Requesting opinions from blind students

iOS & iPadOS

I work at a community college and am an experienced iDEVICE user. But I mostly use Netflix and Youtube, Facebook and Twitter. I read novels, create grocery lists, get driving or walking directions, search the web, read email and track my schedule.

When it's time to take notes in a meeting, I use my laptop, and my Vr Stream is my go-to device for learning Ally or bookshare daisy. I track my contacts, calendar and work responsibilities in Outlook.

But more and more of our students on fixed income have only their iPHONES as their access technology. I'm often at a loss helping them perform study-related tasks.

So I'd like to hear from blind students who use their iPHONES to get through school. I'm not so much interested in what apps you use as how you work with these apps.

For example, you get an assignment in class and have 45 minutes to read the essay and write a response. Do you ask the instructor to email it to you beforehand? Do you use KNFB reader to scan it? Do you use Pages, Microsoft Word, or AccessNote to write your essay? How do you get it back to the instructor? Do you have a portable printer you can use in class?

For a second example, you have a 1200-page textbook that, luckily you found on bookshare. But the instructor wants you to read page 38 in class, pages 64-92 tonight and you'll be tested on chapter 9 next week. The publisher-quality book has no page markup but it does have headings. How do you cope?

For my third example: you are expected to download and take notes on PDF handouts the instructor regularly posts on her site. They are reasonably accessible, but on my PC I'd pull up Adobe Reader to read and Notepad to write. You don't have a PC. Do you simply task switch between VoiceDream and the native notes app, or do you use iBooks and AccessNote. Isn't
it it tedious to constantly access the app switcher or do you find easier ways to both read and write?

For my next example, you don't know Braille because you lost your vision two years ago. But you are studying massage and have lots of anatomy terminology to memorize and spell correctly. How do you cope?

For my fifth example, you are learning Spanish. There are many assignments in both English and Spanish that you have to respond to. In fact you have an assignment every day. What apps do you use to complete this homework?

For my last example, you have a calendar for each of the seven classes you are taking and papers are due four times this semester in three of them. You also have labs in two classes weekly that require some research and field trips. How do you plan your time so you'll get everything done?

These are real-world problems my students ask about. Let's see if we can have a productive discussion about lectures, notes, textbooks, homework, research and preparing for exams. Remember you are on fixed income and just like there was no soup for Oliver Twist, there's no computer for you, until your good grades earn you a fat scholarship!



Submitted by Faerie on Thursday, March 3, 2016

Hello. the iPhone is a very good piece of hardware to have in class. While I do not think it fully takes the place of a computer, it is certainly better than nothing. Here are some answers that I have used in the past to tackle some of these:

Usually, I will ask the instructor to e-mail me anything that is to be read or worked on in class in advance. This way I can already have it loaded into whatever app I am using to read/write the assignment. I then will e-mail the completed assignment back to the instructors. However this is to some extent based upon the instructor, as some instructors refuse to have work e-mailed. Luckily, I have yet to see any of these. As for writing the essay, I would probably recommend voice dream writer, as I think it is the easiest and most intuitive to use, and gives the most feedback on how things are laid out. I do not know of anything that will properly format citations on the iPhone unfortunately.

For textbooks without pages, many reading apps, such as Voice Dream reader, which works with Bookshare, have search capabilities. So I would usually ask a teacher or class mate to read the first phrase of the passages being read. It can be a little tedious, but it is usually the best way I've found to work with those.

Voice Dream has it's own notes function, and even a way to export only the notes taken, or the notes and high lighted sections. So their is no need to switch between two different apps, at least for initial note taking. I always found app switching for note taking very tedious, as by the time I got the app up and the text field open I would have often forgotten the specifics of what I was trying to write down. I believe a lot of other reading tools, such as Kindle, also have note taking functionality built in, but I think selecting text that notes can be appended to is a little easier with voice dream.
The only thing I can do for spelling is to be sure to make use of VoiceOver's roter functions. With these you can navigate to the specific word you need to look at, and then look at that word character by character. To activate the roter gesture, place two fingers on the iPhone screen and turn them. I believe their is an app in the app store called look tell VoiceOver tutorial, that teaches people how to use VoiceOVer. The roter is one of the gestures taught.

