LiveWire 4 Education - February 2022
Welcome to the latest edition of LiveWire 4 Education
In this issue we invite you to join us at the launch of the new Mountbatten Tutor Brailler, congratulate recent award winners, explore the world of tactiles, meet our new team member, discover Lego Braille Bricks and review the CloverBook Pro in the classroom.
We welcome your feedback. Please let us know if there are any topics you would like us to explore further or if you have any stories you would like to tell.
New Mountbatten Brailler Launch – 22 February - Save the Date!
Tuesday 22nd of February is an auspicious date, not least because of the numerals 22/2/22! At 11 am AEDT, Quantum will launch the brand new Mountbatten Braille Tutor in Australia, at three simultaneous locations – Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – with a concurrent livestream presentation over the internet via Zoom. For anybody connected to young blind people, this is a must-do event; even if COVID makes it hard to be physically present, we invite families, teachers, AVTs and professional braille teachers to register for the Zoom presentation or to obtain a recording.
The new Mountbatten Braille Tutor is more than a vastly improved Mountbatten - though there is much to be excited about the radical re-design. Modern, elegant, functional – the MBT connects to everything – iPads via bluetooth, Windows via USB, the internet via wiFi. The assembly and parts have been completely modernised to ensure reliability and the interface and wireless keyboard have been completely updated to assist even non-braille experts (such as Mums and Dads!) to have fun learning alongside their children. At every step, the new built-in MIMIC screen shows exactly what is being brailled in normal print.
What is really exciting about the new Mountbatten Braille Tutor is that it is a family-friendly system, promoting early engagement with braille, tactile graphics, maps, music, word games, typing tutors, labelling … and, of course, school homework. On top of this, the MBT system connects to Google Calendar, so families can share a school diary interactively, either in braille, on a computer or smartphone!
Don’t miss this rare opportunity to learn more about this “Quantum leap” in early braille learning!
And the award goes to…Tricia d’Apice, OAM
Most of us have heard of Tricia d’Apice, Lead Consultant Vision Impairment at NextSense (Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children) in North Rocks, NSW. She has taught braille to hundreds of children over decades, has presented papers and academic articles, and developed braille learning systems – most notably the “I do like It” series.
Tricia has also generously donated her time and great knowledge in the testing process of the new Mountbatten Tutor, for which we are much indebted. We at Quantum are delighted to see Tricia receive her much deserved OAM at the Australia Day Honours for “service to education for people with vision impairment.”
If anybody would like to hear a fascinating radio interview with Tricia and Peter Greco, here is a link
Sydney Braille Awards
The 17th November 2021 was a special evening in Sydney as it was the annual Sydney Braille Awards organised by the Sydney Braille Forum. At this event prizes are awarded to winners of the Sydney Braille Writing competition.
It is always a fantastic event and made extra special, even though it had to be virtual, with a talk by local author, fun and games. Thanks to all the committee who work so hard to put it together.
At Quantum we were once again honoured to be involved and present some special awards to students nominated by their vision teachers. The recipient of one of these awards was Isabella who received a JAWS screenreader home license and SMA to help her with her studies.
The submission from her teacher read as follows:
"Isabella has been working amazingly hard during this lockdown period. Her dedication and enthusiasm to her work is unrivalled and she has been consistently completing tasks on time and with great dedication. Her concentration and learning during our daily Zoom lessons has been amazing and she has really solidified her braille knowledge during this time. I just want to say I am very proud of Isabella, (as well as her parents) and want to acknowledge her inspirational attitude to her work and to learning as a whole.
She has really mastered her braille and now needs to concentrate on the technology side of things as she is fast approaching Year 3."
She is pictured with her class teacher receiving her certificate at the end of year assembly.
Tiana Offord – Veronica Maguire Award – Jot-a-Dot
The Veronica Maguire Remembrance Award was established in 2005 & is presented in conjunction with the annual Braille Literacy Challenge. Quantum donated a Jot A Dot to this year’s recipient Tiana Offord, with Quantum’s Peter Cracknell providing training. Tiana, who graduated in 2021, has been a model student and will be much missed by her teachers!
The Jot-a-Dot is a small mechanical brailler for jotting down quick notes. Discover more here.
