Back to School Part 2: Assistive Technology

Last week our blog discussed back to school basics. In part two of our Back to School special we will be discussing assistive technology and how they are beneficial to visually impaired students. Truth be told though; assistive technology can be beneficial to everyone.

Reading and Writing

Most of us take our reading and writing abilities for granted. For persons with visual impairments (or many other disabilities) what we take for granted they must strive to achieve. Luckily, there are many tools, methods, and techniques available to help ensure their literacy independence is within arm’s reach.  Two assistive devices that may prove beneficial with reading and writing are the Orbit Reader 20 and the Scanmarker Air.

The Orbit Reader 20 is a unique 3-in-1 electronic braille device and serves as a self-contained book reader, a note-taker and braille display by connecting to a computer or smartphone via USB or Bluetooth. It provides the highest quality braille in the world at the lowest price. Simple but sturdy design features 20 eight dot braille cells, eight braille input keys, cursor and panning keys for easy navigation, a USB port for charging and communication, an SD card slot, and a high-capacity rechargeable battery. It supports all languages and screen reading programs and weighs less than one pound.

The ScanMarker Air allows you to scan a single line of text using the ScanMarker “pen” and send that text to either your smartphone or computer, using either Bluetooth or USB connectivity. You can scan either directly into the ScanMarker app or to an external application such as Word. Within the ScanMarker app, scanned text can be read back to you, without the need for a voiceover function. Scanned text can automatically be translated into one of 40+ languages.


Let’s face it math can be hard for anyone. If you are unable to see a traditional calculator it can prove even more challenging. Thankfully, there is a talking graphics calculator that can take some of the pressure off persons with visual impairments.

The Orion TI-84 Plus Talking Graphing Calculator consists of a compact accessory that is attached to the top of the TI-84 Plus and enables someone who is visually impaired to interact with the TI-84 Plus using speech, audio, and haptic (vibration) feedback. High-quality synthesized speech reads out all textual and symbolic information on the LCD screen, as well as each keypress. Graphs can be explored using either spoken announcements or the unique SonoGraph audio and haptic feedback which provides multi-modal feedback. The user can also review the contents of the screen at any time, including all text and graphical information, without affecting the calculation. The Orion TI-84 Plus Talking Graphing Calculator is fully expandable with hardware accessories through a USB port and can also print or emboss graphs when connected to a printer or embosser. This product comes with high quality stereo earphones for private use, AC adapter/charger, and a user manual.

Beyond Academics

Utilizing these assistive technologies in school can not only help you obtain a quality education, but they can also allow you to go even further. Take these stories for example. The first one is about visually impaired choirs, the next about a new version of a “musical” through sign language and finally a story that depicts the life of a deafblind woman as she practices law and explores the world.

The Johnny Mercer Children’s Choir is the only program in Southern California specifically for blind and visually impaired children. Members learn vocal music and performance techniques, gain confidence and overcome isolation as they discover a community of peers who struggle with their same issues. The choirs travel throughout Southern California performing free concerts at senior centers, schools, and other community facilities, showing people that blindness or any disability doesn’t have to stand in the way of your dreams. One of the choirs’ signature songs is Johnny Mercer’s “Accentuate the Positive.”

Putting on a high school play comes with a host of difficulties, the wardrobe, the sets and of course remembering one’s lines. But for students at Belleville’s Sir James Whitney School for the Deaf, their lines weren’t spoken, they were signed. English lines were translated into American Sign Language (ASL). The students then had to memorize the ASL version not the English originally written down on paper. To do this the lines were videotaped, and the students would watch the videos and memorize their lines complete with facial expression and body language needed for the part. To complicate things even more the musical they chose to perform was Beauty and the Beast, so the students had to also learn how to sync their ASL to music they were unable to actually hear.

Lawyer, comedian, surfer, and public speaker are just a few things that Haben Girma has already accomplished in life. She has traveled the world with her dog, Mylo. She learned how to surf in the ocean, has gone rock climbing, and is taking improv classes at a community college. She has spoken at the White House and she has a law degree from Harvard. Graduating in 2013 she is the first ever deafblind person to attend the prestigious college. Professionally she is an attorney and disability advocate. She travels the world advising companies to invest in disabled employees. In her down time, there is no telling where in the world she might be next. The link embedded with her name, will take you to a video to allow a peak into her extraordinary life. The video includes descriptions for the visually impaired.

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