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[ Link to Action Research Newsletter | Text only version of case study]

A Case Study
in Collaboration with an Action Research Project

by Dolores R. Ham

Presented at the SC conference of the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired at Myrtle Beach, SC on November 4, 1996.


CONTENTS

Introduction
Explanation of NCIPnet
Involvement in NCIPnet and the Action Research Project
Stating the Question
Concerns
Strategies and Techniques
Background of student, Trina
Data Collection
Results
Preliminary Conclusions
Benefits
What I wish I had done
How this experience has changed my practice

Introduction

Good morning! I am Dolores Ham, an itinerant teacher for the visually impaired. This is the nineteenth year I've been working in this position serving students in several areas of Orangeburg County, SC. Presently I serve students in three school districts in the rural parts of the county. For the past three or four years, I have served approximately 14 or 15 students each year, several of whom are legally blind.

I have two important items for discussion today. I want to tell you how I became involved in an on-line action research project and some of the benefits I have enjoyed as a result of this experience. I will discuss briefly a case study involving three of my students, all of whom face the prospect of losing more vision as time goes by. Today, I will be focusing mainly on a particular student who has chosen "Trina" as her research name.

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Explanation of NCIPnet

Anyone out there on Internet? Have you checked some Web sites? Great! I'm sure you realize the many possibilities available to all of us as we participate on-line and join the information superhighway. Presently I do not have an Internet provider, but I am seeking information to make this available to me in the near future. What I have been doing on-line has taken place through NCIPnet, operated by the National Center to Improve Practice in Special Education through Technology, Media and Materials. Based at the Education Development Center, Newton, MA, NCIP is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP). The National Center to Improve Practice offers many services as well as NCIPnet. Recently, all of NCIPnet's on-line resources and discussion forums and workshops have moved to the Web. NCIP also offers a Video Profiles Series on assistive and instructional technologies. For instance, there's a wonderful video called, "The Write Tools for Angie," which shows how a student, blind since birth, uses technology, particularly the Braille 'n Speak, to perform successfully in mainstream regular education classes in a high school setting. Videos are available for other areas of disability as well, such as the learning disabled. Brochures and pamphlets are available today to help you learn more about the NCIP project at EDC, Newton, MA.

More information about NCIP can also be found in the latest issue of Closing the Gap.

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How I became involved in NCIPnet and then into the Action Research Project

I became more cognizant of on-line services during a course called "Assistive Technology for Special Populations" taken during a Summer Institute at the Center for Excellence (CFE) at USC, Columbia, SC in 1991. Dr. Sandy A. Parsons was the instructor. Some of you were in that class and will remember Jon DuBose, one of the graduate assistants. Jon was later employed by the SC Vocational Rehabilitation agency, and is now in medical school. After the course on assistive technology, I continued to attend workshops at the CFE (a part of what is now the Educational Technology Center), and asked Jon many questions regarding computer and assistive technology. It was Jon who introduced me to NCIPnet. He installed the First Class software on my Macintosh PowerBook and explained how to use NCIPnet. It took a few weeks to really get going, but once I had been "on-line," there was no turning back! I could now reach Jon on-line; no more telephone tag! I found that on-line communication was much less intrusive and responses were quick. I began to explore the section of NCIPnet called "Views from the Field," and realized that I was communicating with experts from many fields in different parts of the country, as well as practitioners like myself. For one who is alone much of the time in a rural county setting, this really made a difference!

Now you may be asking, "How did Dolores Ham get involved in an on-line action research project?" It was quite a surprise for me, also! During the Christmas holidays last year (1995), I received a telephone call from Patricia Corley, Associate Project Director, at Education Development Center, Newton, MA. Patricia and I had both participated in an on-line event on "Views from the Field" featuring Bart Pisha, an expert in the field of keyboarding. During the process of selecting participants for the keyboarding action research project, Patricia remembered the questions and concerns I had about keyboarding for students with visual impairments. When I returned the call to Patricia, she asked if I would be interested in participating in this on-line action research project on keyboarding issues. My reply was that I needed time to think about this. Certainly, I had many questions regarding keyboarding and word processing for my students. In January, 1996, I received the official call from Patricia Corley via NCIPnet:

From Patricia Corley, Tuesday, January 2, 1996 1:16 PM

"If you are an educator working with students with disabilities and thinking about issues of keyboarding (the if, when, where, who, and how) we invite you to consider joining a small keyboarding action research group to collaborate on NCIPnet.

