Monday, March 31, 2008

Assistive Technology Blog Carnival Edition #1 is Up

The first edition of the Assistive Technology Blog Carnival was posted this morning.
You can go to to read and link to contributors. This was the first one and it had to be up and online sooner than I would have liked, which didn't allow the time for recruiting participants to get post links in, but I think it was a nice first effort.

The next one will be the end of April, so if you would like to contribute, you can email me or submit by the carnival link on my sidebar. Please make sure it deals with assistive technology specifically. I'm getting blog post submissions that are just for marketing things unrelated to our niche.

Part 3 on my Assistive Technology series on the process and effort of setting up and using AT will be posted tomorrow.

Have a great week.

All the best to you!


Saturday, March 29, 2008

Technology is Worth The Effort: Part Two in a Series

Doing Your Homework as a Parent Looking at Assistive Technology
Part 2 of 3 in a Series:

When we say "Do your homework" what do we mean? Well it covers quite a bit of ground.
1. Know the law is in your favor
For starters you need to look at the law and know that your child has, by legal mandate (FAPE and IDEA), the right to the same education as every other student. Whatever assistive technology can be found that will support the child so they can succeed and access the curriculum with all the other students, that technology is required to be provided for that student - especially once it is written into an IEP. Which brings us to the second item to research - looking at the support product.

2. Look at Vendors and Costs
This is the particular technology needed and any cost you can find on it. You can look at AT sites to see equipment descriptions and prices, but if you aren't sure even where to start, what do you do?

3. Find local support
Use your special education department in your school district and your school counselor to find out what county and state agencies might supply an assistive technology specialist that can help in assessing your child. Many times an educational cooperative or service district will hire therapists and specialists under a contract paid by a kitty of pooled funds from all the districts using the services. This means that you can request an evaluation be done for your child and these folks should be scheduled to come assess.

4. Look on the Web for Parent Groups and Forums
There are many special interest groups on Google and Yahoo and AOL that deal with specific conditions and disabilities. You can probably tap these to find out what people are using as an AT support for their children.

5. Find Blogs
This blog you are on is one of many on learning disabilities, physical conditions, and assistive technology. You will find adults with disabilities that have blogs and talk about what they use for AT. They will share links to other blogs that you can go to and read also. There are specialty blogs that look at very specific sub-categories of disabilities or technology. Once you find some blogs with good lists of links to other bloggers' sites, you will find that one leads to another and the information becomes mammoth. Just try typing "learning disability blog" into a Google and see what you get - pages and pages! Get more specific with the name of the disability in your search and it should get more focused.

6. Find other parents that have children with the same issues
I have a friend that told me when he was 21 and a new father of a LD child with a certain syndrome, he and his wife went and saw another family with a child older than theirs that had the same condition. He said it was so good for him to see this older girl and how she related to them. He had been imagining the worst for the future and after he saw this girl and how she was, he thought, "I can do this." He was encouraged to see that the future, although not exact, at least was manageable in his mind. That went a long way towards peace of mind.

These are just some general tips to get you started. I hope that this gives you a jumping off place. If you would like some specific ideas on where to start looking, you can email me at my address on the sidebar. If I know of any sites to point you towards, I'll try. I have one more post in this series to share next time.

(If you wished I had links to resources in the text above, there are just so many I could not even begin to dive into it here. I am working on an AT support multi media bundle at a very low cost that will have specific training on these steps, an overview of AT basics with hyperlinks and illustrations as well as a set of tutorials and videos. There will also be a do it yourself kit included with projects you can design and build with all free software resources. It has been a huge undertaking and will save folks a lot of Internet search time, but it is taking me a lot of time to get collected and edited. I have been trying to get it ready to be available in April - we'll see how it goes.)

All the best to you,


Friday, March 28, 2008

Assistive Technology is Worth The Effort: Part One in a Series

Putting Out the Effort in Implementing Assistive Technology is Really Worth the Time and Energy it Takes: Part 1 of 3

I was reading a blog post from 2005 by Charles Fox on his Special Education Law Blog and the information is so very important. Every parent of a special needs child should read it. You can read his post linked here, "Assistive Technology is Worth Fighting For." He says:

"Without assistive technology in school, many special needs children may not stand a fighting chance to succeed. Parents need to do their homework and come prepared to advocate for the assistive technology needs of their child. Although assistive technology may be expensive, the payoff for the child who is able to achieve at school is invaluable."

