Take a listen to this interview with Casey Robertson for the highlights from the 2013 Getting in Touch with Literacy conference.
Next week, a team of us from the Institute on Blindness will travel to New Orleans for the 2013 AER International O&M Conference. As I’ve prepared for the session that we’re co-leading with folks from Florida State and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, I’ve come to realize that this conference is world’s apart from any other AER event in the past 15 years…in a good way.
I’ve become accustomed to the “icy feel” in the room, cold stares, and even others getting up from the table when I’ve gone to sit down, but never before have we been involved in helping to direct conference programming and logistics, as we are this year.
In 2003, I remember sitting in a meeting room at an AER event and discussing with a colleague in the field who was citing Kenneth Jernigan on independent travel: “Independence is the ability to go where you want, when you want, without inconvenience to yourself or others.” Then, not 15 minutes later, as I and a group of other blind people walked toward the lobby doors on our way to dinner, our canes hit a rope stanchion. This colleague—who’d just told us that she didn’t believe in artificial barriers and that blind people shouldn’t be guided around—came running up to us saying, “Careful! Careful! There’s a rope there! I’ll move it for you.” Obviously we knew a rope was there and were walking around it without incident, yet she came to rescue us anyway.
She and those of us who teach and research at Louisiana Tech were miles and generations apart in terms of how we viewed and understood what the true nature of independence means. Extremely low expectations about the capabilities of blind people kept her from understanding the depth of Jernigan’s words.
Fortunately, that was my experience in 2003. I know that 2013 will be different.
My hat is off to Mickey Damelio of Florida State University who asked us to present our structured discovery method to cane travel. In our 3-hour program, each university will have time with rotating, small groups to teach their models and give students time to practice and ask questions. It’s not an “us versus them” situation. Rather, this is an opportunity—the first of its kind in my memory—for those of us here at Louisiana Tech to be equal partners in sharing our unique approach to the mobility experience. We all do this differently, but with the same goal in mind: to give independence to the blind of our country. Today, unlike ever before, we are considered far more to be colleagues and not competitors or enemies.
The reason for this attitudinal change that we’re seeing, I think, is two-fold. For one, we’re not going away. We’ve participated in these conferences for 15 years, and even when others shunned us, we kept going back to learn what we could and to teach what we might. That we’re on an equal footing today with programs that have been around for 50 years or more is remarkable, and it’s a testament to what happens when people begin to recognize good models. Secondly, as the younger generations become a larger part of these meetings and take on leadership roles, they don’t have the political baggage of their predecessors. These professionals are able to look at us with an open mind, and—as many have said—”What you’re doing makes common sense, and clearly you’ve been doing this long enough to be legitimate.”
I sincerely believe that fear and ignorance drives discrimination. When we can all seriously come around the table and have equality of thoughts and opinions, progress can happen for everyone…most importantly for the blind men and women we teach.
After all, the goal of O&M is just as Jernigan described: “the ability to go where you want, when you want, without inconvenience to yourself or others.” We here at Louisiana Tech University are proud to be an ever-increasing leader in that process.
When it comes to adapting classroom materials, one of the most hotly-questioned subject areas is math. Thanks to Dr. Al Maneki of Maryland and a partnership with the National Center for Blind Youth & Science, answers to the most common questions are now easily searchable and available. The responses come from the “blind math” e-mail discussion list.
You can find the categorized index, called “Blind Math Gems,” here: http://www.blindscience.org/blindmath-gems-home.
Here are a few of our favorite solutions:
- Talking business calculators
- Creating visually-appealing graphs on the computer
- How to learn LaTeX as a blind college student
What are your most common math questions? What solutions have you found work well for your students?
In advance of next week’s Thanksgiving holiday, O&M teachers have been talking about buffets and big family dinners with their students. We’ve begun assembling a list of ideas, and we are eagerly awaiting your ideas, too. Please post them in the comments below.
Here are a few ideas:
- Remember that this may be different for you and for your family.
- If you aren’t used to asserting your independence, remember that your family may not be sure how to react. On the one hand, they may not help you at all, knowing that you want to figure it out; or, they may over-help you (even for the kindest reasons) which can upset you. You’re likely looking to strike a balance between independence and help, so stay calm and friendly. You don’t want to berate them to the point that they don’t want to help you at all…even when you ask!
