Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Low Tech, Low Cost & Freebies

As budgets continue to be tight, here are some great resources to share and take a look at! Assistive technology does not have to cost a lot or be complicated to use!

National Public Website on Assistive Technology  offers a variety of resources including a list of AT exchanges  and other resources for individuals and families to access equipment.

Linda J. Burkhart continues to offer wonderful ideas, instructions and links to valuable resources on her  Simplified Technology website.

Tots-n-Tech offers a list of resources which include make it yourself ideas, low cost and low tech options.

Let’s Play Resources from the University of Buffalo has a number of free downloads which provide information on how to support infants using AT.

Instructables has a large variety of “how to” ideas with instructions on how to build various pieces of low to high tech.

SETBC:  This website has been shared before. If you have not already looked at it you should!


Monday, December 9, 2013

Proxtalker & ProxPad Choice Maker

The Proxtalker has been available for a while and has originally been marked as a voice output PECS (picture exchange communication system) system.  At a recent demonstration we discussed some additional uses which are quite valuable. Attaching tangible symbols which are then linked voice output opens up the availability of additional language information for students who require more concrete supports and representations. It allows you to string together sentences, phrases and more complex material for engagement.

ProxPad Choice Maker allows the student to engage with tangible symbols as well, but in a simpler format. Tangible symbols can be programmed to make choices, simple comments, as core words/vocabulary as well as using them for other communicative functions.

Tangible symbols have been used for decades. They are often a transition tool used to support the movement from concrete understanding to more abstract ones. One of the struggles which can be present at times, is that we do not have the same ways to provide immediate feedback when they are used by the student (unless everything is one to one). Having voice output available will now allow the teacher and student to engage in gradual distancing. Distancing involves the communication partner gradually moving back so that the student learns they are present but not immediately available while still supporting the initiation of communication at any time. Having voice output facilitates engagement at a distance and reinforces more abstract thinking about language, people, interactions and the environment. Having a better path and options to support language and communication is critical for student with more complex disabilities.


ProxPad with tactile symbols Video

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Communication and Civil Rights

Access to dynamic communication (language) systems is a matter of civil rights. Augmentative and Alternative Communication should not be seen as a service we provide, but rather as a duty in facilitating the civil rights of those who do not currently have the dominant voice in our culture.  The provision of such systems is a high priority in the field and supports the emancipation of those with limited voice, power, and independence who must function within a social structure that has been designed for the more typically abled.  There has been progress to become more inclusive and to recognize in full, alternatives to spoken language. Giving voice to those who may be limited by the dominant culture is an issue of social justice. Stop and think, is it possible to count all of the words in your mind? Could you even right them all down? Yes, you have access to an almost unlimited vocabulary that is always expanding but invisible to others until you convey your thoughts.  People who use AAC must have similar access to language. Think about if all you could communicate was printed on a series of pages in front of you.  Think about how it would feel if you were not allowed to have new words until you met criteria on the old ones; criteria that were set by other people and not necessarily measured in an effective manner.  We have to advocate strongly, relentlessly and without apology. Would it ever be acceptable to make a typically developing child wait to speak until a team decided they were ready to use certain words, or until there was enough money in the budget to provide the words? This is what we do all the time. It is time to change our policies and practices to reflect a more inclusive direction. Below is a video that was shared with me highlighting some of these points.

The text of the video is transcribed here: Henry Frost


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Google Glasses - Access to Sign Language

The Egyptian Museum in Turin will be trialing a new application which will provide sign-language interpretation during their tour of the museum.  This has amazing potential and use across a variety of scenarios if successful.  It converts written text into Italian sign language.  This will allow for improved accessibility in a manner which was not previously available. In addition, we can continue to hear that Google is working on a speech-to-text application which may emerge over the next year.  This type of application will assist many people, not just those who may be deaf or hearing impaired. It would improve access for people with other types of disabilities as well. Here is a link for a video on using Google Glass for the Deaf.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Universal Design & Augmentative & Alternative Communication – New Trends

Over the past year there have been a number of innovations in the area of augmentative & alternative communication (AAC) which contribute the ideals of universal design.  We continue to see strong inclusion of multiple accessibility features across all platforms. One could say that the line between assistive technology, instructional technology and technology for personal use has never been more blurred.  The blurring of these lines leads us towards true inclusive practice, design, and full access (link to article on AAC technology to Access the World) to the privileges exercised by those who are able to use spoken language efficiently.

