School for the Blind shares tech with youth
Continental maps line the entry of the North Dakota School for the Blind, maps that make two-dimensional topographical maps look, well, flat. Raised areas mimic mountains, pinpoints mark major cities and etched lines outline political boundaries....
Continental maps line the entry of the North Dakota School for the Blind, maps that make two-dimensional topographical maps look, well, flat. Raised areas mimic mountains, pinpoints mark major cities and etched lines outline political boundaries. Each wooden map has a Braille caption in its corner, but no text. A sighted visitor must rely on dim memories of seventh-grade geography when identifying countries and capitols.
Teaching tools for the blind have evolved, of course, since the school opened in 1908. While tactile skills are still important for people who are blind or have low vision, new technology is helping them more easily tackle daily tasks. New tools help people coordinate an outfit, verify change and surf the Web, among other things.
Technology is part of the focus this week as seven North Dakota teens visit North Dakota Vision Services/School for the Blind in Grand Forks for a short-term program in study, social and daily living skills.
On Tuesday afternoon Brandon Kartes, a high school junior from Edinburg, N.D., who can see only light and dark, was reading the Herald's website with the aid of Job Access With Speech, software.
JAWS has been available for Windows since 1995, Instructor Gary Bornsen said, but its latest version is much easier to use because it allows users to jump from heading to heading.
Pages with Flash animation are still a challenge to navigate, Bornsen said. He used a walleye fishing site with a flashing walleye graphic on its homepage as an example. The image description reads "walleye," so a blind user is doomed to a Big Mouth Billy Bass-like annoyance, stuck on a page endlessly chanting "walleye-walleye-walleye-walleye."
Down the hall from the Web surfers, Arizona Hidalgo-Crowe, a sixth-grader from West Fargo's Cheney Middle School, typed a book report about a biography of designer Vera Wang. She used an ordinary computer equipped with ZoomText, a software program that magnifies everything on a computer's screen and can also speak program names, commands and text for a low-vision user.
The cause of her low vision, Hidalgo-Crowe explained, is optic nerve hypoplasia.
"Behind your retina, my little disk in there, is, like, small, so I can't see things far away," she said.
Even for people whose vision is more limited than Hidalgo-Crowe's, there are tools to help. Daily living skills instructor Ken Dockter demonstrated three new tools that give the blind more independence.
The iBill, created in 2009, is a palm-sized tool that "reads" and announces the denomination of a bill. With the iBill, people who can't see their money can hear how much a bill is worth, instead of relying on others to give them correct change or tell them if they try to pay with the wrong bill.
The PenFriend is a voice labeler, a microphone/scanner which comes with more than three hundred tags that users can attach to objects around their house. By recording identifying words or phrases for an object, then scanning the tags, users know whether they're reaching for, say, Italian or French dressing, Dockter said, eliminating the chance that they'll prepare "surprise supper."
The most miraculous of the three tools is the Colortest, which scans objects and announces their color. It even communicates whether fabrics are solid-colored or striped. With Colortest's ability to detect more than 17,000 colors, blind individuals can carefully choose their clothes. Colortest is useful in the kitchen, too, as Dockter demonstrated: he scanned an unripe bunch of bananas, which the Colortest deemed "dark pea green."
Gulya covers K-12 education. Reach her at (701) 780-1118; (800) 477-6572, ext. 118; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org