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Expert View: Innovating Braille for Students

How can visually impaired students practice braille independently?

By Marty Schultz, Co-founder and President of ObjectiveEd

Several studies suggest that braille literacy is directly correlated with academic achievement among individuals who are blind or visually impaired. In most cases, this literacy is only achieved through one-to-one interaction between a teacher and student. The teacher can correct students when wrong, reward them when correct and help them when confused.

Braille Sheets lets a student practice braille letters, words or sentences using an iPad on which a page of embossed braille is placed on the surface of the iPad Click To Tweet

But what if students could practice and improve their braille literacy skills without constant supervision by a teacher, receiving timely and accurate feedback along the way, and having fun even as their progress is continuously monitored? This has now become possible using a combination of cloud-based software, readily available hardware like the iPad and a suite of game apps developed by ObjectiveEd.

The target market for the Braille Sheets game app is students with visual impairments pre-K through 12th grade Click To Tweet
How Braille Sheets Works

Braille Sheets is one of the innovations in the game suite, which in tandem with the iPad allows teachers and specialists to create their own lessons for their students and permits these lessons to be shared among professionals around the world.

How does Braille Sheets work? It lets a student practice braille letters, words or sentences in games played on an iPad on which a page of embossed braille is placed over the screen. The embossed page can be produced using any method that professionals use to provide students with hardcopy braille. As the student moves their fingers to read the braille letters, the game apps—which have been pre-programmed through a web dashboard interface—“know” exactly where their fingers are touching.

Braille Sheets could introduce a brand new generation of blind and visually impaired students to braille and give them a leg up on the learning they need to prosper Click To Tweet

This provides a wide set of benefits for students and teachers:

  • Early braille learners can practice braille on their own, without the presence of a teacher.
  • Students may be more motivated to learn, and learn more quickly, since they are having fun while doing so.
  • There are a variety of word games like Word Scramble and Hangman.
  • There are quiz games and letter/phrase hunting games.
  • The game suite uses off-the-shelf technology that is low-cost and widely available.
  • The student’s progress is stored in a secure, accessible web dashboard located in the cloud, so all members of the student’s Individualized Education Program team can view the student’s progress and adjust or add games accordingly.
  • Teachers and specialists can create their own lessons and share them with other teachers.

For each Braille Sheet, there is a corresponding grid—stored in the web dashboard—that specifies the letter or word for that position. Since the iPad has a touch-sensitive screen, when the user’s fingers touches a braille letter or word on the sheet, the iPad registers the fingers’ location. Games stored in the web dashboard by a teacher can be utilized by any teacher anywhere else who seeks to impart the same skills to their own students.

Braille Sheets games stored in the web dashboard by a teacher can be utilized by any teacher anywhere else who seeks to impart the same skills to their own students Click To Tweet
Helping Students Learn Literacy Skills

As one example of how this innovation could improve a student’s braille literacy skills, consider David, who is learning the alphabet. He can play a game in which each letter he touches is spoken aloud. He can play another game that asks him to find a letter, and once he has found it, the game will confirm it or will guide him to look again. And he can play yet another game that asks him to find the letter that begins a word, e.g. “dog”; when he finds the “d,” the game makes a dog sound and confirms he has successfully found the letter “d.” Additional games are optimized for students who are learning sight words; CVC (consonant, vowel, consonant) words; multisyllable words; and more.

In other cases, teachers can create a braille sheet themselves that is compatible with a specific game. Consider Megan, who is motivated when learning about horses. Her teacher writes a short story about horses in which braille contractions she is focusing on to teach Megan are included. (Braille has contractions, like shorthand, so that it doesn’t take up too much paper; otherwise, a braille book might be several times longer than the corresponding printed book. For example, “fr” is the contracted form of the word “friend.”) Megan enjoys the story repeatedly, first listening to each sentence as the game reads to her as she tracks across the lines of the story. She then reads the story on the braille page independently of the game. Another game asks Megan questions about the horse in the story, requiring her to locate the correct word in the story to answer.

Students can practice and improve their braille literacy skills without constant supervision, receiving timely and accurate feedback along the way, and having fun even as their progress is continuously monitored Click To Tweet

The target market for the game app is students with visual impairments pre-K through 12th grade, with Braille Sheets specifically designed for students who are learning braille as part of their educational program. To date, Objective Ed has introduced its game app and its Braille Sheet games at national and regional meetings of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, as well as several conferences for orientation and mobility specialists. It is also working with several schools for the blind where teachers and students are currently testing the games.

Using innovative technology this way, a brand new generation of blind and visually impaired students could be introduced to braille—and get a leg up on the learning they need to thrive.