As a member of this group, you will have the opportunity to design and carry-out an individual action research project on keyboarding to determine some answers which will be immediately useful to your work and perhaps eventually useful to the work of other classroom teachers, resource room teachers, occupational therapists, computer coordinators, specialists and parents concerned with educating students with disabilities using a computer. And you will be able to give support to and receive support from a small group of on-line colleagues carrying out their own action research about keyboarding questions over the next few months."

Molly Lynn Watt, Director of the Action Research Center at NCIP, further explains action research in a publication in press with Teachers College Press, Action Research and the Reform of Mathematics and Science Education. Chapter 1 states "Action research is defined by reflecting on the separate words action - acting, doing, moving, changing, - and research - careful studying, scientific investigating, scholarly inquiring - and deliberately pairing them into one concept, a seeming oxymoron. Action research is a systematic inquiry into practice by collaborative, self critical communities of practitioners. It is used by a practitioner to make decisions about actions to be taken in practice, to study the actions taken in order to understand their effect on a situation, and to decide on new or revised actions in an ongoing spiral of using evaluation to identify the pathway for practice." (end of quote)

Molly Lynn Watt, Director, welcomed the prospective participants to the Action Research Project on keyboarding issues and made the following comments urging participation:

Thursday, January 11, 1996

"We are all busy people, however access to the NCIPnet action research collaborative community is easy and will provide systematic and on-going support for your small sized study and will give you a window into the work of colleagues who are studying a similar focus. You probably already know this because of your previous involvement with NCIPnet!"

Because of the demands of my caseload and my family obligations, I wasn't sure if I could follow through with the expectations. I knew that I would benefit from the experience and that I had several students for whom keyboarding was going to be an important issue for their future. I've always loved opportunities for learning, so I replied that I would like to participate in this action research project. Then I began the process of trying to identify the area of research and the number of students who would be involved. We were asked to submit our question - stating what we wanted to learn during this project. The first draft of my question follows:

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Stating the Question

"I will be focusing on the needs of three of my students with visual impairments who are junior high/high school age/grade level. Two are in regular classes in the 8th grade and the third is a 9th grade student who is mainly self-contained, but mainstreamed for keyboarding and physical education.

As these students continue their education in high school, I expect them to be bombarded with more lengthy assignments, both in the reading and writing areas. This is the time when many teachers require book reports, research projects, etc. The concern for my students is their ability to meet the demands of the written assignments in a satisfactory manner. This project will not deal with the issue of the increased volume of reading expected of them, though this is certainly a concern - and in the future (even now) I can see this being facilitated even more frequently by the use of textbooks on CD ROM - with voice output capability, scanners and other products.

The handwriting of two of these students is almost illegible and a slow, laborious process for them. The third student writes legibly and quickly at this time, but concerns are for the future when he may also have more limited vision, because of the nature of his eye condition.

My purpose is to discover the most efficient means for these students to produce quality written assignments. I want to know what equipment and software will be most appropriate for each student (they are in three different settings). Also, I am interested in strategies, methods, and hints to recommend for each student to achieve his/her potential."

My concerns include the following:

I've had difficulty limiting the focus of this project, and perhaps I still have more in mind than I can accomplish in the time allotted. However, all these issues are very important for my students."

Of course, I did have to limit my focus! I decided to focus primarily on the role of auditory and tactual feedback in the keyboarding techniques and success of my students. I would be involved in trying to determine the best way(s) to provide auditory and tactual feedback for each of the three students. I also anticipated being able to make sensible recommendations, particularly regarding the use of assistive technology, for my students during the annual review meetings when the Individualized Educational Plans were being developed for the coming year.

