Kaizen Home Page 

Making Course Work Accessible

by Sylvie Kashdan and Robby Barnes

Download screen reader friendly version (rich text format)

Download printable version (rich text format)

It is important to remember that in making course work accessible to visually-impaired and blind adult students there are a number of factors that need to be considered--both in the basic education teaching context, where the adult students are proficient English speakers, but need assistance in developing literacy and GED knowledge and skills, and in the ESL context where the adults are in the process of learning a new language and about a new culture, and often need assistance in developing oral communication skills along with literacy. 

1.  Teachers need to develop activities which include blind and visually-impaired students as full participants, not as bystanders who need help to be even minimally involved.  Remember no student is a "standard learner."  All students benefit from utilizing multiple senses and a variety of approaches and methods.  All people use some sort of compensatory skills in exploring and participating in daily life and learning experiences.  we need to utilize the many ways that all people learn.

2.  English communication skills--reading, writing, listening and speaking--are vital for mastering the other compensatory skills necessary for dignity, independence and full participation in North American society.

3.  By making lessons accessible to blind and visually-impaired students and including them as full participants, teachers can help them focus on the English communication skills needed to accomplish their life/career goals.  Blind and visually-impaired students need an emphasis on literacy as well as oral skills.  Braille or large print literacy is important in functioning on a daily basis in one's personal life, on the job and even often for learning technology.  

Some Pointers for Class Lessons and Tutoring Sessions

*  Encourage students to record sessions on cassettes for later review.

*  When students record sessions on cassettes encourage them to ask questions about things that they are having difficulty understanding, and then to record their own understanding of the answers (in their first language if necessary).  If this is not done, recordings may be difficult to understand when reviewed later.

*  Blind and visually-impaired students should be given textbook lessons and all other lesson materials in braille or their preferred size and font of print. Adapted versions of textbook lessons and all other lesson materials should be provided to the students well in advance of the class sessions in which they will be used and well in advance of the time for the completion of homework assignments based on them.

*  If material from the back of textbooks is utilized during class sessions or for homework assignments, be sure to provide blind or visually-impaired students with these materials in braille or their preferred size and font of print well in advance of the class sessions in which they will be used and well in advance of the time for the completion of homework assignments based on them.

*  Encourage students to take notes in the print size that they can best read or in braille, to give natural practice in writing and reading, as well as in thinking about the lesson material.  Although notetaking may be difficult in the beginning, it will only become easier if students practice.

*  Use complete sentences when presenting a lesson.  Keep in mind that blind or visually-impaired students will not usually be able to fill in the blanks in their minds both because they are in the process of learning the English language and because they will have difficulty seeing things that are referenced by simply being labeled in pictures or pointed to.

*  Record material for students with them present to insure that they can understand the material, that the speed and tone you are using is understandable to them, that you are spelling and clearly pronouncing words they feel they need spelled and clearly pronounced, that you are referencing the numbers of the written material that is being recorded, and that you are taking into account other factors of importance to their ability to use the recordings later.

*  Homework and in-class assignments should not simply be written on the board and/or written down by assistants for the blind or visually-impaired students.  Assignments can be dictated to students to write down themselves in their preferred format.  Or they can be produced either in the appropriate size and font of print or braille as well as being recorded on cassettes.

*  Students should prepare homework assignments that will be reviewed during class sessions in their preferred reading and writing format--print handwriting or computer-produced print of the appropriate size and font (if they have access to computers for lesson preparation), or in braille.  In order to develop literacy skills and participate as equals along with fully-sighted students, visually-impaired and blind students need to be able to read out their answers to assignments rather than simply responding orally to someone else's reading of assignment questions.  If they have difficulty reading any size and font of print, then braille should be considered as a more appropriate literacy tool and they should be given the opportunity to develop some proficiency in braille before continuing in the mainstream class (unless advanced diabetes or other disorders interfere with the ability to perceive writing tactually).

*  In addition, students should prepare homework assignments that will be handed in to teachers in print handwriting or computer-produced print (in order to develop their skill in communicating in writing with sighted people) as well as making it possible for teachers to evaluate their work directly.

