October 2011

I frequently get asked, What type of magnification system do I use with my low vision students? So, let’s address this.

I have tried Zoomtext and Magic, and a plethora of other items, which are good, but found one method to work the best for students. I always give them options and this is the one they chose by far because it is so easy and on every computer they sit at., pub-3447701155434117, DIRECT, f08c47fec0942fa0

There are so many methods to enlarge everything, something, a bit or whatever you desire on your computer with just a couple key strokes. These attributes of magnification are already built in, but in general it is NOT the magnification system built into the accessibility feature.

Example. Last week while a low vision student and I were working, she was having a difficult time visualizing a long math problem with just her talking software. With an ALT+V then a Z to zoom (this will work on any PC system), she was able to increase the magnification to 500% to see the problem. Then she matched it with her talking software and could completely understand the math problem. She decided to do the rest of her problems this way and finished within record time. With zoom in effect, the student never has to worry about printing something with 78 font characters. The font is 12 point always.

With another student, she was working in Excel and needed that visual feedback also. With a quick F6 she jumps to her zoom and increases to 400% and continues her work.

I have some students who love the black background with green font and everything enlarged all the time on the screen. This feature is easily accessed in the accessibility feature on a PC. If you only want to increase the ICONS or taskbar or anything, you can pick and choose with a simple applications key (right click with a mouse for mouse users). The options are endless. Because a student can pick and choose, they prefer this method.

The most important skill I teach my low vision students is to use touch typing on their keyboard and their talking software. Mouse use really slows them down. Their hearing is far stronger than their eyes, but when they want to use their eyes, they have the skill to do so. When done with the visual task, they go back to using their ears and their fast fingers.

Lessons to help teach

Magnify your screen, add Narration as needed-audio/visual lesson

Watch video on Youtube: Dr. Denise Robinson demonstrates Low Vision tricks on the computer






I had 2 students who were sisters. They both were losing their sight. It was a gradual loss, so they went from large print most of the time and gaining on braille to mostly braille. One child just switched completely to braille because she just did not like the eye strain, but the other kept with the large print as long as possible, despite her nose was sitting on the page to read it. She just did not want to be different. Interestingly, a child does not think it is different to be hunched over a large piece of paper with large print on it but yet it is different to sit up straight and read Braille as fast as their peers. However, you cannot fight with a child's logic, just find other ways to steer them the direction that would help the most. With good steering, I know they will make the leap into Braille when they are ready.

When children do their lessons with me, it is to read Braille: Their favorite stories of course. I always start out reading the first few chapters to really get them hooked. Then they really want to finish. This method has always worked. The one child above who resisted reading Braille at school in front of her peers, did not resist at home. In fact, her mother would tell me that after lights out, she would periodically check on the girls and there they would be reading their braille books in the dark: Sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. When mom would wake them the next morning, there the braille books would be laying on top of them. They would wake and fess up they read until very late, or early (in the morning as the case may be).

They would come to school and tell me about the story. Harry Potter always seemed to be the mainstay of books to get kids hooked. Even in the middle of the book, they would ask for me to read a chapter at the start of our lesson. Of course, I would. To increase their speed, I would do what I called paragraph jumping. I would read a paragraph and they would follow along, then they would read. If they got lost because I read so fast, they would jump down to the next paragraph and wait. They had their right finger on the last 2 words of my paragraph, and their left fingers on the start of their paragraph, so they would know when to begin reading without a stop in the flow. This method increased their speed significantly, especially with all the reading at home too.

The biggest key is "Get them Hooked on the Story", Then they learn the secret of reading in the dark, Then they don't want to put the book down, Then they get hooked on Braille.

