Iowa Department for the Blind Logo

In the fall of 2013, in response to popular demand from blind consumers across the state, the Iowa Department for the Blind (IDB) Technology Division implemented a new training program designed to increase awareness of a technology that has become revolutionary in the blindness field. Beginning in November, IDB Rehabilitation Technology Specialists Michael Barber and Laurie Holtry have taken these training sessions to various locations around Iowa with the intent of introducing Iowans who are blind to the use of iOS devices, the iPhone and the iPad, with the built-in VoiceOver text-to-speech feature.

Response to the Technology

The initial response to this technology was so enthusiastic that the trainers tried to the limit number of participants at each training to 12 persons to ensure that everyone had an iDevice in their hands during the sessions and the instructors could better help those having trouble. Participants were invited to register in advance. However, the trainers made room for walk-ins as well since they did not want to turn away anyone wanting to learn.

Focus of Small Group Trainings

The small group trainings focus on the very basics of using the devices including:

  • The parts and structure of the iPad and iPhone and the differences among models
  • Basic gestures for reading the screen and navigating within apps
  • Turning VoiceOver on and off and using VoiceOver practice
  • An overview of common apps and useful blindness specific apps
  • An overview of new features and functions that came with the latest upgrade iOS7, one that Apple has called “the most significant update to iOS since its introduction in 2007.”

The Attendees

Blind Iowans attending the trainings include seniors getting their very first look at iOS devices such as Dolores Reisinger, of Cedar Rapids. She was a vocational rehabilitation teacher for IDB for almost 19 years before retiring in 1994. She maintains a keen interest in new developments in the field and wanted to see for herself how iOS devices could aid a blind person’s day at work, independence in the home, or enjoyment during recreational moments. Though she had never had her hands on an iPhone or iPad before, she had heard of VoiceOver and was very intrigued to learn more. After attending one of the first training sessions in January of 2014, she said, “It was great, a very positive experience, and I came away knowing more than what I knew before (about iOS).” She appreciated that Barber and Holtry gave such a clear presentation, that there was lots of opportunity for interaction, and that there were Braille course notes provided for attendees. The session she attended had over 30 participants and she agreed that limiting the class size was a good idea. Dolores was also very interested to learn more about the accessories available for these devices such as external keyboards and refreshable Braille displays. Though she has not yet acquired an iPhone or an iPad, Dolores is very interested in attending the next offered training.

Locations of Trainings

IDB’s tech trainers have now held sessions in Des Moines, Ames, Cedar Falls, Ottumwa, Iowa City, Sioux City, Creston, Council Bluffs, Dubuque, Spencer, Mason City, and Fort Dodge. With the enthusiastic response received for these initial trainings, the tech staff at IDB is preparing to meet the continuing demand for more instruction for blind Iowans in the finer points of iOS device use.

Plans for Next Round of Trainings

Emily Wharton, director of IDB’s Technology division, relates, “We have received a lot of positive feedback and many requests for more such trainings and more intermediate level training. At our next round of trainings, we will be hosting some topic-specific sessions. The first will be on reading books and magazines and will feature apps such as the BARD app, Bookshare, iBooks, the Kindle app, NFB Newsline, etc. We also hope to develop trainings on note-taking, maps & GPS, and others in the future. In addition, we would like to explore a Tech Road Show model where we would travel to different parts of the state and Iowans who are blind can make appointments to work with us there one-on-one and in small groups on different assistive technology concerns that they may have. For example, one person might want to see how VoiceOver works on the Mac and another may wish to see how different screen readers work with a Windows 8.1 touch screen or another might want to learn about various OCR options on the iPhone “

Apple plans to release another operating system upgrade, iOS8, in the fall of 2014. How will the new release affect IDB’s training program? Wharton states that “We will integrate the new features that will be available in iOS when it comes out. Most people choose to upgrade within the first month of an iOS release so we will upgrade our devices, handouts, and training within this time frame as well.“