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AccessWorld's Annual Back-to-School Issue
by Lee Huffman on 7/16/2012 10:14:47 AM
Hello, FamilyConnect community.
As the Editor-in-Chief of AFB's technology magazine, AccessWorld, I invite you to check out our July 2012 issue which focuses on providing information as students head back to school. It's almost here again. I know the students out there don't want to hear these words, but it's time to get back to school.
New classes, new instructors, class projects, oral presentations, tests, meeting new people, and even the possibility of changing schools or moving away to college bring about uncertainty and new challenges. Uncertainty is not necessarily a bad thing. This time of year can be exciting, too, especially if you plan ahead and prepare in advance.
Pursuing a good education can be difficult under the best of circumstances, and doing so as a person with vision loss can increase the challenge. Just as we have done for the past two years in the July issue, the AccessWorld team will once again focus on providing valuable information and resources for students, parents, teachers, and professionals in the vision loss field to help make educational pursuits less stressful and more enjoyable.
I have said it before, and I will say it again:
For the students in our readership: You must take personal responsibility for your education. Ultimately, you must be your own advocate. Prepare in advance, speak to instructors, and tell those you'll be working with exactly what types of accommodations will best meet your needs. Your education will have a tremendous impact on every aspect of the rest of your life, so it's crucial that you do everything you can to get the most out of your studies.
Good planning prevents poor performance. It's never too early to begin planning for the next school term, whether you're in elementary school or graduate school. Acquiring and learning to use the mainstream and access technology that best suits your situation, registering as early as possible for classes, obtaining reading lists, and searching out alternative formats should be done as soon as you can. Waiting until the last minute is a recipe for disaster.
The AccessWorld team is excited to bring the FamilyConnect community the information in our July issue, and we sincerely hope you or a student you know will find it useful. In this issue Darren Burton and Ricky Kirkendall of FloCo Apps, LLC bring you an article detailing AccessNote: AFB's New Note Taker for Your iOS Device, Larry Lewis continues his series Success with iOS with his article iOS and E-books, An Alternative Means of Reading, and Tara Annis highlights another STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) initiative in her article, What You See Is What You Feel: Getting in Touch with Haptic Technology from eTouchSciences.
If you are looking for information about cell phone accessibility as you start the new school term, you will want to read Tara Annis's second article in this issue, An Evaluation of Two Cell Phone Accessibility Websites: Access Wireless and FCC Clearinghouse. Additionally, the staff at Baruch College highlights its method of linking technology and service to people with vision loss, and on the employment front, Dr. Jaclyn Packer and Morgan Blubaugh discuss research into the use of all-in-one multifunctional document centers by people who are blind or who have low vision.
If you happen to be looking for an accessible HD radio for your dorm room or new apartment or want access to digital television programming, Deborah Kendrick just may have viable solutions for you in her articles. To round out the issue, Janet Ingber looks at substitutes for the popular Siri feature on the iPhone 4S.
I encourage you to read every article, along with the articles from the July 2010 and July 2011 issues of AccessWorld, as the ideas and resources we've covered will certainly help improve, enrich, and broaden your educational experience. Please use these articles and resources to your best advantage. We on the AccessWorld team wish you good luck and good planning as you head back to school!
Special Education Policy and IEPs Featured on the Radio
by Scott Truax on 7/3/2012 4:45:28 PM
With the sound of fireworks we all know that the Fourth of July celebration is here and we are deep in the midst of summer. This is not traditionally a time when our thoughts are on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) but it is also not often that the subject of students with special needs and their IEPs make the news.
This week, WNYC radio in New York did a nice piece about parents working through the process to obtain the services their children need. Although it highlights events in one region, the dilemma that families face is universal across the United States. Follow this link to listen to this short, five-minute segment: "Special Education Overhaul Brings New Concerns About Students' Programs" and read the accompanying story.
You may find information about the IEP process written for parents on the FamilyConnect site in the Education section, including the topics:
Education policy will be in the news in upcoming months, as we gear up for the reauthorization of IDEA. Learn more about the proposed Anne Sullivan Macy Act, dedicated to helping children with visual impairments thrive in school. Named in honor of Helen Keller's extraordinary teacher, this legislation will require schools to:
Provide braille texts and teach braille to students who need it
- Offer accessible classroom technology
- Include orientation and mobility training as part of regular instruction
- Increase the number of special educators trained to teach visually impaired students
Sign the petition to help students succeed in the classroom, workplace, and their future lives.
