Emerging Technologies for Visual Impaired Learners

The purpose of this blog is to inform adult educators and interested readers of existing and emerging technologies designed to assist adult learners who are visually impaired. These technologies will enhance the lives of the learner as they achieve their educational and information literacy goals

Visual Impairment Overview

Visual impairment and low vision are terms to describe vision loss that cannot be corrected to a normal level with prescription glasses, contact lenses, or medicine.  For example, anyone who has an acuity of 20/70 (low vision) or 20/200 or less (legally blind) are visually impaired. To be blind is the inability to see.

There are many causes for visual impairment. For example: hereditary, eye injuries, and underlining diseases. It is estimated that 10 million Americans are blind or have low vision and one million adults over the age of 40 are blind and 2.4 million are visually impaired) (Mandal, n.d.)  Mandal (n.d.), also noted that 46% of the working adults have visual impairments and 32% of legally blind adults are still employed. According to the American Disability Act (ADA) employers with 15 or more employees are required to make reasonable accommodations for their employees with disabilities.

There are products and technology on the market that will assist those who are visually impaired to go to school and work. I will share what these products and technologies can do to enhance the lives of adult learners.

Technology #1 Magnification

There are monitors, large print keyboards, books, and software, 20/20/pens/markers just to name a few of the technologies that assist the visual impaired with vision enhancement.

Technology #2 Speech Access

There is speech software that assists the visual impaired or blind learner. This software will read a textbook or eBook to the student.

I chose these technologies because I once had 20/20 vision with corrected lenses and one day I woke up and my vision had changed. I did not know whether I would be able to continue to work. But I was blessed to find visual solutions that allowed me to continue to work and earn 3 degrees. Many adults have trouble seeing. Some are major impairments and some impairment will affect the adult learner at a slower rate. In any event, they adult educator can assist the learner in achieving their educational goals.

Technology #1 Magnification (Part I)

There are a variety of conditions that cause one to be visually impaired or have low vision. Based on the condition and the severity will determine the power of magnification, type of magnifying tools, and lighting that is necessary to make objects or print appear larger. The basic magnifying glass is just the beginning in the field of magnification.

Handheld Magnifiers

If there is a low vision store in your area, it is a good idea to visit the store. You will be amazed at the powers and types of magnifying glasses there are. Most people use the handheld types to view short notes, prescription bottles, menus, ingredients, and price tags when you see 2X, 3X, etc. on the magnifier, this indicates the power of the lens. For example 2X means that whatever you are viewing is magnified 2 times the original size. As power increases, lens diameter and field of view decrease. Some magnifying glasses come with a light.

Stand Magnifiers

Stand magnifiers aid those who want or need hands free tool. Adult learners will find this type helpful for writing, reading books, or newspaper. They can use this tool at home, in the classroom, or library.

Spectacle Magnifiers

Spectacle magnifiers are designed for near viewing distances. They allow the hands to be free. Adult learners will be able to read books, magazines, and letters. New technology has made the lenses to be thin and look like a regular pair of glasses.

Telescopic

Telescopes can be used to view objects that are near, far away and anywhere in between. Adult learners will find this magnification very helpful when reading street and building signs as well as working on the computer. They can be monocular for one eye or binocular for both eyes.

Video Magnifiers

Video magnifiers are electronic magnification devices that are available in desk-top and hand-held designs. The adult learner can change the image of the object being viewed. Text color (black letters on yellow background, for example), brightness, and contrast can easily be adjusted to make the object or text easier to see. There are portable models available allowing the adult learner to bring to the classroom or lab. Magnification power ranges from 1.5 X to 50X. This is fantastic!

Technology #1 Magnification (Part II)

As we can see, that there is magnification technology that many may never know about until they or a loved one is faced with a visual impairment. Low vision can be just as frightening as having no sight. It is an adjustment. I just described some manual aids but what about this new era of software that can be installed in our computers? I am glad, you asked. Let me introduce you to a magnification software program that has enhanced my life and others globally.

This program can enhance adult learners who are visually impaired or just want to reduce the strain of reading small font. This program has allowed many to also remain employed and stay connected in this age of social media, social networking, and mobile learning. I started with the 8.0 and currently have the 9.1 version. The current version is 10.1. I have used the CD to download on my desktop and laptop computers.  They do have Windows and Mac versions. To contact ZoomText go to: http://www.aisquared.com/products/zoomtext/

ZoomText

Ai Squared has been the world’s leader in screen magnification and screen reading software for 20 years (Ai Squared, 2016).  I was first introduced to this software in 2004 when I stared experiencing visual impairment issues. It literally allowed me to remain employed for 10 years and earn 3 degrees. I still use this program for all of my computer work. ZoomText has three versions:

ZoomText Magnifier

The current version is ZoomText 10.1. It magnifies up to 36X on your computer screen. The adult learner will be able to set the power of magnification needed and start reading.