The current trend appears to be directed at tablet usage for AAC. The accessibility features which are present across platforms have set a new standard in how we look at AAC access and universal design. We still have a mix of products on the market which include typical tablets and those repurposed for dedicated AAC usage.  Historically the iTechnology and the androids tablets adapted by Saltillo were the primary options available. This has since changed in more recent history.  We have now seen the first adaptation to a typical store bought Windows 8 tablet for eye-gaze. (Tobii  EyeMobile). DynaVox has released a new tablet based system as well: DynaVox T-10.  This includes the new Compass software program.  PRC offers the Accent 800 series which is the smallest device they offer with their expansive software programs.  Cost remains a challenge. We have to make a strong commitment to reducing costs for both the hardware and software. Although insurance may pay for some of this, not everyone has access to such coverage.

Another challenge is the availability of high quality communication apps across platforms. To have universal access and to support universal design across products, we have to expand upon the quality and availability of AAC applications. One should not have to choose a device based on the application available. Proper selection of an AAC device must include many things which combine a variety of hardware options, platforms and high quality software/applications.

AAC Connect offers a variety of tools which are helpful in choosing communication applications. These tools are both free and for purchase. With so many different applications on the market, it is important to develop more consistent evaluative techniques. Many do not have lite versions or the ability to trial prior to purchase. This then requires a systematic needs and review to assist in the selection process. The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC) wrote a white paper on communication apps and mobile devices which provide an overview of some of the current issues and progress.  This site also offers many other sources of information which are relevant to the current trends in AAC.

Universal design is emerging in many aspects of our lives. It is imperative that we recognize this, educate ourselves on these options and include them in our daily practice. We must give feedback to manufacturers and software developers as a part of our professional practice and engagement in the field.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

US Supreme Court: Death Penalty, IQ & Intellectual Disability

Use of the death penalty on people with intellectual disabilities has been the focus of very heated debate for decades.  The US Supreme Court will be hearing a challenge on the IQ criteria used to establish intellectual disability as it relates to being eligible for the death penalty.  The original landmark case was decided in 2002: Atkins v. Virginia 536 U.S. 304. The ruling held that the execution of a person deemed intellectually impaired was a direct violation of the 8th Amendment of the Constitution.  It is considered, “cruel and unusual punishment”.  

The current challenge comes from the use of IQ to determine intellectual disability. Presently an IQ of 70 or less would result in being found intellectually impaired.  There is a long history of court challenges around IQ testing in general, especially in the field of special education. IQ alone has not been sufficient to find any student eligible for services. A full comprehensive assessment is needed.  The American Association of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities discusses the criteria which go into making an accurate diagnosis. IQ is one component of this but at no time can IQ alone be used to make this determination.  

There have been specific cases in the states where IQ has been the main determining factor in using the death penalty. This is the piece which is being challenged and heard by the US Supreme Court.  The original decision did not provide clear guidelines and left the decision to determine intellectual disability with the states.

People with intellectual disabilities who are convicted of killing another human being do have to be held accountable. How this happens needs to be carefully considered.  To allow someone not to be held accountable is problematic and at the same time we must consider the circumstances of each individual.  Deciding on a fair way to determine intellectual disability is a matter of life and death.  It is a task which must be looked at with the utmost prudence.  These discussions must include people with intellectual disability. The rulings will impact everyone and everyone’s voice must be represented, especially those for whom it will have the greatest impact.

