Just like their peers, young students with visual impairments and blindness are being introduced to technology at a very early age. Exposure to books - including picture books - is critical for emerging readers. Braille books, especially those books that have tactile images, provide wonderful 'reading' opportunities. Can emerging braille students enjoy digital books too?
Absolutely! Digital books are fun - especially digital books that are interactive or that incorporate information through intriguing sounds. Digital books come in many interesting formats, and can expose students to the joy of reading and book concepts before the student is able to independently 'read' words. While some books have the option of "read to me" (automatically turning the pages), most digital books require only a simple gesture or two in order for students who access the book. These books are great motivators for learning a simple tap or swipe gesture. Read more about getting toddlers, preschoolers and kindergarten students started on the iPad here.
Let's take a look at some digital book resources that are available for preschoolers.
Interactive Story Books
Interactive children's books are a subset of children's books that require participation and interaction by the reader.
OceanHouse Media book apps
The Oceanhouse Media (OM) is a premier publisher of interactive iOS and Android apps for young readers. They have more than 400 book apps (the majority are educational books for young readers). The average app price is $1.99 to $3.99 with discounted app bundles. Available series include Dr. Seus, Little Critter, The Berenstain Bears, Smithsonian Institution and more.
The OM interactive books are self-voicing, meaning that books are accessible without VoiceOver. VoiceOver does not work within the app, as the pages are images and VoiceOver cannot read the text. Refreshable braille displays do not work with these books.
Three options for viewing the book
- Reads to you and turns the page
- You can quickly tap images after the text is read and before automatic page turn (limited time)
- Use the Home button to quit
Read to Me
- Reads the story a loud
- Tap on objects: printed word appears and is read aloud
- Can record your voice
Read it Myself
- Note: These pictures books do not work with a braille display - print words only
- Recording your voice is not an option
Auto Play requires no interaction - the student does not need to swipe to turn the page. Read to Me is the best option for students who cannot see the screen and for pre-readers. When students are are turning the pages themselves, they are 'actively engaged' in the book! Students with no vision can randomly tap around the screen to activate the words. (There are numerous hot spots, so students will be succesful in finding objects to activate!) Students need to use a one finger swipe left to turn the page and if desired, one finger tap to activate the words. Other gestures are available, but not necessary. The recording feature is good for students who may benefit from their parent or teacher's voice reading the book. A student who is a reader may be motivated to read and record their own voice - this is particularly beneficial to motivate the student to read fluently or to read with expression.
- One finger swipe right to turn the pages
- Tap on the pictures to learn words
- Tap each word to hear it read a loud
- Double tap to replay a paragraph
- Tap the blue arrow to record your voice, select pages or change options
Duck Duck Moose interactive song apps
There are many other interactive apps available for books and popular preschool songs. Duck Duck Moose games are now incorporated into Kahn Academy and are free. These song apps are also self-voicing and do not work with VoiceOver. To turn the page on the Wheels on the Bus app, the student must tap on the arrow located in the bottom right corner. The arrow is in a predictable place and once learned, does not require vision to activate. The Wheels on the Bus app is visually uncluttered, making it a great resources for students with CVI. Each page has several interactive hot spots. Introduce students who are blind to the hot spots on each page. Most of the interaction simply requires a tap but a few interactions are swipes. There are only a couple hot spots per page and the hot spot typically covers a large area, making it easy for students who do not have vision to locate and activate. Wheels on the Bus is a great choice to introduce interactive books/songs as the pages are visually uncluttered and have only a few hot spots. Duck Duck Moose has additional interactive books/songs that have more detailed illustrations and numerous, hot spots.
Editor's Note: My totally blind students quickly learned this app and which pages of the app that they liked. These students would quickly turn the page if the page did not interest them. They also quickly learned where to tap on the screen (left side or right side) to activate their favorite hot spot! Other Duck Duck Moose interactive songs include Itsy Bitsy Spider and Old MacDonald; these songs are visually more cluttered and contain more hot spots. Note: Duck Duck Moose also has wonderful preschool apps with activities, such as the Word Wagon app; however, these apps are not accessible with VoiceOver and are only beneficial for students who have functional vision.
Story Toys Interactive Books
Story Toys has developed magical interactive books. These digital versions of classic books appear as 3D pop-up books. The books are self-voicing and do not work with VoiceOver. Touch the image and hear the name of the image. Touch the same image again, and hear an associated sound. Example: In the Very Hungry Catepillar & Friends First Words book app, turn the page and the story will be read a loud. Touch the pig and 'pig' is announced. Touch the pig again and hear the pig oink. Students who are blind can randomly touch the screen to find the objects. Pay attention to where the objects are located - at the end of the book, you will be asked to find each object! Turn the page by touching the Arrow Button located in the bottom right corner. This particular book also demonstrates "categories" - each page is a category (farm animals, jungle animals, fruts, etc.)
