Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dyslexia and High School Post Shares Ideas

Melinda Pongrey had an article she wrote on LD OnLine, it was reprinted as a post on LD Live!with ideas for modifying tasks and incorporating learners that are dyslexic. The post really brought out that many of the instructions and commands that we would usually give students in a classroom can be impossible to a dyslexic student.
The Article, "LD Online: Dyslexia and High School", lists some teacher instructions that Melinda took notes on during a lesson. She notes why the directions were hard for the student and what the options are to reach the needs of the student. I found it very invaluable and plan to pass it on to teachers I work with.

All the best to you!

I will be taking Monday off on the blog for Labor Day weekend. For all our U.S. readers - have a good three-day weekend.


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Friday, August 29, 2008

Slow Down and Let Students Accommodate for Life!

Print Disabilities provide the pleasure of teaching the use of tools and strategies that will take students and carry them on past school years and build a foundation for life. If we slow down and allow kids time to learn to use these tools the way they would really like to use them, they will actually grab onto them and begin to self-accommodate. Here is my most recent "back to school" example:
I was in a high school meeting yesterday where we were designing our implementation strategy for modification and accommodation of content. The teachers have built blogs for content that are closed and secure for student access by password only. We had grand plans for amazing content and then someone stopped and commented:
"Maybe we need to wait on developing too much content and just spend the first part of fall quarter letting students spend time learning to use the text to speech tool, going to the page with all the hyperlinks to the teacher blogs for modified content, use the Mp3 download tool and save content to listen to. We need to give time for practice. We could give them some fun sample content that they could practice with."
Of course, no one could argue. We had all been discussing over-arching goals, tools to use, and content from Bookshare for specific students. These were good plans and necessary, but we had momentarily forgotten to slow down take a breath and allow ourselves to lay a foundation.
We decided that the number one goal was to help these students with print disabilities develop a life skill of being able to use these tools for things they would need to do like reading news, accessing web sites and filling in online forms, spelling correctly, etc.

If we give students opportunities to use a text to speech tool, convert to Mp3 tool, spell checkers and use the e-text files so they can read and explore content that motivates them, then maybe they will REALLY learn how to use these tools for the reasons we want them to have them anyway. Once they have got the implementation down, then we can add more content and develop our curriculum goals. What can it hurt to let them "play" with the technology for the first 3 weeks?
So we had our "Ah-ha moment" and relaxed. Now everyone is ready to explore, work on developing content, but not under so much pressure. When you implement new technology for the first time, folks can be stressed, nervous and fear failure. If the teachers feel that way, how about the students? Some students take to tech, but for many with print disabilities, the low stress plan will really pay off. We are taking that path this next month of September and I will let you know how it goes.

All the best to you!

No Limits 2 Learning Live will host Leanne McFoose, Developer of the InterACCT system for Dynavox next Wednesday at 10 a.m. Pacific. More details to come next week.


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Thursday, August 28, 2008

How Early Should Children Jump into High-end AAC Devices?

Pennsylania State University is conducting a Research Project on Improving AAC Technologies for Young Children with Significant Communication Disorders.
The purpose is to respond to the urgent need for improved AAC technologies and instructional methodologies that meet the needs of toddlers and young children with significant communication disorders.
Principal investigator, Janice Light Ph.D. and c0-investigator, Kathy Drager PH.D. have been sharing their findings on AAC-RERC. In reading through the most recent findings, it was found that 4 an 5 year-olds did better at developing vocabulary and concrete language when using a dynamic display device vs. an iconic encoding method. (Read the highlights of the on-going study here).
This raises some questions in my mind that we need to ask ourselves: At what age should we start a child on AAC? What prerequisite skills should be in place-or-do they need to be there at all before a device is introduced? How do we shift our thinking to get AAC in the hands of early learners with communication disorders as early as possible?
We live in an educational landscape where price tags are scary to administrators. If we can overcome the cost barrier by establishing concrete funding options that take that load off districts, then we have a foundational platform to discuss providing AAC at an early age so we develop solid language users out of our communication-impaired student population.
I am working on establishing this platform in our districts. I want to be careful that I am not promoting one company in the device that is selected, but give several vendors opportunities to trial devices. The important thing is to have the conversation move from taboo to welcome when it comes to AAC use in our early learning and elementary school populations.
I would urge you to look over the report and have conversations with your SLP's and administrators on supporting a shift towards applying AAC for our learners that will need it at as early an age as possible.

All the best to you!


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

AAC-RERC Goldmine of Free Multi Media Delivered Training on AAC

Janice Light, Ph.D shares free video webcast on AAC & Literacy
Monday I interviewed Kristin Whitfield from Dynavox on language and literacy. She mentioned the research of Janice Light Ph.D. at Penn State University and so I did a Google search and found the AAC-RERC site which is dedicated to advancing AAC use for those with impairments and to be a network of research, training and information through webcasts.
I found a webcast by Janice Light on Literacy and AAC that is a free video webcast and also has downloadable handouts.
I am excited to find this resource and pass it along. If you are interested in connecting with some nice training on AAC, this will be a place you will want to bookmark. I have put it on my Delicious AT Bookmarks.
All the best to you!


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

HIghlights from Whitfield Interview Raise Interesting Questions

I had Kristin Whitfield from Dynavox as a guest yesterday on No Limits 2 Learning Live (see archive). During our conversation, we discussed some topics that raised some questions for me:
When do we introduce AAC to early learners with significant impairments in communication?
Do children REALLY need to have certain prerequisite skills before an AAC device is introduced?
How does research support the answers to these questions?
How do we move into getting AAC in the hands of toddlers and early learners as quickly as possible?
These questions and more were addressed in our interview and it spurred me on to some further research that I uncovered and am sharing the rest of this week on my blog. I hope you will check back daily as I piece together some sites, research, and further probes into these questions.
I have put together a pdf file of notes and links from Kristin's interview, that is available for you free here.
All the best to you!


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Monday, August 25, 2008

Education & AAC Implementation Expert on No Limits 2 Learning Live Segment Today

Language & Literacy: Kristin Whitfield on No Limits 2 Learning Live today at 10:00 a.m. Pacific

Do you know how to start a beginner out on an AAC device? Do you know how the Dynavox literacy program is built in to the device to foster reading as well as communication? Would like to know more on funding avenues for devices? What things do you need to consider in an AAC implementation process?
Find the answers to these questions and more this morning at 10 a.m. Pacfic, when Kristin Whitfield joins me for a half-hour of conversation. Kristin is the manager of the Education Development & Implementation Training department at Dynavox. She will be sharing on her experiences with AAC and tips for specialists, parents and users. If you have a question, go to the show link and call in with the caller number on the screen. The archive will be available here on the sidebar player after the show is over as well.
Hope you join us!
All the best to you...


