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Fred’s Head, offered by the American Printing House for the Blind, contains tips, techniques, tutorials, in-depth articles, and resources for and by blind or visually impaired people. Our blog is named after the legendary Fred Gissoni, renowned for answering a seemingly infinite variety of questions on every aspect of blindness.

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Monday, December 10, 2018

Braille and Audio Together: Enhancing the Collegiate Learning Environment

by Jessica Minneci

      What style of learning a blind or visually impaired student should employ while in the university setting is a topic that has been widely considered. Separately, Braille and audio have their advantages and disadvantages but when used together, students can reap the benefits of both platforms. By discovering the best ways to utilize Braille and audio, you will be better equipped to tackle more rigorous coursework.
     In particular, it is a common misconception that colleges do not offer Braille textbooks. While audiobooks are most frequently used in the classroom, Braille books are also available upon the student's request. If you notify the disability services office months in advance of the start of the class, the staff can find a publisher to emboss the Braille book. Despite its bulkiness and large number of volumes, Braille material is helpful as it allows you to read diagrams and maps. For this reason, students taking a math, science, or geography class require Braille texts. Additionally, learning a foreign language is difficult as the Braille code may vary. This fact prompted me to have my Italian book Brailled. 
Two students in a library, one using a braille textbooks
     Topping off the list of the value of Braille is the fact that it makes the note taking process smoother. Instead of having to listen to VoiceOver jabbering in the background or connecting my BrailleNote to my computer, I prefer to compose class notes on my BrailleNote alone. The small number of keys used to type allows me to get words written accurately and quickly. In the same breath, my BrailleNote has aided me in  proofing papers. You can swiftly comb through the text for fine details, such as the correct syntax and use of punctuation marks. As a creative writing major, I also find Braille to be the best way for me to edit my poetry as I can feel the separations of the poem's lines better than if I was reading it with VoiceOver on my Mac.
     On the flip side, since there is a wider range of textbooks produced in an audio format, students gravitate toward those titles. Unlike Braille, audiobooks are not bulky, making them portable. With a membership, you can acquire audiobooks from Learning Ally and Bookshare. The amount of assistive technology available provides you with many options for storing books. Popular devices include a Victor Reader, BrailleNote, or BookPort. Depending on the speed at which you listen to them, you can read the books faster than your peers or at the very least, faster than you can read Braille. Similarly, if you are an auditory learner and your accommodations allow for it, you can record lectures and listen to them later, editing your notes for different things you may have missed during class time. 
     Another advantage of speech is that it translates into how students turn in assignments and do research on computers. Multiple screen readers give you the ability to work on a computer and access the same material as your peers. As the accessibility of school websites and online learning systems is always improving, you will find it less of a pain to navigate and complete Internet tasks. If you have a Braille display, you can also connect it to your computer and read everything that is on the screen.
     Separately, the benefits of Braille and audio can be understood. However, it is up to you as the student to work both modes of learning into your work. For example, you may have one foreign language class with a Braille textbook and audiobooks for your other courses. If you are like me, you may take notes on your BrailleNote in class and use your computer to do the rest of your work. Alternatively, you could use your computer to take notes or your Braille display with your computer to take notes. Since the combinations of how you can utilize Braille and audio materials are endless, I encourage you to explore your options and find the best way that these platforms can assist you in your success.


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