Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘braille displays’


TeenCoder™ Logo image of professor reclining by the words TeenCoder Java Series.

I used to love programming, and I still love to watch my students learning to love programming. There have only been a few homeschooling programming curriculum choices, and we have used them. They are usually limited to basic stuff and not much in the way of modern languages. Past that, we introduce students to the various industry standards available at most local bookstores in the computer section. I go back to BASIC, Fortran, and COBOL (shh, like any respectable programmer from way back when, I am not really admitting that I know COBOL), so yeah, I’m old and old school. Having had to learn so much over again in life like reading, living skills, computer skills using assistive technology because I am Deaf and blind, I have lost much of my interest in programming at this age and time. However, there are many DeafBlind programmers in the industry, so it can be done. As a teacher though, I am always looking for good curriculum even for programming. I recently got the chance to review Homeschool Programming.com’s TeenCoder™: Java Programming course.

 

With TeenCoder™ courses, you get everything you need to learn and apply the skills taught for a good solid foundation. Course begins with using the basic textedit/notepad and terminal for hand coding and compiling for your first program which is the famous “Hello, World” popular since the beginning days of programmings. The course carries you through Strings, User Input, Basic Flow Control, Debugging, Object-Oriented Java, Graphical Java, Swing Input Controls, Arrays and Collections, Derived Classes, and more. Every concept you need to jump start your learning and carry you through to more formal applications. Explanations are clear and easy to understand with the why you do it fully covered. Activities are fun and apply the concepts learned well. There is plenty to allow you to build your expertise as you move through the chapters. Solutions are provided including screen shots to help you know what you are supposed to get. As you step into development packages, the course recommends and uses free software and gives detailed instructions for downloading and installing. You do not need to purchase anything beyond the course materials to complete the course. Having used other course materials and industry-standard, I can tell you that this textbook is a much better read.

 

My fellow reviewers at Mosaics Reviews have spent a lot of time with this course and other TeenCoder™ courses, too. I will let you read their detailed reviews and opinions here. As usual, my main objective when possible, is accessibility. Several felt that their students enjoyed the courses and could easily do the work on their own which is a plus for a family where the parent may not be into computers, especially programming. I know my students were reluctant to stop the course each day wanting to continue through more than one subject time. That sounds like a win to me. Another parent and I both agree that with other courses used or industry-standard texts the students just didn’t seem to learn much. These TeenCoder™ courses seem to get much more information across and allows the student to really be able to apply the concepts to very detailed activities. One parent stated that their student did the work on their own, but got  great help from TeenCoder™ staff when he emailed them directly about a problem. Some of the courses have videos available to according to one parent who used them. That could be a great help to some parents. Read the detailed reviews to get even more  information and tips.

Accessibility is the big question for me and my students always. My regular students loved the program and took off with it with almost no help from me or anyone. My blind and DeafBlind students along with me struggled at first trying to read the book. We had assistants sign in ASL or read the book to us which was slow, but because the book was so well-written we were all able to accomplish the tasks. The fun was there, but dampened some by the lack of true accessibility. I asked the developers if they would send us some accessible documents for the time-being because I felt from what we had done that the course materials could be useful and easily made accessible. They, after some thought, did so which I commend them for because giving strangers full access to your hard work can be scary. Upon looking at the materials, their were only a few images that wouldn’t be accessible to a screen reader and/or braille display which made it wonderful to us. Most everything including the code boxes to show exactly how the code was to look was actually text-based making it accessible to us. The few images could easily be tagged and the information listed as text, too, with little work. The document with the most images, of course, was the solutions book, but there were few screen shots even in that book. Almost everything had been described in text and text-based boxes. Perfect!

 

By making the books available through iBooks or e-pub formats from text-based source documents or through Bookshare.org, Homeschool Programming could offer their courses to not only regular education students, but also print disabled including dyslexics, blind, and DeafBlind with very little extra work and no extra expense. That would be a win for everyone as it would widen their market to all students and even schools.

