Author: Margaret Griffin, M.Ed.Stud., State Coordinator, Vision Impairment Service, Tasmania, Australia


Leila is a young prep-aged student (6) currently enjoying a successful transition to full-time schooling. She is totally blind as a consequence of retinoblastoma. Whilst she is a primary Braille user, Leila’s IEP has emphasized developing her abilities with all sensory information to build strong conceptual understandings.

Leila enjoys playing and learning with technology tools. She has developed basic skills with the Mountbatten Pro, a lightweight and versatile Braille computer and, of course, is competent with the Perkins Brailler.  

Leila’s little fingers easily manage the Mountbatten Pro layout, which is compact and ergonomically designed.  She can independently use the Mountbatten to produce writing that is at an early stage of development.  The skills underlying this ability include:

 

  • Ability to identify by touch all the parts of the Mountbatten
  • Ability to understand the keyboard layout
  • An early understanding of Braille and how to play and make patterns with the dots
  • Ability to independently turn on the Mountbatten, load paper and write some key known words, such as her name, and some individual known words.

Like, all the children in the class, Leila is embarking on an exciting literacy and numeracy pathway.  The Mountbatten Pro has a range of options to support and engage young learners during this critical early phase of their development.  Firstly Leila can easily depress the keys and emboss Braille, receiving an immediate hard copy.  There is also a speech option which, when activated, provides immediate auditory feedback on what is written.  Leila’s use of this option is closely monitored by the class teacher and specialist resource teacher. The aim is to ensure that Leila is developing tactual review skills and not building an over-reliance auditory information.  In this area, Leila progress is critically reviewed via regular IEP meetings.

Leila’s Mountbatten is tough and durable, able to withstand life in a hectic classroom.  She is able to sit alongside her sighted peers without her equipment immediately imposing a physical barrier and diminishing opportunities for cooperative learning. 

The Mountbatten Pro is an attractive piece of equipment. Students around Leila are learning about Braille from Emma, the class teacher, and her teacher assistant.  The ability to plug a keyboard straight in to the Mountbatten has aided this classroom sharing.  Children can write their name or a message to Leilla on the keyboard and receive a Braille copy or have the Braille copy read by the speech option.  All young learners enjoy the immediacy of this Braille and auditory feedback. More importantly they are learning that Braille is just a medium for fun shared literacy activities.  A comprehensive review of the Mountbatten Pro by F.M. D’Andrea is available in Access World (Volume, 6, January 2005).  

Another product that connects to the Mountbatten is the small LCD screen called a Mimic

This translates Leila’s Braille to print, meaning that her teacher who is still acquiring knowledge of the Braille code knows immediately what she is writing and can give appropriate feedback and guidance. 

At this stage, Leila is using her Mountbatten at a basic level. Gradually, through the strong IEP process that underpins her individual program, she will acquire skills to manage files on the Mountbatten.  Currently the focus is on learning through rich play experiences.

Leila’s mum, Sylvia, is more competent in the more complex features of the Mountbatten. She can use Monty, a specialized translation software package to move file information from their home computer to the Mountbatten. A love of literacy sharing has been developed from this home base.  Linking home and school equipment provision is a vital springboard for all students' learning.

Leila’s family and school are closely connected to a leading company technology specialist who has expertise with Mountbatten. He has taken a direct role in empowering all the family to use the Mountbatten.  A carefully sequenced professional learning program has reassured the school that ongoing advice and technical support are available.  

All members of Leila’s team are keen to trial this Jot A Dot which they have seen at a small local technology expo.  It has also featured on a national televisions program called “The New Inventors”.

This photo is taken from the Jot a Dot Website at www.jotadot.com.au.  In the photo a young boy is brailling numbers onto his Uno cards. The JotaDot has direct six key braille entry. Braille can be produced on any type of paper with 20 cells of Braille produced per line. There is no power or battery requirement so the cost per unit is very reasonable. It is ideal for incidental daily activities such  writing notes, jotting down phone numbers, lists for the supermarket ,etc. In the classroom, it would be useful for young children participating in whole group activities, or school excursions providing a way of producing Braille that is low cost. The website provides a comprehensive list of the features of this new technology.