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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Building Language & Literacy: Kristin Whitfield to Share

"Why don't I just put you in touch with the expert?" was the response I got as I was asking our Oregon Dynavox representative to share on a podcast about some of the software and devices at the recent AT Summer Institiute on the Oregon Coast. I don't know about you, but I am always ready to talk to the expert, so Ellen Witham, who shared a few months ago on No Limits 2 Learning Live, my Blog Talk Radio show, put me in touch with Kristin Whitfield.
Kristin is the manager of the Education Development and Implementation Training department at DynaVoxMayer-Johnson. In addition to her clinical practice working with adults and children with AAC (augmentative and alternative communication), she has presented on the topic of AAC at local and national conferences and has had several articles appear in AAC publications.
Kristen will be my guest this next Monday, August 25 at 10:00 a.m. Pacific time on No Limits 2 Learning Live.
I am excited to hear her share on several topics surrounding the assessment of where a beginner should start with AAC, the types of tools and techniques that are available to develop literacy and how to implement a new device. She has suggested some conversation about funding options as well.
If you are a parent or specialist looking for a device or exploring the option of AAC, this should be a very informative visit. Please go to the link above to listen to the live stream on Monday, or you can always pick up the segment on my sidebar player after the show. I will put a link and reminder on my Monday post as well.

All the best to you!


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Friday, August 22, 2008

Assistive Technology for the Alternative Education Classroom

Yesterday I was sharing with an alternative education team at a high school in our area about AT tools to support better reading and study skills. The teachers were the perfect fit for working with students that have been moved to an alternative program. The conversation kept me jumping as we moved quickly from question to question and idea to idea. We looked at putting the Natural Reader on the desktop for text to speech support and looked at the Premier Literacy tools through the free grant program (See yesterday's post if interested). There was lots of brainstorming, high-energy and interrupting as someone would have a thought or question.
What struck me after they left was how worn out I was. I had felt like I had just tried to keep my attention on three rings at once at the circus. Not that I am comparing the team to being like a circus - just the busy-ness and energy. Then I reflected on what they do every day doing their job in the classroom. They need to be high-energy teachers because they work with students that need that type of dynamic to keep them on task and motivated. I was told that one of the main teachers had been doing this for over 25 years, had actually retired and had come back to work with the program this year anyway. What does that tell you about committment to education and love for what you do?

I left that day knowing that there are some exciting things ahead as I get to work in their classroom a little, help implement some of the free tools we have been talking about and see how we can customize activities and units using them. I just need to make sure I have had my Red Bull drink beforehand! I salute all of you out there that invest in kids in these types of programs. I would encourage passing on the tools we have been discussing for alt ed programs. I think they could be a real lifeline for kids.

All the best to you!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Back to School Basics: Access for Students that Get Overlooked

Back to school means back to supporting learning for some students that "fall between the cracks." More and more, we see children struggling that don't have a visible or severe enough disability to qualify for special services and an IEP. That doesn't mean they should get lost in the shuffle and not have the tools to accomodate for their learning style and lack of skills.
I was doing a training in a high school with regular classroom teachers that were getting access and support technology training for the kids that were in their classes that also had IEP's and needed either modified or accomodated curriculum and instruction. When we were through with the day training, their summary of the day included the realization that the tools we explored were good for ALL students and that they probably had more "regular" students with print disability needs that were more severe than the IEP students they were preparing for.
The problem is that unless teachers are given the tools to identify and support these students, the focus remains on the students with the IEP and the Special Education Specialist for support.
I find that many special education specialists are bogged down with huge amounts of paperwork and they rely on their assistants to follow through with tasks for students much of the day. The Special Ed teacher has some focus in their day on lessons and remedial support, but they just can't "do it all" even if they wish they could.
So where does that leave the regular classroom teacher with questions about how to support these "regular" students that are barely keeping their head above water? Unfortunately, they are low on the priority list for a special education program in a school or district. That doesn't mean they should be low priority, it just means in the scheme of things, the regular classroom teacher gets left on their own to "do what you are paid for and get those kids to learn."
I shared a post on 10 top free online technology tools for students a while back and it was a popular one. I didn't get any comments - but a lot of readers, and I hope you downloaded some of the tools and gave them a try. Those tools are the tools that we explore for ALL learners in my trainings and they can give kids a great start on their year.
I would suggest sharing these tools with teachers of students that you know need the support now at the beginning of the year. If my son had trouble summarizing content and digesting the material, I would want the social studies teacher to know that ahead of time and find a way to get the text converted to an electronic version so it could be heard as well as read.

Some Support Tools Worth the Money:
Along with free tools, there are some tools that cost, but can be well worth the investment. Premier Literacy has a jump drive (Premier To Go) that has 10 software tools on it and storage space to convert Word docs, scanned in textbook pages and pdf files so that the text to speech tools can read them. The jump drive goes with the student on any computer without having to install software, so it could go from one room to another through the day if necessary, and drag and drop a chapter on the jump drive and take it home to listen to at night. This is not a free tool, but the cost is $299.95. They have the "Key to Access" which is a scaled-up version of the jump drive in an Mp3 player for $349. If you have a child going off to college this fall, instead of an ipod, why not get them one of these that will really support their study and learning skills.
The on-computer software that allows you to scan and read is $149. How about loading that on a computer at home for your student to scan textbook pages and worksheets? As long as the student has the book as well, and the scanned chapters are for their use only and get dumped later, you should be fine in doing this without copyright violation.
The software above is available to school districts for FREE through a grant program Premier Literacy has developed. I have 2 districts exploring that option right now and more to come within my region of support. You have to buy the jump drives and Mp3 player tools, but the software on them comes on CD's to load on desktops and laptops at no charge if the district does the simple grant application. If the district wants to upgrade to new versions as they come out, then they pay a nominal fee based on student population - but if they choose not to upgrade, they still keep the free software. You can check it out on their grant page. Premier at Home extends the software to homes for free to any students in the participating district of the grant program. The student is given a password to log on to the Premier at Home website and download all the tools on a home computer - for 12 months, renewable each year as long as the student is still in the district.
I will continue to share thoughts and ideas that support ALL students that need printed material help. When we can tear down the barriers of who gets assistive technology and see the benefits for everyone, we are moving in the right direction.
Look for more on student support and going back to school in the next couple of weeks.
All the best to you!


