The Transformative Power of Literacy for Children with Visual Disabilities

Asia-Pacific, Assistive Technology, Universal Design, November 15 2018

student uses the RBI Low Vision Portable Magnifier

Student uses the RBI Low Vision Portable Magnifier

PHILIPPINES: In a first grade classroom in the Philippines, Ma’am Jen, a teacher to students who are blind or low vision, sets a newly printed braille book she created in front of nine-year-old student Alexa. Prior to 2015, these braille books were hard to come by, leaving Ma’am Jen with only slates and a stylus to teach basic literacy skills to her students.

“It was really difficult to teach 13 children with visual disabilities,” Ma’am Jen says. “My class is a combination of children who are blind and those with additional disabilities. We did not have enough tools and materials to teach them.”

The ability to print braille books is just one improvement to Ma’am Jen’s classroom. Beginning in 2015, The Reading Beyond Sight project—funded by All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development (ACR GCD) and implemented by Resources for the Blind (RBI)—provided 15 Filipino schools with computers, printers, DAISY players, software and optical devices. The technologies have eased Ma’am Jen’s process for making reading materials, enabling her to spend more time individually with her students.

The RBI project gets at the heart of ACR GCD’s vision for its recent competition to source technology-based innovations to help all children learn to read: serving the more than 93 million children globally who have a disability, while at the same time investing in research that identifies key lessons for improving child literacy and assessing the potential for such projects to be implemented at scale.

Student using accessible keyboard

Student using accessible keyboard

The RBI project that transformed Ma’am Jen’s classroom is one of three focused on serving children with visual disabilities funded by ACR GCD. While all three projects resulted in positive reading gains, RBI’s stood out for its impact on children achieving significant gains on all subtasks assessed through the Early Grade Reading Assessment (EGRA).

What made this project stand out, and what lessons does it hold for future projects focused on literacy learning for children with disabilities? Research conducted by School-to-School International identified five elements of the RBI project that clearly position it as a leading case study for future programs.

The RBI case study is part of ACR GCD’s full summary report, Supporting Technology-Based Innovations to Improve Early Grade Reading Outcomes for Students Who Have Low Vision or are Blind, available now.

  1.  RBI’s organizational capacity laid the foundation of a successful project. RBI began working in the Philippines in 1988, and has since focused on addressing challenges and removing barriers for individuals who are blind or have low vision. Equipped with more than 65 full-time staff members who specialize in and/or have visual disabilities, RBI had a keen understanding of the needs of children who are blind or low vision, as well as their teachers and parents. RBI also had the capacity to effectively develop braille materials, conduct trainings and workshops, organize parents and other stakeholders, and facilitate partnerships with relevant government organizations and other groups.
  1. The project’s research design included a comparison group. The Reading Beyond Sight project collaborated with the Philippine Department of Education to identify more than 30 schools that met similar criteria to include in the study. As a result, the quasi-experimental research design included both an intervention and a comparison group, to which schools were randomly assigned prior to the intervention’s launch. Of the three ACR GCD-funded projects working with students who are blind or low vision, only RBI’s engaged a large enough group of schools to have a comparison group, resulting in a more rigorous research design. While the number of students was still small, the results are statistically credible and provide evidence that allows attribution of the positive changes in students’ reading outcomes to the project.
  1. The project featured an inclusive school context with built-in support. In the Philippines, schools have special education centers to accommodate students identified as having special needs, and teachers are trained to support these children. Students who are blind or low vision spend their first year or two in the special education center, where they learn foundational skills before moving into mainstreamed classrooms. All the schools in RBI’s project had a special education center, which employed a specially trained teacher assigned to work specifically with children who are blind or low vision. Most of these teachers had received training from RBI at some point prior to the Reading Beyond Sight project.
  1. The project’s technologies enabled the appropriate match between technology and user. Prior to the ACR GCD-funded project, most special education centers did not have a printer appropriate for producing large-print materials. Similarly, before the project, teachers had to make braille materials with a slate and stylus, a time-consuming approach that impacted both the quality and quantity of the braille materials available to students. As a result of the intervention technologies, teachers were able to produce large-print and braille materials on a daily basis for their students, including reading books for them to take home to practice reading independently. Teachers also learned new skills to teach reading to children who are blind or low vision.
  1. Parents and guardians were engaged through skills trainings. RBI provided quarterly sensitivity and skills training plus monthly follow-ups for parents and guardians whose children were participating in the Reading Beyond Sight project. These workshops provided an opportunity for parents to gain a better understanding of their children’s capabilities and learn how best to support their education. During end-of-project interviews, parents expressed gratitude for these opportunities to learn and engage with other parents. Participating children were asked to read with their families each night, creating a culture of reading outside of school and encouraging parents to spend time learning with their children each day.


RBI Resource Room

Ma’am Jen with students in the RBI Resource Room

To read this case study and summary findings of all three ACR GCD-funded projects focused on children with disabilities, see the full report, Supporting Technology-Based Innovations to Improve Early Grade Reading Outcomes for Students Who Have Low Vision or are Blind, available now.

Source: All Children Reading: A Grand Challenge for Development

Re-posted with permission

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