iPad and iPhone technology level the playing field

02/12/11
Knate with teacherKnate uses an ipad with his teacher to help him learn

The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) is using technology to level the playing field for children with vision or hearing loss, bringing them one step closer to being defined by their achievements not by their disability.

Harnessing mainstream technology such as computers with voice output, iPads and iPhones, RIDBC is providing children with the skills they need to access the school curriculum on equal footing with their hearing and sighted peers.

RIDBC Chief Executive, Chris Rehn says the self-confidence and the joy it gives the children and their parents and families, is priceless.

“When you see a child using a computer with voice output or an iPad for the first time their eyes light up. They don’t even realise they’re learning,” said Mr Rehn.

“For all the reasons sighted children love these devices, so do vision and hearing impaired children. However with built-in accessibility options such as the ability to navigate using voice alone or finger gestures connected to speech output, these platforms ensure vision and hearing impaired children have as much access to information as their peers for the first time.”

The RIDBC Access Technology Centre harnesses everyday technology such as GPS, scanners, netbooks and laptops, as well as specialist tools such as screen reading software, smartboards and in-class audio systems, to ensure no child misses out.

“My task is to discover what each child needs and what will help them achieve the benchmarks set by the Board of Studies - then provide a toolbox of solutions using easily accessible and practical technology,” said Mike Corrigan of the RIDBC Access Technology Centre.

Mike was born blind and says everyday children are being given the opportunities that he never had.

“Many of these tools are already available in many homes and devices – screen readers in Apple iPads and iPhones, for example. Our job is to create a technology solution to a very real and human issue.”

While harnessing this technology has revolutionised the way in which children can access the school curriculum and the world around them, technology is not the only solution.

“Combined with early diagnosis, quality intervention and a dedicated family, technology has the potential to provide opportunities for deaf children and blind children today unheard of even 10 years ago,” said Mr Rehn.

“Not since the early 1990s have we seen such change in the technology and accessibility available. It’s such an exciting time in terms of access for children and it has brought accessibility a long way forward.”

The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children provides vital support to over 1000 children with significant hearing and/or vision impairment and their families across Australia. As well, RIDBC provides vision and hearing screening to around 2000 babies and children each year.

RIDBC relies heavily on fundraising and community support to be able to continue to make a difference in children's lives. In order to maintain its intensive educational and research programs, the organisation needs to raise approximately $2.5 million every month.