I was taught that if you want to be generous, hang around generous people. Their gift will rub off on you.

This same adage goes for information. If you want to continue to grow in understanding about technology, or blind technology, or the newest thing out there, you want to surround yourself with people who know about technology.

Every time I go to a conference I meet people who are in the "know" about their product. I meet hundreds of people through email, Facebook and many other virtual avenues.

All of us have different gifts, so I find the people gifted in their area of expertise. Then when a situation comes up with one of my students, and I have not gained the needed knowledge yet to help them, I go to the experts for the answer. I have found my past students, who have continued to press forward in their understanding of their blind skills, to be a major source of expertise.

The other day, one of the teachers I assist asked if I knew what kind of IPOD she get for her child. I told her to go to the local tech shop and look for the youngest salesperson there and he or she would know. It is the younger generation that really gets the product because they are using it all the time. You want to gain knowledge from the people who use the product all the time. They will have the answers.

We are all in the learning process and I am a big believer in sharing the knowledge so we can all help each other get ourselves and our students where we need to be.

As I am to set up lessons for one of my home school children, Mom was discussing how stressful their lives have been, starting with her husband's layoff and adding a myriad of other things. She explained that her and her daughter had not done any braille or studying in general over the summer and was concerned over her loss of skills.

In the scheme of things, really a summer loss of skills or even a year or whatever it is, is minor compared to what life can dole out in a season. Life can get rough, but was do have smooth times too.

In the rough times and even in the good, we need to put things into perspective and look at the big picture. Where do we want to go…how do we get there….do we need to take a time out, can we go slower?

In the meantime,
Don't sweat the small stuff!

Most people know that you can insert special symbols into documents as you are typing. However, JAWS talking software does not "talk" the symbols as you search for them, therefore symbols require a sighted person's help. A big advantage of having Office 2010 is that JAWS can talk the first 20 most recently used symbols, so when the student is in class, they can easily access at least 20 symbols. Sadly, between math and Spanish class you quickly run out of options.

Another option is to memorize the special combination of letters and numbers to automatically insert any symbol. For my Spanish student, she was having difficulty with doing all the letters and numbers in the correct order to insert the correct symbol. I asked a Microsoft friend about other options and he sent me to this page, which has made all the difference in the world (Spanish symbols)

The student uses a laptop so now needed to learn how to use the numpad on the laptop, which is actually the letters ON the keyboard. Using the FN or function key with scroll, she now turns on her numpad and m j k l and so on become her numpad for entering the special characters –No, you cannot use the regular numbers to do these commands). For example, the upside down exclamation mark ¡ as you see is ALT+173 and an upside down question mark ¿ is Alt+168 and so on. She was typing out Spanish words in correct format almost as fast as the wind blowing through the trees. I could hear her smile and joy through the computer, once she understood how to do symbols on a computer. I then taught her the quick way to access Spanish accents and that is through JAWS with insert+4.

She now has the ability to type out every Spanish word exactly as it should be and complete her work far faster than thought possible.

Lessons to help you:

Spanish JAWS, computer, translation program

Setting up JAWS to Speak another Language

Spanish, Talking Software and Braille

JAWS, Spanish & Math

Jaws and typing out Spanish characters in Word

I was asked an incredibly exciting question this morning. One of my para-educators, who understands she needs to develop her skills to be a benefit to students, asked how she could check on her visually impaired student without going into the class room. She has watched the student and I work virtually and loves how the student has immediate access to me.

So, this morning I got the para set up on SKYPE and the video plugins for Gmail. She can now text the student using chat and ask how she is doing (while everyone else in the class is completely unaware of their conversation). The student can now text back the para and say "I need the next braille volume for math class" "I need a braille ruler", and so on.

I have my students keep their Gmail or SKYPE open all the time (depends on what districts allow–they allow either one of these). The student also opens and works in WORD, or reads from the braille page, and when they have a question, they do a quick ALT+TAB back to the chat area and text me the question. I text them the answer and they are off. When their school work is complete, it is quickly emailed to the teacher.

