Future Reflections Fall 1994, Vol. 13 No. 3



Editor's Note: This is reprinted from the Summer, 1992, issue of Counterpoint, a publication of the National Association of State Directors of Special Education, NASDSE.

A little technology can go a long way. At least, that's the lesson that can be drawn from the Macomb (Michigan) Intermediate School district, where a modest inventory of computers, printers, and other technologies has helped blind and visually impaired students to be mainstreamed to the regular classroom.

"Our goal is to keep students as closely integrated into the regular education system as we can," says D. Ralph Pritchard, curriculum resource consultant for the Macomb district, a service agency that provides special education and support services to 21 local school systems outside Detroit. "Technology gives students a tool to use in overcoming barriers to education."

The introduction of technology for student use has been modest-and selective, Pritchard says. For example, the district's three blind students have been issued with laptop-sized, electronic notetaking devices that allow them to take notes in Braille. After class, students can connect these miniature computers to a printer that will print out their notes in Braille for their own use or in regular type for use by their teachers.

Teachers take advantage of three Braille work stations distributed across the school system. The work stations are equipped with computers, Braille printers, and other specialized equipment, and they are used by teachers to convert tests and lesson work sheets into Braille for blind students. Teachers also can take students' Braille-written reports or tests and translate them back into regular type. The work stations also can print out material in large print for students who are visually impaired.

According to Jim Carrick, a teacher consultant for the school system, these work stations are invaluable because of the time savings they allow. New software, for example, allows computers to translate Braille to regular print and back again quickly and accurately.

Technology has been especially useful in helping blind and visually impaired students participate in regular computer classes, Pritchard says. One device that helps blind students is a voicebox-and-software package that reads aloud the words displayed on a computer screen. Also useful is software that will display large print on the computer screen for visually impaired students.

"With this technology, the classroom teacher can teach the class, and the blind and visually impaired students can stay up with the other students," Pritchard says. All in all, this technology, which first was introduced to the schools in 1987, has helped the school system reach its educational goal, Pritchard says. "We've got our [blind and visually impaired] students integrated into regular classrooms."