*  Students should prepare in-class assignments that will be reviewed during class sessions in their preferred reading and writing format--print handwriting or computer-produced print of the appropriate size and font for them to read (if they have laptop computers available in class), or in braille.  In order to develop literacy skills and participate as equals along with the fully-sighted students, visually-impaired and blind students need to be able to read out their answers to assignments rather than simply responding orally to someone else's reading of assignment questions.  If they have difficulty reading any size and font of print, then braille should be considered as a more appropriate literacy tool and they should be given the opportunity to develop some proficiency in braille before continuing in the mainstream class (unless advanced diabetes or other disorders interfere with the ability to perceive writing tactually).

*  In addition, students should prepare in-class assignments that will be handed in to teachers in print handwriting or computer-produced print (in order to develop their skill in communicating in writing with sighted people) as well as making it possible for teachers to evaluate their work directly.  Students who are using braille will need to prepare the print versions to be handed in after the class session in which they were reviewed.

*  Teachers should inform visually-impaired and blind students in advance of the specific parts of assignments they will be asked to read out in class, so as to make it possible for the students to clearly demark and find those parts when they are needed.  Otherwise, the students may spend a lot of time and emotional energy on searching for the parts required after they are called on.  The stress and embarrassment caused by this experience can greatly diminish students' in-class participation and learning.

*  Blind and visually-impaired students should be given tests in braille or their preferred size and font of print, and allowed at least double the amount of time allowed fully-sighted students, to compensate for possibly slower rates of reading and writing, and the time required in reading the test materials, then writing down answers, then finding their place in the questions.  Administering tests orally does not provide students either the opportunity or incentive to practice their literacy skills.  It is also a less accurate method of testing, since the reader often inadvertently gives the student oral cues as to correct or incorrect answers.

*  There are numerous high tech tools that can assist people who are blind or visually impaired with literacy related tasks.  There is no single multipurpose tool which can do all things, but individual tools that are helpful with specific tasks.  For new English learners, the primary focus needs to be on appropriate basic communications skills--listening and speaking, reading and writing with appropriate size and fonts of print, or with braille--as part of communicative teaching and learning strategies.  Care must be taken lest technology, not language, become the student's focus (and the instructor's focus and fascination).  As noted earlier, this workshop's presenters are available to give referrals in cases where students do not already have specialists they can call upon for assistance with technology.

*  Hi tech tools can be used as supplementary tools by assisting in three major areas: 

1.  accessing printed and electronic information

2.  producing written communication

3.  producing materials in alternate formats. 

*  Remember that before the adult with a visual impairment can fully participate in and benefit from a mainstream ESL or ABE classroom she or he must learn to compensate for the visual impairment by becoming competent in compensatory skills.  Along with orientation and mobility skills, the most important compensatory skills are those related to communication, including listening and speaking, reading and writing using:  large print and handwriting and reading skills, or braille reading and writing skills, notetaking skills, and skill in mathematical calculations.

The need that adult students with visual impairments have to learn compensatory skills will vary depending on the degree of their functional vision, visual efficiency, age of onset, effects of additional disabilities, and the demands of the literacy tasks required for achieving the students' goals. Compensatory skills cannot be taught by mainstream adult ESL or ABE instructors. Students need to develop basic proficiency in the necessary compensatory skills before entering a mainstream adult basic education program in a community college or community-based organization.

When the adult is a new English learner, it is the role of the specialized ESL instructors to assess the student's ability to perform various academic tasks fast enough, using compensatory skills, to function efficiently in the mainstream ESL or ABE classroom. Only through mastery of compensatory skills can an adult who is visually impaired have access to learning in a manner equal to that of sighted peers. If the student's ability to use compensatory and other communicative skills to function efficiently in the mainstream ESL or ABE classroom is overlooked, both the visually-impaired adult student and the mainstream adult basic educator may have to deal with many challenges and discouragement's that could be either avoided or reduced if competency in both compensatory and basic communications skills are developed prior to entry.

