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Saturday, January 24, 2015

New Accessible iOS Writing App

In the past week, I've been hearing and reading about a new app just launched in the iOS (iPhone/iPad) App Store called Voice Dream Writer
It's $9.99 in the App Store and was developed by the same group responsible for Voice Dream Reader, a wonderful app for reading DAISY books. I watched/listened to the video on how the app works. It definitely wetted my appetite for the app, so I've downloaded the app and am going through the Help section to learn more about how to use it. I love that they have a specific section on how it works with VoiceOver! From what I've read on AppleVis this app looks to be a wonderful app for people who have print disabilities. Check it out and let me know what you think. I've purchased the app for use in our VI Program and am excited that this may be a wonderful way for our students to write and edit their work.
For those on the geekier side, I'm including a helpful comment that I found on the VI Phone group explaining how using Markdown language makes it easy to locate text with a braille display:

Voice Dream Writer supports a subset of Markdown, a quick way to format the text in your document on a mobile device without any of the complications of a full-blown Word Processor. Supported Markdown syntax:
• Headings. Use "#" (number sign) at the beginning of a paragraph for Headings. Number of "#" (number signs) is the heading level. These acts are markers that allow you to navigate the document easily using the Outline. VoiceOver users can jump to these markers using the cursor tool. When you export as a Word document, for example, these become styled as headings.
• Lists. (minus sign) at the beginning of a paragraph to denote a bulleted list, and a number followed by a period and a space denote a numbered list. If you'll ultiamtely export the document to HTML, RTF or Word, the numbers will be generate in the right sequence.
• Italics. Surround a word or phrase with asterisk to italicize it.
• Bold. Surround a word or phrase with 2 asterisks to bold it.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 2, 2014

More Online Typing Sites

Here are a couple more sites that help teach touch-typing (thanks for the suggestions, Anita!):

My favorite new one is This is a beta, but a great basic site. One interesting addition is that there's a way to see the code behind the site: click on the Code tab and you can see how the page was written in various coding languages, including C++ and Python. This might be interesting for those students who may want to learn how to code. Unfortunately, you can't use the browser's zoom of Control-+/Command-+ for this site.

The other sites have some kind of sign-up required, or have advertising on their webpages, but they are worth a look. Note that you can enlarge the onscreen text using Control-+ or Command-+ with ratatype and keybr; you may need to use magnification software for the other sites:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Tactile Graphics for Students with Visual Impairments

Creating meaningful tactile graphics for students who are blind and/or have low vision has been an increasingly hot topic in the last year or so with the availability of more affordable 3D printing technology. While there are websites and online repositories for many 3D image files, only a very small percentage are actually useful for education (I mean, how many miniatures of Yoda do we need?). Seriously, for teachers of the visually impaired (TVI's), as well as braillists, Orientation and Mobility instructors, parents, and others providing support to students who are visually impaired, there ARE resources out there. Here are a few places to start when you're presented with a visual image/concept that you want to help your student/child to understand:

To kick off thinking about tactile graphics, Phil Hatlen (from the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired), wrote a thought-provoking piece:

The Real Challenge in Tactile Graphics

The Perkins School for the Blind's eLearning site has a invaluable page of links related to the topic of tactile graphics, including BANA (Braille Authority of North America), AFB (American Foundation for the Blind), APH (American Printing House), TSVBI (Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired), and NFB (National Federation of the Blind):

Tactile Graphics for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Perkins eLearning has a wonderful webcast on teaching tactile graphics presented by Lucia Hasty. Lucia is a fantastic resource for all things tactile. She is also one of the contributing authors behind the Accessible Image Sample Book.
The link to the book and its accompanying webinar are located on the DIAGRAM (Digital Image and Graphic Resources for Accessible Materials) Center website. At DIAGRAM you'll find details related to creating accessible digital content through standards, tools and software development, research, and training & outreach.

