It’s difficult to overestimate the role of technology in our lives in the 21st century. You probably use technology (in the informal sense of sophisticated electronic or computer-based devices) in many ways every day, such as by making a cell phone call, getting cash at an ATM, using a debit card to make purchases, taking a picture with a digital camera, or using your computer to check out the FamilyConnect website. Your preschooler is surrounded by this technology, and as she grows, it is likely to become an important part of her path to independence.

Most preschoolers probably have a significant awareness of the technology around them, even if they aren’t yet sophisticated users. If there is a computer in their home or classroom, they see others working on it and may enjoy playing some games or visiting child-oriented websites. They see others using cell phones and DVD and MP3 players, and they most likely watch television, where they see countless advertisements for all these devices. However, your preschooler with a visual impairment may not be able to see and therefore to be aware of all the various forms of technology that surround her.

Introducing Your Child to Technology

Now, when your preschooler is learning so much else about the world, is also a good time to expose her to various forms of technology. The goal, for now, is not so much teaching her to use the technology independently but simply to help her realize what types of technology you and others are using.

  • Explain to your child the different purposes for which you use your computer, for example, “I’m typing an email to Aunt Esther. She’ll read it on her computer and write back to us,” or “I’m searching on the Internet to find out when the museum is open.”
  • Find age-appropriate activities for your child to do on the computer. If she has low vision, look for games or websites that have high contrast between the pictures or letters on the computer screen and the background against which they’re displayed. If she is blind, find games or websites that have an auditory component. Your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments can give you some suggestions on appropriate games and websites for your child.
  • Teach your child how to dial both your home telephone and a cell phone. There are some tactile markings on most phones, often on the number five. She can use the number five as a home base from which to locate other numbers (for example, the two is above the five, the eight is below it).
  • Radios, portable CD or MP3 players, and DVD players are forms of technology that many families use. Your daughter may enjoy listening to music or watching a video but may not realize how you make it start and stop. Show her the equipment and consider adding tactile or color markings to the main keys, such as “Play” and “Stop” so that she can operate the technology herself when you feel she is old enough.
  • When making a purchase with a debit or credit card, show your child how you slide the card in the terminal and then press some of the buttons so the money is taken out of your bank account. This is an abstract concept for a young child to grasp but exposing her to it now will lay the foundation for her to comprehend it later as she really begins to understand money concepts.

Assistive Technology

At the same time that you are introducing your preschooler to the mainstream technology that most people use every day, you may also want to begin becoming familiar with the kinds of technology made specifically for people with visual impairments (see “An Overview of Assistive Technology”). Many, if not most people who are blind or have low vision, use some form of assistive technology to help them read and write, do their household chores, navigate through the streets, and many other tasks. In today’s world, technology has become a great equalizer that helps people with disabilities do the activities typically performed in the sighted world, like using a computer to read and write. Try to take advantage of opportunities to meet older children and adults with visual impairments who use technology to ask them about the devices they use and the pros and cons of each one. You can also check online resources like AccessWorld®, a free online magazine about technology and people with visual impairments. As you become increasingly knowledgeable, you can help your child become comfortable with the world of devices that are available to her.