Distance Learning. Remote Learning. E-Learning. Quaranteaching. Whatever words you use to describe it, this school year was likely the most unusual one any of us have ever experienced. With the Coronavirus pandemic in full force, most schools in the United States closed their physical doors in March and pivoted to some form of remote learning for the remainder of the year.
Remote Learning provides extra challenges for children with disabilities, and children with Aniridia Syndrome are no exception. Given the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, how do we best ensure that our children get the best education possible if any form of remote learning continues in the fall?
Here are a few tips gathered from parents and educators for remote learning:
- On March 12, 2020, the US Department of Education clarified that if a school district provides educational opportunities to the general student population during a school closure, the school must continue to implement a blind/low vision student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). As such, the schools must provide accessible materials for your child. This may look different from school system to school system, and even from child to child, based on their individual needs.
- As soon as humanly possible, the school or TVI should provide any low vision devices used at school for your child to use at home. For instance, our TVI dropped off a Braillewriter to ensure that our daughter, Elli, could continue her Braille lessons during her remote learning. She also made sure that Elli had her iPad, magnifier, and monocular available at home. If we did not have a computer for online lessons, the school would have provided it as well. This again will look different based on school systems and a child’s needs, but the principle remains.
- You can use different software to make your computer more accessible for your child. Sometimes, the standard accessibility features that come on a computer are enough. Using those, you can increase the mouse size, experiment with contrast and fontsize, and learn how to magnify things on your screen. If your computer’s accessibility features aren’t enough, JAWS and ZoomText, two popular programs used for screen reading and magnification, could be considered. Those were provided for free until June 30, 2020, due to the pandemic, so it will be interesting to see if they extend that option if remote learning continues this fall.
- Many schools provide Chromebooks, which have a magnifier app, but some kids do not like or find helpful. If your child has a Chromebook, a separate screen like a computer monitor or a TV can help enlarge what is on the Chromebook. Also, you can magnify Google by going to settings. As stated, you can use some hardware to make computer use more accessible. A large monitor attached to a computer may be easier for a low vision child to use, as they can bring it closer than a laptop screen. Many televisions can also be used as a monitor to enlarge the font. Also, a large print keyboard can be very helpful for children that have not learned touch typing yet. There are also large print stickers you can purchase to put on a laptop or Chromebook keys. They come in different color options (i.e., white letter on black background, black letter on a yellow background, or black letters on white background). You can find them on Amazon. Don’t forget to use Amazon Smile and obtain donations for the AFI when you shop.
- Speaking of typing, helping your child learn touch typing is essential in our digital age. TalkingTyper is an inexpensive app developed by the American Printing House for the Blind, and you can use it on iOS devices. TypingClub.com is a free resource that has keyboarding lessons online. Both are suitable for relatively young children to learn how to type and would take just a few minutes a day.
- Accessible book options are essential for low vision children under any circumstances, but they are especially useful during this time where library services are limited. Here are some of the services available for free or low cost to children with a print disability:
- Bookshare allows a child to download over 800,000 ebooks for free. Your child can then customize their reading experience using audio, audio plus highlighted text, Braille, large fonts, and other formats. Audiobooks are computer read but are easy to understand nonetheless. Go to Bookshare.org for more information.
- LearningAlly provides access to audiobooks that are human read instead of computer read. Some of these books also have text that allows a child to follow along. Some schools have access to LearningAlly already, in which case your child would be able to access this for free. If not, there is a nominal fee associated. Go to LearningAlly.org for more information.
- BARD Mobile is a mobile app used to access Braille and talking books from your mobile devices. This service is free to registered users who are blind or visually impaired. Look up the National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled for more information.
Distance Learning can be difficult for everybody, especially those with low vision. However, with proper accommodations in place, your child can thrive, even during a difficult season like this!