 

Worried about the software they use for developing? Well, the textedit and terminal programs for hand-coding is text-based and naturally accessible. Their choice of Eclipse for IDE or Integrated Development Environments is perfect. It is almost totally accessible already. We found the tab close buttons were not linked to the screen reader, so we couldn’t close those, but opened tabs didn’t hinder us in any way. All of the instructions could be easily followed as listed by commands, instead of with the mouse as intended, of course. We used the command listings as is to use the menus for access. The initial screen had an image-based click environment where you had to click an image of an arrow. Of course, our screen reader couldn’t see that arrow image, but in the menu we were able to get get past the initial “desktop” image to get to the actual workbench area. Once there, we could use the keyboard to follow the steps in either the work area or the top menu to navigate, open files, type code, run programs, etc. Now, we are slower, especially since we didn’t have accessible documents in the beginning, but we are picking up speed now. Our fastest student has made it through Chapter 13 of 16 chapters which goes through page 262 of 310 including the Index. That chapter began activities that sight would seem beneficial to understand if you had never had sight. We had student assistants help our student with tactile representations of the images to give him the grasp of what the program was trying to accomplish. However, other activities to come shouldn’t be that difficult because all of our students play chess and other similar type games, so we should be able to understand the reading and some 3D representations of the visual aspects of the program will certainly help us know what the program is designed to do on screen for visual users. With that understanding, we blind and deafblind programmers can code visual games, too. This course will really go a along way helping our blind and deafblind students enhance their mental mapping skills, too.

 

This is a screen shot showing the working braille window in the Eclipse IDE program.

This is a screen shot showing the working braille window in the Eclipse IDE program.

As far as the few accessibility problems with Eclipse IDE, the program is totally usable, and we will contact the developers of this freeware program to help them make the few adjustments to accessibility. Even if that doesn’t change, this course is beneficial and usable to all populations if the interest to learn exist. Hopefully, the few statements needed to explain to blind and deafblind users how to follow the steps through the menu  instead of the mouse and the other couple of modifications or lack of access can be added to the course instructions because they really would be only simple additions. If the Homeschool Programming staff will make the course available through Apple’s iBooks or bookshare.org, we know we can learn programming through their material, and that would make us very happy, indeed!

 

The company has many different courses and different levels, too, so you need to check out their  web site athttp://homeschoolprogramming.com. The TeenCoder™:Java Programming can be purchased as textbook only $75, videos only $20, or package of book and videos $90. Videos, according to one parent may not be detailed, complete lessons, but can be very useful especially for those whose learning styles use multiple visual inputs and/or auditory input. Unfortunately, the videos are not closed captioned, so they are not useful for deaf students overly. That could be easily fixed, so maybe the company will do that in the future.This is an excellent course to introduce and build programming skills in Java. In fact, this old programmer may have just gotten interested again because the accessibility proved to me that I don’t have to start over learning again! Thanks, Homeschool Programming. You made my day for sure!

I have received a copy of the above product to help facilitate a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »


My Homeschool Grades Logo Image using blocks with the initials and the company name beside each matching letter block.If you are like me, you must have a grade program. I don’t like figuring out the grades, and I need something to keep everything organized digitally because there is too much paper and too many things for a grade not on paper. There are a few homeschool programs out there which are fine, but none that are accessible. Some, though, are just public school oriented re-packaged for homeschoolers which makes them too complex for most homeschoolers to bother. We don’t need discipline logs, parent-teacher conference notes, lunchroom fee modules, and the like. We need something flexible in regards to assignment types, grading styles, and keeps transcripts. Some of us need attendance sections, too, along with simple lesson plan listings. Anyway, flexibility allowing uniqueness is hard to come by in grade programs because most think too much like regular schools. My Home School Grades does an excellent job, is constantly listening to their consumers adding and adjusting, and is accessible, too!

My Home School Grades’, an online program, main appeal is its simplicity. It has an uncluttered view even with numerous students or classes listed on the screen. Though simple and easy to use, the program has the features you need in the homeschooling world. You can have as many students as you need, and each can have as many classes as you like to provide. You can add activities that can include experiments, films, theater, field trips of every destination. That simplicity allows you to have your unique feel to your student’s academics and experiences. You can choose the curriculum descriptions of numerous popular publishers or list yours as custom. You can’t list your description, but if you’d like to suggest that the vendor add that feature or any feature, click support at the top right of the screens and suggest away. They are adding people’s suggestions all the time, so they make it very easy to suggest something to them. In fact, the company is working on including attendance now because consumers suggested it. This company is really listening, so ask away!

Set up of your school information which is used for transcripts takes only a couple of minutes including setting up your name, address, and style of grade display which can be edited any time in the account area along with your password. Then you add your students and their classes in a matter of minutes even if you have several students. When you add a lesson, it is just as simple, and you can list ahead and add grades later or add them as the students complete them. There is nothing complicated here, and it is all easy to find and figure out on your own. But, if you have trouble or if you want to see how easy things are before you buy, check out their tutorials on the steps that are found on the front page of their web site.