Many people think that cassette recorders and computers with synthesized voice technology make it unnecessary for visually-impaired and blind people to read or write using large print or braille. However, often reading large print or braille is an important part of the process of learning computer and other technology, and later in learning upgrades as they come out.

Moreover, obtaining information and learning by listening to a recorded tape or listening to a computer with synthesized speech is not an automatic process. It takes a lot of practice in continuous concentration and remembering, as well as learning how to avoid or cope with dozing during periods of study.

In addition, listening to tape recordings or synthesized speech produced by a computer does not give general literacy skills of reading, writing and spelling. Recorded material does not usually contain information about spelling, punctuation or sentence and paragraph structure. When recordings contain such information they tend to be tedious and somewhat cumbersome to read because this basic literacy information interferes with concentration on more complex meanings. Reading material oneself is a much more efficient method for learning new subjects as well as for developing the skill to do accurate and precise writing. Reading braille or large print directly enables visually-impaired and blind people to become used to the forms of words and sentences, so as to more easily spot their own writing mistakes, rather than relying on others for correction.

It is important for blind and visually-impaired new English adult learners who cannot easily read and write print to utilize braille as a basic functional literacy tool. They need to develop basic reading and writing skills using braille rather than simply relying on tape recordings and computer synthesized speech for reading and relying on dictating their words to other people or computer voice recognition programs for writing. Audio recorders and computers with voice output software are important supplemental tools. Utilizing computer keyboard typing for writing to sighted instructors, family members, friends and others who do not use braille is both necessary and desirable. But, only if a person is physically unable to develop enough tactile sensitivity and skill to read braille or enough muscular coordination to write in braille with a braillewriter or slate and stylus, should audio recordings or computers be utilized as the primary basic functional literacy tools.

In most cases the problem is not the difficulty of learning to read or write braille. The most common problem in learning to read braille is the lack of practice. When students who are capable of developing the necessary tactual skill are not given practice in learning to read braille, they will not develop enough proficiency to be able to intelligently choose when to utilize braille or when to choose audio recordings or a computer with voice output software for reading. For those who have not developed proficiency in reading braille, it will never be an acceptable choice, because it will always be judged to be too onerous, and will be avoided even when an audio recording or a computer with voice output software is not available for use.

The most common problem in learning to write braille is that when students who are capable of writing braille directly are not given the necessary practice in learning to write braille with a six-key style braillewriter keyboard or with a slate and stylus, they will not develop enough proficiency to be able to intelligently choose when to write braille directly or when to utilize audio recording or computers for writing. For those who have not developed proficiency in writing braille directly it will never be an acceptable choice, because it will always be judged to be too onerous, and will be avoided even when an audio recorder or a computer with accessible software is not available for use.  

 This article was presented as part of Session Three:  Braille and Large Print Literacy; Supplemental Technology, part of

Extending the Bridge: Helping Tutors, Teachers, and Other Service Providers and Their Organizations to Better Serve Blind and Visually-Impaired Adults Learning English as a Second Language (ESL), Focusing on Literacy Acquisition a six-session series of information and discussion. 

This series was presented in May and June of 2003. It was funded primarily by a grant from the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB).  In 2002, the presenters, Sylvie Kashdan, Robby Barnes and Cecilia Erin Walsh  attended a three-day training presented by the American Foundation For The Blind National Literacy Center, entitled:  Bridging the Gap:  Best Practices for Instructing Adults Who Are Visually Impaired and Have Low Literacy Skills.  Following this training we were invited to submit a proposal for sharing what we had learned.  Hence, this series, Extending the Bridge.  Other funding sources were St. James ESL Program, Kaizen Program for New English Learners with Visual Limitations, and Washington State Office of Adult Literacy.  We also received help from volunteers with research and organizational tasks. 

CITATION:

Kashdan, Sylvie & Barnes, Robby (2003), Making Course Work Accessible.  Workshop document; Seattle, U.S.A.

 

Kaizen Program

for New English Learners with Visual Limitations

810-A Hiawatha Place S., Seattle, WA 98144, U.S.A.

phone:  (206) 784-5619

email:  kaizen_esl@literacynet.org

web:  http://www.nwlincs.org/kaizen/