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Strategies and Techniques

Some of the strategies planned to implement this project included visiting agencies and schools where we had the opportunity to have "hands-on" experience with the equipment and software, etc. In a message to Patricia Corley I outlined some of these plans:

Thursday, March 21, 1996 5:08:32 PM to Patricia:

"I might also mention these events which are planned. They are for the students who are included in my case studies. Next Friday (March 29), we have a trip planned to the Center for Excellence at the University of South Carolina. This is where I received training about assistive technology for special populations. There the students will be able to try different software, hardware, and systems to meet their needs. I'm particularly interested in Write OutLoud, which is now available not only for Macintosh, but also for Windows 95. The coordinator, Susan Warren, suggested that we also try Co-Writer. This might be helpful for one of the students, who keyboards quite accurately, but very slowly."

"In April, we have a demo scheduled at one of our schools for the Type 'n Speak, and maybe also the Braille 'n Speak, stand alone notetakers. The students might benefit from one or the other of these devices. One of my goals for these students is that they will be able to take notes in class and produce written assignments in a legible form for their classes. ..."

Patricia replied and made another suggestion, which I followed.

Friday, March 22, 1996 11:48:21 AM Patricia Corley to Dolores:

"I know you have great resources in South Carolina, but Dina Rosenbaum, an NCIPnet participant, is extremely knowledgeable about technology for students with visual impairment. She runs the assistive technology lab at the Carroll Center for the Blind, here in Newton, MA."

I did contact Dina Rosenbaum and asked several questions regarding equipment and software for use with individuals who are visually impaired. Ms. Rosenbaum was very helpful.

Another strategy or technique was to elicit interest and involvement with regular education teachers who were teaching keyboarding to the students. Early in March, 1996, one teacher, a teacher's aide, and I went to a workshop at the Technology Unit of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. Ms. Kathy Quinn, Information Resource Coordinator II, demonstrated the use of ZoomText with Word Perfect 5.1. Later, another teacher, Mrs. Patricia Odom, helped me document the use of various aids and the responses by the student she and I served.

Late in May 1996, two of the students, a guidance counselor from one of the high schools, and I attended a demonstration of the IBM Screen Reader with the Accent speech synthesizer. This was also at the SC Commission for the Blind and led by Ms. Kathy Quinn. Information gleaned from my on-line conversations with Ms. Rosenbaum led me to set up this demonstration of a screen reader with speech synthesizer.

Molly Lynn Watt suggested that I contact other teachers of the visually impaired. I did call Anne Smith and talked with her about two of these students. Anne gave me new insights, particularly in regard to the use of scanning to make text available for my students.

During the project, I kept a log on-line about the activities and the progress made with each student. There was quite a bit of interaction with the other Action Research project participants.

For this presentation, I will be concentrating on one of students who has chosen Trina as her research name. Trina and her parents have given permission for me to use this information about her experiences. It is their hope that what is presented here today will be of assistance to others who might find themselves in a similar situation. They have told me that if I slip up today and call Trina by her real name, it will be o.k.

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Background of student, Trina

When I first met Trina, she was a student in the sixth grade with services one period daily from the educable mentally disabled (EMD) resource teacher. Trina had been experiencing some fluctuations in her vision, causing her much difficulty in the classroom situation. She was eventually referred to the Medical University of SC's Storm Eye Institute for an evaluation of her vision, where it was discovered that she suffered from a degenerative retinal disorder. As the itinerant vision teacher, it was my responsibility to evaluate Trina for the program for the visually impaired. Of course, Trina met the requirements and became my student in January 1993. We spent those first few months getting acquainted. I involved Trina in many projects and experiences as I tried to learn more about her interests and capabilities, particularly regarding her visual functioning.

