VideoHelen Keller National Center

Methods and Materials for Remote Braille Training of DeafBlind Individuals

The presenter explains useful tools and methods for remote braille training with DeafBlind Individuals.

Methods and Materials for Remote Braille Training of DeafBlind Invidividuals
Video Transcript

Video image description: The presenter, Rosemary Kurtz, a white female with short red hair, is speaking into the camera. Her image is in the lower left portion of the screen. Above her is a sign language interpreter. And to the right is a PowerPoint. The title on the PowerPoint reads: Methods and Materials for Remote Braille Training of DeafBlind Individuals.

Hello, I’m Rosemary Kurtz and I’ve been a senior instructor of communications at the Helen Keller national center for six years. I’m a certified teacher of the deaf and I’m working toward becoming certified in literary braille transcription this year. In this presentation, I will discuss training methods and materials that were successful for seven of my students for remote braille training during the COVID-19 shutdown.

Three of the students have Usher syndrome. The seven students are all different ages and stages in life, both men and women with different dual sensory losses and different communication styles. It’s my hope that viewers will quickly be able to use or adapt the techniques presented here for successful training of braille and other subjects.

The intended audience for this presentation is: professionals working with individuals who are DeafBlind, DeafBlind youth and adults, family members of DeafBlind individuals, students considering a career with people who are DeafBlind or who have other disabilities. Upon completion of this presentation viewers will be able to do the following: demonstrate an awareness of the potential effectiveness of remote braille training for DeafBlind individuals; find, download, or create materials to use in remote training of DeafBlind individuals;

describe strategies to effectively provide remote braille training; apply described methods for remote braille training and other disciplines.

The COVID-19 pandemic caused Helen Keller National Center’s residential training facility to be temporarily shut down. All the students returned to their homes. Overcoming challenges is part of the job description of every instructor here at Helen Keller National Center, but this situation handed us a difficult new puzzle: how to continue training DeafBlind individuals the braille code remotely; and how to do it If the learner is tactile, meaning they must receive American sign language directly into their hand.

Innovative solutions were needed to continue braille training, and zoom provided the ideal means for this. Extra creativity and flexibility would be needed to tailor each individual’s training. For all the students discussed remote classes were conducted via zoom conferencing software.

I used a dark wall covering hung behind me. I wore plain, dark clothing that contrasted with my skin tone. And I controlled the lighting in the room for each student’s comfort and optimal learning. Remote Training Case Studies: JA. JA is a 60 year old woman with moderate to severe mixed hearing loss.

She is low vision and communicates through speech. She had not been an onsite student at Helen Keller before. She had some previous knowledge of grade one, or uncontracted braille; plus some of the basic contractions. She was studying braille one-on-one in her home area before the shutdown, but the pandemic caused that to end.

She had been doing some labeling of items around the house and in the kitchen, but she had recently fallen out of this habit. She had some basic materials: a Perkins brailler, braille paper, a slate and stylus, and a braille labeler. A particular challenge for JA was that she had reduced fingertip sensitivity.

This caused her to have difficulty reading braille on paper, which made her reading speed very slow. At the beginning of training, JA didn’t have any braille training books. We started with some supplemental slate and stylus training while she waited for her Illinois Braille Series books to arrive. When JA received her training books, we picked up where her previous training had left off with alphabet word sign contractions.

We generally followed the training laid out in the Illinois books. For homework assignments, I would email lists of sentences to JA. She would listen to the sentences on her JAWS software, then braille the assignment, photograph the pages and attach the photos to an email and send them to me. Several months into training, JA received a loaner Focus 40 refreshable braille display. After a learning curve period, she learned to pair it with her computer.

She found that she was able to feel the dots much better on the braille display than on paper. She learned the rest of the braille code, including all contractions; and eventually she was able to read emails and open attachments on her braille display. By the end of her training, she only needed JAWS as a backup.