This is a very controversial topic and warrants a very in-depth debate which will yield imperfect answers. It is situated in a history where people with intellectual impairments were subjected to inhumane treatment, the target of a eugenics movement as well as a long history of not receiving an adequate education.  It is just not as simple or as narrow as it has been made out to be at times. A definition alone does not account for this horrific and recent history. It was not until 1975 when the Education for All Handicapped Children Act PL 94-142(now IDEIA) was first put into law addressing the educational needs of students with special needs. This was the first time schools were mandated to educate all children, including those with intellectual disabilities. Many court cases followed with challenges made regarding who could benefit from an education. The reality is we have only been attempting to provide a free and appropriate public education to people with disabilities in an aggressive manner for the past 38 years.  This is a very short period of time. Inclusive practices have been evident for even less.  There is no way to measure the impact this complicated history has in the current capacity of each person with an intellectual disability. Although none of this is an excuse to commit a crime, nor is it a reason not to hold someone accountable; rather it is representative of a problematic human history where certain groups are marginalized, discounted and silenced.

If we are really going to look at the death penalty as it relates to intellectual disability, all voices must be included. If they are not, we will continue to marginalize a group which has already been subjected to the judgments of the dominant culture and perpetuate a society which is selective on its application of social justice.


Monday, October 14, 2013

Behavior Mapping by Amy Buie

One of the things all hands-on professionals and families look for are very practical resources they can use immediately and expand upon to meet the unique needs of their students or child. Behavior Mapping written by Amy Buie, M.Ed., BCBA, LBA is an example of such a resource. I have found over the years that simple, practical information can sometimes be the most powerful when you are addressing the day to day needs of a child with ASD. Behavior mapping is not a new concept and has been established in the research literature for some time now. It capitalizes on the use of visuals in a systematic manner in which the student is explicitly shown the path of their behavioral choices.  It has long been established that people with Autism struggle with complex social rules, social-communication and the broader concept of the hidden curriculum. Behavior mapping provides a concrete representation of the expectations of the student and the consequences (reinforcement) while showing what the alternative path is should the student engage in the targeted behavior to decrease and what those consequences will be.  The book provides clear instructions and a wide variety of examples to begin with.

One of the things I like most about this book is that it is written by a practitioner. Teacher research, that is teachers who reflect upon their practice in a systematic manner impacting the effectiveness of their instruction and thus supporting better student outcomes, tends to produce some of the most helpful ideas available for immediate application. It is an ongoing conversation which adds to the evolving knowledge and practice of the profession.  I would recommend taking a look at this book. It is something I will be placing on my resource list for many of the classes I teach.  I have found that preservice teachers are often much more invested in purchasing, reading and applying knowledge from these types of books as opposed to more traditional texts. 

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Disability Employment Awareness Month – October

This is disability employment awareness month. As you click on the website of the first link you will also notice at the top, that the website is not being regularly updated due to the irresponsible government shutdown.  It is important to note that the impact of the lack of duty of care for the American People impacts so many different areas.

Disability employment continues to be a serious issue across the world. The US Dept. of Labor website does offer a variety of tools and pieces of information including ideas of what you can do.  Autism Speaks has posted its report – Employment Think Tank which is an important read.

Accessing consultation to improve the accessibility of the workplace including various aspects of specific job duties is one way to continue to move forward. Consultation must include people with disabilities in order to make effective changes.  An inclusive world must include all voices in order to make sustainable changes which are responsive to the dynamic and diverse workforce we will continue to have.
It goes back to seeing the person first. There are so many people who are waiting to use their gifts and talents. What a tremendous loss this is to everyone when we are not able to capitalize on this.


