Thursday, 25 April 2013

Sharing a Braille Computer

When a student is using his or her hands to operate a braille computer, it's impossible for the teacher to read the refreshable braille strip, or even to see which keys are being pressed. It is extremely frustrating for the learner if the teacher has to keep asking the writer to lift their fingers clear. That's where connecting a display screen can be very helpful.

The two models of BrailleNote used at New College Worcester work in slightly different ways when displaying text on a screen. The older mPower uses a serial lead to send data to a windows laptop (on which KeyView software emulates a "dumb" terminal mode). The newer APEX sends information directly from a VGA output (via a cable) to a standard computer monitor screen. Each system requires some basic training for both student and teacher, but the payoff in the classroom in terms of a more productive learning environment is really worthwhile.

In schools where smartphones and other tablet or mobile devices can be used legitimately, a Bluetooth pairing with an APEX model can be set up to achieve the same result "wirelessly".

Serial lead from BrailleNote to Terminal Emulator on laptop.

VGA lead from BrailleNote to standard display screen.

Braille code is automatically translated to on-screen "print".

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Scholarship visit to Perkins USA

Perkins School for the Blind provides education and services for children and adults around the world who are blind, deaf blind or visually impaired. So you can imagine how pleased I was to be awarded a scholarship from my teaching union NASUWT and The English Speaking Union. This scholarship has provided me with the chance to visit Perkins School for 2 weeks, in which time I will consider the similarities and differences between a US residential school for visually impaired and my own school, New College Worcester.

You may wish to follow or read more about my visit by taking a look at my blog
I have written a little each day during my visit and included plenty of pictures!
Sarah Hughes

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

iPad2 for VI learners

The students I work with LOVED using an iPad2 recently.

Read more in this shared PDF.

Friday, 25 November 2011


A sense of touch doesn't give much of a clue when a blind person uses the smooth, featureless interface of a tablet device like this iPad2. Fortunately those clever people at Apple include a "talking computer" app called Voiceover with their products. So people like the young musician in this picture can compose, record and edit their songs by seeing the display with their ears.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Helpful "Pound Shop" audio accessory

There are many challenges facing a learner who is both visually and hearing impaired when he or she is using a computer fitted with access technology. Not least of these is the sheer number of voices they must focus on. In an apparently straightforward classroom (group) situation, where a Learning Support Assistant (LSA) is working with a teacher to help such a student, there are multiple conversations to make sense of. At any one time those talking may include:

• The teacher

• The LSA

• The screen reader app’s voice

• Other students

Using a low-cost headphone splitter can help create a more productive learning environment:

The headphone splitter directs an audio feed to the learner's digital hearing aids and another to the LSA's headphones.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Flip Cameras and Dictaphones

Picture courtesy of

Earlier this year I took several students to a Triple Science Flip Cameras Training event, led by Elly Lengthorn of Nunnery Wood High School. During this event students were trained as ambassadors in the use of Flip Cameras in the classroom. Armed with tips sheets and ideas of how and when to use the cameras, students returned to school with 2 Flip Cams. Since this time we have used the Flip Cams throughout the school in various ways. Here are a few examples:

1. During activities week students and staff recorded many clips (usually no more than 90 seconds long each). These clips took note of the tips from the advice sheet from Elly and subsequently required no editing. A variety of these clips were then used, when presenting the events of the week to parents and others.

2. Students have made brief revision clips for Science to help them to consider what they have learnt. They have also used the Flip Cams in this way to record a brief video as a plenary activity, which can also double up as a starter video for the next lesson.

3. Students studying Child Development have used the Flip Cams to record observations of a child performing certain tasks for their child study. I advise students to film the hands and body of the child, but to avoid the child's face, to minimise privacy issues. They would normally need to take written notes whilst observing (this is difficult for any student, but particularly for a student with a visual impairment). The video clips taken are copied to a memory stick and deleted from the camera and students are only allowed to view the clips during controlled write ups. Once the study is complete the memory stick is deleted (for the protection of the child observed).

4. Students have used the Flip Cams in drama lessons to self assess and observe their own performance (which is otherwise impossible).

5. The mobility department have used it to demonstrate proper use of a cane. This video focusses solely on the cane with voiceover step by step instructions.

I am sure that there are far more ways that we have used the Flip Cameras already and will be plenty more uses for them in the future. We have even considered purchasing a Kodak camera of the same style which can be used under water, as this would help PE staff to assist students to improve their swimming techniques.

The fact that the USB port just flips out of the side of the camera and that it is simply plug and play, means that there will be no stopping you, once you get using them.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Technology Brings Animals to Life!

Students were visited by a gorilla and a T-Rex last week thanks to Millennium FX. This leading animatronics and prosthetics special effects company, treated our students to a real hands on experience. This would be a chance in a lifetime opportunity for anyone, but for visually impaired students it was the only way that they were going to truly understand the scale and texture of an animal. You may see the Central News clip here. It was an amazing experience!

Sarah Hughes