Though I do not have answers for your last two sinareos, as I am also struggling with the calendar issue, I hope you find these somewhat helpful. Also, bear in mind that this is just one person's views. Every student has different tools he/she uses to get successfully through the classroom. These are just the ones that have worked for me.
I hope your students are able to find what they need and are able to be successful in the classroom.

Submitted by Tyler on Thursday, March 3, 2016

Member of the AppleVis Editorial Team

I am a student at community college, first studying information technology then switching to liberal studies due to significant accessibility challenges. For taking notes, I would recommend Pages, although I've heard other apps like Microsoft Word are accessible. Also, if I'm in a classroom situation where taking notes is inpractical, I use the voice memos app to record the lecture or activity.

For assignments, I have either the instructor or accommodations coordinator email the assignment beforehand as a Word or Pages document. When I am done, I email the assignment back to the instructor for grading. As a majority of my instructors use Word, I use Pages to convert the document to Word format before emailing it. If I have a PDF document that wasn't converted ahead of time, I use the KNFB Reader to extract text from what would otherwise be an inaccessible document.

For keeping track of assignments, I use the calendar app. This might not work for everyone, but there are more sophisticated scheduling apps that are accessible for those who may need more bells and whistles.

As the choreography of different apps and techniques can take time, it may be prudent for students to request extra time for assignments and tests. I know in my case, I am not able to read an essay emailed to me and write an adequate response within 45 minutes, so it is important to carefully evaluate the students learning needs and challenges, as I'm sure you know.


Submitted by Andy B. on Friday, March 4, 2016

Usually, it is impossible to get through school without a computer of some sort. However, the phone does come in handy for some tasks. I am in an information technology masters degree, as I had graduated with my undergrad in the same field. Homework can get complicated, but here is how I use the phone.

- Use Kindle for textbooks. It allows selecting text, copying text, writing notes, creating highlights, and the books replicate the print textbook. Unfortunately, books officially listed as textbooks are not usable on Kindle apps.
- Record lectures on the phone, then take notes on them when at home or in your dorm.
- Make sure accommodations are allowed for each student.
- As mentioned above, I use the Kindle app whenever possible. For studying for a test, review the notes and highlights from the textbook.
- I know of nothing that helps create citations and references on the phone. Therefore it is essential that the students get a computer.

I'm getting my degree in music with a concentration in audio production and a minor in communications. Fortunately all of the computers have NVDA loaded on them. However, here are a few ways that I use my phone in my various classes.

First off I record all of my classes using an app called HT Recorder, this app is better in the quality of the recording than the pre installed voice memos app. I will then listen to the lecture and take notes on my computer. I will then save the notes into either onedrive, google drive, or dropbox. This way I can open the notes up with voice dream reader or even word mobile on my iPhone and read them.

For assignments I have the professor email me the assignment ahead of time, I will open the assignment in voice dream reader and read it from there. As far as taking exams, I will again have the professor email me the assignment and then also take the assignment on my computer.

I use the calendar to keep track of appointments and classes that I have to do during the day. I also use KNFB reader to see what concerts are listed and that need to be recorded. For classes that use Canvas, the app is fully accessible and will send you notifications of what the professor posts.

Also for getting around campus blindsquare is an excellent app. I have gotten lost many times on purpose to see if blindsquare would get me back to my original destination. To my surprise the app worked flawlessly! I don't remember what the price of the app is but it is worth every penny.

I do not think that the iPhone can replace a computer but it can be used for a lot of things that the computer was once good at. I'd also recommend a braille display as sometimes trying to find words in the kindle or iBooks apps can be very hard. Again, try going with NVDA on the school computers! You can even have a portable copy on a thumb drive and insert it into any computer and you will have instant speech. Again, check with your disability services and see what other solutions you can find. I hope that my comments have helped in some way, shape, or form.
Aaron Linson

Submitted by tunmi13 on Friday, March 4, 2016

As a student in 6th grade, I ask my teacher for a braille hardcopy or I will have them send it to me in DOCX format. I open these documents in Google Docs. I do the assignment, then send it via e-mail back to my teacher. Then, they either tell me my grade or they send it to me.
If it is an all class assignment, I would use Google Classroom and turn in the assignment when I finish.