Within minutes the student has the tools she needs in class without having to go track the para down. At the same time she is chatting with me through text and asking me what the command is for doing exponents. I text back the answer and she is sailing away in class without stopping her work. There is nothing worse then sitting there doing nothing because she does not have the tools or answers she needs.

In time, this is the goal for all the paras. The students feel more independent and confident in their abilities when they know they can do it on their own but if they do have questions, it is a quick chat away.

Lessons that help teach

Bookshare.org and JAWS-Eight lessons to get you moving

GMAIL- Everything you need to use in basic HTML or standard view

JAWS and Internet—how to get Going and Moving


Remote Access using SKYPE


SKYPE—for Regular Vision, Low Vision, and Blind


Skype texting and making a Video Call—with additional JAWS scripts


Skype texting and making a Video Call—no additional JAWS scripts


GMAIL-Google Talk, Firefox, and Chat


TRACK CHANGES enables a blind student to write a paper, email the draft or final paper to a teacher on which the teacher can make highlighted comments and change suggestions. The teacher then emails it back to the student. When the student opens the paper, the track changes are noticeable as red, purple, etc. markings to the visual person, and can become verbal comments to the blind student. The blind student moves through the document with their talking software, and can hear all the corrections that need to be made and can easily correct them with the TRACK CHANGES feedback, or they just hear the grade of the paper.

An additional plus to this is when the whole class is exchanging papers for correction by each other. The blind student turns on TRACK CHANGES then hands the laptop to the sighted student. All the sighted student has to do is put the cursor where the correction needs to be and begin typing. The remarks are tracked so the blind student can hear the input when they get the laptop back. Also, when students are to correct their own work, then hand it in, the blind student can participate as well by making their own corrections, and then emailing the assignment to the teacher for the teacher to see the corrections.

This technique goes both ways, which is why I love it. One day, I sent a lesson to one of my more advanced students and he made additions on my lesson using TRACK CHANGES and sent it back to me for to add to the lesson. I laugh now as I think of it. I too am improving. I love that my students who know we so well, feel at ease at making comments on the lessons I send to them. We are all teachers!!

Lessons that help teach

TRACK CHANGES for students and teachers

Teaching Nemeth Code (braille math, for all you sighted people out there) is brought to life using Duxbury (a braille translation program) with a braille display and JAWS.

As students 6 key braille in the math problems, on a regular keyboard, Jaws speaks what they are brailling. Then they move their hands down to the braille display to check the problem and the answer. Using all these tools also makes it fun. Students will easily do math if it involves technology versus on a brailler. The keys are also a whole lot easier to push.

After the braille lesson, I take the exact same problems and we go to WORD and I teach them how to type out all the symbols and special features of math.

They now have a braille copy for themselves which they also open up on their braille note to study from, a print copy for themselves, so when the kids correct each others papers, they can correct the blind students also–using TRACK CHANGES (which automatically makes corrections in the paper when someone edits, and the blind student can easily read using JAWS) and their teacher has a final copy sent to them by the blind student in email. Math made magical!

Watch Video: Braille Note, Nemeth, Scientific Calculator

Lessons that help teach:

TRACK CHANGES for students and teachers

Duxbury 11.1 or higher: creating a Nemeth lesson for a speed timing in class

One of my virtual connections is in Belize. She is a Mom has a little girl and is trying to find out what to do to help her succeed. Recently, it has been my honor to help her little part of the world get set up with the technology needed for blind children. She works for the government and so has some power to make things happen. I often find this very interesting how people in power can make great things happen when they are faced with something different in their lives. They can also make bad things happen…but we are on a good road here.

In our own country Norte Dame had a professor with a blind wife and he made sure they had a great program for anyone who came their for education who happen to be blind. Another in power working for good.

