Teaching IP to blind students: insights wanted

Can anyone help a distinguished reader of this weblog who is also a very fine teacher of intellectual property law? He writes:
"I walked into my maiden postgraduate IP law class (exclusively non-UK/EU students) yesterday, and I discovered that one of my students is blind. Nobody had informed me in advance.

However, everyone is most concerned about how best to support the student. I have contacted the UK Intellectual Property Office who will be able to help out with audio files; I am hopeful that the EPO and WIPO can also offer some support. I have had a rake on the internet for IP texts in Braille, and - predictably – found very, very little. At this time I am very unsure that the University can offer adequate support at such short notice, for example in respect of converting academic texts into Braille or audio recordings. It is all very complicated at the moment!

My other concern is what I can do to integrate him into class debates, to enable him to participate. Yesterday, it worked very well when the class was split into groups for initial discussions/brain-storming on IP generally. But I am really unsure in what way I should adapt my teaching methodology. At the moment, we have to work with three-hour timetabled slots which I use to provide some input (usually with help of PowerPoints) for about 40-50 minutes, and then seminar discussions on a topic which students had time to prepare for in advance (tailored topics plus reading list). Sometimes, students present on a particular issue, or there are library exercises.

I wonder whether you have any experience in integrating blind students into a class-room setting, or maybe you know a colleague who does? Also, would you know of any ports of call where I could get audio files on IP law subject matter, or information in Braille?

I am very sorry to spring this on you, but I would be eternally grateful for any advice you are able to provide!".
This Kat has no personal experience of teaching blind students, though he well remembers his student days when one of his college friends, who was deaf, received no assistance at all and was even required to attend supervisions in which he was unable to participate, in order to satisfy university regulations. If any readers have experience, ideas or information, can they please share them -- ideally as soon as possible! Please post your comments below or email them to the IPKat here.
Teaching IP to blind students: insights wanted Teaching IP to blind students: insights wanted Reviewed by Jeremy on Thursday, September 27, 2012 Rating: 5


  1. If you are able to offer the student scans of your texts, if he/she has access to a computer with a new full version of Adobe, it has a good reader built in that will read the text out loud (at least in English). This is available in Adobe 9 and higher, I believe. Click on "View" and then "Read Aloud". As long as you have a good PDF scan, this should be able to help your student get access many materials in a much more efficient manner.

  2. Make sure that the EU and its MS are required to agree to the ongoing WIPO discussion leading to a Treaty for accessible formats for the visually impaired. The SCCR/WIPO meets next month and the aim is for a Diplomatic Conference in June 2013 leading to a Treaty. If adopted, it will require a mandatory derogation from copyright and corss border trade in these goods.Some MS and the US do not want a Treay.

  3. If your student has access to the full version of Adobe Acrobat, it has a built in reader, so if you can scan or have PDFs of the materials you will use, he/she can have them read out loud, by clicking "View" and "Read Aloud" on the menu.

  4. If you have access to Mac you can create mp3 audio files via the MacOS preview and iTunes.

    I have done this once with the EPC (2h articles and 3h rules)

    You may want to edit the text beforehand because the system simply reads the document's content.
    E.g., the system reads '2' although a human reader would add 'section 2'

  5. There are several inexpensive smartphone solutions available which might help eg Evernote and Dragon Dictation.

    Evernote can convert hard copy documents (including handwriting) to electronic text which can then be shared or converted to speech.

    Both apps can also record speech and then convert it to electronic text, which might be useful.

  6. The Radio 4 programme for visually impaired people "In Touch" has transcripts available on various topics. One of these is a discussion involving a visually impaired law student who attended the LSE and how she dealt with that.

    This is the relevant transcript (ignore Brazil, which doesn't seem to be mentioned!)

    In Touch transcript - 12 October 2010 - Resources for VI Students/Maths in Brazil


    You could also try the progamme direct to see if they could recommend any resources and, of course, you could also try the RNIB.

  7. Often, with IP, there will be visual images that you will need to
    consider. Design, logos, copyright etc. are visual. So, using tactile
    tools can help. There is special paper made by the RNIB which you can
    draw on with a biro which then produces a raised outline which you can feel. Or, using fuzzy felts, you can reproduce images.

  8. Having had some experience of working with blind students and as an employment lawyer who deals with discrimination cases, I would suggest speaking to the student as a priority. Many blind students have software on their computers which renders electronic documents into audio – which may eliminate the need to try and find texts already in audio format or braille. However, whether they are effective depends on the format in which the documents are held. Many blind students are used to working with audio for texts rather than braille, as braille books can be difficult to obtain (as well as incredibly expensive and absolutely enormous!).

    The Society of Visually Impaired Lawyers might be helpful. Whichever department in the institution deals with SEN (special educational needs) may also have contacts at e.g. publishers to see about obtaining different versions of texts. They may also have access to additional funds or resources which may assist the student and some support to the tutor on how to adapt their teaching.

  9. Many years ago when I attended University College Dublin the university had a programme whereby other students would take time out to create recordings of texts for blind students. Perhaps this person's classmates might do the same for him, or the university could reach out to other academic institutions to see if they have materials already that could be re-used.

  10. In addition to speaking to the student about equipment, I would also discuss teaching methods and if any techniques are preferred by the student or cause more difficulty. As it is a postgrad course, presumably the student has already been through an education system so they should be able to give the lecturer some good tips!

  11. My name is Farhana, and I am a blind student myself, however I'm only at the stage of studying A-levels.
    I don't know how familiar the student is with any screen reading technology or with using computers, but I personally use a program called Jaws (screne reader) and often have books in text format, which Jaws then reads to me.
    As far as I'm aware you can ask the publishers of the books if you can buy the books on a CD in text format , which would work well with Jaws.