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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Discover LibriVox for Free Recorded Voice Books

LibriVox boasts 1,668 titles of public domain works in 22 languages and the voices of about 2,080 volunteer readers. Pretty impressive stuff! Started in 2005, LibriVox has a new release podcast, a book podcast, a community podcast, a forum, wiki and a blog... AND all of their library catalogued and ready for download. You can pick a book and sign up to receive a chapter a day as an RSS feed podcast on itunes. There are also links to the Gutenberg etext files, Wikipedia links to the author and book, and zip files of the entire book.
They recently had a 3 year anniversary and on the community podcast hosted sound bites from volunteer readers and listeners on what they liked best about LibriVox. The comments ranged from "Being allowed to volunteer and read books to give back even though disabled and shut in all the time", to "You have put me in touch with the classics and reading again" type of comments. One father commented how his son was getting in the habit of downloading chapters of books to listen to when he went to bed with his headphones.

I enjoy having real voices at my fingertips when I want to read a book or share a book as a resource to a teacher or student. It is nice to have text to speech tools for attacking documents on the fly, but services like this one, where volunteers have given of their time to read a book, is very special. I feel like they are reading it just for me.
If you would like to volunteer as a reader check out their "How to volunteer" link.

Happy listening and all the best to you!


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Michael Phelps and The "No Limits" Attitude

I was sitting with some friends the other night and we began to share on the Olympics. The conversation turned to Michael Phelps and his accomplishments. One of my friends began to share what he had heard on TV about Michael's Attention Deficit. "Michael used the lanes and lines to focus his energy. The pool was a contained space for him and he could let his energy out swimming within those boundaries and feel relaxed."
I found an article from Bloomberg today that addressed his younger years at school saying:
" My mom and I joke that I had a teacher, I think in middle school, who told me I'd never be successful,'' Phelps said after breaking Spitz's record.
Phelps was diagnosed in elementary school with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or
ADHD, described by the U.S. National Institutes of Health as among the most common mental disorders in children. He took Ritalin as treatment until abruptly telling his mother that his friends didn't use medicine and he'd handle it himself. "
In a post about Michael Phelps on The ADDer World Blog, the writer, Bryan Hutchinson, refers to Hyper-focusing as a way in which those with ADHD can intensify their concentration - and in this case, what Michael Phelps used to help him accomplish his incredible Gold medal and world record goals. Bryan goes on to say that all the attention of President Bush and the expectations to win medals was really only an added advantage for his ADHD condition:
"The reality that many fail to comprehend about someone with ADHD is that all such pressure is simply more stimulation – it is natural Ritalin, if you will, but far more effective! Whereas Ritalin helps release someone from their single minded, hyper focused and seemingly distracted thoughts, mental pressure of an intense nature helps one increase their Hyper Focus on whatever has captured their mind’s attention."
I see in Michael, the possibilities that lie in every student we work with if they believe they can do incredible things. For Michael, I am sure, there was an instinctive desire to compete and accomplish something big, but there was also a mother who instilled the values of possibility and effort. There was a coach that pushed him beyond his physical limits to give "just that much more". These influences created a young man that accomplished greatness.
As you start another school year, think about the students that you will touch as a teacher, assistant, a specialist, or parent. I hope we can all see the potential in their lives. That is what the No Limits in "No Limits to Learning" is all about.
You can read what Debbie Phelps has to say about being an ADHD Mom on the online community group she started, ADHD Moms: A place for the moms of children with ADHD.

All the best to you!


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Monday, August 18, 2008

Ghotit Offers New Tool Free to Schools

New Dyslexic Spell checker for Applications Coming from Ghotit

I posted recently on the new text to speech addition to Ghotit, the spell checker for the dyslexic. Ofer let me know that they are excited to have a new plug-in version that should be coming out in another month or so. The plug-in allows the Ghotit tool to be on your computer and work directly with the application rather than have the online version open in a browser while you work.
He has shared that this new software will be made available to schools free of charge to put on their computers for students that have this as part of their IEP (at least that is my understanding at this point). He only asks that there be a credit and a link on the school home page somewhere to let people know about it.
If you would like to explore this option, please contact Ofer Chermesh by email at:

All the best to you!


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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Follow the Stories: New AT Projects Gear up as Summer Gears Down

AT Story Threads:
Personal stories will be a big part of my fall as I start back into projects for the school year. I have received a lot of comments in the past based on the stories and ideas I pass along from real cases I am involved in. Of course the names and places are not shared, but the concepts and ideas can possibly be a help to others. When I do this, I also get some nice suggestions either in the comment section or in an email on things to try. This helps me out and I appreciate them!

Some of the projects I already know about are:
1. Implementation of a grant for AAC equipment and training in Early Childhood Special Education classrooms
2. Starting 4 new students on dynamic display devices, one first grade, the others in middle and high school.
(Too bad the high schoolers weren't on track a long time ago - but we are getting there.)
3. Starting a research study on the effects of AT on remedial support for Title I reading following federal guidelines for research-based instruction.
4. Getting an entire high school off the ground with UDL tools through the Premier Literacy grant program for free software (this one just popped up in the last couple of days).
5. Setting up UDL and K3000 in another high school.
6. Beginning to support a TBI high school student who is coming back to school this fall.
7. Trainng for the Oregon TBI Team for the 2008-09 school year. (I will be sharing thoughts and information from these sessions)
8. The continuation of sensory assessments and switch access for a multiple disability learner in elementary school - patterned after Jane Korsten's book on this topic, "Every Move Counts".

...and for every one I remember, there are probably 2 I am forgetting as I brainstorm these at home this Saturday morning. These will be some of the projects I will be sharing with you as they develop over the fall, so check in often if one of those projects interests you specifically.

More on No Limits 2 Learning Live as well...
I have 2 very exciting interviews getting lined up right now on AAC with a couple of the developing specialists that work with Dynavox. One will share on the InterACT system and the other on assessment of AAC use and entrance levels. I have scheduled a couple who have designed a phone access system for those with speech disabilities that I am excited to share with you the end of September.
In November we will be starting to showcase some students in Baja Mexico that Mobilize Mankind are working with as well as pictures and video. gh Accessibility CEO, David Schleppenbach has agreed to return to do a part two on UDL and print disability issues, and Steven Timmer from Premier Literacy will also share on print disability strategies and tools sometime this fall.
I love to see things take on a life of their own, and the talk show has its' own momentum building as the contacts develop naturally. I am thankful for that and hope the folks that step into the forefront and share are helpful to you. I would like to get more clinicians and parents on as well.

Have a great weekend. All the best to you!