As for 3D printing technology, new projects are going online daily. While the potential of 3D printing is huge, right now it requires a lot of knowledge of how to create the software files as well as how to maintain the 3D printer technology. Mike Cheverie, one of our TVI's with a background in math and science, participated in a webinar about 3D printing with Yue-Ting Siu, a TVI in Northern California. Check out their webinar, 3D Printing for Accessible Educational Materials on the DIAGRAM website.
Through contact with Deezmaker, a 3D printer business, and a liaison with Joan Horvath (author of Mastering 3D Printing--available on Amazon), students at Pasadena City College (PCC) have created a wonderful 3D printed map of the Van Ness/Blend campus, one of our local elementary schools. Check out the video about the Fab Lab project at PCC (the map is about 5 minutes into the video story), or check out a video of a Student Exploring a 3D Map tactually. Mike and Joan continue to work with the PCC students to expand their 3D printing projects, including a model of the eye and chemical molecules.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Changes Coming to the Braille Code--Are You Ready?

In 2012, the United States adopted the Unified English Braille Code, and the Braille Authority of North America has lots of documentation to learn about the changes to the code. Go to to learn what the changes are, how the changes are being implemented, etc. 
There will be 9 contractions that will be going away: by, into, to, ble, com, dd, at ion, ally, and o'clock. There are also some changes in punctuation. If you'd like to get a chance to learn the changes and practice your brailling, offers a free online course to learn about the changes. 

Monday, September 1, 2014

Advice Expressed in an Anecdote

I've discovered that the best piece of advice I can offer anyone who has a problem to solve, tech or otherwise, is to use your favorite search engine and type in the question or problem; you may be amazed to find out that someone else has been seeking a solution to the same problem.
Last week I had stopped by one of our resource rooms, and the teacher said that the iPad he'd been given by our program had a sound problem. The sound was perfectly fine with speakers or headphones plugged in, but through the internal speakers, it was just making squawking sounds--very annoying--making the iPad useless to those students who depend upon the VoiceOver screenreader. I took the iPad, verified that with or without VoiceOver, sound was not emitting from the iPad correctly, then immediately went to the Safari app. I typed into the address bar [BTW, did you know you don't have to go to the google/bing/yahoo search page first? Just type your question/statement right into the address bar]:
"sound problem on my iPad Air".
A whole page of links appeared, and I scanned through the title links to see what might fit my issue. I finally settled on a link that was for an iPad 3, but hoped that it may apply to my Air. I can't remember now all of the information on the page, but the one suggestion I settled on fixed the problem! In true IT Crowd fashion (if you haven't seen the BBC series, I highly recommend it), I "turned it off and turned it on" by doing a reset of holding the Power and Home buttons together till the screen went dark and the Apple appeared and it restarted]. I left the teacher with the iPad, relieved that I didn't have another piece of equipment to get repaired, but asking the teacher to let me know if it happened again (in case this was a precursor to further issues).
So, this school year, in addition to my endless harping on using keyboard shortcuts (just ask any of the teachers I work with; I'm a broken record), I am now asking teachers to try to 'google' a tech problem or question--you may be surprised what you find!
One more great place to search: YouTube. There are so many people out there who have kindly posted how-to videos on a wide range of topics, including VI-specific videos on using low vision devices/software and braille devices and screen readers. You don't have to be an expert, you just need to learn how to hone your search skills--hey, this is great advice for your students, as well!!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Font Eases Reading for People with Dyslexia

I love when people share resources! I just got an email from a colleague with a link to a website of fonts to download (thanks, Ruth!). The font is called Open-Dyslexic, and here's what the author wrote about it:

Font created to help dyslexic readers. Bottom heavy and unique character shapes help make it more difficult to confuse letters.

OpenDyslexic(open-dyslexic) by Abelardo Gonzalez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.

This means, as long as you visibly give credit, you can use this on your ebook, ebook reader, actual physical books, web sites, etc.

