Sunday, December 30, 2012

Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards 2012

Vodafone Foundation Smart Accessibility Awards 2012 for the second year has highlighted some of the most innovative and helpful accessibility apps to support independence and access. There were four different categories of awards: Well being, Mobility, Living & Social Participation. Please take a look at each of the apps. Their innovation and unique ability to open up the world through a more mainstreamed efficient route is a direction we must support and pursue vigorously each year. There are many ways we can all work together on this. Most Universities & Colleges who have engineering and computer sciences degrees are more than willing to work on specific projects with the community to support both short and long term solutions to the many accessibility challenges. You need to start with a specific issue which requires a solution. Work with the stakeholders, especially those who are directly impacted buy the solution and team with your local Universities and Colleges. We can start working away at many of theses issues locally and then share them globally. I would also encourage all solutions to be low cost or free when possible.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

ALS House - Technology & Independence

Steve Saling a person with ALS designed and co-founded a fully accessible living community for people with ALS  (ALS Residence Initiative). The level of automation through advanced technologies supports extended independence and control for those who could be much more dependent on others for every part of their daily routines. The MDA/ALS News Magazine offers a break down of what is in each home.

This is the type of support many people require. It begins with the premise that all people want and deserve to be as independent as possible and to continue to live their lives to the fullest. Facilities like this remove many barriers. Technology along with changes in attitudes (which can be the greatest barrier of all) allows for freedom of movement, expression and ongoing contributions to a world each person still wishes to be an active part of.

New Transportation Guide for People with Autism & Other Disabilities

The Easter Seals Project Action addresses accessible transportation in our communities. They have many free and low cost publications which are quite informative. Most recently they published a guide called: Get Going! This is a free guide which offers tips and information for when you are navigating the community. This is an excellent training resource for teachers and other professionals who assist in working on these important community access skills.

Monday, December 24, 2012

MIT Media Lab Free Software

The MIT Media Lab (which is open to the public) is an underutilized resource for information, technology and free software. They have regular events and exhibitions which are open to the public. Many of these are very appropriate for our students to go and see and certainly for families and professionals. There is a software program that they have developed called SCRATCH for students (ages 8 and up) which is free to download. With this software you and your students can make interactive stories, games, art, music and much more. Here is another site where you can download the software. It has demos and examples of things you can do with it. SCRATCH-MIT

Please remember to share the information with others!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Talking about tragedy with students who have special needs

This past Friday has been met with horrific tragedy which will never make sense. Students everywhere are going to need to process the information they have heard in the news. This includes those with special needs who may have significant communication and social challenges. It is important to work together as a team in your school or district to have an organized plan which addresses all students. This plan must include ongoing support as well as some direction in gathering content/programming to support coping skills now and in the future. Here are some resources but there are many more. Please share your thoughts, ideas and resources.
Special Needs: Discussion around tragedy

Talking to kids about tragedy

NEA School Resources

Talking about the events of Friday

National Association of School Psychologists

New York State SEL Plan - Good example of a comprehensive social-emotional support plan.

For some students, the materials will have to be substantially adapted to support understanding and coping. This must be carefully developed and based on language they are familiar with. Keep it very simple and address concepts in small and short increments. Certain topics and discussions may need to be repeated for understanding and processing. For students with special needs, please make sure you are communicating with the families in terms of how these topics are going to be managed. Many times students who do not use spoken language and who may have more significant disabilities are overlooked during these times. They hear the same news, adults speaking and feel the sadness around them. They must be included in the grief counseling process in an appropriate accessible manner which is sensitive to their developmental thinking processes.

Make sure you maintain routines. Talk and teach about feelings all year long. One of the things we have to remember is that the more prepared our students are in managing very stressful situations, the more open they will be to working through their feelings in a manner which can be productive to their emotional health. When we integrate social-emotional learning into most aspects of our instruction (not just a separate lesson which is not effective), our students will develop and generalize those skills needed to better understand what they are feeling and to accept help which can be accessed in a manner which allows for the healing process to take place. Please also be very aware of what the students are exposed to on an ongoing basis and what types of conversations are occurring within earshot. Make sure those routines, materials etc. that typically comfort them are made readily available. Most of all, talk with each other to make sure everyone is receiving the consistent support they require.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Did You Notice Part 2