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Friday, August 15, 2008

Oregon Legislative Workgroup on Autism to Hold Community Forums

An Oregon Legislative Workgroup is hitting the road to hear from families and community members on Autism Support.
I received the information below in an email from Oregon State Representative Chris Edwards' office:

In response to the growing numbers of Oregonians facing the challenge of Autism Spectrum Disorder, a legislative work group led by State Rep. Chris Edwards will host a series of community meetings across the state to hear from parents and advocates of people with autism.

The tour will begin in Bend on Monday Aug. 18th, with stops in NE Portland on Aug. 19th, Eugene Aug. 20th, Beaverton Sept. 9th, Coos Bay Sept. 10th, and Medford on Sept. 11th. In order to reach every corner of the state, a teleconference will be hosted from Salem on Sept. 8th.
The Oregon Autism Project was conceived last May when State Reps. Peter Buckley (D-Ashland) and Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) asked Rep. Edwards (D – Eugene/Junction City), to lead a legislative work group looking into ways children and adults with autism spectrum disorder can be better served.
(You can view an Autism report on preliminary findings here from The Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities.)
Over the course of the last two months the group has worked to assess current services, investigate other states’ best practices and begin the process of bringing the various components of autism services in the education and health sector together to provide a higher and more efficient standard of care. The group has compiled a draft report with preliminary findings and recommendations for the 2009 Legislature.

Before presenting a final set of recommendations to a joint meeting of the Interim House Committees on Education and Healthcare, the workgroup will be hosting the statewide tour to receive feedback from individuals and families on the report compiled by the workgroup.

“Our group has worked hard to do the preliminary work pulling different stakeholders together, but now is the time to hear from families around the state about their needs, their goals and their challenges in accessing state services for their loved one with autism,” said Edwards.” To view a copy of the preliminary findings please visit the Oregon Council on Developmental Disabilities website at

Forum Schedule/Itinerary:
Who: Rep. Chris Edwards, and members of the Oregon Autism Project
What: Statewide Autism Tour
When: Time: All meetings will be from 6:30-8:00 pm
Bend: Aug. 18th,
Bend School District Administration Center,
520 NW Wall St., Bend, OR 97701
N. Portland: Aug. 19th
Kaiser Town Hall
3704 N Interstate Ave, Portland, OR 97277
Eugene: Aug. 20th
Harris Hall
125 E. Eighth Ave, Eugene, Oregon 97401
Salem: Sept. 8th
Details TBA

Beaverton: Sept. 9th
Providence St. Vincent Medical Center, South Auditorium
9205 SW Barnes Rd.
Portland, OR 97225
Coos Bay: Sept. 10th
Coos Bay Public Library
525 Anderson Ave, Coos Bay, OR 97420
Medford: Sept. 11th
Details TBA

All the best to you!

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Giving Kids Relevant, Living Assistive Technology

I heard Steven Timmer talking about how difficult it was to get his son with a learning disability to bring his Alphasmart home with his homework on it. When he asked his son if he ever used it, he replied "I use it for a pillow." It came in a soft padded case and he would use it to rest is head on when he would lay down. At least the technology was helping him do something!
"If kids don't find a practical reason to use AT for something they want to do, they won't incorporate it into their world and use it," shared Steven Timmer, Ph.D. from Premier Literacy. How true.
(See yesterday, August 13, 08 post for more on Steven.)
Here is the thing I am beginning to wrap my brain around, and it is going to be a simple but profound distinction that will affect my AT services for years to come: There is assistive learning technology and there is assistive living technology. I shared this yesterday, but I wanted to talk about it a little more in light of what I do.
I have been giving learning technology to kids to help them at school and that is OK. But I also have been trying to give living technology to kids too early and they aren't ready for it. They aren't ready to incorporate it or understand the support it will give yet because they aren't even doing the things they need to do with it. I am also giving teachers and students learning technologies when what they need are living technology so they are prepared to move on with life and many of them haven't really received these tools yet and have no clue when or how to use them. They WILL use them if we give them the chance to implement them doing something that is important to them.
Instead of spending so much time with a software that prepares them to learn information to perform better on state assessments and try to get their scores up, maybe we need to focus more on helping them to independently take text and summarize it, and convert it to an Mp3 file they can listen to it. Oh, and by the way…let them select an article, story or other print media that is relevant to them.
I have some developmentally delayed and cognitive disabled students that are older - in high school that can use some of both kinds of AT to a certain point, but by high school, we should have given them the ability to use living technology for themselves so they can use it independently to access life. And you know what? If I teach them how to access life with living tools, I bet it will impact their ability to prep for those tests…hmmm just a thought.

Steven shared a great example of this when he told us about a fireman who had a dream to be Captain. He had some reading and writing disabilities and so he was given the tools at a local vocational rehab center to study for the exam that would qualify him for the job.
With the help of the center and the tools they used with him, he was able to take and pass the exam. He was promoted to the Captain position and held the job for 2 weeks before he was demoted again. Why? No one took into account that there would be job skills that he would have to have to do on a daily basis such as purchase orders, summary reports, evaluations, etc. He couldn't handle the amount of work at the speed he needed to do it. As the mountain piled up he got further behind until it was evident he couldn't handle it. If he had been given living technology he could use in his daily life to help him access text and convert it and write it, he might have been able to tackle the job. He still would have had to work harder and smarter than others without a disability, but if he wanted it bad enough, at least he could have done it.
I know I am talking about issues where we have students with print disabilities, but there are many of us with print disabilities. They need support at a daily life level, with a toolbox full of tools they can choose when they want to do the things that are important to them. These will be the tools they will use the rest of their lives. That would be the greatest gift we could give our students.

All the best to you!

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Day with Steven Timmer from Premier Literacy

I walked into a conference room for a day workshop on alternative text access and podcasting, to see a man looking into a large Mac computer, his face only inches from the screen. Since he was in the front of the room, I knew he was the presenter. He had speakers, a variety of Mp3 players, a data projector and a small light-up hand-held magnifying glass.
I was in for a real treat although I was really not too savvy about who Steven was ( the co-founder and chairman of the company) or what Premier Literacy was. I showed my ignorance when he introduced himself to me by asking him, "Is this like Premier Assistive?" I had forgotten that Premier Assistive had recently changed to a new name, Assistive Literacy, with a new site, Reading Made EZ because of the shift in trends and how the company was evolving. (See their news release, and the April 1, 2008 Access Ability Blog post by Ron Graham on this.) I vaguely remembered having read Ron's post on this, but it was taking awhile for the light to turn on.
Premier Literacy, formerly Premier Assistive Technology, continues to have a grant program that allows schools to fill out the grant papers and receive the suite of software for their school for free. If they want to upgrade to the next version, they have to pay a nominal fee based on the number of users in the school or district. For more on this program go here. The website has a nice area that describes the software and the user disabilities best supported by each tool.

