Washington State School for the Blind recognized for distance-learning innovation


Since 2010, Washington State School for the Blind has put Microsoft’s Lync software to use in an effort to keep students learning and teachers teaching – even when they cannot be in the classroom. The distance learning system has been praised by both teachers and students, allowing individuals who are sick or cannot get to school to continue teaching and learning lessons.

Chris Green, senior, was sick for an entire week, in which he could not attend school. However, with Lync, he was able to remotely sit in on math class. The software made him feel like he was actually in the classroom, and enabled him to stay current on the workload. When necessary, he could even use the instant messenger feature to ask the teacher a question during class. Teachers who live in a different state can now teach at the school with the software’s immediate feedback and real-time interaction capabilities.

Using Lync remotely, students can use a keyboard instead of a mouse, creating a barrier-free experience. Those physically attending the school enjoy sitting at workstations equipped with instant messaging that can also be read with a Braille display. They also find benefit in the use of headsets when going over problems with their instructor, which eliminates classroom disruption.

Universal Design (UD) is an approach to design that increases the potential for developing a better quality of life for a wide range of individuals. It is a design process that enables and empowers a diverse population by improving human performance, health and wellness, and social participation (Steinfeld and Maisel, 2012). It creates products, systems, and environments to be as usable as possible by as many people as possible regardless of age, ability or situation.