- You don’t have to be first in line for the buffet.
- Yesterday, my wife reminded me about something she learned at the Louisiana Center for the Blind: if you don’t go first, there’s far less pressure on you to move quickly. That doesn’t mean you have to wait for everybody to sit down and eat, but it may mean that you should wait for the hungriest people to go ahead!
- Make a few trips to the buffet line.
- At our church, where we go to dinner on most Wednesday nights, I’m used to making several trips. I get my food, find a table, and then go back to pour drinks. Sure, some of the sighted folks can do this in one trip, but I don’t have enough hands to carry a plate, drink, and my cane without a tray. Making two trips is much better than running over a small child or dropping my glassware!
- Rotate your plate and target your thumb.
- James Mays, one of my instructors at the Louisiana Center, told me about the trick he uses when serving himself at a buffet or serving line. He puts his thumb at about the six o’clock position, and targets the spoon to empty near his thumb. Then, he spins his plate about 45 degrees, and again targets his thumb. This way, the food is sure to stay on the plate and not all land atop each other!
- Don’t be shy about asking what foods are on the table.
- There’s nothing worse than watching somebody else—even with the cleanest hands—touch every piece of food on the buffet before you get it on your plate. Reassure your students that it’s okay, and even a good idea, to ask what’s on the serving line. Just ask the person ahead of you to say what foods are next.
What tips do you give to your students? What ideas have been most useful to you? Post below in the comments!
Photo courtesy Dave & Margie Hill, on Flickr.
Too often, teachers for the blind are faced with a problem: they need to assess their legally blind students to determine what services they need. However, the braille assessments that exist are cumbersome, biased, unreliable, or expensive. Fortunately, there is a solution that solves all of these issues.
As we previously reported, the current issue of the Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research (JBIR) features a report showcasing the rationale, development, testing, and validation of the National Reading Media Assessment. As the report says:
“One of the major impetuses for the creation of the NRMA was the concern by a number of practicing teachers that existing assessments were too lengthy, cumbersome, time consuming, and difficult to score and interpret.”
To demonstrate just how easy the tool is for a teacher of blind students to use, just look at how much time is required for each section of the braille assessment.
- the Parent Observation form took 14 minutes,
- the Student Interview took 12 minutes,
- the Classroom Teacher form required 13 minutes, and
- the TVI Assessment Questionnaire required 25 minutes.
This means that the entire assessment took an average of one hour and four minutes to complete.
When you’re ready to begin your next student’s assessment using this tool that has proven to be easy, standardized, and reliable, request your free account at www.nfbnrma.org.
What has been your experience with other assessment tools? How long did the NRMA take you to complete?
Last week, we posted an overview about the U.S. transition to UEB, unified English Braille. While the Braille Authority of North America has posted a useful guide to the updated symbols and rules, I’ve been using UEB for nearly a year and still find myself looking up how to use the new punctuation marks.
Sharon Monthei, author of the McDuffy Reader braille curriculum, suggested to me in an interview a few weeks ago to look for patterns in the UEB symbols. The idea seemed foreign at first, but then I remembered how most of us learned braille: all of our dot-5 contractions, then the dot 4-5, etc. So, I’ve assembled this quick guide sorted by the preceding characters. For now, this guide only lists the new symbols, though you should review BANA’s document for the new formatting markers.
Screen reader users, please note that we are using a font to display the symbols visually as well. Your synthetic speech engine will read some strange characters after each description!
