Accommodating individuals with disabilities has been a challenge in every sector. A lack of awareness about any specific disability could be a major reason for this. The resources available have failed to be fully equipped in assisting individuals. But, over time owing to the diligent efforts of the technological revolution and various awareness initiatives across the globe promoting equity of opportunities, people with disabilities have found sturdy support.
Check out: Parenting children with special needs
In the field of education, such enabling technologies hold great importance, especially for visually impaired students. Although the traditional tools like Braille and Scribing have tremendously aided students in their growth, they have however been unable to catch up with the advancements in the field of education, causing some struggle for visually challenged students. In this article, we will provide you with a clear picture of the challenges faced by visually impaired students and technologically improved assistive techniques as an efficient solution.
WHAT IS CONSIDERED A VISUAL IMPAIRMENT?
More often than not, the term “visually impaired” is misconceived by the common mass. The terminologies - blindness, visually impaired, or visually challenged are considered to be overlapping. But there is a demarcation between them.
BLINDNESS - Complete loss of vision due to an injury, accident, disease, or genetic condition.
VISUAL IMPAIRMENT - Severely low vision or a considerable decrease in the ability to see. This is usually unfixable by any usual means such as glasses.
Again, it’s important to understand that they all fall under one big spectrum which is why there is a varying degree. A person with any visual impairment could be partially sighted, have a low-vision (can’t be fixed by glasses), be legally blind, or be completely blind. Addressing a person in a proper manner can have an impact on the psychology of the individual. It should always follow the order of “Person” first and then “Disability” second - Persons with visual disability.
CHALLENGES FACED BY STUDENTS WITH VISUAL IMPAIRMENTS
The value of innovations in enabling techniques can be fairly fathomed only when we have a clearer picture of the daily challenges the students face. It has become ever more concerning since remote learning has evolved as the sole channel for education.
- Lack of proper mobility training. This is essential for gaining access to education and for undergoing any training, it is necessary for a person to be mobile.
- Lack of trained teachers for the visually impaired. In the education sector, there are many stakeholders, and the resources can always be better utilized with skilled and trained mentors.
- The digital divide acts as a huge obstruction for many. Lack of adequate network coverage or the requisite technology with conducive environments. Technological advancements are unable to reach every section and in this digital age, it is very difficult to aid academic pursuits with limited exposure.
- Lack of acceptance and a support system from society and the family.
- Limited ability to learn incidentally from their environment without proper adaptive techniques. This results in low motivation and social interaction which affect the learning process majorly.
- The loopholes in the entire ecosystem of a student with visual impairment bring forth many tribulations for their aspirations and self-confidence. Ease of carrying out Daily Activities of Living (DAL), support system, resources at their disposal, trainer’s qualification, etc. are all contributing factors towards the holistic development of a student with visual impairment.
TECHNOLOGICALLY ENHANCED ASSISTIVE TECHNIQUES AS A SOLUTION
The article has reached its central objective by connecting the dots for you, painting a practical picture that depicts the need and requirements of innovations to empower and uplift students with visual impairment and provide them with the equity they deserve.
First, let’s understand what assistive techniques are in order to know their utilization in the education sector.
The term indicates technologically enhanced techniques which could be equipment or software. They are used to increase, improve or maintain the functional capacities of a person with a disability. Assistive technologies allow them to perform tasks with greater ease and independence. They can be bought off the shelf, custom made or modified.
ASSISTIVE DEVICES/SOFTWARES FOR REMOTE LEARNING
Now that we have clarity about the benefits and significance of assistive technologies, let’s move on to the part where we briefly describe different assistive devices or software which are accommodative of remote learning or classroom learning for students with visual disabilities.
- One of the most trustworthy companions for students with a visual impairment, screen readers have been widely used to access any information on an electronic device.
- They connect to a system and read the text displayed out loud. These are very suitable for remote applications.
- The information relayed is usually in a tactile or auditory format or both. The advanced screen readers can help users to even navigate through the computers, gaining more independence.
- Some free screen reader softwares are- NVDA (Windows), Apple voiceover (OS X), ORCA (Linux), Spoken Web (Internet Explorer).
DAISY - DIGITAL ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION SYSTEM
- It’s a world standard for people with print disabilities as it lets them access talking books. Libraries around the world have been putting their efforts for 10 years to include versions of DAISY in their collections.
- This allows readers to navigate through a book like a regular print edition - move between chapters, subsections, page numbers, add footnotes, or skip pages.
- Works as a high-powered magnifying glass. It is compatible with most Windows operating systems.
- It can be used in conjunction with screen-readers for students with zero visibility.
- This is a huge facilitator for people with low vision. Some examples of magnifying software are ZoomText, MAGic, Windows Magnifier, etc.
REFRESHABLE BRAILLE DISPLAYS
- It is computer hardware with refreshable or fluid sort of braille cells on its surface. The information on a computer screen can be accessed when the device raises and lowers different combinations of pins in braille cells.
- Refreshable means that it can change continuously. This change is guided by the movement of the cursor on the computer screen or Windows and screen reader commands.
- This has a significant advantage over the traditional format of braille. It eliminates the bulky volumes that need to be produced by paper braille. It is generated by an electronic device which means a series of information can be saved on a small device.
- This also opens a window for checking the format, spacing, and spelling and it does it all by remaining quiet at the same time.
- The various types of braille displays available are - Actilino, Active Braille, ALVA BC680, Braille Wave, Brailliant B 80, etc.
OPTICAL CHARACTER RECOGNITION SYSTEMS
- It has a basic and simple operation of converting a printed document into a format that can be registered by a screen reader or a braille embosser by scanning it.
- They recognize a wide variety of typed and printed documents and retain the original layout of the print.
- They can deal with various paper sizes and horizontally formatted documents.
- An OCR can be used for automating data entry, extraction, and processing, archiving historic information into a searchable format, recognizing texts such as license plates or indexing materials for search engines.
- They optimize to save time, decrease errors and minimize effort.
This has been just a brief explanation of how technology can battle the challenges faced by students with visual impairments, both in the cases of remote learning as well as for classroom set-ups. Assistive technologies have eradicated many barriers of physical and emotional strain and opened a lot of doors.
What remains the concern at the end of the day is that the resources are abundantly available and they are being optimized in every stage with many technological enhancements but it is all a matter of making it accessible to a student in a particular set-up and help them with the integration.
Also read: Social Stigma against Children with Learning Disorders & Disabilities
This article has been reviewed by our panel. The points, views and suggestions put forth in this article have been expressed keeping the best interests of fellow parents in mind. We hope you found the article beneficial.