Who's behind the features of the new Chameleon 20 refreshable braille display? We talk with the educational experts who helped design this exciting new tech.
Donna McNear – Education Consultant, with more than 40 years experience as a teacher and O&M Specialist.
Liz Anderson – TVI, O&M Specialist, and the Program Coordinator at the Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired.
Andrea Wallace – TVI, O&M Specialist, and Statewide Educational Specialist at the Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired.
Visit https://www.aph.org/product/chameleon-20/ to buy your Chameleon 20!
Welcome to Change Makers, a podcast from APH. We're talking to people from around the world who are creating positive change in the lives of people who are blind or visually impaired. Here's your host.Jonathan Wahl:
Welcome back to Change Makers. My name is Jonathan Wahl. Today we're talking all things Chameleon, APH's brand new refreshable braille device developed in partnership with Humanware. The 20 cell device was made specifically for students, and that's what we're going to talk about today. When we decided to develop this new product, we didn't want to just guess at what students wanted or needed. Instead, we pulled together a team including teachers to give us input. Joining me today are three Change Makers: Donna McNear an education consultant with more than 40 years experience as a teacher and O&M specialist, Liz Anderson, a TVI, O&M Specialist, and the Program Coordinator at the Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired, and Andrea Wallace , a TVI, O&M Specialist, and the Statewide Educational Specialist at the Florida Instructional Materials Center for the Visually Impaired. All three of our guests today provided feedback that helped us create the Chameleon 20. Thank you all for being a part of our podcast.Andrea Wallace:
Thank you. Good morning.Liz Anderson:
Hi. Good morning. Thanks for having us.Donna McNear:
Yeah, thanks Jonathan. Good to be here.Jonathan Wahl:
We appreciate each and every one of you. To start with, it's important for APH that we make sure we include the right people when we're creating a product and in the development stages, we want constant feedback. So we know that we're creating the products that really matter. So, Andrea, we'll start with you on this question. What was it like getting to be a part of the team that came up with the idea behind the Chameleon 20?Andrea Wallace:
I felt it was a really great opportunity to collaborate with other professionals and, and learn from other professionals to hear what they are facing and what their needs are in relation to refreshable braille displays. But we also got to really have a great time talking about pie in the sky ideas and really shooting for the stars , um, and , uh, really focus on what students need to be successful in the classroom.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks, Donna, what about you?Donna McNear:
Well, I'd like to add that in general, it's always a privilege to be included on teams, bringing the teacher experience to initiatives and projects on behalf of children, parents, and colleagues. So being included on this team was particularly meaningful to me because of my deep involvement with electronic braille tools during my teaching career and ongoing advocacy for braille tools for kids, because I see literacy as a basic human right. And I believe in access and equity to content for children who are blind. So it was exciting to be at the table with engineers, researchers, leaders, consumers, and visionaries who are focused on truly making electronic braille product designed for all students, with the vision of being available to all students and everyone , um , listened to and respected all the voices in the room. So I have a sense of gratitude for having been included on this team .Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks, Donna. And you mentioned around the table for people who didn't have the opportunity to be a part of that event. It was very cool. I wasn't in the brainstorming sessions, but people had, you know, colored pencils, papers, all sorts of things as they were creating their own dream wishlist of what refreshable braille could look like. So it was a really cool experience at least from the outside. Liz , what was the experience like for you?Liz Anderson:
Well , so this was my first time really participating in the product development process at APH. And so it was really fascinating to see all of the different roles that were represented in that. And for example, I know we had Donna and itinerant teacher. We had a teacher from the school for the blind that was nice to see those perspectives in there. Um, and the meeting that I was in, it was a lot about the name of the product and the color . So it was exciting to, you know, kind of break out and talk about, Oh , what could this be? How could we make it really fun and innovative for the students that are excited about this? And , um, I really appreciated too that the product developers were there from human where , so they can give us that immediate feedback of what would be realistic and you know, what their perspective was on that. So I was really honored to be able to be part of that process.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks Liz. I know each of you have things that you're passionate about. So I'd love to hear from each of you about what was your must have feature or your must have thing that you were hoping you would see as part of the chameleon 20 and Andrea, we'll start with you again.Andrea Wallace:
Oh, that's such a big question. Uh , there's so many things for me though. It was about keeping it simple, but also robust , uh, which is a hard thing to accomplish. Um, uh, we have to always keep in mind that it has to be something that many different students can use and utilize, and that teachers can also teach it and learn to use the device so that students can maximize its potential and use it to their functionality. Um, so I would say keeping it simple was, was really big for me, but the apps that are a prospect for the future for the chameleon are huge, that will help facilitate , um, literacy and braille reading and writing for students.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks, Andrea. Donna, how about you?Donna McNear:
I want to talk about two must haves. So I always have to break the rules.Jonathan Wahl:
So from a navigation perspective, the software design needed to be efficient, straightforward, and focused on the, what I think of as the central literacy tasks for kids. So younger students can easily move around the functions and menus on electronic tool , um, must be there. And , um , because too often the design of electronic tools can be complex for blind students who don't have the capability to just tap on an icon as young sighted children do. So , um, I'm excited about , um, being able to contribute information about that. And then also from a hardware perspective, the tool needed to be super portable. That means smaller and sleeker than what was previously available, but, and include a sufficient number of braille cells to support reading fluency for children.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks, Donna . Liz, how about you? What was your must have that you really wanted to see in the Chameleon 20?Liz Anderson:
Well, so my must have, was really influenced from back when I was working in pool and seeing teachers struggle with getting devices to talk to district devices, getting files on and off of devices, you know, that kind of compatibility between hardware and software. They're really just something that would give teachers and students a multiple ways of connecting and making sure they can really use the device. Um, especially some districts, you know, they have firewalls and issues with their networks where they're blocking things . But so I really liked with this one, they had the SD card slot , but USB both for getting filed on and off, but you have the option of connecting by a USB port or Bluetooth. So I feel like with that, that really increases the chances that they're going to be able to get the device to work the way they want it to. I was really happy to see all of those features.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks, Liz. Donna APH has been working to create refreshable braille specifically with an educational focus. Why is adoption of refreshable braille at a young age important?Donna McNear:
So thanks for asking that question, Jonathan, cause this is like a very passionate topic for me. So as an educator for students who are blind, I always maintain a view of what all children are doing with literacy skills and how they are using technology and interactive media. So I examined , um, who, when, where, and how young children, all young children are developing early literacy skills. So with that in mind, we all want to provide supports to make lives better and early braille literacy development for young children , um , and their families. So we want to provide equitable opportunities to all young children who are blind and make all learning accessible. So to provide intensive braille literacy support. So our blind children have the same opportunities as all children. We need to supplement hard , copy braille, manual, braille tools and technology without real access with tools using refreshable braille. We need refreshable braille tools to give families and children the autonomy to read and write with the same opportunities and frequency. All children have to read and write. So we need a refreshable braille device for all students in all places. So all the children who need braille can learn. Also, I want to add when we consider what we are learning now about the developing brain and , um, consider the importance of what I call, touch thinking this is magnified. And so it is never too early to make a difference, make meaningful interventions and make learning accessible through braille for a young blind child and make it work for the family.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks, Donna. That's exciting to hear, especially as we look to provide more braille in the future. Now, Andrea, I have a question for you that has to do with the cases. The Chameleon comes with several bright colored cases that you can snap on and off that was added after feedback from the session, why is it important for students with visual impairments to still have something that looks cool?Andrea Wallace:
Well, kids are kids and they want to be individuals and they want to show off their personalities. We all have the ability to customize our phones with all kinds of different fun cases. Um, I have stickers all over my laptop, not just so I know that it's my laptop. Cause all of ours look the same, but because I want to show off my personality too. So students with visual impairments are, are the same and , and they want to be individuals show their personalities and um, just keep things cool. If anybody remembers, when Ambutech came out with the brightly colored canes , I remember my student lost her mind over that. Like I can have a different color cane . So I think it is really, really important to be able to personalize your items.Jonathan Wahl:
