16 March 2023

According to the specialist journal "The Lancet Global Health", there were more than 300 million severely visually impaired and blind people worldwide in 2020. Due to the increasing provision of information via the internet, non-accessible images, graphics, and videos are often not readable to them or are only accessible via a separate image description. Finding new ways here was the goal of the DigiLearnBUS project, which uses sensitive tablets to provide interactive access to tactile graphics.

Susanne Schumann works as a trainer at the Berufsförderungswerk Halle (BFW), a special institution founded in 1990, which is a modern, supra-regionally active social service provider offering a variety of educational measures for the professional reorientation of blind and visually impaired adults. The aim is to support people who can no longer pursue their occupation due to their visual impairment on the path to sustainable reintegration into the labor market. The spectrum ranges from healthcare clerks, office managers, or digitalization management to administrative clerks in all age groups.

For about two years now, Schumann has been using digital tablets that were developed in Slovenia and introduced in Halle as a result of an Erasmus+ project. She is enthusiastic about the possibilities that have arisen and enthused: "The tablets are excellent for optimizing access to information on the internet and for promoting self-directed learning among the pupils. Especially in the commercial sector, there are often organizational charts, flow charts, and diagrams that could previously only be taught with concrete assistance. With tablets, we can now prepare digitalized content in such a way that the graphics can be felt and understood independently. The students are no longer dependent on the support of assistants.

New possibilities in teaching

For the trainer, this is a huge step forward and an enormous relief for the lessons. Technically, the tablets vibrate when tactile points on the screen surface are touched. One example is the map of Europe. Here, the students can touch individual countries and structures, and the tablet then automatically ejects the corresponding texts. In this way, graphics can be experienced and read immediately - a major advantage, especially for topics relevant to examinations.

Susanne Schumann once again: "I think it is important that digitalization is always inclusive and creates access for all people. The introduction of the sensitive tablets in the lessons of the Berufsförderungswerk is for me a very good example of successful and sustainably effective inclusion". The idea for this resulted from the Erasmus+ project DigiLearnBUS, which sent educational staff from Halle to a Croatian partner institution, which also educates blind and visually impaired students, as part of a mobility measure from September 2019 to August 2022. Kerstin Kölzner, Managing Director of BFW Halle, was in Zagreb at the time together with her colleague Dr. Ulf Gläser. Both emphasize how important the European dialogue is for BFW. Kölzner says: "We work a lot with institutions in other European countries, for example in the Netherlands, France, Iceland or Italy, Poland or Romania. This gives us a good overview of the approaches and possibilities in this field, for example, with regard to digitalization and the resulting possibilities for the vocational training of blind and visually impaired people. This gives us a lot of impulses for our work. The question of how we can best integrate blind and visually impaired people into the labor market ultimately arises in all countries."

Dialogue promotes accessible e-learning

"In terms of content, DigiLearnBUS was about advancing the idea of barrier-free e-learning and using the corresponding synergies," adds Dr. Ulf Gläser. In Croatia, contact was made with the Slovenian company Feelif Pro, which develops tactile digital tablets for teaching blind people. Gläser continues: "We brought the idea with us to Halle, so to speak, and then brought our educational staff and the Slovenian company together to develop such offers in our country as well.

For Kerstin Kölzner, the resulting momentum has exceeded all expectations. "The tablets have long since become an elementary component of training in the areas of IT and office management. Our graduates and also our trainers are very enthusiastic about the added value they offer". In addition, the exchange with the Croatian institution and the Slovenian company is very intensive, even after the end of the project. In the future, Kölzner would like to see the use of such tablets become more widespread in everyday working life in order to enable self-determined work at the respective workplace. Although this is associated with costs, in the end, it must always be a matter of removing or at least reducing the man-made barriers in vocational training as far as possible.

click HERE for the original article