College Success Program

Learning Ally has been piloting a program where we offer access to online resources, mentors who have graduated successfully from an undergraduate degree and are now pursuing post graduate degrees.  This program is for students who are blind or visually impaired and are feeling the need for some support in college.  We match them according to standards that include, among other things: visual acuity and field of study.  Our mentors are located across the country, have undergone mentor training and are monitored by our staff to keep a feedback loop to staff between what students need and what we are providing.I am the Director for this program and have been the developer of the mentor program.  Our content and curriculum was stewarded by Kristen Witucki, who is a TVI as well as holding several advanced degrees in creative writing.  We have been fortunate to have access to an Advisory Panel that includes:  Jane Erin, Ellen Trief, Mackenzie Savaiano, multiple DSO professionals and Anil Lewis with the NFB.

If you feel comfortable with this, I’m checking with you for the ok to send on to Cyral et al, for help in raising awareness of the program.  We’d like to serve more students this fall to help us figure out the best way to scale this program.  There is no charge for the program right now, and it also gives the students access to our audio library.  If you aren’t comfortable, please let me know and I will do this another way and won’t be mad!  To look at our site, go to  It will ask for you to provide a name and email at some point, as we use this for lead generation, but you have my ok to sign up as yourself to look further into our resources.  I’d love your opinion!

Please share with anyone else you think should look at the site.  Thank you for your help!!

Mary K. Alexander
Director, National Initiatives

Help Members Read with Bookshare Web Reader

Bookshare Web Reader, previously available only to Individual Members, is now available to students and other Organizational Members. Sponsors can help members read independently by following these steps:

  1. Log in to your Bookshare account.
  2. Set a login for your member.
  3. Assign books to a shared Reading List.

After completing these steps, your member can log in on their own and read books independently. Learn more by attending an upcoming webinar.

Bookshare website:


Win A Brand New BraillePen Touch Refreshable Braille Display!

Attention Students! Win A Brand New BraillePen Touch Refreshable Braille Display! Flying Blind, LLC Presents “The BraillePenmanship Giveaway”!

Flying Blind, LLC ( and Harpo, the Polish-based manufacturer of the BraillePen and Mountbatten product lines, are offering one lucky student the opportunity to win a brand new BraillePen Touch Refreshable Braille Display valued at $995.00 USD!

Here’s how it works: Effective immediately we’re offering any full-time vision impaired student the opportunity to draft an essay explaining to us how Braille has, is, and will impact their educational experience within the classroom, and within their community. We would also be interested to know how winning a brand new BraillePen Touch Refreshable Braille Display might impact the ways in which they would use Braille over the summer and in the coming school year.

Essays should be 200-300 words in length and contain the student’s name, the school they are/will be attending, current grade level, and an appropriate email and/or phone number for either the vision teacher or parent. Essays may be submitted by email to:

Submit by Email to: Electronic essays may be written within the body of an email or attached to the email message in either Microsoft Word or RTF file formats.

Submit by Snail Mail to: 955 Pembrook Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44121. Snail mail essays will only be accepted in hardcopy Braille, with the student using either uncontracted or contracted Braille to transcribe the essay.

Flying Blind, LLC will continue to receive and review essays up until the close of business at 5:00 PM EST on Friday, June 19th 2015. Flying Blind, LLC will announce the winner of “The BraillePenmanship Giveaway” on Monday, June 22nd 2015. All essays will be reviewed by Flying Blind, LLC’s President, Larry Lewis, who will make his selection based on essay creativity, grammar, and accuracy. And, there’s more. All essay participants will receive a 10% discount and free shipping on all purchases of both new and used Refreshable Braille Solutions within the Flying Blind, LLC Online Store at: (Expires: September 1st 2015). In addition, Flying Blind, LLC will accommodate any and all third party purchasers who tie an essay author’s name to any online or offline order received up to September 1, 2015.

Flying Blind, LLC is very excited to offer students of all ages an opportunity to get their creative juices flowing at the end of a very long school year and play an active role in their educational journey by submitting the essay that will win this pocket-sized Refreshable Braille Solution. This is a perfect year-end assignment for vision teachers looking for assignments to stimulate their students or parents wishing to engage their children in a writing exercise that can only increase their literacy and possibly win them a brand new BraillePen Touch in the process! For more information about BraillePen, please visit For additional information regarding the “The BraillePenmanship Giveaway” please email or call +1 (216) 381-8107 today. We look forward to reading your essays, and giving away this portable 12-Cell Braille juggernaut!

