Blind World Magazine

New technology aids the visually impaired.

December 08, 2005.
San Mateo Daily Journal - San Mateo,CA,USA.

It used to be a challenge when 7-year-old Megan Burella’s mom wanted to read over her homework.

Burella likes reading books and playing with friends but she experiences life in a unique way. The articulate little girl sat down and shared a passage from one of her favorite books, “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle.” From left to right her index fingers felt the Braille as Burella, who is legally blind, reads aloud.

This school year, the second grader was given a small personal computer called a BrailleNote. The machine is a word processor with Internet and e-mail capabilities. It also has a Braille display so Burella can read what she wrote and make any corrections. The small one line of raised dots offers Braille that can be refreshed to allow Burella to read her report from the computer. The computer can also read the report back to Burella. She even has two printers available to her, one prints in Braille, the other in text.

“It’s made her life a lot easier. It’s equally made my life easier. It’s not like she does her homework on a piece of paper and brings it with her. She had to use all this heavy equipment. But this is light and easy,” said her mother Carmel Burella.

In San Mateo County, visually impaired children are paired with not only technology but various specialists to support them in their studies. This allows the students to work with the same curriculum as their peers. Most of the money for the technology comes from the state, said Shelley Viviani, teacher for the visually impaired.

While Burella has mastered reading, 7-year-old Highlands Elementary student Grant Loy is still learning.

He uses a device called SAL, Speech Assisted Learning, to learn Braille reading and writing. There are learning activities like recognizing different letters. It also helps Loy read, he can do it himself or press on a word for help. The machine can say the words aloud.

For older students, technology allows them a few less hours of homework at the end of the night.

Jamey Gump, an 18-year-old Menlo Atherton High School junior, used to spend hours doing his homework in middle school. He relied on audio tapes to listen to the book. His history book, for example, was made up of 33 tapes. It took him half an hour just to cue up the place he needed to start.

Now Gump uses his Victory Reader, a device using CDs to read the textbooks aloud. It also allows Gump to set certain pages to read and it will instantly go to those pages. He said his homework now takes two to three hours.

“I don’t know if it’s because of the technology or because the classes are easier,” he said.

Gump also uses a computer program called ZoomText 8.0 which allows him to magnify the size of the items on a computer screen. He also has a problem seeing certain colors, blue is especially hard. When Gump is searching online, this can be a problem since links are generally shown in blue. ZoomText lets him change the color of items to ones he can see, like green.

For 18-year-old Hillsdale High junior Casey Bernasconi, her BrailleNote is her life. Bernasconi uses a wireless infrared printer that receives files from the BrailleNote and prints it in the text version.

“When a teacher says, ‘print this out,’ you’ve got to be able to do it,” she said.

When she is given a handout in class she can use another gadget called a PocketViewer. About the size of a handheld video game toy, the viewer allows Bernasconi to enlarge anything and also change the color of the text.

Although Bernasconi loves her BrailleNote, there is still technology out there she’d like to see developed. She would love bigger screens on cell phones, but mostly she wants a machine featuring a Braille display with a built-in iPod.

End of article.

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