete LaTeX tutorial that will include more example files and a list of LaTeX mathematical notations, together with their equivalents in Nemeth Braille and spoken math.
From our experience, we have found that many college instructors, students, and researchers are very familiar with LaTeX. Therefore, teaching LaTeX to blind students is highly advantageous for preparing them to enter the mainstream scientific environment. As is true with the Nemeth Code for Braille Mathematics, students learn bits and pieces of LaTeX as they need them. For example, during algebra courses they will only learn LaTeX for such notions as powers and roots. In calculus, they will learn the LaTeX codes for integrals and derivatives. In this manner, mastery of LaTeX is achieved as students advance in mathematical and other scientific training. The highly consistent and logical nature of the LaTeX syntax is similar to the structure of other programming languages, and therefore provides students with an excellent introduction to the general theory of computer programming.
We hope that this article has raised more questions about LaTeX than it has answered. It is also our hope that this article will stimulate discussion in the blind community about the wise use of technology to help blind people learn mathematical subjects. If you have further questions or wish to add to this discussion, please contact us by email: Al Maneki, [email protected] or Alysha Jeans, [email protected].
by Pat Renfranz
From the Editor: After earning her PhD in biology, Pat Renfranz worked as a scientist and university instructor. Currently she works at home, and she is a vocal advocate for blind children. She serves as vice president of the Utah Parents of Blind Children (UPBC) and as treasurer of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC).
"I took a multiple choice test today, and I don't think the answer was one of the choices," Caroline, my blind, fourth-grade daughter, remarked a number of years ago.
My daughter's comment raised questions that launched my investigation into standardized testing and how it is managed for blind students. I learned about state- and district-mandated testing and how the tests were accommodated (or not) in order for my daughter to take them. Together with Utah Parents of Blind Children, I discovered a great number of problems in Utah, such as a lack of proofreading for tests transcribed into Braille. These problems led Utah Parents of Blind Children and the NFB of Utah to file a complaint against the Utah State Office of Education in 2009.
By writing this article, I hope I can help you navigate the rapidly changing world of testing. Perhaps your student or child can avoid many of the problems Caroline has faced. I will focus on end-of-year testing that is meant to measure a school's Adequate Yearly Progress, as mandated by federal education rules. Typically known as Criterion-Referenced Tests (CRTs), these tests measure what a student knows at the end of the school year and are based on the state's educational curriculum guidelines. I will describe problems we have faced, accommodations for blind students, and what you can do to ensure that your child's or student's tests are accessible and appropriately produced. I will also discuss what lies on the testing horizon, including computer-based testing and computer-adaptive testing.
In this article I will not address the critically important matter of alternate assessments. With the approval of the IEP team, these end-of-year tests are given to students with significant cognitive disabilities. In 2003 the US Department of Education issued regulations allowing states to develop alternate standards and assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, thus exempting those students from the regular end-of-year tests given by that state. The decision about whether or not a student should have an alternate assessment, as well as the design of that assessment, are important and challenging issues for parents with children who have significant cognitive disabilities in addition to visual impairment. This topic fully deserves its own article.
Over the years Caroline has dealt with tests that were not ordered in the appropriate format (Braille), tests arriving late, answer sheets with no reasonable way for her to mark the answers, tests given before material was covered in class, tests with Braille transcription errors that made questions unanswerable, and lost test results. It has proven very difficult to identify the source of these problems, as parents and teachers have limited access to these high-stakes tests prior to and after they are given. My child was my only avenue for identifying problems on these tests. Her confidence in being able to answer a particular test question and to recognize unfairness in test administration were key as I tried to improve her situation. I also took notice any time her test scores did not reflect her capabilities.
Why should we care about these tests? These federally mandated tests are given in part to hold local and state educational programs accountable (the Adequate Yearly Progress measure). Furthermore, a good test should show whether a student is making grade-level progress in school. Theoretically, it should show how blind students perform compared to their sighted peers. In some states, these tests are required for high school graduation, thus potentially having a huge impact on a student's future.
Should blind students be included in statewide testing? The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states that all children with disabilities are required to participate in statewide and district assessment programs. Their participation can be with or without accommodations. An alternate assessment can be provided if the IEP team determines that it is appropriate. States are required to report results, such as how many students with an IEP participate in the assessment and how they perform. District-wide and formative assessments should be accessible, too.
Accommodations are changes to testing materials, procedures, or setting in order to prevent a student's disability from interfering with test results. In other words, accommodations facilitate how the test is administered and responded to. Appropriate accommodations reduce error in test scores due to poor access. They do not change or replace the skills that the test is designed to measure. Each state develops its own set of acceptable accommodations. For an excellent discussion of accommodations on statewide assessments, visit <http://nichcy.org/research/ee/assessment-accommodations>.
Who decides who will use which accommodations? Accommodations that will allow a blind student to participate in statewide testing are selected by a student's IEP team and are thus individualized. Therefore, not all blind students in a given state necessarily receive the same accommodations. The IEP team must understand the format of the test and what specific skills are being measured. The team must know the student's abilities and the instructional accommodations that he/she receives. The student must be familiar with the use of these accommodations before the test is given. Testing accommodations should be documented in a prescribed section of the IEP; they are not provided as a favor.
Categories of accommodations include presentation, response, setting, and timing. For blind students, accommodations might include the following:
1. Presentation: Braille (contracted or uncontracted, literary and Nemeth Code); tactile graphics; large print or magnification; audio/speech assistance.
2. Response: Oral dictation of answers to a scribe, marking answers in test booklet, marking on special answer sheet, Braille transcription. Be aware that transfer of answers to a bubble sheet or within a computer-based test must be done carefully, and that the student's original responses (for example, answers in the test booklet) should be kept securely for a given period of time.
3. Setting: Test taking in another room and/or with ample space, appropriate lighting.
4. Timing and Scheduling: Extended time, multiple sessions to help deal with fatigue. (If a student needs an inordinate amount of time to complete the test, it is probably worth requesting an assessment of the student's reading medium and asking whether the amount of training in the use of accommodations needs to be increased on the IEP.)
5. Special Tools: Tactile or large print ruler or protractor, talking calculator, Braille or large print scientific tables, abacus, marker, magnification device, manual Brailler with paper, special paper, Braille notetaker.
Keep in mind that an allowable accommodation does not necessarily equal an appropriate accommodation. For example, instead of providing a reading assessment in Braille, your school may wish to provide audio output or a live reader. The school might insist that the student will perform better that way, especially if he/she is just starting to learn Braille. I would suggest that your child or student take any language arts assessments at grade level in the format in which she or he is learning to read.
Make the IEP team take the time to study accommodations. At the end of a long, stressful meeting, it's easy to gloss over this section. The accommodations a student needs may change with time and may require additional IEP goals.
1. The IEP team needs to plan for accommodations long before tests are given. Tests in a special format such as Braille must be ordered early so that there is sufficient time to prepare them and have them proofread.
2. Ask whether the producer of the test uses recommended formatting and whether a certified Braille transcriber will be involved. It is also worth finding out if the tests are proofread.
3. We have found it essential to ensure that a print test accompanies any Braille materials, so that a sighted test administrator can address any questions the student may have.
4. If the test is not proofread, you might request that a teacher of the visually impaired review the test for errors. Be aware, though, that because these tests are high stakes for schools, security is tight; schools, districts, and state offices of education may be reluctant to allow anyone to preview the test.
5. Your student should take tests at the same time as classroom peers.
6. Ask how tactile graphics will be produced or whether they will be omitted. The student should be provided with sample graphics in order to practice using that particular medium.
7. If other students are able to take practice tests, your child or student should be able to take them as well.
Caveat: Some blind students are being provided accommodations under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act rather than under IDEA. If you find that your 504 child or student requires extensive training in order to utilize accommodations, then he/she should be evaluated for special education services under an IEP.
Across the nation, the preferred testing format is moving from paper-based to computer-based tests. Computer-based tests (CBTs) are administered on a computer; students use a computer to access and answer the test questions. There are no test booklets or bubble sheets. CBTs are administered and graded efficiently, and many students prefer them. Furthermore, this format has the potential for built-in accommodations, such as speech output and highlighting. Sometimes a paper version of the test is also available. Currently, at least twenty-six states give a statewide test via computer, and sixteen of them offer an end-of-year CRT assessment on computer as well.
The use of computer-based tests will become widespread with the adoption of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. (For more information on this initiative, visit <www.corestandards.org>. Teachers, school administrators, and experts collaborated to develop the Common Core standards for grades K-12 in English language arts and mathematics. The Common Core aims to make educational standards more rigorous, better preparing students for postsecondary pursuits, no matter what school they attend. While the Common Core is not a federal government initiative, forty-five states, the District of Columbia, and two US territories have adopted the standards and are currently changing their curricula to meet them. The states that have not adopted the Common Core are Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Minnesota, and Nebraska.
Okay, how does the Common Core affect testing? Current federal education law (No Child Left Behind) mandates that every state must give grade-level Criterion-Referenced Tests (CRTs) to determine students' level of proficiency. These tests are designed to match each state's educational standards. With the current system, in which every state adopts its own educational standards, there are fifty sets of standards and fifty criteria for proficiency. Thus, it is not currently possible to compare student proficiency between states using data from CRTs.
Since the Common Core standards will be shared between states, CRTs given by those states must be changed so that they align with the Common Core. The design of new assessments to align with the Common Core is stimulating the development of new computer-based testing protocols. Two large, multi-state consortia have received significant grants to develop computer-based assessments. These new assessments are scheduled to be implemented in the 2014-15 school year in states that have adopted the Common Core. Funding has also been awarded to develop new alternate assessments.
If you wish to learn more about the multi-state consortia or to find out which consortium your state belongs to, visit one of these websites: Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, <www.parcconline.org> or the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium at <www.smarterbalanced.org>.
The Smarter Balanced consortium is developing a specific type of CBT called a Computer-Adaptive Test, which is thought to give more accurate results than a regular CRT. A Computer-Adaptive Test adapts to the student's level as the student is taking the test. In other words, the question a student is given depends on whether his previous answer was correct or incorrect. It is possible that no two students will take exactly the same test. Other adaptive test products are already available, such as the NWEA's Measures of Academic Progress tests and the Scholastic Reading Inventory.