Friday, October 4, 2013

Technologies on the Horizon

The New Media Consortium has developed some informative centralized reports and resources for emerging technologies and trends. Two of their latest reports for K12 Education and Higher Education prove a comprehensive review of the direction we are going in. In addition there is a great resource for teachers to share information internationally: ELO It allows you to develop activities, store them, share them and have access to other activities. Practices of sharing information freely and collaborating on a much broader basis has become so much easier, there is really no reason not to do it.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Autism Educator Endorsement - Massachusetts



Docket No. 2870

Lead sponsor:  Representative Bradley

This bill will help ensure that school districts increase their capacity to provide appropriate educational services to the growing numbers of students with autism in the Commonwealth.     The legislation requires the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to revise educator licensure regulations and provide a mechanism for special education teachers to receive an Autism Endorsement. Despite the fact that Massachusetts has experienced a steep rise in the number of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder over the past decade, licensure regulations inadequately prepare teachers to meet the complex and unique needs of students with autism.  Thousands of students with autism across the Commonwealth will benefit from this legislation.  Starting in 2016, the bill also requires IEP Teams to include a teacher with an Autism Endorsement, to ensure that the Team can adequately address the complex communication, behavioral, sensory, social, and academics needs of youth in the least restrictive environment.  In addition, the bill ensures that existing recertification requirements regarding effective inclusive schooling for children with disabilities address the needs of children with autism.
Here are some important links explaining the bill in more detail: Massachusetts Advocates for Children 
Something else you may be interested in is the current Autism Commission Report.


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Symbol Access in the Community

This was shared with me recently. The Philadelphia Zoo has improved accessibility for children.  KidZooU: Hamilton Family Children’s Zoo & Education Center has integrated the ideals of universal design in a wonderfully creative manner.  There are social stories available, picture schedules and quiet spaces. This is certainly a model to look at when improving access in other public and private places.  Here is some additional information on the changes: ABC News.  As parks, museums, zoos etc. are updated, consideration should always be made for these improvements. There really is no reason not to improve accessibility for all. Everyone benefits.


Friday, September 27, 2013

UCP – The Case for Inclusion

This year the United Cerebral Palsy Case for Inclusion report indicates that there have been some improvements in how we serve people with disabilities. Each state is ranked across a number of criteria. One of the most striking pieces of information is that the number of people waiting for services has more than doubled. One of the things we must keep in mind is that for the most part, adult services and supports are not mandated. Many are funded through health insurance and in particular Medicaid. One of the great challenges of the adult world is that we are looking at making sure individuals are able to participate and engage in quality experiences and meaningful work for many decades as opposed to addressing educational needs ages 3-turnning 22. We must continue to look for creative and fiscally sustainable ways to support people with disabilities which also promote full participation and independence (given the correct supports and services).

Take a look at how your state compares. This is a sharp reminder that we must remain engaged in the process which makes decisions around funding while always improving the efficiency and quality of the services we provide.  Disability.gov is one resource to take a look at what is already available. The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has a number of projects and resources to look at. Inclusive Education in Action is a comprehensive project which looks at implementing sustainable practices which support inclusive education.  The World Conference on Education will happen in 2014. Making sure we are educating everyone in these issues and including students with disabilities is a priority. Change happens when those who have been the minority develop a strong voice and lead. It is a conversation about the New Voices which emerge, changing the conversation in only a way that can come from those who have been kept in the “needing to be helped” role. Shared leadership, shared voice and shared power must be a part of any sustained change.


Thursday, September 19, 2013

New Eye-Gaze Tablet for Windows 8 Pro

Tobii ATI has just introduced a new eye-gaze system which allows the user to access Windows 8 Pro tablets.  The portability features and lowered costs are a plus (even though this is still over $5,150 when all is said and done). A smaller portable system allows greater contact between the person who is an AAC user and the person they are engaging with. Many times equipment can be just as much of a barrier as the inability to use spoken language. Technology opens the door but it is always the human interaction that is essential. This eye-gaze system works with the tablet as is. As our ability to find and create compatible increasingly universally designed components emerges, we will have more options which allow us to mix and match, become more efficient and effective, while improving upon the quality of the daily lives of those who require varied forms of accessible communication and language.  

