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Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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Sowell Center in Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities Distinguished Lecture Series 16th Annual Lecture

Rona Pogrund, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Texas Tech University

Abstract: Dr. Pogrund provides information on the upcoming 2014 Sowell Center Distinguished Lecture Series “Braille Boost”.

Key Words: Sowell Center Distinguished Lecture Series, BANA, Unified English Braille (UEB) Code Translation, Braille, Blind, Visually Impaired, Literacy

The 2014 Sowell Center Distinguished Lecture Series will be held on the Texas Tech University Campus in the Human Sciences Auditorium in Lubbock, Texas on Saturday, September 27, 2014. This year’s lecture is entitled: BRAILLE BOOST: Evidence-Based Instructional Strategies, Teaching Braille in a Team, and Unified English Braille (UEB) Code Transition. The distinguished lecturer is Frances Mary D’Andrea, Ph.D.  Dr. D’Andrea is an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh and an educational consultant specializing in literacy issues related to students with visual impairments. She is the current Chair of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), the organization that endorsed the use of UEB in North America. Dr. D’Andrea worked at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) for 10 years and helped establish the National Literacy Center and has co-authored a wide range of books including Looking to Learn: Promoting Literacy for Students with Low VisionAssistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment, and Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy.

This all-day lecture (9:00 a.m. - 4:00 p.m.) by one of the leaders in braille literacy will provide the “boost” needed to more effectively improve the reading and writing skills of students who use braille. New and innovative strategies to use with braille readers will be offered as well as ideas on how to work in collaboration with a braille reader’s team in an inclusive setting. The workshop will also include accurate and up-to-date information on UEB. With the Unified English Braille Code transition approaching in 2015, the changes to the braille code that will be coming and how this transition will occur will be addressed by Dr. D’Andrea. The lecture is appropriate for all teachers of students with visual impairments, families, individuals who are blind, related service personnel, rehabilitation therapists, and anyone else interested in braille literacy.

Early registration by September 10, 2014 is $75 (including lunch) and after September 10 is $90. Student rates are $25 by September 10 and $50 after September 10. Payment by check, money order, or purchase order payable to “Sowell Center” is acceptable. Lecture attendees will receive a certificate for 6 hours of professional development. Registration can be mailed to Robin Rekieta, Sowell Center for Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities, College of Education, Texas Tech University, Box 41071, Lubbock, TX 79409. Please note any accommodations needed along with your registration. Sowell Center website: // 

For more information about the lecture, contact Robin Rekieta at or at 806-834-1322 or Dr. Rona Pogrund at or at 512-206-9213.

Texas Sense Abilities

Spring 2014


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Abstract: This article shares information about Sports Extravaganza, a two day event which encourages physical activities for students who are blind and visually impaired. 

Key Words: Blind, visually impaired, Region 10 Education Service Center, Lions Club International, physical fitness, recreation

Region 10 Education Service Center staff and the Lions Club International 2-X1 started the Sports Extravaganza in 1991 in response to the need for an increased emphasis on recreation and lifetime leisure skill development for children who are blind and visually impaired.  Students from all over the state of Texas and the United States are welcome to compete.  More than 300 students from 55 school districts in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Alabama participate in Sports Extravaganza each October.

Sports Extravaganza provides opportunities for students with visual impairments to experience a variety of activities that encourage a more active lifestyle and lead to participation in life-long leisure, recreation, and competitive sports.  Students with visual impairments participate in Paralympic type and national sports such as Track and Field, Goalball, and Beep Baseball.  Sports Extravaganza encourages physical fitness among children with visual impairments from infants to 22 year olds.

The 16th Annual Sports Extravaganza will be held on October 17-18, 2014 at Nimitz High School in Irving Texas.

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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EveryWare Technologies

Abstract: Math Melodies is an app developed in Europe, especially for children with visual impairment or blindness. It is accessible with Voice Over or a refreshable braille display. It also has colorful pictures and animation.

Keywords: Math Melodies is an app developed in Europe, especially for children with visual impairment or blindness. It is accessible with Voice Over or a refreshable braille display. It also has colorful pictures and animation.

Math Melodies is a free accessible app for the iPad, specifically designed to help visually impaired children learn mathematics. The app is downloadable from the App Store at the following link: and is available both in Italian and English language (German version will be available soon).

screen shot: scroll with treble cleff and the words Math Melodies
Math Melodies is an app fully accessible to blind or visually impaired children

This first release is designed to support children from the 1st to the 3rd grade of primary school, and includes 6 chapters with 12 different types of exercise, each with a different level of complexity.

Math Melodies has been designed to overcome some of the challenges that blind and visually impaired children have to face in learning math: the app uses the audio feedback integrated in all iOS devices (called Voice Over) to assist the child in practicing arithmetic exercises while sliding the finger over the tablet.

The app can be used with a refreshable braille display, but it can also be enjoyed just by exploring the screen: this way the kids will also be able to perceive the bi-dimensional structure of the exercises, otherwise hard to figure out while using math software on traditional computers.