You can also designate your classes as Advanced Placement (AP) or Honors which will automatically be given a higher GPA point value by default. You can list your grades by lesson plan for individual assignments and grades or by a single, final grade for the course. If your student is doing Dual Enrollment, you can designate that and list the college where the course is taken. You can adjust credit when applicable for .25, .5, .75, or even 1, 2, 3, or 4 credits depending on the type and schedule of course. You also have an option for non-credit if you just want to list the experience, but no credit is given. You can list  the course as full year, Spring, Fall, Summer, or 1st, 2nd, or 3rd Quarter.

Using your student and course data, transcripts are clear and professional showing school name, address, grading scale, course and credit list, total credits, and GPA. The transcript’s second page lists the activities the student has participated in during their academic career. You can export your transcript to a saved file or print for your records. The grading scale calculates the GPA by using 5 points for Honors courses down to 0 for 59 and below and 4 also given for classes you deem as Pass/Fail. I love the fact that Social Security numbers and graduation dates are not stored on the My Home School Grades server, but is entered each time you export transcript. You click the settings buttons on the Export Transcript screen and enter the Social Security Number and Graduation date and then hit print. You can print without that information if you desire. Settings options also allow you to hide certain grade levels and activities, if desired.

With these features, you will certainly find My Home School Grades simple, but flexible and professional for use. In addition, the online program is fully accessible for low vision and screen readers and braille display. At this time of writing, it is the only homeschool grade tracking program that is accessible to my knowledge, and that knowledge is extensive though not complete. There are a few screen reader focus issues with My Home School Grades that hinder navigation slightly like when a pop up screen is present for adding/editing a student or lesson or course, the braille display advance command or the keyboard tab still advances on the back page for several places before finding the pop up page. This is an easy fix, but it needs to be addressed because a blind person will have no way of knowing that the button they clicked actually worked by popping up a screen. Again, it is easy to fix, and I am certain based on the knowledge of the vendors’ customer service reputation which is excellent that this will be handled in the near future. Despite this little hang up, the program is definitely usable by a low vision or blind user, and that makes this reviewer extremely happy.

To make it even better, My Home School Grades works well on most tablets and smartphones connected to the internet. On the iPhone, My Home School Grade’s web app through Safari is also completely accessible to Voice Over and a braille display compatible with Voice Over. You can keep up with activities and lessons while on the go which makes handling your homeschool even easier.

Now, it is your turn. You can check out My Home School Grades on their web site at https://myhomeschoolgrades.com. You can try it out for a 14 day free trial, see how the online program works with their tutorials on their home page, and get the facts on their “Learn More” page. The price is one of the best things about this program because you get a lifetime membership for just $49.99. With that, you are set for all of your students throughout their homeschool years.

I have received a copy of the above product to help facilitate a frank and honest review. A positive review is not guaranteed. All opinions are my own. Your results and opinions may vary.

Read Full Post »


The iPhone: Without Sight and Hearing

The Back Story: How this manual came to reality

 

This book came about because I fell in love with Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices. Yes, I can use both even though I am totally deaf and blind. You can, too. There is nothing special about me. I didn’t even own a braille display or even a screen reader before I got the iPhone 4 which was the first mobile device to totally integrate a screen reader and braille display support into their overall operating system, the iOS. At the AT&T store, the sales clerk really didn’t know what I was talking about when I asked him to set up my braille display. He turned on the bluetooth quickly after finding the Bluetooth on button in the general settings and then went to accessibility to turn on Voice Over and braille. The iPhone quickly and automatically discovered my RFB 18, and the clerk typed in the pairing numbers that my braille display manufacturer had given in the display’s manual. I couldn’t do this myself, but it was quick and easy for the clerk or any sighted person.

Then everything changed for me. I cried as I set up my email by myself and got my first email that I didn’t have to have someone read to me, and as I sent my first text message, and as I used the Notes app for simple face to face communication with the sales clerk, he typed to me, “Welcome back to the real world,” and I responded, “It is great to be back.”

Although Apple supports many braille displays and is always adding new ones, I will say that my first display was the American Publishing House for the Blind’s (APH) Refreshabraille 18. This is a perfect display for the iPhone. The little joystick made my ease into the screen reader/braille display world seamless as I had no clue what a braille chord command was or what those little buttons were for at first. The joystick was familiar to me, so I just started moving it and quickly discovered how to move from app to app. First, finding the email app and knowing my email address and ISP information by heart, I set it up and downloaded my email. Then I moved on to text messaging and sent my husband a text even though he was standing right next to me. Then I found a notes app and surmised that it must be a little word processing app similar to notepad on the computer. With that few minutes, I had joined the world again and would never look back.