There are many elements related to getting assistive technology for a child. There are initial evaluations. Then there are trials of equipment and re-assessments and other trials until the most effective device is found. There are training requirements and care for a device once purchased that needs to be clarified. Who maintains it and trains to use it has to be carefully thought out. Funding for the purchase can be a challenge. Once the device is purchased then the real work begins - training and implementation. There are times when I see this piece as the hardest because everyone tends to relax and think the student has the device now and so everything will be fine. Unless the implementation phase is thought out, a student might as well stick the device on a shelf and forget they have it. Even in well-meaning districts and schools where everyone is cooperative and in favor of a device being used, devices drop low of the potential they could have because of improper understanding on how to implement the device into the curriculum and school day.

Even though these elements may seem daunting to undertake, the results are well worth it when you see a child able to communicate or read, write and keep up with the rest of the class. I have a boy that used Kurzweil 3000, a scanning software that takes worksheets and textbook pages, scans them and presents them as editable documents. This CP student was able to scan worksheets, fill them in with an on-screen virtual keyboard and print them off and turn them in. His teacher said this was the first time in his fourth grade year that he had been able to do the same worksheet with the class and turn it in. He was so proud of his accomplishment and he felt that he was getting a chance to fit in and be like the other kids. That is so important for the socialization pieces that need to happen for kids.

If you are a parent, don't give up and don't be discourged. Doing your homework is a HUGE job and I will offer some options and resources next time on the homework part of putting out effort.

All the best to you!


Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Voices for Tango! and Interview Coming Soon

New Tango Version and Voices
I received an announcement today from the Blink Twice Company that makes the Tango! that they have two new teen voices available, Dan and Danielle. These voices are very realistic and are new options as character voices to choose from with version 2.0 for the device.

Version 2.0 allows direct connection to a computer to use the device as a keyboard and to browse the Internet. With Tango Lab, the new computer software interface that I have been sharing about for voice file storage for use later with the Tango, you have new ways to edit and design the communication power of the device.

I have contacted the company for an interview with Richard Ellenson the CEO and inventor of the Tango and we are in the process of setting up that date. We are looking at the first couple of weeks in April. I have asked a speech therapist I work with and a student that is using the device to be on the interview too so we can all talk on a conference call. It will be on the Blog Talk Radio site as soon as I get it done. If you have any questions about the device that you would like me to ask, please email me with them and I will see if I can work them in. I am excited about this and I am planning other interviews with AT company folks in the future.

I hope you are having a great week. I am thankful for all of you that read these posts regularly.


All the best to you!


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New Documentaries Highlight Families' Experiences with Autism:

I got this article off of a news subscription I get and I thought the shows were worth passing on. Unfortunately the first one, "Autism: The Musical" was on HBO last night and I didn't read the articel until this morning. If you saw it, let me know how it was. The Sundance Channel documentary on April 2 looks interesting There isn't much on this topic so I'm glad when I see something offered. I just hope it is a true representation of what's really happening in these families' lives.

Documentaries highlight families' experiences with
"Autism: The Musical" is just one of three new documentaries on autism that look squarely at people with autism and those who care for them. In "Autism Every Day," parent and former CNN reporter Lauren Thierry follows eight families with autistic children for 24 hours. The film will air on April 2 on the Sundance Channel. "Her Name Is Sabine," recently released on DVD, focuses on a French actress' 38-year-old sister, who was institutionalized for autism and took a dramatic turn for the worse.
Los Angeles Times (free registration) (3/25)

Taken from: Council for Exceptional Children Smartbrief - You can sign up for it free here.

All the best to you!


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The First AT Blog Carnival. Call for Bloggers to Share Posts

I am Happy to Announce the First AT Blog Carnival is Ready for Submissions:

Here is an opportunity for you to share how you use AT and invite folks to your blog site and increase your traffic and visitors! I would love to see a budding community of AT bloggers that can support and share. I know some of you have blogs because you have shared them with me.
The first blog carnival submission deadline is this Friday. You can write a post on how you use AT and then send it to me via email or click on the sidebar AT blog Carnival block ad below and submit through there.
I had to do this first one sooner than I wanted, but the main carnival service site requires a deadline time for a first blog carnival to get it going so they know folks are really doing them and not just creating dead categories. After this first one, there will be another for April that will give us a whole month to collect blog post link submissions.
If you are interested in hosting one of these, it is a great opportunity to get a lot of folks coming to your blog to read everyone's links. My goals are:
1. To see a variety of submissions.
2. To see other AT and disability bloggers host an edition as a post with links on their blog.
3. See a community of bloggers that use, teach, do therapy, are new to and want to learn about or have experiences to share with assistive technology.
4. Build a support community where we can set up an edition on a topic i.e. text to speech applications, and get a wealth of posts to gain information and new ideas.