During the seventh grade school year, Trina and a friend worked together to make braille/large print books for another class. It was Trina's introduction to braille, and she enjoyed the projects we undertook. We used a portable typewriter with large print capabilities to type the large print words and sentences. During this project, we decided that learning the keyboard would be beneficial. The portable typewriter was used with a "typing book" acquired from Curriculum Associates. Trina enjoyed this, and worked diligently to do the lessons. As this year drew to a close, we were able to "borrow" an Apple IIe computer from a teacher who didn't want it. Trina began lessons using a program called "Type to Learn," as well as a talking word processor program. These programs had large print capability and other controls which allowed Trina to succeed. Similar activities were carried out during the eighth grade, again with Trina's friend until she moved away early that school year. Trina missed her friend, but this allowed me to concentrate even more fully on Trina's needs.

In ninth grade, Trina was mainstreamed into a keyboarding class at her high school. The teacher and I worked to make the accommodations we felt were necessary, such as enlarged worksheets and a desktop copyholder. The large print textbook was no longer appropriate, since Trina was losing more vision as time went on. Her visual loss affected not just the central acuity, but also her peripheral vision. At the end of eighth grade, a technology evaluation had been made by an outside agency. ZoomText, a screen enlargement program, was recommended. However, as Trina lost more vision, I felt that she was going to need more than screen enlargement. I recommended a program which would enlarge the print size on the screen, but would also add auditory output, as well as spell check. The program at that time was only available for the Macintosh, so this would have required the purchase of a new computer and accessories. The orientation and mobility instructor brought a demo copy of ZoomText for the keyboarding teacher to use in the class with Trina. Soon thereafter, the school district decided to purchase and install ZoomText (for DOS) on the computer Trina used in her keyboarding class. Trina quickly learned to follow the commands to get into the program and to use ZoomText fairly well. The size of the words on the screen could be reduced or enlarged as Trina needed them to be. We also provided braille/large print labels for the keyboard. However, Trina was not yet ready to read the braille letters quickly, so she continued to rely on her vision to reinforce her finger positions on the keyboard.

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Data Collection

Data was collected in several ways. Logs were entered into my folder on NCIPnet once or twice weekly. As we tried new methods, strategies, and/or products, the responses by the students were recorded.

When we had our demonstration of products and visited other sites to view various means of technology to assist with keyboarding issues, the reactions of the students were recorded. Since these were one-time sessions, it was not always clear what the results were!

Some of the interactions with regular education teachers were recorded in the logs as they took place. As we interacted, I feel that we gained new respect for each other and began to see the situation from a different perspective.

Phone calls to another vision teacher revealed new insights into products or strategies to use with the situations.

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Results

As the Action Research project began, Trina was using ZoomText with Microsoft Works word processing on an MS-DOS computer in her classroom. Combination braille/large print keytop labels had been applied to the keyboard of Trina's computer. ZoomText with the keytop labels worked well as long as Trina had some vision, but the situation changed drastically one weekend in March!

Saturday, March 9

"I received a telephone call from Trina's mother. She told me that her daughter had cried throughout most of the day at school Friday - because of the changing vision. Also, that Trina had awakened that morning with no vision at all. This was a very traumatic day for the entire family. Trina spent most of this day crying and/or sleeping."

Sunday, March 10

"I received a telephone call from Trina. I asked how she was feeling. We had a discussion about her vision, with Trina telling me that everything was dark. I talked with her about how we had been trying to prepare for this event. Again, she expressed disappointment that it had come so soon. I tried to sympathize with her, but also expressed confidence that we would be able to meet the challenge. Then we discussed what would take place next school day. Trina's father wanted her to stay home, but neither of us thought that was a good idea. Since Monday afternoon is my scheduled time to see Trina, it was decided that she would have her mother bring her to school at the time that I normally arrive (1:00 p.m.). We discussed what we needed to do then, such as letting each teacher know about the change in vision and the further adaptations which would be needed."