3 digit addition, color coded columns, grid layout, number buttons across the bottom
A screen shot of Math Melodies display showing 3 digit addition

Examples of exercises can be the “counting animals exercises” (with the call of the animals reproduced with a funny sound) and the “animal position exercises”, but also tables with arithmetic operations, such as “operations in column” exercises, “operation charts” and the “hundreds square with missing numbers”.

Math Melodies is not only useful, but it’s extremely fun and entertaining while retaining its educational purposes! The exercises are immersed in a narrative context that guides the student through the learning process: there is a tale that is read to the children, enriched with music and lots of motivating sounds.

Even if the app is specifically designed for children with visual disabilities, it is also enjoyable by all kids (that’s why there are colorful and funny landscapes), thereby enhancing inclusion between visually impaired and sighted children.

screen shot: words - which animal appears more times. picture of 4 dogs with bones, and 3 cats licking paws

A screen shot showing pictures of cats and dogs, saying "Which animal appears more times?"

MathMelodies has been developed thanks to the funds collected through a crowdfunding campaign (, that allowed the team to raise 15.000€ (Euros, or about $20,000 U.S. dollars) and to distribute the app for free.

Now the team wants to extend the app to make it available to many more children; so they started a new crowdfunding campaign to raise funds to extend Math Melodies to the 4th and 5th grade of primary school.

The 4th grade objective (7.500€) has already been reached and now they are just missing the last step for the 5th grade. For more information and to contribute to their campaign you can visit

But the developers’ work hasn’t ended yet: their objective for the future is to extend Math Melodies to middle and high school, and why not to university as well, including graphs, functions and many more features and making this app a benchmark for math learners with visual disabilities!


The app has been developed by EveryWare Technologies, a spin-off of the University of Milan that develops applications for smartphone and tablet to support visually impaired people in everyday activities.

The team is composed of Sergio Mascetti (Project Manager), Cristian Bernareggi (Accessibility Designer), Andrea Gerino (Chief Developer) and Ginevra Are (Communication Specialist).

EveryWare Technologies started to develop iPhone and iPad apps in early 2012.

Among their apps there are Light Detector (that was the first iPhone app to detect light and transform it into sound) and iMove, which supports the orientation of visually impaired people and that has been downloaded almost 35,000 times worldwide.

The idea behind Math Melodies was born thanks to the experience of Cristian who, being congenitally blind, had to face some difficulties while learning math (even if afterwards he gained a PhD in Computer Science).

Some time ago, together with Sergio, they realized there was the need of an app that could teach math to visually impaired children in a fun, engaging and entertaining way. So they decided to develop it!

Sergio and his colleagues are always happy to receive feedbacks and comment about their apps, and at the moment they are looking for suggestions to improve Math Melodies, also to meet the needs of students with visual impairments in the US.

They invite you to try the app and, if you want any more information, please write to them at .

Also visit their website: Everywhere Technologies (

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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The purpose of this study is to describe the social experiences of teens with visual impairment. This study will provide information about what these teens and their parents experience as they transition into life after high school.

Anyone with visual impairment, including blindness, who is between 14 and 18 years old may be in the study as long as that person can speak English, understand what the study is about and make a decision to participate, and has no physical or hearing impairment. Parent permission is required. Any interested parent of a participating teen may be in the study as long as they speak English.

If you agree to be in this study, you will be asked personal questions in 2-3 private interviews with an experienced occupational therapist/orientation and mobility specialist.

Are you willing to share your story?

For more information, please contact the principal investigator, Jessica Lampert, OTR, COMS, CLVT at (214) 205-9023 or , or fill out the attached contact form and give it to your service provider. This study is part of Jessica Lampert’s PhD requirements at Texas Woman’s University, Dallas.


Social Participation Study

Contact  Request

_______ I would like to be called about participating in this research study.

My name is: ______________________________________________________________________

My Phone Number is: ______________________________________________________________

The best time to reach me is: ________________________________________________________

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter Spring 2014

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These announcements provide information about the conferences that will be held in the summer of 2014.

The Texas Assistive Technology Regional Conference

June 10-12, 2014       

Location: Region 4 Educational Service Center, Houston, Texas

 This conference is sponsored by the Texas Assistive Technology Network (TATN) and the Texas Education Agency (TEA). Assistive Technology enables students with disabilities to access the curriculum, increase independence, and participate actively in education and life activities. Presentations from national, regional and local AT practitioners are featured as well as an exhibit hall.

Texas Assistive Technology Regional Conference

Introduction to Active Learning

June 18, 2014

Location: TSBVI James C. Durkel Conference Center, Austin, TX

Presenters: Outreach Staff

Time: 9:00 AM - 4:30 PM

This special one-day introduction to Active Learning will provide basic information about Active Learning for individuals who have never attended other Active Learning training. This training is highly recommended for these individuals before going to the 2014 Active Learning Conference that will be held on June 19-20, 2014.

