In the Eye of the Beholder: iPads, Smartboards and Visual Impairment
I recently had a request from a resource teacher in a remote school. She has a young student who has vision problems and great difficulty seeing what is on the Smartboard from anywhere in the room. The student has an iPad and the teacher was wondering if there was a way that the image from the Smartboard could be sent to the iPad so that the student could view it up close and if need be enlarge the image. In fact the student was recently diagnosed with severe Hyperopia (farsightedness). Getting a better view from up close would be a more effective strategy for someone who is Myopic (nearsightedness). However, in this case any way of seeing what was on the board in a closer view would be an improvement.
Exploring the possibilities
The first step was to see if there was an app for that. Because they were using a Smartboard I started with Smart Technologies. It turns out they have recently come out with a product (Bridgit conferencing software) that seems to come close. It is actually to interact with the Smartboard remotely from the iPad but you can see what is on the Smartboard on your iPad in order to do that. The problem is the cost. 2700$ for the software license and the need for a server to run the software. Not a simple or budget solution, but this led me to the search for other remote access apps. There are quite a few out there and many are free. Beware, you have to read the fine print. In many cases the app is free, but to make it work you need special software for the computer that is being controlled remotely by the iPad. That is not so free. The software licenses cost anywhere from 200$ to thousands, and like in the Smart solution, some require a dedicated server for that purpose as well.
Hitting on a viable solution
There are a few remote access apps for the iPad that are free that do not require additional hardware or costly software. One such app is Mocha VNC Lite. It worked out really well. Mochasoft does make a full version that costs 5.99$ but for the needs of the student in this case, the added features are not required. Also needed is another piece of free software for the PC that runs the Smartboard. It is used to set up and use VNC. The one that is recommended is the free version of Real VNC.
Using the VNC (Virtual Network Computing) settings of the host computer, the one running the Smartboard, the iPad can connect to and show what is being seen on the board.
With iPad gestures, one can enlarge the view and move to sections of the screen to see them. Moving things on the iPad does not affect what viewers of the Smartboard see. Being the Lite version, scrolling does not work, which in this case is a plus. In addition, in the settings there is an option to disable mouse clicks so there is no danger of the student clicking on a link or opening a shortcut to other software on the Smartboard. It really works as a “viewer” for the user.
The school board will be installing the app and the software shortly and I hope to have feedback as to how it is working for this young student. Hopefully, it will be helpful to others as well!
Below are links to both the app and an explanation of how to setup and use RealVNC.