Although there were some absences connected with the visits to the ophthalmologists in Charleston and the subsequent surgery, Trina continued in school in spite of her vision loss. Students helped her find her classes. The orientation and mobility instructors came quickly and often to assist Trina and to teach sighted guide technique to some of Trina's friends. As these changes were taking place, I found it difficult to concentrate on the needs regarding keyboarding. Other needs were surfacing and demanding immediate attention so much of the time. Here's an example of some of the frustrations Trina and I were experiencing:

Thursday, March 21, 1996

"I didn't have time to do any of the keyboarding or word processing activities with Trina Monday. I did speak to her keyboarding teacher to see what had happened in the keyboarding class - she's only been a couple of times since the vision loss. The teacher says Trina didn't want to work on the Apple IIe, which would have meant going into the teacher's office, being separated from the other students. So Trina sat at her regular seat, but did only a minimal amount of "work." Her computer does have braille caps on the keys. I hope to spend some time with her soon in the keyboarding class to encourage her and to think of tasks she can do without vision and without auditory output. Perhaps a taped lesson could be used. ...."

In fact, the keyboarding teacher did tape several lessons for Trina. However, Trina needed reinforcement about placement of her fingers on the keyboard. The braille labels on the keyboard were not an immediate help for Trina. She had just completed the Mangold Program of Tactile Perception when the vision loss occurred. Although she was able to tactually perceive each letter of the alphabet with a fair degree of accuracy, identifying the braille symbols on the keyboard was just too time consuming for Trina. This is when we decided to try tactual markers. Elspeth Sladden, Learning Specialist from New York, NY made several suggestions in her message of March 21, 1996. Ms. Sladden has developed a program called Keyboard CoachTM and was scheduled to make a presentation about her work at the Closing the Gap Conference in Minneapolis, MN in late October. This program teaches the keyboard almost immediately by the use of Herzog Hub keys for the D, K, 3 and 8 keys and other strategies described in the program. Also, Ms. Sladden has devised a staircase poem, which helps students remember the location of the keys. The message from Ms. Sladden:

Thursday, March 21, 1996 Elspeth Sladden to Dolores

"I have read your accounts and been very moved.

I use the Herzog Hub keys for all my students. They are raised dots - I think much bigger than braille and provide an anchor for the middle finger. ........

Also I use pieces of velcro. Perhaps for the Ring finger which has such a hard time being independent. Or for the four Pointer staircases........"

Ms. Sladden also shared a silly poem she has made up to teach the concept of staircases in learning the keyboard. She continues in the above message:

"If they understand the pattern of the staircases and have a place to anchor the middle finger then they are half way to knowing the keyboard. I have made up a silly poem that teaches the staircases that helps some students. You climb from the bottom up. (Sing it up the scale if this helps):

Zap and Quit (ZAQ)
Xray Stay Well (XSW)
Cool Dudes Eat (CDE)
Very Fine Roses (VFR)
Big Guns Talk (BGT)
No Help Yelling (NHY)
Moms Just Understand (MJU)
Comma Keeps Interrupting (, KI)
Period Lops Off (.LO)
Slash Semi-Colon Pinkie P (/;P)

It's so silly they remember it ...."

Trina did learn the staircase poem, the left side almost immediately. It was several weeks before Trina could comfortably do the entire keyboard, but she still remembered it just a few days ago (October 1996).

Tactual markers became necessary to help Trina keep her place. Using "D" and "K" as anchor keys, three types of tactual markers were tried. First we tried Hi-Dots, spongy adhesive-backed dots that can be attached to keys to provide tactual reference points. There are three sizes, the largest are slightly smaller than a dime. The smallest size Hi-Dots were placed on the D, K, 3 & 8 keys plus the larger Hi-Dots were placed on some function keys on her classroom computer keyboard. This enabled Trina to get into the program and type some information. However, the Hi-Dots came off easily and Trina was not happy about the unevenness of the keyboard with these markers. When the Herzog Hub keys arrived and we found an opportunity to attach them to the Apple IIe computer, Trina commented almost immediately about the unevenness of the keyboard. However, even with the Herzog Hub keys, Trina used the "D" and "K" keys as anchors and found them a great help with numbers when used on the "3" and "8" keys. Finally, Locator Dots (Loc-Dots), which are adhesive-backed round clear plastic circles with a single raised dot, were tried on the classroom computer keyboard. These were Trina's favorite, and I understand they are used by many who have visual impairments.

