Two young girls wearing glasses are looking at an iPad screen together.

Top Ten Technology Tips

Siu shares a range of tips related to building a community of practice, identifying resources in the field and staying calm in the face of technology issue

In this webcast, Yue-Ting Siu shares a range of tips related to building a community of practice, identifying resources in the field and staying calm in the face of technology issues! Ting talks about the importance of staying current and leveraging social media as well as other resources as well as the importance of being able to think critically and reconcile technology with student needs.

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Download a list of the resources mentioned in this webcast.

Presented by Yue-Ting Siu
Instructor: Yue-Ting Siu, Ph.D.
Length of time to complete: approximately 30 minutes

Top Ten Technology Tips:

Siu presents a webcast on Top Ten Technology Tips.SIU: So these top ten tech tips; it’s sort of what my bible is for my TVI work, for my own work as a TVI, but I really think these tech tips could be applicable for anybody who can benefit from using technology in their workflow; either in their professional life or if they have students or clients who really need to use technology. In any industry where you need to integrate of incorporate technology into your practice, I think these top ten tech tips could be useful.

So number one is just staying current. That’s always the challenge — is staying current.

For TVIs, there’s a number of different resources out there. I really like Access World. It’s a newsletter that you can sign up; it’s from AFB, the American Foundation for the Blind, and it comes out, I think, monthly, where they do little reviews of different products or services that are out there; different resources in the field.

Of course it’s really important to also keep up on the latest research coming out on different reviews of different products or services that are out there; different resources in the field, practices, so that you know the efficacy of different approaches or interventions.

So for TVIs the main journal is JVIB, or the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. This also comes with membership to AER, so the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired. Affiliating with a professional organization is really important in both getting the membership to the journal, but having a community that you can reach out to.

The Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness page on the American Foundation for the Blind website.NARRATOR: We watch as a cursor navigates the American Foundation for the Blind website, clicking on a link to the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. The table of contents lists articles and studies in the journal.

SIU: So AER had a nice listserv for TVIs, it’s the AERNet, where if you have any student issues, or let’s say you have a challenge and you’re not sure how to solve it, you can just post something and people will reach out to you and help support you, and that really helps to keep current when you know where to find the information.

Other ways to stay current is attending the conferences when you’re able to. So there’s a number of national and local conferences. I love the Getting in Touch with Literacy conference. It’s a really nice arena where everybody is just focused and committed to literacy for blind and visually impaired students, so that’s a really good conference.

AER also puts out an international conference every other year, and this is a nice area for people from many areas of the field come together. So these might be rehabilitation therapists, it might be teachers, specialists. There’s researchers and practitioners, so it’s a really nice breadth of the field to go to that conference.

One of my favorites is the CTEBVI conference, and that is the California Transcribers and Educators for the Blind and Visually Impaired. So it’s a California-based conference, but people attend nationally and it is the best meet-up, in my opinion, for practitioners. So practitioners come together and, again, it’s this community of practice where everybody is dedicated to seeing through success for our students and getting updated and learning about new resources or tools to add to the toolkit.

And every TVI should be using resources on the Quota System from APH. They’re always adding new things and every year I’m just always surprised by the new things they’ve added to the catalog and they’re on Quota.

Aa page on the American Printing House for the Blind website.NARRATOR: We see a page on the American Printing House for the Blind website. On the product showcase page, we watch as the cursor clicks on a button titled “APH Federal Quota Ordering Site.”

We then see a webpage featuring photos and descriptions of products, such as books, devices, and software available for purchase.

SIU: So it might be a new technology, it might be a new device or software program; it might be a new GPS application. They’re always updating their catalog, so it’s also staying current on what the newest products are available. It’s really easy to feel overwhelmed by the amount of information out there that you need to read or access or find to keep current.

SIU: So number two is finding that community of practice to support you. So rather than having to find all this information yourself, when you have that community of practice you can check in and rely on other people to help you build this toolkit of information.

So, you know, you’re building resources together so you don’t have to find all the resources yourself, or you have a membership of people where you can exchange information with. So let’s say you have a question about one thing; if you had that community of practice, or COP, you can just post a question rather than having to go and spend hours searching for a solution, and also finding people who are also equally committed to finding solutions for your students so you don’t feel like you always have to be that lone ranger in forging the way or reinventing the wheel if somebody’s already found a solution.

Obviously, information is largely exchanged through a COP, so through a COP you get the exchange of information, but you also get moral support. So as TVIs, and especially itinerant TVIs, it can be pretty lonely out there in the field, where you might see a general education teacher, but you might only chat for a few seconds and they don’t really understand the challenges you’re facing, so they can’t really share or empathize with you, or really suggest the right resources.

So that COP provides moral support. That’s huge. And it’s also, again, access to resources and helping you expand your Google search to many different people’s Google searches.

One of my favorite virtual COPs is the Paths to Literacy website, and it’s a really great example of a collaboration between the Perkins School for the Blind and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

On the homepage of the Paths to Literacy website, several choices of topics to explore are featured, such as strategies, resources, technology.NARRATOR: On the homepage of the Paths to Literacy website, several choices of topics to explore are featured, such as strategies, resources, technology, research, news, and a blog page.