Warmest Regards,

The Flying Blind, LLC Team

Technology in Orientation and Mobility


Technology in Orientation and Mobility

A question came in about how technology is used during Orientation and Mobility lessons and I had so much fun typing the E-mail response I thought I share it as a blog post.

There are so very many options today in terms of technology, but the basics of life shared in the terrific book Finding Wheels are still as relevant today as ever. The foundation of travel and getting where you want to go is enhanced by technologies but one still needs that special gray matter between the ears, a white cane or guide dog if non-visual or partial visual travel skills are needed, and a healthy serving of common sense. That being said, on with the toys : )

The Trekker Breeze is quite familiar to most folks as an accessible GPS solution that is on the verge of getting much, much better. HumanWare is about to release Trekker Breeze Plus. The Plus version will appear the same on the outside but the inside will have improved components that allow quicker and more stable connections to satellites, the ability to “lock in” Open Area mode, and I am sure a bevy of other enhancements. For those that have already purchased a Trekker Breeze, there is no need to take out a loan for the $800 to purchase a new device; there will be a $199 upgrade program. HumanWare will rebuild the originally purchased Trekker Breeze, giving it a new GPS module as well as a new battery if you send it in once the program gets up and running. Hopefully things will start happening toward the middle to end of May, 2015.

In terms of iOS and Android devices, there are a multitude of apps to choose from. A curated list of favorites with links and descriptions can be found at the blog post “Apps for Independence in the Community and Orientation and Mobility”.

In terms of lessons with students (could also be used with Adults), here is another post with tech activities that can be done for each area of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) during Orientation and Mobility lessons; “Mixing O&M, Technology, and the Expanded Core Curriculum”.

Oh, just one more note, this will all be updating soon as folks begin using the “taptic engine” in the Apple Watch as it will give tactile/haptic feedback to the wrist to alert the traveler when a turn is required along a route; there are different taps for right and left turns.

Geocaching and Letterboxing for Orientation and Mobility Lessons

Geocaching and Letterboxing for Orientation and Mobility Lessons

For those wanting to add some creative adventures to their Orientation and Mobility lessons, you can introduce the concept of Geocaching and Letterboxing.

Here are some suggestions for activities:

  • Have prepared locations for “letterboxing” with described directions, using cardinal directions from a known landmark and use the compass (braille, talking, or app from smart phone) as an orientation tool.

  • Have students enter the location of a cache with latitude and longitude coordinates into BlindSquare (iOS) or APH Nearby Explorer (Android) to get some prompting by tracking the coordinates as a landmark.

  • For a team activity, braille the clues and hints so that students can use their compensatory skills to read to the group.

  • To develop concepts for Orientation and Mobility, be sure to use words that emphasize the concept in the directions, such as parallel and perpendicular, traffic side of sidewalk, cardinal directions, with the landmark behind you, etc.

  • Consider making a sample activity plan to share with parents and families so they can participate with their child as well

The Geocaching app on the iPhone with VoiceOver affords a way to search for the presence of caches in your area, but as far as using it in an accessible way, it is a bit of a challenge. The app has a compass to direct the user but the compass position is not read by VoiceOver due to the app design. What you can get from the app is the latitude and longitude of the cache itself which can then be entered into another app that is more accessible. One such app that is specifically developed for users with visual impairment and blindness is BlindSquare (costs about $29.99). BlindSquare allows a user to enter their own places as landmarks and then edit the location with latitude and longitude coordinates. The technical part is that Geocaching displays coordinates in a hybrid form (e.g. 32˚ 49.818′ N and 116˚ 46.574′ W) while BlindSquare uses Decimal degrees (e.g. 32.8303˚ N and 116.7762˚ W); luckily there are free conversion apps you can get that will do the conversion for you. You can also use programs and apps like Google Maps to get the latitude and longitude of a location anywhere on the planet without having to have physically traveled there to set it as a landmark. This lets you have guidance to where you would like to travel. BlindSquare can provide directions with cardinal directions (N, S, E, W), relative directions (To Your Right, To Your Left, etc.), or clock face (toward One O’Clock, or Three O’Clock), and can have distances expressed as feet or meters.