Trina needed even more reinforcement however. The auditory output of talking word processor software helped Trina become more successful. At Trina's school we were able to use software programs available for the Apple IIe, but she seldom used them except when the itinerant teacher for vision was there. This was mainly because Trina had to remove herself from her class setting in order to access the Apple IIe. When Trina tried the Write OutLoud program at the Educational Technology center at The University of SC, Columbia, she was very pleased with her ability to type the words correctly. Hearing the letters as she typed, then the word as it was completed was quite a thrill for Trina. Her comment on the way home that day:

" ......... Did you see how good I was typing today when I was using that program?...."

Trina had a difficult time with the Braille 'n Speak on the day it was demonstrated for her and the other two students in the research project. Trina needed to be more proficient in the braille code for this device to be an effective tool for her.

When Trina used the Type 'n Speak notetaker device, she was confused by the different keys used as anchors - the "F" and "K," as well as "E" and "I" on the top row of letters. On this day, I had forgotten to bring along our own tactual markers to use on this device. Although both the Type 'n Speak and the Braille 'n Speak were difficult for Trina to use at this time, she liked the idea of having a portable notetaker.

IBM Screenreader with the Accent Speech synthesizer worked well for Trina. This setup has the added advantage of the student being able to hear the prompts as well as the text on screen. However, there were many commands to be learned. Certainly there would need to be a preview period of at least 30 days to determine if Trina could be successful with this type of setup.

At the annual review meeting for Trina recommendations included provision for auditory output and tactual markers to assist with keyboarding and word processing skills. This could be provided with a screen reader program with appropriate speech capabilities or a word processing program with auditory output and screen enlargement capabilities. Tactual markers should continue to be used, possibly on several keys.

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Preliminary Conclusions

After trying various options with Trina and the other two students in the study, I have a somewhat different perspective about my students and how to meet their needs. However, the short time spent trying the new techniques, software, hardware and aids was not enough to make any profoundly conclusive statements. Perhaps at this point it is only safe to say that more time needs to be spent determining what really does work best with my students, especially Trina.

Screen magnification with keytop labels and other accommodations worked well for Trina as long as she had some vision. She expressed recently how much she had enjoyed this arrangement.

After the loss of vision, tactual markers made a difference in Trina's ability to locate the keys on the keyboard. Trina reacted to the various markers tried, objecting to the unevenness of the keyboard with both the Hi-Dots and the Herzog Hub keys. Though she expressed a preference for the Locator Dots, more research would need to take place to determine the most effective tactual marker and which keys should have the markers for Trina. Questions to consider might include: Did she prefer the Loc-Dots because they were less stimulating? Or was it because they were less obvious to others? Could the order of the introduction of the three types of tactual markers have made a difference? Did it make a difference that the markers were introduced on different computers? Certainly, more consistency in the time trials of each type of marker should be a factor to consider in future research.

The staircase poem suggested by Elspeth Sladden was an effective method for Trina. She enjoyed the poem and almost immediately could remember the words for the left hand side of the keyboard. Finally she was able to recall the right hand side as well. Ms. Sladden has some theories about why the left hand side comes easier for others as well as for Trina. Was it because the left hand side was introduced first? Could it be because of the punctuation and extra reaches that are involved on the right hand side? Does it have something to do with the roles of the right brain and the left brain - a neurological connection or explanation? Further research might reveal the answer(s) to this phenomenon.

Trina's feelings of success were increased greatly when she had opportunities to try auditory output (or screen reading). Her smiles and comments after trying Write OutLoud at the Educational Technology Center at The University of South Carolina in Columbia were positive indications of the confidence Trina felt when she knew she had keyed in the correct letters!