ZoomText Magnifier and Reader

This version not only has magnification but also has a screen reader. This allows the material on the screen to be read aloud and the user will be able to hear through their computer speakers. The user can also set the number of words that they want read per minute. The nice thing is that in most cases can use the reader for Adobe Reader PDF documents. The only problem that I have experienced with the reader is that I have not been able to get Zoom Text to read encrypted documents. For example Harvard Business Reviews.  If there is a way around it, I have not figured it out yet. Also, when I want something read aloud from the internet, I have to copy the document and paste in a Word doc.

As a side bar, most colleges and universities do work with those who have disabilities. What I have found is that for those with a visual impairment, the school does have an eBook version of the course textbook. You may have to purchase the textbook, and then show a receipt that will allow the school to issue the eBook version in PDF.

ZoomText Fusion

This version allows for magnification and reader plus full screen reading. This version is for those who want to transition from magnification to full screen reading. I have not used this version before. However, I have been pleased with their other products.

Video Games and Learning

The gaming industry is not only popular amongst children but adults love to play video games as well. How do the visually impaired children and adults participate in the fun and excitement? Fortunately, there are organizations and companies that have devoted their resources in this area for those who are visually impaired.

Additionally, because many video games have great audio effects, many who are visual impaired have learned to play and master mainstream video games. For example, “blind gamer Brice Mellen from Lincoln, Nebraska, who beat Ed Boon (developer of Mortal Kombat) in a game of Mortal Kombat” (Game Accessibility, 2016). Some gamers make regular video games more accessible to them by using “Accessible Quake – an accessible modification (or “MOD”) for Quake 1, developed by Matthew Atkinson & Sabahattin Gucukoglu of AGRIP” (Game Accessibility, 2016).

Games (board and video) are not just for fun and competition. Video games will help the adult learner solve problems. Video games are well designed problem solving spaces that gives feedback, monitor, and gives assessments of progress within that community while the player uses  their minds, bodies and smart tools (Squire, 2011, p. ix).

To find games for the visually impaired, just do a Google search for “video games for the blind and visually impaired.

Technology #2 Speech Access (Part 1)

“Screen readers are software programs that allow blind or visually impaired users to read the text that is displayed on the computer screen with a speech synthesizer or Braille display” (AFB, 2016).  For the blind that cannot see anything, they must rely on their sense of hearing but can use a Braille display to communicate with the program. For the low vision adult learner a screen reader can be very helpful when they have pain, strain, or tired eyes. As a side bar, those with physical disabilities and disabilities such as dyslexia can also benefit from screen reading technology. Screen readers allow the user ultimate control. The screen reader can read a letter, word, sentence, paragraph, or whatever is displayed on the entire page depending on the commands that the user communicates to the program’s synthesizer.

JAWS (Available for Windows)

There are quite a few screen readers on the market. However, the most popular is called JAWS (Job Access with Speech). JAWS have been around for 20 years. JAWS works with Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Firefox, and more.  JAWS supports Windows® 8.1 and Windows 10, including touch screens and gestures (Freedom Scientific, 2016).

VoiceOver OSX (Built-in for MAC)

For Mac user, there is a built in VoiceOver OSX. VoiceOver. “VoiceOver gives you complete control of your Mac, with no need to see the screen” (Apple, 2016). The voice of Mac is Alex. VoiceOver is controlled by using the same gestures for iOS (Apple, 2016).

Open and Distance Education

For the adult blind or visual impaired learner, screen readers are a very valuable asset. Just think of how tired the eyes become of those who have normal vision. Eyes of those with low vision can tire easier from reading textbooks and other printed material. Many who attend open or online courses now can get their textbooks in an eBook format which is beneficial for those who use screen readers. Additionally, many of the articles and journals are also available in an Adobe PDF format.  I am still researching to see if screen readers can read articles that are encrypted.  I would think that there should be an un-encrypted version of the resources for those who are blind or visually impaired.

Technology #2 Speech Access (Part 2)

The use of Smartphone and tablets have become useful and in many   a necessity for many in the 21st Century. These mobile devices are just one of a student’s few school supplies that they pack in their book bags. Without special software and Apps, the blind and visually impaired students would be severely challenged. Fortunately there are developers have that have understood the needs of the blind and introduced features that render smartphones and tablets of great use to them (Cassidy, 2014).  There are built in assistive technology and Apps that can be installed in their devices that become screen readers. There are fees for some of the Apps but there are also some free ones out there. Adult educators can make good use of the following 5 tools to assist their learners explained by Richard Cassidy (Cassidy, 2014). To view article go to: http://www.emergingedtech.com/2014/09/excellent-tools-help-visually-impaired-students-mobile-technology/

VoiceOver (in OS X & iOS)

We covered this earlier in this blog. This feature is on the iPhones, iPads, and Mac. (Apple devices)

BrailleTouch (iOS)

This “revolutionary” app allows the visually impaired to type on their iPhone or iPod Touch’s

touchscreen using Braille, with some reporting a typing speed of 30 words per minute or more.

