For the first time in my memory, we will have a blind student in our school this year. A friend of mine, who will be the young man's teacher, was told that she must provide all handouts in braille. So what's the problem? In order for documents to be translated, they must be submitted to the district six weeks in advance!

I have been trying to brainstorm easier ways to communicate effectively with the student and with parents. I suggested to my friend that perhaps she learn more about podcasting and consider using them as an assignment communication option. Surely there must be more options out there. Here are some of my questions.

1. If you have ever used podcasts as a means to communicate assignments to blind students and their parents, could you please share your experiences?

2. What other technological tools are there out there to make this kind of scenario easier for teachers, students and parents?

Thanks!

Tags: blind, educational, for, specialneeds, technology, the

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Only six weeks? That's pretty good turnaround. Wait'll you find out how long ago you should have ordered braille textbooks. :)

You haven't said what grade level so advice is subject to additional information ...

Podcasting is not a viable technology as an "add on" to the day. I've got some small experience with the process and figure a couple hours work for hour of quality audio. Remember that the value of audio is as performance technology, not informative.

Check with the family to make sure the student has the appropriate Text-to-Speech software - typically JAWs or WindowEyes - and email all handouts to the student. This is far and away the fastest and most economical mechanism.
This is for a seventh grade student, and I have no idea whether or not my friend or the rest of the teachers, for that matter, has ordered books. I'll have to ask her. While I don't have this student this year, there is a chance that he will be mine next year; so I would like to understand the logistics of teaching a blind student as well as help my friend.

Thanks for the feedback on podcasting. I guess a phone call or an email would be easier. I also hadn't thought much of the difference between performance technology versus informative technology. The idea of using podcasting came to me as just another way to perhaps pass assignments on to all students -- you know, tap into the strengths of auditory learners as well. To me, that's an informative approach . . . i guess.

My understanding is that the student does have text-to-speech software. I think it's something I'd like to check out myself.
I have a series of podcasts that I've produced and probably more on the way -- in total I think it's about 25hrs of finished audio.

The idea of using a podcast to inform is well and good, but a podcast consisting of "Hi, this Ms Whatsit with the assignment for Someday, Auguary the Juneth is: ... " doesn't cut it. Having an audio recording of the class as it happens is likewise, probably useless because SOOO much of what happens in the classroom is based on being able to see it ("Now, class, look at this! What do you think the position of that blue thing means?" -- ok exaggerating but not by much). A podcast, to be useful, would have to be a package over and above what happened in class, and would require a substantial amount of extra work on the part of the teacher.

To check out what "screen reader" software is/does see http://www.freedomscientific.com/fs_products/software_jaws.asp

The main competitor in the US is WindowEYES
http://www.gwmicro.com/

And an up-and-comer is Dolphin:
http://www.yourdolphin.com/

Hope this helps. Working with blind students is both easier and more difficult than anything I've ever done. Hollar if you need anything else ..
Thank you Niowell! I appreciate the links. I think my main task will be to figure out what kind of technology the student has at home and work from there.

I may be contacting you as the school year gets going.
Wow! How exciting! I love a challenge.
( BTW - I'm a special education teacher, but I'm also a ski instructor for people who are blind/visually impaired)

1st things first, how blind is your student? You should try to connect with the student/family this summer b/c there are different degrees of sightedness/blindness and you need to ask the student what he/she can see, if anything. You also need to find out if the student has always had a visual impairment or if the student recently lost their ability to see. Ask the student what technology tools he/she enjoys using @ home, if any, and get a feel for the type of learner the student is, auditory/kinesthetic. You will have a better chance at adapting the curriculum for this specific student if you get to know him/her a little better. You really don't know how independent this student is until you actually connect with him/her and ask. He/she may have a computer at home with all the tools he/she needs to be successful. Connect with them, so you don't have to reinvent the wheel at school.

