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Winter 2003 Table of Contents
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The Early Braille Readers Project

Holly Cooper, Ph.D., Technology Consultant, TSBVI Outreach

We in Outreach Technology are pleased to announce the launching of a new project: the Written Communication Technology for Early Braille Readers Project. This project will provide electronic braille equipment for a limited number of students who apply and are selected as participants. For more information about the project and how to apply, parents should contact their child's vision teacher. Teachers can contact the regional Education Service Center specialist for students with visual impairments.

What's It All About?

The Early Braille Readers Project was designed to explore the potential of electronic braillewriter technology for very young students. We believe putting braille technology into the hands of students and their teachers in the primary grades will give students access to a virtually unlimited supply of written material. With such expanded access to materials, students will have more opportunities to learn literacy skills in a variety of contexts, increasing their learning opportunities. They will be able to participate in classroom activities more fully because the technology can receive input from a standard computer keyboard and output it in braille! General education classroom teachers and students can enter information in print, and the braillewriter can immediately emboss it into braille. No longer will all printed matter have to go to the vision teacher for the braille reading student to have access. The braille reading student also will be able to write in braille and output materials in print with a computer printer.

So what is this braille technology, and why haven't we been using it already? We have! It's a new version of a device that is familiar to many who work with visually impaired students: the Mountbatten Pro braillewriter! The exciting thing about the Mountbatten that led us to choose it for this project is it's ability to interface with a computer. Pulse Data has released a new version of the Mountbatten with a multitude of ports and connectivity features. They have revised some of the function keys, so students will be much less likely to access the internal menus of the device, and unintentionally store or delete files.

Not Just Gadgets!

Equipment is great, but practical use of equipment in classrooms with children is another matter. We in Outreach Technology know that just having a piece of equipment doesn't necessarily help the student. We believe in support! An important feature of our project is training and support for the vision teacher, other teachers, support staff, and interested people who will be assisting the student, or using the electronic braillewriter themselves to produce accessible materials. We will do a series of initial face-to-face trainings, and scheduled trainings and trouble shooting sessions on interactive video or web-based interactive video. We will have a supporting listserv for users to ask questions and share ideas. Our project will have the capacity to add other supports as participants have needs.

We're Looking For a Few Good Kids

To take part in this project, the vision teacher must complete an application, and the student must fall within the parameters we defined in our grant application. Included in these requirements are the following:

We realize there are many other students who would benefit from the use of equipment like this who are older or who are educated in other class settings. Our project only includes young students who are ready to read. Probably most will not have other disabilities. We plan to collect information on students' progress in reading and writing, and feedback from teachers about how increased access to braille has made a difference in skill acquisition, social interactions with peers, and other aspect of the educational experience. With this project as a source of information, we will write and do presentations about (what we expect will be) the benefits of having access to braille through the use of technology. In this way, we hope to give teachers and parents the information they need to advocate for the use of technology and increased availability of materials in braille for younger students, and students who are early braille readers regardless of their age.

Do you think you know a student who would be a good prospect for participation in the Early Braille Literacy Project? We want to know about them. Contact your vision teacher or ESC vision specialist to start the process.

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Last Revision: August 25, 2003