At the end of training, JA had the Illinois Braille Training books, a loaner Focus 40 braille display, and a loaner laptop computer. Although her reading speed was still slower than optimal due to a reduced fingertip sensitivity, her typing was excellent. I believe that remote brail training for JA was as effective as in person training would have been.

Takeaways: for a student to develop optimal typing skills it is important for the instructor to see the student’s hands on the braille keys. In remote training, positioning the camera to see the student’s hands on the keys is essential. A second camera may be required for this.

Submitting photos of braille homework is effective and saves a great deal of time over sending paper homework through the mail. VG is a 35 year old woman with Usher syndrome type I. She is Deaf, uses a hearing aid for environmental awareness, and communicates via American Sign Language. She has good central vision, poor peripheral vision, and has had two bilateral cataract surgeries.

She had some experience transcribing materials in a school setting into braille, but her braille training was incomplete. VG already had a laptop, monitor, and printer; but no braille display. She had a goal of becoming a certified literary braille transcriber through the National Federation of the Blind and the Library of Congress.

She needed some English language support with the coursework for this certification. Candidates for the literary transcriber course can do their braille exercises either on paper or virtually in a program called Perky Duck from Ducksberry Systems. Perky Duck is a free download which converts the keys of a laptop or keyboard into brailler keys.

In this program, the user can create simulated braille documents on their computer’s QWERTY keyboard. These documents can be saved, shared, and attached to an email; just like a word document. VG and I studied our lessons and did our lesson exercises in Perky Duck separately. In our class sessions we compared our documents via screen sharing on zoom.

Using the rule book downloads provided by the National Federation of the Blind, we corrected any errors in our exercises. We would then submit our finished exercises to NFB and later receive a report back from NFB. We would correct our lessons and resubmit to NFB. A candidate has three chances to pass each lesson in the course.

If a candidate fails any lesson three times, they must wait for a certain length of time, then begin the course over from lesson one.

This slide shows an example of screen sharing two documents in a zoom meeting. I reduced the size of each document and placed my document on top and VG’s document on the bottom. In this way we could scroll through and directly compare the documents to find differences and discuss corrections.

In the top right you can see the window showing my image. I would keep VG’s image open during screen sharing so that we could sign to each other to discuss our documents. The use of some braille contractions, like the “BE” contraction, depend on auditory cues; how the letters are used in the word, and in their syllable.

Since VG has never heard speech, she needed some extra training on the use of these contractions. During VG’s training period I found a study group on Facebook for people taking this course. VG and I both joined the group. This group had many other students who were very helpful. There were also some documents in the group’s Google Drive that helped us a great deal.

During her remote training, VG acquired the Perky Duck braille software, the Braille Formats print book, and the Rules of United English Braille print book. As of the time of this recording, VG had passed 18 of the 20 lessons required for the certification that she is pursuing. I believe that remote braille training was very effective for her, especially since we found the Facebook and Google Drive resources and were able to directly compare our exercise sheets via screen sharing.

Takeaways: Using Perky Duck for braille assignments eliminates the need for mailing braille documents. In zoom users can screen share multiple documents for direct comparison and correction. Tutorial documents can be downloaded from many sources and shared via zoom. Social media can be used for information and reinforcement from peers.

Knowledge of ASL may be necessary if it is the student’s primary language.

BD. BD is a man in his fifties, fully Blind and Deaf. He does not wear any amplification. He uses tactile ASL and has learned some Haptics. I’ll explain a little about Haptics in a moment. BD was an onsite student before COVID-19. When he returned home for the shutdown, he had a Communication Facilitator or CF for remote class.

The CF was also Deaf and used ASL and some Haptics. BD had a computer, an extra monitor, a cell phone; but no braille display. The CF set up the computer and monitors for our remote classes in BD’s home. He set the monitor up so that he could see me signing. He set up the other camera so that I could see BD. In this way I could sign to BD, but the CF could see me.

He would sign tactile to BD. BD would then sign his response to me and I’d be able to see him. The CF had also learned a few basic Haptic signals, so he could continue using this system with BD during remote classes. After a little review to make up for time lost, we picked up where BD’s training had left off at HKNC.

