Sunday, October 18, 2009

Tech advances open doors to visual and hearing impaired students

Link Source - Tech advances open doors to visual and hearing impaired students

Students who have vision and hearing problems are finding that advances in technology are opening educational opportunities for them that were never before imaginable.

Josie Whetstone, the marketing and media specialist at the Hadley School for the Blind in Wilmette, said the school helps students understand the different types of technology available to them and learn how popular computer software programs can help them.

“It’s a whole different world,” Whetstone said. “A lot of people who have more advanced vision loss will rely on things that speak to them.”

Screen readers are one form of technology that identifies words on a computer screen, interprets them through a voice-over and also includes screen magnifiers.

Whetstone also said computer keyboards can have a refreshable Braille display – a strip containing Braille characters to help with typing.

“It depends on individuals and how comfortable they are with technology,” Whetstone said.

Amy Salmon, a technology teacher at Hadley, said Macs are becoming more popular for people who are visually impaired because of Apple’s accessibility program, which contains the application VoiceOver -- a standard on new Apple computers that reads text your computer screen.

“It’s a more affordable option for a lot of people,” Salmon said.

The Apple store at 679 N. Michigan Ave. offers a class the third Sunday of each month that teaches the applications.

Apple Accessibility also includes programs for people who are hearing impaired, such as visual alerts and closed captioning.

The program use is not widespread thus far, educators said.

Debbie Blackburn, an administrator at the Alexander Graham Bell Montessori School for the Deaf in Wheeling, and teacher Katie Lesh said they have not seen many people use Apple Accessibility at their school.

Lesh said implants to the part of the ear called the cochlea, which involve advanced bionics, are the best technological improvement for students who are hearing impaired.

“Now everything is so small. Their life is easier that way.”

For students who are visually impaired, Salmon recommends System Access to Go, a free screen reader by Serotek.

To avoid paying for expensive equipment that may be unnecessary, Salmon says every visually impaired student should have a technology evaluation.

“An evaluation is critical," she said.

After a technology evaluation, Salmon said, students will be told the appropriate programs they need to help them succeed in the classroom, the workplace and everyday life.