Mobile devices, especially smart phones and tablet PCs, are on the verge of becoming the standard lifestyle, business, training and communication gadget of our main target groups, namely young learners, professional language learners, university students and trainees. Language learning should adapt and could more and more profit from the opportunities this technology offers to all, not least to students with special learning requirements such as visual or other physical impairments, as these devices also offer accessibility features and are increasingly popular with blind and visually impaired people.
However, existing language learning apps on these devices have a user interface that is not accessible for vi people. At the same time, these language learning apps make no use of the communicative potential that these devices offer. In more detail, the partnership found out that the apps:
are not really intuitive, not even for sighted learners no audio or buzz feedback when you touch the screen, sometimes not even a visual feedback most apps are basically extended vocabulary trainers, nothing more if the system’s equivalent of a screen reader is switched on, the user does not always get the text information that is on the screen or on the buttons (whether this is a system problem or a problem of the apps is not clear) the interface of the apps is definitely not usable for blind learners overall, these apps remind of the early language learning programs of the mid 90s the language learning apps make no use of the communicative potential of the devices (telephone, voice streaming, social networks, etc.).
The innovative character lies in the first place in the fact that the products of this project will be fully accessible for students with a visual impairment. The provision of further accessible apps for mobile devices has the effect that the existing Windows-based language courses can be used on several devices like a computer, smartphone and tablet of several operating systems. As in special education you need to provide many individual learning routes for the students due to differences in the way blind and partially sighted get access to study material, this system of flexible use of teaching content can have large impact.
With the hospitality module, the consortium wants to implement activities that make use of the communicative potential of these devices, for example, via the TANDEM learning approach. TANDEM language exchanges are organised on a global scale; the point of origin or current place of residence for any language learner is becoming less important with direct communication technologies such as Skype or Twitter. Thus the project is going to take this approach a step further, in addition to the ‘direct’ idea of bringing two people of two mother languages together in a room and of helping them communicate here. A language module assisting TANDEM partners, as well as TANDEM partners assisting each other when taking part in a language course, online, and ‘live’, in real time, independent of resources such as classrooms and paper-based materials, is an innovation designed to succeed with the target group described above.
Last but not least, a computer-based language course that can easily be used by sighted AND visually impaired students, is not only innovative, but also an important step towards inclusion and language learning for all.