As more districts more toward the use of Chromebooks for 1:1 device use, there are always questions about how these devices can provide the accessibility supports needed by our students with physical and/or learning disabilities. Since Chromebooks don’t allow for installation of software programs (the usual source of specialized reading/writing support), assistive tools must come from apps and extensions that can modify the user interface. These tools, many of which are free, are available from the Chrome Web Store and offer accommodations for visual needs, reading, writing, studying, note-taking, web navigation, etc. Be sure to check out user reviews and give a number of options a trial run before deciding which work best for the intended user.
Mo Buti and our session attendees have been sharing some amazing suggestions for teaching communication skills to non-verbal students who also have visual impairments. Here are a few of those ideas and resources!
TACTILE CONNECTIONS KIT: SYMBOLS FOR COMMUNICATION This kit helps teachers create a tactile card system that is individualized for visually impaired and blind learners who have additional disabilities and/or lack a formal means of communication or literacy. The tactile symbols are created when part of an object is mounted on a hand-sized card representing core vocabulary categories (e.g. people, places, actions, objects, etc.). This kit provides some of the essential components that assist in a system’s construction and application.
The PERKINS site offers some great resources for teaching communication to visually impaired students.
Tactile books are used to teach literacy, so why not pair them with separate cards containing the same key words, characters, etc. found in the books to reinforce language learning? Pinterest (everybody’s favorite collecting site) offers a wealth of ideas for CREATING TACTILE BOOKS that can be paired with tactile communication supports. Here is another link to MORE TACTILE BOOKS FOR LANGUAGE AND LITERACY.
Bookshare has always been one of my favorite resources for accessing digital content and I loved it even more after OSEP funding allowed them to offer the service for FREE to our students with disabilities. If you’re unfamiliar with the program, feel free to look over this tutorial from my session Bookshare: Providing Digital Books for Students with Special Needs. This is from an educational session I will be offering at the Partners in Education Conference sponsored by the TN Department of Education in Nashville next month. If you’ll visit their site and click on the ‘Getting Started’ tab, there are terrific links and resources there to answer most all of your questions, as well as a YouTube channel full of quick video tutorials. So, sign up and get those kids the materials they want in the format they need with Bookshare!
I love the free accessibility tools offered by EduApps! Although vision support options are included in the popular MyStudyBar tool, they have gone one step further and created a standalone application called MyVisBar for users with low vision.
MyVisBar can be downloaded to the computer (or a USB drive for added portability) for use with any PC or Android device. It offers excellent magnification with additional built-in supports for learners with visual difficulties. Features include options for changing text contrast (yellow on black), a visible ring to help track the cursor, a nice screen reader, high contrast text editing, color masking for text, and the ability to change the desktop resolution. Similar supports are available for student use within the online PARCC tests. These tools are quite helpful for students with low vision as well as those who need text accommodations to support independent reading.
Exploring some of the (200+) new features and functions available in Apple’s newest system upgrade has proven to be a lot like piecing together a puzzle and finding little surprises you did not expect to see in the big picture. While all of the user interface changes were designed to simplify tasks for the masses, many will prove to be especially helpful for users with disabilities.
My iOS7 Tip-Of-The-Day:
We no longer have to type in those ridiculously long redemption codes from the back of the iTunes gift cards! One of the new functions in iOS7 allows you to take a photo with the device’s camera (front or rear) to input this information. To redeem the gift card, just go to the iTunes store, make your purchase (app, book or music) and choose the option to “redeem the card with the camera”. Use the camera to take a picture of the back of the gift card and the code is automatically entered for you. This new feature will certainly be helpful for users with low vision or fine motor problems!
Apple offers these tips:
- If the room isn’t lit well enough, your gift card may not be readable.
- Completely peel off the coating that is hiding the gift code to improve readability.
- If you receive this message, you can type in your iTunes Gift Card code manually.
I am always excited when our trusted special education software manufacturers make a program available in app format. I am REALLY excited this week, as Don Johnston just released an app version of Co:Writer®!!
This is a word prediction tool that reduces the number of keystrokes required to type and that makes it a great tool for students with physical disabilities or just poor typing abilities. Since it provides support for spelling and grammar with writing tasks, it’s an amazing tool for our LD students who know what they want to say but can’t seem to think of the right word or struggle with spelling. As the first letters are typed, Co:Writer predicts the intended word and presents a selection of word choices. The program uses ‘inventive’ spelling to predict words, even if the student misspells the word or omits vowels.
