Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

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Lee HuffmanAs editor-in-chief of AccessWorld®, a free online magazine focusing on technology for people who are blind or visually impaired, I am pleased to spend some time with you on this blog to discuss the technology needs of your children who are blind or visually impaired.

From Monday, November 14 until Friday, November 18, we'll be answering the comments and questions that you post here. Simply scroll down to the bottom of this thread and click on the "Log in to post a comment" link to sign in and post your question. (You do need to be a member of FamilyConnect to post a comment. If you aren't, please take a moment to register. It is free, and will also give you access to a number of helpful features on the site.)

Feel free to ask any questions you have about mainstream or assistive technology—maybe you're curious about what cell phone to buy, or which ebook platform is the most accessible. Or you might be wondering what toys or gadgets your kids would enjoy for the holidays.

Simply leave your questions or concerns in the comments below, anytime from November 14-18 (Monday-Friday) and our team will be on hand to respond to your inquiries.

I'll be joined by a team of AccessWorld writers, including:

  • Tara Annis
  • Brad Hodges
  • Janet Ingber
  • Deborah Kendrick
  • J.J. Meddaugh
  • Ike Presley
  • John Rempel

We hope you'll come back November 14-18 for this exciting online event!

In the meantime, I encourage you to take a look at AccessWorld's past issues focusing on "Back to School" topics—July 2011 and July 2010. The articles in these issues offer information about preparing students with vision loss for academic challenges from grade school to grad school.

Ed. note: Thank you for joining us for this special online event. Comments are now closed, but we hope you'll continue the conversation on FamilyConnect's Technology Forum. And sign up for AccessWorld Alerts to get an e-mail message every time a new free issue of AccessWorld is posted online.

Ask the Experts
There are currently 17 comments

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

Lee, thank you for making your team available this week! We had a question come in via e-mail to "Do you have any specific recommendations of iphone apps that are accessible and useful? I heard there's a braille app -- what does it do?"

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

The AccessWorld team and I are happy to work with FamilyConnect to answer questions about technology!

To answer our first question, AccessWorld does not recommend specific apps, but we do recommend you visit, a community-powered site for visually impaired users of Apple's iOS devices. From this site you can seek out and share information on the accessibility of apps developed for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. You can also read and share guides, tutorials, and tips to help VoiceOver users get the most from their iOS devices. At, apps are rated on several categories including VoiceOver performance and the overall accessibility of the app.

We are not certain of the specific braille app you are referencing in your question, but the iPhone can be configured to use a Bluetooth braille display. This is done through the iPhone's Settings menu: settings/general/bluetooth. To learn which braille displays are supported, you can visit and activate the link, "Learn More about Braille Displays."

If you are, in fact, looking for an app to learn braille, check out Pocket Braille Reference at

We also suggest you check out Deborah Kendrick's article, Book Review: Twenty-Six Useful Apps for Blind iPhone Users, By Peter Cantisani.

We hope this information is helpful. The AccessWorld team is available all week to answer any more of your questions.

This information was provided by AccessWorld Team members Janet Ingber and J.J. Meddaugh.

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

Thank you, Lee!

A FamilyConnect member asked on another blog post:

My child is 11 yrs. old with cordical impairment, auditory impairment, and is mentally at two to threes old, no fine motor skills, and has a somewhat low attention span. Sooooo hard to find things to make her more independent from me, her mother. Whoever might have worked with a child like this who has found some things or has a child similar who has found some things.....PLEASE give me some suggestions. She relies on me TOTALLY to entertain her which makes me have to use a caregiver more than I would like to just to be able to do things I need to do. She LOVES the keyboard but she STILL wants me to be there with her when she plays with it. Sidebar.......if you have any suggestions to where I can get her more independent, would love to hear that too!

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

FamilyConnect has a section about helping children who have more than one disability, which can be found under the Multiple Disabilities link located on its homepage. Another FamilyConnect link to visit is the Toy Guide which highlights toys that are accessible to children with various types of disabilities.

Another website to check out is, where you will find articles about raising children who have disabilities, toy suggestions and tips for helping initiate independent play. One of the developers of this site is a mother of a child who is visually impaired and also has autism. Wonderbaby frequently has accessible toy giveaways; you must join their e-mail list to enter these drawings. is another website to visit when you are ready to purchase adaptive toys, since they offer a huge selection specifically for children with special needs.

You may also try contacting agencies for the visually impaired, since some of them may offer recreational activities for children who are multi-disabled; you can browse contact listings by visiting AFB's Directory of Services. Many of the children registered at these organizations have additional disabilities besides vision loss, so staff may be familiar with unique situations. These organizations may even have some toys on site to try.