Lessons and articles to help you:

First Steps in Great Braille Readers

Beginner Braille Reading

Braille Instruction begins at 3 years old

Braille Cheat Sheets

How to STOP scrubbing While reading Braille

Fast Braille Reading

Tricks to Learning Braille in your Teen Years or Later

Free Braille Books-Where to go to get Books

The Synchronicity of Braille & Technology

Braille Rap Song Lyrics

Rap Song to Learn Braille

I was working with a child with SOD-Septo optic dysplasia. She had a lower IQ and struggled socially and behaviorally. If a child can talk, walk and wiggle their fingers, there is a good chance I am going to teach them braille, technology and other blind skills. For 2-3 diligent years she learned her braille and typing skills for class and her orientation and mobility skills to move around the school. She was integrated into her regular education classroom, minus the direct one on one time with me to go over the contractions she would be reading in her classroom.

One day as they began their spelling test (story told to me by the regular education teacher), every time the teacher gave the spelling word, she would notice this child reach up to the braille sheet to the left of her keyboard. The child would feel something on the page, then go to the keyboard and type the word. After a couple more words, the teacher figured out that the child was reading the braille word, then typing it on the computer. The children were then let out for recess. When the test was done, she called me in to check her thoughts. As she told me the story, I walked over to the child's computer and sure enough, the braille-spelling list was sitting on the table.

We called her in from recess and asked her about the spelling list by her computer. She wiggled, squiggled and squirmed and finally fessed up she had not studied for the test. She knew the teacher did not know braille, so she thought she could get away with cheating. She had clearly moved into the power of Braille and understood the magic that it carried. Now, we just needed her to use it for good. –smile 🙂

Lessons and articles to help you:

First Steps in Great Braille Readers

Beginner Braille Reading

Braille Instruction begins at 3 years old

Braille Cheat Sheets

How to STOP scrubbing While reading Braille

Fast Braille Reading

Tricks to Learning Braille in your Teen Years or Later

Free Braille Books-Where to go to get Books

The Synchronicity of Braille & Technology

Braille Rap Song Lyrics

Rap Song to Learn Braille

I teach during summer for those children who need a boost in their learning. Any child starting out in Braille or Technology must have summer instruction for several summers for it to "stick" or they will be starting over in square one in the fall. It takes them even longer to catch up to where they were from spring and in that time of catching up, they get further behind their peers.

One of my students who was in first grade was losing vision fast. He was and still is very bright, but had a chip on his shoulder the size of a boulder. He could not come to grips with his vision loss so he choose to deal with it by fighting everyone who got in his way….and everyone seemed to get in his way. He was so busy fighting everyone and everything that all learning in school was slow and arduous…especially learning his blind skills.

He had started with me in kindergarten, so a year and a half later with little progress his mom and I had a long discussion on what could possibly help him. I asked if it was possible that she could join us for summer lessons. She rearranged her day and I had early morning lessons to fit her schedule. Every day the two of them would show up and she learned the braille and technology right along with her son. The joy of her son was overwhelming. The excitement to learn and that his mom was learning it too, must mean it was important….and he learned!

That is how kids think. More importantly, that young child sailed in his learning and caught up to where he needed to be to begin 2nd grade. I see this often. Whether it is with deaf/blind students and the parent learning sign to "speak" with their child, or braille and technology to "speak" the language of blind skills; If a parent puts in the effort, the effort is 10 fold for the child. Parents do not even need to be proficient in the skills, but just sitting and learning even a small amount goes a long way. This extra effort excels the student forward in their learning in their confidence of who they can become

One of my student’s sent me a text this morning from her Gmail chat and told me she is getting an error box when she tries to start her JAWS. I told her to do a PrintScreen to take a picture of it, so she could send me what it looked like. Then I can diagnosis the problem, pull up her machine and fix it.

The PrintScreen is at the top of every keyboard. Most people have no idea what to do with it. It is a way to copy your desktop and all its information. Then you open WORD and paste it with a CTRL+V. The big advantage in this is, when your student has no idea what to do, they can quickly hit PrintScreen, copy it, paste it into Word, save it and email it off to me or to another person who is helping them. Within minutes the student can have an answer to their problem, or their machine can be pulled up and fixed depending on the level of difficulty and their expertise.