While you are in the reading about education mode you might want to take advantage of another publication available through AFB entitled DOTS for Braille Literacy (Development of Teacher Support). The DOTS newsletter was first published in 1995 and has been available three times a year since then. You can access it online at www.afb.org/DOTS. If you would like to receive e-mail alerts when future issues are published, you may follow the instructions at the bottom of the first page. Although designed for educators, families will find good resources and interesting news in it.
Recognizing and Overcoming Test Bias Against Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
by Scott Truax on 2/8/2012 11:10:30 AM
We are very pleased to welcome Shelley Homsy, a teacher of students who are visually impaired at the New York Institute for Special Education, as a guest blogger on the subject of test biases, and how to tackle them.
by Shelley Homsy, TVI
The New York Institute for Special Education
Students often ask, "Why do they make these questions so hard to understand?"
Bias against visually impaired and blind students in testing is a great concern to those involved with their education. These biases can cause extreme anxiety, distractibility, and in many cases, low test scores for our children. Translating visual images into braille is not reliable. We need to be confident that the tests provide a fair and accurate measure of our children's competency in a subject area.
Teachers of students who are blind or visually impaired (TVIs) are familiar with the individual needs of their students and are aware of the discrepancies in these high-stakes tests. Recognizing some of the most common biases is the first step in identifying possible solutions.
Something as basic as formats, for example, can cause a bias. Think of the staple placement in the top left corner of a large-print edition. Students need to look at charts, graphs, maps, and cartoons and refer back to them while reading the related questions. If using a CCTV, the student begins to find this juggling of pages cumbersome, awkward, frustrating, and time consuming. Confusion and distraction may result in the student not giving the question the undivided attention needed to respond correctly.
A simple solution for this staple-placement situation is to place staples of the large-print editions along the spine side of the test. It is easier to manipulate the test when it is in book-like form. Now the graphics and the accompanying question can be in close proximity to each other.
Confusion caused by drawings with dark shading, inadequate contrast, and words written on the background can all be described as "Too Much Noise": too much visual information and clutter. Graphs and charts of lines and columns and long lines of numbers can cause students eye fatigue. Students complain that looking at various patterns make their eyes "jump" when they glance at line patterns.
When your child is faced with too much information on a page, encourage him to be resourceful and creative. A possible strategy is for the student to make a "window" out of paper. Only the problem or question the student is working on should be exposed. Everything else on the page is covered. Small bits of information at a time may just be what it takes to filter out the "noise."
You can reinforce these activities at home, as well. It is important for your child to know that she can take control of her environment and that she can even make recommendations to her TVI as to what works or doesn't work for her.
Remind your child to ask the right questions. Self determination is an essential element in the Expanded Core Curriculum. Assure him that he could very well ask his teacher or proctor of the test to help fold or re-staple the book even if the teacher doesn't offer. Raise your child to always be prepared to ask for help, as most people don't really know that there is a problem.
Another example of your child soliciting help is when she hands in her work at the end of the test. Encourage your child to ask the teacher to please check over her paper to see that everything is filled in. This is especially necessary for the low vision student, as she may have skipped a question and not noticed it.
The Braille Authority of North America (BANA) has been working relentlessly to help with standardization. It publishes rules, codes, and formats for braille. It has just received approval and adoption of the long-anticipated Guidelines and Standards for Tactile Graphics.
Tactile Graphics are used by braille readers to obtain information that print readers get from visual pictures. They'll need to be taught and experienced at an early age. The interpretation and reading of a tactile graphic is a skill that must be taught to a braille reader. Remember, students who are blind or visually impaired gather information differently than sighted students.
Prepare your children not to be defenseless in the testing process. They need to understand how to address these discrepancies and advocate for themselves, instead of just accepting them as how things are supposed to be. They should inform their teacher when they believe they are at a disadvantage. It may not be obvious to the teacher or even the parent.
We do not expect different or "watered down" standards for the visually impaired student. Fairness is what our blind and visually impaired children are entitled to, so that they will have the same opportunity as their sighted peers to demonstrate their achievements.