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. 

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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