Blind Schools: Communication and Education

Introduction

Modern technology has changed the day-to-day life for all people on a global scale, but most importantly, it has provided impressive benefits for people who are visually impaired. In-school support devices (adapted learning platforms, mobile apps for better communication) become the most crucial as such a disability greatly interferes with the process of learning. In order to guarantee academic success, it is vital to take care of each need of students with visual disabilities and ensure access to all academic opportunities. This study aims to investigate how schools can apply supportive technology for the blind and visually impaired children.

Research findings indicate several solutions to the issue of providing means of communication between the blind and the rest of society. They include the implementation of information communication technology on mobile devices, for example, an app a beginner-friendly braille system or specially adapted Moodle platforms. The solutions were thoroughly analyzed in this paper and can be used in the future in blind schools to support blind students in their education. Such technology as mobile apps with Braille systems and adapted online learning platforms are recommended for making the learning and communicating process easier for visually impaired students.

Visual disability is an international health challenge that affects all people irrespective of age. Blind people are constantly trying to find an innovative way that can make the process of communication more available to them. Educating students with visual loss presents a big problem as they need to use special aids and informational technologies to be able to accomplish various educational activities while learning.

This research investigates various technological means that can help overcome the bridge in communication among visually impaired people. The main question is: how can schools help those who have low vision? The objective of this study is to bring awareness to the issue of providing education to blind students, in addition to suggesting ways to assist them. The importance of such a topic lies in the responsibility of the school system for guaranteeing that all educational opportunities and related solutions are possible to obtain.

Methodology

In order to fully understand the main theme of the paper, a review of several subordinate topics had to be done. First of all, the main challenges that blind students face in school were identified. Then, for conducting the present study, a literature search was performed, where the solutions were provided and analyzed. The data for this paper was gathered by means of looking through numerous articles regarding the issue of education for blind people. The sources that were used for the analysis include scholarly articles and conference proceedings.

Results and Discussion of Results

What Challenges Do Blind Students Face in School?

Students with visual disabilities often experience a great deal of complicated problems in their educational process. These challenges include identifying objects and people around them, navigating in their surroundings, reading school textbooks, socializing with classmates and teachers. These difficulties could make communication and further adaptation to school very problematic. Many visually impaired students find themselves studying long, tedious hours in order to keep up with classes. A study by Okonkwo (2017) conducted a survey among the blind students in Nigerian schools.

The students were given a list of all possible issues and were asked: “What challenges do you experience in school as a blind student?” After gathering the answers, the researcher analyzed and rated the results from the most common problems to the rarest. The outcomes of this poll are introduced below (see table 1).

Table 1. The Ratings of Issues Faced by Blind Students.

As a result of my visual loss, the challenges I experience include: Mean Rank
Inability to access modern technologies 3.73 1
Inappropriate teaching methods 3.64 2
Non availability of special curriculum 3.61 3
Barriers in the environment 3.57 4
Lack of Braille materials for instruction 3.56 5
Non specialist teachers in the subject matters 3.56 6
No resource room for improved learning 3.42 7
Inadequate facilities for learning in regular schools 3.19 8
Inappropriate learning facilities 3.13 9
Inability to access financial support from the govt. 3.11 10
Difficulty in getting admission into higher
institutions
2.64 11
Feeling inferior in the class 2.62 12
Lack of school authority’s support 2.54 13
Teachers doubting my abilities 2.52 14
Unfriendly attitude of students 2.43 15
Friends taking decisions on my behalf 2.36 16
Some cultural/traditional beliefs about my
condition
2.27 17
Bullying by sighted students 1.68 18
Difficulty making friends 1.34 19
Bullying by teachers 1.18 20

Looking at the findings of this survey, it can be safely concluded that visually impaired students face many troubles while studying. The most prevalent challenges are deeply connected with the lack of modern technologies or resources that could enable adequate learning.