2014 LID Active Learning Conference

June 19 - 20, 2014

Location: Ben Hur Shriners Event Center

7811 Rockwood Lane  Austin, TX 78757

Presenter:  Patty Obrzut, Director, Penrickton Center for the Blind, Michigan

This conference will provide strategies and resources for teachers and paraprofessionals who serve students with low incidence disabilities (i.e. severely cognitively disabled, medically fragile, and/or deafblind). Motivating and inspiring an individual with special needs to engage in their environment can be challenging. This year's conference will delve deeper into Active Learning theory and ways to implement this approach for those individuals who have been able to participate in the introductory level events of the past three years.

AER International Conference: Moving into the Future

July 30, 2014 - August 3, 2014

Location: Grand Hyatt on the River Walk
(located at 600 East Market Street, San Antonio, TX 78205), San Antonio, TX.

The International Conference focuses on learning, experiencing, sharing, and cutting edge technology. More than 800 professionals and practitioners will be in attendance, ranging from Educators, Vision Rehabilitation Therapists, Orientation and Mobility Specialists, Low Vision Specialists, University Preparation Professionals, to vendors and parents.

This year’s conference will include:

  • Opening presentation from country singer Ronnie Milsap
  • An exciting celebration of AER’s 30th year anniversary
  • Keynote speakers on Recreation for Life, current technology and Non-24 Hour Sleep Disorder
  • “Learning Labs” to provide hands-on training in UEBC, iPad use, symbols and meaning, and more
  • Dozens of division tracks focusing on field-specific areas
  • A vibrant Exhibit Hall, featuring vendors and products critical to your work
  • Countless opportunities for connecting and networking with hundreds of colleagues
  • Opportunities for the CEUs you require for certification and credentialing
  • Tours of the San Antonio Lighthouse for the Blind
  • In-person training for Chapter and Division officers (AER LIFT)
  • A wonderful evening hosted by the AER Texas Chapter

Texas Sense Abilities Newsletter

Spring 2014

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William Daugherty, Superintendent TSBVI

Abstract:  In this article Superintendent Daugherty shares information on recently passed and new legislation that will impact the education of students with visual impairments.

Key words: Blind, Visual Impairment, Anne Sullivan Macy Act of 2013, Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC), Orientation and Mobility (O&M), IDEA

Several developments with the potential to have great influence on the educational lives of students with visual impairments have taken place recently, and two more appear to be on the horizon.  HB 590 by Representative Naishtat of Austin, also known as the Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Bill, ensures that all students with visual impairments will receive an O&M evaluation. If you were under the impression that this was already happening for all students, you were mistaken. SB 39 by Senator Zaffirini of Laredo, also known as the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Bill, ensures that all students with visual impairments will receive instruction in the ECC in areas of learning such as career education, sensory efficiency and social skills among others. SB 39 strengthens related law in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA. 

I refer to these as being recent developments because, although passed in the last legislative session, our state is still largely in the process of implementation.  Thankfully, we already have good examples in some Texas school districts where Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) and Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialists (COMS) have developed promising systems to ensure that all of this evaluation and instruction occurs. The how-to on this big task is being shared across the state wherever groups of TVIs and COMS are gathered. 

On the horizon is the federal Anne Sullivan Macy Act of 2013, still making its way through Congress. This is another example of a bill that essentially strengthens and adds to existing law (IDEA) because of the wide-spread perception that current law was not getting the job done. The following is taken from the bill language:

To promote and ensure delivery of high quality special education and related services to students with visual disabilities through instructional methodologies meeting their unique learning needs; to enhance accountability for the provision of such services; to establish a national collaborative resource on visual disabilities and educational excellence to supplement the current availability of such services; to support the ongoing professional development of instructors of students with visual disabilities; to foster the proliferation of research supporting the development and evaluation of effective and innovative assessments and instructional methodologies; and for other purposes.

Given that students with visual disabilities require more support than they are currently receiving nationally to acquire services and skills comprising the expanded core curriculum, and given that provision of currently required instruction for such students, such as braille, cannot be adequately assured, IDEA must be strengthened and supplemented to ensure that students with visual disabilities truly receive a free and appropriate public education.

There are some very powerful elements in this law that should be gratifying to all of us who have been concerned about the types and levels of service and supports being delivered to students with visual impairments. To read the text of the bill, go to Macy Act ( The American Foundation for the Blind website does a nice job of organizing it, and it only takes about 10 minutes to read. In it you will find references to many of the common worries we hear in our field about students being underserved relative to all of their educational needs.  I think that the Macy Act will provide an excellent foundation for the type of advocacy and action required for any law to truly be effective.

Also on the horizon is something that I hope will be a welcomed development by students in the hunt for high school credits. TSBVI has submitted a proposal to TEA for consideration of approval for three “Innovative Courses”.  These are Braille, Orientation and Mobility and General Employability Skills. Initial feedback from TEA is very promising.  When accepted, any school in the state will be able to give elective credit if they generally follow the course requirements. More on this later, but there is a very good chance these will be available during the 2014-2015 school year. A good source of information on these courses is Debra Sewell, Curriculum Coordinator at TSBVI () .