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


Tom is a year 12 student attending a regional year 11 and 12 college. His primary medium is Braille. He is completing a range of subjects with a view to undertaking Business Studies course at a local technical college in 2006.  Tom’s subjects include, English, Music, Home Economics, Lifeskills and Computer Design. In each subject he is achieving consistent grades.

Tom’s current equipment includes a Braille Note, Mountbatten Brailler, a Perkins brailler, a laptop equipped with JAWS.  The laptop has the capacity to interface with school IT network, his Braille Note, and the Mountbatten.  Connectivity and compatibility are essential to the efficient operation of this technology platform. A partnership between the state education department and leading specialist blindness agency has been responsible for securing the funding necessary for this equipment.
Tom manages this kit of equipment independently. Over his secondary schooling, he has developed the following range of skills:

  • Efficient Grade 2 Braille skills
  • Sound  Keyboard skills
  • Efficiency with managing windows working environment predominantly using Word applications and Media Player.
  • Sound understanding of the Braille Note.  He can apply a competent knowledge of Keysoft suite of applications that run on the Braille Note. This software has been written specifically to meet the needs of students and adults with visual impairment to manage and transfer files between different equipment.
  • Independent user of email and internet a Braille Note in home, school and community settings
  • Competent JAWS user – using this for some internet access, and for operating the laptop independently.

These skills are applied on a daily basis to successfully operate his technology platform to meet his curriculum requirements.  Currently he is completing several term 1 assignments. Tom uses the Braille Note (BN) for all subjects, transporting it to classes and managing all aspects of its operation independently. The BN is a lightweight, sophisticated computer with an inbuilt refreshable Braille display as pictured in the photo on the left where it is connected to the ScannaR.

Tom is working on several assignments. He is able to review his work by using the refreshable Braille screen. In addition he has the option of using complementary voice speech software, another feature of the Braille Note.  First drafts can be printed out, and given to teachers for feedback. For final publishing, the document is transferred to a Memory Card.  As a card reader is attached to the laptop, the Memory Card can be inserted and accessed on the laptop.  Final published presentation is completed on the laptop, as Tom likes to use all the formatting features of Word.  He then prints out or send his assignment by email attachment to his teachers. Tom transfers the completed Braille copy back to his BN, and has a folder filing system for all school work.   Tom’s teachers easily interact with this technology platform. The card-reader system enables the easy transfer of course materials.

This year Tom has identified  technology skills that he believes will further his independent living and recreational skills. These focus on use of his independent use of the Internet for daily living tasks such as banking and listening to music. To facilitate this process, a young adult with severe vision impairment will lead individual tutoring sessions. In the area of Music, Tom’s skills with the MP3 player feature of the Braille Note will be refined by utilizing the internet, and developing a knowledge of suitable music sites, He has also indicated that he feels confident to research and find the most effective mobile phone considering the accessibility features and how these could be customized to meet his needs.

Tom will also continue with his Skills to Work program undertaking a course in a local call centre.  Already he has emailed the supervisor via the Braille Note, requesting his timetable and course materials for the first module.  These will be forwarded by email attachment. During the holidays he will familiarize himself the required course work materials, and commence the course without experiencing delays in obtaining Braille copy.  For some work, Tom prefers a Braille hard copy, Once again the interface between the Mountbatten Brailler and laptop can provide this access.

On completion of Yr 12, funding will be applied to enable the purchase of preferred equipment for post-school options.  Tom has indicated that the most vital components are:

  • Braille Note
  • Laptop with JAWS.

To this point, all students exiting the state system have been successful in receiving appropriate funding for required resources. For Tom, there has been a deliberate and continuous emphasis on building skills to take on technology solutions and use them for his own purposes.

When Tom was in primary school, the Perkins and slate and stylus were his only learning tools.  Both of these pieces of technology still have a valid place within his program, although Tom clearly defines the enormous freedom that the Braille Note delivers in making Braille copy available incidentally in his daily life.

This case study illustrates the power of technologies such as the Braille Note to enhance the quality of students' learning.  Other PDAs such as the Pac Mate also offer exciting possibilities.  

The photo of the Pac Mate is obtained from the Quantech website at www. quantech.com.au

 

In Tasmania, the intention is to trial a Pac Mate and examine critically whether there are advantages to this PDA for particular sections of the student population.  For example, the Pac Mate operates from a Windows working Environment, and has its own version of JAWS as an inbuilt feature.  These attributes could be advantageous to students who have experienced a sudden severe loss of vision as it could harness their visual knowledge using this reference system as they adapt to tactual and/or auditory interaction with information.