My daughter's experience with computer-adaptive tests has made me greatly concerned about their accessibility. Our school district uses the Scholastic Reading Inventory to measure students' reading levels. This test has over five thousand possible questions in its database; thus it cannot be provided in embossed Braille. Our district appears utterly unprepared to give the test to a Braille reader. Furthermore, while speech output is ostensibly embedded, no one has figured out how to use it. In any case, the use of speech begs the question of whether speech is an appropriate accommodation on a reading test.
Test developers plan to embed accommodations into CBTs by utilizing the principle of universal design. These accommodations include magnification, highlighting, contrast, and audio/speech. Test developers also anticipate the use of refreshable Braille displays. Furthermore, if a paper test can be produced, then any of the standard accommodations such as embossed Braille, large print, and tactile graphics can theoretically be used.
Test developers must take into account special requirements for the accessibility of mathematics and graphics. Engineers outside the testing industry have developed software to allow math composed in certain computer languages, such as MathML, to have output in Nemeth Braille code. Examples of this software are liblouis, the Tiger Software Suite, and BrailleBlaster. Presumably, the output could be embossed or read on a refreshable Braille display. The Smarter Balanced consortium has produced guidelines for what it terms "tactile accessibility," including output in literary Braille, Nemeth code, tactile graphics, and physical manipulatives. The implication from the guidelines is that questions tagged as requiring a tactile output could be produced on paper or on a Braille display. Incorporating Nemeth Code and tactile graphics accessibility into these tests will require a great deal of collaboration between test developers and adaptive software developers. How tactile graphics and/or embossed Braille can be prepared for use on a computer-adaptive test, a test for which the questions a student might receive are not predictable, will require extensive study.
Many challenging questions lie ahead of us. What method will determine the best way to present accommodations for blind students? Who will give blind students the training necessary to take computer-based tests successfully? Who will train teachers of blind students currently in the field? Is it reasonable to expect that all blind children will be technically adept enough to maneuver through a test using a keyboard and/or a refreshable Braille display?
1. With either current test protocols or the new computer-based tests, it is important for parents and teachers to be active members of the IEP team. Make sure that the accommodations your child or student requires are fully documented on the IEP, and be sure everyone on the team understands that test accommodations must be used in the regular school setting.
2. Know who your school, district, and state testing administrators are, in both general education and special education. District and state administrators need to know that these tests are important to you and your child or student. My state has an assessment specialist in special education who has been very helpful in working out particular problems.
3. Ask the school, district, and state education authorities what tests are given to students in your child's educational setting, and find out about the testing window and format of those tests. In my state, the CRTs are given on computer, and our district also gives a number of computer-based tests throughout the year to help teachers monitor student progress. Currently, Utah's computer-based CRTs can be provided on paper (Braille or large print), but the district tests, including Acuity, Scholastic Reading Inventory, and Yearly Progress Pro, apparently are not accessible to Braille readers.
4. Ask state assessment officials if and when computer-based tests will be given to students in your state. Ask specifically how blind students will be accommodated on those tests. With the advent of computer-based tests, you must anticipate the technology needs of your child or student today, so that she/he has access to the technology and training on how to use it before the test day arrives.
5. Talk to your child about which tests she is being given or being excused from taking, and find out what her experience has been. Request your student's scores and question discrepancies between results and the student's typical performance. Just this past month, I noticed that Caroline's posted proficiency score on a Biology CRT was unexpectedly low. I contacted an administrator in the school district, who worked with the state office of education to discover that her test had been scored using an Earth Science CRT key. Her test was rescored, and the correct results were posted.
6. If you suspect errors or a lack of accessibility, let administrators know as soon as possible, and in writing. Request that embossed or large-print test booklets be saved. Remind school administrators of the US Department of Education Office of Civil Rights "Dear Colleague Letter" of May 26, 2011, concerning the use of emerging technologies in the classroom. If the problems seem irreparable or the response seems inadequate, consider filing a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights or under IDEA.
7. Do not keep test issues to yourself. If your blind child faces poorly prepared tests or is not adequately prepared to use available accommodations, chances are that other blind students in your state are dealing with the same problems. Sharing personal examples of problems allows the NFB and NOPBC, as well as state POBC chapters, to advocate effectively for all blind students. Send a copy of your letter or email to your local Parents of Blind Children chapter and to the president of your state's NFB affiliate. Feel free to send me a copy, too. I will see that it gets attention from NOPBC and the NFB's national office.
To ensure that test developers are aware of the needs of blind students before new tests and software are designed, the NFB has sent letters of concern to leaders of the state consortia, both for typical assessments and alternate assessments. The NFB has had discussions regarding these issues with high-level Department of Education officials. If we, as parents and teachers, are vigilant at the ground level, then high-stakes, end-of-year tests are more likely to be accessible and appropriate for our children.
Please let me know if I can be of any assistance to you. I can be reached by email at [email protected].
by Sean Whalen
Reprinted from The Student Slate, Spring 2012
From the Editor: Sean Whalen currently serves as the president of the National Association of Blind Students (NABS). In October 2011 he took the LSAT, receiving an excellent score of 173 out of a possible 180 points. Before he took the test, however, he worked for nearly a year and a half to get the accommodations he needed.
Ever since Mrs. Regal, my first-grade teacher, asked each of us to say what we might like to be when we grew up, I have said that I want to be a lawyer. Of course, at age seven, that desire was probably driven by the fact that my mom frequently suggested that the law would be the profession for me, due to my argumentative nature and my tendency to want to know the reason for everything. However, as I worked my way through high school and political science and philosophy degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, my passion for public policy, politics, and the law continued to grow. A brief stint as a governmental affairs intern at the NFB national headquarters in Baltimore and my subsequent work as a lobbyist on education, health, and disability issues in Washington, DC served to solidify these interests. I knew I wanted to spend my professional life as a lawyer, advocate, or policymaker. In each of these professions a law degree is required or, at the very least, can come in handy. In the spring of 2010 I started trudging down the road to law school.
The primary obstacle--aside, perhaps, from the hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs associated with a legal education--standing between anybody wishing to attend an ABA-accredited law school and their actual acceptance and enrollment is the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), which is administered by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC). The LSAT is a standardized exam designed to test critical thinking, logical reasoning, and reading comprehension, all skills supposed to be of value to lawyers.
I have yet to meet anybody, myself included, who was not at least a little bit intimidated by the prospect of taking the LSAT. After all, performance on this one test, taken on a Saturday morning, plays a large role in determining what law schools one can expect to be accepted into. Equally important, it determines what kind of merit-based financial aid one might be offered by interested schools. Taking the LSAT is a stressful experience for everybody who goes through it. However, being almost totally blind, I had to grapple with two additional issues to ensure that I performed up to my potential. The first was how to tackle the logic games section, on which students customarily draw diagrams to assist in answering the questions. The second was how to get the LSAC to grant me the accommodations I needed to compete on an even playing field with my fellow test-takers.
The LSAT is composed of three types of questions. One section focuses on reading comprehension; test-takers are required to answer multiple choice questions analyzing the reasoning and method of argumentation in various passages taken from scholarly articles. The second section involves logical reasoning questions. Test-takers are asked questions about short, two- or three-sentence arguments. For example, one may be asked to identify the logical flaw in a given argument, or to choose which of a list of facts would strengthen or weaken a particular argument. It was clear to me that, if I used JAWS for Windows to read the test passages and questions, blindness would present no difficulties with these sections of the test. However, the logic games portion of the test required a little more thought.
In the logic games section, test-takers are presented with a task, such as putting a group of people in a sequential line. They are then provided with a list of conditions that must apply to the task. For instance, Sue is next to Jason in line, Jason is not last in line, etc. Sighted students rely heavily on the creation of diagrams to represent the information they are given in a readily accessible format. The picture approach was not available to me. After considering numerous alternatives--such as using tactile objects to represent entities in the problems, or using a Braillewriter to create a tactile diagram--I stumbled upon a simple solution. I experimented with using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to put the entities in spatial relation to one another and create my own kind of "diagram." After a little work, I dramatically improved my scores on practice logic games sections. I was certain this was the way to go, but I was unsure whether the LSAC would permit me to use this method. I had heard from multiple LSAT veterans that the LSAC was notoriously difficult about granting accommodations, especially those outside the norm.
I intended to take the test in October 2010, so I began working through the accommodations process in May of that year. Five months, I thought, would be ample time to check the requisite boxes and get set up to take the October test. However, it wasn't quite as easy as I had hoped.
After registering with the LSAC, signing up for the October test, and providing documentation from an ophthalmologist indicating that I am in fact blind, I filled out the form to request the specific accommodations I was seeking on the test. I wasn't surprised to see that the use of Microsoft Excel for logic games was not listed as an option. I was surprised, and quite concerned, to see that the only alternative formats listed as options for reading the test questions were Braille and large print. I am one of those many blind students who was deprived of a complete and proper education by never having been taught to read Braille. Having achieved speeds of only 90 words per minute at my peak as an adult learner, the Braille test was not an option for me. And print, no matter how large, was surely not going to help. The LSAC offered the option of having a reader read the test aloud, but that was certainly not what I wanted to do. Many people are proficient and comfortable using live readers, but I am not one of them, especially when it comes to reading long or dense passages for comprehension. JAWS or a similar screen reading program gives me direct control of the information. I have access in a way that is not possible with a human reader, a way that much more closely approximates reading print or Braille.
Since age sixteen I had done virtually all of my reading for school, work, and leisure on a computer with JAWS. Asking me to take the highest-stakes test of my life with a tool to which I was not accustomed struck me as fundamentally unfair. If a sighted student were told that his only option was to have somebody read the test aloud to him rather than reading it himself, the idea would be completely unacceptable. The idea was just as unacceptable to me.