SIU: So together they’ve put together this little online space, where actually it’s not so little anymore.

It’s expanding year by year to include a larger community of all the people that come together to support students and their needs. So parents, grandparents, specialists, teachers, all sorts of different people can come to this space and connect and share resources.

SIU: So tech tip number three — some people who have heard me talk about social media before probably aren’t going to be surprised, but leveraging social media as a community of practice. A lot of people think that the COP is just sort of your immediate network of people that you know to reach out to, surprised, but leveraging social media as a community of practice.

A lot of people think that and I think social media is a very powerful resource that is often underutilized. A lot of people have Facebook; Facebook is a great area where there are actually Facebook groups, so you can find these special interest groups on Facebook.

For example, there’s groups for TVIs only, or TVIs who are interested in Apple products, or TVIs and orientation and mobility specialists, so there’s all sorts of different groups. There’s even groups that are dedicated to a specific type of visual impairment, such as retinitis pigmentosa.

Examples of Facebook page for TVIs.NARRATOR: We see two examples of Facebook pages, as described by Ting Siu. One, a page for TVIs that has a number of postings by members, and the other Facebook group is a retinitis pigmentosa page.

SIU: So Facebook groups are a really nice example of one type of social media virtual COP. I love Twitter. I use Twitter a lot and it helps be stay current and it actually serves as my virtual COP, because I can easily reach out to people in the Twitterverse who might have answers to questions that I have, or depending on the type of information I want to find, I can go through my Twitter feed and with a quick scroll, the flick of my finger, in a couple minutes I immediately get the latest news on what’s out or, let’s say, Apple comes out with another update and now I have to know what the latest updates are, I can just go through my Twitter and just in a matter of minutes I have, at my hands, resources that I need to find out what I need to know to help my students.

SIU: Tech tip number four is seeking out online resources. As we know, it’s all about being a good Google-er and being able to locate those resources. There’s a number of really excellent resources now online, and these include webcasts, which this is one.

There are webinars; so a webinar is something that is like attending a lecture online. There are many free webinars that people put out. There’s screencasts of people, maybe, taking a recording of something that they’re doing on their computer to show how they’re using a certain software program, and there’s tons and tons of tutorials on YouTube.

And what’s really great about YouTube tutorials is that it’s all free and it’s like a live demo that you can play and pause and rewind and replay at your leisure.

An example of a YouTube search for tutorials on visual impairment accommodations.NARRATOR: A YouTube search for tutorials on visual impairment accommodations brings up more than 30,000 results, including a tutorial on using an iPad.

SIU: Many of these tutorials are actually put on by students themselves and I think that’s really empowering for both teachers and students to be able to view these tutorials that are put on by another student, just to show what can be done and there’s a lot of expertise out there and it’s just a matter of finding the resource online.

SIU: Tech tip number five is repurposing mainstream tools and technology for your student’s needs. I think especially when it comes to multimedia accessibility; it’s really helpful to be creative in using the resources that are readily available.

For example, it might be repurposing an old iPod that’s been in somebody’s desk drawer and then just pairing it with a refreshable braille display, and boom — you’ve got instant access to digital talking books on this iPod and you’ve got it in braille; just quick access to braille right there.

Another example is image description. People might think, “Oh, image description. I need something fancy to do that.” But actually, if you are providing a document in, let’s say, Microsoft Word, all you have to do is you right-click on the photo and you can add a description of the image in the ‘Alt Text’ box. So that’s an example of using just mainstream, regular technology, but repurposing it so it fits your student’s needs.

Another really great tool I love, talking about YouTube, is YouDescribe. So YouDescribe is this great free tool that allows anybody to add video description to any YouTube video. And this is really great because anybody can do video description.

An example of a YouDescribed video featuring a baby owl.NARRATOR: We see and hear an example of a YouDescribed video featuring a baby owl.

FEMALE VOICE ON VIDEO: A small, white, fuzzy baby owl sits in an orange crate that’s open and has air holes in it.

SIU: So this really empowers a parent to do it, a friend, a family member, or even just a general education teacher. So I love the availability to mainstream media because, again, it’s shared media among peers that all the students can engage together with.

With some of the newer technology coming down the line, like 3D printing, you know, it is difficult technology and there’s a lot of different pieces that need to come together in order to use 3D printing. It might be, well I don’t know how to use a design program to design a 3D printed file. Well, you don’t need to because there’s repositories out there, so, again, it’s leveraging those mainstream resources; being able to go online to go to a repository, and just download the file, and then printing it out on the 3D printer.

So there’s no need to create everything from scratch because there’s a lot of stuff that’s already out there, floating around on the internet that you can just repurpose.

One example of a really nice repository for 3D printed files is something like Thingiverse, which is pretty much like Googleing, but specifically for a 3D printed file. On Thingiverse, you can go on and you can search for, let’s say, a DNA molecule.

A search on the website for DNA yields 156 results for programs to print a 3D representation of DNA.NARRATOR: A search on the website for DNA yields 156 results for programs to print a 3D representation of DNA. Photographs reveal some are very detailed; other much simpler.