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Upcycle….Great Ideas!

We hear a lot about recycling….so what happens when we upcycle?  Upcycle involves reusing materials to create new ones. You repurpose something you might have thrown away into something of use and possibly of even greater value. Thinking green in just a different way….  There are simple to complex projects which students can develop to use as vocational opportunities, to market or as part of a community service project. Great inclusive activities which benefit everyone and allow for unlimited creativity.  Here are some examples and resources.


Saturday, September 14, 2013

Free Assistive Technology Training & Resources

Many times as we have spoken of before, we associate assistive technology with high tech and high cost. Other concerns focus on not knowing how to use or even think about using this technology (all levels).  Below are a number of free and low cost resources to consider when offering trainings, providing resources to parents, and when looking to assess student needs. High quality sometimes does not have to equate with high cost and at times and cost at all. Universal design asks us to look at developing accessible materials, instruction and environments from the ground up. Assistive technology is a piece of this but we have to have the right training and information to make this happen. Retrofitting continues to be the more expensive way of making the world more accessible.

Low Cost Ideas!

A great resource which does cost some money is the University of New Hampshire Assistive Technology Program.   Training opportunities for better long term results.



Wednesday, September 11, 2013

ABLEVOX Jr. & Something Cool

ABLVOX has come out with a new app – Able Jr. AAC - which also offers extensive multi-language support. There are many different built-in languages as well as customizable symbols and boards. With the diversity of our students continuing to expand, we need to make sure we have the right accessible options available for all ages. Access to language early on is critical and can often contribute to additional delays if not provided early on. Many previously held beliefs added to these delays as we were continuously waiting for children to be “ready” for more language and increasingly complex language systems. These preconceived ideas prevented students from having access to the language and language systems they needed to engage across all environments. Core, high frequency and an appropriate balance of content specific vocabulary is an essential component from day one. Any delay impacts the student’s learning and does such a disservice.

It is essential to remember that language and communication occurs within the context of a social interaction. We need to consistently engage with the student we serve, modeling and using their system with them as they engage with their world. Assume competence, assume capacity for great things….anything is possible as long as we make sure full access exists.  We have to be attentive to never making the technology we use an additional barrier. Life is a shared experience.

Below is just a very cool video shared with me by Crystal. It is exactly the direction we need to continue to move in. We can apply this to anything including AAC. Why not have other students have access to boards & symbols to use with their friends who are AAC users? Why not truly make the world a little more naturally accessible?

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Invention Kit for Everyone – Another Great Media Lab Idea!

Eric Rosenbaum and the MIT Media Lab developed this wonderful produce which allows you to adapt a variety of interfaces which can provide creative low cost access for students and adults to the internet and all it has to offer. It is very simple and allows for quick individual adaptations including having students design their own interfaces! This is something that can be shared with families and could certainly be used by students in vocational programs and science labs across a variety of grades and ages. Take a look at this very unique product - MaKey MaKey Invention Kit.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Braille Graffiti – More Tactual Art!

Braille graffiti is an interesting concept that is catching on all over. Raised Braille dots combined with other tactual and visual effects make for very unique art which can be displayed and created almost anywhere.  Daniele Bursich has shared some pictures of Braille wall art as well. When we redesign, build or update public spaces, art is always considered as a part of this. As part of this process, we must consider the accessibly of such art to the general population, including those with disabilities. Tactual art allows all people to experience the aesthetic value in a multisensory way. Art involves more than just seeing through our eyes. The world is still designed for the able bodies sighted person. Thinking about everything from a more universal access perspective opens the world up to everyone so much more.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Proposed Changes to Medicare & Medicaid Impact AAC & Power Wheelchair Access

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)  have proposed changes to the coverage of Augmentative & Alternative Communication Devices which include altering how power wheelchairs are accessed and paid for. For AAC devices, the proposals move them to the capped rental category. Access to language and communication as well as independent or semi-independent mobility is an essential life activity. These changes will push back all of the progress which has been made in this area to improve coverage. All of these changes put significant barriers up for the acquisition of equipment which allows for increased participation across all life activities many people take for granted. These changes target some of the most vulnerable people around us.  

