Conducting Research While Using Assistive Technology… It IS Possible!

In this post I would like to discuss the activity of conducting research on the internet with assistive technology. Researching is an inevitable task when you are in college and/or university. Whether you are attending a class, completing an assignment or preparing for a presentation, you will need to conduct research. There is a specific process to follow when researching, and you can visit this link to find out more about the said process. Gaining access to printed materials is almost unavoidable when you are researching a given topic or subject, but using the previously discussed OCR methods should enable you to access such materials. Also, some college/university library’s offer scanning services for students, and this may be of benefit to you depending on your individual needs. I should point out, your lecturer/teacher will inform you as to how you should carryout research, and they will tell you the best sources from which reliable information can be ascertained. Therefore, this post will be written assuming that you understand the research process.

This is an image of a magnifying glass which symbolises research.

Magnifying Glass Symbolising Research

Getting the Best Search Results:
Conducting research on the internet is different to searching for things on the internet. For example, if you are given a project based on the climate within a business, and you put the word climate into your favorite search engine the results will not be what you intended to find. Whereas, if you searched for “business” AND “climate”, your results would be much more suited to your area of interest. The use of quotes before and after each word in the previous example, will tell a search engine to only return results which include the terms I have used. The use of such punctuation is explained in more detail at this link. Using the correct Search Operators, Symbols and Punctuation in your searches, can make the research process much more efficient and less time consuming.

Your New Best Friend Google Scholar:
You can think of Google Scholar as a college/university version of the normal Google Search Engine. Scholar will only return results which are related to books, journal articles and/or other research related documents. In my experience, you will not find advertisements for companies relating to your search. There are many additional tools to improve your results in scholar, but at a basic level, incorporating the above Search Operators will narrow-down your results a great deal. Again, your lecturer/teacher will tell you the best way to use Scholar for your given course, and they will tell you how to login with your college/university credentials so that you have access to more information. In general, Google Scholar is a much better way of getting reliable information in comparison to using a standard Search Engine. You can access Google Scholar by visiting this link.

Don’t Ignore Your Library’s Website:
It is more than likely that your college/university library has a website, and you should become acquainted with the way this site works and its accessibility with your assistive technology. From those that I have visited, library websites usually have an online catalogue, online journals, eBooks and a search facility. The online catalogue is normally a collection of all the books that the library has on its shelves, and you are able to search this catalogue and reserve an item if it is available. The online journals are a database of journals and journal articles, and similar to the catalogue, they can be searched. In addition, if the journal article is online, you can access it instantly, and sometimes you can save the article for offline use. I have less experience with the eBook and general search sections as I normally found what I needed in the catalogue or journals, but any member of staff in your library would be more than happy to explain such features. My lecturers often arranged presentations from the library staff in my college to explain the various features of the library website for my entire class.

Be prepared to Scan Printed Materials:
Even though it is true that a lot of material is online, there is some which is still only available in a physical printed form. Such materials may include books and journal articles which are older, but may contain information which is just as relevant as online information. Therefore, it is not advisable to ignore information which is in books and journal articles just because it isn’t online, and isn’t immediately accessible. You will need to scan the information which is offline, and use an OCR application to recognise the text present on the page. Kurzweil 1000 is the programme which I have experience with, but there are many alternatives you can choose from. There is even a mobile application called KNFB Reader, which works on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. KNFB Reader is expensive, but it is very versatile and may be ideal in a library situation. You can read more about KNFB Reader at this link courtesy of Applevis.

EBSCOHost is a Brilliant Companion for Your Library Website:
EBSCOHost is an application for iOS Devices (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), which has a simple interface that enables you to search many of the databases linked with your library account. After you download the app you will need to visit your library’s website, open a link which is related to EBSCOHost for Mobile, and then you will be emailed a code to authorise your app for 6 months or a little longer. I have found this app to be very handy when I used it, but it is not essential when you are conducting research; so don’t worry if you do not have access to it. If you do use the app, keep in mind that there is a feature for downloading and viewing a PDF version of the article your reading. This feature is inaccessible with VoiceOver, but this is a small feature of the app and doesn’t affect its functionality. Visit this link to view EBSCOHost on the app store.

Don’t Forget About Kindle, CourseSmart and Other Sites for Accessible Books:
If you are finding it particularly difficult to scan physical books, or find books which relate to the topic you are researching, don’t forget that you can access accessible books via Kindle, CourseSmart, Audible etc. As I mentioned in my previous post, the titles which are available on the mentioned providers can vary, and you will have to search around to find the desired content. In my experience, Kindle is great for finding books regarding Research Methodology and other academic subjects which are accessible.

