Technology and independent learning
Most children and young people with vision impairment will benefit from using technology to enable them to access learning efficiently with the maximum degree of independence possible.
Technology devices and digital resources
Mainstream devices such as PCs, tablets and smartphones are becoming increasingly accessible to learners with vision impairment (VI) through use of their ever-improving in-built accessibility features and tools.
Along with the wide range of specialist devices and specialist software available, such as braille notetakers, third-party magnification software and DAISY book readers, a technology solution can usually be found to meet the needs of any individual.
A technology solution is likely to consist of multiple devices that cater to a range of tasks and will change over time: clearly, while a big button, easy to use, Talking Book player may be the perfect solution for a young child, it may be more appropriate for a student preparing for university to access books via their smartphone.
While it is still important to be able to offer paper copies of classroom resources, increased mastery of technology by a learner introduces the option to use digital copies and access online resources. In addition to commercial libraries of electronic books, a million free downloadable resources in accessible formats for print disabled learners are offered through RNIB Bookshare.
In Scotland, another option is Books for All from CALL Scotland.
Technology promotes independent learning
The following four films show children and young people with vision impairment discussing how they use technology to learn more effectively and independently.
The vast range of specialist assistive technology on the market along with the wealth of accessibility features available on mainstream devices can be overwhelming to anyone new to working with a child or young person with vision impairment.
For this reason, mainstream settings and families will benefit from working in partnership with Qualified Teachers of children and young people with Vision Impairment (QTVIs) and other specialist staff from the local authority VI team to develop an individualised technology solution, source specialist skills training for both staff and learners, and source ongoing technical support.
Assistive technology assessments
Typically, the QTVI will carry out a technology assessment based on information from the child or young person, staff who work with them day-to-day, their family and the IT support team for the setting. Key information might include:
- The type of learning activities that are currently difficult to access with the desired degree of independence.
- Potential areas for specialist skills development to increase independent access to learning.
- Technology used at home.
- Compatibility of potential solutions with current school systems (bearing in mind that it is likely that the duty to make reasonable adjustments applies).
Resulting recommendations might cover:
- Provision of suitable devices and software.
- Adaptations to system settings and/or use of accessibility features on devices.
- Provision of specialist skills teaching for the use of technology.
- Provision of staff training.
- Arrangements for ongoing technical support.
Remember that using a device day in day out, in a classroom setting, can be quite different to testing for 10 minutes as part of an assessment. Ideally, equipment would be available to trial for a short period before expensive purchases are made.
Technology assessments will need to be reviewed regularly to take account of factors such as changes to the Curriculum, a change of setting, a change in vision, an individual’s skill levels etc. as well as any technological advancements.
Specialist skills teaching for assistive technology
The use of technology to access learning and the world beyond school is an area of specialist skills development as set out in the Curriculum Framework for Children and Young People with Vision Impairment (CFVI) so, while settings would facilitate, the expectation would be that a QTVI would lead on this.
Resources to support teaching in this area can be found on RNIB Bookshare CFVI Area 8: Technology
Making mainstream devices easier to use
Mainstream devices have a wide range of features to make them more inclusive; these are continually improving but you can find out what's currently available by checking the following accessibility webpages:
- Accessibility Technology & Tools - Microsoft Accessibility
- Accessibility - Apple (UK)
- Accessibility for People with Disabilities - Google Chromebooks
- Innovative Accessible Phones, Devices and Settings | Android
Mainstream technology is not always the best solution to enable an individual to carry out the full range of daily tasks as independently as possible. Useful specialist devices include talking watches, accessible DAISY audio book players, Penfriend audio labeller, accessible voice recorders, electronic magnifiers and electronic braille devices, to name a few. An assistive technology assessment completed by a QTVI or similar professional will recommend what might be most suitable for an individual. These specialist technology providers give an idea of the wide range of products available:
- Dolphin Computer Access
- Inclusive Technology – All the Help You Need
- Orbit Research
- Learning Resources – Speaking Listening Speech Language Communication – Talking Products Ltd
- Visually Impaired Products- Sight and Sound Technology
Online learning and virtual learning environments
Technology offers a range of strategies for accessing learning and enriching the educational experience through the use of apps, websites and virtual learning environments (VLEs). However, it is crucial that where technology is used, adaptations are made as necessary to ensure equitable access to learning. In some situations, online learning or the use of a VLE can make a task less accessible, for example if the learner hasn’t yet mastered the necessary technology skills or if it is time-consuming to locate a required item on a VLE interface; in these cases, it is likely that the duty to make reasonable adjustments would apply and the activity should be provided in an alternative format.
Examples include, but are not limited to:
- Providing a modified large print paper copy of a worksheet instead of a young learner filling in an electronic version on a website.
- Emailing an electronic copy of a document to a student directly instead of them having to locate and download it from a VLE.
- Providing relevant articles for a research task to save a student having to search the internet themselves (except where the search is the main objective of the activity).
Further information and support
These other organisations offer some great advice and guidance on the different technology solutions available:
- A digital world accessible to all | AbilityNet
- Guide Dogs UK (search for technology)
- NatSIP - Home (search for Technology)
- Paths to Technology – Perkins School for the Blind
- Technology support
- Assistive technology - Sense
- Education technology - Thomas Pocklington Trust (pocklington-trust.org.uk)
- VIEW (Search for technology)