When choosing toys for children with multiple disabilities, try to choose ones that incorporate several of the five senses in their design. Sculpting materials, like Play-Doh, fit this description, since they have unique textures to feel; some brands are available in various scents. To make it more appealing, you can add materials, like different shaped beads or sand, to the store-bought material for a wider variation in texture.

Another benefit of sculpting materials is that one does not need good manual dexterity to enjoy them; one can just take pleasure in mashing and squeezing it as opposed to making actual objects and forms.

Another option is stuffed animals or dolls that make noise, play music, or talk, like Tickle Me Elmo and other characters from this Sesame Street line.

We hope this information is helpful to you.

This information was provided by AccessWorld Team member Tara Annis.

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

Wondering if you can comment on technology such as the Victor Stream Reader, Book Port and iPad for students with low vision and cognitive differences. Curious about how each device might help with note taking in class, a calendar system, audio books, etc. Thanks!

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

I have an 8 yr old daughter who is legally blind. What's the hot new toys or gadgets that might be of interest to her as an xmas gift?

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

I am searching for a NYS college for my daughter who is currently a junior. She is legally blind. I would love to get feedback from young adults who have experienced this journey. Any suggestions?
Also, the phone has always been an issue so any suggestions there would also be greatly appreciated. And one last question, she has equipment at school that projects what is on the blackboad to a pc, however very heavy and cumbersome to take from class to class. Does Apple have something similiar?

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

My niece is very interested in an iPad. She wants to be able to read books from the ibook store on the ipad and to use the app from bookshare to read their books. She uses large print sometimes but not all the time now. She usually needs about 12 or 14 point font. Would this be a good investment? Or would she be better off with a victor reader stream?

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

lvkaplan1, to answer this question more thoroughly, a thorough evaluation of the student's functional vision, Individualized Education Plan goals, and cognitive deficits would all need to be considered. Having said that, we hope the following commentary and information are useful.

The Victor Reader Stream, Book Port Plus, and iPad represent opposite ends of a continuum of technology. At one end of the spectrum are specialized products designed specifically for use by the blind. The Victor Reader Stream and Book Port Plus do not include a visual display. They are centered technically and functionally around support for book formats specifically intended for use by the blind and visually impaired.

The iPad represents the ultimate in mainstream technology. It is not intended specifically for use by any particular audience, with respect to disability. Yet, by virtue of the VoiceOver screen reader and Zoom screen magnifier, the blind and visually impaired have embraced the iPad.

It is important to keep in mind a student may be considered "low vision," but may more effectively access electronic information via speech output. Considering the use of these mentioned products, the interest in using vision and speech versus speech only may be a first way to differentiate these products. If vision is poor, inefficient, or if cognition is not helped by using remaining vision, a speech-only approach may be very useful. It is important to separate the fact that an individual has remaining vision from a realistic evaluation of how useful that vision is.

If a student is not adept at using audio information, you may consider asking the TVI to start working on teaching those skills. In most cases a student with low vision is not going to be able to keep up with the volume of information that will be presented in higher grades, college, or work settings by trying to access it visually solely through written notes.

If it is decided via a thorough evaluation process that speech output is the preferred option, the Victor Reader Stream and Book Port Plus are both excellent tools for taking recorded notes. A student can record a lecture or presentation and bookmark important parts so they don't have to listen to the entire recording again if they do not wish to. This can save a great deal of time if they are able to identify the important parts. This is basically the same as deciding what's important enough to make a written note about, except all you have to do is press a button instead of trying to write it down. The student can make a written note later and listen to the information as many times as needed until they get everything written down.

This may be a good approach, because it eliminates the pressure of trying to write the information before you forget it, and pay attention to the next thing the teacher says.

For students with low vision, the iPad, in conjunction with Zoom or VoiceOver in iOS can also be used for taking written notes. We strongly suggest using an external Bluetooth keyboard if the iPad is used for taking notes.

There are several Bluetooth keyboard and protective case combinations on the market which may prove especially useful to protect the iPad in a school setting. One such example of a protective case/Bluetooth keyboard combination is the ZAGGfolio, which retails on Amazon for approximately $100.

Notes can also be recorded on the iPad with an app such as Clear Record.

Bookshare and Audible have accessible apps and several note-taking apps are also available. As mentioned in an earlier response, AccessWorld does not recommend specific apps, but provides a list of apps it considers useful for visually impaired users.

