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

Louie is a 13 year old boy diagnosed with hereditary Optic Neuropathy at the age of 10.  At that time he experienced a sudden and dramatic loss of central vision and was referred to the vision resource team for assistance. 

In order to determine effective learning tool for Louie, a Learning Media Assessment was conducted.  This was regularly reviewed in order to ensure that options remained responsive to any changing needs. The LMA process identified Louie’s difficulties with regular-sized print and the instability of his vision condition. Further Low Vision Clinic review had provided advice on magnification levels that could assist Louie to utilize his peripheral vision more effectively.

Since that time Louie has acquired competency with using sensory information in new and different ways.  Technology has assisted Louie to:

  • Maximize his functional vision
  • Commence building the necessary tactual skills to learn and use Braille
  • Develop complementary pathways which include using auditory information to progress skills in both the above areas.
  • Recapture a “love of learning” and develop confidence in relation to his personal future.

Louie has access to a range of technology to support curriculum access. His program has focused on:

  • Cultivating enjoyment of activities presented in different mediums
  • Cultivating flexible thinking and preparedness to trial and review different learning tools
  • Building effective skills with a laptop using a Windows Working Environment
  • Building effective skills with Zoomtext, an enlargement software that enables users to customize options to their individual preferences
  • Developing greater efficiency with keyboarding skills and knowledge of keyboard short-cuts
  • Building independent  problem-solving to use the Mountbatten,  to write Braille, manage and store files, and linking this to particular curriculum activities
  • Ability to use speech options to support visual and tactual learning.

At the heart of all these areas has been a whole team approach to building Louie’s self-esteem through a time of huge change and adjustment, reassuring of options and opening new pathways to learning.  As a consequence this young high school student is optimistic, open to challenges and emotionally ready to take on new learning.  School-based learning is positively influencing broader community participation.   For example, recently Louie requested assistance in producing a Braille copy of prayer and hymn materials having decided Braille was a more effective medium for this particular reading task.

Another strand of Louie’s program focused on building competency with the laptop. With the provision of the enlargement program Zoomtext.  Louie’s ability to interact with print in comfortable and meaningful way was available.  As a strongly visual learner with good basic computer literacy, Louie was soon able to customize Zoomtext to his own requirements.  Individual support also progressed.  Louie’s ability improved to navigate the keyboard and use the keyboard effortlessly.

Broader interaction with print was more difficult.  The LMA process had confirmed that N36 was Louies’ working print size.  To enable access to this level of enlargement, a range of magnifiers were trialed and finally the Smartview, a video magnifier available from Humanware, was selected.  The Smartview range of video magnifiers has several different models with a range of features that can support students or adults with who require high levels of magnification and high contrast settings. In Louie’s case a more basic Smartview was selected.

The photo on the left is the Smartview taken from the humanware website. 



This Smartivew enabled Louie to:

  •  Independently select the appropriate level of magnification
  •  Use a comfortable reading table which could be easily manipulated
  • Increase the capacity to place texts of differing thickness and not receive a distorted image
  • Have optional computer access.

A Smartview was available for school use, and a local interest group provided another for home.  In the classroom an integrated workstation assisted the management of Louie’s equipment. Research work by M. D’Andrea in Looking to Learn (2000) provided ideas and resources for effectively utilizing video magnifiers.  A comprehensive chapter, “Activities and Games for Teaching Children to Use a CCTV,” provides teachers with an understanding of the skills required in learning to read and write while using a CCTV.  The chapter highlights the importance of teachers understanding the skills that student must develop in order to perform reading and writing tasks effectively.  In Louie’s case, this was considered an essential part of developing his functional vision skills.

Through the LMA process, a long term goal identified by Louie and his team was the development of effective Braille skills.  At a sensitive developmental stage, it was important to Louie that his new equipment looked “cool.”  Over a term, Louie commenced learning Braille using the Mountbatten and gradually tuning in to both tactual and auditory information.  This process will continue as Louie is encouraged to develop efficient grade 2 Braille skills and then apply them to particular learning tasks.  In the future it is envisaged that he will access a PDA with refreshable Braille such as the Braille Note.  There is anecdotal evidence that the instant feedback available from refreshable Braille enhances student’s efficiency in reading Braille. 

A third strand of Louie’s program is looking at building his skills to use JAWS, a screen reading program.  To this point Louie has been a little reluctant.  Earlier difficulties with enlargement options conflicting with JAWS diminished Louie’s enthusiasm for using this program. This has now been addressed with another software Magnification program, Magic being available.  

At all times, Louie takes an active role in decision-making by confidently articulating his needs and demonstrating a willingness to critically review new products. In 2004, Louie reviewed the Quicklook, a hand held magnifier, and confirmed that this lightweight portable camera magnifier assisted independence in school and home settings.  These are now available for loan to secondary students with severe low vision.  Participating in school excursions, ordering from a standard menu in a restaurant, reading a bus-timetable, or filling in a print form are some of the incidental tasks that the Quicklook can do. It is just another tool that Louie has to draw upon in effectively managing all aspects of his visual impairment.

Louie has a range of technology options which enable him to effectively engage with all aspects of the curriculum.  He is still acquiring skills to effectively operate and optimally use his technology.