He learned quickly, asking great questions. For homework assignments I would email sentences to the CF. He would dictate them to BD and tactile sign. BD would then braille them on paper. The CF would photograph the braille sheets and email the photos to me for grading. In this way, BD would have his paper copies for correction in our next class,

and I would have the digital copy that I could print out and mark for correction. BD also needed some extra training in using contractions that depend on auditory cues. And now a bit about Haptics. Haptics is a system of touch signals that can be made on the receiver’s hand, arm, leg, or back. These signals are for environmental awareness.

They are useful in a braille class with a student who uses tactile sign. The instructor can tap, slide, or brush their hand in a specified way on the student’s arm, hand, leg, or back to communicate with the student; and the student does not have to take their hands off the braille page to receive tactile sign and lose their place on the page.

Haptic signals used with BD included the following: For “correct” or “keep going”, tap on the back of the hand or on the shoulder. For “incorrect” or “no”, brush on the back of the hand or the shoulder. Task specific feedback: “Don’t scrub”: I would scratch a finger on his hand; “higher or lower on the page”: slide the side of the hand up or down on the arm.

“Pick your head up”: flex the fist upward on the arm. That one was BD’s idea. There are standard signals in Haptics, but it’s important for the receiver and provider of the signals to create signals together that will work for them. What works for one receiver in concept, delivery, or placement on the body may not work for another receiver.

For example, a receiver may have a sensory deficit on one hand or side of the body that makes haptic signals impractical on that side. The receiver and provider should experiment with the other hand or the other side of the body in order to reach a satisfactory arrangement that will allow optimal communication.

BD realized that he tended to drop his head down toward the page. During braille reading, he requested the “pick your head up” signal to remind him to sit up straight during his sessions. By the end of training, BD had learned most of the contractions. And was confident with his reading skills. Remote training was very effective for BD.

Takeaways: Having a third person available in remote training can be very helpful. Haptics can be very useful and save a great deal of time in giving effective feedback.

AG. AG is a woman in her late fifties with Usher syndrome IIA. She has moderate to severe sloping hearing loss, low vision, and she wears two behind the ear aids. She communicates through speech. She has no sign and no braille exposure. She had an old computer, a printer, an iPhone, and no braille display.

She desired braille fluency as her vision decreases.

AG lives in The Bahamas in a fairly remote area. She has no DeathBlind services near her. At the time we began training, she had no braille training books or any other braille materials. She had not had any exposure to braille before contacting Helen Keller National Center. She hoped to use braille to do all of her reading and navigate the internet.

Her existing laptop was too old to download Perky Duck. Shipping items to ag ran into extended delivery times. This was due to her island location and additional shipping times that were created by the pandemic. I emailed to AG a simplified alphabet and number braille chart. I also created and emailed her a braille cell template.

This is a page containing a graphic of enlarged empty braille cells. The original one cell graphic was available online. AG further modified the template to add more cells per page and printed out many copies of her modified template. I would also use a swing cell in training AG. We started braille training at the very beginning with the alphabet and numbers.

AG learned quickly. For homework, I would email AG words or sentences in a large font. She would print them out, then fill in the templates in pen or pencil. She would photograph the finished pages and email them back to me. AG enjoyed this activity and referred to the templates as her SAT forms.

AG had a good grasp of the basics, plus some contractions, by the time she received her Illinois Braille Series books. At that time we began reading dots tactilely. Several months into training AG received a new laptop. We were then able to download and install Perky Duck software. At first AG was confused about how to type a vertical cell on a horizontal keyboard.

I used a swing cell to demonstrate how this is done. AG transitioned quickly into doing her homework assignments in Perky Duck and emailing them back to me. AG was delighted to find out that she could read braille not only in the exercise books, but also in the wild, as she put it. I sent her a commercially available braille calendar, which she could read; and was proud to show and demonstrate to her friends.