Trina also had positive experiences with the Apple IIe computer equipped with an Echo speech synthesizer and talking word processing programs. However, there were disadvantages to that setup. This computer was in a small office shared by two business education teachers, so that Trina was isolated from her regular class if she used this computer. This is an important consideration for most students, especially adolescents. The Apple IIe computer also did not have a printer attached. Therefore, Trina was unable to compose her letter, assignment, paragraph, etc. and then print her composition.

Trina did not seem ready to use either the Braille 'n Speak or the Type 'n Speak notetaking devices. She needed to be more proficient in the braille code in order for the Braille 'n Speak to be an effective tool for her to use. Trina was confused by the tactual markings (on the F, J, E, and I keys) of the Type 'n Speak and by the slightly different arrangement of some of the keys on the QWERTY keyboard of this device. Time would need to be spent training Trina to adjust to these differences. Both devices were able to provide the auditory output for Trina, which was a delight to her. She liked the idea of having a notetaker device, so perhaps this would be an option for her future.

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Benefits

Keeping the logs on-line of our sessions with the students involved in the action research project enabled me to keep track of what was taking place. It also gave me some release and reflective time, guiding me to the next step, activity or phase of the process. This is a practice I may continue to assist me with reaching the objectives of other students. The logs have also been useful in the process of writing this paper about my experiences.

The support of the action research colleagues was very satisfying. Their suggestions and encouraging words saw me through the tough times. Though I would liked to have been able to call several vision teachers across the state and discuss this situation, that was not a practical option at the time. How nice it would be if we were all on-line and had the capacity to communicate regularly on-line!

The entire NCIPnet experience has certainly been a learning one for me. I have interacted with experts and practitioners from around our nation, TX, WI, IL, NH, MA, NY and even SC. "Views from the Field" enabled me to keep abreast in many areas of assistive technology. I've learned about writing IEPs for assistive technology; about new products, such as the Dream Writer and the Alpha Smart; about methods of teaching; about plans in other states for inclusion; about software and hardware suitable for various disabilities, including visually impaired - and the list goes on!

NCIPnet brought many resources practically to my door - or to my computer! Articles from JVIB and other journals were there for retrieval. A list of products available for visually impaired can be found on NCIPnet. I discovered this after we had used the tactual markers with Trina and found that Hi-Dots and Locator Dots were both listed as well as many other familiar and unfamiliar products.

The involvement of regular education teachers was another satisfying result of my participation in the action research project. I feel that we gained respect for each other in our respective positions and roles as we worked together to find solutions to meet the challenges presented to us by our students with visual impairments. Trina's keyboarding teacher invited me to attend the end of the year meeting of the occupational teachers in the school district. I was asked to describe what had taken place with Trina as her loss of vision occurred. Mrs. Odom is presently involved in a class learning about the exceptional child. Recently she told me she was using her experiences with Trina to complete the project required in the class. A guidance counselor, Mr. Stoltz, who has responsibilities with the computers in the school district, participated in one of our learning opportunities in Columbia. He has become very involved in learning about assistive technology and taken an interest in finding the solutions. I've been able to provide much information to him thanks to the resources available through NCIPnet as well as the "Closing the Gap" magazine.

I would encourage other teachers of the visually impaired to seek assistance from those around them. Many are willing to help and will learn in the process. I am thankful for school nurses who have cooperated so well to enhance the process, for administrators who have shown interest in the needs of the students and who took the time to become involved.

I found much support in our area for my efforts to determine what would work best for Trina. Many thanks are due the employees of the South Carolina Commission for the Blind. The children's rehabilitation counselor, Miss Harris Mack, from the SC Commission for the Blind was most helpful and supportive during this experience. Miss Mack encouraged me as well as Trina during the trauma of losing her vision. Kathy Quinn, Diane Frazier and Bobbie Fraser were there to assist us when we needed the workshops.

We must thank Andy Leach of Enabling Technologies who worked with us to arrange the demonstrations of the Braille 'n Speak and Type 'n Speak, both products of the Blazie Engineering Company. Diane Frazier, Information Resource Coordinator I, and Bobbie Fraser, Information Resource Coordinator I, presented the workshop showing the Braille 'n Speak and the Type 'n Speak.