Included are 3 styles of OpenDyslexic: OpenDyslexic, OpenDyslexic w/ alt rounded a's, and OpenDyslexicMono: for your fixed-width font needs.

Check out the fonts; there's a link to download them for free, with an opportunity to donate to the author. The website is
If you put 'braille' in the search field on this website, you'll see that there are some braille fonts, as well, free for personal use. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sharing Skills

Well, I can't believe it's been over a year since I posted anything here. I'm going to try to be better this year, and will start with a short video to share. One of our fantastic teachers, Jinger, shared her method for teaching students with visual impairments  how to tie their shoes. I happened to have my iPhone with me and just took a short video of her demonstration. I posted the video to YouTube. You can check it out at the link below:
Jinger's method to teach how to tie shoes.

I'm hoping to do some more of these quick videos this year. There are so many teachers in our program who have wonderful ideas and I'd love for us to share our skills this year.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Celebrating Global Accessibility Day--Let's Do This Every Day!

We're lucky in California to have a wonderful resource, Jonn Paris-Salb. He is the Education Administrator at the Clearinghouse for Specialized Media and Translations. Today Jonn sent out a wonderful link to a website celebrating Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD). There's lots of great information on the website, but look particularly at the link, 'how to experience digital accessibility first-hand.' My favorite idea is listed right near the top, "Go Mouseless for an Hour." I constantly 'encourage' teachers in my program to use keyboard shortcuts (some of the teachers would say, 'badger'), Putting away the mouse/leaving the trackpad untouched would be great ways to practice those shortcuts. Start with something simple like quitting a program (Command-Q on the Mac, Alt-F4 in Windows), switching between programs (Command-tab on a Mac, Alt-tab in Windows), or printing (Command-p on a Mac, Control-p in Windows). If you learn those quickly, try some more--I have them scattered throughout my blog, and you can find tons more by Googling "Keyboard Shortcuts." You'll be surprised how much time you can save not reaching for that mouse/using that trackpad. 
One thing I've learned in my job working with accessible technology for people with visual impairments: the more I learn, the more I realize I have to learn. I'm looking forward to making it a weekly routine to check the Global Accessibility website for more suggestions of ways I can better support, encourage, and get the word out there that the Web and technology should be accessible to all. 
Gotta go ... I need to learn more about NVDA! 

Monday, April 2, 2012

Is Reading a Privilege?

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting with a few of our former students from Marshall High School. They are all attending colleges/universities in California this year, and have a fantastic idea of how to share their experiences of what life is like after high school if you're visually impaired. You'll hear more about their new community in a future post, but their group is called Survive or Thrive--keep your ear to the web for more information in the new couple of weeks.
While in conversation with Ann, Karen, Paola, and Raymond, they made mention of an essay that Ann had written about how important braille is in her academic life. I asked Ann if she would send me the essay, and after reading it, I asked for permission to share it with you here. Ann is a former student of mine who is now attending the University of
California Berkeley on a ten year scholarship from the Gates
Millennium Scholars Program. She is studying Psychology and is
considering a minor in Education. She plans to apply to graduate
school and eventually become a psychologist.
Read on as she very eloquently describes of her struggles to be afforded the same rights of accessibility as her print-reading peers in college. When you finish reading, go out and let people know how important braille is in your life if you are a braille reader. If you are a print reader, think about no longer having access to the printed word; not having easy access to books, even when surrounded by books in your local library or bookstore. Think of those moments when you quietly get lost in a story, or use a graph or image to help you understand some new concept. How important is the printed word to you?

Is Reading a Privilege?
by Ann Kwong

Have you ever considered whether reading something off a physical page is a right or a privilege? This question may not have occurred to individuals with sight because reading is an everyday activity. Reading is just a normal part of daily life; it is a natural right. People with sight go to a bookstore, purchase a book, and immediately open it begin to read. They can get the information off the page at exactly the same moment their eyes move over the words. Braille readers like me are denied this right. Unfortunately, I am deprived of the opportunity to read physical text, and it is now deemed a "privilege" to read Braille.