    I would also suggest that you do not treat the blind student any differently to the other students as this can be annoyingly awkward.
    Also, I suggest that maybe at the end of a lecture you talk to the student and ask them if there is anything you can do which would help them, as he or she is the best person who can inform you of this.
    There is also a society called SOVIL (society of visually impaired lawyers) who may be of further assistance in regards to accessing books.
    Hope that helps
    please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any further assistance

  12. My aunty went to the Hereford school for the blind and they were fantastic. I'm not sure whether they have IP law materials specifically, but I'm sure they'd have information on teaching techniques and materials so this might be helpful.


  13. I have no experience of audio materials for intellectual property law, nor for teaching with the specific issue of blind or partially sighted students. However, I think the Supreme Courts audio and visual feeds are brilliant audio material, and I use them for my IP work (not sure of the legality of recording the digital feeds, but I link up a digital recorder to the feeds and obtain the recordings and listen to the IP cases for example, the US Supreme Court even provides a transcript of the oral arguments and allows download of the mp3 files – excellent IP audio material there – Bilski is even available in the Federal Appeals Circuit, with digital audio files – amazing.

    The UK Supreme Court is due to hear a patent case, Werit I think it is, I will probably listen to that, not sure the recording is lawful of the digital audio feed, but it would be easy to do and is essentially public domain? I leave that particular conundrum to you!

    In short there is amazing digital audio material for IP now on the net, via the appeal courts, oral argument admittedly, but plenty of argument on legal principles. I hope this assists.

  14. When I did the BCL at Oxford there was a blind student in our class. As you know the BCL involves a lot of reading. Frankly he did better than we did.
    You may wish to contact the Law School at Oxford University to see what changes they had to make and whether they have any equipment/software ,books they can loan you.

    My recollection is that they provided him with 2 people who helped with some reading, but I may be wrong on this.

    This was over 20 years ago and by now I suspect they have all the equipment you might need and may loan you books etc.

    I think the student dictated his essays which were then transcribed. Otherwise, he was just one of us. There were no problems with class discussion or debates. No concessions were needed but I guess this will vary according to the student's abilities

    When we saw him on the street, we stopped offering our arm to guide him. He walked/ran so fast to classes that we gave up.

  15. Following the post on assisting blind students, there are a couple of points that come to mind:
    the first is that the university is under a legal obligation, Equalities Act 2010, to make reasonable adjustments to its services to ensure that the blind student is able to take part in all classes which are offered; therefore, requests for help need to be couched in terms which show that the reasonable adjustments are being taken, a failure to do so can result in investigations from the Equality Commission and interest from the RNIB;
    the second is that the RNIB is very helpful in assisting lecturers etc when they first have a blind student;
    the third is that the Royal London School for the Blind is also very helpful in providing assistance as they undertake teaching for all levels of education from 7 years old to adults.
    Having worked with a blind colleague in the past and having a blind family member I have been able to have materials easily converted into a machine readable form or recorded, there are several agencies and computer programmes, but having checked I do not have any IP materials.

  16. JISC TechDis may be able to assist or point you in the direction of other organisations who can help.
    JISC TechDis is a leading UK advisory service on technologies for inclusion. JISC TechDis explore and promote inclusive practices, resources and advice for learning and teaching in UK higher education, further education & skills, and independent and specialist colleges.

  17. I am no teacher, I am afraid, but I do have relevant experience. My husband is blind and the advice I give is for the teacher to talk to the blind student. Like all of us, blind people are diverse, have different needs and prefer different things. And being blind rarely means having absolutely no sight. Most blind people have some sight and most of them (like my better half) have no clue how to read Braille. Most (all?) computers have speech facilities so can probably read anything you send the student.

    Your blind student is a human being with particular needs and the only way to find out what those needs are, and what the best way is to help her or him, is to ask. She or he will probably be delighted that you have taken the time to ask and to listen.

    My advice is to - discretely - suggest that you sit down over a coffee and talk.

  18. When I was a student, I volunteered to read for blind students. One was a partially blind student preparing to become an occupational therapist. The other was a totally blind law school student. Both were very successful competing with their seeing counterparts. I have never regretted the time I spent reading for the blind. I learned so much from their steadfastness in striving toward their respective goals.

    If a blind student has made it to university, that student has already proven that s/he has a high level of self-discipline and the ability to retain and process information received verbally and via Braille. Ask the student whether s/he would like someone to read textbooks and other source materials into a recorder. If so, you can help the student post a notice asking for volunteers and, if necessary, organize appropriate recording equipment. Blind students can generally take notes in Braille at a remarkable pace.

    For texts available in electronic form, there are software programs that transform the text to audio from which the student can take Braille notes. The student may benefit from providing as much material as possible in computer readable text (i.e., not graphics only pdfs).

    Some thought should also be given to how much text is actually necessary to teach the subject. Prioritizing the material in order of importance and sticking to the essentials will help and may be of collateral benefit to your seeing students.

  19. Apart from giving them the same kind of content coverage as you would to fully sighted people, I would look for opportunities to engage them sensorily.

    e.g. Bottle shapes registrable as trade marks and/or designs - take two bottles in, for them to note differences. Perfumes - the real and the imitation - they will probably be more discerning than most in telling the difference. 'impression on the informed user' - what would they make of the febreze spray dispute? There must be lots of other touchy/feely/smelly/sound examples.

  20. http://www.swansea.ac.uk/iss/libraries/sutc/

    If you follow this link to the Swansea University Transcription Centre there are links to guidance notes for lecturers together with ‘general guidance for accessible information for all’.
    My colleague Sarah Jones (s.m.jones@swansea.ac.uk) could offer further information to your reader if required.


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