So, along with my request forms and supporting documentation, I submitted a letter to the accommodations department of the LSAC. I requested to be granted the use of a laptop computer with Microsoft Excel and JAWS, as well as the opportunity to take the test in an electronic format. Some weeks later I received an email from the LSAC. The message indicated that my accommodations request had been approved. I could log into my LSAC account to view the accommodations confirmation letter. Eagerly I signed into my account and pulled up the document. The LSAC had granted the use of Excel. Unfortunately, however, the format of the test was listed as regular print, and a reader was added as an accommodation. There was not even any acknowledgment that I had requested something that hadn't been granted. Thus I launched into my first encounter with the bureaucratic nightmare that is the Law School Admission Council.
After being transferred around a bit, I finally got somebody on the phone who worked in the accommodations department. I asked if they had been aware of my request to take the test in an electronic format. She said they had. I asked if they had denied the request. She said they had. I asked why. She informed me that they don't offer an electronic format. I politely suggested that this wasn't much of an explanation, at which point she informed me that if I was unhappy with the decision, I could appeal it. So I did. I wrote a lengthy appeal letter, outlining exactly why the electronic format would be the best way to test me on the skills that the test purports to measure, and not on my ability to interact with and direct an unfamiliar reader. I explained at length the inherent unfairness of denying me the opportunity to read the test in the same way I read all my coursework and tests in college and all the reading material I am required to access for my job. I also alerted the LSAC to the fact that I was personally aware of other blind students who had been granted the opportunity to take an electronic version of the test.
After waiting another few weeks, I received a new accommodations letter posted to my account. The letter was only new in the sense that it had a different date at the top. That aside, it was absolutely identical to the one that was posted a month earlier--the same denial, the same lack of any explanation whatsoever. I decided I might need some help.
Through a blind friend who is currently a third-year law student, I contacted a lawyer at the Legal Aid Society Employment Law Center in San Francisco, who had helped her with similar accommodations issues on the LSAT. The lawyer, Claudia Center, graciously agreed to assist me on a pro bono basis. She warned me that if I wanted to commit to the fight, it might mean that I wouldn't be able to take the test in the 2010 cycle or apply to law school for the fall of 2011. I thought it was a fight worth having, for my own sake and also for the sake of any blind students after me who would want the opportunity to take an electronic version of the test. I told her that I was committed to seeing it through, even if it meant delaying my return to school.
The deadline for the October test having come and gone, I submitted an application identical to that which I had initially submitted for the December test. This time, however, my application was accompanied by a letter from my lawyer, making the legal case for the LSAC's obligation to test me in a way that best measured my abilities in the areas the test was meant to measure--in my case, with an electronic version and JAWS. Much to my disappointment, though admittedly not completely to my surprise, the request was once again denied.
A decision had to be made. Would I take the test using a reader as the LSAC wanted, or would I gear up for a potentially lengthy legal battle? The best score I had ever achieved on a practice test using a reader was a 168. I consistently topped that score by several points when I took practice tests by myself on a computer. On a test that is scored between 120 and 180, a few points are a big deal. In addition to the question of self-interest, I really wanted to see such a ridiculous policy challenged and overturned for future blind test-takers.
I told the lawyer that I wanted to move forward. I also got on the phone with President Marc Maurer of the NFB and informed him of my situation. He told me that the NFB was ready and willing to assist by providing legal support from NFB go-to lawyer, Dan Goldstein. It felt great to know that my Federation family was there to support me.
Fortunately, the long, drawn-out process of taking the case to court turned out not to be necessary. In early 2012 the LSAC did an about-face and decided to allow me to take the test on a computer, using JAWS. What's more, it indicated that it would change the policy and make the same opportunity available to other legally blind students.
Maybe the LSAC saw the writing on the wall, as similar legal questions related to the bar exam had been decided in favor of blind test-takers. Perhaps they just had a sudden change of heart. Regardless, the LSAC agreed to allow me a fair shot at the test by granting me the ability to take it independently. I, of course, was thrilled. I took the October 2011 administration of the test.
The process of fighting for my accommodations meant that I delayed starting law school by a year. Nevertheless, I couldn't be more pleased with the way things worked out. I got a score on the test with which I am very satisfied, and I know that I got it on my own merits. I am also glad to have played a small part in making things easier for blind students who wish to take the test on a computer in the future. I am extremely grateful to Claudia Center from the Legal Aid Society and to Dr. Maurer and the NFB for their support and encouragement throughout the process. I must also express my gratitude to the folks at the LSAC who were responsible for creating the electronic format of the test. They did an excellent job of making the test easily navigable with a screen reader, and they actively solicited feedback from me on the usability of the test.
This whole experience has reinforced for me how important it is for us to advocate for what we, as blind students, need to compete on an even footing with our sighted peers. We can't always do it all alone, but it is absolutely necessary for each of us to stand up and tell people what we need to be successful and why we need it. Whether it be in dealing with professors, vocational rehabilitation counselors, disability services offices, or those who administer standardized tests, we must all be our own best advocates.
by Richard Holloway
From the Editor: Richard Holloway is first vice president of the Georgia Parents of Blind Children (GPBC). He writes frequently for Future Reflections, drawing upon the insights he has gained as he raises his blind daughter, Kendra. Here he reviews the many technologies that Kendra uses at school and at home. (Contact information for the companies mentioned in this piece appears at the end of the article "A Beginner's Guide to Access Technology for Blind Students," found elsewhere in this issue.)
When my wife and I learned that our six-month-old daughter, Kendra, was totally blind, I thought we would have to adapt the entire world for her. As time passed, we discovered that many adaptations already existed. We learned how much is possible, given a positive attitude and a variety of technologies.
Most typically sighted kids see print everywhere, almost from birth. We wanted the same exposure to Braille for Kendra, so we put Braille labels all over the house. We labeled the refrigerator, the dishwasher, the glass sliding doors, even Kendra's bed. You can buy clear plastic sheets with a sticky back for about two dollars per letter-size page. You can transcribe labels with a Brailler and cut them apart with ordinary scissors. A Braille Dymo labeler also works well. We've given Dymo labelers to a number of relatives so they can put Kendra's name on a card or gift now and then.
Sighted children usually notice printed words on the pages when adults read to them out loud. We read to Kendra from print/Braille books. Many of them are ordinary print books with Braille stickers on the pages. Others have Braille on clear plastic sheets inserted over the printed pages. We helped Kendra find the Braille in a great many books as we read to her. Like a young sighted child viewing print, she had no idea what the dots meant at first, but she was learning.
When it came time for our daughter to start learning to write Braille, we got her a Braillewriter. A new Braillewriter costs about $700. The machine is very durable, and a good used one can often be found on eBay or Craigslist. You may be able to borrow one for long-term use at home from your child's school, so don't be afraid to ask!
There are also more inexpensive ways to produce Braille. A slate and stylus is in the ten- to twenty-dollar range. The writing process can be slow at first, but experienced users can write very quickly with this device. Braille dots are punched one at a time from the back of the paper; then the page is flipped over for reading left to right. By first grade, some of Kendra's sighted friends were learning to write notes to her with a slate and stylus.
High-tech devices have revolutionized the availability of Braille. Many developing Braille users find electronic notetakers to be invaluable. A Braille notetaker is an electronic device that allows the user to create, edit, and read documents in Braille. The most popular varieties incorporate a Braille or QWERTY keyboard, synthesized speech, and a refreshable Braille display.
Kendra first used a notetaker called the PAC Mate in kindergarten. It had a 20-character Braille display. Soon she moved on to the BrailleNote with an 18-character display. The BrailleNote from HumanWare is probably the most popular notetaker among the kids we know. We started with the mPower model and have since moved on to an Apex unit. Notetakers range widely in price, depending on brand and model, but most seem to fall in the four- to six-thousand-dollar range. Used notetakers can sometimes be found on eBay. However, this technology is fragile and quickly becomes outdated, so used equipment is not always a good option.
One notetaker, the Braille Sense Plus, has a small built-in LCD display. The BrailleNote Apex offers a VGA port, allowing the notetaker to be connected directly to a monitor. This can be a handy way for parents and classroom teachers to see what the child is writing.
Some notetakers can be connected to a computer by means of a USB cable. The notetaker's display can show the text on the computer screen. The PAC Mate, sold by Freedom Scientific, has a detachable Braille display that can be plugged directly into a computer to serve as a computer display. Detaching the Braille display does not interfere with the use of the PAC Mate as a notetaker.
Not only are notetakers costly to buy; generally expensive service contracts are necessary as well. Otherwise, repairs can run into thousands of dollars. In many cases, your child can bring home a notetaker that is assigned at school, often even keeping it over the summer. You first may be required to sign a document assuming financial responsibility.
A screen reader is a computer program that can read a document, an email, or a webpage aloud. It can read computer menus and announce what the user is typing character by character. Our daughter started using JAWS when she was three years old. JAWS, from Freedom Scientific, is probably the most widely used screen reader for the PC, but at nearly $1,000, it is quite expensive. Arguably JAWS provides the most complete computer access of any screen reader available. At the other end of the cost spectrum are free solutions, such as NVDA for the PC and VoiceOver from Apple. VoiceOver is built into OS X on Macintosh machines as well as the iPad and iPhone. No one screen reader allows complete access to all of the information on a computer screen. Some work better than others for particular applications.
One way for a blind student to transfer information from a notetaker or computer is to print it out. A document such as a homework assignment can be printed to a conventional printer for a sighted person to review. A worksheet or story can be printed in Braille with a Braille embosser. The Romeo, from Enabling Technologies, is one of the most affordable Braille embossers. The slowest model of Romeo starts at about $2,500, but I have bought them used for as little as $100 or $200, and they have worked well. Since service costs tend to run high, it may be practical to replace one used unit with another rather than trying to have it repaired. A Braille translation program such as Duxbury is essential to turn a print file into a hardcopy Braille document.
Kendra's school has a Braille embosser available for her use. They have a slightly higher end model from Tiger with an ink attachment. Kendra's teachers can print and emboss on the same page and reduce the need for manual interlining--translating the Braille into print between the Braille lines. The cost of these machines and the fact that so much can now be done with refreshable Braille makes an embosser a low priority purchase for our home. Besides, embossers generally are quite loud. An embosser can really disturb a functioning classroom or run you out of your home office when it's in operation.
