Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment. Ike Presley and Frances Mary D'Andrea. New York: AFB Press, 2009, paperback, 548 pp., $49.95.
I was privileged this past winter to have the opportunity to see several prepublication chapters of Ike Presley and Frances Mary D'Andrea's new book, Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Assessment, as I was deciding whether to use it as a textbook for my class at Florida State University on assistive technology for people who are visually impaired. My early glimpse at those chapters clearly showed me that this book is an important work that will stand the test of time, and it made me anxious to see the rest of the book.
So often, in the field of assistive technology, things change so rapidly that publications become outdated almost as quickly as they are published. Luckily for readers of this publication, Presley and D'Andrea have found a way to give significant information on assistive technology that is not likely to become obsolete as rapidly as other titles on the subject. Assistive Technology for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired is an original piece of work, the foundation of which is solid research on the part of the authors. Throughout all the chapters, the findings are supported by current publications, as well as by some additional, older resources that provide historical perspectives on the information presented.
Overview of Available Assistive Technology
The book begins with an explanation of why it is important to help learners with visual impairments become "natives" in the "digital world" we all live in today, with the same ease and access to advanced technologies and information processing as their sighted peers. The five chapters of Part 1 provide an overview of the assistive technology tools that are currently available for individuals with visual impairments. Although the book focuses on working with students in educational settings, readers will find information that applies equally to the access needs of adult learners with visual impairments. Part 1 provides both general and specific information about a wide spectrum of software and electronic devices that are designed to enable individuals with visual impairments to access print and electronic information in a variety of formats. How to produce materials in braille, large print, and electronic formats is also addressed.
The discussion in Part 1 of the book is comprehensive and covers the full spectrum of products available at this time. Although the authors mention some specific products, the discussions about the utility of a particular product could be applied to any device or tool in the same category and are centered around the reasons why a particular type of device would be appropriate to meet a student's needs, rather than on the specific features of an individual product. The clear rationale the authors provide for selecting one type of device over another is the reason this book will be valuable for some time to come.
Step-by-Step Guide to Assessment
Part 2 has four chapters that describe the actual step-by-step process of conducting an assistive technology assessment, a primary purpose of the book. The authors emphasize that properly administered assistive technology assessments are needed to form the basis of decisions regarding the provision or attainment of software or devices for students with visual impairments. After reading Part 1, it is easy to understand why one would want to conduct a high-quality assistive technology assessment to determine what types of technology and accommodations would work best for an individual's specific needs. With so many options to choose from and such a wide variety of needs, it is not possible to arbitrarily provide technology to individuals based on only their degree of visual impairment.
The process of accomplishing a high-quality assessment is described in detail in this part of the book, with information on gathering background information, setting up the learning environment, performing the assessment, and completing and reporting the findings of the assessment. In addition, sample scenarios are provided, showing completed assessment forms. A complete set of reproducible blank forms is provided at the end of the book. However, the fact that the forms exist only in print, and can only be photocopied by individuals wishing to use these forms, poses a problem. My students and I concluded that it would have been good for a book on technology to have also provided electronic copies of the forms that could be filled out electronically.
The Right Tools for the Task
The essence of the entire book is captured in the following sentences:
… when completing an assistive technology assessment, it is important to remember that students will use a combination of formats, tools, and techniques to accomplish their educational activities. The objective of the assistive technology assessment, then, is to select the most efficient format for dealing with different types of information under different circumstances and choose the tools that are best suited for completing each task.
Presley and D'Andrea are talking about the use of technology in education, but what they say can be applied comfortably to any learner who wants to have better access to written or digital information or both. This book is right on target for evaluating and helping students and clients with visual impairments experience a level playing field in terms of access to written and electronic information. Not only does this book provide a step-by-step guide to conducting assistive technology assessments, it is an excellent resource manual and a resource well worth owning.
Karyl Loux, M.Ed., semiretired assistive technology specialist and adjunct professor, Florida State University; mailing address: 806 Bells Island Road, Currituck, NC 27929; e-mail: email@example.com.
Reproduced with permission of AFB Press, American Foundation for the Blind, Book Review, by K. Loux, Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Vol. 103, pp. 379-380, copyright © 2009 by AFB Press. All rights reserved.
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