QuickTac – a free “braille graphics” program
So, your school has a braille embosser, and you’re wondering whether you could use it to make a tactile diagram, made of braille dots? But you don’t have the PictureBraille or TactileView programs? Did you know that Duxbury offer a FREE braille graphics drawing program called QuickTac, which might be all you need?
If you can afford TactileView or PictureBraille (both around $700), then these are your best bet, as they have very handy features including importing SVG and BMP images, re-scaling, mathematical functions and much more. If you can’t justify that expense and just want a simple drawing program - much like Paint - that can also insert braille labels and work with pretty much any embosser, then QuickTac is worth a try.
None of these drawing programs are designed for vision-impaired people to use; they are for sighted teachers and parents who want to create tactiles for blind children - but using a computer rather than with physical materials such as wool, glue, magnets and matchsticks. This can save time because pre-existing electronic materials such as maps, diagrams and internet images can be used in the drawing program – either directly in PictureBraille or as a template in QuickTac.
You can also mix graphics and braille labels and move them around at will. QuickTac files can be used within Duxbury documents too.
It’s a great way for parents to annotate story books for example, using sticky braille labels on a Mountbatten Tutor, Mum can emboss a line drawing of a cat, a tree, a house, a star and so on, and stick it into the same reader that her daughter’s sighted school mates are reading.
Tactile maps can be very useful for blind children learning new routes within school grounds and of course for general spatial awareness. “What’s the street parallel to where my house is?” “How far is it to the 7-Eleven from school?”
However, making tactile maps to scale with just the right amount of detail, on demand, can be a challenge! Let’s say you are going on a school trip tomorrow to Southbank, wouldn’t it be great to quickly generate a tactile map without having to commission it specially, and with a long lead time?
This is where TMAPS can be a useful, spontaneous, resource. You can create a free account on the TMAPS website - https://tmap.lighthouse-sf.org/ - and then type in an address, choose a scale and a paper size and how much detail you want, then click on 'Create Map' and download a fully annotated and scaled PDF.
If you open the PDF in Adobe PRO, or take a SNIP and open in Paint, then you can easily rub out extraneous details, add lines – for example the route you will be taking to Streets Beach - and even add braille if you have a braille font loaded.
Now that you have the map on your computer, how do you make it into a tactile?
One option is to open it as a template in QuickTac and retrace the main lines – at least they will be to scale – or if you have PictureBraille or TactileView, open the image directly. Then you can send this to your Mountbatten Tutor or similar embosser, or print it via a regular printer onto capsule paper and put that through a PIAF tactile image maker.
Another way is to print directly to the TactPlus printer.
Traditionally there have been two methods of creating tactile diagrams from a computer; send a graphic file to an embosser capable of adjusting braille dot separation to a finer resolution than ordinary braille – such as the Index Everest, or the Mountbatten Tutor, or print the image onto capsule paper on a regular inkjet printer or photocopy printer, and then feed that page into a PIAF tactile image makers to raise the inked lines. Both methods are great and now we have a third option using the TactPlus printer from Japan.
The TactPlus also uses capsule paper but it can be installed as a regular Windows (or Mac) printer, just like any other USB or Wi-Fi printer. This means that any program – Word, Paint, Adobe, Illustrator – can print to it! For example, you can create a diagram in Word using the usual 'Insert Shapes' options and then print it direct to the TactPlus, you get a tactile that is scaled exactly as drawn.
Note that there is no ink printed, just a raised image. But if you did want to see the underlying lines and shapes (for example, for a student with low vision who needs contrast), you can always pre-print the image onto the capsule paper using a regular printer and then feed that sheet into the TactPlus and print again.
The TactPlus offers very fine resolutions and the height of each texture can be adjusted in the printer properties, so that very dark shapes (black, dark blue) raise higher than light coloured shapes. This offers opportunities for texture that can’t be achieved with PIAF or braille embossers. TactPlus works very well with TMAPS as you can print the TMAPS PDF files directly.
Hello South Australia and NT – Megan McEvoy
Last year we welcomed Megan McEvoy as our Quantum RLV Consultant for South Australia and the Northern Territory.
Megan’s background is in the optical industry where she has held numerous positions around South Australia over the past two decades, the most recent being inside the University sector. Qualifying as an Optical Dispenser early in her career, Megan has worked in a variety of clinics delivering various, and at times creative, solutions for people’s visual needs.