As Steven began to share his outlook on AT in some introductory discussion, one statement really struck me. He said...
"AT must take what you find difficult to do and make it easier for you- if it doesn't, it isn't AT."
Steven distinguished between Assistive Learning Technologies and Assistive Living Technologies. He explained that we need to discern the difference between the two and prescribe and implement them accordingly. Chew on that thought awhile! For example: A software like Intellitools Classroom Suite, supports disability so the learner can access and achieve more, but the primary focus is to teach. When a person uses a virtual keyboard like Click-n-type, they are using something that assists in the ability to carry on a daily life function on the computer like pay bills online, write an email, etc.
Steven shared that he is legally blind but doesn't see some of the things he can't do as being a disability.
"I had my driver's license taken from me when my vision wouldn't allow me to drive anymore," explained Steven.
"I might miss it, and it is an inconvenience, but it is not a disability. There are lots of people in New York that don't own or drive a car - that doesn't make them disabled. I run marathons now instead!"
The more I listened to him share his philosophy on life, AT, and the studies he has been a part of, the more I began to realize I was sitting under a genius.
"I am going to show you some of the software today that we have." said Steven. "If something doesn't work for you or you have problems, you know who's fault it is? Me. I am the one who designed it."
During the day, Steven was so excited, he put his whole energy, expression and body movement into his sharing. He was willing to consider every comment and question and give it his foremost attention. He validated every concern and thought shared through the day. He resolved and issue with my computer with the patience of Job.
I have shared my blog, talk show and other resources with Steven and asked if he will join us for some discussions in the future. He was very thrilled and would love to network. I took many notes and left with a suite of software on a 2 gig jump drive he gave to each participant. We spent the day using it to convert pdf documents to Mp3 files, use an incredible summary function, take notes and work with text - all with what he calls the 15 minute/3 step rule. "if they can't use it within 15 minutes of training," Steven shared, "and 3 steps or less, they probably won't use it."
The co-founder and CEO, Kenneth Grisham, has shared, "Our perspective is that literacy tools should be available to everyone. In order for that to be practical, not only must these technologies be affordable, but they must serve current and future literacy needs. This means nothing less than a 'paradigm shift' to shatter the myths of 'how' and 'why' technologies must be used to address literacy challenges, in school, in the workplace and in our homes."
Steven addressed these issues in his discussions throughout the day. He has a wealth of knowledge and experience that is invaluable. I am looking forward to keeping in touch and seeing what wisdom we can learn through him down the road.
Stay tuned for more posts on his work and software tools in upcoming posts this week and in the future. Stay tuned also in the future for a No Limits 2 Learning Live show where Steven will be sharing some of his unique energy, humor and opinions on AT.

All the best to you!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Ghotit Adds Text to Speech to Spell Checker

I have been sharing the tool, Ghotit, which is an online spellechecker since I had the inventor and CEO, Ofer Chermish, on No Limits 2 Learning Live several months ago. This spell checker is designed to assist the dyslexic in correcting words in their written text by having the Ghotit site up on the screen in the background, and copying and pasting text in, doing the check and the right-clicking words that are red (for misspelled words) and blue (for suspected misspelled words.)

Ghotit has started offering a free addition to the already free online tool. A text to speech engine can be downloaded so that when you are on the site, you have some extra buttons that operate the text to speech. This enables you to hear the errors made through the mis-pronunciation. The new buttons are a talk button and a settings button. The settings button sets the speech voice you want to use from a pull-down menu that of choices already on your computer, the language, rate and volume.

The text to speech addition adds another aspect to this helpful tool that will specifically identify errors for the dyslexic writer. If you have issues with spelling, you might want to check it out.

All the best to you!


Monday, August 11, 2008

Ed Week Special Education Blog for Updates and News

Christina Samuels writes the Special Education Blog, "On Special Education" for Education Weekly News. The blog is free to access and she does some great posts that comment on special education issues.
Her August 6, 2008 article on RTI and state initiated trends gives a good picture of evidence-based instruction and trends in using this to identify potential students that qualify for special ed. There is no permalink for this post but if you go to the August 6 date, you will find the post on the link above. She referred to the RTI Action Network which is a great resource for RTI.
I have put this blog on my Important Links because it contains information that we all can use to keep us current with what is happening in special education nationally. I know that these trends impact my assistive technology work and what I do in relationship to school districts, special ed programs and students.

AT Summer Institute at the Oregon Coast this Week:
I am in Seaside, Oregon this week teaching on designing interactive activities and switch access as well as connecting state-wide and meeting some of the vendors. I am taking my podcast equipment with me and hope to do a few live recordings while there that might showcase some interesting topics. If I get something good, I'll share it with you.
I have a post on Libravox and one on a new Ghotit! addition this week, plus sharing on things at the conference so keep checking in.

All the best to you,

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Remember the Milk: Will it Help With the Ever-Growing To-Do List?

Yesterday I was frustrated. I had just opened a letter telling me to check my cell phone plan and look at new rates and make adjustments if necessary. I thought, "Great. One more thing to remember to do." I had to postpone jury duty because it was to start this next Monday and we are gone to a conference. I have to renew my driver's license with the new homeland security requirements, so I have to bring in documents and proof of a street address. (I went in once and didn't have all the documents they needed - so I have to go back.) I have work-related reminders, our son's prescription to pick goes on and on.

It seems like our culture, the services we use and the systems we live within require so much more accountability and monitoring on our part than they used to. Our banks, pay online accounts, satellite, cell services, insurance, auto mechanics, etc. all send us reminders of rates, payments due, upcoming specials, and more. It is almost overload sometimes for me. I feel like they are running me instead of serving me. On top of that, my brain injury issues from a stroke a couple of years ago, have left me a little less capable in the memory department and also in the detail department as well. I have to work smarter and harder to stay in the stride of my day. Any tool that can help is a good thing.

As I drove down our mountain yesterday, I thought of what my son had told me recently. "We live like pioneers in the old days when we are up on the mountain." he had said. We do live a slower lifestyle up there in the summer, but it doesn't keep the lists from growing anyway. Summer is coming to a close and it is back to school soon and reality and all the things that clutter life. I remember when I was kid up on this mountain, we didn't listen to the radio or have TV or get a newspaper for the entire summer. My parents loved it and life really was simpler. In the 1960's we didn't even have a phone yet in our summer mountain spot. No text messaging back then! People had to send us a letter with a date and time they would call and we would wait on that date on a party line phone in town to talk. I don't want to go backwards to that again, but sometimes I wish I had a slower, less-complicated life in general. Since that probably isn't going to happen in the near future, I continue to depend on lists and reminders to help with the crush of to-do's that fill up my day.