I welcome your submissions on this first topic, "How You Use AT".
The Home Blog for the guidelines, edition schedule, etc. is here and on the sidebar ad below:
You can submit a post here:

All the best to you!

Monday, March 24, 2008

New Video Tutorial Now Up

I posted a new video on Friday. It shows you how to make communication boards that talk with PowerPoint and Audacity. Check it out on Fridays post.
I know that many of you had a busy weekend with Easter and maybe many of you are on Spring Break this week. That means 2 things: Either you are away from your computer and out doing something fun at the beach, mountains, a family gathering, someplace warm maybe? OR you are home and have more time to be online.
We are staying home this week and I am spending time on the mountain getting ready to open our mountain house which is a retreat center about 30 miles out of town and in another time warp-really. It is a nice get-away. We have some quilters and Mah Jhong players and scrapbookers coming in the next month or so as spring retreats start to happen. That is another life I live on the side.
I will be posting some this week, but will probably not do as much as usual to take advantage of the vacation time. There are a couple of things coming up that I will be sharing about this week as far as the Blog Carnival and more on the Talk Radio Show coming.
Have a great week and we will keep in touch.
All the best to you!


Friday, March 21, 2008

Use Audacity and PowerPoint to Create Interactive Communication Boards

I love to design new interactive activities with existing programs. I have used Word, Excel and PowerPoint to build some pretty unconventional activities that most people wouldn't think they could do with them. If you don't own Microsoft Office and want a free alternative, check out OpenOffice Suite. You can do basically the same things and the MS Office documents will open in OpenOffice Suite.

If you use Audacity to record the commands and speech elements for a communication board, you can save them as a wav file and literally embed them into images as action settings on a PowerPoint slide. You can link images to open other slides so you can have branching communication topics just like in Boardmaker and Speaking Dynamically pro. The only difference is the switch activation. You can't set PowerPoint to scan through images but you could use the software Click it! by Intellitools to set up hotspots that would scan through the hot spots on a PowerPoint slide if you wanted to do that.

I have posted a new video on Youtube that walks through the steps to make a slide in Powerpoint that has embedded sound just so you can see how to do it. It has the Audacity step too.

All the best to you!


Thursday, March 20, 2008

Saving A Voice Before It's Lost: A Voice Archive

The Tango! Has a Voice Archive Software Feature

"It is looking like this will be a terminal situation," I said over the phone this afternoon when I spoke with Josh from Blink Twice, the Tango! company. I had been in a high school earlier today and had been setting up an AT evaluation for a boy that needs more communication support and is losing more motor skills. Just 2 weeks ago, a meeting was set up with the family to share how we can support. I was now on the phone talking about the option of the Tango for another student, when I thought about sharing this new case that has been on my mind - and in my heart lately.

"We can ship one out to you for a trial, " said Josh, "I'll get the forms sent to you."

I wasn't sure. "I am hesitant to try something that we can't follow-through on and provide. I don't want to get hopes up and then take something away." I replied. "There is a sense of urgency on the case managers part to work on getting his communication figured out while he can still tell us things he wants. When he loses his voice it will be harder. When he loses his motor skills it will be even harder yet."

"Gotcha," Josh understood. "Maybe we can try something else. There is software for the Tango to program and set up files. There is a sound file application to it. If you wanted to get a high quality microphone and record things he wants to say, they can be saved as files and stored until later when they can afford a device and then those files can be put on it so he can use his voice to talk even after his real voice is gone."

I was overwhelmed. I couldn't imagine what it would mean to me to have my son's voice recorded and on a device where I could still hear him talk after he couldn't say anything anymore. To be able to hear him say, "I love you, Daddy" when he wanted to say it with a device, would be incredible. How much more would it mean to me if I were the one losing my voice and I could talk now and record what I wanted so it would be there later? Priceless.

Josh is sending me the software. Meanwhile, I am going to begin to look for some sources of income to get this boy his voice. Maybe we can get this for him soon and he won't have to wait until his voice is gone to get it.

