Technology was supposed to be one of the great equalizers in education, specifically in the realm of providing digital textbooks, distance learning opportunities, and other initiatives to outlying and impoverished schools. Distance and funding obstacles were supposed to be stripped away by the ability to connect to a classroom in another part of the country, and instant downloads were supposed to provide high-quality instructional materials at a fraction of the cost of print, all thanks to a handful of computers or tablets.
For the most part, that vision is coming true for a lot of countries. Unfortunately, in regions all around the world–regardless of financial standing–there are whole sectors of the education population who still don’t have access to the benefits of ed tech due to physical barriers. One such demographic is visually impaired students, given that screen reading software has been cumbersome to say the least, and hardly intuitive. Factor in the typical class disruption of using read-aloud software (even through headphones, as the student cannot take part in class discussions or instruction while having the screen read to him), and read-aloud software becomes an even bigger obstacle to learning than before.
But what about students who can’t access any type of learning materials, whether print, audio, or digital? That’s the reality for an alarming number of global students who are considered fortunate to even live within accessible distance of any form of school. Without access to any form of instructional materials, education simply isn’t an option; too often, that equates to finding a viable, well-deserved place in the workforce not being an option, either.
That’s why a number of schools and libraries are turning to titles such as JAWS, Thunder, and Jose for meeting the needs of visually impaired tech users. Sir Apollo Kagwa school, located in Nakisunga Sub County in the Mukono District of Uganda, for example, recently installed Jose in its computer lab, along with an enabled printer. The goal is to equalize access to education for its visually impaired students through the use of the technology.
This is only the first stage though, as mobile platforms are already adding smartphone tech and apps for visually impaired users. A screen reader is a great tool if the users plans to position himself in front of a computer all day, but for taking the education to the career field, users must have portability. App developers are making great strides in producing these tools for on-the-go use in order to transition students out of the computer lab and into the real world.