Image of a computer monitor displaying Uabacus app and text

Teaching a Totally Blind Braille Learner Virtually: What worked and what didn’t

Practical and fun ways to teach braille, abacus, tech, and more to a 3rd grade student remotely!

We all have been thrown into the deep end with regard to virtual/distance learning! Some of us had prepared our students and some didn’t. Some of us are tech savvy and some aren’t. Some of us had time to prepare what would be sent home and some of us had only a few hour’s notice to get things together.

I am a TVI who works with a totally blind 3rd grade braille reader. Although he is very smart, we are still learning many tools and technology. He is still learning keyboarding, but is not yet efficient or independent using JAWS. We are still in the beginning stages of using Voiceover. And we had just gotten his first BrailleNote Touch+ a couple of months prior to quarantine, which means we are in the very beginning of learning this new device as well. I also was told on a Friday morning that we would not be returning to school on Monday, so we were definitely scrambling to get things together and sent home with him. Thankfully, the district allowed me back in the school mid-April to gather additional supplies, materials and emboss some things for my student for me to drop off at his house. 

Virtual learning has been difficult for all of us. I realized from the start how important JAWS and Voiceover instruction truly is! So, what has worked for us and what didn’t?


In the beginning we tried using Zoom, but we had a few technical difficulties and we found it difficult to hear each other well. We ended up switching to just using Facetime on his mother’s phone. This was super easy as we could hear each other really well and with the phone being mobile both he and his mother could manipulate it to show me things he was doing very easily.

Literary Braille

We have just stuck to using his Perkins Brailler to continue reviewing braille contractions. I create a spelling list for each week. I also read the definition of the words, read it in a sentence and we talk about real life applications of the word. He writes in contracted and un-contracted (we are still preparing for the National Braille Challenge) and he takes the test with his mom and she takes a picture of it and texts the photo of it to me to grade.

Nemeth Braille

We are also using the Perkins Brailler for Nemeth. I’ve been using the Maryland Common Core Curriculum Framework Braille checklist for a few years to ensure we are teaching the necessary Nemeth contractions as they are needed for each grade. I walk him through new contractions and have him set up sample problems. Then he lifts up the phone and shows me what he wrote through the phone camera for me to check and correct his work. 

Cranmer Abacus

We have found the UAbacus app to be extremely helpful. I pull up the app on my ipad while we are Facetiming on my phone. I set the settings to hear the beads moving and for the abacus to say what is set. We work through the problems together. He loves hearing the sound at the end that says we got the answer right. He is able to hold up his abacus to the phone camera for me to see what he is doing. Our abacus lessons are some of his favorite!

Image below is a screenshot of UAbacus app with these settings checked:

screenshot of Abacus with settings options

Screenshot of Abacus showing the problem 895+633; abacus beads are set to show 895.

Screenshot of Uabacus problem 895+633 with answer 1528 shown as correct

Braillenote Touch

This was the most challenging of all the lessons we’ve tried to do virtually! I did not realize how much I relied on being able to see what he is doing with his hands and being able to work on it myself to try something out before teaching him to do it. What I have found to work for us is using the Humanware Audio Tutorials*. These have been a life saver! I pull up the audio lessons file on my computer while we are Facetiming on my phone. I play each lesson on full volume and he makes sure that his Braillenote has speech turned on to full volume so that I can hear what he is doing as well. We listen to the audio lesson together and I pause the lesson periodically to have him practice what she is doing in the lesson. Then, at the end of the lesson we will practice again. At the start of our next lesson we will review the lessons we did previously before starting a new audio lesson. 

*These lessons must be downloaded, you cannot listen to them online. They can be downloaded in either Daisy or MP3 format.

Keyboarding/Screen Reading Software

He is continuing to work on his Talking Typer, from American Printing House for the Blind, lessons independently on his computer. This was previously installed on his computer before quarantine. Additional ways we work on keyboarding include; the teacher reading a passage aloud as the student types what is heard, sending audio files to the student to type as they listen, and sending word document files with mistakes via email for the student to edit and correct. 

There are high-tech ways to share screens for this task, but there is also an easy low-tech way. To work on JAWS we will again Facetime via phone. I will get on my computer and he will get on his with JAWS installed. We will insure that his computer volume is set high so that I can hear what is happening on his end. We will perform the same tasks simultaneously. I will verbally prompt with keystroke reminders as necessary. As for the high-tech options, there are programs you can use that will allow you to visually see on your computer what your student is doing on their computer. Some of these are: Join Me and Team Viewer.  You could also just use whatever conferencing software your school district is using, but there may be some technical difficulties and may require a parent to assist the student in sharing their screen. 

 I have been using for a few years is the Iowia JAWS curriculum.

Teaching a Blind Braille Learner Virtually Pinterest pin


By tracylee2681

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