Education January 4, 2022
Research & manufacturing products for blind & visually impaired people is APH’s main focus
World Braille Day is observed every year on 4 January and to mark this day we feature American Printing House for the Blind which provides innovative products, materials, and services that support visually impaired people throughout their lifetime. For well over 150 years the American Printing House for the Blind (APH), a non-profit in the United States, has dedicated itself to empowering blind and visually impaired people by identifying barriers in blind students’ education.
From braille-enabled or large-type textbooks to learning materials for preschoolers, the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) offers a huge range of services to people with visual impairments. Started in 1958, the APH, based in Louisville, Kentucky, is dedicated to empowering people who are blind or visually impaired by providing identifying the barriers they face in education and learning and manufacturing innovative products, materials, and services for lifelong success.
APH began as the project of Morrison Heady, a blind Kentucky resident. In 1854, Heady started collecting donations in order to print a raised letter version of John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Two years later, Heady inspired a blind man in Mississippi, Dempsey B. Sherrod, to raise funds in his state. It was Sherrod’s idea was that a national publishing house for raised print books should be established and he convinced the Mississippi legislature to set aside funds for such a publishing house in 1857.
Identify hurdles to blind students’ education
APH’s mandate comes from the federal Act to Promote the Education for the Blind of 1879. The Act designates APH as the official supplier of educational materials to all eligible students in the United States who are studying at less than the college level.
Over the last few years, APH has expanded our products and services beyond our K-12 offerings to support individuals who are blind or visually impaired, and the professionals who serve them, throughout their lifetime. We are committed to meeting the needs of students, adults, parents, teachers, educators, advocates, and others we serve. – Sara Brown, Public Relations Manager, APH
Three key challenges have been identified by APH that act as barriers in blind students’ education. These are using different types of technology, learning independent living and self-advocacy skills, and braille and auditory literacy skills.
“Lack of literacy means more than lack of proper grammar – it also limits you to only being able to access what you can hear, vs. what you can read through braille on a refreshable braille device or printed braille”, explains Brown. To address the barriers in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), APH launched Road to Code, which is designed to create accessible coding tools for everyone.
Providing accessible STEM options for the blind
The objectives of Road to Code objectives include:
- Make options that exist for all ages and skill levels.
- Raise expectations for student success.
- Create a coding progression from one tool to the next.
- Construct inclusive tools for both visually impaired and sighted students.
- Ensure all products are available with Quota funds.
Along with the Road to Code, APH produces STEM products for all ages. Among the most popular are Code Quest and Code Jumper. Code Quest targets students in preschool and early elementary, teaching them coding, logic, and orientation skills. Code Jumper uses brightly colored plastic pods with oversized buttons and knobs are connected by “jumper cables” (thick cords) to physically create computer code that can tell stories, music, and even crack jokes.
In May 2021, APH held a National Coding Symposium to highlight the opportunities are available to blind and visually impaired students in STEM. It also offers courses to teachers of visually impaired students through the APH Hive, a virtual platform that offers free eLearning opportunities.
During the pandemic, when schools went online, APH helped schools, parents, and children cope with the changes by providing online learning with the APH ExCEL Academy. The American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) along with APH and multiple other blindness organizations also held a survey to identify gaps in service during COVID-19.
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