And I have to tell you, it's been tough to get these products into the hands of students for feedback because of COVID-19. But we were able to get some chameleons and, and the cases into students' hands. And they were so excited about which color they got to pick. And you know, it was a lot of work to get all those different cases worked out and size, but hearing the feedback from the students, I think everyone at APH, and I want to pass it along to you, were like "it was worth it. It was worth every headache to make sure they have that customizable options. " We're very excited about that.:
Liz, Moving over to you. In your role, you work with teachers to decide what products your should purchase. So what are some things you've discovered that you need in your refreshable braille?Liz Anderson:
Well, so with our center, really what we try to do is have a variety of devices that , um , teachers can borrow and try with their students because we recognize that every student has different needs. So every device, you know, there need to be a variety of options there based on the student preferences and need, and what's going to best meet those students' needs. Um, but I'm going to kind of echo what Andrea already said. We , we recognize that it needs to be simple and robust, so something that can easily be, learn how to use, but then can grow with the student . And we really want to make sure also that it's something that's going to be supported, which we really appreciate what this product that it's human, where so we know Humanware is going to be there for a long time to make sure that the device will still be usable and functional for the student .Jonathan Wahl:
One more question for you, Liz , thank you for that. Um, a lot of students this year spent the latter portion of their school year at home. Um, being someone who helps provide students with the resources they needed, you see an uptick or increase need for refreshable braille, as students started learning from home this year.Liz Anderson:
So we actually didn't see too many , um , new requests from us for refreshable braille display it . And we think it's because students who would benefit from one of the devices already had them. But what we did see was more request for technical assistance from teachers. So teacher realizing, Oh, I need to be learning how to use the devices and increasing my skills so I can help my students learn how to use the devices. And we did , um , have some teachers where we gave them the device and the student had the device at home as well. So we have enough available to be able to do that. That's what we can do for teachers so they can see exactly how the student is using the device. So , um , I think that's one kind of, one of those sort of benefits from all of us as teachers realizing they need to be comfortable and knowledgeable as all for the students to be able to learn how to use the device.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks. That's good feedback for us as well as we provide training for teachers virtually, we definitely want to be able to provide everything teachers need Donna, moving over to you. Um, what are the internal features of the chameleon that you think are going to make it a great tool for students?Donna McNear:
Um , thank you. So Liz kind of touched on a few aspects of the Chameleon that's important, but , um, and I already mentioned the importance of a tool having navigation, which is what I call manageable for the student. So the chameleon has that manageable navigation because it has capabilities focused on the essential skills for literacy, which is reading and writing. So the editor application and the chameleon allow students to write efficiently and the library application allows the student to read a wide variety of materials. So these two applications create a literate environment for a student to read and write independently and without the distractions and complexity of tools designed for adults. And so then there is also , um , some great connectivity with mainstream devices, allowing braille access to a wider range of applications. And this is really important to many of our families. So information also is easily shareable with others through the USB port and the builtin Brill translator. So there are of course other applications, but these are the ones that make it a great braille literacy tool for our students.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks so much, Donna. Andrea, there's a good chance, a real good chance. It looks , um, that a lot of students are going to be learning from home this Fall. Any tips on virtual instructions for teachers as , as a way to help students who may be having , um, learning issues at their braille device at home, or just want to get better at it?Andrea Wallace:
Such a, a big question and a tough question. And all of our students are so different and there's no one size fits all answer to that question. But , um, I think the biggest thing is for us as teachers to recognize as Liz kind of touched on earlier , uh , this is a time for us to grow professionally and get better with technology. We did see a huge need for that. So as much as teachers can get their hands on the device before it gets to the student, write lesson plans, write a task analysis, get familiar with the navigation like Donna was talking about. And I did find the navigation on the chameleon is I love it. It's super easy. It's intuitive. It makes sense. Um, so I think if teachers sit down, become familiar with the device, write those lesson plans, have it ready to go. Um , and when you run into problems, who's our first person to call tech support and involving students in that process as well and modeling it or having them ask the questions. Um, and also involving family members when possible get family members familiar with the device so they can help support and facilitate that learning when you're not on the call. Um, it's, it's different, difficult times that we are in and we're having to change a lot of our delivery methods of instruction. And we have to start thinking outside the box. Uh, I think a lot of us saw on Pinterest and other areas, those DIY like a milk crate with a tablet on top. Uh , so you could use the camera to see what the student's hands are doing. So there's lots of stuff out , um, collaborating with your colleagues , um , on their strengths, providing virtual instruction will also be key. It's just, it's such a hard question to put in a nutshell, so pardon my rambling, but there there's a lot.Jonathan Wahl:
You're fine. I understand it. And to anyone on this call or anyone listening, if you come up with great ideas or something that works, let us know because we love to share that we're trying to help teachers as much as we can in our role as well. Uh, one final question for all of you, you can just jump in in whatever order works. Price is always important, but when you're making refreshable braille, it can be tough because you don't get the price breaks of mass producing an item, just because the need isn't there. We kept the , we were able to keep the quarter price below $1,500. How do you all think we did on the pricing for this product?Donna McNear:
Okay . How , uh , I'll jump in here, Jonathan. So I , I just want to say when I think about the transformative reform initiatives that make a difference to educating children, I think about scalability and sustainability. So having a tool with the power of the chameleon 20 at a price, which I consider affordable it's transformative because I see it as scalable to all children who read and write braille. Um, when I discussed braille accessibility sometimes with , uh , people in general, I sometimes talk about , um, what I term braille economics and the real costs behind the everyday hard copy braille. We supplied to children, which we often do not realize because of the hidden subsidies behind braille production. But when people start to think comparatively, they usually usually reflect on the price of refreshable braille and then they start to change their mindset when they have that bigger economic picture. And so the chameleon has the potential to be in the hands of all students who read and write in braille. And so it's really exciting to envision a future where braille is available to all students and in all environments. And I think the price , um, allows that.Jonathan Wahl:
Thanks, Donna, that's good to hear any , anyone else have feedback on the price?Liz Anderson:
Oh , I'll say something. So I really liked the point that Donna made about the cost of producing hard copy braille materials that are , we're very much aware of how much it costs to produce hard copy braille, but also for us, because we are trying to provide as many devices out for trial and loan to teacher to test with students, the more affordable they are, the more we can have available, but we, you know, more students are going to be able to try the device at once. Um , so that's really for us as an EOT with APA, that's a great benefit to have something that is simple but robust and the going to be able to grow with students over many years. And Andrea and I were looking earlier this morning at some of the different devices that are out there, and this really is very reasonably priced for what you're getting. And maybe Andrea can add to that.Andrea Wallace:
So to piggyback off of what Donna and Liz were saying about the cost of braille books, it is quite pricey, but again, our, our students do need access to that, that literacy. Um, so I think it's a really great and fair price point when looking comparatively at other refreshable braille devices out there, it's not just a refreshable braille display. It's not just our , and it's not just the big, intense , um, computer like device. It's , it's a nice meeting in the middle. And I think the price point definitely reflects that and especially providing , um, an appropriate number of cells as Donna had mentioned earlier for students to maintain , um, a good , uh, fluency for reading braille.Jonathan Wahl:
Well, thank you to each of you for your role in this project. I hope you are as excited as we are, that the product is is out and kids are now going to be able to get their hands on it. We're very excited. We appreciate the work you've done. And, you know, at APH we say a lot, the future belongs to everyone and we believe part of that is everyone gets braille . So we are excited to be along on this journey with you all. Thank you so much.Liz Anderson:
Thank you so much for having us.Andrea Wallace:
Thank you.Jonathan Wahl:
If you'd like to learn more or order a Chameleon 20, just head over to aph.org and search for Chameleon. I'll have a direct link in the show notes as well. That's it for today's episode of Change Makers, be sure to look for ways you can be a Change Maker this week.