I am diagnosed with Leber's Congenital Amaurosis and other causes that accumulate to the overall condition of being labeled "legally blind." My world is composed mainly of touch. I do not read with print; my fingertips are a substitution for my eyes, and I perceive the world and obtain information using my hands.

I do not have the luxury to go into a bookstore and read any book I desire within seconds of purchase. Transcribing literature in to an accessible format is an extensive and tedious process. In order to physically read a textbook in Braille, the process begins many months before class. I first select my courses in advance, contact the professors to obtain a course syllabus and book list, purchase and pick up the print books from the bookstore, and deliver them to the Alternative Media Center. I must then patiently wait for the staff to scan, proofread, and finally upload the material on-line so I can download and read the textbooks. Just reciting the process alone causes anxiety and immense stress! The Alternative Media Center at UC Berkeley is short staffed, so it can take an entire month for the complete process; oftentimes, it is made more difficult when professors do not post book lists until one week before class begins.

If my textbooks consists of tables, graphics, scientific formulas, or other diagrams, the difficulty of obtaining the material in a physical format increases. Textbooks for English and history courses can be read using electronic formats, but subjects that involve diagrams and formulas such as Statistics requires physical Braille books in order to understand the concepts. Normally when I work on my assignments at home I use my Braillenote Apex. With the Apex, I can physically read the numbers in Braille on the Braille display, and I can calculate my math more efficiently. During examinations however Braille students are only permitted to use Freedom Scientific's computer screen reader Job Access Window's Software (JAWS.) This means I cannot physically read the exam and must instead rely on Jaws dictating it to me. When I attempt to find patterns, compute the correlation coefficient, or calculate standard deviations for a long data set, it is frustrating to have to base everything solely on listening and memory. If I would like to find the original numbers to calculate standard deviations, I must navigate word by word or number by number with JAWS to find the original list. With the Braillenote, I can scroll back quicker to find relevant information. How I long to just read with my fingers and find the pertinent information I need expediently; these are the times when I am strongly convinced that I should have the same right of reading text off a page as my sighted counterparts. Print users can quickly draw tables and skim down or across columns and rows to obtain relevant information while visually impaired JAWS users have to listen to the entire list of numbers before finding the necessary ones. It is exceedingly time consuming to do so. Often times blind students like me are forced to rely completely on auditory aids meaning that we do not have a system of written record to help us organize information placing us at a huge disadvantage. I have tried again and again to explain my situation, but proctoring services at Berkeley are extremely inflexible and do not listen to the needs of the students. Proctoring services have also postponed my exams are many occasions, resulting in other exams on the class syllabus to be delayed, inconvenience, and frustration to the student and professor. Proctoring is unwilling to negotiate causing many students and even some professors to believe that they should just avoid the service altogether. Stresses for exams are doubled; besides worrying about knowing the material, I must consider when and how I will take the exam.

The screen reader itself is also limited in many ways. JAWS does not read certain math symbols such as delta, sigma, mu, etc. Thus I cannot read statistics formulas from my textbook. Rather than giving me insight into the world of mathematics, the limited information I do obtain flusters me because my questions are not answered. When I use the keyboard to scroll down and read with JAWS, it will say "blank" when it lands on a mathematical formula even though the notation is displayed on the screen. More complex figures are also unreadable with JAWS.