She picked up some medications at the pharmacy and found that she was able to read the braille labels on the boxes. I embossed several chapters of the book “Marley and Me” in Grade 2, or contracted braille, and sent them to AG. At the time training was concluded, AG was reading tactilely at approximately seven words per minute, and typing accurately in Perky Duck.

Remote training was very effective for AG. AG stated more than once that she was glad that she was able to study the code first without having to read it tactally. She stated that if she had had to learn both functions together, she might well have withdrawn from training. Training is usually done by learning the letters and tactile reading together. In this way, remote training and the difficulty of shipping items to AG worked in her favor.

Takeaways: The flexibility to invent new materials and methods in the moment can be very helpful. Combining low and high tech methods can best serve the DeafBlind individual, such as combining brailed templates and swing cells with computers and Perky Duck. Perky Duck easily creates digital simulated braille documents.

Teamwork with the individual: finding out what their needs and goals are, and working within the limitations of each situation is crucial.

KP. KP is a woman in her mid sixties with Usher syndrome type II. She has severe to profound hearing loss and is low vision. She wears two Bluetooth-compatible hearing aids. She also has fingertip sensitivity issues. KP communicates through speech and does not know sign language. She has some knowledge of uncontracted or grade one braille.

KP had been an onsite student of HKNC in the past, several years earlier. Training began with the Illinois Series book two. KP reportedly had a fingertip sensitivity issue. She stated that she could feel the dots much better on her Focus 14 braille display than on paper. We switched to using the Focus 14 exclusively. I would type and send the lessons to KP via email, and she would read the emails on her Focus 14.

In this way, we went through many of the contractions. A few months into training KP received a Focus 40 braille display. She immediately appreciated its bigger size and added functions. We finished the lessons in the Illinois books. I would also email KP extra sentences for additional practice. KP was motivated to read online articles and parts of various online software user manuals associated with her work.

She works on the sales floor at a prominent store in New York City. Once the store reopened after the pandemic, this job would require her to quickly look up answers to customers’ questions. Braille training combined reading these materials with reading from passages that I would email to her. These passages were taken from the internet. Passages included topics such as the Coronavirus pandemic and vaccines, the reopening of Broadway, and other topics of interest to KP.

In less than a year, KP progressed from alphabetic word signs, plus typing and reading on paper, to reading an instruction manual on the apple website on her Focus 40 braille display. KP had the website queued up on her tablet for the instructor to follow along, and all devices were paired. Remote training was very effective for KP.

She progressed from beginning the study of braille on paper to reading and typing contracted braille using several paired devices while accessing items online. When KP concluded training, she was reading at approximately 10 words per minute, and typing, contracted braille on her brail display at about 12 to 15 words per minute.

Takeaways: We used materials supporting KP’s vocational. Incorporating job related reading materials caused relevancy. Flexibility and creativity are essential for both people involved.

SR. SR is a woman in her late fifties. She has severe hearing loss and low vision. She uses two behind the ear hearing aids. She studied on site at HKNC some years ago. She communicates via visual ASL. ASL is her second language as she was born in Europe and came to the us as a young adult. At that time, she used a sign language of her native country.

SR’s prior braille study covered the alphabet and numbers, plus some alphabetic word signs. SR already had the Illinois Braille Series books. After review of the last half of the alphabet and brailling numbers, we picked up where SR had left off during her previous study. We progressed fairly quickly through the lessons.

After each class, I emailed SR a list of sentences to braille for homework. Some sentences were taken directly from the Illinois book, and I created others. SR would braille the sentences, take a digital photo of the pages, and email the photos to me before the next class for review and correction. If SR was not able to photograph or email her homework, during class she would just hold the pages up to the computer’s camera and I would take a screenshot of the pages.

Training progressed through the complete unified English braille code in both typing and tactile reading. SR learned quickly, but often needed some thorough review. SR would note when she wanted a class to be reserved for review and we would spend one or more class sessions reviewing the previous lesson, or a fine point of the UEB code.