Submitted by Bingo Little on Friday, March 4, 2016

Hi Deborah,

I'm not writing as a student, but as a senior higher education lecturer in law and Fellow of the Higher education Academy. I suppose I am also a student of sorts, as I am studying for a higher education teaching qualification, though it has been twelve years since I completed my degree so a good deal has changed.

First, I echo what people say about Kindle books, notetaking and so forth, but in particular I would add that as most assignments these days at higher education level require the student to reference properly (especially as it is so much easier in the digital age to plagiarise) putting together an assignment using something that does not support citations, footnotes and so forth is a non-starter. a computer-based wordprocessing package is therefore vital in my experience.

Next, your students may well be required to access extensive online library resources, not mere textbooks. A law student in the US, for example, will need to access specialist legal databases such as Westlaw which contain case reports, practitioner texts (not available on Kindle) etc. Some of these can be accessed using a smartphone, but with others it's much more of a challenge.

Next, tutors or instructors are now required to run assignments through plagiarism detection software far more than they used to, particularly when the assignment is essay-based. So sometimes this means a student will need to submit an assignment through Turnitin, or something similar. I have not found this to be doable with a smartphone or iPad without sighted assistance.

Next, if your college operates a virtual learning environment (Moodle, Blackboard or similar) most of that is accessible via a smartphone or iPad depending on how module leaders and lecturers have designed the virtual learning environment interface, which is highly customisable. For example, we used to rely on imbedded media a lot on our VLE, which used Java or Flash. If tutors in the establishments you work in do the same, that is going to present an obstacle to your blind students who wish to access the VLE via smartphone, as many students whether blind or sighted like to do so that they can listen to lectures on the way into school, for example. What apps and devices students can use is therefore quite often contingent on how able and willing assignment and course designers are to build in inclusion from the ground up.

All, some or none of this may apply to your situation of course. I hope it's been some help though, or at least some food for thought.

PS: if any of the students you train are proposing to study online via a college that uses adobe Connect as its online classroom suite, they absolutely must use a Windows PC to access it in my experience. Even then, I don't envy them the user experience. I mention it because Adobe Connect is increasingly popular in the online education sector, but not increasingly accessible.

Submitted by Justin on Friday, March 4, 2016

As a college graduate with a bachelor of arts in music, I used a Mac exclusively. For taking notes, I just used text edit mainly. When I wrote my music history paper, which was somewhere around 10 pages, I used text edit, and my music history/theory prof would work with me on correcting things that I missed. He and I would sit together and talk through the paper, and correct things to ensure that it would pass the judgement of the music faculty. Personally a lot of students who were art/music majors used mac computers exclusively for writing papers, taking notes, etc. The college I went to was a small liberal arts college, so there was no need to use GPS apps like blind square, or the seeing eye GPS apps. I just asked someone how to get to a certain building I didn't know or had someone walk with me to know how to get to that particular building. I can't describe the frustrating struggle of textbooks. I mainly used learning ally for my book needs in college, so it worked, but when you found books, and told the instructor you found the book, but not the right edition' it was very annoying.
Personally, I took a class that was on the holocaust, however the instructor was not willing or able to meet my needs, and therefore I dropped the class. For books, if you can either get into contact with the publisher, or have your college accommodations people get into contact with the publisher, or have them scan the book and use an OCR app to read that book, you might be in better shape.
As I said, computers are an integral part of college. There's just some things that an iPhone/iPad cannot do well.
I never recorded my notes using voice recording apps, due to time constraints.

Submitted by Ashley on Friday, March 4, 2016

I have taken spanish in college and downloaded a spanish voice to read my spanish work. There are multilingual voices for the iPhone and switching your text reading voice to spanish for reading and. You can also set your phone to switch back from spanish to english keyboards so that it is possible to type spanish characters.
The native calendar app works great for keeping track of what I need to do. Personally, I like to set alarms to alert me as to when I should be preparing to go somewhere. This way I can't lose track of time.