It is crucial that Braille readers are given the same opportunities to read. Reading tangible text is such a fundamental right; however, for visually impaired people it has become a rare "privilege." This right that we are deprived of is a source of inconvenience and is detremental to having a good grade; action must be taken to alter such norms. If visually impaired students do not advocate for Braille literacy and stress its significance, Braille will soon become obsolete and only a medium used in the past.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, March 26, 2012

The New iPad and Thoughts on Accessible Textbooks

I've been testing the iPad with students for the past year (with the help of a couple great middle/high school students), looking at the potential for students with visual impairments. What excites me (and so many other teachers of the visually impaired) is the toolbox that Apple and developers have provided to our students for accessing the general education curriculum. Although the iBooks are not fully accessible for students who are blind, the text portion is by default (due to the great iBooks design), and I'm hoping that graphics will someday soon have descriptive/tactual features attached to them (see for more info).
For right now, our best hope for textbooks is with organizations such as Bookshare ( and Learning Ally (, formerly RFB&D-Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic). They both have apps for the iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone, and provide many of the textbooks that our students need in an accessible Daisy format.
Now, for our low vision students, I think the iPad has become really exciting with its newest iteration. The improved camera makes it easier for the student to read what's on the board in the front of the classroom, or enlarge on the spot the worksheet that's 12-point font, by zooming in with the camera. We recently had a request for a textbook for a low vision student that wasn't available in large print. Turns out the book was available as an iBook textbook, and it is gorgeous! Compare the price of a large print textbook at prices around $750, to the iBook at $15; investing in the iPad plus the iBook is still less, AND the student can take notes, use the camera as a quick CCTV or scanner in a class, and get other texts in the future.
I recently joined several other TVI's (Teachers of the Visually Impaired) to present a workshop on Apple Devices and Accessibility at the California Transcribers and Educators of the Blind and Visually Impaired conference in Los Angeles. I have to say that I have never seen so much excitement in our field at the potential of the iOS devices to provide students with a means of access to the curriculum. An added bonus is the sense of empowerment I see in students; they are buying their own iPhones/iPod Touches/iPads AND buying great apps like Read2Go from Bookshare (more on Read2Go in a future post).
Is the iPad the solution for all our students? No, of course not. But, the potential is there for it to be a great teaching tool for TVI'S as well as an assistive device for low vision and blind students. I have created a Dropbox folder with resources about using iOS and the Mac with students who have visual impairments. If you'd like access to the folder, just send me an email, and I'll invite you to the folder (

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Goodbye Steve, Thank You For Your Vision

All of the teachers with whom I work know two things about the tech side of me: 
1. I use keyboard shortcuts whenever I can (and constantly remind people of them), and 
2. I love Apple devices. 

A part of me is very sad to hear of the passing of Steve Jobs, both thinking of the personal loss to his family, and for those millions of us who have enjoyed using Apple products for years. 
Here's something that Steve and Apple did for me: I now look at all new technologies with the expectation that it will incorporate accessibility features into its operating system, or I won't consider it. Case in point: although I've been a huge Amazon fan for years (I bought the original Kindle--at a whopping $399, and I love Kindle books), I haven't given more than a glance at the specs for the upcoming Kindle Fire tablet. I've read that it is not accessible to people who are blind (National Federation of the Blind sent out a statement to that effect), and therefore, even though it is much less expensive than the iPad, it will not be a device that many of my students can use. Come on Amazon, start thinking the Apple way--build accessibility in from the ground up! 
All you tablet and device makers, all you app developers out there--please start thinking Universal Design. This means, plan well upfront to offer your product to the widest audience. Seek out people who access the computer via their keyboards, or depend upon captioning of all auditory media; think of how an app or a webpage is organized. Try moving around webpages using your keyboard, rather than the mouse/trackpad. Make sure you add a text tag to all your graphics on webpages. Remember Steve Jobs talking about wanting to offer a computer that EVERYONE can use. Keep his vision going. 
The Mac-cessibility website has some great posts about how Apple devices are appreciated by people who have visual impairments. Check it out here.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another Fantastic Resource for TVI's!