- Dollar sign: dot-4, s; @s
- Transcriber’s note (opening): dot-4, dot-4-6, gh-sign; @.<
- Transcriber’s note (closing): dot-4, dot-4-6, ar-sign; @.>
- Tilde (~): dot-4, in-sign; @9
- Less than (<): dot-4, gh-sign; @<
- Greater than (<): dot-4, ar-sign; @>
- Degree (°): dot-4-5, j; ^j
- Paragraph (¶): dot-4-5, p; ^p
- Section (§): dot-4-5, s; ^s
- Double-quotation mark (opening): dot-4-5, dot-2-3-6; ^8
- Double-quotation mark (opening): dot-4-5, dot-3-5-6; ^0
- Percent (%): dot-4-6, dot-3-5-6; .0
- Underscore (_): dot-4-6, dot-3-6; .-
- Curly brackets (opening): dot-4-5-6, gh-sign_<
- Curly brackets (closing): dot-4-5-6, ar-sign; _>
- Backslash: dot-4-5-6, ch-sign; _*
- Bullet: dot-4-5-6, dot-2-5-6; _4
- Asterisk (*): dot-5, dot-3-5; “9
- Long dash (——): dot-5, dot-6, dot-3-6; “,-
- Parenthesis (opening): dot-5, gh-sign; “<
- Parenthesis (closing): dot-5, arising; “>
- Equals (=): dot-5, dot-2-3-5-6; ”7
- Plus (+): dot-5, dot-2-3-5; ”6
- Minus (-): dot-5, dot-3-6; “-
- Multiplication (×): dot-5, dot-2-3-6; “8
- Division (÷): dot-5, wt-sign; “/
- Single quotation marks (opening): dot-6, dot-2-3-6; ,8
- Single quotation marks (closing): dot-6, dot-3-5-6; ,0
And one more…
As the BANA document states:
The period, dot, and decimal will always be shown as dots 256. The ellipsis is shown as three of these in a row. …
Do you have a technique to remember these symbols? Post below in the comments!
I came across a story from MedCity News yesterday entitled, “Sensors, cameras, GPS & algorithms meet in a wearable device to help the blind navigate.”
Through a partnership between Draper Laboratory, Auburn University, and the National Federation of the Blind, researchers are hoping to create an entirely new class of technology. The story reports
“Current products made to help the blind navigate rely heavily on GPS, which isn’t always detailed or accurate enough to distinguish between, say, a sidewalk and a street, Draper says. Plus, GPS isn’t always available in places like parking garages, underground transit stations and sports venues, and it doesn’t pick up on obstacles like crowds and cars.
“Draper’s invention hinges on two cameras that assess how much distance has been covered by the vehicle or person they’re attached to. In a process called visual odometry, its technology draws directional and distance information from the camera images. Then it maps the detected objects in a given environment.”
The design of the technology is still under development, but the working theory is that this could be incorporated into a pair of glasses. A prototype isn’t expected until 2015.
I was initially skeptical, for I feared some blind people would leave their canes at home and attempt to appear sighted when traveling in public. I travel with my cane, and feel very safe and independent, but Ryan Strunk—who is blind and reviews the accessibility of new software—had this to say on Twitter last night:
@corbb I want a device that will let me run anywhere independently at a speed faster than a slow jog. I'd try it.
— Ryan Strunk (@rstrunk) November 8, 2013
A very good point, and perhaps this will motivate me to go exercise. (By then, though, I’ll find another excuse to exercise my cooking skills.)
What do you think? Post below in the comments.
The current braille code is tough for elementary students, for there is no way for a transcriber to differentiate between bold, underlined, italicized and colored text. Writing words that have numbers and letters is cumbersome. There’s a need to frequently switch between computer and literary braille.
There are workarounds, but “We want a code that you can write and read fast,” said Sharon Monthei, an instructor at the residential training center BLIND, Inc..
South Africa adopted Unified English Braille in 2004. Nigeria, Australia and New Zealand adopted UEB in 2005. Canada adopted UEB in 2010. The United Kingdom adopted UEB in 2011.
Member organizations of the Braille Authority of North America voted to adopt UEB last year, and—after a forum held last month in Louisville—BANA delegates decided upon an implementation date of January, 2016.
As a recent press release from BANA said:
”The delegates to the Forum acknowledged that the transition to UEB will take time and necessitate extensive preparation and collaboration among all the systems and infrastructures involved…Detailed timelines are under development by individual organizations, and transition efforts are now being initiated.”
All delegates to the forum agreed that January 4, 2016—the 207th anniversary of Louis Braille’s birth—should be seen as a celebration, not as a deadline.
“Everybody needs to create their own milestones for the transition,” said Maria Morais, who attended the forum in October. “That date is the Monday after Christmas break. During that whole school year, people will be using old and new braille. That date should be the absolute latest that kids see UEB.”
Morais suggests that if teachers, students, and readers look at this transition as an update to the braille code, their anxieties would be greatly reduced. (Read about the differences between literary braille and UEB here.)
“These updates actually reduce the number of rules,” she said. “The contractions that have been added have to do with appearance [such as bold, parentheses, brackets, and underlining, for example].”
