Accessible and inclusive blended learning for students with visual impairments

iphone displaying 'Hey Siri'

From AI spoken descriptions to keyboard shortcuts, there is a wealth of tools to support learners with visual impairments in using technology. CLC educator Peter Lillington explores what’s on offer from the main platforms.

In this week’s BlendEd Accessibility and inclusion video John Galloway considers the role of technology in supporting learning (whether in a blended, remote or concurrent context) for students with visual impairments or who are blind.

He points out that although we tend to think of technology as revolving around interaction with a screen, many people in their daily lives regularly use voice-activated functions on devices, listen to audio, or interact in some other way than reading text on a screen.

For times when use of a screen is needed he takes us through a number of tools, including text to speech reading aloud and description, and magnifiers for those who are visually impaired. These tools may be used in a number of different ways. He recommends the approach of letting learners know what the choices are and supporting them in finding out what works best for them – in other words not making assumptions.

From AI descriptions to keyboard shortcuts

The Microsoft Seeing AI app, which is available for both Apple and Android devices, gives spoken descriptions of what’s in front of the camera (and on the screen) which can be refined in various ways (such as person, colour, snippets of text or handwriting, documents, colour). Although some parts of it are experimental it seems to do an amazing job of recognition. In Microsoft’s words it ‘narrates the world’. You can see the Microsoft Education team demonstrate it in this YouTube videoEnvision AI is another innovative app in a similar vein.

Learning how to use a keyboard effectively can be beneficial for all learners, making whatever interaction is needed with keyboard and screen as productive as possible, whether by learning to touch type thereby not needing to shift focus constantly from keyboard to screen, or by using a range of keyboard shortcuts beyond the customary Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V.

What do the main platforms offer?

Last week we included links to the general accessibility and inclusion sections of the main platforms.  Below are some more specific links that may be relevant when thinking about the individual needs of those students and staff who have a visual impairment, whether they are working in school, at home or in a blended way. It’s also worth noting when investigating this area that terminology about sight varies from country to country so where a localised website for a platform exists, that may be most helpful. 

Many schools will have access to specialist advice and expertise locally as well as from a range of providers but for teachers new to this area a starting point might be this teaching and learning guidance for education professionals from the RNIB.

Apple accessibility shortcuts on the iPad include using triple-click on the home button (once this has been set up in settings in the accessibility section); using control centre to easily access features such as magnifier once added. If you use a Mac you can find the full range of keyboard shortcuts pertaining to accessibility here.

More generally, Apple accessibility features include: voiceover; voiceover and braille (for braille displays); magnifier; spoken content; zoom; hover text; reduce motion; audio descriptions; display settings; text size; dark mode; dictation; Siri.

Microsoft Education has a Special Education: Vision section with details of services such as narrator, accessibility checker, Office lens app and learning tools and immersive reader. And, specifically for Windows, this page includes details on features mentioned by John such as increasing or decreasing contrast on your display.

This EDU in 90: Chromebook Accessibility Features video gives a quick overview of setup and management for individual users logging in and visual tools available include high contrast mode, zoom, and magnifier functions as well as screen reader (ChromeVox and Select to speak).  Further specific detail can be found in this series of Chrome and Chrome OS accessibility videos.

For schools using Google Workspace for Education tools such as Classroom, Docs and Slides, this site gives full details of the accessibility tools including a useful app by app table comparison of what’s available in which app. Screen reader is available across all, with some specific useful options such as type with voice in Docs and add caption tracks in Slides.

For users of Microsoft Office 365 there is some overlap with Windows, of course, but more information is available here with Teams specifically covered in this.

Finishing for now with another innovative app for iOS from Microsoft, Soundscape allows users to experience 3D maps in sound. And although this may not be directly relevant to the classroom, whether blended or in person, it may give any student some understanding of different ways to receive information – as John says in his video this week, when it comes to using technology it can be a very visual medium.

I’ve learned a lot about features and options I wasn’t aware of in detail (or at all) as I put this blog post together – please do investigate how you can give students more choices, in John’s words, and support them in finding what works best for them.

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Upcoming CPD

Summer primary school computing conference
Summer primary school computing conference

This event will build upon the Autumn computing conference by inviting subject leaders to reflect on their year in the role, sharing their successes and challenges. It will also introduce new ideas, tools and approaches through talks and practical activities led by members of the CLC team, with opportunities for attendees to share their own expertise and experience. Over the course of the conference activities will touch on the three main areas of the computing curriculum: computer science, digital literacy and information technology. We will also feature advice and examples illustrating the use of technology to support blended learning.

14/06/22,
09:15
- 15:30
EYFS, KS1, KS2
Computing subject leaders, Teachers...
Creative Arts, Digital and children – CLC meets More Than Robots online
Creative Arts, Digital and children - CLC meets More Than Robots online

Combining forces for the first time, the Connected Learning Centre and More Than Robots have created a session for teachers, youth organisations, researchers and policymakers interested in the digital provision of creative arts for primary aged pupils.

Presentations

The Play Observatory - Prof. John Potter

“In their own words”: Westminster Abbey & CLC digital projects - Sian Shaw

Building (and maintaining) a city-wide primary arts curriculum to raise attainment - Kate Fellows

More to be added soon

This interactive and inclusive meet up will include inspiring examples of how technology can be used to support learning in music, visual art and drama in person and online at home drawing on our experiences as Tate Exchange associates and our partnership work with a range of cultural institutions.

This informal event is an opportunity to discuss real examples of what does/doesn’t work, meet colleagues from other sectors working on similar challenges and share useful research, news or updates

The morning will include case study presentations (details below) followed by a Q&A. There will also be an opportunity for a rapid sharing round for launches, project updates or requests for help and a short break to avoid zoom brain drain.

24/06/22,
09:30
- 11:30
KS1, KS2
Subject leaders, Teachers...

Upcoming Special projects

The News Project
25/11/21,
09:30
- 14:25
KS2

Special project in collaboration with First News Education

For a third year, building on two successful previous projects, we are once again partnering with the children’s newspaper First News, fellow member of the national Making Sense of Media and News Literacy networks. This special project with a literacy, PSHE and citizenship, as well as computing focus, highlights our specialist interest in this important aspect of digital and critical literacy.

The News Project will enable participating classes from year 5 to immerse themselves in news and current affairs using First News and the Bett award-winning First News iHUB, which will be provided free of charge during the school-based part of the project over a six week period. Under the guidance of their teacher, pupils will be supported in their development as a community of fully informed news readers. Classes will test their new critical skills and knowledge in the culminating virtual celebration event which will include a news competition and team-based critical literacy and editorial activities. After the event, schools will be able to use the resources from the day in their school.

The project will launch with an introductory CPD session for teachers to set the context, demonstrate resources and to plan for the school-based activities. 

Initial CPD session - Thursday 21st October 4pm-5.00pm. 

Project work undertaken in school - October and November.

Special event - Thursday 25th November 9.30am-2.45pm.

The Garden Museum
21/02/22,
-
KS1

The CLC is once again partnering with the Garden Museum to offer a partnership project for KS1 pupils (primarily suited to Yr2). Located next to Lambeth Palace on the bank of the Thames, the museum has an inspiring collection that provides the ideal stimulus for young learners to explore the world around them.

Pupils will use technology alongside the museum’s collection to explore the wonderful world of seeds.

  • How are they planted?
  • How do they spread?
  • What is inside them?

 The Garden Museum has a large collection of seeds and tools that pupils will engage with.

These half-day sessions will take place at the Garden Museum.

There is a limited number of dates available, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

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