Just a quick note and a link: Tech Vision is a information-packed blog created and curated by Dr. Denise Robinson. She has some amazing information and tech tips for teachers of students with visual impairments. Check it out--I've learned a lot already!!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Protecting Your Computer and Yourself Online

The beginning of a new school year is a good time to revisit how to keep yourself safe while browsing online. Microsoft has several webpages devoted to tips about how to protect your computer, and how to keep yourself safe from spam and phishing schemes. For virus protection, Microsoft has a good one that I like to use on our Windows computers, and it's free: Microsoft Security Essentials. You can find a link to their webpage explaining how to protect your computer, and tips for protecting yourself from scams by clicking here. At this site, you'll find some great information about how to create strong passwords, as well.
Have a great school year, keep those computers updated to the latest security patches, and use common sense while surfing: you are NOT going to win that free iPad by clicking on a link!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ways to Download YouTube Videos for Class Use

Problem: You found a great YouTube video that you'd like to share with your students or present in a professional development, but your district blocks YouTube.
Solution: Check out the terrific instructional blogpost from Local District 4. I've used Zamzar for years to do this, but Antonio Hernandez details several other alternatives. This is what I love about the web: if you have a question or problem, there's usually a solution out there somewhere.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

iFest 2011

I attended a wonderful half-day event at Mulhulland Middle School on Saturday. I went to a couple of fantastic workshops on using the iPad in education, and got some great resources. For next year, I might try having students and teachers sign up for, and communicate through, a Facebook-like website called Edmodo ( I need to check it out for accessibility first, but the advantage is that it can be used within the LAUSD. 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Do You Dream in Color? Kickstarter Project Featuring Laurie Rubin

Laurie Rubin, one of our former students, has a Kickstarter Project. Don't know what that is? Well, check out what she has to say below, then click on the link to find out how you can help support a wonderful idea:

In 2009, I embarked on a very exciting project which is starting to take flight.  I started writing a memoir about my life as a blind opera singer, artist, and person.  In my life, there have been so many instances of people wanting to ask questions about "my world," and they've wanted to make heads or tails of my experience in a way they could understand.  Some people have simply been curious, others have been fascinated, others have been fearful, and then a few have put up barriers as a protection to shield them from a phenomenonwhich they fear.  I hope this memoir will gently alleviate people of these fears, share  with them that I have dreams and live them every day in the form of a rich, wonderful, and beautiful life.  Mostly, I hope this will serve as a way to educate people.  I recently found out that this book will be published by a wonderful publisher called Seven Stories which is distributed by Random House.

At the same time my book was being written, a composer named Bruce Adolphe who is affiliated with Lincoln Center and who also has his own show on National Public Radio, asked to co-write a piece for me.  It is extremely rare for a singer to participate as a poet in a composition, playing a double role as writer and performer.  The poem describes many of the things my book does in a nutshell.  It's a short detour through my life via the visual things I perceive without physically seeing them.  Bruce and I were approached by a very well respected record label in the new classical music industry to release this piece among three other sets of songs, one being a set of songs by a very well known blind composer, Joaquin Rodrigo.  The album will be entitled, "Do You Dream in Color?" just like the poem.  However, because of the Internet and many other difficulties facing the recording industry, Bridge Records, among most other labels, do not have deep pockets, and require fund raising to be done for an album to be recorded, produced, released, and promoted.  We have received one small grant for this project, but need to continue raising money to make this a reality.  

We have launched a campaign on-line where people can participate in helping this project along.  This is a very important venture to me which I've worked very hard on, and put a huge part of my life and soul into as you can imagine.  I live as a blind individual every day, facing people's questions, fears, discrimination, but enjoying the joy of seeing those being educated which will help me and blind individuals for generations to come.  My belief is that my book and the CD which are slated to be released/published simultaneously, will be able to make a bigger impact than I could ever do as an individual.  People can express themselves more powerfully and learn more personally through music, and I think the ability to have this out there for people Nation and worldwide is so important not just for the blind or disabled, but for anyone who has a different path in life and who still reaches for their dreams and aspirations.  It is a universal thing I believe every individual faces in life at some point.

I recently got a small grant from Yale University Alumni Ventures to devise a curriculum for blind and sighted students, educators of both blind and sighted children, and potential employers of blind people in the workforce which will also use the recording of "Do You Dream in Color?" as a means for discussion and the basis for the curriculum.  So there are many exciting things about this project in the works.