We have spent a lot of time in our IEP meetings determining appropriate technology for Kendra to use for solving math problems at school, in her homework, and on standardized tests. The typical methods of working out math problems are spatial in nature, presenting challenges for a Braille user. A talking calculator can be handy for a blind student, but the use of calculators isn't always allowed for class or homework assignments, and it is generally prohibited for standardized tests. Doing math with the single-line display on a Braille notetaker is complicated at best. Often Kendra writes out her math problems in Braille on a manual Braillewriter. In second and third grade she used a product called the Math Window, which enabled her to arrange print/Braille numbers on a magnetic board. The Cramner abacus has also proved useful. Kendra has also used manipulatives such as geometric shapes.
Charts and diagrams are other important areas for hands-on learning. Again, some solutions are inexpensive, while others may be priced at thousands of dollars. With a bottle of Elmer's Glue, a parent or teacher can make the graphics on some conventionally printed pages accessible by touch. Simply trace the lines and let the paper dry. You'll have a raised-line drawing ready to be explored. Some parents use this method to adapt coloring books so young blind children can color with crayons. I have gotten faster and better (if occasionally more painful) results with hot glue. The hot glue dries in seconds, not hours, and it is easy for a sighted person to see through the glue lines. Kendra can show photos to the class and point directly to features such as the wings, feather tips, beak, and talons of an owl.
Drawings can also be created and enhanced with textures. The choices are nearly limitless. Anything with a unique feel or surface can be used to add texture to the page. We have used satin, cotton, corduroy, cardboard, construction paper, wax, sandpaper, glitter, and even feathers and gravel. Crayons can make raised lines and interesting textures when a child colors on a page placed over a sheet of ordinary window screen.
A more expensive method for creating tactile graphics is the swell form graphics machine. The machine is priced at about $1,200, and it requires special paper that costs about a dollar a page. The paper is covered with tiny bubbles, or capsules, that burst when heated to a high enough temperature. Any black pigment, such as that from a black Sharpie pen or the ink from most ink jet printers, contains carbon that will trap heat and raise the lines on the paper. The black absorbs the heat, bursting the capsules and swelling the paper. The page can be reheated and more lines can be added, so that a complicated drawing can be built in stages.
If your budget can't handle the $1,200 cost of the heating unit, you can buy a thermal pen to swell the paper directly as you draw. Some people have even used an ordinary household iron to supply the heat.
Personally, I have never been very excited by swell paper graphics. I much prefer graphics produced with a thermoform machine. American Thermoform makes a very serviceable machine for producing graphics on durable plastic sheets called Braillon. Mostly sold to schools, the machine costs about $2,750 plus shipping. Braillon costs fifteen to thirty cents per sheet, depending on the thickness. The thermoform process can make duplicate copies of anything Brailled or drawn on paper. The Braillon is heated until it is pliable, and then pressed over the Braille or graphic to assume the desired form. Avoid exposing Braillon sheets to hot glue, sunlight, or other heat sources, as the Braille or pictures will flatten out. I bought a Thermoform machine on eBay and had it repaired, all for under a thousand dollars. I expect to use it for Kendra from now through high school or even college.
We have used the thermoform machine to help Kendra create graphics for school projects, and also just for fun. Almost any low-relief object can be duplicated. As thermoform pictures, sharp objects such as knives and razor blades can safely be explored by touch. We made a tactile map of our neighborhood, using wires for the roads. To illustrate a story about a broken toy, we took apart a Matchbox Car and thermoformed the pieces.
Basic graphics can also be produced with Braille itself. Some software (including some versions of Duxbury) will convert graphics into raised images using Braille dots. Some Braille embossers, such as the Tiger units, have been optimized to produce graphics. Simple graphics can be created with a Braillewriter or a slate and stylus.
Kendra loves to read books. She reads traditional Braille books, but more often she reads digital books on her BrailleNote. She can use the BrailleNote's refreshable Braille display or hear books read aloud with the synthesized voice. She also listens to digital recordings on the Victor Reader Stream. The Victor Reader costs about $350, or $400 with the optional adapter for playing digital books from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped (NLS). NLS provides free service, including a free player designed for the books in its collection.
Many books are available in audio formats for the general public, and blind people can avail themselves of these resources. Kendra loves to listen to CDs, be they musical recordings or audiobooks. At first we searched for CD players with tactile buttons that were easy for her to identify. Now she memorizes any buttons pretty quickly. Taped markings or small Braille labels can also help.
Our daughter has enjoyed videos from an early age. People often wonder why videos would interest a blind child. First of all, videos offer a great deal of useful information through the dialog and other audio content. What cannot be heard can be described. A great many videos come with an audio track with description for the blind. Also, some TV shows are broadcast with an audio description track, usually where one might look for a Spanish translation. I have found described TV shows on stations including PBS, Fox, Turner Classic Movies, and Nickelodeon. However, unlike closed captioning for the deaf, described shows for the blind are rarely well documented, and finding them calls for diligence.
Some theaters offer audio description for select movies. Generally it is available for new releases and is only provided for a few showings. The listener hears the audio description through special headphones while taking in the conventional audio from the main speakers in the room. Information on current films is available at <www.captionfish.com>. We have even attended some live events, such as special performances by the Big Apple Circus, where a commentator delivers a running description of the performance. Again, the description is audible through special headphones. By the time the 2013 presidential inauguration rolls around, Kendra will be old enough to enjoy an audio described version of the ceremony. I better track one down pretty soon!
While digital technology has made a tremendous difference in Kendra's life, some of the technology that has helped her the most has been relatively basic. From the beginning, we were told that Kendra would be delayed in walking because of her blindness. Sighted children are motivated to crawl and walk because they want to reach the interesting things they see around them. We lured Kendra forward with intriguing sounds. We also gave her shoes called "Pip Squeakers," which squeak when a child puts weight on a foot. Kendra walked at fifteen months, and we soon got her a white cane. The white cane is technology not to be overlooked.
Often people are amazed that our child had a white cane in hand by eighteen months of age. If we had it to do over, we'd have gotten one for her even sooner. A child-size white cane is a great tool to help a blind child learn about the world beyond the reach of her fingers and toes. A blind child's world expands with every inch added to her reach. Of all the technology we have used with our daughter, nothing has been more important than her white cane.
Now that she has learned to get around with her cane, Kendra has begun to use a personal GPS, or global positioning system. Her O&M instructor has been teaching her to use the Trekker Breeze, a product from HumanWare. The GPS may be very useful when Kendra has a greater need to travel alone in unfamiliar places.
Another area of technology that we must not overlook involves playtime. All children, blind and sighted, need to have fun. We offer Kendra as many choices of activities as we can, making adaptations where they are necessary.
Last Christmas Kendra requested a digital camera/video camera combination, and it turned out to be her favorite gift. She loves taking pictures and making videos of herself, her brother, and their friends. She usually asks us to describe the visual content to her when she plays back what she has recorded. She also makes recordings of various sounds and voices. She has hundreds of these on file, and she accesses them on her BrailleNote.
Like most kids, Kendra has many hobbies and interests. Some have required more technical adaptations than others. She has a great interest in astronomy, and she has four adult friends who are professional astronomers. She enjoys descriptions of equipment in planetariums and observatories, and loves to examine tactile graphics produced from telescope images.
Kendra's activities include gymnastics, yoga, ballet, and swimming lessons. All of these activities involve lots of description and hands-on demonstration. Her participation in Chess Club requires a properly adapted chess set and a nonvisual teaching approach. Boating requires no special adaptation, while cycling has worked best on tandem bikes and trikes. For future music study she will have to learn the Braille music code. For now she is happy exploring the piano and other instruments on her own.
Family outings and school field trips are accessible to Kendra through a variety of means. Some facilities, such as the Atlanta Aquarium, offer an audio tour that can be played by selecting the proper number of a recording at various points of interest. Disney World takes this approach to the next level with a player that automatically senses the user's location in the park and on certain rides. Whenever possible I describe things as best I can on walks and car rides.
School field trips to plays used to be frustrating for Kendra because she felt left out. Her teachers have learned that a special behind-the-scenes tour sometimes can be arranged by request. Such a tour can allow Kendra to meet actors, touch costumes, and examine props. Once they learn of Kendra's interest and need, a surprising number of people have allowed us special access to explore areas of the theater not generally open to the public.
The recurring theme here is providing the most information possible to our children, empowering them to learn and grow. It might involve a complex computer system, an expensive graphics machine, a hot glue gun, or a collection of feathers and stones. It might involve personal descriptions or a running commentary delivered through a fancy headset. We want to do whatever we can to provide all the information our child can use to her best advantage. Then we'll sit back and enjoy what happens next.
by Marshall Flax
From the Editor: Marshall Flax is a computer programmer and the father of two blind children.
Elsewhere in this issue you will learn about the ever-growing options for accessing electronic text: screen readers, refreshable Braille displays, embossers, iPads, and commercial ebooks. Ideally, you should be home free once you have computer-readable text. But how do you obtain a computer-readable text when your kid's teacher sends home a photocopied handout? In this short article I will offer some useful techniques.
It's a pretty safe assumption that the teacher's handout came from a source online. Somewhere an electronic version exists, if only you can find it. Google, of course, should be your first stop. Go to the middle of the handout and find a string of words, perhaps five to ten words in length. Phrases containing unusual words or juxtapositions of words are best, and phrases containing lots of hyphenation or punctuation do not work as well.
Once you have chosen a phrase to look for, surround the exact words in double quotes and do a Google search. The double quotes will tell Google that you want those exact words in that exact order, rather than just a page containing them anywhere. If you choose your phrase carefully, you're likely to find only the article in question. (And since you chose a phrase from the middle, you're not going to get sidetracked by a site that only has the first or last pages of the article you need.)
When you have found the right webpage, you might have a problem extracting the text from surrounding graphics. In this case, you have a few options. Sometimes Google's cache in the search results works better than the page itself. Sometimes cutting and pasting into an application that doesn't know about formatting and graphics (Notepad or, if you're more technical, gVim from <http://www.vig.org> works wonders.