Well, it just hit me today as my Belize mom and I were talking that I had never gotten her in contact with my students so she could ask them questions. Problem solved. She is now hooked up with one of my older and gifted students (will I guess I believe all my students are gifted-smile) to ask all the questions she needs. This connection has given her the vision into the future of possibilities for her little one. We all need a good vision of what we can do. Make those connections.

We learn more from our failures than our successes. I tell my kids that constantly. It is never bad to fail, but it is insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Learn from your mistakes and then CHANGE.

For the past 9 months I HAD been working with a web design firm that could not do what they said they could. They said it would be done in a month. Nine months later and still with incredible problems…I fired them.

Enter a new and incredibly talented designer…fortunately a friend also so the connection was fast as I told him about my web designer problems. He said he would take it on. Within a day of design, he had accomplished more than the people who worked on it for nine months. AND, his site already works beautifully with talking software.

Lesson: I learned a lot. If something is not working within the time frame someone says it should…CHANGE. I should NOT have waited 9 months and kept giving them chances when they proved over and over they could not do the job.

I see my students and their families doing this. My families made huge changes. They were in districts where the people there could not do what they said they could do…so they CHANGED. They asked around and then landed on my door step. Now, because of all the advances in technology I am able to reach far and wide. The parents who worked for a CHANGE got it and now their children are learning the blind skills needed to become independent.

Remember, it is insanity to do the same thing over and over again and expect different results. Learn from your mistakes, then make CHANGE.

Talking software is not only great for blind and low vision students but for anyone with an inability to read print. I have had the pleasure of working with sighted children that had dyslexia, or some form of inability to read text.

I have used regular talking software and software that highlights the word as the talking software reads the print. In this way the child can follow the words as they are read to him.

Another great component of talking software is when the child is typing spelling words or trying to write a paper, there are commands to get the talking software to read back a letter, a word, the whole sentence, paragraph, etc.

I have seen children go from "not even on grade level" to their grade level within a short period of time. The joy when they are first exposed to the talking software and the hope they gain that they will have the possibility of reading and being able to do their own work, elates them.

Many of the commands and lessons I do with my blind/low vision students, I also do with any reading challenged individual. A reading challenge is a reading challenge whether you are sighted or blind.

Lessons that help teach

Everything to get you going in WORD Office 2003 and XP  
Everything to get you going in WORD Office 2010 and Windows 7 with JAWS  
Everything to get you going in WORD Office 2010 and Windows 7 with Window EYES


Your Brain is what Sees
I have been reading "The Brain that Changes Itself" by Dr. Doidge over the past year…and rereading it. Research states that when you do not have vision, the touch and hearing part of the brain will take over for the visual cortex. For low vision children, if you blind fold them, they will learn quicker as their brain will tune into their fingers and hearing. If the child tries to use their poorest sense … their eyes, their hearing and touch will never be honed and they will be slower than their potential.

Researchers took completely sighted adults and blindfolded them and within a week, their touch and hearing took over their visual cortex and they could begin reading braille. Yes, when the blind folds were taken off the eyes completely regained control of the visual cortex. The power of the brain is incredible.

Researchers discovered that you do not need your eyes to see. It is the brain that sees. Whether the eyes, ears, or touch, whatever sense you have the brain will utilize and take over the visual cortex. If you lose your sight, you can train your hearing and touch to "SEE" like your eyes, and that is what gives you vision. It only takes practice. I have known and know people like this. They are the ones that have influenced the way I teach.

I see this all the time. My completely blind or almost completely blind students do the best because they tune in with their ears and fingers. They are the best in braille and technology and figuring things out tactually. The students who are low vision, struggle with the braille and other blind skills because they want to use their eyes–in general. They use the talking software but try and use their eyes. The result is they type slower than the completely blind children who are totally tuned into their ears and therefore their fingers are flying. Even if you look at totally sighted people, the fastest typists are those that never look at the keys.

It is the low vision children who have ambition and dreams for their lives, who call me years after graduation and ask for help in getting the training they need and realize it was a mistake not to take the blind skills seriously when in school. …something to think about.

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