I heard about a beta version web application called Remember the Milk, and I thought about my situation. Maybe this can help me keep better track of things. Remember the Milk is an online tool to help you remember things. I have an ever-growing list of to-do's and I usually keep pen and paper handy, but if you need to tie it into Google Desktop or Twitter or an iphone or blackberry, it can keep you posted through your day as to what you need to shop for, take care of, etc. I think it could be a very good support tool to use with middle to high school students and older, especially with traumatic brain injury, certain situations within autism or ADD/ADHD.

Go to their website and see what you think. I might go ahead and download it and give it a try. Maybe I should put that on my list of things to do...

All the best to you!


Friday, August 8, 2008

Get Updated on Special Education Posts and Effective Teaching

Great resources can be found through Teaching Effectively! & Special Education Today
Teach Effectively! is a blog resource that has a focus on evidence-based teaching methods for students at risk or with disabilities. Written by John Wills Lloyd Ph. D., this blog has some excellent resources on RTI and great posts. It is another great way to support your continuing information on best practice in education for diabilities.
John has also started a news feed site dedicated to Special Education called Special Education Today. He has based this on a newsletter he put out over 20 years ago. With the effectiveness of the RSS feeds now days, he can pull daily posts together and have them go directly to his aggregator. I have put Special Education Today on my Google Blogs tab on my Google Desktop so I get a daily update. It is a nice addition to my feeds and also gives me resources to share information through my blogs, etc.
I am putting both links on my blog lists today for you to check through as well. I am putting the Special Education Today link in my important links I support, and the Teach Effectively link in My Blog Family.

AT Blog Carnival for August:
Because of the crazy time of year for all of us in education, I am going to let the AT Blog Carnival take a break for August and we will start up fresh in September with a back to school theme.
Anyone who has reflections on the starting up of a new year, a new student they receive, a new tool for the year, etc. can submit them to me anytime at
If you are not in education and just a blogger on AT in general, maybe you can submit a review of something or an experience that will compliment, even if not directly.
I will collect submissions and build our back to school edition for the end of September. More to come on that as September rolls around. Can you believe it?

All the best to you!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Microsoft Accessibility Video Spotlights Visual Impairment Support

I have students that need vision support in accessing the computer at school and home. There are some nice features in the Microsoft Accessibility Options within Windows that I use to help them and use for me as well. For example: I have larger icons on my desktop, my Word documents are set at a larger font size and when on the Internet my browser display is set to be larger. These features and more might be an option you want to explore with your students at school or at home. These disabilities effect more of us than you might think.
I get occasional update news from Microsoft concerning their accessibility options in Windows.
They shared:
"Vision difficulties and impairments include low vision, color blindness, and blindness. Among adult computer users in the United States, 1 in 4 (27%) have a vision difficulty (see study). There are many options for individuals with vision difficulties to modify the computer displays and appearance so it is more legible, or receive information through sound or touch."
One of their employees, Karen, is featured in a short video on how she uses the accessibility options to change the background and font colors as well as magnification to help her read easier. There is also a piece on a portable reader she uses.
There is a handy resource guide with information on AT support tools and links to video tutorials on how to use the accessibility options in Windows. I have linked it below.

Microsoft Resource Guide: List of AT tools and tutorial links

To access the options for accessibility in Windows and change the resolution (taken from the MS Accessibility Update newsletter):

In Windows XP, display the Start menu by pressing CTRL+ESC (or the Windows logo key), then select:

Control Panel
In Control Panel, select:

In the Display Properties dialog box, select:

The Settings tab.
On the Settings tab, under Screen Resolution:

Select a screen resolution value by moving the slider arrow. Less (lower) resolution makes items appear larger. More (higher) resolution makes items on screen appear smaller but allows more items to show on screen.
Find more Windows XP tutorials

In Windows Vista:
In Windows Vista, to open the Ease of Access Center, press Windows logo key + U, or select:


Control Panel

Ease of Access

Ease of Access Center
Under Explore all settings, select:
"Make the computer easier to see."

Under See also, select:
"Personalize appearance and sound effects."

In Personalize appearance and sounds, select:
Display settings.

Under Resolution:
Select a resolution between Low (screen elements appear larger) and High (screen elements appear smaller).
Find more Windows Vista tutorials

I hope you will take advantage of the options within Windows that can make visual impairments a little easier to live with when on a computer.

Don't forget gh Accessibility CEO Dave Schleppenbach today on No Limits 2 Learning Live at 12:30 Pacific time.

All the best to you!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Doing the Right Thing: "GH" CEO Shares on No Limits 2 Learning Live

It is my privilege to introduce Dave Schleppenbach as my latest guest tomorrow on Blog Talk Radio. Dave's company, "GH" (website: gh-accessibility)is a leader in the conversion of documents into digital talking book, DAISY and NIMAS formats, as well as producing the "gh Player"and quality closed testing support for standardized testing. GH has partnered with Purdue University to do research on talking calculators and Dave is starting up a new company for hearing disabilities as well. Doing over 3 million dollars this past year, GH has set itself as a leader in this field. We are honored to have the opportunity to hear from the founder and director.
Dave will share his story of meeting his wife in college who was blind from birth, how she inspired ideas that birthed "GH" and about his life running a company and raising 10 children. I am looking forward to finding out his secret to success, his philosophy on picking priorities and his work with NIMAS. We will be sure to explore where technology is headed in the future for accessibility to the written word.
This interview will be packed full of terrific information, ideas and some great lessons on following your heart. I hope you will join us.

GH Accessibility CEO Dave Schleppenbach will be on No Limits 2 Learning Live, Thursday, August 7 at 12:30 PM Pacific. Listen to the live stream and call in with questions and comments, or wait for the archive of the show, which will be on the sidebar shortly after.