SIU: And you’ll get all different sorts of results for a DNA molecule, and when you go through and look at the different reviews or comments on different files, you can determine which one is a good quality file that you can then 3D print for your student.

Another great repository is Library Lyna because this one is specifically focused on 3D printing models for STEM content. I love their chemistry elements that you can download a file and then 3D print, and these have been designed with modeling and accessible instructional materials in mind. These types of repositories are really nice because you can rely on the quality of the files and the goodness of fit for your student’s needs.

SIU: Tech tip number six is to be a good advocate for accessibility in the community. You don’t have to go it alone, and when you can rally other people to support your accessibility efforts, your voice will be stronger.

Part of it is educating administrators on why students might need certain devices or technology. Another one is educating the people who are developing the technologies so that they understand that accessible design is good design, and universal design benefits everybody, not just the students who are blind and visually impaired, but for older adults who are losing their vision or for just regular students who have different learning needs.

Another piece of educating both developers and administrators and the community in accessibility efforts is prior to adoption of new technologies; so for instance, a lot of school districts are adopting the Google suite, sort of district-wide, and this had been ongoing for a couple years now, but in the initial phases of adoption, it was very problematic because things were not fully accessible.

So it became an example of technology creating barriers, rather than facilitating access to information. When you can educate administrators about what adoption of technology means for everyone, they’re really the consumers and they can then go and help you advocate for accessible design in the technologies.

For example, there are a lot of educational apps coming out now for the iPad, and I’ve run into some cases where classrooms are adopting use of an app, however this app is not designed for universal access. So in this case, when the whole classroom is using a certain type of app, the student who is blind or visually impaired doesn’t have access and they are now excluded from that lesson, from that educational content, and when you can educate the school about what this means for that student and what accessibility means, then they can know to ask those questions to the developers before adopting district-wide curriculum or tool.

SIU: Tech tip number seven is to think critically. So be confident that you know who your students learn best, and by understanding that, you can let your students dictate what technology needs there are and how to choose the right technology.

But it really starts with that critical thinking piece and getting a good needs assessment and knowing what the need is, what the student preferences and abilities are, and knowing the classroom context and then letting that determine what technology is used.

SIU: Tech tip number eight is don’t be afraid. So there’s usually a reset button, and even when there’s not, somebody knows where the reset button is. So don’t be afraid to just experiment, play with things, try things out, and just have fun, because when you fear technology, you pass along that fear to your students and also to the classroom teacher, maybe, and maybe to the parents.

When everybody can come together and play and experiment with new technology and find solutions together, the student ultimately benefits from that.

Using an iPad that has been linked to her refreshable braille display, a young girl uses the app Exploring Braille with Madeline and Ruff.NARRATOR: Using an iPad that has been linked to her refreshable braille display, a young girl uses the app ‘Exploring Braille with Madeline and Ruff”.

She can navigate the iPad screen using her refreshable braille display and answer questions posed in the exercise.


GIRL: Hey! Why did it just do that?

SIU: Tech tip number nine — it’s OK not to feel like an expert in any technology because what your student needs from you is just an introduction, and they will take off with it.

It is really difficult to be an expert in any device or technology unless you, yourself, are a user and you use it in your everyday life and everyday workflow, but what your students need most is just the introduction and they’ll go with it.

Just as it is important for teachers to know where to find resources, students have to know how to find those resources as well. So part of not being afraid, or part of not needing to feel like an expert, is that as long as you know where to find the information, or for your students to learn where to find the information, then they can also find what they need and you don’t necessarily have to be the expert, as long as you and your student know where to find the information.

Often times it’s just introducing a student to a piece of technology and maybe understanding what purpose it serves in the learning context, and then learning how to use the device together, and learning to use it as you need it for that learning objective.

So maybe it’s not learning all ten features of a device, but it’s what do I need to know right now.

A young girl with Albinism is learning to use the Voice Over feature of her new iPad.NARRATOR: In a video clip, a young girl with Albinism is learning to use the Voice Over feature of her new iPad, swiping her fingers across the screen and listening to the names of the apps.

MOTHER IN VIDEO: Tap on an app.

VOICE ON IPAD: Calendar.

MOTHER: Alright, swipe over.


MOTHER: Just keep swiping so we can hear everything that’s on there.

VOICE ON IPAD: Photos. Double-tap to open.


SIU: And that’s what we figure out first, and then we figure out the rest later.

SIU: Tech tip number ten is empower your students to be in charge of their own accessibility.

Teach them how to think critically, and when you think critically, you can be the example of how they need to think critically, so they can evaluate their own needs and be in charge of choosing what tools they need, and knowing when they need more or knowing when they need less; and also, for the students to know where they can find resources and helping them build their own community of practice.

Having those models of adults who are successful in STEM careers; knowing what they can achieve and being able to work towards that.

NARRATOR: Coming soon, a Perkins Paths to Technology website at The page will be available in early 2016.

You can download a list of the resources mentioned in this webcast from the webcast page.

Siu presents a webcast on Top Ten Technology Tips.

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