Modification Suggestions:
1. The teacher can record lessons and create podcast(s)/recordings for the student to take home and review (You must, however, make the technology available for the student to take home and return to school. I.e. mp3 or Ipod device) or make the recordings available for all students as downloads from the teacher's website.
2. Screen reader software or even the disability settings via Windows to enlarge the print.
3. A student buddy/aide to assist the student by reading aloud.
4. Books on tape/audio downloads of books for reading assignments.
5. Speech to text typing software for writing assignments.

HTH
Christine,

These are great suggestions. The student is 100% visually impaired. Last year, he would come to the school with a parent or aide once a week for an hour so that he could get a feel for the layout of the building. As it stands now, the child qualifies to receive a full-time aide to assist him in all matters at school. His parents, however, are chosing to decline the service in lieu of the classroom buddies idea.

My friend has not utilized her district-supplied website, and I am going to show her how to put it together to display assignments, upload worksheets, etc. When I see her early next week, I will ask about the software the student has at home. She left me with the impression that they do have some good technology at home. I think that verifying this and determining exactly what the home software can do will be the key piece in this matter...

I am such a dork, because books on tape hadn't crossed my mind yet. It's pretty obvious now, but I wonder about braille literacy and if indeed he needs to practice that just as every seeing child needs to practice independent reading of text.

What is your experience with using podcasts? Do you find that they are time-consuming to put together?
In this case, I would purchase an MP3 recorder (about $85) and, if the teacher is comfortable, record the lessons that occur during the day. I bought an Olympus WS-300 M and it has a USB attachment for immediate upload to a computer. Save the file and upload it to the website. This type of podcast is not fancy, I wouldn't edit it at all, b/c it is very time consuming to do this on a daily basis. *BTW - this particular recorder has 68 hours of recording power.

On my class website, I have passworded individual websites to provide for differentiated instruction for all of the students in my class. I post reminders, strategies and links for success. I planned to use the mp3 recorder to provide audio lessons to my students with hearing impairments and processing issues on their individual sites to listened to the audio at their own volume & pace. Unless other students would benefit from accessing the podcasts from the teacher's web site homepage, this passworded site may be an option for your particular student. His mom/dad could help him to access the podcasts from home and he can listen on the computer or download the lessons to an mp3 player or IPOD.

*Again, this all depends on how comfortable the teacher and the student are with this modification.
Seems to me you might also look at the opportunity for the other students to contribute by voice recording the materials that are needed. Because the technology is now so accessible for podcasting/recording, having the other students help in this way could be a great lesson in technology, as well as a great life lesson.
An excellent idea! I was so caught up in the technical side that I neglected to consider the social-affective side of this situation!

Your suggestion reminds me of a former student of mine, Annie, who had CP and needed a full-time aide. Annie was a vibrant young lady whose physical limitations were pretty severe, but she carried a triumphant spirit that attracted many friends who were always eager to help her whenever she needed it. Indeed it was a great life lesson. Perhaps we can facilitate a helping community for this young man as well.
This has been a great discussion. It looks like there's lots of great resources that have been mentioned and I'd like to send you to two more.

First, the Blind Access Journal

http://www.blindaccessjournal.com/

This is my main reference as a web-designer when I consider end users with limited vision.

Second, the Opera web browser

http://www.opera.com/

It will read everything on the screen and can be completely controlled by voice

http://www.opera.com/products/desktop/access/visual/

Please share out your experiences working with this student. I'd love to hear how it goes.
Check out The American Federation of the Blind. They are at the forefront of technology for use by people who have visual impairments (VI). If you are located near to Baltimore, MD you can visit in person and explore the various options. Also, no matter where you are located, your state dept of ed should have a list of teachers who provide support for students with VI. Your student should be assessed for his/her abilities and needs by a certified VI teacher. Your district and state should provide technology needed for use by this student under current law covering students with disabilities.
Sallie -- These are good things to know. We don't have a certified VI teacher in the building; although, I am sure that he is on a licensed VI teacher's case load. Thanks!

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