A few months ago we had a discussion about the things we just do not notice until we need to. Things we take for granted every day and do not even consider how the interactions we have, the freedom of movement we have and the access to typical routines are often met with ongoing barriers for people with disabilities. This video gives you an idea of what it might be like.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Helping To Ensure Equal Access to Education

Helping To Ensure Equal Access to Education  is a report covering the years 2009-present by the Federal Office of Civil Rights. The report is quite long; however there are some key pieces you may want to look at. First, the Office of Civil Rights has engaged in proactive investigations to address systematic issues of discrimination. It is also looking more closely at bullying and harassment in both K-12 schools and colleges. There is a section on accessibility of technology which has improved but still remains a significant barrier in some places. At issue is access to electronic readers. OCR in collaboration with the DOJ (Department of Justice) came up with some guidelines: FAQS.  Please take some time to look through the report and the types of complaints, remedies and proactive strategies currently being addressed. We can all benefit from being a little more proactive.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Whiteboard Blog

Now until the end of December you can download a great software program to make interactive activities for the computer, smartboards or Tap-its. The Whiteboard Blog is an incredible resource. Don't miss this opportunity. They are offering a free site license with no limits. Thank-you Irene Macdonald for finding this and sharing!!!!!!!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

International Day of Persons with Disabilities

International Day of Persons with Disabilities  is being held on December 3rd, 2012. This year's theme is: Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all . Many of the conversations on this blog have focused on greater accessibility for all and access in general to the types of activities, interaction and independence everyone needs to have. The rights and privileges of persons with disabilities continue to be compromised. Many countries including the United States have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities produced by the United Nations on December 13th, 2006. On Monday, November 26th, the United States Senate did pass a motion to ratify the Convention. Although for the most part, it received support, please take a look at the actual vote count. Vote Count.

Please take the time to engage in some learning activities, advocacy and discussion around these important issues. It saddens me that in this day and age, we are still struggling to ratify such documents which should build consensus not division. Every student should have a way to advocate on a regular basis for issues which are important to them and their community. Across the United States and especially in Massachusetts there is a strong focus on transitional services which include the development of skills associated with self-determination, self-advocacy and overall greater independence. I would include civics and the responsibilities of being an active citizen as well.

Ideas for your students:

1. Meet 1-2 times per year with local government to discuss issues and work on specific concerns together. 

2. Begin Human and Civil Rights training early.

3. Find creative and individualized ways to give a voice to each of your students so they can comment and discuss these issues both within structured activities but also at will. 

4. Build the language needed to discuss these issues early and systematically add to it each year (core words, core phrases & content specific vocabulary - see free symbol project for resources). 

5. Instructor Web has some great lessons and activities on all of these topics. 

Please share your thoughts and ideas! There are so many things we can do right now!

Sunday, November 25, 2012

United Nations - Disability - Google Hangouts

Many of you are already aware of the annual celebration of Human Rights Day held by the United Nations on December 10th of each year. This annual tradition was started back in 1950. This was to mark and celebrate the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10th, 1948 in Paris, France.  It holds the record for being the highest translated and disseminated document in the Guinness Book of World Records - 370 languages & dialects!

As part of this year's celebrations and events, the United Nations Human Rights Office has announced a series of Google Hangout discussions focusing on specific issues related to disability. You can receive updates on everything through any of the social media sites which include Storify at this point! As mentioned much earlier in this blog, is a unique social media site which allows people to discuss and convey areas of interests in a creative manner. The Celebration of Human Rights Day and the Google Hangout discussions are ways to be a part of the bigger discussion across the world on where we are at in terms of human rights and where we need to direct our attention and efforts. This is also a critical topic to discuss in the classroom with your students through age and developmentally appropriate materials as well as adult programs. There continues to be a strong movement to make sure people with disabilities and those minimized by society are able to have access to voting and involvement on issues which directly impact their lives. This is another wonderful place to support access and commitment to hearing the new and old voices of those who we continue to silence and talk over each day.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Special Olympics World Games in January 2013!