Check out more on the tango at their Tango home page:

All the best to you!


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beatrix Potter Featured on Talking Books for Easter

Easter Treat on My Reading Chair:
I have posted "The Tale of Benjamin Bunny" on "My Reading Chair" at:

This site is a great support for kids who need reading support with text and speech. There are all kinds of Reading programs now that are providing books online or on CD for students to follow as they read. How about one for FREE that is putting on classic literature for all ages?

I have started The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Heidi, Beatrix Potter, Mother Goose and some poetry. I have some vistors that go there regularly but not many go there yet. I am using the odiogo speech to take advantage of the text to speech and it works pretty slick. I have been going to and downloading public domain text to put there. There are also some great old illustrations to use too.
I would highly recommend referring this to your friends, colleagues and teachers that work with children who could use this support. It's free, updated frequently and gives great text to speech and literature support for kids. I think it has huge potential.
There is a request there for input on what kinds of literature you would like. I am planning on putting some "picture"book type stories and illustrations for smaller kids too. There aren't a lot of public domain books in that category so I might have to write and illustrate my own.

All the best to you!


Monday, March 17, 2008

Stickies Makes a Great Free Organizational Tool

Stickies: Free desktop notes program

I wanted to refer a district to a software app that they could use for a high school student that needs a lot of prompts and reminders. They are looking at a laptop with some organizational supports and I thought an on-screen sticky note would be a good way to do it. The student is needing something simple and easy not too confusing.

As I looked over free programs, this one had a lot of great reviews and comments so I am checking it out. The designer says that it will never have animated dancing figures or play "Greensleeves". I like that!

Check out these comments:

  • We are delighted to tell you we are using your program and think it is fab for internal work. It is saving us so much time and is so versatile. (Valerie Lawrence)

  • I've just downloaded Stickies, and wanted to let you know that I'm delighted! After wading through numerous other post-it note style programs, to-do list aps and other similar utilities, it is such a pleasure to find Stickies! It it so simple yet powerful, has useful features rather than gimmicks, and, of course, it's wonderfully free! (Andy Nix)

  • Stickies must be the most efficient, simple, small, compact, fast, useful program I have EVER installed :) (Martin Cleaver)

  • Downloaded your excellent program the other day. It's great to find something so elegant and effective in this monolithic software era. (Andrew Fung)

  • Your sticky program is the best. I tried a lot of other ones but your one is the best; sweet, simple and free! (George Barnes)

  • Your compact and highly impressive freeware has finally made my life so much easier. (Sonal Patel)

  • It's so rare to come across a piece of software in the Windows world that's well written and functional throughout that's freeware. This is a professional piece of software that really works well. (Steve Chen)

  • I have tested nearly 20 of these sticky note programs, but yours seems to be the best of all for my purposes. Thank you for the great work you have done! (Steffen Neumann)

  • I don’t think I’ve ever used free software with such a high degree of professionalism and breadth of functionality, so I just wanted to say "Thank you" for this great product (Sue Miller)

  • Stickies is beautifully implemented, well-documented and, astonishingly, it's free. We think you'll love it. (PC Advisor, August 2003)

  • I thought I would never begin to use desktop yellow notes until I found Stickies! (Jari Lehtonen)

  • ... I make regular use of a program called Stickies, which puts electronic Post-Its on my screen.(Lee Dembart, International Herald Tribune)

  • Stickies is the only software that I ever wanted to marry. (Peter Oliphant)

Sounds pretty good to me. Check it out and let me know what you think...really!

Link: Stickies

All the best to you!


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Using PDA's and Handhelds for Teaching Social Skills

I received an email the other day from a school psychologist asking about using pda's for teaching social skills to students with emotional, learning and other disabilities like autism.
She referred me to an article in The Boston Globe (link here). The article described studies on the impact of a specially-designed software for the pda with social behavior cues on the social interaction of autistic teens that were high functioning, but with social issues.

The study used three separate pieces to implement the training:
1. The use of "reminders" on the pda that shared things like, "Stay on the conversational topic - don't ramble", "Let others get a word in edge-wise", "Listen to what others are saying", etc.

2. The use of a daily rating system that the student and the teacher used to record success in remembering the skills.
3. A pda journal or log where the student could report emotional states during the day and vent out anger, loneliness, frustrations, etc.