If a student has some cognitive issues you may want to try using the recording method with the Victor Reader Stream or Book Port Plus for two reasons:

1. It's a simpler process and you have to do fewer things while the information is being presented.
2. Having the information recorded allows a student to review as much of the information as they want and as many times as they want. It is also a good learning/study tool to listen to the bookmarked passages, write down the information, and review as needed.

All 3 devices can be helpful for scheduling/calendar and audio books. The big issue with audio books is to make sure the device supports the audio format (ePub, iBook, Bookshare, etc.) in which the book is available.

If, on the other hand, cognition and/or efficiency is supported by
using remaining vision, the iPad may be of greater potential benefit. Again, VoiceOver is a product which can support non magnified visual use at the same time as voice prompting. It is also important to understand that the gesture set used with VoiceOver differs from that used with vision only.

Keep in mind; cognitive impairment may become an important consideration in learning to use a device, trumping the considerations presented by vision loss.

Another option is if a school system already has a screen reading solution or screen enlargement software in place, such as JAWS or ZoomText, a laptop computer may be worth considering, since these solutions allow the programs to be installed on multiple computers with a single user license.

Once again, the combination of the vision loss and cognitive deficits will need to be thoroughly evaluated before a software and/or hardware solution is implemented.

For more information on these book reading devices, please read Deborah Kendrick’s article, Picking a Player: A Roundup of Devices for Playing NLS and Other Talking Books. You can also read Seven Days with the iPad: An Accessibility Evaluation and Accessibility Report on Apple's Latest iOS Update for iPhone, iPod, and iPad, by Darren Burton and 24 Hours with the iPad, by Bradley Hodges.

This information was provided by AccessWorld Team members Ike Presley, John Rempel, Janet Ingber, and Bradley Hodges.

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

mysticjeff, thanks for your question. Everyone who has a person on their holiday gift list with vision loss, should check out the November issue of AccessWorld.

For the past two years, we have dedicated the November issue to holiday gift giving. The current issue of AccessWorld as well as the November 2010 issue have articles and gift ideas for children of all ages! I am certain you will find great ideas there.

Happy Holidays!

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

jjohnson, with the information you have provided, I would say an iPad would be a good investment. If your niece is able to read 12 and 14 point font, she may not even require its built-in magnification or screen reading features, but if at any time she wants to use them, they are there. The Victor Reader Stream is a very fine device, though it is much more limited in its capabilities than the iPad. I suggest, if possible, taking her to an Apple store and having a well-trained sales representative show her the iPad using Zoom and VoiceOver, so she can have an idea of their functionality.

I also suggest reading Deborah Kendrick's article, Picking a Player: A Roundup of Devices for Playing NLS and Other Talking Books and Seven Days with the iPad: An Accessibility Evaluation and Accessibility Report on Apple's Latest iOS Update for iPhone, iPod, and iPad, by Darren Burton and 24 Hours with the iPad, by Bradley Hodges.

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

My daughter is almost 11 and has low vision (central pigment drop out in both eyes) and sees peripherally. We have just acquired a cctv for home and school for the largest screen enlargement and will attach a computer so she can do her work all in one place. It seems like she's all set now to approach her printed work in an format that is easy to read but I would like to know if there is anything else we should be looking at for her for school work?
Thanks, Virginia Ryan

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

Hi Virginia,

It sounds like you have done many good things to assist your daughter with accessing printed information for her personal and school work. There are several additional suggestions the AccessWorld team would like to make.

1. She will need a portable "spot reading" tool such as a pocket or hand-held magnifier or portable electronic magnifier for things like price tags in a store and other situations where she only needs to view a small amount of information. A good low vision evaluation by a low vision specialist optometrist/ophthalmologist can determine the appropriate power (3x, 5x, etc.).

2. To improve her reading experience make sure the top of the monitor is at approximately her eye level as she sits up comfortably. Having to look up creates neck and back strain and makes the reading process uncomfortable. If this can not be achieved with the adjustments available on the system, I would recommend a fully adjustable monitor arm. These devices replace the current monitor stand, clamp onto the edge of the desk/table and attach to the back of the LCD monitor. See

These stands allow the user to place the monitor at the most comfortable height and viewing distance.

3. Distance viewing is also a need for people with low vision. The clinical low vision evaluation mentioned above can also recommend an appropriate handheld telescope to use for viewing information presented at a distance. Some of the newer electronic magnifiers (CCTVs) also have distance viewing capabilities. Since you didn't give the name of your system, I'm not sure if yours does or not.

