Brian: Learning to Answer Questions using a braille display

Students who are blind with additional disabilities may struggle to read, write and answer questions independently.  However, mainstream technology such as an iPad paired with a refreshable braille display, have enabled many students to become independent in the classroom to the best of their abilities!

Meet Brian, a totally blind high school with multiple disabilities.  Brian enjoys listening to discussions in his self-contained classroom and often is the student who is most likely to answer the questions correctly!  Due to physical issues, Brian is not able to distinguish braille dots or press the keys on a braillewriter in order to produce braille.  Brian struggles to use gestures in order to drive an iPad and his speech is not clear enough to use Siri or dictation.  Brian participated in the I-M-Able field test when he was in middle school.  This is a very successful program to teach braille to non-traditional emerging readers.  Through this program, Brian learned braille letter combinations and how to verbally spell sight words.  Throughout and after the completion of the year-long field testing, Brian was regularly given braille instruction in both reading paper braille and writing with a braillewriter; even though he grasped the basic concepts of braille letters and spelling sight words, he continued to struggle with reading/writing braille using these traditional paper braille methods. 

Brian was introduced to an iPad and VoiceOver.  He thoroughly enjoys listening to stories and articles on the iPad, especially interactive stories and songs.  Brian learned to touch the iPad screen to activate touch points and with some effort, he could do a two-finger swipe down, the Read All VoiceOver command.  However, most gestures, especially the left swipe, right swipe, and double tap were challenging and often frustrating for him.  Once Brian learned the basic spatial layout of the iPad, he was introduced to the refreshable braille display.  Brian immediately took to the Braille display!  He quickly learned the basic navigation commands using the joystick and chords (braille letter combined with the space key).  Brian was thrilled when he could easily and independently navigate the iPad and interact with various apps! 

Brian continued to use concepts from the I-M-Able program using the iPad and refreshable braille display (RBD).  The RBD produces “crisp” or distinct braille letters, which Brian could read!  The RBD’s keys are easy to press, even for Brian’s hypermobile fingers. (Brian's fingers bend backwards when he pushes down on the braillewriter keys.)  For more information, go to the Paths to Technology post, Brian: Learning to Write and the post, Brian: Learning to Read.

Brian longed to be able to independently answer written questions and complete assignments – just like his peers.  Digital reading assignments were prepared in Pages and shared with Brian; however, answering questions were still challenging.  Using the iBooks Author app, teachers to make worksheets and assignments – including answering questions – via iBooks!  (See post about using iBooks Author to create accessible iBooks.) Teachers were able to easily create radio button questions – VoiceOver reads the question and then Brian simply selects his multiple-choice answer by depressing the joystick when on the desired answer.  Brian never dreamed he would be able to read and answer basic questions independently!  He is so excited and proud of these new academic accomplishments!

To download the iBook that Brian was reading in the video, go to the post, Cody’s O&M Adventures: iBook

Note: The iPad in the video was running iOS 8.  In iOS 8, using a right swipe or right arrow to navigate to the actual question and navigating from the question to checking the answer was broken.  In the video, I touched the screen to move the VoiceOver focus to these areas so that Brian would have a successful experience.  iOS 9 resolved these issues.

Read more about: Assistive Technology