The students shared that by doing this, they were remembering better what they needed to do. By logging their feelings, they were able to get them out and let go of them. The rating system helped students and teachers compare progress and the study was showing that the ratings by both groups lined up pretty consistently.
The article shared that this program is showing support and some conditioning pieces happening for kids - but that it is not meant to be a "cure" for autism or any other disorder. It remains to be seen exactly what the impact will be.
I am going to use this basic idea and see what I can come up with on one of our older Palms we have sitting in the office. I would like to get it going for a student referral that our psych department has said could use something like this .

I'll let you know how it goes.

All the best to you!


Friday, March 14, 2008

"No Limits to Learning Live" Talk-Radio is Coming!

No Limits to Learning Talk Radio is getting set to launch soon. I am getting my "ducks in a row" for scheduling guests and getting them launched live. They will be during the day, so if you are interested in listening live, you can, or you can always pick up the audio archive later at the link below or the sidebar player.
I am scheduling interviews now for the next couple of months. These interviews will be recorded live over the phone with a cool radio application called "Blog Talk Radio." I am really looking forward to these shows. I have put the player on the side-bar and it should be listing latest shows as soon as they are released, so when you visit, just check there to see what is playing.

My planned interviews are listed on my Blogtalk radio link at:
(The area there has a great social networking feature with blog posts, links, IM links, email, etc. It will be fun for you to link there as well as here to catch some of the different things I will post that have to do with the shows.)

List of guests so far:
  • Intellitools Classroom Suite Company
  • Blink Twice Tango! Company
  • Gayle Bowser, AT Pioneer and guru
  • Various therapists and parents who are using AT and doing great things.
  • I am working on an interview with the speech therapist Carol Reese and Taylor who got his voice last Christmas too. The Blink Twice Company would like to do a series of videos with Taylor for their website and I will be helping in the taping of those over 8 weeks this late spring - so life is going to be busy!
There is the capability for you to call in when I do these shows for your comments. I can set up a schedule on this blog or you can go to the link above so you can call in and ask the guests or myself questions. I am VERY excited about this add-on to the blog and hopefully will have something ready and up by the end of next week. I will still maintain the podcasts and can do interviews there as well, but this blog talk-radio site allows the call ins, opening music, etc. It should be real fun so keep checking in - there are lots of things in store here over the months ahead.

All the best to you!


Thursday, March 13, 2008

Laptops and VMax: Transitioning AAC

The other day I wrote about an article in Wired Magazine on autism. I posted the video created by Amanda Baggs where she shares her language. The author of the Wired article shared that during the interview, she sat with a DynaVox VMax and a keyboard in her lap.
The VMax has quite a few bells and whistles. There is a large 12.1" screen and wireless access for devices through a bluetooth adapter. There is the "V"also, that is a smaller version. A wireless keyboard can be used with it and it can connect to the Internet to access a free email account given to the purchaser. There are communication boards for instant messaging online. It runs Windows applications and has a 40 Gig memory. The VMax can be used as a Environmental Control Unit for appliances, media center, etc. There are phone and dialing capabilities too.
I think of several of our children who have autism and are using laptops with starter software like Boardmaker with Speaking Dynamically Pro to learn access to AAC. We have touchscreens that can be put on them so they can be used in a similar way to a Dynavox device. With Boardmaker Bridge, the boards and topics built on a laptop can be imported into a Dynavox device later.
We are using the laptop as a way to transition to a dynamic display device down the road. If you are interested in more on this device, check out the video demo on the
DynaVox site.

All the best to you!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Virtual Screen Magnifier...Free!

Virtual Magnifying Glass 3.3.1
I have used this great little, but powerful program a lot. I like to refer to it from time to time with students who need to look at small detail on maps and drawings when there is no zoom feature. I think I have shared before that I have seen it used in conferences, where the speaker was using a data projector in front of a room and clicked open the magnifier to show links and web text that was too small for everyone around the room to read.

There are fancy high-tech programs that do this for quite a piece of change - but for free, I think you'll find some great features:

  • Re-sizable window

  • Adjustable magnification power settings

  • Draggable window.

The link is in the title at the top, but here it is here too:

Check it out and let me know what you think.

All the best to you!

Monday, March 10, 2008

You are a Valuable Resource

I wanted to take a minute tonight to reflect on my day and say that I appreciate all of you even though I have not met you. I don't know the actual profile of folks, but I can guess that many of you are parents, therapists and educators. I can only say THANK YOU for your dedication and committment to working with children to make their lives better.