The Special Olympic World Games will be held in PyeongChang, South Korea, January 29th to  February 5th, 2013. This is the 10th Special Olympic World Games. As with the Paralympic Games, this is a wonderful opportunity to get everyone involved in learning about the Olympians, providing support and taking some time to look at the various events. They are also offering a really fun activity for everyone prior to the start of the games. You can send in your picture and have it integrated into one of the mascots. This way you can put yourself in the picture. What a fun activity to show our support! They also have a link where you can find the athletes living near you!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

New Technology Resource for Persons who are Deafblind

The iCanConnect project is designed to distribute telecommunications products to people who are deafblind. They provide assessments, training and equipment free of charge. You do need to meet federal eligibility guidelines to access this program. This is a link to the brochure which also comes in Spanish. It is important to find your state partner which in Massachusetts is Perkins School for the Blind. Please make sure you share this information. This is an incredible resource that was developed under the Communications and Video Accessibility Act of 2010.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Think College

Think College is a wonderful program which provides training resources for professionals, families and students. The focus is on support people with intellectual challenges in post-secondary education and training. As we move forward with our focus on full access and inclusion in all of the promises of adulthood, this program offers an opportunity for people with different abilities to make headway in gaining the education and training they need to improve long term outcomes. Please take a look at this site and view some of the videos they have. There is also a documentary on Think College!

When we begin our transition planning, contact should be made with these types of organizations so that everyone is working together to make sure the right sets of experiences and skills are worked on to support better long term outcomes including participating in post-secondary education.


Sunday, November 11, 2012

Social-Communication & Autism

We know that a diagnosis of Autism means that there are struggles in the area of communication, social skills and social-communication. There are a number of books and articles written on the hidden curriculum and the need for direct and explicit instruction in this area. Socialization and communication are directly tied and can be linked to greater success as an adult. We know if we build upon play skills and social-communication early on that our students will have much better long term outcomes. One of the things we do not always consider is the difference in social-communication expectations. We apply our social rules to others. To a certain degree this is a piece of what we have to look at when teaching social-communication. However, we also must consider the views of people with Autism. We know that social-communication differs significantly by culture. Although we do not always consider this as much as we should in schools, many more teachers are aware of these differences and how they can play out across environments and in which skills are prioritized. We need to begin to consider doing the same for students with ASD. James Williams, a man with Autism has a wonderful website you should visit. One his website he discusses the 6 Principles of Autistic Interactions. I would recommend reading them and considering how these principles could or should be applied when thinking about social skill development and social-communication skills.We need to work together to support our students. This includes figuring all of this out together with those who know best - the people with Autism.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Eye-Gaze Tablet

Crystal King shared this with me. It is an eye-gaze tablet. Eye-gaze technology continues to be refined starting with the Boston College Eagle Eyes and followed buy several other devices using a direct gaze approach: Dynavox EyeMax, TOBII, PRC ECO2 with ECOpoint.

These devices have opened many doors for people with more significant physical disabilities. Communication, language development and everyday social interactions are enhanced through eye-gaze systems. These systems can be more efficient but do not necessarily use less energy. There is a significant fatigue factor associated with eye-gaze. Children and adults using these devices must build-up tolerance slowly. The portability has improved as seen by all of the products mentioned in this post. It will be interesting to see how the tablet technology evolves. We want efficient light-weight devices which do not make people stand-out or form an additional barrier within an interaction. The smaller device can facilitate improved visual regard for others during a conversation and support shared viewing of points of interest without the device becoming a physical barrier in the person's ability to access visually the environment in which they are engaging. The other piece we still must address is battery life. We need to develop systems (all access types) which can recharge based on natural or artificial light.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

The Right to Vote while under Guardianship

As we move closer to the election we must continue to put effort towards making sure everyone votes, especially those who may not even realize they have the right to vote. Here is a link to all of the rights and supports for people with disabilities by state: Nonprofit Vote. 

 For our students and adult that we support who may be under guardianship, they still have the right to vote unless it is explicitly taken away by their guardian. Take a look at the information from the Disability Law Center.

Voting and voting rights has to be a part of the content we teach our students and adults who may or may not be under guardianship. We have to work much more closely with guardians to support the informed voter rights of everyone. Informed is key. In order for someone to make a true choice, we have to spend the time teaching what those choices are in a non-partisan fashion. The election directly impacts everyone's future.

Please also consider assisting people in getting to the polls. Everyone must be empowered to exercise their voting rights. Lets work together to get everyone out.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Web 2.0 - 2012 update

Here is a great website with the updated list of Web 2.0 tools for educators: Discovery Education. It has a tremendous amount of information to access. As we continue to look at Web 2.0, Web 3.0 is emerging with much more interactive and intuitive technology. Many of you are already engaging in 3-D interactions. Take a quick peek! In addition 3-D printers continue to become much more universal and cost effective. Some are available in kits. What a great student project! 3D Printing

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Statue of Liberty reopens after upgrade - Now much more accessible!!