Just a fast way to resolve problems…..

The older people that come to me do not want to learn Braille. Their friends do not want to learn Braille either. They love the idea, but for whatever reason, that is not going to be the route for them. They want something that will give them their local news, which they get from their TV's or radio; they want to be able to read books, write letters, email, or social network. People older than 70 are generally more limited.

Therefore, I really tailor lessons for those who have goals later in life. They do not want to go back to school, but they want the tools that will give them the ability to keep in contact with their friends and read books. My lessons are guided by the willingness of older people to learn something new.

First, I get them signed up with their State Book and Braille Library. Here they get digital players and books, allowing them to immediately begin listening to their favorite books again. The players are incredibly easy to learn and even my oldest clients have learned how and LOVE the player books.

Second, if a person already knows how to use a computer, then they know the keyboard. I then add talking software and teach them how to use it according to their needs. We start with WORD and writing letters. I teach them how to type out addresses on envelopes so they can send the letter snail mail. Once, that basic step is learned we advance to learning how to send a letter via email. In general, people younger than 70 prefer sending letters by email. As older people progress in their lessons, we can move onto more sophisticated adventures like social networking. However, many older people also have a palsy or tremors in their hands and cannot type any more. The easy solution is hooking them up with something like JSAY, where the person talks and the computer types out what they are saying and can also read it back.

The next is the ability to write checks and pay bills. Macular degeneration is one of the primary reasons for age related sight loss. A CCTV-or enlarging screen tool allows people to see through the cloud in their central vision. I have seen CCTVs extended this ability to "see" for as many as 15-20+ more years. You can change the contrast of the computer monitor to suit your needs and the advances of the CCTV have improved tremendously. One of the most incredible pieces of equipment I have come across is the MyReader by Humanware. It gives you the ability to take a picture of a book or other text and put it into read back format with auto-scroll. You can increase or decrease the speed of it moving across your screen automatically as well as the font size. My oldest clients easily learn this tool and LOVE it. Another type of scanning system is the SARA by Freedomscientific (there are other brands like this also), that will scan and read back the information for those who have lost all ability to see print.

For the Fan who loves to go to sports events or just wants to sit across the room to watch TV, there is the JORDY. It truly is like something from Star Trek but it works to see things in the distance. I have tried something like this with younger students, below the age of 20, and though it works great to see board work and anything else they want in the distance, they will not wear it. It makes them "too different." Ironically, their sighted friends think it is the greatest thing in the world.

Life is all about perspective.

Lessons to help you

Low Vision Skills-Windows 7 Office 2010

 Low Vision-XP-Office 2003

I have had far more children in the process of losing vision than totally blind.

I have had many doctors tell the parents their child was not going to lose any more vision, and they did. I have had children with a diagnosis that stated they were not going to lose any more vision and they did…or the diagnosis changed to something else because the doctor figured out they did have a degenerative eye condition.

It does not matter what case scenario, I always teach, or try to always teach, what the child will need at the middle and end, not just the beginning. What are the child's dreams and yes the parents, but many times, I hear from the parents, "I just want my child to be happy." They adjusted their dream when they found out about the child's sight loss and now they are not sure WHAT to dream.

If a child has some vision, I utilize that vision for visual tasks, such as looking at maps and graphs, pictures, learning print, etc., as part of the academic skills. But any major reading or writing goes to braille and technology. What I do know is if this child has a normal IQ then I need to give them tools to do the work as fast as anyone else with that IQ.

If you can get the child early enough…really before 1st grade, 3 years old is great and at birth is even better, but if you can get them early enough, begin them on braille, technology and other blind skills. Even in kindergarten when all print is already large for everyone, the low vision child joins in with writing his or her letters and printing out work, just like everyone. During reading time, the child switches to braille, so he is getting a mixture of the print world and the blind world. He is utilizing all aspects, because if the child can learn all aspects of print, they will understand the world in general better. If someone says, "I need to take a U turn" "Can you grab the C clamp" and so on, the child can create an image in their head.

