Students with visual impairments have long struggled to have comprehensive assistance in their everyday life, let alone studying, however, reading in Braille is not the only way to learn for the visually impaired.
For a long time, JAWS software was the primary screen reading technology able to tell what’s going on at the screen. Screen reading technology was a huge step to making computers and later smartphones and tablets more accessible to people with a sight impairment or to fully blind people.
However, let’s consider other technologies that can be used by blind people to enhance their learning and everyday life.
Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant
Voice assistants are the modern game-changers for students with visual impairments. Nowadays young students can reach material that was inaccessible or hardly accessible before by using voice to search the web, find articles, books, and needed materials for studying.
For older students, who learn how to use Alexa or Siri for the first time the only challenge is to get used to search engine keywords wording. They create really long queries, saying ‘thank you, and explaining the details when a short keyword query would suffice. Otherwise, voice assistants are perfect for any sort of learning.
All Apple devices are friendly to people with sight impairments. It is an amazing company that dedicated a lot of effort making sure that every single product they release is fully accessible to the blind straight out of the box with no extra costs.
So, if you have any of the gadgets like Apple Watch, Macbook, the iPad, or iPhone you can easily go to the settings and turn on the voiceover that will instruct the person on how to use the screen in this mode. It is helpful for internet browsing, communication in chats, opening, and using multiple apps.
Speaking of apps for blind and visually impaired people that are useful in learning, we should mention KNFB Reader. In cases, when the information is accessible only in paper format or you need a proper annotated bibliography order in Braille, the book is old and hasn’t been transcribed to Braille, you can open this app and it will read any text from printed sources out loud. It is a handy tool for learning.
Another great app that is handy for students with visual impairments is called Smart Braille. It allows for quick typing and input in Braille, it can also translate printed text to Braille. However, these are not the only attractive and useful features for students. The screen contains six buttons with the main positions of dots in the Braille alphabet. Usually, if you type with VoiceOver or speech to text feature it reads out loud every letter or number that you intend to input, which is not always appropriate and comfortable in terms of classroom and privacy in general. Smart Braille has a distinctive sound assigned to each dot that is recognizable.
Of course, it is impossible to ignore an app like Audible. It has reinvented the world of reading for blind and visually impaired people, making books more accessible, read by famous people with beautiful voices. With Audible blind people no longer have to read books specially translated in Braille or spend a lot of time reading. Audible provides a lot of books on different topics which is perfect for education and quality free-time.
The app that is somehow similar to Audible is Learning Ally. It is made specifically for school students of different grades, who either have trouble reading the material or are fully blind. It provides all the needed and extra curriculum material in a friendly human voice, providing an ability to learn at a comfortable pace. With each grade, new possibilities of the app are unlocked, like adding bookmarks and syncing them with teachers, note-sharing, and a built-in dictionary.
Coursera has also numerous courses that are accessible for people with sight disabilities. Most of the pages on Coursera are optimized for screen reading technologies.
These assistive technologies make the educational process easier, more fun, and engaging for students with visual impairments, allowing for seamless technological involvement in the process, participation in group chats, and simple navigation through the material of the curriculum.