We have often been asked if children with poor eyesight would be able to use the pen and have found that this question can only truly be answered by utilising the pen with the individual child.
Visual impairment is the term used to describe a wide range of eye sight loss. 80% of our learning is via vision (RNIB, 2018), therefore the impact of sight loss for the student requires other supportive techniques to be introduced and explored to enable learning to continue.
We were very fortunate to be approached by WESC Foundation, The Specialist Centre for Visual Impairment School in the South West of England, who invited us into the school to meet their students and to bring along the Reader Pens for the students to have access to alongside the myriad of tech they currently utilise. We understood this was potentially an enhanced area of need and the children may not only have visual impairment but a wide range of other disabilities and needs, therefore the reading pen may potentially be of use to only a small number of students. However, we felt it was important to meet with the students and teachers to talk about visual impairment and the variety of tools the student may find of use to make up for their 80% of learning being impacted upon due to visual impairment.
Many of the WESC Foundation students have severe impaired vision and therefore it was obvious the reading pen would be a hindrance to them as there is a requirement to be able to have some vision to follow a line of text. However, one of the tutors commented the pen would be useful for students who do have slight impairments and some reading difficulties. Furthermore, another tutor commented:
“I felt that some students with adequate vision to identify a line of text, the pen is useful”.
Dexterity was also commented upon, some WESC Foundation students have physical disabilities alongside their visual impairments and therefore being able to align the pen could prove difficult. Recommendations for double spacing of text and to be a larger font were considered and although this works well for the Foundation the ability to access readily produced information is of import for the children to familiarise themselves with, for when they become adults. Alternatively, an identified positivity was the pen’s potential for every day use such as “good for labels and very short text”.
Many of the tutors also have visual impairment and of note was one tutor with nystagmus; an involuntary ‘wobble’ movement of the eyes from side to side or up and down, resulting in an unclear image (RNIB, 2018). For this tutor being able to control the pen to run along a line required a great deal of concentration and after a period would become difficult for him.
For many students attending the Foundation the pen was unsuitable due to their level of visual impairment and/or disabilities. The students with less severe visual impairment were able to use the pen; however, the school has a clear focus of enabling these students to lead independent adult lives and therefore accessing every day literature. The Foundation could see the benefit of the pen, particularly when using double spaced text and at a font size that enabled the student to use the pens independently. The pen was recognised as a good tool for reading labels and short pieces of text.
Conditions such as nystagmus due to the movement of the eyes creating issues as the text will appear to ‘jump’, was thought to be helped with the pen doing the hard work, however due to the concentration required to try to refocus the effort becomes exhausting when using for large pieces of work. Overcoming such difficulties have been considered by Scanning Pens, such as creating a vibration to enable the user to know the pen has lost ‘sight’ of the text to help the user to realign the pen. Other users have made use of a ruler or guide to help them keep on track.
The staff and students of WESC Foundation were helpful and we would like to thank them for the time and effort they took to invite Scanning Pens and the Reader Pens into their wonderful school. We have always stated the pens are a tool that may suit some but not others and the individual learning needs of the user must be considered above everything else.
RNIB Supporting people with sight loss (2018), Information about vision impairment: Guide for parents [Online]. Available at : https://www.rnib.org.uk/sites/default/files/APDF-ENG021603_Early%20Support%20Parents%20Information_0.pdf (Accessed 21 June 2018).