Thanks also to Ron Gambell of NTS Computer Systems Ltd., 11720 Stewart Crs #10, Maple Ridge, BC, Canada V2X-9E7, who arranged for the use of the DreamWriter 325 at the AER conference (1-800-663-7163).

Stuart Herzog of HERZOG Keyboarding, 1433 E. Broadway, Tucson, AZ 85719 was kind enough to call me and discuss some of the rationale behind his HERZOG Hub Keys. Mr. Herzog also supplied me with Herzog Hub Keys as well as a sample program for elementary students and handouts for the AER meeting! (Phone: 520/792-2550 or FAX: 520/792-2551)

Susan Warren and Ken Gillam at the Educational Technology Center at the College of Education, The University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC were gracious and willing to arrange our visit there. They were very helpful during the visit.

Fred Gissoni ("Ask Fred") at the American Printing House, Louisville, KY, took time to answer questions I had about word processing, screen magnification, screen readers and speech capabilities. His comments have been very helpful.

Dina Rosenbaum at the Carroll Center for the Blind, Newton, MA responded to my requests on line via NCIPnet regarding equipment and software programs appropriate for students such as Trina.

Patricia Corley and Molly Watt, of the Action Research Center at NCIP, were most helpful in all stages of the project. They could be reached on-line or by telephone whenever questions arose. Several participants of the Action Research Project joined in my discussions of the three students and their needs. I appreciate especially Elspeth Sladden, Anne Corrigan, Beverly Mellskog and Shelly Lacey, who interacted and gave hints and information about techniques, equipment and strategies to explore.

Thanks to my loving, caring spouse, Don, who patiently waited for me to go on-line and to finally make my presentation and complete the project. He also knows I will start another one before the morning comes!

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What I wish I had done

If I were starting again, I would begin my logs earlier. I would also:

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How this experience has changed my practice

This experience has brought into focus more clearly the fact that my role as a teacher of the visually impaired is to prepare the students with visual impairments for the future. Just because they have some vision now and can manage to do most tasks with little or no assistance, doesn't mean that they shouldn't be introduced to available and alternative means of achieving their goal(s).

Being a part of this action research project has renewed my interest and belief in the philosophy taught in some of my earlier coursework in preparing to become a teacher of students with visual impairments. "Try it and see if it works," was often quoted by a former professor, Dr. Ouida Fay Morris. I was impressed at the time, and now I am even more cognizant that this is necessary with our students who have visual impairments.

I have also realized that planning for the long term is perhaps even more important than the short term goals (or temporary solutions) we emphasize on a daily basis. What do we want our students to achieve in the future? What can we do to enable them to become more independent and self-sufficient? Our role in assisting our students to reach their full potential and realize their dreams is possibly the most important aspect of our teaching profession!

In June a message on NCIPnet from Lori DiGisi paid tribute to her friend, a vision teacher, who had just passed away. Lori says. "Meg told me the most important goal when working with blind students was independence ---- clearly she provided them with the skills to be independent and taught them much, much more. I share this story to remind us all that although our daily gains may be small, the differences we make over a lifetime are immeasurable!"

There are many professionals here today who deal with blindness and visual impairment. Those of us who work in education are often referred to as "vision teachers." As we have discussed earlier, all of us "teach" in some form or fashion. Today I leave you with this question, "Are we truly teachers with a vision or just vision teachers?"


© Dolores R. Ham, Revised 11/17/96


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This material was developed by the National Center to Improve Practice (NCIP), located at Education Development Center, Inc. in Newton, Massachusetts.  NCIP was funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs from October 1, 1992 - September 30, 1998, Grant #H180N20013.  Permission is granted to copy and disseminate this information.  If you do so, please cite NCIP.  Contents do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by NCIP, EDC, or the U.S. Government.  This site was last updated in September 1998. 

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