Braille e-readers open doors for blind learners


The Western Cape Education Department has invested more than R1 million in new technology to support blind learners at the two schools for the blind in the province.

The new equipment includes 15 e-braille portable computers that learners can use to read textbooks electronically in braille, among other features.

The department provided the state-of-the-art equipment to the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South and the Pioneer School in Worcester.

The WCED handed over the equipment formally to the principal of the Athlone School for the Blind on Tuesday, 12 February 2013.

The hand-over followed a special study by the Directorate: Special Education Support to look at ways of supporting blind learners using technology.

The project identified three devices, the e-braille portable computer; a device for scanning and reading printed text; and a portable MP3 player designed for blind users.

The new devices will contribute significantly to improving access to learning and teaching materials and to quality learning by visually impaired learners.

The WCED delivered 10 e-braille portable computers to the Athlone School and five to the Pioneer School.

The BrailleNote Apex computers make it possible for blind learners to read electronic text using an electro-mechanical display that raises dots against a flat surface.

Learners can also listen to the text via computer-generated speech. They can browse the internet via wi-fi and connect to other devices via Blue Tooth.

Learners can use the device to type text in braille. They can retrieve text and save their work onto flash drives for assessment.

Learners can read and listen to electronic text in various formats, including pdf and Word files. The schools will discourage spoken text to encourage development of braille reading and typing skills.

Teachers can monitor how learners are using the device via an external computer monitor in alphanumeric text. The WCED is supplying 15 monitors to support the e-braille portable computers.

The WCED provided four devices that can scan and read text to learners via built in speakers using a natural-sounding voice. The department provided two of the devices, called the Eye-Pal Solo, for each school.

The devices, which look like small overhead projectors, capture printed text via a digital camera. The devices use optical character reading to convert text to speech or to provide an output for reading in braille via the e-braille computers.

Meanwhile, the portable MP3 players, called the Victor Reader Stratus 12M, have 12 keys that blind users can easily navigate to listen to e-books and to music.

Edit Microsystems, who supplied all the equipment for the project, has donated three of the MP3 players to each of the schools. They are the South African agent for Humanware of the United Kingdom, who manufacture all the equipment identified for the project.

The WCED and Edit Microsystems trained teachers on how to use the equipment.

The department is making electronic versions of relevant teaching and learning materials available, including textbooks to support the implementation of the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS).

The WCED’s Special Education Support directorate will support the use of the devices on an ongoing basis.