Measuring Tools: Using Traditional and Digital Tools & Activities

How can a blind student measure items?

Measuring is often introduced in preschool and is a part of the kindergarten curriculum. Measuring with non-standard units means measuring things with blocks, pencils, hands, etc. as long as the items used to measure are the same size. Measuring with standard units means measuring with recognized units of measurement such as inches, feet, yards, centimeters, etc.

Can students who are visually impaired learn to measure items? You bet – measuring is a fun and easy task, especially as imeasuring tends to be very ‘hands-on’.

Non-standard Units of Measuring

Shannon Adkins, a  TVI, O&M and former 1st grade teacher, shares measuring activities that she did with her first grade class.

“We’d take blocks or popsicle sticks and line them up, counting and saying, ‘This desk is 6 popsicle sticks long!’ We did a super fun lesson on just measuring and finding a bunch of same-sized items around the classroom. It also turned into a lesson where I taught my kids how to put one foot in front of the other and we measured the entire classroom. We also measured with the length of our bodies. It was a very fun day!”

Standard Units of Measuring

Braille Ruler 

Standard braille ruler with raised lines and braille numbers.

Tactile braille rulers are frequently used to measure items in the classroom, including items on adapted worksheets. Braille rulers are available from numerous vendors, including through quota at APH and even at Walmart!

Braille Steel Tape Measuring

Standard steel tape measurer with tactile lines and braille numbers

For larger measurements, tactile braille steel tape measures are available. These tools are particularly handy for daily living skills and hobbies.

Braille Protractor

There are several types of braille proctractors available. In the video below, Susan Osterhaus, math consultant for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired’s Outreach program, discusses protractors in her introductory video.

Measuring iOS App – Ruler

Have you ever needed to measure something but did not have a tape measure with you? No worries, there is an app for that! While current measuring apps are designed to be used for real-world needs, students can also use these apps for classroom activities. (This app is available for both iPhones and iPads.) As always, concepts – such as measuring – should be initially taught with hands-on manipulatives and standard braille tools. Using a measuring app can be fun and is certainly a useful, real-world measuring tool.

Move to Measure - Flying Ruler app logo Move to Measure – Flying Ruler is a tape measure, ruler, protractor and goniometer (measures angles) app. This app is fully accessible with VoiceOver and currently costs $1.99. This app works differently than most other measuring apps as the program works using the inertial navigation system (INS). The INS determines the position of the device with the help of the accelerometer and the gyroscope.

Calibrate your device by selecting Settings > Calibration and then placing your device in these six positions:

Note: the app will beep after each position is accepted. Once the app is calibrating go back to the Home screen. The options are Measuring Distance Button (ruler), Measuring Angles Button, Settings Button, and Help button.

When using the Ruler feature, in the bottom right corner, is the Choosing a Measuring Distance Mode. Select that button for the three options:

The typical measuring option is to measure the surface in a line using the body of your device. With this option, simply place the left edge of your phone on the left edge of what you want to measure. With VoiceOver running, double tap the Start button. You will hear a tone and the word, “Start” and then “Go”. Quickly, lift the phone and set the phone down so that the right edge is lined up with the right edge of what you are measuring. You will hear another tone when the distance is caluculated and then the distance is announced.  

Teacher Hint:  It is important to lift and set down the phone in the desired place – do not drag the phone.

Measuring iOS App – Protractor

As mentioned above, the Move to Measure – Flying Ruler app is also a goniometer tool that measures angles, like a protractor. 

Move to Measure Goniometer app is the free version with only the goniometer feature.  

After calibrating, from the Move to Measure Home screen, select the Measuring Angles Button. Place the phone flat on surface to be measured (such as a table top) with the home button facing to the right. The bottom edge of the phone should be lined up with the bottom edge of what is being measured. If the item which is being measured is a small item, align the buttom edge with the bottom edge of the table top.  Double tap the Home button. You will hear, “Start” and “Go”. Quickly lift the phone and set it down aligned with the desired angle. You will hear a tone and VoiceOver will announce the degrees of the measured angle.  

Teacher Hint:  It is important to lift and set down the phone in the desired place – do not drag the phone. Place the finger along the edge of the angle and align the phone to the edge of your finger.  

To learn how to accurately use the app, start with a full piece of braille paper or fold a 9X13 piece of standard paper. Fold the paper to create an angle that you will measure. Align the bottom edge of the paper with the edge of the table. Align the edge of the phone with the edge of the paper/table top, with the Home button to the right.  

Bottom edge of iPhone aligned with edge of the table top and paper; Start button activated on the Move to Measure app.

Place your finger of your left hand along the fold line; use the right hand to double tap the Start button.  Listen for “Start” and “Go” then quickly lift the phone and move the bottom edge of the phone so that it lines up with the edge of the foldered paper.  

Bottom edge of the phone aligned with folded edge of the paper; Move to Measure app displaying 40 Degrees.

Once the student is comfortable with the app, try adapting a angle measuring worksheet. The attached worksheet below is a printable free math worksheet from MathWorkSheets 4 Kids. The worksheet was modified using Rainbow Tape (thin, brightly colored rolls of masking tape). The wider tape marks the bottom edge of the protractor and the thinner tape marking the ray (angle). Repeat the steps above to measure the angles on this worksheet.

Adapted Reading Protractor worksheet with Rainbow Tape tactually marking  four different angles.

Move to Measure has created videos to demonstrate how to use the app. Note: This videos are visual only – the steps written in this post explain how to use the common features of the app. The first demonstration in the video demonstrates measuring a line using the virtual ruler – this option is not feasible with VoiceOver. The second demonstration (measuring the table top) is the best option when using VoiceOver.

Talking Tape Measure

Using a tape measure is an important skill – both in the classroom and in daily living activities. While most classrooms can be completed using a braille ruler and do not require using a talking tape measurer; however, a wood working class and/or functional home uses that may be best completed with a talking tape measurer.

A DYI (Do-It-Yourself) woman who is blind, created the following video to show how she uses a talking tape measure to measure a board. The video goes on to demonstrate how she uses a flat head screw driver and square to create a tactile line, and then uses a power miter saw to cut the board.  

(Update: BlindMomLife’s videos are no longer available.)

Measuring is a functional, life-time skill. In the comment section below, please share your favorite measuring activities!

Collage of measuring tools

Attached File(s)
By Diane Brauner

Screenshot of Google Docs with focus on dictation button and text

Educational Example of Using Speech to Text and Dictation

Seesaw logo and text

Remote Instruction using Seesaw for Dual Media Learner


Spider activities