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Lesson 2 Adaptive technology for people with blindness and visually impairments

This lesson is divided into the following parts:

Part 1 : Using screen Readers

Part 2: Braille embossers and translation software

Part 3: Screen Magnification software

Part 4: Hand-held Magnifiers and Closed Circuit Television Systems

Part 5: Scanning Technology

Part 6:; Lesson take-aways

This material is copyrighted by Norman Coombs in 2017. We encourage your sharing useful individual pieces of information to help people. However, we request that you do not share the entire workshop without specific written permission.

Using screen readers

Start by finding the sc reen reader built into your computer's operating system. In Windows it is in the control panel under 'ease of access' and called Narrator. First learn how to turn it on or off. Then find a web page on the Internet and start Narrator. On the Mac do the same with VoiceOver.

The first thing anyone needs to know is how to navigate around the page on your monitor. We'll assume you are blind or nearly so. Use the up and down arrows to move up and down the page. With each new line, the screen reader reads that entire line. So far so good. Next when you are on a line use the right arrow to move from left to right across a line of text and use the left arrow to reverse. Note it is reading a letter at a time. Next. use the right and left arrow the same way but hold down the control key and you will hear words instead of letters. Now you have started to use a screen reader. If there are hypertext links on the page pointing to another location. Use your tab key and watch as the focus jumps from link to link. Use the enter to active that link. Then use the alt and tab key together and you'll move in reverse. Lastly, use the page-up and page-down keys to move on the screen but by larger increments. These are the most basic navigation actions. If you are blind or nearly so, you could not use the mouse as you have to see where to move the focus for navigation but we pretend that you can't see that.

Now comes reality. Repeat what you just did, but with your eyes closed. Instead of seeing what is happening, you have to navigate by using the keyboard while you have to listen to what is happening.

The next task is to navigate your computer desktop. Use the arrows to move up and down rows and the right and left arrows to move right or left across the columns. The next exercise is to go to some web page especially one with several links on it You can move around with the arrows. Then if you use the tab key, you will jump from one link to another and tab shift will jump you backwards. Press enter on a page and you will go to another web page. Depending on page set-up after you took a link to another page, using the back space will put you back. Sometimes it does nothing. If you have a Word file somewhere, press enter on it and it should open Word with that document in it. Try navigating. At some point when you had moved past a word to the space, use the back which delete letters till you deleted the word. Now type a different word at that point. Using alt and the f4 key, it should take you back out of Word to the desktop.

If your institution has JAWS on a computer you can use, Turn off Narrator and open JAWS. If your school does not have a version of JAWS that you can try, go to google and input ‘get nvda’ and down and install it. While JAWS is very expensive, NVDA is quite powerful and is free. Play with it a little.

Watch Freedomscientific demonstrating JAWS

What I want you to get from this is that a screen reader will permit someone to use a computer, and with persistence and practice, the user can work efficiently. I’m not giving a lesson on how any screen reader works. When you need to teach, you can work on it yourself. If you get a student started enough to know it works and that she or he can use it, the student can take responsibility for her or his skill level.

Google to the rescue: search for tutorials on any screen reader, and there will be several available online. Depending on how much you want or need to know, select a couple and 3-4 hours with one will provide you lots of details to become a better user.

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Part 2: Braille embossers and translation software

Besides reading content on the computer, everyone frequently sends it to the printer and get a paper copy. For someone who is blind, they would send it to a Braille embosser which would produce paper Braille. Of course the user will have to be able to know Braille. Only a small percentage of people who are blind read Braille. Many serious university students will have learned Braille as many feel it provides a better guarantee that the accuracy of what is being read.

Braille embossers can in a wide variety. Some are moderately priced but would not stand a lot of tear and wear. The embossers creates Braille dots on a page rather than print. Students doing advanced STEM study, may want the hands-on experience of Braille. The inexpensive embossers are only capable of outputting letters and common symbols. If you need a paper copy of a map or some graphic, that requires a more expensive embossers. The inexpensive embossers only create dots in a fixed 6-dot matrix. That cannot create a graphic.

