Hello, and welcome to Challenge Solutions. This website is created and maintained by a group of blind students for blind students and their teachers. Our mission is to provide lessons about life and technology for the blind and visually impaired via our blog, podcast, and YouTube channel. To have our latest activity around the Internet sent to your inbox, please subscribe to this blog at the bottom of the page. If you have questions for us or suggestions for future content, please reach out via the contact form in the top menu.
In this podcast, Macy, Cole, and Caitlyn discuss their experiences with experiments and crown Wikki Stix the superior graphic-making tool.
In this video, Cole explains the order of operations with spoken examples and step-by-step instructions.
In this podcast, Caitlyn, Cole, and Macy talk about socializing at school and in public, as well as their strategies for dealing with unsolicited help.
In this video, Macy describes and reviews the iPad Air 4th Generation and Apple Magic Keyboard.
In this video, Macy compares the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod in terms of accessibility for the blind and visually impaired.
In this episode of the Challenge Solutions Podcast, Macy, Cole, and Caitlyn talk about the technology they use on a daily basis and which products they’d rather avoid.
In this video, Caitlyn provides ten tips for English teachers with blind or visually impaired students. These tips are primarily meant for elementary and high school English teachers, but some will apply to college classes as well.
1. Maintain communication with your blind student and/or their TVI, (teacher of the visually impaired). All blind students are different, and each blind student is going to have a different level of comfort and skill with English classes. This post can serve as a set of general guidelines, but ultimately, only your student and their TVI will be able to tell you how to best meet the student’s individual needs. Make sure that both your student and their TVI know what is coming up in your class at least a week in advance. This gives them time to find accessible copies of the materials and modify assignments as needed.
2. Use accessible materials. Most of the materials used in English classes are already accessible or can be easily made accessible by a TVI. However, it is important to verify that accessible copies of the material are available in your student’s format of choice. This is especially important for reading material and online content.
3. Ask your student if they are comfortable reading aloud before having them do so in class. Blind people are perfectly capable of reading, but the average braille reader reads significantly slower than the average print reader. Some braille readers will be comfortable reading aloud in class, and others will not. If you have a student who is comfortable reading aloud in class, it is ideal to let them know which passage they will be reading ahead of time so that they can find it in their book. If your student relies primarily on screen readers and audio books to complete their reading assignments, they will not be able to read aloud in class.
4. Understand that blind students may have a hard time navigating certain pieces of reading material. Books downloaded from volunteer-operated websites like bookshare.org often have issues in the braille, and the page numbers do not always line up with the print books. Also, blind students cannot skim quickly through the text, and navigating to specific places with braille or a screen reader will take longer. Try to let your student know where you will be starting in the reading material ahead of time so that they can navigate to the correct place before class starts. If the page numbers are off, it may be helpful to give them a chapter heading or a specific sentence that they can keyword search along with the page number.
5. Give your blind student extra time to find their place in reading material and complete lengthy reading and writing assignments. It will take your blind student longer to find their place, read things, and complete assignments. A lot of blind students will be able to keep up with the pace of an English class, but some may struggle. Allow them extra time as needed if you notice that they are struggling to keep up as a result of their visual impairment.
6. Understand that visual formatting is hard for blind students. Blind students do not get a good sense of the visual layout of things from braille or audio. Things like shape poems will be difficult for them to follow. They may also have a hard time with MLA formatting and citations. Don’t hold them accountable for formatting errors that come as a result of their assistive technology failing to report the formatting correctly. However, you should still hold them to formatting standards and expect them to correct the errors when they are pointed out. One solution is to have them show you their assignments before they submit them so that you can check the formatting and let them know what is wrong. If they fail to ask you about the formatting, and there are formatting errors in the finished product, they should lose points. However, if they ask you to check it and correct the errors while you watch, they should get formatting credit.
7. Avoid matching assignments for your blind students. Blind students can not look back and forth between two columns and draw lines between them. They have to scroll up and down between the list of choices and the definitions, and it is hard for them to keep track of things. One solution is to have the TVI put the matching choices in hard copy braille or a separate document so the blind student doesn’t have to scroll, or you can simply give them an alternative assignment with multiple choice or short answer questions.