Her work has even seen her travel to Nepal to deliver corrective spectacles on eye camps organised by local community and educational groups. Megan has also been an active member, trainer and state representative for the Australian Dispensing Opticians Association.
Clearly Megan is well qualified in low vision solutions but she has also begun learning braille, JAWS and other solutions that support people who are blind. She will be an invaluable local resource to families, schools and organizations and to all vision-impaired clients – whether self-funded, NDIS or in their place of study or workplace.
Though Megan is highly mobile, it is vast territory to cover! Current COVID restrictions may mean that Zoom meetings may be the best bet for the time being – for training, consultation and product demonstration – but wherever possible, Megan is also available for school and home visits.
Vision Australia supplies Lego Braille Bricks
This means that tactiles that are true to scale can be created. That is a very important spatial concept for blind children to master. Shape A is a rectangle, shape B is a square and shape A is twice the size of shape B. Building A is three building lengths from building C and directly to the east. By allowing children to create their own tactiles, in a regular grid, teachers and parents can often detect gaps in understanding and also marvel at their imagination. Is that how you see the route to Nana’s house?
Many schools have participated in the Lego Braille Bricks initiative, which is a special set of colourful Lego with jumbo braille and print markings. It’s a great way for beginners to play with words, letters and numbers.
Accessing LEGO® Braille Bricks
LEGO Braille Bricks are an educational tool and are not for sale to the public.
The LEGO Foundation is gifting LEGO Braille Bricks to schools, educational institutes and low vision and blindness organisations who work with children who are blind or have low vision, with Vision Australia responsible for distribution in Australia.
Vision Australia will liaise with state and territory education departments to ensure schools and other education organisations can facilitate access to LEGO Braille Bricks for eligible students. The kits will be accessed via an equipment loans library scheme through the child’s local state/territory education department or institute.
Vision Australia will also provide training webinar workshop for schools, educators and service providers who are utilising LEGO Braille Bricks.
To be eligible for a kit, the child must be over the age of 4 and under 18 years and learning Braille. The child can access a kit through their school and educational institute or low vision and blindness organisation.
Schools, educators and therapists are encouraged to register their interest about LEGO Braille Bricks with Vision Australia to learn more about accessing kits. Complete the online webform to register your interest today.
CloverBook Pro with 2nd Monitor
Primary school children with low vision need to see the teacher’s face, the whiteboard and other educational materials pinned up a few metres away, as well as work with their coursebooks, colouring in books and readers at their desk.
There are a number of sophisticated, Windows-based devices, such as the Magnilink TAB and Mercury 12, that are better suited to middle and high school, but for those younger students needing a simpler device that can be transported easily, the new CloverBook PRO is proving popular.
Aside from the well-positioned 13” screen (just the right height and angle to facilitate better posture), handwriting and colouring-in is much easier under the CloverBook PRO than with other devices we have seen. This is because the main camera (located under the screen) aims slightly forward, so that the child’s drawing hand is still directly visible and illuminated, as well being displayed in magnified view on the screen.
The second great feature about the CloverBook PRO is the periscope distance camera, that normally folds away into the “leg” of the frame, but in use stands up vertically like an antenna. This distance camera can zoom across many metres and the image can be displayed side-by-side in a split view on the screen with the course-work under the main camera. The child can keep an eye on the whiteboard, and the teachers, whilst scribbling and reading.
Extending this capability, it is possible to purchase an additional screen that slots above the main screen, so that the split view can be across the two screens. This maximizes the area for viewing each task.
The whole thing folds away easily into a tough brief-case and though a little heavy for a small child, teachers and parents will have no difficulty carrying 2.5 kg back and forth. That was about the weight of a laptop a few years ago.
The CloverBook Pro also has a text-to-speech function, with synchronised visual highlight, which may assist some readers who have trouble decoding.
Quantum’s Southern NSW Low Vision Consultant Jeff Landers trialled the CloverBook with a 7 year old student and he gave the following report.
“I had a very positive reaction to Cloverbook Pro with the additional screen for a year 1 student. We tried various devices, and the CloverBook was preferred because
Additional screen being 12” much larger view area in distance / near split view compared
Student was able to operate easily
Teacher actually liked it wasn’t a computer, no requirement to log into internet etc which is a huge headache in schools. Student uses an ipad for internet based.
Clarity of camera was excellent in distance mode
Being battery operated allows the student to move around classroom or take to other rooms as required