The app will get you close to the cache but locating the actual box will be more manual. One way to adapt this is to arrive early and to have a sound module with a motion sensor (such as the kind used in halloween decorations where the sound effect occurs as you walk by, [] or []) placed at the cache or coordinate directions with tactile landmarks that will be clues to bring the students in closer. At some point you may be able use things like iBeacons and “Nearables” (just visit for fun dreaming about how you could use the technology). Another strategy is to use a wireless doorbell. The main unit can be placed at the cache site and the button for the doorbell can be used by the student looking for the cache, as they get within range the doorbell will respond to the button press and provide a sound clue of where to head to ([\_1\_1?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1431017857&sr=1-1&keywords=wireless+doorbell]).

Letterboxing sites:

Geocaching sites:


Chris Tabb, 2015-05-07

Odin VI Talking Cell Phone

Looking for a simple accessible cell phone with just the necessities? This might be what you are looking for.

From their website:

Odin VI — Unlocked
$199.00 With New Activation and No Contract
(May be used with service from AT&T, T-Mobile or any other GSM provider)

The ODIN VI is a talking cell phone that is 100 percent accessible to the blind. It speaks everything that is on the screen, speaks the keys that you press and even prompts you to perform certain functions. Create your own contacts and move through your contact list to hear the names read out loud. Write text messages and hear your incoming messages spoken to you. Access your call log to learn which calls you missed. The ODIN VI speaks the caller ID, as well as the amount of battery charge, the signal strength and the time and date. You can even select between a few different voices and choose between a white on black or black on white display. The exterior of the phone is black.

  • The ODIN VI is 100% accessible to the blind
  • Adjust the speech speed
  • Select a male of female voice
  • Typed numbers displayed in 24 point font
  • Text messages displayed in 12 point font
  • Select black on white display or white on black
  • Hearing aid compatible – rating of M3/T3
  • Stores up to 200 contacts
  • Hands-free speakerphone
  • Three ringtones
  • Option to vibrate with incoming calls
  • Program up to three emergency numbers. Press and hold any button for approximately five seconds and the phone will dial each number in turn until the call is answered.

Ensuring Accessible Educational Materials

We all know how important it is that our students get their instructional materials in an accessible format and in a timely manner.  It’s written into the Federal IDEA law!  I hadn’t seen the Dear Colleague Letter and the FAQ document that were issued in the fall by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education.  Check this out, from a recent post by the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials for Learning at
AEM in Elementary and Secondary Schools
Accessible Educational Materials and the IEP

In order to participate and achieve in the general curriculum, all students need educational materials that they can perceive and interact with. IDEA states that timely access to appropriate and accessible instructional materials is an inherent component of the obligation of public agencies to ensure that a free appropriate public education (FAPE) is available for children with disabilities. When AEM is explicitly incorporated into a student’s IEP, the likelihood is increased that the student’s use of AEM will become an effective and integrated part of the learning process.

The resource, Accessible Educational Materials and the IEP Brief, explores components of the IEP where it might be appropriate to refer to a student’s need for and use of AEM.  The document is available for download from the AEM and the IEP page of the AEM website.

Dear Colleague Letter on Effective Communication has AEM implications 

Recently a Dear Colleague Letter (DCL) and a FAQ document were issued jointly by the Department of Justice and the Department of Education concerning effective communication for students with hearing, vision or speech disabilities in public schools. Implications related to AEM focus on the special factors which must be considered in the development, review and revision of IEPs. As a part of the communication special factor, the needs of all students with disabilities should be considered, not just those who are deaf or hard of hearing. Since communication includes both visually and aurally presented information, the need for accessible educational materials should be considered as part of this factor.

Although the communication special factor indirectly requires consideration of the need for AEM, SEAs and LEAs might consider explicitly adding a student’s need for AEM as a sixth factor for IEP teams to consider. The IEP form might include a specific prompt for the consideration of AEM (e.g., “Does the student require one or more specialized formats — braille, large print, audio, and/or digital text — of educational materials because disability prevents effective use of standard educational materials?”).