JAWS Research It Might Be Useful:
I have known about the Research It feature in JAWS for a long time, but I have never used it for personal use or research purposes. I would imagine that Research It is best for researching current topics which are in the news. If a lecturer/teacher requests that you research a current news topic, JAWS Research It would be an ideal place to begin your search. Research It is a feature which is only available on the JAWS screen reader, and the key command CTRL + SPACE + R will activate the Research It feature.

Bookmarks Are Great:
When I find an online article or book I am particularly interested in, I always create a Favorite or Bookmark which I can refer back to later. It is also a good idea to create Favorites or Bookmarks of your most used research databases, online journals, Google Scholar and your library’s website. This will make it very easy for you to access certain features instead of searching through the various links and headings of your library’s website. If you are using an iOS Device, I have found it beneficial to create Safari Bookmarks on your Home Screen, and store a group of Bookmarks in a Folder.

I genuinely hope that you can improve your research by using some of the mentioned resources, and if you have any further queries just get in touch.

As it can sometimes be difficult to find what you are looking for while researching, I think the song I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For by U2 is quite appropriate.

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The Official DigiPlace4All Launch Event!

This post will focus on the official launch of the DigiPlace4All initiative, which was held on the 28th of May 2015 in the Radisson BLU Royal hotel in Dublin. You may remember, I discussed the said initiative in a previous post, in which I stated its two core aims comprised of:
1) The sharing of information among those with a disability, educators and employers.
2) The provision of peer support for digital skills and inclusion in education and employment.
When reflecting on the day, the words that spring to mind are inclusion, interaction and empowerment.

This is an image of a meeting room sourced from the Radisson website.

This is an image of a meeting room sourced from the Radisson website.

The inclusion aspect of DigiPlace4All was first mentioned by Senator Martin Conway. In Senator Conway’s opening address, he referred to the social inclusion element which is inherent in DigiPlace4All. The site benefits from the internet’s ability to breakdown geographical boundaries, and brings people together despite their circumstances.

Therefore, those living in rural parts of Ireland, need not feel isolated or be disadvantaged in terms of receiving information concerning digital skills, education and/or employment opportunities. However, it must also be kept in mind, those who are not internet users may continue to have difficulties regarding physical isolation and the access of information.

Another aspect of inclusion which was immediately apparent to me, was the extent to which DigiPlace4All incorporates an extremely broad range of abilities and disabilities. This was partly due to the large number of organisations present at the event that represented a number of different groups. For example, some of the afore mentioned organisations included AHEAD, DeafHear and Enable Ireland among others.

The second element of DigiPlace4All demonstrated at the launch event was interaction. The event offered Digital Inclusion Champions the opportunity to meet each other and discuss the future possibilities of DigiPlace4All. In addition, Champions had a chance to meet site members, and get a sense of the general feeling regarding DigiPlace4All.

The general opinion concerning DigiPlace4All was overwhelmingly positive. All the sentiments I heard were excited about the information sharing and provision of peer support potential of the site. The launch also offered all attendees the opportunity to provide feedback regarding the existing site, and the features they would like to see included in the future.

Such feedback was provided as a result of the break-out sessions. These sessions consisted of a Digital Inclusion Champion encouraging a table of attendees to explore DigiPlace4All on their own assistive technology, or demonstrating the site in real-time and helping individuals with registration if desired. When the sessions had completed, each table was asked to provide feedback, and this encouraged further interaction.

The final element that the DigiPlace4All launch embodied was empowerment. As pointed out by one of the speakers at the event, individuals using DigiPlace4All are not limited to what someone else thinks suits their needs. The individual is free to explore a range of information present on the site, and make their own, personalised, informed decision.

The above scenario is very important as there is not a one-size fits all solution to an individual’s needs. DigiPlace4All can offer a level of empowerment to individuals they may not have experienced before, and this could in turn increase the individual’s level of independence. I believe that such empowerment, and the possibility of increased independence, can only be a good thing.

To hear some extracts from the DigiPlace4All launch event, listen to the June edition of the NCBI Technology Podcast.

This is an image of the DigiPlace4All logo sourced from a SlideShare presentation.

This is an image of the DigiPlace4All logo sourced from a SlideShare presentation.

It was mentioned that future events, in different locations, could be held in the future. However, I would imagine, this will largely depend on the popularity of DigiPlace4All, so I would encourage you to spread the word!

