iPads and Visually Impaired Students

ipads and visually impaired studentsThe iPad has a host of great accessibility features that are built-in to help make the device more accessible for disadvantaged learners. However, today I was asked to think a little bit outside the box. I had a request from one of our consultants that was working with a teacher who wanted to link their iPad with a student’s iPad in real time.

The teacher wanted to annotate documents on her iPad and project them to the class so that they could see them on a larger screen. The trouble was that this still wasn’t large enough for her visually impaired student. So, what she really wanted, was a way to project her iPad to two places at the same time. The first was the wall for the whole class to see, the second was the iPad of the student with the visual impairment. That way, the student could get a close up view of what the teacher was doing in real time, and/or use pinch to zoom to get a better view of what the rest of the class was seeing. Easy right? ūüôā

So, three of us sat down and put our heads together to try and figure this out. It didn’t sound easy, but surely, there must be some way of doing this. There was. Here’s how it works. The teacher links her computer with the student’s iPad via the free join.me service. This allows the student to view everything on the teacher’s computer, but not interact with it. We’ve done this in the past, and it works great with the join.me iPad app. However, this alone did not fix out problem. This does not get the image of the teacher’s iPad to the student’s iPad. To do that, we will use Reflection, or AirServer.¬†[Kudos to my superstar supervisor, Stacy Behmer (@sbehmer), for suggesting the AirPlay link].

So, the teacher’s computer is linked to the student’s iPad with join.me. The teacher then projects her iPad to her computer with Reflection or AirServer. Because the image of the teacher’s iPad is now on her computer, the visually impaired student also has the image of the teacher’s iPad! Then all that is left is for the teacher to plug their projector into their computer, and voila!

So, there you go. It is possible to link two iPads together for a real time mirrored image. There is not really any chance for direct collaboration, but for this purpose, it was ideal, and it is yet another example of how the iPad is helping to break down barriers and increase accessibility for students in the classroom.

iPad SpEd Apps for Reading and Writing

Yesterday, I co-presented a workshop with a well respected colleague of mine on special education iPad apps that can be used for reading and writing. It was a one-day workshop that was well attended by local educators who were looking to further integrate the iPad into special education classrooms to help further Language Arts goals for their students.

Special Education iPad Apps for Reading and Writing

We looked at text to speech apps, digital audio book apps, storytelling apps, test taking apps, note taking apps, handwriting apps, and more. There is a huge number of reading and writing apps for the iPad out there, so narrowing it down to a manageable number was quite the task! However, in my experience, being spoilt for choice is never a bad thing when it comes to good educational iPad apps. You can see the final list if you visit our workshop site.

I learned a lot from my research for this session, but if there was one thing I discovered a shortage of apps for, it was for apps that accurately and efficiently turn printed text into natural, spoken words. Students with reading difficulties need a reliable solution for this. VoiceOver and Speak Selection are great features in many circumstances, but they don’t work very well, if at all, with things like PDFs. (VoiceOver works but there is no way to pause or stop it once it starts, and it changes the touch interface controls on the device). Then there are the students who only have a printed textbook or novel. How can we make that text more accessible for those students with special needs?

There are apps we tried that claim to work in situations like this, but they only did so with mixed success. OCR apps are useful, but again not always as accurate as you might want, and they often involve extra steps or apps to complete the reading process. So, if there are any developers out there looking for a gap in the market, this might just be it. Educational publishers can help out too. What about HTML5¬†versions¬†of online textbooks with built-in audio voiceovers? Shouldn’t these be available for free with every printed textbook a school buys? Yes please!

Do you have favorite reading or writing apps for special education students in a K-12 learning environment? Which ones do you like best and why?