As the sight decreases, the child moves more to braille and uses large print less and less. It becomes a very easy transition, if they learn both from the start. I have had kids hate to read braille at school because they do not want to be different. However, they go home and read all their work in Braille. I have had students slide more over to braille without even a twitch because they are so tired of trying to see the print…or tired of the headaches. But an easy transition because they had the choice of what they wanted to use. No one complains about the technology though and they all output on a computer, so that is always fast from the start.

The students who have come to me from elsewhere who are low vision and are using magnifiers and equipment to enlarge work, are not able to keep up with their peers: If they are older than 3rd grade, they have already gained a great dislike for reading. This is a tougher sell to convince them to use braille, even at 3rd grade, but it can happen. The transition to the computer is very easy. I hook a braille display to the computer and slowly but surely those fingers of the student move to the display to see the output that they have typed. I have started older students right out on a braille note and between the braille display, voice and input of braille, the students learn braille incredibly fast: Instruction is so much different from decades ago of just using a brailler.

The key is to teach students every tool then no matter what happens, they can use what they know. There is also less of a chance of the child going through a terribly depressed time when their remaining sight goes or they figure out the sight they have is not enough to do the job. When they figure this out and they have not learned braille or technology, they have to stop their life to learn it. Even if a low vision child does not lose more vision and are between that 20/100 and 20/200 visual acuity, when they go onto college or try to get a job, they realize they cannot keep up with their colleagues using enlarged print techniques.

Thinking years ahead for all opportunities tells you what they need now.

Lessons that will help 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 for students and teachers


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


When using Windows 7 and Office 2010, have you noticed that if you download an attachment from the Internet, it sometimes opens in Protected Mode and you therefore cannot edit the file? This happened to one of my students with a paper that her teacher had sent her. The paper had Track Changes on it and the student needed to make corrections. Jaws talks the page fine but does not enable editing. The student needed to enable the editing manually.

I connected to the student using JAWS tandem and began teaching the lesson. My student opened her document from the Internet, in protected mode, and as I was teaching her how to get into edit mode, the fire bell rang. The phones disconnect and I knew they were on their way outside. While they were outside, I was able to go through her paper and look at the correction details she would need to make because I was still linked through the JAWS tandem.

The student had forgotten some knowledge over the summer and I could see on her math page, she was writing out the word "degrees" instead of inserting the degree symbol. The command: JAWS insert+4 gets you into "Select a symbol to Print". This area contains many math symbols as well as Spanish symbols and a variety of other things. It is worth a look.

When the class returned from the fire drill, they immediately called to make our connection again and she was laughing on the other end, as when they walked into the room, her JAWS was talking away with no one sitting at the keyboard. That was me checking over her work from my side of the world. She and her para knew what was happening but no one else in the room did. Kind of like a ghost. I could absolutely see the hilarity in this.

As we got back to work, I showed her the insert+4 again for her math and that "Ah Ha" moment came back to her and the knowledge that there is always an easier way to do something, or more importantly …a way! We switched to her Spanish and once again the insert+4 brought up her á é ñ and so on, so she could do her Spanish characters quickly also. But I had to be reminded by a past student the day before that insert+4 also does the Spanish characters. I just love that collective knowledge. If we are away from something for awhile we forget. We all need reminders.

One thing to be careful of with this command is it is so close to the insert+F4 which turns off JAWS. Students only have to do it a couple of times though to remember.

Lessons to help you:

Spanish JAWS, computer, translation program

Setting up JAWS to Speak another Language

Spanish, Talking Software and Braille

Typing out Special Spanish Characters on a Laptop

Jaws and typing out Spanish characters in Word

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!

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