List Recorder (iOS)

This app primarily creates general lists but can be used for learning purposes. Use its features tohelp your students organize any kind of information they want. Regardless of the discipline being taught, all information can be broken down into lists to aid mnemonic memorizing.

Audible (iOS, Android)

Podcasts are a great way to learn new material, but for those who prefer full-length books, Audible can be carried on their mobile devices to listen to the books whenever and wherever.

Audio Exam Player (iOS)

Help your visually impaired students avoid any embarrassment caused by having to be read exam questions out loud to them.

I came across a very interesting piece on YouTube. This  training was sponsored by the Utah Assistive Technology Program of Utah State University, and presented by Everette Bacon and Jerry Nealey of Utah Division of Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired” (Utah Assistive Technology. 2014). They featured Apps for the iPhone. They featured the KNFD Reader app, Tap Tap C App, 2 Apps that that reads currency (U.S. and Foreign) and more. This is a must see!

YouTube is an excellent resource to get an idea of tools for the blind and visually impaired. They have the visual and audio. It is amazing what those who are blind and visually impaired have learned to accomplish with the emerging technologies tools that are on the market. For the blind and visually impaired adult learners, the future looks bright.

The Future of Educational Technologies

The future of educational technology for everyone who uses the internet is constantly changing. As these technologies change those organizations and individuals with innovative abilities and passion for those who are blind or visually impaired will change as well. All of the tools that the visually impaired now have will be redesigned. Software will be upgraded to keep up with the systems that Windows, Mac, and other operating systems that come and go on the market.

What is really amazing is how interested are those with low vision are to continue to learn the new innovative technologies as they come out. They are not allowing their visual challenges to thwart their goals from being obtained.Educators have the responsibility to welcome and embrace these new technologies with their visually impaired learners and have patience with them. A thought to remember is that “everyone is blind” in some way or the other (Omvig, 2005. P. 76).  It is all about attitude and how one views their blindness. For the blind and visually impaired, they want technology like the rest of society. God Bless!

References

AFB. (2016). American Foundation for the Blind. Screen Readers. Retrieved from

https://www.afb.org/ProdBrowseCatResults.asp?CatID=49

Ai Squared. (2016). ZoomText. Retrieved from

ZoomText

Apple. (2016). Accessibility. VoiceOver for OSX. A Feature that Speaks for Itself. Retrieved from http://www.apple.com/accessibility/osx/voiceover/

Cassidy, R. (2014). 5 Excellent Tools to Assist Visually Impaired Students. Retrieved fromhttp://www.emergingedtech.com/2014/09/excellent-tools-help-visually-impaired-students-mobile-technologyPublished on Dec 18, 2014

Eshenbach Optik. (2015). Types of Magnification. Retrieved  fromhttp://www.eschenbach.com/consumers-low-vision-devices-for-the-visually-impaired-types-of-magnification-devices.htm

FindLaw. (n.d). The American Disability Act-Overview. Retrieved from http://civilrights.findlaw.com/discrimination/the-americans-with-disabilities-act-overview.html

Freedom Scientific. (2016).  Blindness Solution: JAWS. Retrieved from

http://www.freedomscientific.com/Products/Blindness/JAWS

Game Accessibility. (2016). No Pictures Please! Visually Impaired Gamers: Where to go & What to Play! Retrieved from http://game-accessibility.com/documentation/visually-impaired-gamers-where-to-go-what-to-play/

Mandal, A. (n.d.). News-Medical. What is Visual Impairment? Retrieved fromhttp://www.news-medical.net/health/What-is-visual-impairment.asp

Omvig, J.  H. (2005). The blindnessrevoluntion: Jernigan in his own words (Hc).

Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

Perkins. (2016). Assistive Technology. Retrieved from

http://www.perkinsproducts.org/store/en/

Squire, K. (2011). Video games and learning: Teaching and participatory culture in the digital age. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Utah Assistive Technology Program. (2014). iPhone apps for the blind and visually impaired. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMlUGYCzC9w

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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One thought on “Emerging Technologies for Visual Impaired Learners

  1. Thank you for all the information. This is certainly knowledge adult educators should know and understand about visually impaired students. I will retain the information for future use. Elsie

    Like

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