The ALS Foundation points out the following:

"Currently, most all SGD's and wheelchair accessories used by people with ALS are purchased by patients, with Medicare covering 80% of the costs.  Under a capped rental system, patients are required to rent these items over a 13 month period, after which time the patient owns the equipment. Medicare pays 80% of the rental fee each month.  If the patient passes away or no longer needs the equipment at any time during the rental period, the equipment is returned to the supplier.   The ALS Association's concerns include:

  • Access:  If a patient is institutionalized (extended hospital stay, hospice, nursing home) during the 13 month rental period, Medicare coverage for this equipment will cease.  Potentially, this means that a supplier of an SGD or wheelchair accessory can require that the equipment be returned, leaving patients without access to needed equipment.  By contrast, under the current system patients may keep this equipment when they are institutionalized as long as they own the equipment.

  • Cost: If a patient rents an SGD or wheelchair accessory for the full 13 month period, they will pay 5% more out of pocket than if they purchased the equipment up front. 

Quality:  Both SGDs and power wheelchairs are highly customized in order to meet the specific medical needs of individual people with ALS. When they are returned to a supplier, they cannot simply be supplied to the next patient.  They must be readjusted and customized to fit the needs of the next patient.  Therefore, under capped rental, suppliers do not have the same incentives to work with people with ALS or to fully customize these devices knowing that they may be returned to them."

Please take the time to comment and advocate, to prevent these changes from taking place. The comment period ends on August 30th. Here is a link to the commenting form: Regulation Changes .

You can also mail your comments to: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, Department of Health and Human Services, Attention: CMS-1526-P, P.O. Box 8010, Baltimore, MD 21244-8010.



Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Audio Description App for the Blind

GoTheatrical-AD™ by Captioning Studios allows people who are blind and visually impaired to access theatrical events including describing what is happening when there is no dialogue. The app provides greater access to a variety of events including just simple television for those who may not have traditionally been able to receive the quality and quantity of distance information a sighted person may have had access to. This company also works at making theater much more accessible for the hearing impaired as well. Captioning is a form of universal design that can often be overlooked. Such wonderful innovations to open up the world a little more each day. The app is also available on i-devices (iTunes) as well as Google play!


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eye-Control Access for People Who Use Power Wheelchairs

Boston mechanical engineer Steve McHugh, entered a Google context and prosed a design for an app which would allow people who use power wheelchairs to use Google Glass to operate them. This alternative access method allows those with more limited and less consistent physical movements to become much more independent. Here is a link to some great Google Glass videos and demos. Google touts Glass as an accessibility tool in new YouTube video starring wheelchair-bound Glass wearer - Yahoo! News .

Thursday, August 8, 2013

STEM: Innovations for People with Visual Impairment & Blindness

There have been many new innovations in access to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) content for individuals with visual impairment and blindness.  This not only opens up greater opportunities to participate in advanced classes at both the k12 and post-secondary level but long term career choices.  Many times teachers and other professionals underestimate the abilities of students with visual impairment and blindness as they relate to the areas of STEM. With the innovations in technology continuing to grow, it is imperative that everyone is aware of the supports available so that each person can have access to a high quality education with potential career opportunities that may not have been pursued as aggressively previously. Planning to have the right software and equipment must occur early on along with specialized training so that the materials will be implemented to their fullest capacity. Here are some great resources to take a look at:

Talking LabQuest   (Also comes in several different languages)

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Break Barriers, Open Doors

On September 23rd the United Nations will be holding a meeting covering a variety of topics related to disability. The website offers a number of documents reviewing the current status and the agenda for this event. Please take some time to look at the agenda for the meeting. This is a conversation to have with all. Both new and old voices are needed to advocate for the present and the future. Being aware of the conversation, participating in a manner in which we can be consistent and sharing the discussion with all is a role we can all assume.