After getting excited and telling everyone how I was using the iPhone and a braille display, I was asked by a couple of organizations and individuals to help others learn. I did my best to help in person or via email. Eventually, I was asked to write things down, so this little manual came to be a thought. I now hope that the desire to open the world to others without sight and hearing with the use of this integrated technology at a more affordable price will come to fruition through this manual.

 

The Reality: How will this manual help me?

You will find that it should be helpful regardless to which of the Apple supported braille displays you use or how much remaining sight or hearing you have. I am writing it from a totally deaf and blind point of view, hoping that if it can help someone totally without sight and sound that it can help anyone with vision or hearing loss. I am also adding a perspective that might surprise some people including the DeafBlind. Along with accessing the iPhone with just a braille display, I will also add techniques for using the touchscreen for better and faster navigation. The key to this is teaching a person to know their iPhone (and even iPad since they are so similar) like you do your own house. You know those mental maps you make to get around. Yes, even people who haven’t ever had sight before use mental maps of their own design to sort of “see” what is around them. I am using that concept sprinkled throughout to help a person really know and use their iPhone. With this way of “seeing” your iPhone, you will be prepared to easily use the touch screen in a lot of ways to get to what you need even faster than using chord commands at times. I don’t mean totally using a touch screen. Without true vision that would be silly, of course, but if you have an arsenal of navigation techniques, you can learn to move around efficiently and faster.

As far as braille displays go, they vary in features and even some commands. A list of the known braille commands for all supported displays is available in the appendix. The manual is assuming that you can use a braille display for your usual computer needs. I will mention specific chord commands if they are the same across all the devices, but otherwise, I will refer to them by a general chord command name such as advance or select or enter, etc. The directions will be given for navigation in more than one way when possible including a braille display’s linear or forward/back direction, touch screen placement described verbally, chord commands or braille display description, and touch screen gestures, when applicable.

So, let’s start this journey toward making the world accessible to you. It should be a great ride, and one you will never regret. Open yourself to the possibilities. All you need is an iPhone right out of the box and your braille display to gain the world through the iPhone without sight or hearing.

Read Full Post »


TOUCH POINTS

By Renée Walker

 

My last column brought a lot of attention from Good Cheer readers and my blog readers where I share this column as well. Feelings of isolation for DeafBlind individuals seem to be very common even if it is intermittent. We all seem to have felt it at some point. I was also pleasantly surprised that I had so many readers interested in my column. I know Good Cheer has a large audience, but it was very nice to learn that you are interested in what I have to say. I appreciate that very much. I will try to continue to discuss topics to which you can relate. Please continue to write me via email, print, or braille. I am very interested in your comments. I learn from you, and we can help each other discover hope for the future.

 

This month’s column is all about easing some of that isolation. There are options out there for DeafBlind individuals, but they are few, and none are perfect. I have discovered an option that I want to present to you. It may not work for you, but since it has helped me, I hoped that it might help a few of you. First, let me tell you that I am not employed by Apple, and I am not being compensated by Apple or American Publishing House for the Blind in any way. I wouldn’t even call myself an Apple supporter. I just look for ways to help myself continue to work and live as fully as I can. Often that is difficult because technology is so expensive, and I can’t get help from government agencies like some. I am glad there are some who can get the training and equipment they need from a government or non-profit organization. For me, that hasn’t been possible, so I have to look for ways to help myself.

 

Apple recently introduced an operating system called Snow Leopard that did what few other companies have ever done before. Apple built in accessibility options throughout their entire operating system making almost all tasks seamless and easy on their Macintosh line of computers. Their screen reader called Voice Over handles voice output and braille output very well. They have also built in options for the Deaf with closed captioning and visual notifications for many tasks such as emails. There is also Zoom for those with low vision. The greatest thing about these accessibility options is that it is included in every computer product sold without purchasing extra equipment and software for your needs. The most you need is a braille display if you require one. There are many braille displays that are compatible with Apple’s Voice Over with more being added all the time. The Voice Over commands are simple and similar to other popular screen readers. The learning curve isn’t as steep as others either with the built-in tutorial that really gets you started. You also don’t need a sighted person to help you configure your Apple computer because when you first boot it up, the system asks you if you need Zoom or vVoice Over. If you have a braille display connected to the computer, the voice is also displayed as text on your braille display. The system will then walk you through the entire configuration, and run the tutorial, if you desire. If  you are comfortable with computers at all, you can’t get it any better than that.