The Statue of Liberty has been under renovation for awhile. The renovations are now complete! People who use a wheelchair or have difficulty with mobility can now access the observation level. After 126 years, the Statue of Liberty is now accessible! In light of some of the unfortunate comments made recently about people with disabilities, it is nice to redirect our attention to an important improvement. There is no doubt that this was long overdue, but it has happen and together we should all go and revisit the statue. Just stopping to notice, that we can all enjoy our history a little more today. Take a look at the CNN video of the renovations.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Update to how language matters!

It may be time as one of my students so eloquently stated to ignore and redirect those who do not understand the offensive nature of "Retard". Ann Coulter does not agree with the criticism by some. Please take a look at this article and listen to the radio clip. She does comment on John Franklin Stephens, the Special Olympian who wrote an open letter in regards to the use of the word "retarded".

Ann Coulter To Disabled People Offended By ‘Retard’ Tweet: ‘Screw Them!’

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Language We Use Matters

Ann Coulter has been criticized for using the word "retarded" on two recent occasions. The language we use does reflect our personal values and the values of a society. The Rosa Law which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2010 removes the term Mental Retardation from the health and education code and replaces it with intellectual impairment. The DSM V (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of the American Psychological Association) which is due out in 2013 is changing the diagnostic category of Mental Retardation to Intellectual Developmental Disorder. The inclusion and respect of all members of society is a value which must be explicitly stated, acted upon and embraced. This means speaking out when a group has been minimized based on arbitrary traits which give permission to treat them differently, view them with less value and dismiss their contributions and needs.

As to whether or not we need to care about the votes of people with disabilities, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Labels do not allow others to silence our voices. As citizens of the United States we stand together. That is where our strength comes from. We do not have to agree on every issue but each voice has value. We must remain united on this issue and no one has the right to put a wedge between us.

Friday, October 19, 2012

How's Your News at the 2012 Conventions!

How's Your News, a group of reporters with disABILITIES covered both the Republican and the Democratic National Conventions this year as they did in 2008. You can download a digital copy of these events and interviews for $5 which goes towards their news organization and activities. Take a look at the trailer: How's Your News 2012.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Making Voting Accessible

The election is only a few weeks away. It is essential that everyone participates in the process. In order for this to happen, our voting sites and booths must be made accessible. The video above gives some simple suggestions on how to make the process much more accessible. Just physically getting to and into the polling site can be problematic. Massachusetts addresses some of this in the Voter's Bill of Rights. Please make an effort to assist in this process including offering rides to those who may find it challenging to get out and vote. The American Civil Liberties Union provides a lot of information around the voting laws and rights in each state.

When you go and vote, please pay attention to the accessibility features of the polling site. Make some notes and provide feedback to the Secretary of State. We have to stop and notice first and then we have a duty to act. As we review many important topics covered by our candidates, the most important is the ability of each of us to have a say in what happens. We do not have to agree, but we must share in the responsibility to make sure every voice is heard.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Accessible Technology Coalition

The Accessible Technology Coalition or ATC provides extensive resources on accessible technology across disabilities and categories of technology. There are many free trainings, recorded webinars and other resources. They have regular updates on a number of topics which support access to learning, work and greater independence.

Participatory Design of AAC Systems

Many times we design augmentative and alternative communication systems without considering the full participation of the person with the disability. Student and adults must play an active role in designing the system as well as the actual symbols. This resource gives a great example of a student who designed her own yes and no symbol. It makes the point quite well how important participation is. The resource has a lot of good suggestions. Take a look: Participatory AAC. This is another resource to look at especially if you are interested in AAC research:

" The AAC-RERC is a Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center that functions as a collaborative research group dedicated to the development of effective AAC technology."

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Gamers of All Abilities

Arcades & video games of all types have been around for decades at this point. Over the past 10 years we have seen tremendous improvements in accessibility features. The first permanent accessible arcade will be opening in Washington DC on October 10th (Global Accessibility News). Accessible arcades should be available in all communities. Ablegamers has been in the business of making accessible video games as a non-profit since 2009. Take a look at some of the unique accessibility features they have developed. The most important piece they emphasize is how gaming evens the playing field for everyone.Make sure you download the accessible gaming guide.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Holloween Costumes for Kids & Adults who use Wheelchairs

The Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation has some great ideas and information on how to create cool Halloween Costumes for kids and adults who use wheelchairs. Take a look at the site and share. To learn more about the video showing the ice cream truck costume click here: Ice Cream!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

InklessTales - Great Site!