Today I was in a small town and sat in on 3 high school classes. I saw a level of patience, integration of technology and dynamic teaching that made me realize how fortunate these kids were to have these people - no... heroes - teaching them.

As I put a face on all of you that read this blog, represented by the Cluster map dots, I see in my imagination, hundreds of you that are probably giving 110% all the time for kids. You are making a difference, even though you might not think so. I wish I could come visit your schools, your homes, see your culture and learn what you do. You have an abundant knowledge that I wish I could share. You are a valuable resource and your experiences make you unique. There will never be anyone else like you and I celebrate you!

I hope that your week is full of wonderful surprises that make you realize how valued you are. If you don't hear it from anyone else, you are hearing it from me. I KNOW it and BELIEVE it!

I get emails from some wonderful people, and they share stories of where they live and what they do. I would LOVE to hear from more of you. I apologize that for some reason, my new domain name and email address that go along with this blog are not working. You can always email me at my other domain email:

Until I get things figured out for the nolimits2learning email, I guess I need to be flexible. If you are getting an undeliverable message then that's why. Hopefully it will be straightened out soon.

I want to thank you for visiting and reading...

All the best to you!


Saturday, March 8, 2008

Re-thinking Autism

Today I read an article in the March 2008 issue of Wired, "Yeah, I'm Autistic. You got a problem with that?" By David Wolman. His opening lines started by describing the You tube video, "In My Language" where an autistic woman hums, rocks, uses her fingers to make sounds, and then she begins to translate into a text to speech device so we can hear her "thoughts" as she shares how she thinks.
It is an amazing and popular video that I watched well over a year ago at a small meeting of our autism department. I have always been impressed with the video and here it shows up in the Wired article. You can view it below.

Wired magazine described how research on Autism has been from a "diseased" model and now new science and research is exploring the autistic mind as a mind wired differently, but not damaged or dysfunctional. There are several autistic spokespersons due to the hype around this video and others. Amanda Baggs, the woman who is the autistic woman in the video, also made the video. People have a hard time believing she could create it, but she is a true "techie."
The assumption has been made for years that being autistic meant being low-functioning and mentally retarded. The Wired article described a study by Meredyth Goldberg Edelson of Willamette University in Oregon. She reviewed 251 articles published over the past 71 years. She found that 74% of the articles lacked strong data to support the pairing of autism and cognitive impairments, while 39% had no data at all.
I will be sharing more from this article in another post. There were some interesting things said about the assistive technology used.

All the best to you!


Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Alphasmart Neo with Write-Outloud To Go

I have 3 students currently using this combination. These are lower cost items that provide speech generation for students that can type. By using the files to save conversation topics, students can open and access a topic and use the stylus to select and "play" the text.
The Neo and Write Outloud To Go package runs about $700 for everything and can be a big price difference for accomodating communication for some kids rather than a $7,000 high-end dynamic display device.

We have had to look at students individually, trial the equipment and make sure it made sense for them. Some students may not be capable of managing the reading and writing prerequisites needed to get full-advantage of the unit. They might need a picture-based unit like a Tech Talk or Go Talk.

In order to have the Write Outloud To Go have speech output you have to attach a speaker to it with the headphone mini-jack. The software was designed to allow student writers to have text to speech support while working with headphones on. I have adapted it as a communication device by attaching a pair of Sony speakers you would use with a portable CD player or ipod. They don't need batteries and fit together. There is another little mini-jack speaker that is for an ipod, takes batteries and is very possible as a sound source. Both are pictured below.

The white set is from: Look for ipod speaker items.

Check out the Alphasmart Neo with the Write Outloud To Go bundle on the Don Johnston site at:

Check out the Afford-a-Speech also as another alternative at:

Don Johnston's website has a free download checklist of items to learn in initial training to use the Write -Outloud To Go HERE. It opens with Adobe Acrobat Reader.

Here are the speakers I use. There are some portability issues though.

These below might be better. I don't know how loud they are.

All the best to you!


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Oregon territory for Assistive Technology

I have to take the opportunity to brag about the beautiful region I work in. My territory covers 12 school districts in 7 counties over about 1/3 of the state. My days of travel can be some of the most beautiful places to drive you could imagine. Last week we had one of those unusually warm, sunny days that comes around the end of February or first of March to tease you into thinking spring is here. I had to drive East over a mountain pass to get to a rural district that lies in a little town with an old hotel, store fronts out of an old western movie and a geo-thermal hot lake that was a spa and sanitorium in the 1920's. Movie stars like Douglas Fairbanks were guests there in those days. It has now been taken over by an artist/sculptor as a gallery and destination resort.