All the best to you!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Top 10 Free Back to School Supports for Your Computer

We don't see Back to School and Free in the same sentence very often. With rising costs of everything, we can use all the help we can get for a greater bang for our buck. Here are some tools to help with the academic side and they are all free:
I was seeing the supply list for out son's elementary school the other day and thought, "Wow, is it really time to think about that already?" It is only the first week of August, but many families are beginning to shop for clothes, notebooks, pencil boxes, binders, etc.
If we have a student with a disability, we think in terms of what needs to be purchased to help them at school. They might be growing out of a brace or need adjustments to a chair. They might be ready for new assistive technology equipment and assessments for communication needs when the school year comes around. But what about some assistive technology programs for your home computer that could really support doing work at home during the year? If you are a teacher, how about adding these to a computer in your classroom that students can access?
There are many free tools as well as software for purchase that can enhance learning and access at home and school. Because each student is unique and the range of need and orthopedic ability can be wide, I am going to just throw out a few ideas to explore based on what we are encouraging within our school districts and with families at home. The following programs are basic must-haves to round out our computers. See which ones might help you or your students at home or at school as you prepare for a new year.

1. Click n type Virtual Keyboard: This FREE keyboard can be re-sized by a click and drag feature. It also has scanning built in and it has an optional free download word prediction tool. For a child trying to access a computer at home, with the appropriate switch and a switch interface, typing with this keyboard makes life a lot easier.
2. Natural Reader: This is a free download for the basic tool. It has a screen where you can copy and paste in text and have it read, or, you can use the floating toolbar and highlight text on a page or on the Internet and it will read for you. For students that have reading issues or learning disabilities, this will be a real support to have available on the desktop.
3. Merriam Webster dictionary toolbar - this free toolbar allows quick look-up of words with an online thesaurus and dictionary right on your web browser. This is an add-on to the Google Toolbar which you need to have already installed. I use it all the time.
4. Ghotit Dyslexic Spell checker - You can download a free spellchecker that works on Internet Explorer only. It also has a text to speech engine for it. You will want this if dyslexia is a need for support.
5. Virtual Magnifying Glass - another free program that allows you to drag a re-sizeable magnifying window around the screen. You can also set the power of magnification.
6. Open Office - If you don't have the money for MS Office and want a suite that has word processing, spreadsheet, a slide presentation software, etc. check this open source suite out - it is free and MS Office documents will open in it.
7. Bookshare - if your child has a disability that qualifies him/her for a free Bookshare account, you can access free downloads of latest literature and periodicals in a variety of file formats. The account includes a free download of the Victor Reader for your computer to read the files.
Check on the site for qualifications and signing up.
8. Audacity - I use this to create narrations and sound files that I can link in Word documents and PowerPoints. With a simple microphone/headset, you can record voice mails and memos and email them, do an oral report, etc.
9. Google Earth - incredible graphics and power to visit the world and learn visually. A complete virtual globe and atlas for free? Yup.
10. More Google Tools - Google Docs, Picasa and Google Notebook: I know, this is three freebies under one number - but I had to stick with a top ten format - these are all related - really.
Google has developed some incredible free tools for you to use. Best of all, when you sign up for a free Google gmail account, you can then use that info to quickly and easily add other tools like the document tool, Google Docs, that allows you to share a document with another person - like a teacher at school - to get updates on homework, input on ways to help, etc. Students can use it to share on a project from home with a classmate. Google Notebook allows you to paste clipped text, images and links in a scrapbook type tabbed notebook with various topics you create. Your info is with you wherever you are online. Picasa is a fabulous photo editor to crop, save and edit images as well as post them online. Google has a calendar and a desktop home page (see Google Tools link above) that you can set up to tie all of this together in a one-stop control center.

Okay. Maybe you are on overload right now - but these are some very valuable - and free tools for you to use and support learning. I would explore and match what best suits your needs before downloading all of them. Also, learn how to use a tool in a practical way and then incorporate another so you don't get overwhelmed with too much at once.
It is amazing what is available to us these days. Free software that meets accessibility needs is much more common - and growing all the time. I hope this list gives you a jumping off point for some great support for this coming school year!

All the best to you!

Monday, August 4, 2008

Giving PowerPoint a "Face Lift" for Interactive Activities: Part Three

Building Activities with Branching Pages
We explored using PowerPoint to make a communication board in the first of this series, but I didn't go into the branching power of PowerPoint. Many people think that PowerPoint is just a slide show program that allows you to put in text for a presentation, lecture, etc.
You can actually use an image or word as a link to assign an action and then tell it what you want it to do. You can have it open another program, a site on the Internet, play a sound, do an animation or go to another slide. Going to another slide is where we get the functionality to be more interactive.

There have been ambitious projects to use PowerPoint as a Jeopardy Board with columns of boxes and points. Each box can be clicked on and a new slide which has been assigned opens and then the "answer" is read like on the game show. There is a "back" button at the bottom and then you are back to the main board.
Using this assignable action, you can create multiple choice quizzes and have each choice link to a new slide or a sound for "Sorry..." or "You got it!"
You can create a branching story and give different options for where the character goes and what happens - no right or wrong, just a different track.

To do this in MS Office 2007:
1. Create your slide with your question and answers, graphic, etc. Then create your slides with your response to the selection, i.e. a "Sorry" or "Good Job". Once you have the slides made to link to, you are set.

2. Highlight the text you want to set with an action in your question slide and then select "Insert" up at the top in your menu buttons/task bar. Within it, there will be an "Action" button. Select it and then choose the radio button "hyperlink to slide..." and use the pull-down menu.

3. Choose "Slide..." and choose the number of your slide that has the response you want.

4. Remember to put a "back" button or linked text on your incorrect response slide that links back to the question so they can try again.

Once you create a multiple choice activity, you can keep it and change the text in the boxes and the graphics and still have all your pattern. You will have to re-do the links when you change the text.

I don't have Office 2003 anymore, but I think I had to right-click on the text or image and choose action settings from there and then the rest was the same. If I am wrong, and someone reading this knows, maybe you can add a comment and correct me. I just get used to the new '07 version and when I don't use the older xp/03 version I forget.

Backgrounds and colors
As far as backgrounds and colors, I try to keep it simple. I use white backgrounds a lot and for the visually impaired, I will use a black background with large, bold yellow letters and numbers.
PowerPoint has a stock set of backgrounds and templates. I tend to stay away from animation, sound effects and busy nackgrounds. For the type of students that need support like this, it just gets distracting. There is one exception though. I did a study on color and autism/ADHD and the color can really be crucial. You need to explore what suits these students individually. Sometimes, ADD/ADHD students do better with a bright color background and vibrant letters. For autism, the wrong colors or added graphics can throw the whole activity into a huge distraction, so know the student's learning style and preferences first.I\

I know that designing activities is time consuming, but sometimes we have students that could really benefit from these types of projects. As an AT Specialist, I get asked to design something that incorporates a concept the student is working on and I am able to customize a PowerPoint to do it. I share how to do this in our teacher workshops and classes so they can grow in their ability to build activities.
There is a lot more than what I am sharing here, but it is a start. I hope that you will be encouraged to step out and experiment with this tool. Brush off the cobwebs on your PowerPoint program and take it for a spin. There are some dynamic elements to it that can bring new learning opportunities to your students.

