New Technology for Visually Impaired Summer Academy Students

Summer Academy Students
Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Summer Academy, a program for visually impaired high-school students learning skills for college transition, took place in July for the second year at Penn State.  This summer, students used iOS technology to help with daily functions through a GPS-app, BlindSquare.

The 24 students from 9th through 12th grade were given iPads with BlindSquare already downloaded, which they can keep after the three-week program concludes.

Through the program and with the aid of their devices, the students focus on a new lesson each week to teach independent living skills, says Doug Williams, educational consultant with the PA Training and Technical Assistant Network (PaTTAN). The lessons also expose them to daily task completion, such as riding a bus or ordering at a restaurant.

While other GPS apps exist to assist the visually impaired, BlindSquare is seen as a revolutionary change to provide more information about the user’s environment with features that filter what is and isn’t heard, provide the current address, and the closest intersection, says Williams.

BlindSquare at Summer Academy was used in conjunction with iBeacon, software for navigation indoors.  Twelve iBeacon detectors were installed in Pollock Commons and one was installed in Atherton Hall where students stayed for the program. 

The detectors allow Blindsquare to notify students when they are approaching specific locations so they know which direction they’re headed and if any obstructions, such as stairs, are nearby.  Gus Laffey, assistant technology specialist with PaTTAN, says this is one of the first times iBeacon has been on a college campus.

Madeline Garber was the first Summer Academy student to test the app, walking from Atherton Hall to Pollock Commons.  Williams says, “After two training sessions using the app, her navigation was perfect.”

Summer Academy students are simulating a college experience, from waking up in a residence hall, attending class, and partaking in team building and recreational activities.

“The learning is always building on itself,” Laffey says.  “My hope is that they learn enough here to take these tools and advocate them wherever they end up in their lives.”

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