I drove over a summit with fir and pine and 4 feet of snow piled on the sides of the freeway, the Grande Ronde Valley with it's river winding through was visible below. The sun was warm, the sky was blue and I was celebrating how great life is. This region is home to craggy peaks, giant boulders and tiny ghost towns from the gold rush in the 1800's. The movie "Paint Your Wagon" was filmed here in the 60's and I remember what a buzz it stirred in the area when I was a kid.
I visit remote places like Burnt River, with a small district one-complex school and dedicated staff. Towns like Echo, Stanfield and Athena-Weston is where rural is spelled in capital letters!

There is something about getting the chance to drive an hour to an appointment, through sweeping fields and rolling hills with distant snow-capped mountain ranges of the Eagle Caps as a backdrop. It is a blessing to have the opportunity to clear your mind, meditate on good things and set your mind in preparation towards a good and productive session or meeting.

If you are a speech pathologist reading this blog and you are looking for a place to work away from the rat race with good small community people and values, let me know. There are always places for you in our region!
I am 2-3 hours from the Columbia River Gorge and Portland where gourmet dining, micro-breweries, Broadway shows, sail-boarding and skiing are. We make short trips to go to OMSI- a great museum, the Portland Zoo, and the Oregon Coast and Edgefield - a 9 hole golf, gardens, micro-brew, winery/pub/restaurant retreat by McMenimans. I have linked all of them on their names.
I just want you to know that I love WHERE I do my work as much as what I do. I hope you love what you do and where you do it as much as I do!

All the best to you!

Image Credit:

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Making Right and Wrong Choices Should Be Part of Life with Communication Devices

I have an update on our friend Taylor who received the communication device, the "Tango" at Christmastime. If you missed those blog posts because you are new to this blog, they are MUST READ. You will love them. Look in the November and December 2007 archive for the postings on Taylor and his voice. You'll be glad you did.

He has had his Tango for 2 months now and is getting very good at sharing with it. He is using it for spelling and interacting in class.

The other day he got to "cutting up" with some of his classmates and was warned that he needed to focus and settle down or he would have his Tango put in a time out for awhile. Don't you LOVE it? Here is a boy who was looking for a way to express himself 4 months ago, and now has an issue with not being quiet!

It wasn't long before his teacher heard the "Sponge Bob Square Pants" song coming out of his device and all the kids cracked up. Taylor missed recess and his Tango was left on the teachers desk for a "time out".

The Blink Twice company that makes the Tango, shares on their website that communication should be dynamic. That means that kids should have ALL the choices with a device for expression that any kid would have and want to say - even "I hate you!" - if that is what they need to express. Giving a child a communication device shouldn't mean limiting topics to only proper and polite uses and expressions. We put an "I'm mad" Boardmaker picture on a communication device. We might even add things for why a child is mad like, "He hit me", "I don't like that", etc. But maybe we need to stretch a little further.

How do we teach a child with limited expressive language experience that it is not OK to say someone is stupid or something is stupid if we never put that option on a device to select? We wonder why some of these kids are so frustrated. We know it is obvious that it is because they can't express themselves, but even after we develop choices and boards we limit them to "safe" expressions.

I am not advocating foul language and bullying expression, but I am in agreement with the Blink Twice Company. We need to give kids with limited communication the opportunity to make right and wrong choices so they they can learn the difference through their own experiences.

I don't know about you, but that was the way I had to learn things and I know that is the new dynamic Taylor is learning with his new voice. Isn't it great he can?

All the best to you!


Monday, March 3, 2008

Online Visual Thought Mapping "Cool Tool"

I had fun today exploring and researching some idea mapping sites. I had originally looked for some software that was free to download that allowed a person to create maps of ideas under headings and sub-headings. I found that "Free Mind", a popular free open-source software, wouldn't work on my computer after the downloads. I downloaded the software and the Java updates to run it, but it just froze my screen when I tried to use it.
I looked at several programs that were 30 day trials, but then turned to the free online kind. These are programs that allow you to log on, create mind maps, name and save them under your account in your own online file space, and then re-open and edit them later. They use some pretty sophisticated programming that allows you to map ideas, re-size bubbles, change text, colors, etc. You can drag and drop the maps to be where you want. You can add icons and even link sites, documents and images.

