Facilitating Learning and Employment with Technology

Technology today allows low vision and blind adults to be more employable. I do not claim to know every single adaptive device that is available, but my child has used many of them. The key is to have a lot of tools in their toolbox. The more they know, the better.

In MY personal opinion, I believe Apple products are the most accessible to the visually impaired community. Apple has an option to turn voice over on their devices including iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple Watch. Voice over is found on the settings application of the device. It is quite comical to be around a group of visually impaired individuals when they are all swiping with voice over commands on their Apple devices. I think they have a competition as to who has the voice set at the fastest speed, and quite frankly, it drives me nuts! There are 2 finger swipes, 3 finger swipes, and so on. When you swipe the screen until you hear what application you want to open, you can double tap anywhere on the screen. There is also an option for braille screen input. You access it this way: General, Accessibility, Voice Over, Rotor, Braille Screen Input. When you go to type something, such as a text, you do a 2 finger twist to activate braille screen input. Now you can type with your braille fingers right on your touch screen! I have been fascinated watching my daughter learn all these things on her own and learning it from other blind users through the years.

American Printing House for the Blind (APH) has many adaptive devices for blind and low vision users. They are very costly! There is a new Braille Trail Reader LE. It has 14 braille cells and can be paired to use with an iPad with voice over on. It is currently $995. What parents don’t know is that most items ordered from APH are FREE! If your child has a Teacher Consultant for the Visually Impaired (TCVI), they have the authorization to order these expensive items from the APH catalog with federal quota funds. I recommend that every parent go to www.aph.org and order a catalog for home. Whatever you feel your child could benefit from, tell his or her TCVI that you would like those items ordered. APH sells many other useful items such as magnifiers, color identifiers, slate and stylus, clothing labels, and much more for all ages.

If you haven’t heard of Humanware, you will want to get familiar with their website: www.humanware.com. They sell very expensive but beneficial devices for our kids. Unfortunately, these devices are not covered by federal quota funds. My daughter uses the BrailleNote Touch. It is approximately $6,000! It is absolutely amazing! It is the size of an iPad and has braille keys with a braille display. There is also a touch screen that you can use with your brailling fingers. You need to stipulate in your child’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that the TCVI uses their service time to teach your child how to use this device. My daughter organizes all her classes and homework on this device. Her special education director purchased this for her to use in school. It is school owned, of course! Your school district HAS to provide assistive technology for your child to help them be a success in school. Here is your crutch …If they can provide computers, iPads, MacBooks, etc. to sighted kids, they HAVE to provide a device that is accessible for your blind or low vision child. If your request is initially rejected at the IEP meeting when this is mentioned, all you have to do is say the acronym “FAPE” (Free and Appropriate Public Education). I have had to use this a few times! As I have said in a previous article, learn your special education acronyms in your provided special education parent handbook! Knowledge is powerful! If you have done your homework as a parent and know what you are asking for or are talking about, you are more likely to get what your child needs in school. Also, a powerful piece of advice is to not rely on your child’s paraprofessional to do all the advocating. They won’t get as far as parents will advocating for their own child.

JAWS is talking software to use on a laptop. As I have said before, your child needs to have a lot of tools in their toolbox. JAWS, however, is very costly! My daughter has many older blind mentors. She was recently told that it is very beneficial to learn Non-Visual Desktop Access (NVDA). It is similar to JAWS, but it is free! Why NVDA vs. JAWS? An employer would more likely consider them if they don’t have to purchase $1,000 software to do their job.

Lastly, and this is not related to technology, I have heard a lot of parents complaining about their kids not getting to pick electives in school because of service time with their TCVI and Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist. There is a way around this! My daughter takes choir. I never allow that hour to be touched. Our kids work harder than the average student in school. They deserve a fun elective. Her other elective is guided studies or academic support to catch up or get a head start on homework. If your child is in middle or high school, typically the day ends sooner than elementary hours. The service providers in our area work until 3:45 or 4:00 p.m. You have the right to request an after school lesson. We have one after school lesson with each provider and another lesson with each provider during the guided studies hour. This way she does not miss any academic instruction, like English, Language Arts, or Math, and she gets to have at least one fun elective! You have the right to request this as the parent.

Written by Karen Hoogland