If the article isn't online, your child's teacher may be able to send it to you as a PDF file. Sometimes cutting and pasting from Adobe Reader is all that's necessary, though you may have to play a bit with the accessibility options. Instead of playing with Adobe Reader, it's usually faster and easier to email the PDF to your Gmail account and use the preview feature from your Gmail inbox page. (Don't have a Gmail account? Get one, even if you never tell anyone about it!) This technique also works well for DOC and DOCX files, and probably for many other file formats as well.
What if the PDF was created by scanning a previously-printed piece of paper, so it contains no actual text? In this case, upload the PDF to Google Docs. (Don't have a Gmail account? Please see the previous paragraph. If you have a Gmail account, go to <docs.google.com>, and you'll find your Google Docs account). When you upload a scanned PDF into Google Docs, it will do Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and guess what the letters are.
Google's OCR technology is free and good, and often it will do exactly what you need. However, it is limited as to the size of the files it will process. More specialized techniques (detailed at <http://sites.google.com/site/marshallflax/advanced-pdf-ocr> are needed to split a large doc into smaller, manageable pieces.
Google isn't your only friend. Bookshare.org is a wonderful resource, and, for good reasons, it doesn't seem to be indexed by Google. (If you're a kid, be sure to logout before searching; Bookshare silently censors results if you're logged in as a child user.)
Most of all, be fearless! In civilized countries, people rarely die from poorly-executed web searches. Enjoy, and you may be lucky and save someone (perhaps yourself) from having to type in entire articles by hand.
And vote for legislators who support the freedom of the web and promote laws that encourage academic publishers to make their publications easily available to our kids. Thank you!
by Trudy Pickrel
From the Editor: Obtaining access technology for a blind student is only the first step toward achieving academic equality. Trudy Pickrel's story of frustration and perseverance mirrors that of countless other parents. Trudy is the mother of eight children; five of them are adopted and three are blind. She is president of the Maryland Parents of Blind Children.
My husband and I adopted our son Brandon when he was two and a half years old. As soon as he came home, we contacted our local school district to discuss the services he would need as a blind pupil. We knew it was never too soon to make plans.
We live in a rural corner of western Maryland, and at the time of Brandon's adoption our school district had no program for blind and visually impaired children. In fact, school officials insisted that Brandon was the only blind child in the district. When he was old enough to enter kindergarten, we were advised, he should enroll at the state school for the blind.
My husband and I were aghast. The Maryland School for the Blind is located in Baltimore, a three-hour drive from our home. The idea of sending our little boy to live away from us five days a week was completely unacceptable. We started pushing our district to hire a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and to provide orientation and mobility (O&M) services. As time passed, we learned that several other blind and visually impaired children lived in our school district after all. By the time Brandon was ready for kindergarten, the district had hired a TVI, and a program for blind/VI children was in place.
I have known and worked with blind children ever since I was a teenager, when I volunteered with a skiing program for blind youth. I know how much blind people can achieve when given the chance, and from the beginning I wanted Brandon to have all the opportunities he needed. I contacted Barbara Cheadle, who was at that time president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). Barbara gave us a wealth of invaluable resources and advice. One of her best suggestions was that we set up a technology evaluation (commonly known as a tech eval) to determine what technology would best meet Brandon's needs.
We arranged a tech eval for Brandon a year before he started kindergarten, and the timing turned out to be ideal. The evaluation recommended a four-year plan for obtaining technology and introducing it to Brandon. The school was advised to purchase a Braille notetaker and a Braille printer, along with an assortment of low-tech equipment. The school district had a year to put the cost of the equipment into its budget. A BrailleNote and Braille printer were ready and waiting when Brandon began first grade.
We had the equipment that Brandon needed, but to our dismay we discovered that his TVI did not know how to use it. She worked her way through the manual, learning as much as she could so she could teach our son. Like most children, Brandon grasped technology faster than the adults around him. He quickly mastered everything that was taught him on the BrailleNote, and he used it more and more as he progressed through school. However, he was limited to the things his TVI was able to teach him. Furthermore, his TVI never had time to learn to use the Braille printer. The printer sat untouched instead of churning out the Braille materials Brandon desperately needed.
"This is a five-thousand-dollar piece of equipment," the district special education director told me when Brandon's BrailleNote arrived. "Don't even ask me for it to go home!" I was deeply grateful that the district had purchased a BrailleNote for our son, and I didn't want to argue. At least he could use it at school, I told myself. That was far better than nothing!
As time passed, however, I realized that Brandon was at a serious disadvantage because he had to leave his BrailleNote at school. Instead of bringing home his assignments as accessible electronic files, he brought home Braille worksheets. He sat for hours, doing his homework on the Perkins Brailler, trying to correct his mistakes in spelling and grammar. When he got to school the next morning, his teacher's aide transcribed his work from Braille into print for the classroom teacher, trying to make sense of the mess of rubbed-down dots. It was a painstaking process, and I knew it didn't have to be so labor intensive. Like his peers, Brandon should have been doing his homework independently and in an appropriate amount of time. He should have been able to complete assignments at home on his BrailleNote, and, eventually, to print his work for the classroom teacher on a standard printer. In addition, we should have been able to help him edit his work at home by printing it out or by hooking his Braille device to a computer screen.
"For Brandon the BrailleNote is like a pencil and paper," I pointed out to the school again and again. "All of the other kids take their pencils back and forth to school. The BrailleNote should be going back and forth with Brandon!"
The teachers didn't seem to understand. "Just do the best you can," they told me.
I did the best I could. I pressed the school to let Brandon bring his BrailleNote home, and I refused to give up. A year went by, but nothing changed.
Finally the school upgraded Brandon's technology with the purchase of a BrailleNote Apex, the newest notetaker from HumanWare. Now it was the Apex that had to remain at school. At home Brandon had our privately-owned BrailleNote mPower.
At this point, I thought with relief, our troubles were over. Brandon could write his homework on the mPower and carry assignments to school on a thumb drive. No longer would the teacher's aide have to transcribe Brandon's Braille pages; his assignments could be printed out in minutes. The classroom teacher could put new assignments onto the thumb drive for Brandon to bring home.
Alas, this lovely scenario was not to be. For some mysterious reason, the Apex could not read files created on Brandon's BrailleNote mPower, and the mPower could not decipher files created on the Apex. I was convinced that an answer existed somewhere, but getting help was far from simple. Since the Apex had to stay at school, I could not have HumanWare's tech support team walk me through a solution to the problem. Months dragged by. Brandon continued to slog back and forth from worksheet to Perkins to worksheet to Perkins, and the teacher's aide went on transcribing his assignments every morning. Sometimes Brandon had to rewrite a report three or four times from scratch. If he wrote a draft on the mPower at home, he could not access his work during the allotted time at school. He was asked to write the report again during school time, using the Apex, but at home he did not have access to those new edits.
When Brandon started fourth grade, I made up my mind that this year he would bring the Apex home. I sent emails and left phone messages, trying to resolve the issue prior to our IEP meeting. Yet when the day of the IEP arrived, the Apex issue was still unsettled.
At the end of a long IEP meeting I told the school, once again, that it was essential for Brandon to bring the Apex home with him. Without any argument the school said that Brandon could take the Apex back and forth, provided that we sign a waiver and obtain insurance to cover loss or damage. My insurance company agreed to cover the Apex for $40 a year.
Needless to say, I was happy and relieved at the outcome of our long struggle. Nevertheless, questions nagged. Would we have to buy insurance for every new piece of equipment that Brandon needed for his schoolwork? The cost could mount up. What happened to families who couldn't afford the added expense? Didn't the school's requirement that we buy insurance violate the FAPE--the basic principle of "free and appropriate public education" outlined in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?
Once Brandon could bring the Apex home, we drove to Baltimore for a visit to the International Braille and Technology Center (IBTC). Housed at the National Center for the Blind, the headquarters of the National Federation of the Blind, the IBTC is a fantastic resource on access technology. Robert Jaquiss gave us hours of his time and finally solved the incompatibility problem between the mPower and the Apex.
At last Brandon is doing more of his assignments at home on the Apex and taking his work to school in electronic files. The grueling ordeal of Brailling and transcription is largely behind us; now homework is just the ordinary nuisance that most fourth graders have to endure. We also experienced another breakthrough this year--the school finally uses the Braille printer to produce worksheets, tests, and other important materials.
Although we have resolved some major problems, I still have a number of concerns. Brandon still does not get electronic books, including textbooks, from Bookshare and other sources. When I watch him walk to the bus each day, staggering under the weight of his backpack with its load of heavy Braille volumes, I know we will find a better way. As Brandon's teacher once advised, I will do the best I can.
by Anna Catherine Walker
From the Editor: Anna Catherine Walker attends her neighborhood school in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, and is fully included in her fifth grade classes. She participates in Fifth Grade Chorus, plays flute in Fifth Grade Band, and is beginning to use Braille music. She loves spending time with friends, playing with her dog, attending church and youth activities, cooking, cleaning, and working on her golf game.
This article is all about my "techno life” and the tools that I use in this life.
ZoomText is software that I use to make my computer screen larger. I can use it to make my mouse more noticeable by changing the color and style. Also I can do the same for the cursor. I can change the color of the background so I can see the icons more easily.
Now I am going to tell you about my e-book reader, the Book Port. The Book Port has several additions. That is why they call it the Book Port Plus! If I press the top left smooth button, I can make a recording. If I am in a document, I can press zero to get the Help Menu. I can listen to books and worksheets. I can even place bookmarks so I can find a part that I want to hear again. I download a lot of books from Bookshare. Bookshare is free, and they have lots of great books, such as the Babysitters Club and Black Stallion series.
I can also listen to books and worksheets on the Braille Sense. The Braille Sense is a Braille notetaker that has a built-in refreshable Braille display. I use the Braille Sense when I do my homework. Mostly I use it to do my science homework. I have my book on the Braille Sense so I can listen to the text and use the Braille display to read the word that I need to spell for my homework.
That leads me to the laptop, which I use to write down answers. I read the questions on my Braille Sense and write the answers on my laptop. That way I don't need to switch documents on my Braille Sense. I use JAWS on the laptop to accomplish this feat. JAWS is a screen reader that tells me the letters I have typed. It makes a high sound when I type a capital letter. You can get a free forty-minute demo version of JAWS to try it out. I can use JAWS and ZoomText at the same time. I can listen to documents with JAWS. In science class I can use my magnifier to see diagrams in the print textbook.