Nevertheless, this matter can be solved if school authorities implement available means of support. Schools that started using assistive technology, such as phone apps for screen reading and recording speech, eliminated a lot of barriers in education and communication between visually impaired and other students. With the help of such technology, children can complete assignments, do academic research, take tests, and read books along with their sighted classmates. All potential problems can be prevented if the student and school authorities discuss the student’s needs at the start of the semester.

How can IT help to advance the process of learning?

Needless to say, visually impaired students are incapable of receiving visual information from school boards and textbooks. Such inconvenience makes the learning process problematic. Because of the fact that most schools lack studying the material in Braille, their learning and communicating capabilities are strictly limited. Nevertheless, the technological resolution to this problem is present. To begin with, it should be noted that informational and communicational technologies are usually divided into two broad categories. First of all, in a school, they can be used as a technical resource. What is more, such technologies are also used as teaching and learning tools.

Finally, it is vital to understand that informational technologies, by their definition, encourage getting information on an independent basis, which is something that most blind students have to do. Fortunately, general guiding principles and specific instruments are available to assist teachers in the adaptation of their teaching material. Moreover, nowadays, a number of learning platforms exist for students with different kinds of disabilities. For example, ATutor with the implemented AccessForAll feature or the adapted Moodle learning platform. Such instruments are generally meant for a specific disability, for example, a visual impairment. Nevertheless, a lot of them offer empirical evidence of their effectiveness.

Now it is time to discuss how exactly blind students and teachers utilize information communication technology (ICT) in their studies. It has been already noted that ICT is widely used as an instrument to support blind students. Moreover, it makes them feel included in an overall educational process. In other words, information has become a considerable substitute instrument in the educational process. In order to fully understand the experience of using the informative technology, Rony conducted a study where he described and compared stories by blind students and teacher’s experiences.

According to the outcomes, “blind students use ICT as support in their learning process, and it helps them to be included in regular school” (Rony, 2017, p. 4). Without doubt, their teachers must ensure that students have got sufficient ICT materials as assistance in their learning process. What is more, the researcher also described the experiences of teachers, which indicated their lack of appropriate training regarding the use of informational technologies in their teaching practice.

As it was previously discussed, visually disabled students use informational technologies excessively in order to make up for the inability to perceive visual study material. There is no doubt that information technology assists blind students in continuing their classes. There are several ways to apply such technology in school. However, the most popular method is to provide students with an opportunity to interact by means of devices that use text-to-speech.

They must be not only functional but easily accessible as well. Fortunately, nowadays, the majority of required special software or devices can be implemented on iPhones or iPads. Owing to that, visually impaired children can do many of the things without difficulties. Moreover, sometimes students and teachers come up with their own approach to the problem. For example, teachers write on the board and read the material aloud, while blind students record it on their phone for later use.

A self-learning Braille system for visually impaired

Braille is crucial to all blind people, Sometimes, the Braille system is the only means of communication, which helps visually impaired children learn to read, write, and talk to others. Kulkarni et al. (2018) presented a device which can enable communication between visually disabled individuals and others. The introduced solution is an affordable, energy-saving, transportable, self-learning, and user-friendly Braille system. The invented Braille system is capable of converting on all levels of the Braille encoding. That is why it can also be called beginner-friendly.

As researchers described, the processing steps of their proposed system are as follows. As the system is based on Android software, first, the user must download the application. After the installation, user needs to send a voice memo by using Bluetooth. The memo will act as an input to the system.

Then, the application should be checked if the input is received by the system or not. If the entry is sent to the application without delays or mistakes, the user will get an instant notification about it. The received text message is changed by the application to Braille code, which will be shown on display. After this the text memo will be changed again into a voice memo by means of Text-To-Speech synthesizer.

The primary benefit of this application is that it provides the opportunity to learn and teach Braille for everyone. The need for a teacher with special skills, such as knowing the Braille alphabet, is absent in this case. This device encourages visually impaired children to study Braille more efficiently since they are capable of hearing the accurate pronunciation of letters, vowels, and words. Therefore, by giving the means of analyzing the patterns of Braille, it supports them in studying and communicating amongst the blind and between the blind and the rest of society. Moreover, the system adapts the examination process by reading questions out loud to the user and then receiving their answers via voice. The device is especially useful for beginners and students of elementary schools.

