Happy toddler in a bean-bag type chair interacting with an iPad.
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VoiceOver Playground app: Games that teach VoiceOver!

YES! An app that teaches young children who are blind or low vision tech skills!

HEAR YE! HEAR YE! The VI community has jumped from medieval times to the digital age! I am shouting out the announcement about this new app, VoiceOver Playground, designed to teach VoiceOver gestures and concepts to students ages 3 – 8 that are blind or low vision! 

Why introduce VoiceOver to toddlers and preschoolers?

Technology is every day and everywhere! Technology enhances our lives, educates us, keeps us informed, entertains us and connects us. Technology is for everyone – from toddlers to teens to adults to senior citizens. Look around. Everywhere there are toddlers and preschoolers with vision who are interacting with smart phones and devices to access educational songs, games and videos. These sighted youngsters are entering kindergarten with strong, independent tech skills. What tech skills do our toddlers and preschoolers who are blind or low vision have? Are these visually impaired students entering kindergarten with the same tech skills as their peers and are they ready to use tech in the classroom to access education materials?

The goal of the VoiceOver Playgound app is to level the playing field for students who are blind or low vision so that they can enter kindergarten with the same technology skills as their sighted peers.

VoiceOver Playground App

Background

The VoiceOver Playground app is based on the highly successful ABCs of iOS: A VoiceOver Manual for Toddlers and Beyond, a curriculum designed to teach VoiceOver gestures, concepts, refreshable braille display commands and Bluetooth keyboard commands to BLV students ages 3 – 8. This manual was a collaboration between Diane Brauner and CNIB Foundation (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) and was released in 2018. Using mainstream apps and the handful of available apps created specifically for young BLV students, the written manual took educators/family members step-by-step through how to these apps can be used to teach critical VoiceOver concepts. 

The impact of this iPad/VoiceOver training was astounding! Believing strongly in the project, CNIB secured funding to update the project and to begin formal research on the project. ObjectiveEd, a leader in developing educational games for students who are visually impaired, was brought on board to create a comprehensive VoiceOver training application. The VoiceOver Playground app was a collaboration between teams from CNIB and ObjectiveEd, Diane Brauner (Educational Accessibility Consultant and Manager of the Perkins’ Paths to Technology website) and Dr. Anitha Muthukumaran (TSVI, Adjunct Professor and Accessibility Consultant).

App Design

Using age-appropriate educational content, students will be systematically introduced to technology skills, VoiceOver gestures and basic reading and writing with a refreshable braille display. A series of highly motivating games will guide the student step-by-step through each skill, using age-appropriate content. The target audience is students ages 8 and under who will benefit from using a screen reader. 

The VoiceOver Playground is currently a series of three apps: The Teaching Tool (with interactive lessons), the Games and the Braille Games.

Before playing a game, the skill (gesture or tech concept) is first introduced and explained in the Teaching Tool. Educators/parents can choose the desired skill and can learn more about that skill by reading the Help document along with watching the associated, quick video tutorial. Each skill has at least one interactive lesson. It is strongly suggested that the adult read through the Help section to better understand the gesture or concept and how to teach it. The student, with assistance if needed, should use the gamified interactive teaching tool lesson(s) before applying the skill to the corresponding game.

Prerequisites for the VoiceOver Playground app

The child should be interested in touching and interacting with the screen and should have the necessary fine motor skills to use one finger to drag and tap.

If the child is ready to be introduced to an iPad, but is not ready to make VoiceOver gestures, there are mainstream iOS apps in the App Store that are designed to introduce very young children to the iPad. These apps do not require specific gestures; instead, the apps allow any number of fingers to touch anywhere on the screen for any length of time. The apps are self-voicing and age-appropriate for infants, toddlers, and preschool children. The most popular and simple mainstream apps that do not require vision to play and are enjoyed by young children with low vision or blindness are:

See the free ABCs of iOS: A Manual for Toddlers and Beyond! for mainstream apps and teaching ideas on how to encourage a young student to touch and interact with an iPad at the most basic level.

Current status of the VoiceOver Playground App

CNIB released the CNIB ABCs app (the Canadian version of VoiceOver Playground) spring of 2024 to parents and educators of young BLV students in Canada and have begun collecting data for their 5-year research project.

ObjectiveEd will make a few changes to the app to better fit the educational needs of TSVIs and students in the United States. The U.S. version, called VoiceOver Playground, will not gather formal research data and is anticipated to be released before or at the beginning of school (fall 2024). Stay tuned for updates!

Resources

Stay tuned for additional posts with videos on VoiceOver Playground Teaching Tool skills (interactive lessons) and Games!

Editor’s Note: I will be presenting a session on the VoiceOver Playground app at the International AER Conference being held in Charlotte. The session is Thursday, July 25th at 4:45 pm. The session title is the ABCs of iOS App, which was the original name of the project/app. The app name was changed to meet Apple’s APP Store requirements.

By Diane Brauner

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