Visually Impaired Learning

Assistive Tech in the Classroom for the Visually Impaired

What is assistive technology and how can it help the visually impaired in the classroom?

Assistive technology is software or a device that helps students with disabilities in the classroom. In the classroom technology like this is being used to help blind students hear text so that they can read their favorite books, help students work through and solve math problems and work on maker projects. Thanks to advancements in technology, visually impaired students can now do many of the same things that their visually abled peers can do in the classroom.

How can technology help to foster "authentic learning" for the visually impaired?

Authentic learning happens when students take education seriously enough that they genuinely learn the information and don't just memorize it for a test.

One way to foster this type of learning is to base curriculum on the three pillars of the Universal Design for Learning. UDL is an important movement in education that focuses on diversifying the ways in which students approach gaining knowledge in the classroom as opposed to using a “one size fits all” style of curriculum. The three guiding principles of UDL are providing various means of presentation, expression and engagement in order to optimize a student’s schooling. Using these three principals can be key to growing creativity in the classroom. By utilizing ideas like fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration students become more engaged in what they are learning and are much more likely to retain it and be able to use it in the real world. This is because students are challenged to use their critical thinking and problem solving skills.

The benefits of using these tactics to give students a chance to learn authentically are universal, meaning they are important to all students regardless of their abilities. Visually impaired students are no different. However, it can be much more difficult to assign projects to visually impaired students that stimulate a high amount of creativity. Sometimes, technology like 3D printers or TTS synthesizers are necessary to help visually impaired students get the most out of their education. When blind students are able to use new technology to engage in activities like maker education when they get to create something on their own, they are following the UDL guide to education. This helps to nurture authentic learning.

What are some examples of assistive technology that is being used to help visually impaired students?

TTS (Text-to-Speech) synthesizers - Provides audio that reads text aloud so that students can who cannot see can hear content from books

Virtual Pencil - Software for visually impaired students that allows them to work through math problems by telling them where they are in the problem and providing assistance when they need it to solve the problem

3D Printers - Allow visually impaired students to learned through tactile means by touching and feeling things that can be created by using the printer. Examples might be different types of animals and how they are shaped or maps. They can also be used in maker education when students want to create something themselves

BrailleNote Apex - a "mobile information management system" that allows students to take notes, use a calculator, access the internet and much more

Braile Keyboards - allow students to take notes by using keys indicated by Braille letters

Why is using technology to help visually impaired students learn so important?

Educating our people, regardless of their abilities, is extremely important to our society. Having members of society that can make meaningful contributions is the only way to make the world a better place. By getting blind students in the classroom and teaching them, they become contributors to our world. The next great invention or piece of art may be created by the hands of someone with a visual impairment, and it may not have been possible without the education that they received. Sometimes using tools like the ones described above are absolutely necessary in educating the visually impaired. These advances in technology help to bridge the gap that exists in the education of visually impaired students and students that can see.

Resources to learn more about education for the visually impaired