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 aer@cast.org:
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: http://www.tsbvi.edu/workshops-items/4203-tx-symposium-detailed

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

[https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/where-to-find-best-places/id903955898?mt=8 ]


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

Mixing O&M, Technology, and the Expanded Core Curriculum

Mixing O&M, Technology, and the Expanded Core Curriculum

Here are some suggestions for using apps for each area of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) as part of orientation and mobility lessons, and also a brief description of an option for a GPS app, BlindSquare. So, without further ado, here goes…

Compensatory Skills:

Braille Touch is an app that allows six finger entry of text into the iPhone and can be used for route directions, grocery lists, phone numbers, etc. Compensatory Skills are clearly represented in this activity, and rather than the Orientation and Mobility Specialist “Teaching Braille”, they merely encouraging the generalization of the student’s already developed braille skills for use in the community, without having to bring a Perkins Brailler to the grocery store.

Recreation and Leisure:

Geocaching is a fun activity that can be made accessible with GPS apps, such as BlindSquare. This is a great example of a mainstream activity that is developing orientation skills and concepts while also developing Recreation and Leisure skills, not to mention many core curriculum concepts.

Adaptive Technology:

Just talking about mobile devices begins to address the area of Assistive/Adaptive Technology, but going beyond just talking and exposing a student to something like the compass app might be the connection the student needs to actually enjoy learning about cardinal directions; they can even pick their favorite digitized voice for the compass! Using apps that can read text have a multitude of uses. An app that has just recently been released that works very well is KNFB Reader. It photographs text and automatically begins reading it.

Independent Living Skills:

Independent Living Skills includes things like going grocery shopping; the skills involved in grocery shopping are facilitated by scanning apps for bar codes and price checkers such as Red Laser or LookTel Recognizer. Another area of independent living is knowing the weather before heading out for the day to be able to dress appropriately, and students can address this with a weather app. Staying organized with a planning calendar and contact lists for calling transit companies and checking in at school, the ideas go on and on; this is a huge category.

Self Determination:

Self Determination includes self knowledge and there are certainly ways to use the internet browser built into a mobile device to search about eye conditions; there are also simulator apps to demonstrate their eye conditions while they advocate for their needs. Students can set personal goals and track their progress using planning apps, notes, journals, and calendars.

Social Interaction:

Telephone, texting, Facebook, Twitter, E-mail and many other resources built into phones and mobile devices are great teaching tools for Social Interaction, especially as student’s peers use these tools for social exchange, social planning, etc.

Sensory Efficiency:

Sensory Efficiency can be addressed using a camera app or CCTV app for zooming in on directory signs or even produce prices in grocery stores, reading labels on packages, etc. And an example for non-visual skills, recording the traffic sounds at an intersection and then using it as an audio track for practicing the identification of lulls for timing crossings is one strategy. One of my favorite “homework” activities is to have a student listen to their favorite music, and while they are listening, ask them to practice listening and focusing on just one instrument so they can use the same skill while analyzing an intersection and listening for just one lane of traffic.

Career Education:

How about looking up the address of prospective employer and then planning a trip to get a job application, or investigating the working conditions at a job site; sure is beginning to sound a lot like a Career Education activity. And, by taking the bus to get there, you are also practicing public transportation and taking on addressing more Orientation and Mobility. Wow two ECC’s in one activity : )

Orientation and Mobility:

More specifically about Orientation and Mobility, planning bus routes with local transit apps, using GPS apps to virtually explore areas before exploring there in person, even asking Siri for their present location while traveling in residential areas or finding an address for a destination.   Have the student show you what they know and teach you how to do something using an adaptive gesture. What area(s) of the ECC would teaching someone else be?   Activities can easily be combined to address multiple areas in the same lesson.

