Today is World Braille Day, so we’re sharing the learning of Texas FFT Fellow Amanda Fierro, previously a teacher at Westlake High School and now teacher and program coordinator at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

I have spent the past five years teaching students who are blind and visually impaired. My experiences helping these students access the general education curriculum using braille, large print, and assistive technology have led me to think deeply about the the options all students have to access information in the classroom.  In order to learn about how to provide all students with more engaging lessons using a variety of sensory modalities, I attended the Universal Design for Learning Institute.

For context, federal laws (IDEA, NCLB) require states to provide learners with diverse needs—especially those with disabilities—opportunities to access and achieve progress in the general education curriculum. However, providing equal access involves more than supplying every student with a textbook or a computer. Educators must ensure that the curriculum is cognitively challenging and that all students are actively engaged in learning and appropriately supported to reduce barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement.

Universal Design for Learning is a practice-oriented program, helping to connect and align efforts at three organizational levels: classroom, school and district. The UDL approach considers the variability of all learners and offers educational methods and materials that eliminate costly, cumbersome and after-the-fact adaptations. It requires the collaboration of experts in teaching, educational administration, policymaking, technology and publishing, and provides a blueprint for creating flexible goals, methods, materials and assessments that enable all students to succeed in the classroom.

This institute was held at the Harvard School of Education in Cambridge, MA. It was designed to enable educators to acquire practical strategies to implement differentiated instruction using a UDL framework in the classroom. My experiences at the UDL Institute allowed me to consider sensory modalities and learning styles in new ways. I created strategies to use in elementary and high school classrooms in order to more fully engage a wide range of learners.

Examples include:

  • providing access to accessible text
  • allowing the use of digital books and screen reading programs, and
  • providing hands-on learning materials for all students to increase engagement.

I was able to meet educators and administrators from across the country working toward a common goal of improving their schools using UDL principles while being instructed by the leaders in UDL research: Grace Meo, Tom Hehir and David Rose.

From a personal/professional perspective, my fellowship allowed me to problem solve and strategize with other educators in order to find UDL solutions to many common classroom issues students who are blind and visually impaired face.
I was encouraged to think about how all students could benefit from adaptations made for students with visual impairments, such as tactile models.
The opportunity to meet some of the leading researchers and policy makers in the field of special education was special, as was meeting leaders of schools implementing model inclusion programs and and learn why these programs are working.

Within Eanes School District, the UDL model now adds to existing differentiated instructional practices that teachers know by helping them reframe their thinking about options to receive and produce work in class. We also added to the existing iPad initiative by encouraging multi-sensory options for completing classwork and broadening understanding of what assessment looks like. And the focus on learning differences of all helps promote a positive self-image for students in special education.

Students who are visually impaired are often the only students using other learning tools such as assistive technology, which can isolate them from their peers and make them feel less a part of the classroom community. A priority for classroom structures post-fellowship is to create environments where students feel a greater sense of community with their peers. My hope is that students who must use an alternate means of access will feel more comfortable during class. They will experience better social interaction with peers and have an increased sense that all students have different learning needs. Additionally, my hope is to make general educators more comfortable working with students who are visually impaired and to broaden their thinking about the range of options present in lesson design.

You can learn more about the Texas School for the Blind and Visually impaired on its website, Facebook and Twitter pages.

The Techxan Symposium
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Come Join Us To Explore NewsLine and the Technology Possibilities……

iAccessibility Featuring

  • VoiceOver Training 
  • App Accessibility
  • App Development

iAccessibility Contact: mikedoise@icloud.com

NFB Featuring

  • KNFBReader
  • NFB-Newsline
  • NFB Connect

NFB Contact: jlineback@nfbtx.org 

Don’t miss the opportunity to LEARN and NETWORK. 
Many Giveaways and Refreshments will be served.

We will post more information on this event here soon.

Austin: TSBVI

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(source: tsbvi.edu)

If you’re thinking about a good place to help out this coming fall in Austin, a great opportunity to consider is at the TX School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. 

This article on my news feed about blind twins Nikki and Kendal reminded me of this impressive school along 45th St. in Austin and the minor times I got to help out there–definitely a very fascinating experience and a place that I felt was commonly overlooked. 

TSBVI is a public school for students that are partially to fully blind, housing students ages 6 to 21 during the week from areas all over Texas. The large campus offers an enriching environment for students to learn and opportunities for the community to be volunteers in classes like swimming and P.E., math, science and music tutors, and as personal guides while grocery shopping or helping with tasks such as reading the students’ mail for them. 

The school provides comfortable settings for students to grow socially as well– their own prom, plays, student council, and an array of sports like track and field, cheerleading and goalball, a game with a three-pound ball containing bells where blindfolds are worn to even the playing field. 

Gloria, the Director of Community Resources at TSBVI, says that volunteers hear about TSBVI every semester only by word-of-mouth or through fulfilling requirements for campus classes. Organizations like Social Cycling ATX have also had events like tandem biking with TSBVI students.

Interested? Check out the TSBVI’s volunteer page


P.S. In the article, Nikki mentions the book Hailstones and Halibut Bones, which “goes through every color and pairs it with a taste, a smell, a touch and a sight,” descriptive for learning colors.