Tools for Writing for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Many of the tools used by individuals who are blind or visually impaired for accessing print or accessing electronic information are used for writing as well. For example, if your child uses a computer, she will be able to write by means of a typical word-processing program and use a screen-reading program, refreshable braille, or a screen magnifier to read what she has just written. Another method of “writing” for some visually impaired people is dictating information to an audio recording device or speaking to a computer or mobile device using speech recognition software instead of writing in print.
Children whose vision allows them to write print may often find that using dark felt-tip markers or other devices that leave dark markings on a page lets them read what they are writing more easily. The sharper the contrast between your child’s writing surface and the words she is writing, the easier it will be for her to produce legible text and read it as well. Black or navy ink on ivory paper may be best, although some children prefer white or yellow paper. (Bright white paper may cause glare.) There is also special paper with dark, wide lines (known as bold-lined paper) available that can be helpful as well. She can also place her paper on a dark-colored nonskid mat to avoid writing off the page.
Various writing guides or templates allow your child to sign her name, address an envelope, or fill out a simple form. Writing guides are typically made of dark cardboard or dark plastic and are used by laying them over white or light-colored paper. They work by having a cutout space or raised lines where someone can write, helping the writer stay on the line or in place. Some writing guides have elasticized cord or string stretched across them to help with writing that drops below the line; for example, the letters g, j, p, and q.
Other writing tools include:
- raised-line paper
- clipboards with tactile lines and open spaces for writing
Using a video magnifier is another option for writing (these tools are often referred to as closed-circuit televisions or CCTVs). Current advancements in mobile technology such as an iPhone or Android tablet have made these devices much more portable. Paper can be placed under the machine’s camera and can then be seen on the monitor or display. The image can be magnified to over 60x, and the contrast level can also be adjusted.
Students who read braille also usually write in braille, using a variety of low- or high-tech devices. If your child writes in braille on a computer or personal digital assistant (PDA), the teacher of students with visual impairments can use braille translation software, which converts the text and prints it out for you, the teacher, or anyone else who reads print.
Slate and Stylus
The slate and stylus are inexpensive portable tools used to write braille—just the way paper and pencil are used for writing print. Slates are made of two flat pieces of metal or plastic held together by a hinge at one end. The slate opens up to hold paper. The top part has rows of openings that are the same shape and size as a braille cell. The back part has rows of indentations in the size and shape of braille cells. The stylus is a pointed piece of metal with a plastic or wooden handle. The stylus is used to punch or emboss the braille dots onto the paper held in the slate. The indentations in the slate prevent the stylus from punching a hole in the paper when the dots are embossed. Slates and styluses come in many shapes and sizes.
Mechanical braillewriters work a little bit like typewriters. They have six keys—one for each dot in a braille cell—a space bar, a backspace key, a carriage return, and a line feed key. Braillewriters use heavyweight paper. The most popular braillewriter is the Perkins braillewriter made by the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts.
One high-tech device devoted to writing in print is the Mountbatten Brailler. The Mountbatten Brailler combines a mechanical braillewriter and computer in one device. It has the same keys as a braillewriter, but the keys do not require as much pressure to operate. As your child uses the Mountbatten, she can feel the braille paper to see what she has written. The Mountbatten has computer technology built into it so that files can be stored and retrieved at a later time, and the device can also “speak” aloud what is brailled. The Mountbatten is typically used with younger children or with children who have additional disabilities and limited hand strength.