 

Some of you may not be comfortable with computers, or due to your severe losses of vision and hearing, you may be lucky if you have experience with notetakers. Computers may still be a bit more than you think can handle, or you might not be that interested in their many uses. Like many hearing/sighted people, email, text messages, and the occasional browsing of the internet to check shopping sites may be your only interests. If so, Apple has a few other options that can open your world in many ways without the hassles of learning how to use a computer. With the accessibility options built in, the effort can be more like a walk in the park. With the IPhone 4 or IPod Touch, you have fully accessible devices to browse the internet, send and receive SMS messages (text messages), send and receive email, take notes, write documents and read documents, have a face to face conversation with someone else even if they don’t know ASL or braille.  Again, the best part is that you don’t need to pay for extra software and equipment except for a braille display. It is all included in the device that is easily available to anyone regardless of disability issues. With the IPhone 4 or an IPod Touch, you need the help of someone sighted to go in the first time and turn on the screen reader. If you only need the zoom or screen magnification, you might be able to go into the settings and accessibility tabs to turn that on yourself. The sales clerk should be able to help you even if the person didn’t know about it before seeing you. My sales clerk heard me describe what I needed and said that must be in settings. He found it within about five seconds, and my braille display which was already on popped right up with where I was and instructions of how to get out or change accessibility options. I manipulated the buttons and joystick on my APH Refreshabraille 18 finding the web browser, the mail program, and other things as tears of joy streamed down my face. I have no experience really with JAWS, Window Eyes, or any other screen reader. I don’t know those kind of commands at all. With the IPhone 4, I didn’t need that knowledge at all. I just rotated through buttons and text finding what I wanted easily. I set up my email program by myself in the store and got my first email that I could read on my display. I had only just gotten the APH Refreshabraille 18, recently and had only read emails in braille on my MacBook a few times before. Here I was checking email on the first cell phone I have owned since losing my sight almost ten years before. My husband has had to set up my computers before and read everything to me, or I had to put my nose to the screen to read very large fonts. In recent years, I no longer have any residual sight and feeling as if I was disappearing from the world as my sight faded. Here I was setting up this device on my own and getting information. The sales clerk then typed a message to me just using the notes app that comes with the phone that I read on my display, “Hello, my name is Brian. Welcome back to the real world.” I spoke and said, “Hello, Brian. It is good to be back,” laughing and crying at the same time. I had just had my first conversation with another person who didn’t know ASL or through an interpreter in such a very long time. I can’t even describe the joy I felt at that moment.

 

Of course, the IPhone allows me to check and send email, browse the internet, and send text messages with a data plan and a text messaging plan. There are other useful apps available like the WhatsApp Messenger which allows the IPhone 4 or IPod Touch do text messages from smartphone to smartphone for free without needing a messaging plan. You just need a data plan on the IPhone 4 or access to the internet through a wireless connection on either the phone or the IPod Touch. This helps lessen your monthly fees if you can’t afford much. There is also a Color Identification app which is available in the Apple App Store for $.99 that tells you by voice and braille the color of any light source such as the color of your shirt or the color of the leaves on a tree. There are several multi-protocol chat programs, too. These allow you to log in to many of the common chat programs like AIM, Google Talk, IChat, and Yahoo! Messenger with one program app. Palringo is a free one that is totally accessible. There are probably others, as well. These and more powerful apps are being designed every day that can open our worlds to us regardless of how much sight and hearing we may have. The Apple IPad will also be totally accessible with a new update of the OS 4 beginning in November. It already has Voice Over and Zoom for the hearing blind and low vision or Hard of Hearing. In November, the software will be the same as the IPhone 4 and newest IPod Touch allowing braille displays and other features.

 

The world of the DeafBlind is changing quickly. Apple has proven that mainstream technology products can be made accessible with the same off the shelf products that hearing/sighted users enjoy without costing anymore to purchase. With companies like Apple deciding to reach out to those with disabilities they are increasing their market share for certain, but they are doing wonders by bringing the world back to those of us. Now I can explore that world with my IPhone 4’s GPS and maps. I will check back in with you next time. Well, if I don’t get too busy exploring…

 

 

If you have comments or questions about this article, you can email me at rkwalker@wynfieldca.org, or write me in braille or print at 143 Williamson Dr., Macon, GA 31210. Check my blog also at http://www.deafblindhope.wordpress.com. I am also on Facebook as Renée K. Walker, too, if you want to become friends.

 

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: