Wednesday, 9 July 2014

The Finger Reader

The Finger Reader

Check out this link and find out the newest technology to read text via a ring on your finger.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Adapting worksheets for a visually impaired Year 1 Pupil - 2

At the risk of a some possible repetition allow me to emphasise and expand on the following points about modifying a worksheet for a visually impaired child.

More on Pictures and Photos
Photos taken in the classroom are not always the best quality. Yet for a visually impaired child image quality is really important. Therefore it is worth taking the time and effort to improve certain features of a photo taken in school. A simple (free) photo-editing programme will be useful here. What needs to be done:
-              increase the contrast between light and dark areas
-              increase the brightness of dark areas
-              increase the detail in the shadows
-              increase  the highlights
-              don’t bunch photos together in a cluttered collage but separate them out and surround each one with a border.
-              Enlarge the photos so important details like children’s faces are clear.

Drawn images taken from a book can be equally difficult to distinguish, especially if they are photocopied. One image I looked at in an exercise book for instance was of a dark blue wave against a dark sky, with a tiny spark of lightning flashing across the sky and a human speck someone in the scene. It expressed a storm at sea, but was very hard to separate out the details. With the picture went some similes on the subject of storms and waves. With such a picture it might be best to start with a different image, either from the Internet or drawn if necessary. Enlarge the image so that small details are clear. If necessary only have one picture that is really clear instead of two or three pictures that are not clear. The key thing is to consider what is essential for the child to know. Images are illustrative and it is not always vital to have more than one.

Allow me to repeat this point: please avoid placing text on a picture or indeed any sort of busy background. This is bad practice and makes text very hard to read.

The colour of the paper used for text can also be quite crucial. With our student the colour yellow seems to work well so paper is usually yellow.  But for others it may be a pastel colour. One student cannot read black text on a white background. So each child is different and needs to be assessed in this respect.

The following points are also worth considering:
1.          The support assistant’s role is increasingly one of adaptation. Especially as the curriculum becomes more advanced and the child becomes more independent, less reliant on the adult support the assistant working with the child will spend more and more time making resources and preparing work in advance. Therefore advanced planning is essential to his/her role: planning with the class teacher and planning resources to supplement the curriculum in one-to-one sessions. Access skills like touch typing will become more and more important as the LSA spends more and more  time training the child to become proficient in keyboard skills.
2.         For this reason it is important that the balance of work reflects this role. I suggest that a minimum of 25% of the LSA’s time is spent with resource making. Often it may be more than this.
3.          When re-formatting a page and enlarging text boxes sometimes the enlargement messes up the formatting. Some programmes like MS Publisher are especially bad like this. So to avoid this you can reduce the amount on the page and enlarge what is left clearly. In this case ‘less is more’. Also please note that elaborate borders are not essential; you can profitably remove the pretty penguin borders around the edge of a page of a worksheet and thereby create much more space for a decent A4 enlargement. 
4.         When entering guidelines for handwriting it helps to make all the lines darker; where necessary enter a space between each line of writing or as it may be each set of 3-guidelines. On the other hand a simple pencil line can be adequate where the child has to trace over a letter in black pen. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

iPad Apps for Children with Downs Syndrome

It was only fairly recently that I discovered the striking statistic that all children with Down syndrome have a visual impairment. I know that many I work with wear glasses. I also am aware that frequently they have no focusing ability so they wear bifocals. 

I am grateful to Beverley Dean for the info in todays post. In 2011 she founded Special iApps for their son who has Down syndrome because they found it extremely hard to find suitable apps for him. So she and her husband made their own. This is an over-view of some of them and where you can get them.

Special Words:  allows you to do picture-word matching activities, where you can also create your own word lists from your own photos and entering text and audio

Special Stories: We use this daily for home-school communication, it can also be used for instruction - sequences, social stories and topic work to support curriculum.

Special Numbers: is number ordering and counting skills up to 20, all activities can be configured in the settings to suit the child's level.

The Touch-apps are simple cause and effect apps that support those at the early stage. 28 word, 20 numbers, 12 shapes, 12 colours, and emotions which is free.

All our apps (with the exception of Special Numbers) are available for Apple and Android devices and are switch accessible. Special Numbers in not switch accessible and only available for Apple. 

Please refer to our website, as there is full user documentation and videos on each app

Please read the Durham iPad report

We are currently working on new apps, so to keep in touch we are on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and have an email subscription

Friday, 24 January 2014

iPad Use and Apps for Visually Impaired Children

It is a great privilege for me to work with young adults who are at the start of their careers; some of these are highly qualified and skilled. They work in schools for a while to gain experience and then move on - and rightly so - to a higher and better paid career. They bring with them invaluable skills to their task of working with young visually impaired children. Josh is such a person and I asked him to share a little of his experiences hoping they will be of benefit to others. 

- - - -     - - - - - - - - - - - -      - - - 

Working as a learning support assistant with a visually impaired child, I’ve found the most helpful tool on an iPad is by far the ability to zoom in on text and images without loss of quality or contrast. It is a simple tool that both Colin (not the actual name)  and I can use with ease and it drastically improves his ability to see books, worksheets and other learning resources.

For Braille the best app I have encountered so far is BraillePad. BraillePad replicates a traditional brailler with bright keys and a realistic sound when you braille a letter. It is a good size for a five year old’s hands although it is missing the space bar, which creates confusion when it comes to finger placement. Being considerably easier to use than a real brailler it allows Colin to reach the keys that spell out his name, which is important to him.

