[tabi] Fwd: Article: Braille in the time of iPads

  • From: Lighthouse of the Big Bend <lighthousebigbend@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: tabi <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>, fcb-l <fcb-l@xxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 27 Mar 2012 10:22:28 -0400

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Braille in the time of iPads

By Jenn Smith, Berkshire Eagle Staff,berkshireeagle.com

Friday March 23, 2012

Reading, writing and even arithmetic has been revolutionized with the
advancement of technology, especially for people who are blind or have a
visual impairment. No longer is their learning sustained by the Braille
system of reading and writing alone.

Pittsfield teacher Lynn Shor tis has worked with students with a range of
impaired eyesight for the past 24 years.

"Assistive technology has allowed much greater access to students with
visual impairments in terms of Internet use, everyday classwork, homework,
etc.," she said.

Examples include talking lap tops, text and picture en hancing cameras and
Braille transcription software and printers.

But whether to use Braille, technology or both in teaching and learning
depends on the individual student's needs.

"Being blind is like being tall; it depends on perspective. There are
different kinds of people with blindness, from deaf-blind to blind and
non-verbal," said Marilyn Rea Beyer.

She is the director of public relations for the Perkins School for the Blind
in Water town, which currently serves 206 students, from age 3 to 22, from
throughout the Northeast.

According to the National Federation of the Blind, it is estimated that
about 1.3 million people in the United States are considered legally blind,
referring to a central visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye
with the best possible correction, or a visual field of 20 degrees or less.

But it is estimated that as many as 10 million Americans have blindness or
are visually impaired; 5.5 million are senior-citizen age.

Statistically, 75,000 more people in the U.S. will become blind or visually
impaired each year.

Even people who are legally blind may have some range of vision, and some
can see words on a page through enlarged or magnified text.

"But if you're blind, and you don't have a way to read or write things down,
it can put you at a tremendous disadvantage to your peers," said Robert
Hair, education director of the preschool and lower school at Perkins.

Which is why he recommends that people without vision who are able to should
learn Braille.

Braille is a writing system that contains letters, numbers and punctuation
marks, which allows people to read and write through touch.

Invented by a young French man named Louis Braille during the 1800s, the
system consists of patterns of raised dots arranged in cells of up to six
dots in a 3 x 2 configuration.

There is also a special type of Braille known as Nemeth Code which was
developed in 1946 by Abraham Nemeth to help students interpret notations in
math and science.

"Braille equals print," said Hair. "The idea is, even with people who can
see, we can listen to an audio book, but that can never replace reading for
us," he said.

Advocates of Braille liken the system to putting a pencil to words, allowing
students to reinforce their writing, spel ling and reading skills and
boosting their literacy rate.

According to various re ports, about 70 percent of people who are blind in
the U.S. and employed are regular Braille users. But between 50 and 70
percent of people who are blind are unemployed.

Technology has also ad vanced the use of Braille and touch, through
computers. For example, a Talking Tactile Tab let uses special surfaces that
produce 3-D overlays that are sensitive to touch, and they also provide
audio feedback when pressed. The process is instant.

But some students who are blind may also have other disabilities, including
cognitive and developmental disorders, which means they are unable to use
Braille or talkback systems. Therefore, other kinds of assistive or adaptive
technology can be used to stimulate and help students by addressing their
other senses.


Find tools ...

Organizations like the American Foundation for the Blind now offer resources
to help people find a range of equipment, from cellphones, computers and
home appliances designed for people with visual impairments.

"The key to vision loss and how it affects you is understanding that it
affects you in every way," said Dorinda Rife, superintendent of education
programs at Perkins School.

She said the school offers programs and works with other schools to teach
teachers how to help their students by offering multi-sensory experiences.
The school also works with employers to help them see that people with
vision loss are still capable workers.

"Our goal is to help kids understand what communication means outside the
information you get from the eyes," said Rife.

Examples of technology for people who are blind or visually impaired:

JAWS (Job Access With Speech) screen reading software reads text from
Windows programs and the Internet to users and also provides Braille

Apple iDevices offer apps ranging from talking maps and GPS to color reading
and money reading apps that can be used with an iPhone camera.

Duxbury Systems for Braille transcription.

Romeo Attaché, a portable Braille embosser.

Acrobat CCTVs (closed circuit televisions) which allow users to access print
materials as well as information at a distance through video magnification.

Victor Reader Stream allows users to download books from websites or CDs
into one device that provides audio feedback.

-- Jenn Smith

Lighthouse of the Big Bend
Guiding People Through Vision Loss
3071 Highland Oaks Terrace
Tallahassee, FL 32301
(850) 942-3658
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