Lots of Apps for O&M:

Google Maps, Seeing Eye GPS, BlindSquare, and Nearby Explorer are just a few examples, but there are many more apps available for the various mobile device platforms, whether the device uses iOS, Android, or Windows Mobile. The Nearby Explorer app, which is only available on the Android platform presently, is available as a purchased app from the Google Play Store but can also be purchased directly through APH with Quota Funds. This is especially helpful if a student or client already has invested in an Android device, as the app alone is $99. Seeing Eye GPS is another full featured GPS app and is presently only available as an iOS app; it also carries a hefty price tag as far as apps go. It is free to download but requires a subscription. You can now purchase a monthly subscription for $9.99 to try it out rather than having to spend $70 for one year, or even $130 for a two year subscription.

The option I generally recommend people get started with if they have an iPhone or an iPad with a cellular plan is a $30 app called BlindSquare. It is not full featured for routing on its own, but it ties into other apps which are free, such as Transit and Google Maps to provide point to point directions. It also provides the user the ability to enter the latitude and longitude. The ability to edit and enter your own coordinates allows you to set a landmark for things like the front door to a building on a college campus one of your students will be attending, without ever having to have been there. The student can then learn how to do the same and have a full directory of landmarks before they even arrive at school!

The same strategy can be used for an early alert on bus travel about a stop location. It was previously possible to do this with a BrailleNote that had a GPS receiver and Sendero GPS software, but it is very nice that it can now be down with a reasonably priced app. Even for students who are very new to technology, all they have to do is open the app while they travel on a bus and it will begin reading the name of every street they bus crosses and all they have to do is listen. It allows them to have a bit more information about their location to know where they are along their route and to prepare for their departure from the bus.

Submitted by Chris Tabb, TSBVI Outreach

Build Expanded Core Curriculum Skills Using 12 Days of Christmas

I think using the 12 days of Christmas is a cool way to incorporate some of the ECC into your child’s life. Take advantage of that unstructured time over the holidays and keep your children busy. All your children will benefit. Remember to make it fun!


9th Annual Texas Chargers Retreat

Mark your calendars!  The 9th Annual Texas Chargers Retreat is just around the corner, October 31st-November 2nd, 2014.  We will meet once again, at beautiful Camp Allen in Navasota, TX for a weekend of encouragement, inspiration and FUN!  This year is EXTRA special since it falls on Halloween.  Pack your costumes for a trunk or treat held Friday evening.  This retreat is for the whole family and includes activities for all kids.  The keynote speakers are Judi Brookshire and Tina Prochaska.  They have decades of experience working with people who are deaf and specialize in diverse family dynamics.  For more information and to register visit www.texaschargers.org.  Hope to see you there!

New TEA Approved Courses

New innovative courses submitted by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Curriculum Department, Braille Reading and Writing, Orientation and Mobility for Students with Visual Impairments I, II, III, and IV, and General Employability Skills have been approved for use as innovative courses beginning in the 2014-2015 school year. We appreciate the hard work that you and your staff contributed toward the creation of these courses.

The course Braille Reading and Writing will remain in effect until the English language arts and reading Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are revised.  The course Orientation and Mobility for Students with Visual Impairments I, II, III, and IV will remain in effect until the physical education Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills are revised.  The course General Employability Skills will remain in effect through the 2015-2016 School year.

Please note that the approved courses may serve as state graduation elective credit only and are not approved to substitute for any required state graduation requirements.

Information regarding the PEIMS course codes and abbreviations are below.  Information regarding the courses will be available on the innovative course website (http://tea.texas.gov/index4.aspx?id=6079) soon.

Course name PEIMS Code Abbreviation
Braille Reading and Writing N1100505 BRAILLE
Orientation and Mobility for Students with Visual Impairments I, II, III, and IV N1160510 ORIENMO
General Employability Skills N1290060 GEMPLS

Debra Sewell
Curriculum Coordinator
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Article on CHARGE Syndrome

Here is an article written by a friend of ours. Liz Lewis has a sister who is an adult with Charge Syndrome.  Liz is also an anthropologist who uses her profession to better understand the disability community.  Her latest article,  In the Community but Alone is about her sister’s community living arrangement and, more broadly, on the need for more social inclusion and services for adults with disabilities in our communities.  She has given me permission to share so feel free to pass it on if you like.  Also, I encourage you to check out Bloom (a blogspot for parents who have kids with disabilities).