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Collection: Technology for Students Who are Visually Impaired

purple arrowTechnologies Provide Alternate Sensory Feedback


Sensory feedback is important during the following three phases of writing:

  1. Inputting: Writing words and sentences down on paper or entering them into the computer;

  2. Monitoring: Keeping track of what has already been written to determine appropriateness of structure and meaning;

  3. Outputting: Printing the text in a format that can be read by others.

To view how different components of assistive technologies help in these phases of writing, select diagram.

Sighted writers depend heavily on visual feedback at each of these phases. When they input text, they look at what they have written to be sure that the words make sense and are spelled correctly. When they compose or revise, they frequently look back at previously written sections and insert, delete, or revise text; reorganize paragraphs; or make marginal notes. When outputting, they print their work in the same writing system used by most of their readers.

Lacking visual feedback, writers who are visually impaired frequently use alternative means of displaying text which rely on other senses. The attached chart highlights some of the ways assistive technologies use Braille, speech, and magnification to assist visually impaired writers as they input, monitor, and output text.

Students who are visually impaired primarily input text by keyboarding. Some students (like Rebeka in NCIP Profiles) use a standard keyboard with Braille stickers or other "tactile locators." Others, (like Angie in NCIP Profiles), may use a Braille keypad, a six-key device for encoding Braille text.

Monitoring presents a greater challenge for visually impaired writers. Both Rebeka and Angie benefit from synthesized speech which provides them with immediate auditory feedback, both as the text is entered and after it is written. For Braille readers, computers can also be equipped with "refreshable" Braille displays-templates with pins that pop up to form Braille letters as they are typed. When text is revised or added, the Braille letters on the template are "refreshed" in the same way words on computer screens change as sighted writers make revisions. Such tactile displays allow users to reread immediately what they have written.

To help students with low vision monitor text as they write, hardware and/or software that magnifies letters and words can be used.

Students who read Braille need ways to output text in both print and Braille formats. Braille translation software is sometimes needed in conjunction with a Braille Printer.

More recently, integrated computer systems and portable computerized devices combine two forms of alternative feedback, providing "bi-modal" access. For example, Angie's Braille 'N Speak combines Braille input and output capability with on-line speech feedback.

Technology for Students Who are Visually Impaired (Table of Contents)

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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. 

ŠEducation Development Center, Inc.