New assistive technology is changing education for blind students


Online and blind

Perhaps most revolutionary is a new program—the first of its kind in the country—that is helping people of all ages with visual impairments accurately use and navigate the internet.

The program is designed to foster greater independence for the blind, who can now access and use devices—iPhone and iPads—so ubiquitous, they’ve become nearly a necessity.

The program, created by the New Jersey Foundation for the Blind helps the visually impaired learn to navigate the internet and, with the added help of a GPS app and an audible screen reader, hometown streets.

Participants learn how to send eMails and texts, scan texts, more easily identify currency, and download and use numerous mobile apps, including mapping software.

“It’s giving them equal access to technology and the world around them. It’s great,” said Laura Gardner-Lang, a member of the foundation’s board of directors, in an interview with NJ.com.

Gardner-Lang, who has lost nearly all of her vision, sat in on several of the sessions during the eight-week pilot. She came away impressed, she said.

A 13-week program is now part of the foundation’s health-and-wellness curriculum.

Funding for the program comes from individual and corporate contributions as well as grants. “We make sure every student has their own iPad or iPhone,” said Kathy Caviston, the foundation’s director of development and public relations.

The program was created because even though Apple is known for accessibility software, the tools and the motions needed to steer around the interface are nuanced.

But as good as it is, the technology is imperfect, just as it is for sighted people.

“Search results can be off-target, and going through the list can be confounding. And since the interface is sensitive, accidental taps can confuse the machine, as can the abbreviations used by sighted people,” explained NJ.com.

“There will be a lot to learn, but it’s very exciting,” said Mary Ann Speenburg, a participant of the program. “It definitely is going to do all I need it to do. This is finally going to put us in the 21st century.”

Meris Stansbury

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