Now I get to the thousand-year-old tool called the abacus. It has long bumps that are commas and decimals. I can do math quickly on the abacus, and it is a lot easier than writing the print down on paper.
Last but not least is the cane--the most important tool of all. My cane is the tool that guides me through my life.
All of these things are tools, and that is just what sight is--a tool. Sight is good to have, but it is just one of the many tools that I use.
by Laura Bostick
Every student can learn, just not on the same day, or the same way.
~ George Evans
My daughter, Lindsay, began receiving early intervention services from a teacher of blind students, an orientation and mobility specialist, an occupational therapist, and an early childhood specialist when she was four months old. When she turned three, she entered the public school system and attended preschool programs for children with disabilities, where she continued to receive services. She has light perception only, so there was never a battle over large print versus Braille, and by the time she entered kindergarten, she was receiving an hour per day of Braille instruction. She’s a bright, curious child who loves to learn; she was in an excellent school district; and she had caring teachers who truly wanted her to succeed. Things weren’t perfect, but I really wasn’t too concerned. She was keeping up and making good grades, and she seemed on track.
Imagine my surprise when she started falling behind. At the end of second grade, she was no longer reading on grade level. She lost confidence. She didn’t want to read aloud in class because she was so much slower than the other kids. She began to say that she hated reading and she hated school, and when I asked her why, she told me that she didn’t think she was very smart. It broke my heart.
Lindsay’s story is not unique. So many of our blind kids start out on track and then fall behind. Countless others begin school with delays and are told that being a year behind is normal for a visually impaired child. Why is this slow progress accepted? If a child with normal eyesight began falling behind, would a different set of questions be asked? Would a different set of interventions be put in place?
At this year’s conference, Life in the Mainstream, we’ll examine the strategies that are known to assist struggling sighted readers and explore how these interventions can be applied to children with visual impairments. For our younger children and those with multiple disabilities, we’ll examine movement and exploration, active learning, and items and ideas that can facilitate learning at home and in school.
We’ll also take a look at access to the newest technology, independent mobility, the skills of daily life, tactile graphics, and other topics that can enable our children, whatever their level, to be full participants in school and in the community.
We’ll feature IEP workshops, recognition of our Braille Readers Are Leaders contest participants, and presentations by this year’s Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, NASA scientists, and eminent leaders of the National Federation of the Blind. New this year will be a giant inflatable obstacle course for the kids; Convention 101, a facilitated convention experience for tweens and teens; and no charge for children and youth to attend!
The 2012 NOPBC Conference, Life in the Mainstream, will take place within the NFB National Convention in Dallas, Texas, from June 30 to July 5. All families and teachers of blind and visually impaired children are welcome. Hope to see you there!
SATURDAY, JUNE 30
Full-Day Seminar for Parents & Teachers
7:30 - 8:45 a.m.—REGISTRATION
9:00 - 11:00 a.m.—GENERAL SESSION
Welcome—Laura Bostick, President, NOPBC
Kid Talk with Dr. Marc Maurer—Kids get a chance to speak to the president of the National Federation of the Blind about anything on their minds
Life in the Mainstream—Parnell Diggs, President, NFB of SC
Blind Adults in the Mainstream—Barbara Pierce, President Emerita, NFB of OH, and Former Editor, the Braille Monitor; Gary Wunder, President, NFB of MO, and Editor, the Braille Monitor; Debbie Stein, 1st VP, NFB of IL, and Editor, Future Reflections
Students Speak about their Life in the Mainstream
Braille Readers Are Leaders Recognition
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (preschool -12, in NFB Child Care)
NOTE: All NOPBC children’s activities will take place in NFB Child Care. Be sure to register your child with child care!
Out of This World!
NASA scientists will take the children on a journey through the solar system. This activity will continue in the afternoon.
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
Sponsored by NFB Jernigan Institute
Balloon Build or Bust
Visit <http://nfb.org/youth-track> for details.
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Access Tech: Apple Products
Come see how the accessibility of iPhone, iPad, iPod products, accessories, and apps could work for your child/student. Instructor: Dan Wenzel, Director, WI Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired; panel of Apple product users.
Come learn about equipment and techniques that can turn your young child or delayed older child into an Active Learner. This session will feature Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s innovations such as the Little Room and the Resonance Board. Instructor: Gigi Newton, TBVI, TX School for the Blind/VI.
Get the Wrinkles Out: Activities of Daily Living
How does a blind person iron? Make a sandwich? Cut meat? Tie shoes? Tie a tie? Zip a zipper? Sweep or vacuum a floor? Use tools? Come see how. Instructors: Teachers from the LA Center for the Blind.
The New National Reading Media Assessment and Integrating Print and Braille Guidebook
The appropriate reading medium can mean the difference between struggling to keep up and full literacy for your child/student. Come find out about this ground-breaking assessment and our new book on how to integrate print and Braille learning. Instructors: Casey Robertson, Teacher of Blind Students; Sharon Maneki, Book Editor.
12:15 - 2:00 p.m.—LUNCH on your own; pick up children from Child Care.
1:30 – 4:30 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSIONS (ages 11-18)
Visit <http://nfb.org/youth-track> for details.
2:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY
The Out of This World! workshop continues in the NFB Child Care.
2:00 - 3:15 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Technology in the Classroom
What kinds of technology can blind/VI students use to access information and be a full participant in class activities? Instructor: Dr. Denise Robinson, TBVI, CEO, Tech Vision.
Movement & Exploration for the Young Blind Child
How can you get your child moving and exploring the world? What if your child has delays? Would a cane be good for your child? The session will be appropriate for families with children with or without additional disabilities. Instructor: Denise Mackenstadt, NOMC.
Tactile maps, illustrations, charts, and graphs can be a valuable learning aid. How can your child/student learn to use them? Instructor: Deborah Kent Stein, Editor, Future Reflections; 1st VP, NFB of IL; Barbara Shalit, TBS.
Reading Issues: Getting to the Root of the Problem
Is your Braille reader struggling? Could there be a learning disability? What about the quality of Braille instruction? Is Braille slower to read than print or harder to learn? What about the quality of reading instruction and intervention? Can anything be done to help? Instructor: Carol Castellano, Director of Programs, NOPBC.
3:30 - 4:45 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
Technology: When, Where, How?
This session will explore the general sequence of technology skills for blind/VI children, effective technology goals for the IEP, and how students can access technology equipment and training. Instructors: Al Lovati, TBS; Dr. Matt Maurer, Butler University.
Creative Classroom Solutions for the Child with Additional Disabilities
This session will explore school-related issues such as IEP goals, functional literacy, Braille, the roles of the TBS and classroom teacher, and will demonstrate useful materials such as calendar systems and tactile symbols. Instructors: Casey Robertson, TBS; Krystal Guillory, TBS.
Out & About: Independent Mobility for Your School-Aged Child
High expectations, real-life goals, and how to achieve them in the area of independent travel. Instructor: Deja Powell, NOMC.
Reading Strategies for the Blind/VI Student: What Works?
This workshop will explore the characteristics of good readers, no matter what their reading medium, and the strategies parents and teachers can use to facilitate better reading. Instructor: Dr. Ruby Ryles, LA Tech University.
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.—MIX & MINGLE RECEPTION—PROFESSIONALS & PARENTS
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.—NOPBC FAMILY HOSPITALITY
Relax, chat, meet new families, and connect with old friends. “Veteran” parents will be on hand to welcome you and provide information.
SUNDAY, JULY 1
No NFB Child Care on this day
8:45 - 10:30 a.m.—CANE WALK Session I
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.—CANE WALK Session II
Learn and experience the Discovery Method of travel at these special workshops. Parents, teachers, blind children, siblings welcome. Instructors: Jeff Altman, NOMC, and cane travel instructors.
Sunday afternoon—NOPBC YOUTH FASHION SHOW—Time TBA
This is an opportunity for your aspiring model to take a walk down the runway in a favorite outfit from his or her closet. Contact Kim Cunningham at 713-501-9659 or [email protected] to sign up and for further information.
4:00 – 5:00 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
Visit <http://nfb.org/youth-track> for details.
MONDAY, JULY 2
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.-NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (preschool-12, in NFB Child Care)
It Came from Outer Space
More fun with the NASA scientists.
11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK SESSION (ages 11-18)
Visit <http://nfb.org/youth-track> for details.
1:00 p.m.—You may drop off your child early at child care on this afternoon so that you can attend the NOPBC Annual Meeting.
1:00 - 4:00 p.m.—NOPBC ANNUAL MEETING: OPTIONS & OPPORTUNITIES
Keynote address by the 2012 Distinguished Educator of Blind Children, other special guest speakers, news from NASA, summer programs for our kids, focus on math and science, Parent Power, business meeting, elections, and much more!
5:00 - 7:00 p.m.—BRAILLE BOOK FAIR
A book lover's dream! Browse tables of new and used Braille and print/Braille books. Volunteers will box your books and the post office will deliver them to your home as Free Matter. Books are free; donations are encouraged to help support our Braille programs. Cosponsored by NOPBC & NAPUB. Coordinator: Barbara Cheadle, President Emerita, NOPBC.
7:00 - 9:00 p.m.—NFB YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 11-18)
Visit <http://nfb.org/youth-track> for details.
7:30 - 9:00 p.m.—DADS’ NIGHT OUT
All dads, sighted and blind, are welcome. Call Jim Beyer at (406) 239-2057 for location.
TUESDAY, JULY 3
7:00 - 9:00 a.m.—NOPBC BOARD MEETING (Note: this is a morning meeting)
8:30 a.m.—CONVENTION 101
Facilitated Convention experience for Tweens & Teens. Facilitator: Carlton Walker, 2nd VP, NOPBC.
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (preschool–12, in NFB Child Care)
Giant Inflatable Obstacle Course
1:30 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
Facilitated Convention experience for Tweens & Teens. Facilitator: Carlton Walker, 2nd VP, NOPBC.