SR also needed some extra training on the use of contractions that depend on auditory queues. I embossed and mailed to SR several chapters of the book “Marley and Me” in contracted, or Grade 2, braille. SR very much enjoyed having reading material that was not from the lesson books. She read at an average speed of 10 to 12 words per minute.

Remote training was very efficient and effective in teaching SR braille. In 13 months, she progressed from knowing only the very basics of uncontracted braille to reading and typing contracted braille with very few errors. Takeaways: Ability to take screenshots is useful if photographs can’t be done. Ability to photograph or scan homework and attach to an email is very helpful.

Knowledge of ASL is important. Build in sufficient time for thorough review. MD. MD is a woman in her twenties. She has low vision. She has moderate loss in the right ear and no measurable hearing in the left ear. She wears a behind the ear hearing aid on the right ear. She communicates through speech and does not use sign language.

She was an on campus HKNC student in the past, and had an introduction to braille at that time. At the time of the pandemic and her remote training, MD was living at home with her parents. Before starting remote braille training during the pandemic, MD knew only some uncontracted or grade one braille, including the alphabet and some basic punctuation marks.

The alphabet and punctuation were reviewed. Progress through the early braille lessons in the Illinois Braille Series of books was slow, but steady. A few months into remote training MD received a Perkins brailler and braille paper. MD had her computer set up so that the instructor could see her hands and the Illinois book she was reading.

When necessary, the camera could be moved so that the instructor could see MD’s hands on the brailler keys to help guide her in learning to type. For homework assignments, I emailed sentences to MD’s mother. The mother would dictate the sentences to MD for brailling, then photograph the finished braille pages and email the photos to me for evaluation.

This was an effective method of sharing information quickly and MD benefited from it. The mother familiarized herself with braille so that she could assist MD in proper hand placement. Remote training was an effective method to teach MD braille. As of the time of this recording MD was up to strong group signs in both reading and typing.

Reading speed was under eight words per minute, but was improving steadily. Takeaways: Family members can be a great assistance for remote braille training. A movable camera is an asset. Here are some materials and skills that the instructor and the student need to have for successful remote braille training. Minimum materials and skills: Instructor.

Knowledge of UEB unified English braille, contrasting clothing, ability to control light in their environment, cell phone, tablet, desktop, or laptop computer with camera and holders, reliable internet access and an email account, a zoom account and ability to access it, braille paper, slate and stylist or Perkins braille writer.

Minimum materials and skills: DeafBlind individual. Ability to schedule classes around job, family, or other commitments; ability to reliably access remote classes; Perkins brailler, or slate and stylist and paper; braille template, or Perky Duck software; braille learning materials. Individualized materials and skills that the instructor may need for different DeafBlind individuals: knowledge of American Sign Language, braille templates, swing cell, the ability to take screenshots, the ability to navigate the internet, braille embosser and paper, ability to troubleshoot a brailler and other devices.

Individualized materials and skills that a DeafBlind individual may need for remote classes: JAWS, digital braille library access, third party during and/or after class, knowledge of Haptics, Focus 14 and/or Focus 40 braille display. Individualized materials and skills that both participants may need for remote classes: Perky Duck software, multiple devices, National Federation of the Blind downloads, Illinois Braille Series books, or equivalent materials; ability to text, email, attach, and open files.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown, it seemed that remotely teaching braille to DeafBlind individuals would be very difficult if not impossible. Learning curves with technology prove challenging at times, but all issues were overcome in an acceptable length of time, usually within a week or two. With persistence, teamwork, and creativity, remote braille training was not only possible; but was very effective with these individuals.

All these individuals stated that they were very pleased with their progress in remotely learning Unified English Braille. Most of the individuals described here took training from the comfort of their own homes. This eliminated the need for travel, moving to campus, or commuting to an instructor.

Materials were easily shipped or emailed to their homes. Modification of schedules, when necessary, was done quickly and easily via text or email. Thank you for watching. If you have any questions, please contact the Helen Keller national center. For more information, please contact us at [End of Transcript]

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