As mentioned above, the scope of society to which DigiPlace4All is applicable to is very broad, so the likelihood that you know someone who could benefit from the site and/or contribute to the site is very high. Feel free to use this blog post, or any of the below links, to share DigiPlace4All.

Visit the DigiPlace4All Website
Like DigiPlace4All on Facebook
Follow DigiPlace4All on Twitter

If you would like further information about DigiPlace4All, or have any comments and/or questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

As inclusion is a large aspect of DigiPlace4All, I feel the song Absolutely Everybody by Vanessa Amorosi is quite apt

Taking Notes the Accessible Way!

This post will focus on the topic of taking notes in a lecture, tutorial and/or seminar setting. If it is your first time to take notes in any of the afore mentioned environments, chances are you will try and transcribe what the speaker is saying word for word. This is the approach I took when I first started taking notes, and I quickly realised that such a strategy was basically impossible. Also, taking down everything a speaker says is not always beneficial. For example, a good teacher/lecturer will say the same thing a number of times in different ways. If done correctly, this will not sound repetitive and there is a greater chance of reaching students who may learn differently. Therefore, taking down several variations of the same information which may not appeal to your style of learning is not going to help you. I believe a much more sensible course of action is to actively listen to what is being said, and take down the information which you can understand and learn from. Such note taking is a skill, and it may not be a skill you will acquire immediately; so don’t panic!

A possible way to reduce any anxiety regarding note taking, would be to use a voice recorder during lectures. I wouldn’t advise this as a replacement for taking notes, but it can help at the beginning if you are really worried about missing something. It is very necessary to consult your lecturer prior to using a voice recorder during lectures. In my experience, lecturers are perfectly ok with the use of a recorder, but I have been asked to make sure the recordings are only used for my use and go no further.

This is an image of an Old Typewriter sourced from Microsoft Word.

Image of an Old Typewriter sourced from Microsoft Word.

Regarding the practicalities of note taking, there are two different methods I would recommend:
1. Laptop/MacBook, Screen Reader and Word Processor of Choice.
2. iOS Device, Bluetooth Keyboard and AN Accessible Note Taking App.

Laptop/MacBook, Screen Reader and Word Processor of Choice:
I think this combination is essential for college/university anyway, and it is also a very good method for taking notes. However, it is not always the most portable solution, and it can be inconvenient in terms of making sure your battery is charged etc. Regarding Windows, my personal setup consisted of a HP/Compaq Laptop, JAWS and Microsoft Word. I do believe using NVDA and another Word Processor would work equally as well. On the Macintosh side of things, the most portable combination would be a MacBook Air, VoiceOver and TextEdit or Microsoft Word 2016. The MacBook Air is the smallest of Apple’s MacBook line-up, and the newest models have very long lasting batteries I have heard. TextEdit is the built-in Word Processor on Macintosh, and Microsoft Word 2016 is going to be released soon and will be the first version of MS Word to be accessible on the Macintosh. Please note, in my experience, the popular Pages Word Processor is largely inaccessible, and cannot be used in an effective manner for college/university.

iOS Device, Bluetooth Keyboard and AN Accessible Note Taking App:
This combination would be in addition to the mentioned Laptop/MacBook option, and I think it is a much more portable option with a longer lasting battery. I have personally used an iPad, a Keyboard Case and NoteMaster. As discussed previously, the iPad is 100% accessible, and an iPhone or iPod Touch are just as accessible. When it comes to note taking apps on the iOS device you are using, there are many choices, and it is more or less down to your own personal taste. This link will bring you to the Productivity section of Applevis’s iOS App Directory. Some of the note taking apps which are available are not 100% accessible, and I would recommend trying to get a free version to test before purchasing a full version. If you would rather not download any additional apps, the built-in Notes app is completely accessible on iOS and would be perfect for taking notes.

I really hope the above information is of help to someone taking notes, or thinking about taking notes themselves. I spent the first year of college having someone else type my notes, and it was effective, but I found I had no connection with what was being taken down. At the beginning of my second year I began taking the notes myself, and it was the best decision I made. My active listening skills kicked in, thankfully, and I felt I was much more engaged with what was going on in the lecture/tutorial/seminar.

As usual, if you have any questions and/or would like to know more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

I’m not sure if you are aware, but the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Austria over the weekend. This year, an artist called Mans Zelmerlow representing Sweden won. You can listen to Mans’s winning performance by playing the below video. It is a very catchy song and is a deserving winner in my opinion.