7:00 - 10:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILDREN’S ACTIVITY (ages 5-12)
Crafts & Games—For children whose parents are attending NOPBC workshops.
7:00 - 9:45 p.m.—NOPBC CONCURRENT SESSIONS—PARENTS & TEACHERS
2-4-6-8 What Do We Appreciate? The Nemeth Code!
A hands-on workshop that will teach the basics of Nemeth Code which enables blind students to do any and all kinds of math. Instructor: Eric Guillory, Director of Youth Services, LA Center for the Blind.
What’s available, principles for creating tactile graphics, make-and-take projects. Instructors: Robert Jaquiss, Access Technology Specialist, NFB JI International Braille & Technology Center; Ann Cunningham, Tactile Artist and Art Teacher, CO Center for the Blind; Shirley Keller, Director, Creative Adaptations for Learning (CAL).
7:00 - 8:15 p.m.
IEP Basics for Parents of Blind/VI Students
The sections of the IEP, essential assessments, how assessment information is used, how to be an active and effective participant. Instructors: Carlton Walker, Attorney, TBVI; Chantel Alberhasky, Attorney.
8:30 - 9:45 p.m.
IEP Development and Legal Process Overview
Do’s & Don’ts for the IEP meeting; preparing for possible mediation, due process, appeal, etc; overview of the legal process; how to prepare for a due process hearing so you don’t have to have one! Instructors: Chantel Alberhasky, Attorney; Carlton Walker, Attorney, TBVI.
NFB YOUTH TRACK ACTIVITY (ages 14-18) —Time TBA
Visit <http://nfb.org/youth-track> for details.
WEDNESDAY, JULY 4
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.—NOPBC CHILREN’S ACTIVITY (preschool – 12, in NFB Child Care)
Crafty CAL & Let’s Play Word Games
Instructor: Shirley Keller, Creator, Creative Adaptations for Learning (CAL)
8:30 a.m.—CONVENTION 101
1:30 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
Facilitated Convention experience for Tweens & Teens. Facilitator: Carlton Walker, 2nd VP, NOPBC.
THURSDAY, JULY 5
8:30 a.m.—CONVENTION 101
1:30 p.m.—CONVENTION 101
National convention is a complicated week of events. Here are a few tips to help you stay organized and take advantage of the many opportunities that will be available.
Activities for Children & Youth; Child Care Information:
Seminar Day Information
Other Activities Going on All Week Long
In addition to the special NOPBC activities for parents, children, and youth listed in this document, other activities that you and your child may be interested in attending will be going on all week. Often many activities are going on at the same time and you and your child will have to make choices! Here is a sampling:
Make checks payable to NOPBC and mail with forms to:
Pat Renfranz, NOPBC Treasurer
397 Middle Oak Lane, Salt Lake City, UT 84108
Save money by preregistering! Preregistration must be postmarked by June 10.
After June 10, please register on-site in Dallas.
By June 10
On-site in Dallas
Child/Youth (up to 18 years)
Adult Name ____________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other____________________
Adult Name ____________________________________________________
[ ] parent [ ] professional [ ] other____________________
Please list additional adults on a separate sheet.
Address ______________________________ City _____________________
State _______ Zip _____________ Phone ___________________
Email _______________________________ Alt. phone ________________
Child/Youth 1 Name (first and last), age, brief description of vision and any additional disabilities:
Child/Youth 2: ___________________________________________________
Please list additional children/youth on a separate sheet.
How many? Prereg. by June 10 On-site reg.
Adults _____ @ $30 = $______ or @ $35 = $______
Child/Youth _____ FREE FREE = $__00__
Total enclosed: $_________
___ I receive Future Reflections
___ This is my 1st national convention
___ I am a member of my state NFB/POBC ___ If not, how many have you attended?
PLEASE NOTE: Preregistrations postmarked after June 10 will be returned.
Also, remember that registrations for the NOPBC Conference and NFB child care are separate and must be mailed to different places.
SATURDAY, JUNE 30
11:00 am - 12:15 pm (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Access Tech: Apple Products
_____ Active Learning
_____ Get the Wrinkles Out: Activities of Daily Living
_____ National Reading Media Assessment & Integrating Print & Braille Guidebook
2:00 - 3:15 pm (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Technology in the Classroom
_____ Movement & Exploration for the Young Blind Child
_____ Tactile Graphics
_____ Reading Issues: Getting to the Root of the Problem
3:30 - 4:45 pm (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Technology: When, Where, How?
_____ Creative Classroom Solutions for the Child with Additional Disabilities
_____ Out & About: Independent Mobility for Your School-Aged Child
_____ Reading Strategies for the Blind/VI Student: What Works?
CHILDREN (preschool-12 years)
Please mark how many children will attend each session
_____ 11 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.: Out of This World!
_____ 2:00 - 5:00 p.m.: Out of This World! continues
Name _____________________ Age_______
NOTE: NOPBC children’s activities take place in NFB child care. To take part, YOUR CHILD MUST BE REGISTERED FOR NFB CHILD CARE for that day.
SUNDAY, JULY 1
8:45 - 10:30 a.m.: Cane Walk Session I
_____ adults _____ children _____ youth
_________ ages _________ ages
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m.: Cane Walk Session II
_____ adults _____ children _____ youth
_________ ages _________ ages
Youth Fashion Show—Sunday afternoon—time to be announced
Name _____________________ Age_______
MONDAY, JULY 2
CHILDREN (preschool-12 years)
Please mark how many will attend each session
_____ 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.: It Came from Outer Space
Name _____________________ Age_______
NOTE: NOPBC children’s activities take place in NFB child care. To take part, YOUR CHILD MUST BE REGISTERED FOR NFB CHILD CARE for that day.
TUESDAY, JULY 3
CHILDREN (preschool-12 years)
Please mark how many will attend each session
_____ 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.: Giant Inflatable Obstacle Course
Name _____________________ Age_______
7:00 - 9:45 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend each session)
_____ Nemeth Code
_____ Tactile Graphics
7:00 – 8:15 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend)
_____ IEP Basics for Parents of Blind/VI Students
8:30 - 9:45 p.m. (Please mark how many will attend)
_____ IEP Development and Legal Process Overview
CHILDREN (ages 5-12 years)
Please Note: Sign your child up for this activity only if you will be attending NOPBC workshops that evening.
_____ 7 - 10 p.m. Crafts & Games (Please mark how many will attend)
Name _____________________ Age_______
WEDNESDAY, JULY 4
CHILDREN (preschool-12 years)
Please mark how many will attend session
_____ 10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m.: Crafty CAL & Word Games
Name _____________________ Age_______
_____ I give my permission for my child/ren to be photographed in this session
Teen Room & Tween Room schedules to come.
Saturday, June 30
9:00 - 11:00 a.m. Life in the Mainstream (Adults, Children, Youth)
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Children’s Activity in child care (preschool -12)
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
11:00 a.m. - 12:15 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
1:30 - 5:00 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
2:00 - 5:00 p.m. Children’s Activity in child care (preschool -12)
2:00 - 3:15 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
3:30 - 4:45 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshop Sessions
5:00 - 7:00 p.m. Reception
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. Family Hospitality
Sunday, July 1
8:45 - 10:30 a.m. Cane Walk Session I (Adults, Children, Youth)
11:00 a.m. - 12:45 p.m. Cane Walk Session II (Adults, Children, Youth)
Time to be announced Youth Fashion Show
4:00 - 5:00 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
Monday, July 2
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Children’s Activity in child care (preschool -12)
11:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
1:00 - 4:00 p.m. NOPBC Annual Meeting
Drop your children in child care early this afternoon
5:00 - 7:00 p.m. Braille Book Fair
7:00 - 9:00 p.m. Youth Track (ages 11-18)
7:30 - 9:00 p.m. Dads’ Night Out
Tuesday, July 3
7:00 - 9:00 a.m. NOPBC Board Meeting
8:30 a.m. Convention 101 meets (ages 11 - 15)
9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Children’s Activity in child care (preschool - 12)
1:30 p.m. Convention 101 meets (ages 11 - 15)
7:00 - 9:45 p.m. NOPBC Concurrent Workshops
7:00 - 10:00 p.m. Children’s Activity (ages 5-12)
for children whose parents are in the NOPBC workshops
Time TBA Youth Track (ages 11-18)
Wednesday, July 4
10:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. Children’s Activity in child care (preschool - 12)
8:30 a.m. Convention 101 meets (ages 11 - 15)
1:30 p.m. Convention 101 meets (ages 11 - 15)
Thursday, July 5
8:30 a.m. Convention 101 meets (ages 11 - 15)
1:30 p.m. Convention 101 meets (ages 11 - 15)
by Carla McQuillan
From the Editor: For many years the childcare service at NFB convention has been run by Carla McQuillan with the help of her daughter, Alison. Here are a description of this year's program, the schedule of camp hours, and the registration form. The deadline for registration is June 15.
If you are between the ages of six weeks and twelve years, NFB Childcare is the place to be at national convention in Dallas. NFB Childcare will be open for fun during meetings and general convention sessions.
Our childcare rooms are divided by age of the children served, with appropriate toys and activities in each room. We have separate rooms for infants and toddlers, preschoolers, and school-age children. The infants and toddlers spend much of their time in the room with occasional walks around the hotel and stories read from Braille books. The preschool group will enjoy Braille story time, a few arts and craft projects, and small group play on the hotel lawns. The school-age children will have special-guest presentations on writing stories, science and technology, music and movement, and blind people employed in different professions. In addition, there will be daily excursions to the hotel lawns for outdoor games and water play.
This year, on Tuesday, July 3, NFB Childcare will bring in a giant inflatable obstacle course for the children to experience and explore. The course will include several obstacles to climb over, through, and around, ending in a giant slide. This activity will be available for preschool and school-age children during the morning sessions.
Children who are not signed up for NFB Childcare for the day may try the obstacle course during the lunch break, from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m., with the following conditions:
1. Children must be accompanied by an adult who stays the entire time the child plays.
2. A waiver of responsibility must be signed by a parent or guardian (available at NFB Childcare and at the course site).