Inclusive Health Care

Inclusive health care has improved over the past 25 years. There is more widespread understanding of how to support people of all ages with disabilities in a respectful and responsive manner. The Department of Developmental Services in Massachusetts uses Inclusive Health Care to provide training to area hospitals. The World Health Organization (WHO) continues to work diligently at formulating an action plan to support more consistent and better quality health care for people with disabilities across the world. USAID also supports a number of projects in this area along with many others. We have to continue to be diligent in this area. I can remember not so long ago when I had just started out in my career, people with more significant disabilities who were not mobile did not even have their broken bones set all of the time. We were told to only use certain elevators so that other people would not have to see these individuals. There are many unpleasant memories which come to mind. Although things have improved enormously, there is still much to do. It comes down to value and respect for all.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Accessible Icon Project

The Accessible Icon Project looks are redesigning the current handicapped symbols we use. The new design is more respectful while conveying the active and mobile lives people with disAbilities have. New York City has already made some of these changes on their signs! This is a very cool project!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

July 26th ADA 23rd Anniversary

On July 26th, we marked the 23rd anniversary of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a landmark piece of legislation.  USA Today talked about America setting the Gold Standard when referring to the ADA. In light of the strengths we have demonstrated there continues to be hesitation in at least one area. We continue to wait for the ratification of the Disabilities Rights Treaty. The Human Rights Watch sent a letter asking Congress to ratify the treaty in honor of this anniversary. The voices of those with different abilities need to be heard. Please join in the move towards ratifying this treaty. Everyone across the world stands together in this. Why are we waiting?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

What does universal design look like?

I have added a new page to the blog which will focus on resources for universal design but also examples of what it actually looks like. We often focus on the need to design lessons, classrooms, and materials which reflect universal design. yet when asked exactly what this looks like, we often find ourselves stumbling to explain. We have to be able to describe and show what UDL actually looks like. It plays out in very unique ways each time and could never and should never fall into a prescriptive format in which all we need to do is plug in some information, use some multimedia, add some hands on and we are set to go. It is much more than that, and takes time to develop and implement. There are a number of model schools out there attempting to implement this. One such school district is Chelmsford Public Schools in Massachusetts. There are three other great examples in; Baltimore County, Cecil County & Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation. The Tale of Four Districts has additional resources on it beyond the videos describing the process the schools are going through. Take a look at how they have begun this process. Given the diversity of most schools, this is something that must be looked at to meet the needs of students. We have to first have a clearer vision on what it actually looks like.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Android Apps & Google Tools for Augmentative Communication (AAC)

Having choices in types of AAC devices and platforms is key as we continue to expand in the area of augmentative & alternative communication (AAC). We have many more access methods, sizes and functionality across various AAC devices. As we continue to expand in this critical area, we must push for even more options across other types of devices including tablets from a variety of makers. This has been very slow in developing. Apple products and Apple compatible applications have led the way in this area. Android is slowly catching up and needs to continue to improve in this area. Man of the Android devices include gorilla glass and are water resistant which support the more typical use they may see from some of our younger AAC users. They should be explored when considering AAC options. Saltillo takes Android devices and repurposes them using some of the more advanced communication software. These devices although less expensive than some; are still thousands of dollars. The high durability and tablet base are a clear strength. For a typical Android tablet (generally low in cost), there are AAC applications available although the list is somewhat limited. I have included a limited list below. It is certainly something to think about when trying to meet the needs of students and adults who could benefit from an AAC system.