We need to raise $20,000 in a month, and if we do not meet this bench mark, we will not receive any of the moneys accumulated up until that point.  Anything helps, whether it be a dollar.  Also, please pass this along to others who you think would be interested in this project.  If you donate certain amounts, you get certain perks like dinner with the artists, jewelry custom designed for you by me and my jewelry line, The LR Look, and many more.  Please see the link below for details, as well as a short video with excerpts from the piece.

Thank you in advance for your help.  It is much appreciated, and I look forward to embarking on many exciting adventures with all of you via this exciting venture.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

More on Keyboard Shortcuts

Wow, I love reading other webpages that trumpet the time-saving advantages of using keyboard shortcuts! One of our sharp teachers sent me the link to this one (thanks again, Venessa!). Watch the video as Becky Worley, one of my favorite media tech people, shows some popular Windows and Mac keyboard shortcuts. Then, check out the rest of the page for links to some other great sites with keyboard shortcuts for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu. See, you don't have to be visually impaired to love using keyboard shortcuts!! Check the yahoo webpage, Upgrade Your Life--Time-saving keyboard shortcuts

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Student Shares His Experiences from the NFB LAW Program 2011

One of our students, Gabriel, who you may already have met through his Apex podcasts (see March, 2011), went on a wonderful trip to Washington, D.C. last month. The National Federation of the Blind LAW (Leadership and Advocacy in Washington) Program offered 25 blind/low vision students the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., "to explore the inner workings of our country’s government, its history, and its culture while staying at the national headquarters for the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, Maryland." [for more information about the NFB, visit] Gabriel was kind enough to share his experiences of the trip with us through a 2-part podcast. In Part 1, Gabriel talks about the daily schedule of activities that NFB organized, and what he learned about both the history of the National Federation of the Blind, and about how the United States government works. Any of you who have already listened to Gabriel's Apex podcasts know that he presents his information clearly, in an organized manner, and with enthusiasm. Teachers, make sure you check out Part 1, and you'll definitely want to share it with your students!  Note that the file is about 35 minutes, so it may take a few minutes to download; it's totally worth the wait!!
Part 2 of Gabriel's podcast is my personal favorite, and I've listened to it twice already. I won't say much more than listen for Gabriel to really speak from his heart about what he learned about independence during this trip. I HIGHLY recommend you give it a listen (it's about 6 minutes)! Click on the links below to download and listen to Gabriel's fantastic podcasts, and please post a comment with your thoughts--I know Gabriel would love to get some feedback!
Link 1 to Part 1 of A Trip to the National Federation of the Blind
Link 2 to Part 2 of A Trip to the NFB, Gabriel's insights about independence as a blind person 

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another Student Weighs in on the Apex

Actually, our first Apex contest winner (see November, 2010), Karen from Marshall High, sent me a couple articles with her impressions of the new Apex accessible PDA a couple of months ago (sorry for the delay posting, Karen). One of the top features that our students want to learn about is how to get online with this cool braille device. Karen gives a nice description of how to use the new built-in wireless feature of the Apex to get surf the Internet. Read her article below:

After using the Apex for almost one month and a half, I have successfully connected to the internet via a wireless connection! I found that when setting up a wireless connection, scanning is the best means of finding your connection's SSID (service set identifier), or the name that identifies the network.  When I scan for example, various wireless connection SSIDs may appear such as 2WIRE740 or Organizer because several people may have wireless connections.  JAWS names the SSID when displaying how much signal strength is available, so when scanning for SSIDs, you must create a connection configuration for the name that matches that of the computer.  Therefore, if you have two bars of signal for the SSID titled Smith, use this SSID when creating a connection configuration on the Apex.  A connection configuration gives the Apex the information it needs for each separate internet connection such as how you connect (dial-up, wireless, etc) and specific information depending on which one is available.  You may need to create several configurations for home, school, etc.  In my case, I use a wireless ethernet connection at home and an ethernet connection at school; ethernet connections happen when you plug in the Apex to an Ethernet cable; the ethernet port is on the rightmost corner of the Apex when the thumb keys are facing you with the keyboard facing up.
A connection configuration is analogous to having different braille codes.  When using English braille for instance, there are certain dot combinations for you and others to understand the code, such as dots 256 to identify a period.  In this example, the SSID is English braille because this is how everyone identifies the type of braille you are using, and the 256 is specific to only this code.  In another example, Nemeth could be an SSID for the Nemeth code, and dot 2 is specific to the number 1.  Just like each code has specific dot combinations, each connection configuration needs specific information to be able to connect.
How do you set up a wireless connection? First, enter the options menu (space with O) and press C for the connectivity menu which consists of several items such as "create a new dial-up or lan connection" and "active connection details" which gives you information about the connection such as signal strength and whether or not you are connected to the network; use this option AFTER you have made a configuration.  Signal under -81 is very low; from -81 to -71 is average signal; between -71 ed -67 is good signal; and excellent reception is between -67 and -57.  From the connectivity menu, there are different ways to create a connection.  You can either choose "create a new dial-up or lan connection" which gives you more flexibility in choosing the type of connection, or "configure a new wireless connection" from the "wireless ethernet" menu if you know you will create a wireless connection.  Choosing either option opens the list of inputs; in this example, I use "create a new dial-up or lan connection." Under "connection configuration name," choose a name for the connection that makes sense to you; my connections for my house and Marshall are called Home and School, respectively.  Under device to use, press space with dots 3,4 to go through the different connection options such as wireless ethernet connection or ethernet network connection.  Going back to the braille example, the options under device to use are like specifying what equipment you are using to make braille such as a slate and stylus or brailler.  Depending on which connection type you use, the options after this step differ.  Assuming you choose wireless ethernet, most of the options can be left the same except for the ones explained below.  Type in your SSID if you know it; if not, you can scan for it, which is explained later.  The options "use WEP" and "use WPA-Psk" are asking you what kind of security your connection has.  According to Ms.  Schindler, WEP is an older security type that is hardly used anymore, so enter no. [Note: although WEP is an older protocol, it is still being used, especially in our schools around the LAUSD, so this may be an option for some Apex users when setting up their wireless connection.] For WPA-PSK, enter yes; the pre-shared key prompt is asking you to enter the password for the connection.  Now, press space with E followed by Y to add the record.
To scan for your SSID, turn on wireless ethernet from the wireless ethernet menu in the connectivity menu, and press S.  Choose the correct one from the list, and press enter to create a configuration as described above.  The difference between creating a connection this way is that only the fields relating to wireless connections are displayed.  Scanning is also helpful after a configuration is created because the Apex tells you whether or not which connections are available depending on where you are.  When at an airport, you could scan for a connection, create a configuration, and be online before you know it.
How do you connect to the internet? From the main menu, press I, and type in the web address.  When prompted for the connection configuration, the one you just created will be the default if only one configuration has been created.  Once you choose the configuration, you will be prompted to wait while the page loads.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Back Up Your Important Files on World Backup Day

As a great reminder to us all that computers crash sometimes--and how sad if you were just finishing up your greatest term paper or had just made that wonderful digital family photo album when it happened--comes:

World Backup Day

"On March 31, as part of the global data-saving initiative, you are encouraged to back up all of your cherished photos and videos, and important documents. If you've ever had a hard disk fail, and not had a backup to fall back on, you'll know that it's a bit like losing a sizable fragment of your soul. If you've never backed up your important files -- or if you only back up sporadically -- do it on World Backup Day!" from the website
Whether you use a usb drive, an external hard drive, or back up to the 'cloud', use tomorrow as the day to save your photos, music, and documents somewhere other than on your computer. Forewarned is forearmed.