Word suggestions can be read aloud with a swipe; selecting the intended word places it into the document. Built-in text to speech will read letters, words, sentences, and the entire document using the Heather voice. Control settings allow for adjustingt the font, text size and color contrast for improved readability.
Co:Writer has access to a main prediction dictionary (that includes core words) and an endless range of Topic Dictionaries (that includes topic specific words). Available today on iTunes, it will be the best $17.99 you’ve spent in a while!
I already have it and absolutely LOVE it.
There are a number of handy apps out there for those with low vision. Clarix, a leading provider of magnification systems, has created three new apps and all are free (always the best part!) Visit their website http://www.clarixusa.com/index.php/products/apps or the iTunes store for more information. Just remember that iDevices have small megapixel capabilities so the magnification resolution will never quite as sharp as we’d like, but the apps are great.
iCam is a low vision magnifier and reader for your iPhone or iPad. It features 5 high-contrast false color modes, as well as black and white, and color. iCam can magnify printed text and includes an optional light feature for use in dimly lit rooms. iCam uses OCR technology to convert printed text to speech, as well. It takes a picture and then converts it to spoken text. It uses state of the art OCR technology. Features include: variable magnification levels, contrast enhancement, pinch zoom magnification, 4 inverse color choices, full-color and black/white mode options.
Voice IT will read your text messages, incoming calls, voice mail alerts, eMail, etc. Advanced settings allow you to choose a ringtone alert and repeat what is being read. For privacy, a discreet mode is available when using headphones.
Need to find something on your phone and quickly launch it? No need to fumble to find a website, contact, song, or app. Use Find IT. Start typing and Find IT will show you what you commonly used. Find anything on your phone quickly and easily. It remembers your favorite items and search history. Featuring large type.
LARGE Timer is a simple countdown timer for those with low vision. It has a very simple interface and a large display. Use it for any timed event or as an alarm.
I am often asked to recommend screen magnifiers for students with low vision who are struggling with computer use. There are several amazing, multi-function programs available for purchase with a wide range of features, but they can cost between $199 – $500 per installation. This becomes a pricey option, especially since we may not know exactly what each student needs and they may need the support on multiple systems across classrooms (or buildings). With that in mind, I always recommend starting with one of the freebie or low cost options available online.
Mac systems have a nice set of assistive technology supports built in, including cursor enlargement, color inversion, voice dictation and the Zoom magnifier. Many of you may be familiar with these features, as they are also on the iPad. http://www.apple.com/accessibility/osx/#vision
Windows systems are also equipped with similiar supports, including text-to-speech, voice dictation and a screen magnifier: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/make-items-on-the-screen-appear-bigger-magnifier
Here’s a link to a wonderful article by the American Federation for the Blind, comparing some of the most popular freeware and shareware (low cost) screen magnification programs. You might want to look at these as possible options for any of your low-vision students using a range of computers in different settings. These are just some of the freebie and cheaper choices as reviewed by AFB. http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw140403
The freeware options are just that: free. But they may not have a wide range of features, offer low screen resolution or lack tech support. The shareware options allow you to take a free trial download, then buy if you like them. All listed here are under $29 and the authors make several specific recommendations based upon their trials.
The article suggests creating a separate user account on the computer so the files are downloaded there and then activated by the student user when they log in. We have always used this approach so the system reverts to standard settings once the user has logged off.
If you have a contained classroom or lab, you may want to put one of these on a single system so those students with low vision have immediate access to an adapted computer. These are inexpensive options for students to use at home, as well.
Do you know students who have difficulty reading because they are visually impaired, physically unable to hold a book or turn pages, or have visual tracking problems? Bookshare is a great resource for students that are not able to read or turn pages in a standard book to still receive the material in a format that is simple and easy to use! They can have words highlighted as they read, change fonts, letter size, background colors and text colors, have the book read to them, and even put a digital copy on an iPod or iPad for on the go reading! To learn more about Bookshare and how to join, check out their website: Bookshare.org We will be adding more information about Bookshare and its amazing features soon!