Inkeless tales is a wonderful website with animated stories, poems, the alphabet and other activities. This is a great resource to share. Some things are free and others are extremely low cost!

Monday, October 1, 2012

National Disability Employment Awareness Month

October 2012 is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. This site also has many free resources for teachers to use to discuss the history of this topic as well as the current challenges. Please make use of these materials and share them with others. The United States Department of Labor also has a number of policy statements and ways you can help.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Low cost visual schedules and displays - Teachers Pay Teachers

My friend Brittany Tellier sent me this great website. It has low cost Visual Schedules for you to purchase. There are many great low cost resources on this site. Please take a look at it and share it with other people.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A response to the National Forum on Disability and the absence of some invitees

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.” (William Bruce Cameron). Our numbers do not tell us what is most important but each of us counts. 

The national Forum on Disability happened on September 28th in Columbus Ohio. This was an important forum and most likely the only one held on disability issues prior to the presidential election. There are many things at stake for people with disability. Those who spoke were passionate, sincere and respectful of those for whom they must serve. Others sent representatives in their place to speak for them. 

People with disabilities may not make up the largest voting block. Some people may not vote due to accessibility or never being supported in learning how. Many voting facilities are not particularly accessible as we have discussed several times. The problem is, our leaders must take the time to listen to all of the voices. Some voices are not heard through traditional spoken language. They may use sign, pictures, symbols, Braille, eye-gaze etc. It can take a lot longer to ask a question and have a conversation.  You cannot tell by looking at someone who they are, what they need or how to serve them well. This requires a direct interaction. 

We have come far in how access is provided to people. Gunnar Dybwad & Hank Bersani talked about the new voices we must hear, cultivate and support. Seeing the value in another human being cannot be directly taught. It has to be experienced and lived. It does not seem that long ago when I was working at a state school for people with developmental disabilities. I had the privilege of working with those who were challenge on multiple levels. Only a few spoke or walked. Many had been there since they are infants or young children. Some of the staff raised them and cared for them as their own. It took a great deal of time to get to know each person. As I did friendships formed, unconventional communication occurred, learning activities were better designed and there was much enjoyment in light of incredible hardship at times. These individuals were born too late to benefit from most of the laws although their living conditions had improved immensely. They taught me so much without saying a word. Their voices were present for those who would listen. They did not vote but they counted in ways which could not be measured. I remember assisting in planning their funerals, providing the music and watching the responses of their lifelong friends and residents at the services. I remember standing in the basement of one of the buildings where the morgue was, looking in silence as the person I had known lay on a metal table, covered and awaiting to move to their final resting place. It is a feeling I will never forget. Someone should watch over as they lay resting. They shouldn’t be alone. No matter what, the life they lived counted and needed to be respected. 

As one of many who assisted in establishing a now infamous research library which was originally located at a state school for people with disabilities, I had the humbling experience of going through the slides of tissue which had been saved many years ago for research. Their voices could still be heard in a different way. Their legacy and sacrifice counted. They most likely never voted yet they were citizens who were silenced by those who society choose to count. I looked at the graves at a State Hospital for people with mental illness which only had numbers on them. No names were present yet these voices need to be heard even now. They count and we need to listen. There are many who have gone before us and many yet to come. We have to slow down and take the time to listen. It does not matter if you are making a donation to a candidate, part of a large voting group or just one individual, the people running for office need to take the time to stop, listen to your voice and think about how their actions impact people in ways they had never realized. There are always unintended consequences to our actions, some being good and some causing duress to others. The only way to know the impact of your actions is to look, listen and respond to those who are on the receiving end.  

We the people are the United States. You do not know who we are by looking at us, assigning us a number or grouping us. Leaders stand beside and as one of the people. Leadership is shared and it is we the people, all the people who have the power to make change. Leaders must listen to the most soft barely heard voices. For in these voices they will find lessons learned that most of us can only stand in complete awe, humbled by the strength, sacrifice and commitment each has demonstrated without recognition, without yelling from the highest mountain. They live their life each day, setting an example we all should pay much more attention to. Please listen to the old, present and new voices. Who knows what wonderful things could come from this!