4. As your daughter moves into the higher grades the quantity of reading required will greatly increase and may become difficult for her to accomplish visually. The AccessWorld team strongly suggest you ask her teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) to start working with her on developing auditory/listening skills. When she receives an assignment to read 10 pages of American Literature for homework, her eyes may be too tired at the end of the day to accomplish this task visually. She may find having a digital recording of the book/material and listening to it will be a more efficient option.

5. She may also find reading at the video magnifier/computer workstation is not always physically comfortable. She might like to have a portable reading device that can be used for reading anywhere. At this point, a very good option is using the enlargement feature of the iPad, called Zoom. She will be able to acquire many books and other materials in a format she can read on the iPad. With its "built in" magnification program, Zoom, she should be able to learn to use this device as a portable reading system. We suggest giving careful consideration to investigating using the iPad. This might be the type of device that several family members could join in and buy for your daughter for a holiday gift or for her birthday.

6. Finally, your daughter's needs will most likely expand and change as she moves into high school, college, work, and beyond. Therefore, one of the things we always encourage students and parents to do is to stay vigilant about analyzing the tasks to be completed and investigating new technologies that may be applicable.

We invite you and your daughter to become regular readers of AccessWorld. You can sign up for AccessWorld Alerts that will let you know each time a new issue goes live. Thank you for your question, and we hope our answer is helpful.

Information for this post is provided by AccessWorld team member Ike Presley.

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

pfink47, the AccessWorld team would like to refer you to the National Association of Blind Students, Through this organization you and your daughter can talk with other students who are blind or visually impaired, and you can likely gain helpful insight from their experiences.

You will also want to contact the NY Commission for the Blind about the experiences of their students. Some schools are simply better then others at making accommodations, but the individual student makes the difference. The commission can often connect clients to other clients with permission. A college's disability resource center can also do this at times, again with permission from both sides.

When it comes to cell phone accessibility, two cell phones on the market have 100 percent speech access built in: the Verizon Haven and the iPhone. We suggest reading AccessWorld's evaluation of the Verizon Haven and evaluation of the iPhone for more information about how well they may work for your daughter.

We are not aware of any products from Apple that provide the functionality you are describing. However, you may wish to investigate using a laptop-compatible electronic magnifier (CCTV). Several have been evaluated in AccessWorld. I invite you to read our three-part series on these devices: "Is This for Here or to Go?," Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The solution to viewing things at a distance may not necessarily need to be high-tech. Depending on your daughter's acuities and field of view, she may find a correctly prescribed monocular to be a valuable tool in an ever-changing college setting. It meets the criteria for portability, and the desktop space in many colleges often does not have room for more than a laptop.

Clear communication with the class instructor(s) regarding her needs will also go a long way in gaining greater access. Asking the instructor to audibly describe what is being written on the whiteboard could be extremely helpful, and/or requesting material covered in class beforehand.

Using the camera on the iPhone is another possible solution. Taking a photo of the whiteboard at the end of class on the days that information may have been missed, and then increasing the size to whatever is needed on a computer, could prove beneficial as well.

Information in this post is provided by AccessWorld team members Ike Presley, John Rempel, and Lee Huffman.

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

The AccessWorld team and I would like to thank FamilyConnect visitors for the technology questions this past week. We enjoyed the opportunity to interact with you and hope our information was helpful to you and your child.

We invite you to become regular readers of AccessWorld, AFB's monthly, online technology magazine. You can sign up for AccessWorld Alerts which will automatically notify you by e-mail when a new issue of the magazine goes live. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, we also invite you to download the AccessWorld App. This FREE app allows you to browse and read the entire AccessWorld collection up to the latest issue—it's like having 10 years' worth of AccessWorld at your fingertips! The app also allows you to locate the contact information for any member of the AccessWorld team, should you have any questions or comments.

The app is optimized for VoiceOver and other accessibility features, and is designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch devices. Simply visit the App Store and search for AccessWorld.

Once again, we appreciate your technology questions.

Lee Huffman
AccessWorld Editor-in-Chief

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

My brother, who is losing sight due to Retinitus Pigmentosa, wishes to try eSight (
but they are very very expensive! I don't understand why. Help fund this trial and I will leave a story of his results here. Karma!
Family comes first - and I'm on a mission to help, with a deadline! Thanks for your thoughts and shares

Re: Ask the AccessWorld Experts, November 14-18

Can anyone tell me more about the Swiss Advanced Vision's instant focus IOL that was put on the market last Jan. 2016.

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