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Case study: Creating technology to connect communities, advance causes

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Richard Ybarra

According to a study published in April 2015 by The Neilsen Company, more than six in every ten respondents said that they use electronic devices to connect with family and friends (65%), get news (63%), listen to music (63%), and/or take pictures/videos (61%). So what does that mean for your business, organization, or favorite cause?

"Whether it is increasing exposure of an organization or a business’s mission through a mobile application (app), or creating an app that furthers a key goal of the organization, the digital landscape of how we reach our consumers is changing, and we have to keep up," says Richard Ybarra, Executive Director, Braille Institute San Diego.

If your company or favorite cause is not already asking itself what impact smartphones and other tech devices can have on its business, perhaps it should. At Braille Institute, we found a way to broach the subject by developing technology and mobile apps to support connections among its communities.

Creating a mobile app to gain awareness

Braille Institute San Diego learned from our students and their caregivers that caregivers often didn’t understand what it was like to have a visual impairment. To help establish better understanding, Braille Institute created a mobile app that utilizes the camera/video function on smart phones to simulate the experience of something losing his or her sight. The free VisionSim app takes advantage of the accessibility features in both iOS (Apple’s operating system for iPhones and iPads) and Android smart phones, using a cell phone’s camera to simulate a view so that users see what an eye disease progression could look like.

Braille Institute also included information in the app about early indicators of the most common degenerative eye conditions, as well as free services provided by Braille Institute for those who are blind or visually impaired.

"VisionSim is a great tool for doctors and family members to understand what the issues are for someone who is blind or visually impaired. If someone is losing their central vision due to Age-Related Macular Degeneration, a physician or loved one can simulate that experience with the VisionSim app to see what their frame of vision could look like as the disease worsens," says Ybarra.

Working with others to create the right app

Industry studies show that there is a strong correlation between Braille literacy and high employment rates for people who are blind or visually impaired. Given that, Braille Institute set out to find new ways to support Braille literacy. Today, with grant support from California State University, Los Angeles and the Department of Education’s Step Up for Technology initiative, Braille Institute’s iBraille Challenge app is entering its pilot testing phase.

"The iBraille Challenge app became possible thanks to support from multiple organizations that shared similar passions. Often, that is the best way to really do something right," says Ben Pomeroy, Braille Institute’s Director of Digital Programs.

This iPad-based app supports digital Braille reading and writing skills for students from first grade through high school, with testing content developed by teachers and academics across North America based on Common Core classroom standards. The iBraille Challenge app captures each user’s reading and writing analytics, as well as teacher and student demographics.

Teaching technology

In addition to supporting students through mobile app development, Braille Institute developed Connection Pointe, an interactive learning center, to provide free technology training for students to understand how to access the latest apps and assistive technology. Braille Institute San Diego’s Connection Pointe is tailored for students with no previous experience to learn at their own pace how to use a myriad of mainstream and adaptive devices, including mobile tablets, voice output software, and much more.

Students receive customized, one-on-one instruction for any device they want to learn. This program was created as part of the Braille Institute Digital Literacy initiative to help people with low or no vision learn how common devices like smart phones, iPads, and handheld digital magnifiers can help them stay connected to the world around them.

"We have found that technology evens the playing field for people who are visually impaired, and we want to continue to provide accessible learning opportunities for our students and anyone in this community," says Ybarra.

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To learn how to access this technology or to connect with Braille Institute San Diego, call 1-800-BRAILLE, visit BrailleInstitute.org, or email Richard Ybarra at RMYbarra@brailleinstitute.org.

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