The Adobe Reader App is great for reading e-books as PDFs. It’s quick, easy to use and doesn’t have adverts like other PDF readers on the Appstore.

Letter School is an app used to practice handwriting and letter shapes. The colour and contrast on this app is perfect for Colin’s needs. The large graphics and interactive feel is very stimulating for him and makes this type of work enjoyable and effective. Particularly the light show sequence it produces when writing the letter ‘A’. This is a great app for all primary school children but it is especially appropriate for the young visually impaired child.

I am realizing more and more the importance of sound effects on apps for visually impaired children. Just a simple sound that signals positive feedback seems to make a world of difference when getting Colin to do his work. This may be the case for all young children but in the case of Colin the use of this other sense when working makes the lesson all the more interesting.

Josh Whettingsteel,Westminster, London

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Advice on adapting worksheets for a visually impaired Year 1 pupil

When a visually impaired child enters formal schooling there is much to consider. First it is important to understand the child's eye condition. Then it is vital to appreciate the impact of that condition on a child's learning. I work with teachers and learning support assistants giving advice on how to modify and adapt their learning materials. I thought it would be helpful here to summarise some of that advice  for others who are interested. This is what this post is about. 

Contrast on Handwriting sheet
Enhance or increase the contrast in all parts of a sheet.
Where the pupil has to trace make sure the tracing letters are significantly darker than the background and that the pupil can clearly/easily see what he has to trace. He can go over the letters in the dark coloured pen that he uses. If the letter-lines are faint the pupil will struggle to see what he has to trace.

Make sure there are ALWAYS dark bold guidelines for the pupil to write between on all pars of the worksheet where he has to write otherwise his letters may become too large and untidy.

Instructions, title & date
Instructions, titles and the date should be made bigger - about 24 point. He should be able to read texts on a worksheet without resorting to his magnifier.

Yellow paper
YELLOW paper is a good colour to use; alternatively use off-white. Pure white can be too reflective and may cause a difficulty for a child who is light sensitive.

Increase the character spacing between letters. Otherwise the pupil may have difficulty distinguishing between two similar letters or distinguishing individual letters in a word. For a child with nystagmus spelling is always a major issue because of this. Whole words have a pattern and can be read/recognized more easily than each individual letter in the word.

Key words or items of grammar should be highlighted for emphasis (e.g. ‘s’ in plurals). Use one of the following depending on what is appropriate:
-       bold type
-       black marker
-       coloured highlighter
-       different coloured felt pens

Size of worksheet
The larger the page the more difficult it is for VI pupils to scan; the smaller the page the better. A4 is the standard size for the UK; it is best to keep the pupil’s worksheets the same size as the other pupils. It reduces his sense of being different. If an A4 sheet is enlarged to A3 ideally it should be cut down in some way. Here are some suggestions:
-       Cut off wide borders
-       Cut the sheet in two or three.  
-       Reduce the information on the sheet. If it is a grid or table with up to 20 rows in a column cut down the number of rows to 10. Probably the information can be put into 10 rows and the remaining 10 be unnecessary.
-       Reduce the task; it is good practice when differentiating work for a VI child to reduce the work they have to complete. Have 8 sums instead of 10, 6 spellings instead of 8 and so on. Because they are slower at scanning they may likely finish later than their peers. This in turn can affect their self-image and give a false impression of their true ability.

Extra Box for multiple-choice answers
Sometimes in a sheet the answers are in a box at the top of the page.  If the pupil has this box copied he can match it while he is scanning the text for the answer. This should speed up his working.

Speed and short-term memory
A visually impaired pupil’s scanning of a page can slow him down. Find creative ways of helping him to speed up.
-       Put his finger on his answer so he can quickly find it again
-       Use a notepad to jot his answer down

A VI child often writes quite large in order to be able to read his writing back. It is sometimes necessary to assist the child to write a little smaller and neater. Here are some suggestions to facilitate this:
-       Ruled guidelines for handwriting on all worksheets even in boxes
-       A consistent gap between lines so handwriting is not too big
-       Sample/example of expected word size
-       Training & practice on ascenders/descenders (d/y)
-       Training & practice on letter/number formation
-       Tricks/techniques to aid letter/number formation (e.g. use of iPad app)

Pictures will often need to be adapted. In typical worksheets picture details are far too small for a visually impaired child to make out. Here are some suggestions:
-       If the pictures are not essential remove them or reduce them drastically. Four pictures of sports activities at the top of a worksheet do little more than add to the complexity of the page. They may be intended to brighten up the page or make the work more interesting but they are not essential. Instead of four insert one large clear picture or have no picture at all.
-       Where pictures sit alongside text to illustrate the text, they may well be not essential and can be removed, making use of the extra space to enlarge and clarify the text instead.

Font typeface, size & formatting
-       It is generally not a good idea to use italic formatting for emphasis on titles or in body text of a page. Italics are not easy to read particularly for a child with nystagmus.
-       A sans serif font is best; this is an undecorated font with no curly edges or corners; Times New Roman is a classic serif font. Even Primary Infant Sassoon has serifs. Arial does not and is the standard font used by the RNIB.
-       It is important to use the correct font and size of font for the child. If the pupil needs 24 point text remember that different fonts are different sizes. 24 point Primary Infant Sassoon is smaller than 24 point Arial.
©2014 M Sparrow www.visually