3. There will be a fee of $1 per course run-through. Tickets may be purchased at the NFB Childcare desk prior to the event. Tickets can be purchased on-site, availability permitting.
4. Children must go through the course in stockinged feet or barefoot.
5. NFB Childcare reserves the right to deny participation to any individual who poses a safety threat or concern.
Kids in NFB Childcare will enjoy their own banquet night activities, beginning with their meal. Afterwards the children will be dazzled by the exotic live animals of the Creature Teacher. Hairless guinea pigs, iguanas, and hedgehogs are just a few of the animals in the Creature Teacher's educational presentation. Immediately following the Creature Teacher's lesson, the children will relax with a movie and popcorn.
NFB Childcare is under the supervision of Carla McQuillan, a longtime member of the Federation. Carla is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association, operating three Montessori schools and a teacher education program in Oregon. She has directed NFB Childcare since 1996. Alison McQuillan serves as the activities and staff coordinator for the program. Alison monitors the daily activities, drop-off and pickup, and staff-to-child ratios. She ensures that only parents and authorized adults are allowed into the childcare rooms.
Each of the three rooms has a supervisor who is responsible for the activities of that age group. These leaders are chosen for their experience and demonstrated capacity to handle groups of children and workers. They are staff members of Carla's schools. Other workers and volunteers are drawn from within the Federation. Workers and volunteers usually include a mix of blind and sighted teens and adults who take shifts throughout the week.
Michelle Chacon is a certified orientation and mobility instructor and a teacher of blind children. She will be available throughout the week to consult with parents and staff and will provide some individualized instruction for our kids.
NFB Childcare maintains a list of people who are interested in providing care outside scheduled hours for childcare. The list is at the check-in desk for NFB Childcare. Parents are welcome to review names on the list if they are in need of caregivers during off hours. NFB Childcare and the National Federation of the Blind are not responsible for the actions and behavior of those on the babysitting list. We do not screen the people listed; we merely maintain a central list for the convenience of convention attendees.
Due to the limited space, parents wishing to enroll their children in NFB Childcare must complete and return the following registration forms no later than June 15, 2012. You also may email or call to reserve space for your child or children or to contact Carla with questions: <[email protected]> or (541) 726-6924.
Completed forms and fees must be received on or before June 15, 2012.
City State Zip Phone
Cell Phone Cell Phone
Age Date of Birth
Age Date of Birth
Age Date of Birth
Include description of any disabilities or allergies we should know about:
Who, other than parents, is allowed to pick up your child(ren)?
Per Week: $100 first child, $75 siblings
No. of Chn $
(Does not include banquet)
Per Day: $25 per child per day
No. of Days x$25 child $
(Does not include banquet)
Sa M T W TH (circle)
Banquet: $25 per child No. of children $
Turkey Sandwich Cheese Sandwich
We understand that NFB Childcare is being provided as a service to make our convention more enjoyable for both parents and children. We will pick up children immediately following sessions. We understand that, if our child(ren) does not follow the rules or if for any reason staff are unable to care for our child(ren), further access to childcare will be denied.
Parent's Signature Date
Make checks payable to NFB Childcare. Return form to NFB Childcare, 5005 Main Street, Springfield, OR 97478; (541) 726-6924; and <www.mainstreetmontessori.org>.
NFB Childcare will be open during general convention sessions, division and committee meeting day, and the evening of the banquet. The hours for NFB Childcare are tentative. The actual hours will be based on the beginning and ending of sessions so that parents can drop off their children thirty minutes before the start of session and must pick up their children within thirty minutes of the end of session. On occasion the actual end or beginning of session may be earlier or later than the agenda indicates. We charge a $10 per quarter-hour per child late pickup fee. NFB Childcare provides morning and afternoon snacks. You must provide lunch for your children every day.
Date NFB Childcare Hours
Saturday, June 30th 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 1st Childcare is closed.
Monday, July 2nd 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 3 9:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Wednesday, July 4th 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 5th 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. and 1:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m.
Banquet 6:30 p.m.-30 minutes after adjournment.
by Meleah Jensen
From the Editor: Convention offers opportunities for the whole family. While younger children are playing in NFB Childcare, teens and preteens enjoy a variety of games and challenges in the Youth Track.
If you are between the ages of eleven and eighteen, or if you are bringing a young person to convention who falls into that age bracket, you should definitely explore the Youth Track activities. The Youth Track is a group of activities within the convention agenda that are specifically geared for young people. These activities are designed to foster positive attitudes about blindness and to encourage social interactions between blind youth and successful blind adult mentors.
This year the Youth Track consists of twelve activities spread across six days. In some of the activities the whole group will stay together. In others the group will be divided, with one group for eleven- to thirteen-year-olds and another for youth between fourteen and eighteen. All of the activities are interactive and call for high energy.
First thing on Saturday, June 30, the Youth Track will open with a creative problem-solving activity called "Balloon Build or Bust." Activities will continue throughout Saturday and will include opportunities for creative expression, explorations of NFB "Popular Culture," and Federationbook (the social media network you may not have heard of) activity. Over the rest of the week young people will have the opportunity to participate in activities where they will learn about the Federation, socialize, enjoy recreation, and put on their creative writing caps.
As convention approaches, an official Youth Track agenda will be released. Keep a lookout for it on the NFB listservs and at <http://nfb.org/youth-track>. Space will be limited for some of the activities, and preregistration will be required. For more information please contact Meleah Jensen at (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2418 or [email protected].
2012 Braille Book Fair
Coordinator: Barbara Cheadle, (410) 747-3472
It's that time again--time to sort through all those boxes of Braille books in your basement or spare room. Please donate your gently used but no longer needed books to the 2012 Braille Book Fair sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB). The primary goal is to get more Braille books into the hands of children, youth, and beginning adult readers. Most needed are books in good condition, print/Braille books, and leisure reading (fiction or nonfiction). Cookbooks are always in demand, as are books about sports. Children are so hungry for their very own books that every year, despite generous donations, most of our books for young children are gone in less than an hour. Ship your donations as Free Matter for the Blind to Vanessa Pena, 10155 Monroe, Dallas, TX 75229.
Talking LabQuest Giveaway
Every person who signs up for the Independence Science newsletter from January 1 through July 31, 2012, will enter a drawing to win a Talking LabQuest software package. The LabQuest allows blind students almost complete access to the science laboratory curriculum.
Tactile Graphics Conference
National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute
Contact: Clara van Gerven, (410) 659-9314, Ext. 2410
November 30-December 1, 2012
The National Federation of the Blind Jernigan Institute will present a two-day conference on how tactile graphics can be made and how they enhance STEM education for blind students. A variety of sessions on general topics will be followed by breakout sessions on how to create and evaluate tactile graphics, basic and advanced techniques for creating tactile graphics, and the creation and use of three-dimensional models.
Conference for Deafblind Persons
Sight and Hearing Encouragement Program (SHEP)
Reed Convention Center, Oklahoma City, OK
October 12-13, 2012
Contact: Jeri Cooper, [email protected]
Come join the first deafblind conference sponsored by SHEP. The theme is "You Can Do It: Advocacy and Self-Determination, Keys to Your Future."
Israel on the Horizon
Summer Experience in Israel for Blind and Visually Impaired Youth
Contact: Bob Fenton, [email protected]
The Israel National Association of Parents of Blind and Visually Impaired Children and the Jewish Institute for the Blind in Jerusalem are planning the first Israel summer tour program for blind and visually impaired Jewish youth ages 15-21. The pilot program will run for twelve days, including educational tours throughout the country, outdoor activities, and social programs with Israeli youth. The 2012 program will include youth from North America, England, and Australia.
In November 2011 the Colorado Parents of Blind Children elected the following board of directors: president, Andrew Trunfio; vice president, Everett Romero; secretary, Lisa Felix; treasurer, Julie Hunter; and board members Connie Casias and Sarah McCandless.
Hadley Family Education Courses
Hadley School for the Blind
The Hadley School for the Blind now offers courses in its family education program in e-book format. Upon enrollment, students will receive a link to the download page, where they can select a format appropriate for their particular e-book reader. Courses for parents of blind children include "You, Your Child, and the Community: Beginning the Special Education Journey."
Paths to Literacy
Paths to Literacy is a joint project of Perkins School for the Blind and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). The site includes information on many aspects of literacy and literacy training, including emergent literacy, multiple disabilities, struggling readers, dual media, and English language learners.
Evolution of Braille
Braille Authority of North America (BANA)
Contact: Frances Mary D'Andrea, (412) 521-5797
BANA has released the final segment of a three-part article on the evolution of Braille, authored by the BANA board. The article, "The Evolution of Braille: Can the Past Help Plan the Future?", is posted on the BANA website.
Contact: Erik Fitzgerald, [email protected]
Touch Clothing is a manufacturer and designer of fun and interactive clothing. Currently, the company is featuring a line of Braille T-shirts. Special ink allows the wearer to feel and read a Braille inscription. The T-shirts are 100 percent cotton. Inscriptions consist of catch phrases in Braille and print and include ROCKSTAR, LEGENDARY, and CHAMPION. The company offers men's and women's shirts in small, medium, and large sizes.
The following companies produce puzzles designed to be assembled by touch and/or to offer distinct tactile shapes and textures.
Puzzle themes include farm animals, zoo animals, and vehicles.
Tactile Puzzle Jungle: Let's Talk Learning
Each animal in this giant puzzle has a tactile piece for children to touch, developing their tactile senses.
Tactile Puzzle Books: View Free
All puzzles in the book are Braille embossed and printed in large, clear print. Fun for the whole family!
Hark the Sound
Gary Bishop, a professor of computer science at the University of North Carolina, has developed a variety of free downloadable games for children with disabilities. Hark the Sound is a collection of sound-based games for kids who are blind or visually impaired. The collection includes SonicZoom, a racing game that can be played by using changes in sound pitch; The Last Crusade, a sound-based role-playing game; and SamiSays, a game that allows kids to record stories with sound effects.
This off-the-shelf game, available at Toys"R"Us and other stores, is a balancing game that involves interactive sounds. Cards must be Brailled for blind players, but the scoreboard is tactile.