Editor's Note: The Very Hungry Catepillar and Friends interactive book is one of my personal favorites!
Free Interactive Book Apps
I Like Books
Another book series is, I Like Books by Grasshopper. There are 37 books in this series. All the books are geared for beginner readers with one sentence per page. The text and buttons in the books are accessible with VoiceOver; however, the images do not have descriptions and no sound clues. When running VoiceOver and touching the text (or navigating the text with right swipe), each word is announced separately instead of the entire sentence being read a loud. The books have the option of Read to Me, Read by Myself and Autoplay. Turn the page by double tapping on the Arrow Button, located in the middle of the right (or left) edge of the page.
iBooks are fully accessible with VoiceOver and with a refreshable braille display. These books can be very simple picture books or college textbooks, with all the bells and whistles, such as the ability to create accessible sticky notes, glossary terms, automatically generated flash cards, accessible multiple choice questions, etc.
There are interactive books available in iBooks, including some that are free. However, many of these books are pricey (around $13) or are geared for slightly older readers. To access the iBook store, download the free iBook app. Open ibooks and select Featured button located in the tool bar at the bottom of the page. Search for 'interactive children's ibooks' or search for the title or author.
Teachers can create - and share - wonderful, fully accessible iBooks. Educators and family members can create iBooks geared specifically for preschoolers and can share these iBooks on Paths to Technology. Currently there are about a dozen very simple picture books geared for non-readers available on Paths to Technology. Each page in these books have a word or a sentence, clear, non-cluttered image, and a sound associated with the page. These free books can be downloaded from the website to iBooks on your iOS device. My favorite emerging reader iBook is called the Alphabet Sound Book. Each page is a letter in the alphabet. Example: The first page is Airplane, with a clear picture of an airplane, the word 'airplane' and the sound of an airplane flying. These interactive picture books were designed specifically for students with visual impairments - with the ability to use the sound clue to identify the word(s) on the page. (Emerging readers with sight use picture clues to help identify the word(s) on the page.) The text is accessible with VoiceOver and with a refreshable braille display. Students can also read along in braille as VoiceOver announces the text, or mute the VoiceOver speech and access the text only in braille.
- With VoiceOver on and the page is turned, VoiceOver announces the word(s) and the sound automatically starts. A three finger swipe left will turn the page. The refreshable braille display will display the braille word/sentences.
- To read the word(s) without VoiceOver announcing the text, turn the VoiceOver speech off with a three-finger triple tap. (If zoom is enabled, turn VoiceOver speech on/off with a three-finger quadruple tap.)
- To read the book visually without VoiceOver, turn VoiceOver off. The sound will automatically begin when the page opens. However, the word(s) will not be announced. A one-finger swipe left will turn the page.
Tar Heel Reader
Tar Heel Reader is a collection of free, easy-to-read and fully accessible books on a wide variety of topics. These books were initially created for older students who are beginning readers; the majority of these books are also appropriate for young, emering readers. There are over a million teacher- and student-created Tar Heel Reader books! Go to the Tar Heel Reader website to create your own book or to find a book. These books can be opened in iBooks. The books are fully accessible with VoiceOver, a refreshable braille display, and can be used with switch controls.
Note: Currently, image descriptions are not available for Tar Heel Reader books.
The video below demonstrates how to create a book using the Tar Heel Reader website.
Bookshare Digital Books
Bookshare is an extensive free library available for students who have print disabilities, including students who are visually impaired or blind. Bookshare has a section of pricture books that are appropriate for preschoolers. See Bookshare's Picture Books and Easy Readers collection. Some books will have pictures and some books will have picture descriptions. Note: Currently, image descriptions are custom-developed by the Bookshare Team and are not available with all picture books. Benetech is working with publishers to build in image descriptions and other accessibility features from the start - "born accessible" - instead of retrofitting books after the fact.
These picture books include the book images along with custom-developed image descriptions created by the Bookshare team. The library includes favorites such as Goodnight Moon, Are You My Mother? Caps for Sale, Brown Bear, Frog and Toad are Friends, Madeline, Cordurou, Peter Rabbit, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and many more. See Bookshare's Top 100 Picture Books.
QR Codes: Accessing Free Video Books
There are several 'professional' sources of free video books as well as youtube videos of teachers reading their favorite books a loud. Pinterest has numerous posts on using QR codes to access these video books. This is a simple and fun way to make these video books available to students in the reading center or send the QR home so the student can access the video book at home. To download your own children's video book QR codes and to learn more, go to QR Codes and Children's Video Books post. This is a great tool to introduce pre-readers to the joy of books; readers will also be inspired by these video books!