In December 2009, Language in Dublin got a very special opportunity to get involved in a very interesting project. The Vocational English Training for Visually Impaired People project, or VET4VIP as it became known, aimed to explore and design language learning materials for students with visual impairments, as well as design a teacher training programme to assist teachers in catering for these kinds of students in their class rooms. As a teacher trainer and a lifelong learner I was eager to get involved, but like many teachers I felt a little overwhelmed at the idea of having visually impaired students in my class. Would I be able to cater for their needs?
I was not alone. Colleagues on the project found that if blind or visually impaired people want to learn a language, they face a problem. Usually, they learn a foreign language either as children in special schools or in the framework of a rehabilitation training but often main stream language schools like the language in group schools feel unequipped for people with visual impairment. Most training materials are based on printed materials or visual information (pictures, whiteboard, projector, etc.). Audio material is available, but almost always designed as an add-on for books and papers. Therefore, if people with visual impairment approach language schools, they are usually refused because the teachers do not have training materials, nor are they prepared or trained for coping with people with visual impairment.
Language in Group along with our partners in VET4VIP worked on countering these problem with a combined package consisting of a train-the-trainer course for language teachers on dealing with people with visual impairment and how to use and create teaching materials for this target group using suitable assistive technologies; and adaptable computer-based training modules for business English designed for blind and visually impaired adult learners. Teachers on our pilot training days found that they developed skills that would help them with all of their students as well as meeting European colleagues and learning a little about visual impairments.
Central to the project, along with current state of the art assistive technologies, is the training technology system developed in the Socrates ALLVIP project. This technology uses a force-feedback joystick for haptic feedback and user interface control that offers real interactivity. This part of the project offered me a challenge. I have always been a bit of a technophobe, but I needn’t have feared. In Hereford in the RNC I found myself been guided and taught about all sorts of wonderful machines and computer programmes by the visually impaired students there. I returned home and set up my own recording studio and to my delight was soon was producing professional standard sound files for our language modules. Luckily our German partners took care of the computer programming.
Our project ended at the end of May with a wonderful meeting and workshop in Berlin where we could show off our language modules using the hapic joystick. I really learnt alot on the project from our European colleagues as well as the wonderful blind and visually impaired students I met in the RNC, Hereford and Bartimeus, in the Netherlands.
I would like to officially thank the European Comission for their funding under the Leonardo Di Vinci programme and all the project partners, Thomas, our technical wiz in the Deutsche Angestellen Akademie (Germany); Beate from Berufsfoerderungswerk Wurzburg (Germany); Corrie and Henning from Tandem Hamburg(Germany); John and Henk from Bartimeus Education (Netherlands); Yvonne, Hanneke and Maria, always charming, from Capital Languare Services (Netherlands); Antonio from the Italian Union for the Visually Impaired (Italy); Mario and Gino from the Centro Machiavelli (Italy), and of course Jack and Tim from our sister school, Language in Totnes! Its been a very fruitful and interesting project.
If anyone is interested in finding out more about our project of the train-the-trainer Grunwig courses you can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or “Thomas Deharde – EU-Projekte” <email@example.com>.