Test Run:
The sites I tried were: (link here)pictured above. It is probably the easiest to use. The buttons to do what you want appear on each bubble as you roll over it. There is a cool delete X that makes the bubble explode when you hit the X. There is a drag button, a color hue button and an add another bubble under or next-to button.
Another one I tried was (link here). This one was more like a regular desktop application with a series of buttons and menu options, font, size, graphics,
etc. It is pictured below.
What I like about these first two was that you can demo them without having to sign up and create an account. If you are interested in exploring and playing with them you just go to the site and click "start".
The other online idea map software I used was Mind42 (link here).
This online application has a blog on blogger (here) and allows collaboration. While you are online doing your mapping, you can open Google Talk and instant message/invite someone else to get on and collaborate with you.
I have put an image below on the post showing what it looks like with Google Talk on.
You can use a Skype account to allow a log on by others and have a conference collaboration. You can add thumb-shot thumbnails of website pages and add sticky notes. It is probably the most sophisticated of the ones I explored.
So what does this have to do with assistive technology? I see several uses. One is as a resource for parents, therapists and teachers to be able to collaborate on an idea or a student. I would love to be able to sit in my office, get a few other therapists online and a parent and work on ideas for a student.
Another use is for students that are ADHD or have a learning disability where they need to have a way to organize their thoughts and keep notes. If a laptop was used, they could take notes and "map" the session for later. These type of apps make a great tool for structuring ideas for reports and writing projects. A student can organize topics and sub-topics to get an over-all view and narrow down the content needed.

"Inspiration" and "Kidspiration" allow students to map ideas and then with one button, convert those ideas into an outline ready to use for writing a paper. Inspiration (link here) has been forerunner in education-based idea mapping, but it is n ot an online application. It is a software you buy and load on your computer.
I am in schools where there is wireless throughout the building. If you have that luxury, the online apps could be a note-taking resource during a class. If not, they would be limited to the computer lab or by connecting a laptop in class via an Ethernet/Internet cable to a hot-spot in the wall.
I would recommend taking some time to explore these online applications. They are free and can be a great organizational tool.

All the best to you!


Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Edjurist Accord: Another Educational Law Resource

Educational Law Blogs are an Important Resource
Justin M. Bathon, author of the Edjurist Accord, an education law blog in Indiana, posted an article on the importance of educational law information blogging as a resource for parents, specialists and educators. Justin is an Associate Instructor at Indiana University - Bloomington where he teaches educational law. He got his J.D. and Masters of Educational Administration from Southern Illinois University in 2005.
Justin has a wonderful resource and it is evident that he has put many hours, days, weeks, and months of time into developing his resources. I would like to link his article on his blog that directly relates to my post on Special Education Law HERE.
I am putting his blog on my "Blog Family Sites" list also, where you can access his blog homepage and link to it or subscribe.
The Edjurist Accord link is HERE.

Thanks Justin for your efforts and comments.

All the best to you!

Special Education Law Blog Excellent Resource

I have had several comments, emails and conversations come up recently that have led to issues of special education law. I know enough about it to (hopefully) stay in compliance when I am working on cases within our schools and regional programs but there are probably things that we do as professionals unknowingly that are on the edge. I know I have been to state meetings where we all ask what is the actual definition of the law in a certain case to make sure we know what we should be doing. To me that implies that maybe we weren't quite in-line with what we should be doing. It is a learning process for professionals and parents alike.
I have some great administrators I work with that know the federal and state laws as they apply to Early Intervention, IEP's, etc. I am finishing up a two-year school administration program through Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. My School Law class was taught by a former principal who is now in a District Office in a supervisory role. He was witty, knowledgable and a great example of what I think a school administrator should be like. he taught me a lot about how to think in cases that could be full of potential landmines.
So where can we go for legal information? If you have an attorney in the family, that's nice, but special education law is a niche that needs specific knowledge. I refer to a blog site called: "Special EducationLaw Blog." This blog is a resource for case examples, advice, news and parent advocacy by Charles P. Fox, an attorney in Chicago, Illinois. He has other guest authors as well. I am putting his link on my important links list on the sidebar. I would highly recommend going there if you are researching something of a legal nature.

All the best to you!