Effects of new supportive technologies

It has already been acknowledged that technologies present a great advantage for visually disabled people. E-learning includes different types of online platforms and learning objects. It has definitely become more popular in recent years as it allows learning the study material in easier and more available forms. This factor is especially important for blind students, who often face several troubles in receiving information from their teachers and school peers.

The empirical study by Batanero et al. (2019) investigated the efficiency of online learning methods. It mainly focused on examining the studying performance of visually impaired students while they used two types of online learning platforms: a non-adapted platform and the adapted one. The researchers conducted two trials in order to trace changes in the academic performance of blind children. The results were operationalized with the help of computer-based evaluation marks.

The study group included students with different capacities; however, in this paper, the main focus will be on visually disabled individuals. At first, the researchers had to make sure that all the learning platforms worked properly. Then, the children acquired them with the help of teachers, thus, receiving access to the non-adapted platform and the adapted platform. Furthermore, students were asked to use them and finish the tests.

A pre- and post-test investigation was carried out to estimate the influence of the adapted platform in the educational process. The table below compares the outcomes of the tests, where non-adapted and the adapted Moodle platforms were used (see table 2). The numbers represent scores of blind students, depending on how well they did on questions that required vision or hearing. Mean represents the average score, and Med represents the most frequently occurring score.

Table 2. The Results of the Poll for the Visually Impaired Group.

Aid Pre-test Post-test
Mean Med Mean Med
Vision 0.2 0.0 3.7 4.0
Hearing 3.7 4.0 3.8 4.0
Overall 3.9 4.0 7.5 7.5

The outcomes of trials confirm that adapted platforms improve academic results of visually impaired students. Thus, the experiment suggests that “accessible online education helps students with different capacities in having a positive influence in their learning performance” (Batanero et al., 2019, p. 9). Moreover, it uncovered the true potential of creating tools and platforms for disabled students.

Conclusion

The main conclusion that can be drawn from the previous discussion is that assistive technology has eliminated numerous barriers that blind students can face while studying and communicating. The solutions that were reviewed in the paper include adapted platforms for online-learning and mobile applications with the Braille system that convert voice inputs into text messages and vice versa. Such technology ensures that visually impaired children are capable of not only getting the visual information in audial forms but interacting with the rest of the world as well. The importance of the study is evident because the informative technology equates blind students with others in their opportunities and opens new doors in education. Ideally, not only schools for the visually disabled should implement such devices in the future.

It goes without saying that future investigations are necessary to expand on the findings of this study. The reason for this is that the described above technologies are not the only means of helping students; nevertheless, the solutions are still valuable and effective. As an instance, teachers can implement Braille system in their school routine and encourage other students to learn Braille to communicate with each other. Moreover, school authorities should put more finances into the implementation and adaptation of online learning platforms, such as Moodle or ATutor. It would be beneficial for the academic performance of blind students and would make their learning experience more enjoyable.

References

Batanero, C., de-Marcos, L., Holvikivi, J., Hilera, J. R., & Otón, S. (2019). Effects of New Supportive Technologies for Blind and Deaf Engineering Students in Online Learning. IEEE Transactions on Education, 62(4), 270-277.

Kulkarni, Sneha B., & Sanjeev S. Sannakki. Android Based Braille Tutor System for Visually Impaired People. (2018). International Journal of Scientific Research in Science and Technology, 4(8), 156-161.

Okonkwo, H. C., Fajonyomi, M. G., Omotosho, J. A., Esere, M. O., & Olawuyi, B. O. (2017). Challenges, counselling needs, and coping strategies of students with visual impairment in regular secondary schools in Nigeria. Human and Social Studies, 6(1), 111-137.

Rony, M. R. (2017) Information Communication Technology to support and include Blind students in a school for all: An interview study of teachers and students’ experiences with inclusion and ICT support to blind students. University of Oslo, Master’s thesis.

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