Besides of having an embosser, the computer needs a translation program which can print the dot pattern instead of print. Then, because Braille is more bulky, it must reformat the content. Just like a standard piece of computer paper has a standard length and height, so does a Braille page. This means a line of print must be put on a couple lines in Braille. Usually a print page with 2 columns on it will end up being a much longer single column. Tables may also need to be modified. Sophisticated Braille translation software can usually handle of all that.

Actually there is also ‘refreshable’ Braille devices to connect to the printer. It will be limited to a single line of maybe 20-40 characters. As the content is being pushed to the device, small dots pop up and disappear.

Watch me with an embosser

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Part 3: Screen Magnification software

Go to your computer’s operating system and look for its accessibility. Start Magnifier. I’m sorry I can’t walk you through this product. As I indicated, I am blind. Magnifier is only useful if you can see a monitor. You have had to learn many different computer applications. You can surely figure the basics to see how it works.

Obviously, it is designed to let you magnify the content on your monitor. It is obvious that the more you enlarge the material, the content will be bumping against the sides, top and bottom of your screen. You can enlarge it many, many more times than that. The content, so to speak, is pushed out beyond the screen borders. What you have to do is like what you when using a hand magnifier. To see more than the magnifier is showing, you move the magnifier up, down and around the page. Here it is backward, it is as if your magnifier, the monitor stays still and you move the content up, down and around. Some magnifiers take an area of the screen where it lets you see part of the page enlarged, but that ‘window’ is on top of the page letting you orient yourself to the entire page. You move that around and only are able to read a small portion of the content, but because the content is behind it, you have context and orientation.

Again besides just playing with the magnifier, go to our friend, Google, and search for tutorials which are usually short videos. Because some people with vision impairments can see text against backgrounds better depending on the foreground and background colors. Magnifiers lets you do this and a number of other things. These free magnifiers sometimes show enlarged letters looking fuzzy. The more costly magnification software usually keeps the crispness of the content.

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Part 4: Hand-held Magnifiers and Closed Circuit Television Systems

You probably have a hand-held magnifier which someone in the family may use to see a small detail in an image. There are many hand-held magnifiers designed for people who are vision impaired. There are even small, pocket-sized ones which can be useful trying to read a restaurant menu.

For someone needing to read a lot of print and enlarge it there is closed circuit television. It is a device on a table with a base where you can lay the page or book, you need to read. A few inches above that is a camera which takes pictures of the content and displays in an enlargement on a TV screen. These get more costly, but for a right person with a specific disability and need, it is a fabulous aid. Some centers serving students with disabilities will have one as part of its adaptive technology resources.

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Part 5: Scanning Technology

Years ago it was common for a college to put an entire book on a document scanner and make an image of the entire book. Now publishers are increasingly providing electronic versions of a book bringing this tedious book scanning almost to an end. But there will always be a teacher wanting to take an article or some memos into electronic versions. There are also older books that have no electronic versions. Scanning print into an electronic form will be used for years to come.

When a document has been scanned, it is scanning an image. If you go to open it, you will have it display as a picture. It is a picture of letters. That scanned image page needs to be processed by an optical recognition software. It does its best to save text and not just an image. A screen reader cannot make much of the image PDF. Usually the software that operates the scanner will contain OCR software. For users who are blind, you need a text version of what was scanned.

Watch me at a computer and scanner


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Part 6: Lesson take-away

There 3 things I hope you take away from this lesson. First have a slight sense of how blindness or vision impairments impact someone and how it creates problems in a learning setting. Second, You should have an awareness of the adaptive tools available to help someone transcend those disabilities. Third I trust you have a beginning of how these technologies work in order to train someone on starting to use one of these applications.


How did you do in using a screen reader especially when you closed your eyes?

What was your experience in trying to navigate and read a document using screen magnification?

Do you know what tools are available to students at your institution to provide a more level learning space for them?

Send the assignment to Norm Coombs

end of Trainer lesson 2