Create an image dictionary through Google Chrome: Chrome Web Store - Image Dictionary . This is a wonderful tool to use and have your students create an image based dictionary they can organize and add to throughout the school year. This will benefit all students including those with disabilities and those who are second language learners. Read & Write for Google Docs is another free tool that can be sued to support vocabulary development. Take a look at the brief video below.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Braille Challenge

The Braille Institute holds an annual Braille Challenge each year. Students from across the country of all ages come to compete. This is a wonderful opportunity to reinforce Braille skills which are critical to many who are visually impaired and essential to those who are blind. Technology continues to play a strong role in how people who are visually impaired or blind access their world. That being said, Braille literacy must continue to be taken seriously and is a necessary skill to engage in all aspects of life. Most states have Braille literacy laws in place requiring teams to formally conduct learning media assessments addressing the primary and secondary forms of input and output for students with visual impairment and blindness. Specially, they need to look at Braille instruction.
Here are just a few great resources (many are free):
NFB Story books
Learning braille - RNIB
More Braille Links
NBP Everything Braille - Braille Publications
The Blind Readers' Page
Braille Alphabet Chart For Kids, Pdf's, Flash Cards, Worksheets, Cards, Braille Quiz Numbers & Activities | Braille Alphabet Org
In addition, each state has their own talking book and Braille Library.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Digital Notebooks for Students

Digital notebooks have been used for several years now but are gaining broader popularity due to their ease of use and access. In a previous post, we looked at OneNote (Microsoft product) as an example of a collaborative low cost planning tool as it is included in the most basic and low cost office suite. It can also be used as a digital student notebook. Students can complete assignments, conduct group activities and collaborate across schools, districts and countries with tools of this nature. The teacher can provide multimedia instruction which can be differentiated and universally designed as well as allowing parents to view the student’s work on a regular basis through a shared link. Microsoft Partners in Learning shares some ideas.  The instructional ideas are endless and only limited by your own creativity. The digital notebook will still need instructional support in learning how to organize and manage it. These are important life skills for students of all abilities. The concept of ePortfolios is another area of increasing interest at all levels. Having students develop and manage their ePortfolios early on and build on them each school year, supports ownership and pride in learning. Here are some other resources (many more out there);

The video looks at the power of tablet PCs including OneNote (other software just as appropriate). This particular modality is unique in the way you can integrate a variety of forms of input and output. With budgets tight everywhere, we need to make wise choices across everything we do.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Seeing Eye GPS – APP

Sendero Group has released a new GPS application for people with visual impairment. They worked with the Seeing Eye who train guide dogs. The application is free but the subscription is a bit pricey. It is certainly worth taking a look at. Right now there is no trial version which becomes a problem if you want to make sure it is the right match for yourself or someone you are assessing. The app will only work in the US and Canada but additional locations are being developed. Applications like this provide the opportunity for increased independence and accessibility. They work best when used in combination with our low tech options which work even when they get wet, do not need power or updating!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Accessible Scuba Diving –Freedom to Move

Movement is such an important aspect of our day. For people with movement barriers, simple enjoyable activities can become inaccessible or much more difficult due to the energy and effort needed to participate. Water can at times even the playing field a bit and allows more accessible and free movement. It is a journey which removes some of the daily barriers people may experience.  Accessible scuba diving is one adventure which can be enjoyed by all, including those on a ventilator. DIVEHEART offers accessible scuba diving on a regular basis. Divers@Sea is another program which offers underwater opportunities.  Scuba Travel is another resource to access.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Flexpad – Innovative Technology

The MIT Media Lab has an incredible project called the Flexpad. It is able to turn a piece of paper into a digital display. You can use your hands to interact with it or adaptive tools. It appears to be a very accessible medium to look forward to in the future.  They have made some of their research available: Projected Handheld Displays.  This is an example of universal design which uses a combination of high and low tech materials. The possibilities and creativity which can be used to build instructional activities is endless. It opens the door for many different types of student interactions and collaboration in learning. I would think this could also be used in professional development activities as well.