American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections Fall 2016 TECHNOLOGY
by Diane Brauner
From the Editor: Recently, the parent of a blind child posted a question on the Blindkid listserv, which is operated by the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The parent wanted to know whether a blind student needs an iPad if he or she already has and uses an iPhone. This article is based on a thoughtful and informative reply to this query from Diane Brauner. Diane Brauner is an educational accessibility consultant with over twenty-five years of experience as a teacher of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialist. Currently she spends most of her time developing and managing Paths to Technology (<http://www.perkinselearning.org/technology>), a website created under the auspices of Perkins School for the Blind. The site is designed to help educators, families, and students keep up with the ever-changing world of technology for blind and visually impaired students. Through the SAS Institute, a leader in business analytics software and services, Diane collaborates with Ed Summers on a variety of educational accessibility projects. During the past three years, Diane and Ed have presented more than fifty full-day iPad accessibility workshops around the country.
Does a blind child who has an iPhone truly need an iPad, too? Parents often ask this question. I would like to share some thoughts from an educator's perspective.
What kind of technology does your child use to complete his/her schoolwork? Our classrooms are transitioning to the use of more and more digital materials, with online textbooks, online assessments, and digital homework. Universities and professional jobs require students and employees to use technology and to have a high level of "tech savviness."
To succeed in today's classrooms, blind students should have access to and should be efficient with the mainstream apps used by their peers. They should be able to use their technology to achieve the same educational goals expected of their classmates. All educational materials, including apps, websites, textbooks, and online assessments, should be accessible. Publishers are becoming more aware of accessibility needs.
Students with visual impairments need access to mainstream devices, whether it is an iPad in preschool or a computer in high school. These devices can be paired with a refreshable Braille display and/or Bluetooth keyboard. Ideally, students have many tools in their toolboxes, including paper Braille, refreshable Braille, and screen readers.
Keep in mind that in the general education classroom, the iPad is an accepted tool. In some schools the iPad may be provided, while others follow a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program. Typically, phones are not allowed in the classroom.
A main advantage of a touch screen device is that it gives a student the ability to learn the spatial layout of the screen. Though the student can right swipe through the screen or use the right arrow with a Bluetooth keyboard, she or he is not taking advantage of the spatial layout. Some commands will navigate efficiently to various sections of the screen, such as the command to jump the VoiceOver focus to the first and last items on the screen. Typically the Back Button is the first item on the screen; often the Next Button is the last item.
To be truly efficient with technology in the classroom, students should pair the iOS device with a Braille display or with a Bluetooth keyboard. Many additional navigational commands are available with these add-on devices that are not available with gestures. These navigation commands are critical when students write and edit documents.
When successful blind college students and professionals are asked what technology they use, the initial response is, "What is the task?"
In the classroom, the current best practice is to introduce the iPad with VoiceOver gestures and Braille display to an emerging Braille reader in preschool, along with the Perkins Braillewriter and paper Braille. Then add simple Bluetooth keyboarding skills and keyboard commands. In middle school students should be introduced to and become proficient with a computer and screen reader. Your child or student should be totally independent in the classroom with his or her technology and should be able to do the same assignments as his/her peers.
There are many Paths to Technology posts about using the iPad in the classroom. Here are a few recommended posts to help you get started with the iPad running VoiceOver. All of these posts can be found at <http://www.perkinselearning.org/technology/getting-started>.
Additional iPad posts include Layla: 4-Year-Old Learning VoiceOver and Braille Video.
As an educator I strongly recommend that every child with a visual impairment have all of the appropriate educational tools available. Furthermore, each child should have access to his/her technology at school and at home. In order to become comfortable and efficient with technology, each child needs time to explore his or her device at leisure and to discover new features and ways it can be used. An iPad is an engaging, powerful, and motivating educational tool!