8. Encourage braille literacy whenever possible. Braille is slower than print, but it is still very important. Braille gives blind students an understanding of grammar, punctuation, and formatting that screen readers and audio books simply cannot provide. Don’t ask them to read aloud to the class if they aren’t a fluent braille reader, but encourage your blind student to read braille for their independent reading time and assignments.
9. Encourage your student to become familiar with software like Kurzweil 1000 and Voice Dream Reader. These applications can help them read, navigate, and annotate complex pieces of reading material. They will also help them convert inaccessible material independently, which is a skill that will help them in almost every aspect of life beyond your classroom.
10. Challenge your blind and visually impaired students just as you would challenge your sighted students. It can be extremely difficult for blind students to excel in your class, but they can do it. While you should make accommodations as needed, you should also hold them to high standards. Don’t give them a passing grade that they did not earn just because they’re blind. Be the teacher who expects the blind student to succeed instead of letting them slide through the cracks.
In this episode of the Challenge Solutions Podcast, Caitlyn, Cole, and Macy discuss the pros and cons of being blind in 2020 from murder hornets, to Covid, to the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Be sure to stay tuned for the bloopers at the end!
Many blind students take an interest in music and participate in school band programs. In this video, Macy gives ten tips for band directors with blind students in their programs. The following text is a summary of the video.
Tip 1: Have reasonable expectations for your blind student. Like sighted students, blind students differ in musical knowledge and ability. As a teacher, you should not expect your blind student to be an advanced musician when they walk into beginning band. You should assess their skills just like you would with any sighted student.
Tip 2: Cater to your student’s needs. There is no right or wrong way for a blind student to learn music. You could make recordings explaining and playing the student’s part, or you could opt to use braille music. There are pros and cons to each method, so it is up to you and your students to decide which will work best for your situation.
Tip 3: Ask questions about what works best. Ideally, your student will tell you exactly what they need, but when it comes to music, many blind students have little experience and are not sure what will work best for them. It is important to ask if the methods you are using in the classroom and when transcribing or recording music are actually beneficial to your student.
Tip 4: Do not substitute learning by ear for music theory. Your blind student may be able to learn his or her pieces just by listening to them, but it is still important that you explain the concepts associated with print music. Rhythms, time signatures, and style markings are important for any musician, and if your student decides to transition to braille music, these skills will be necessary.
Tip 5: Keep the band room as organized as possible. The more organized your room is, the easier it will be for your blind student to navigate. If possible, arrange the chairs and stands before class so they can learn the layout of the room. In addition, if it is possible to put them on the end of their row without sacrificing your sound, this will make it easier for them to access their seat without bumping into their neighbors’ equipment. Also, have specific places for oil, grease, reeds, and percussion equipment so your student can find what they need when they need it and not have to worry about tripping over misplaced supplies.
Tip 6: Assign a band buddy. There are going to be times when your student needs help, both in rehearsal and at concerts and events. It can be a good idea to assign one of their peers to help whenever necessary so they are not continuously teaching someone new how to help them. Look for someone that your student naturally gravitates toward. Be sure not to choose someone who will be condescending or try to help too much. If you are unsure about who would be best, you can always ask your student in private if there is someone they would like to help them.
Tip 7: Be descriptive. Remember that your blind student cannot see you when you are conducting or writing on the board. If you want a specific expression that is not written in the music, you should explain it verbally. Also, if your student is memorizing their music, they are probably not familiar with the rehearsal markings in the piece, so you may need to explain exactly which section you are referring to in their part.
Tip 8: Give your student one-on-one instruction. This is especially important in beginning band because you are building their musical foundation. Make sure they are holding their instrument correctly, sitting with good posture, breathing properly, and grasping all the music concepts you are teaching. Even after beginning band, it is important to work closely with your student to be sure they aren’t becoming overwhelmed or falling behind. .
Tip 9: Include your student. You should be sure your student has everything they need, but try not to call them out in class or treat them any different from their peers. Don’t walk on egg shells or constantly worry about offending them. Also, consider them when planning band activities and trips, and try to find things to do that everyone in your ensemble can enjoy.
Tip 10: Give your blind student as many opportunities as possible. Many band competitions and activities are not ideal for blind musicians, so you shouldn’t pass up any opportunity for your student to participate in activities that are accessible for them. Involve them in honor bands, solo and ensemble, and community performances. These extra events mean extra work for you, but your blind student will definitely thank you for giving them those opportunities and making them the best musician they can be.