An App for Me

Ding ding ding!  Lunch is over and the sound of the school bell signals students at Clara Barton Elementary in Anaheim, California to say their last good-byes and make their way to class for a final round of learning before a well-deserved weekend.   For Tina, the Friday lunch bell has a different meaning.  It signals a time for some fun, or learning if your Tina’s teacher, because Friday afternoon is Reading Adventure Time, an app that is (“finally”) designed for Tina and her fellow classmates with a visual impairments or blindness.

Tina returns to class and places an iPad and a portable Bluetooth braille keyboard with a refreshable braille display on her desk and then taps a series of key commands to open the Reading Adventure Time app.  She decides that today’s game will be the Braille Hunt.  She clicks to begin and is prompted to get started by a funny game show-like voice, “On your mark. Get set.  Go!”  Tina taps in a flurry to find the braille letters M and K.  About a  minute later the game ends with the sounds of children cheering and the announcer congratulating, “Pretty cool stuff!  Good job!”  Tina reviews her score and is stoked to find that it’s even higher than last week’s attempt.  “Even faster this time!” she shares with her teacher, Mr. Christian.  “Nice, Tina.” he replies. “It won’t be long before you’re a braille master!”

Keith w Student

Mr. Christian looks on proudly. “It’s a joy to see her so engaged.  The app is fun and challenging, and it’s absolutely strengthening both her braille and literacy skills.”  Tina chimes in on cue, “It’s also cool because I’m blind and this app is for blind people like me.  My sighted friends get to play all of the fun apps.  I can at least play this one for fun and for learning.  It’s cool.”

The Dream Team

After receiving funding to create the Reading Adventure Time app, we knew that a core team of dedicated experts was essential to developing an app that would break new ground for students with visual impairments and blindness.  But could we assemble a dream team willing to dedicate five years to something that had never been done before?  Could we convince the very best to join forces despite them being spread so thin with other commitments?  Yes and yes!

Introducing the dream team!

Frances Mary D’Andrea, Ph.D.
Instructor and Consultant, University of Pittsburgh

Frances Mary D’Andrea, Ph.D., is an instructor at the University of Pittsburgh and other universities, and an educational consultant specializing in literacy issues related to students with visual impairments. Dr. D’Andrea began as a teacher of students with visual impairments in 1982. From 1995-2005, she worked at the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB), and helped establish their National Literacy Center. She has co-authored a number of textbooks. Dr. D’Andrea is currently Chair of the Braille Authority of North America (BANA), and has served as AFB’s representative to BANA since 1998.

Nancy Niebrugge
Assistant Vice President, Programs & Services
Braille Institute Los Angeles

A seasoned print journalist and award-winning public relations professional specializing in the healthcare field, Ms. Niebrugge joined Braille Institute in 1996. In leading the Communications and Braille Publishing departments, she initiated BIA’s first website, marketing database, and program offering free braille storybook kits for young children. As Assistant Vice President she led the expansive growth of BIA’s national literacy program, The Braille Challenge®, and launched Cane Quest®, which promotes mastery of orientation and mobility skills for youth. In her role leading BIA’s organizational strategy, she designed a comprehensive assessment of key programs, which has resulted in initiatives to improve program quality and efficiency for youth and low vision services. Ms. Niebrugge has represented BIA as a Board member of the Braille Authority of North America, the Council for Schools and Services for the Blind, and the American Printing House for the Blind. Ms. Niebrugge holds a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from California State University, Los Angeles, and will be completing a Certificate Program in Strategic Management from Harvard University in 2018.

Cay Holbrook, Ph.D.
Professor, Director of Graduate Programs
The University of British Columbia

M. Cay Holbrook, Ph.D., is Associate Professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. She received her doctoral degree from Florida State University in 1986 and has prepared teachers of students with visual impairments at Johns Hopkins University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Dr. Holbrook taught children with visual impair- ments in public school programs in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida and has been actively involved in the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Council for Exceptional Children. She has written and presented numerous workshops to teachers and parents relating to the education of children with visual impairments.

Tessa McCarthy, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Instruction and Learning
University of Pittsburgh

Tessa McCarthy is an assistant professor joining the Department of Instruction and Learning in the vision studies program from North Carolina Central University. She graduated from Vanderbilt University in 2010 with a PhD in special education with an emphasis on visual disabilities and has more than a decade’s experience as an instructor and consultant in orientation and mobility and visual impairments. McCarthy’s research has recently been published in TEACHING Exceptional Children, the International Review of Research in Developmental Disabilities, and The Journal of Special Education. In the last year, she presented on the use of artificial intelligence in reinforcing braille instruction.

Cheryl Kamei-Hannan, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Special Education and Counseling
California State University, Los Angeles

Cheryl Kamei-Hannan, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor, at CSULA. Dr. Kamei-Hannan earned her Doctorate of Philosophy at the University of Arizona with a specialization in Visual Impairments and an emphasis in Language, Reading, and Culture. She also studied at San Francisco State University and earned her Master of Arts degree in Special Education with an Education Specialist Credential in Visual Impairment and Blindness and a Rehabilitation Services Credential in Orientation and Mobility. Ms. Kamei-Hannan has worked in the field of visual impairment and blindness in California and Arizona for over fifteen years in the capacity of personnel preparation coordinator, reading specialist, middle school language arts classroom teacher, itinerant teacher of the visually impaired, and a resource room teacher. Dr. Kamei-Hannan’s research agenda is focused on literacy issues with students who are visually impaired and the use of assistive technology to support access to the general education curriculum. Her most recent publication is a book about reading titled, Strategies for Supporting Readers who are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide to Reading Instruction. She also is the principal investigator on the iBraille Challenge project.

Ben Pomeroy
Director of Digital Programs, Braille Institute

Ben is the technical guru behind the Reading Adventure Time app.

Seanarae Smith

Project Coordinator, Department of Special Education and Counseling
California State University Los Angeles

Seanarae is an expert coordinator responsible for keeping all team members on course with their meetings and related time sensitive paperwork.