2015 Texas Deafblind Symposium

Once every two years, the Texas Deafblind Project hosts a big conference. This year’s 2015 Texas Deafblind Symposium will host several nationally known speakers as well as many presenters from across Texas. Beginning February 19 with a pre-conference on pre-linguistic communication interaction, and continuing with the main conference the 20 and 21, with a theme of Mindfulness:  Active Attention to the Here and Now. Some of our best known speakers include:

  • Bernadette van den Tillaart, Deafblind Consultant
  • Haben Girma, Civil Rights Advocate
  • Dr. Catherine Nelson, Assistant Professor, Department of Special Education, University of Utah
  • Tanni Anthony, Director of Low Vision and Blindness Services, Colorado Department of Education
  • Dr. Amy Parker, Coordinator of Professional Development and Products, National Center on Deafblindness
Registration is closed, but detailed information on the sessions can be found at:

Ai Squared (ZoomText) and GW Micro Merger

This might be old news to some but in May 2014, Ai Squared , the makers of ZoomText  and GW Micro, makers of Window Eyes have merged into one company.  I don’t how they are logistically going to do this since Ai Squared’s headquarters is in Vermont while GW Mico’s is in Indiana.   Anyway,  we’ll see if this is a good move or not.  Stay tuned.  If you want to read more on the merger here is a weblink.

Apps for Independence in the Community and Orientation and Mobility

Apps for Independence in the Community and Orientation and Mobility

I have a penchant for buying apps to check which work best for various activities. Here are a few favorites that are either specifically designed for blind or visually impaired users, or are apps that work well with VoiceOver. Many are multiplatform and available on iOS via the Apple Store, Android via Google Play, and Windows Phone via Windows Phone Store.

GPS Apps:

Apple Maps and Siri (built in iOS app, free)

Apple Maps is built into iOS devices and can provide spoken location information and pedestrian directions, but it needs to tie into other apps to provide routing directions that involve public transportation

Google Maps with Google Now and Talkback (free)

Can provide location and directions with spoken information




Terrific GPS app that is tailored to travlers who are blind and visually impaired. It integrates with other apps, such as Google Maps and Transit to provide route details with public transportation. Best value for price and features in this category.


Nearby Explorer (expensive)

Full featured GPS app that is Android only and expensive but available on APH Quota Funds)


Seeing Eye GPS (expensive)

Full featured GPS app that has been developed specifically for blind and low vision travelers. Free to download but requires subscription to use. There is also a fully paid version created for the VA Program, but it is very, very expensive and things change quickly with technology so who knows what will be available as options by the time your reach the “break even” point of paying rather than subscribing.


Sendero GPS LookAround (free)

Gives basic information about location and what is nearby



Very handy and accurate app for providing information about travel environment, such as direction of travel, landmarks, addresses, and street names, but does not generate point to point route directions.


Navigon North America (expensive)

General purpose navigation app that has pedestrian mode as well as vehicle mode with spoken announcements, relatively expensive



Transportation and Route Planning:

RideScout (free)

Transportation planning app that includes description of route with time and price comparisons for public transit, driving, pay services like Uber and taxis, biking, etc.



Google Maps (free)

Great way to have a national, in fact an international connection to travel planning. Allows user to select directions based on travel modes of vehicle, bicycle, pedestrian, or transit




CapMetro (free)

Austin area public transit, but many transit companies have their own app that can be searched for in app store, free




Transit (free)

Transportation planning app with large bold numbers for bus routes



Where To?

To find what is nearby, such as restaurants, banks, etc.; paid version seems to work best with VoiceOver

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Transportation planning app for walking, buses, subways, rail, and taxi



KNFBReader (expensive)

Text to speech by photograping print with automatic reading available and tactile guidance for aligning camera; expensive but very reliable and easy to use.


Vision Assist

This app is like having a CCTV in your pocket, complete with options for zoom, contrast, reverse polarity, freeze frame, etc.


VoiceDream Reader

Document reader that reads many formats of documents and has high quality voice with available options for fine tuning the playback of the text. There is also a lite version which is free.


LookTel Recognizer

Allows user to make their own database of recognizable items and then give spoke labels, such as a favorite cereal that can then be scanned for by its box or packaging at the store. Also has a barcode reader for identifining many items without having to program them


Text Grabber

Text to speech using optical character recognition (OCR) by photographing text with the camera



Text Detective

Text to speech using optical character recognition (OCR) by photographing text with the camera



EyeNote (free)

Money identifier


LookTel Money Reader

Money identifier


Color Identifier

Color identifier (choose basic colors once added unless you would like much more modern or esoteric names for colors)



Can take photographs and describe what is in the photograph or describe what a photograph is if it is already in your camera roll




Basic note taker


QR Code Scanning:


Easy QR code (quick resonpse code) reader





Dark Sky

Weather app that tells how long until rain is at your present location


Submitted by Chris Tabb, TSBVI Outreach