Very few expect that the transition will be difficult for adult braille readers.
“We’ve done the last two [National Federation of the Blind] convention agendas in braille, and nobody has talked about having trouble with them,” said Monthei, who authored the popular braille curriculum McDuffy Reader. “Mostly you’ll just notice the signs that aren’t there.”
Referring to the lower-cell contractions—to, into, and by—Emily Gibbs, NCLB said, “Personally, I’m going to miss the snugglers.”
For Gibbs—who teaches braille to elementary, junior high and high school students in Katy, Texas—the ease of transition is all about how much training is provided to teachers. The students, she said, will catch on quickly.
“The elementary kids will handle it the easiest,” she said. “They’ve been learning braille for the least amount of time, and elementary kids are more resilient. The high school kids will get the most annoyed, because they’ve used braille for the longest. They’re more prone to being annoyed in general!”
When it comes to including UEB on standardized tests and exams, Gibbs isn’t concerned.
“We can just put a lot of code characters in transcriber’s notes,” she said. “It will be useful for a while for the transcribers notes to point out the differences. Luckily print is resilient in terms of braille typos.”
For students who forget to put a space between the words “and the,” it will be easy enough to understand what the student meant when the braille is translated into print.
Morais, who coordinates the administration of the National Certification in Literary Braille, is confident that braille readers will take the changes in stride.
“For anybody who knows braille, we’ll look at it and say, ‘Oh, somebody made a mistake,’ and then we’ll remember it’s just UEB,” she said.
Initially, the loudest critics of UEB were transcribers. To them, Monthei said that the updates “are not about teachers or transcribers. It’s for braille readers.”
Right now, Morais believes, the first task should be to develop materials for people to learn UEB.
“It’s one thing to say to somebody who already knows braille to just memorize it,” she said. “It’s the materials to work with kids and newly-blinded people that’s going to take a while to get out there. Right now, you can’t even order UEB from NLS yet. that’s going to be slow and coming, but the pervasiveness of braille embossers means that people will produce their own materials.”
Because the U.S. is one of the last countries to adopt UEB, the good news is that embossers and braille displays already support the updated code.
“When Apple launched iOS 7 and you hook up to a braille display, the default is UEB,” Monthei said. “Yeah, you can change it back, but anybody with an iPhone or iPad and a braille display can see what this will be like. They’ll see it’s not a big deal.”
After the day-long forum last month in Louisville, most delegates’ concerns were addressed, Morais said.
“i think people walked away feeling like there was a much more comprehensive plan established for the transition,” she said. “The updates are really good, but i just wish we’d done this 50 years ago!”
Monthei said that she’d hoped to have an updated McDuffy Reader curriculum published by the end of this year that would also incorporate some changes that she’s wanted to make for some time.
“I wanted to have it done by the end of this year, and I could if i wasn’t working,” she said. “I haven’t made one cent off this book. I did it because I didn’t like the books that were out there, and I thought I knew how to teach it a little better. I don’t know if i’ve succeeded, but I gave it to the Federation.”
What resources do you want to see posted here? Are you excited for UEB? Post your reactions in the comments below.
Benetech—the company behind Bookshare, the online clearinghouse for accessible textbooks—has just released a survey aimed at teachers who work with students who are blind or have low vision.
“This project aims to gather information on the potential use of three-dimensional (3D) printing with students who are visually impaired in kindergarten through postsecondary grades. We are interested in the availability and proximity of 3D printers to staff members who support these students, and how this technology might be used to provide tactile information to students who cannot access visual information. This information will be valuable in determining how 3D printing technology can be leveraged to support the learning needs of students with visual impairments.”
This survey is neither sponsored by Louisiana Tech nor the Institute on Blindness, though we are posting this information in the hope that a broad sample will increase the survey’s reliability and yield productive results.
It’s most recent issue of the Journal of Asynchronous Learning Network, the Sloan Consortium posted an interview with representatives from the National Federation of the Blind and the Association of Higher Education And Disability (AHEAD).
The abstract describes it best:
“Success for online students with disabilities requires an institutional commitment to accessibility. This success also requires an understanding of the benefits and opportunities as well challenges and barriers related to online learning. This question and answer session provides a national perspective…on online learning, accessibility, and students success.