All the best to you!

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Giving PowerPoint a "Facelift" for Interactive Activities: Part Two

PowerPoint Face Lifts Part Two:
Creating Communication Boards and Switch Access Pros and Cons.

I made a video tutorial last spring that is on using PowerPoint to create a communication board. I enjoyed making it and I liked the fact that if you can't afford the $765 for a Boardmaker Speaking Dynamically Pro program, you can get started with a PowerPoint on topics. A main drawback is that since PowerPoint can't do step scanning - (where each choice on a page is highlighted one at a time and the user can select the choice they want when framed in the sequence) you are limited to a mouse or trackpad to navigate through the choices. It is possible to use a head or eye tracker device to select a choice, but if you can afford that, you probably will be using a custom software or an AAC device instead! Since lots of schools have MS Office already, a PowerPoint can be used to experiment and get something started. I have the video below so you can see a little of what I am talking about. I was experimenting with a free screen capture video program and the sound is a little odd, but it will carry you through the steps if you want to know how to do it. I used Audacity as the sound program to create my sound clips to embed in the graphics. It is a free open source software.

Since we are already addressing switches, let's talk about switch access a minute - and how it can work with a PowerPoint activity (or can't work). With a switch interface that you USB in the back of the computer, you can use any kind of switch to act as a mouse click and move to the next page, trigger a sound, animation or video - anything that can be started on a slide by clicking the mouse. What a switch interface and a switch can't do is navigate a page or slide to make a choice. Switch access is good for certain activities like a "talking book" activity where the user can use the switch to "turn the page "and trigger a narration. If a video or sound is set to open on a mouse click, then a switch would work there as well.
I make activities where a student has to choose a letter from a choice of three - for example, based on a picture and sound. The student has to be able to navigate to choose one answer. You can't use a switch and interface to do that. If you are building an activity with PowerPoint, make sure you know who your audience is going to be so you don't design something they can't access. This is where the custom softwares like SoftTouch Test Me Score Me, Clicker 5 and Classroom Suite come in because of the capability to scan. They give you the versatility to work with orthopedically impaired so they can access through the scanning feature. You also have the Intellikeys board as an input device but you still have to be able to have enough fine motor to target and hit an area on the board.
I had an email on my Part One post yesterday, sharing that they used to use topics and video and make an overlay for the Intellikeys so that they could turn pages, watch videos, play recordings, etc. by selecting the specific choice on the board. I love hearing your ideas on activities. If you have one you would like to share please comment or email me.

I am going to save the branching activities and graphics, color, background, etc. until next time so that I don't try to include too much in one post - I guess there will need to be a part three.

All the best to you!


Friday, August 1, 2008

Giving PowerPoint a "Facelift" for Interactive Activities: Part One of Two

PowerPoint Face Lifts
Part One: Using Sound and Video

We were having dinner with some friends last night and talking about up-coming dates on our calendar. I mentioned that we would be on the Oregon Coast in 2 weeks at a state-wide AT Summer Institute and I would be presenting a day workshop.
"What are you going to be teaching about?" I was asked.
"How to build interactive activities on the computer" was my response.
"You mean POWERPOINT?"
Everyone laughed.
Everyone laughed? Why? Is it that we have been conditioned to see the dreaded bulleted text zip, fade and roll on and off the screen and bore us to death?
My friend commented, "Yeah, the old dreaded PowerPoint slide show. Oh boy..."

They weren't making fun of me and they had a point. In teaching and lecturing, we have gotten used to sticking with the same old tried and true methods, when there is so much more to do. PowerPoint has become for many, a dead medium they see for dry and dull slide show presentations.
I would love to have a free or inexpensive program that allowed me to design activities where students could click and drag pictures for matching and have quick and simple text to speech. A program that had step-scanning to hear and make choices. Until that day arrives, I will have to settle for what I can do with PowerPoint. I can attach a switch interface and switches to make it easier on students with orthopedic disabilities to operate the activity but I am still bound to some limitations on choosing what I can do with it. Programs like Clicker 5, Test Me Score Me or Classroom Suite can give you more bells and whistles, but if your school has already invested in MS Office on your computer, you have a lot of power in designing interactivity with that old PowerPoint program and you can give it a new reputation and a face-lift.

How to give PowerPoint a "face-lift"
1. Use sound - a recording or a UDL Tool
In my workshops, I show folks how to take advantage of recording a narration or using a UDL tool that is free on the Internet to enhance curriculum. One such tool is "Powertalk" which takes any text that you have entered on slides in a PowerPoint and reads it automatically. This cuts out the narration recording necessity for a PowerPoint, unless you want to have a natural voice read the words. If you are creating an interactive activity, text to speech or a recorded narration gives that extra reinforcement for students with learning disabilities to be able to track with the content. With a simple microphone headset, you can record as you play a PowerPoint show for a narration track or insert a corresponding sound clip you record slide by slide.

2. Use Video
Take advantage of free videos online. Many tutorials, science experiments, etc. are there to incorporate into a PowerPoint. If you were teaching the topic of steam, you could show a science experiment video on steam, a clip of a steam engine, a steam whistle, etc. With some simple steps, a person can copy the You tube or other site video clip URL and have it downloaded to your desktop - check into Keepvid and flv Player. These tools allow you to make little flash videos of online videos for your desktop. This gets the video onto your computer as a file and then you can convert it to put in a PowerPoint afterwards.
Some examples that have videos like this:
You tube Science experiment with steam

3. Create Your own short video clips
It isn't too hard these days to create video. Now days, You tube has made it easy to shoot video on a cell phone with that capability and upload it to Youtube and post it almost immediately. Although the quality from a cell phone might be far from what you want, it shows that technology has cut out a lot of the steps from shooting to viewing video.
We have an older Kodak digital camera at home that has a video feature. I can take video, download it to my computer, send the file to a free online converter called media convert and have it sent back to me from a quicktime file .mov to an .avi that Windows Movie Maker (free if you have Windows) can accept. I can edit, clip and add titles if necessary and embed it into my PowerPoint pretty quickly.

What kind of video? Use SHORT clips. Don't try for "Gone with the Wind" or a clip from a talking head lecture that is dry. Add short video examples for a lesson to reinforce a color, things that start with a letter name, shapes, animals, etc. Make sure the videos are in a .wmv file to play. You can use Windows Movie Maker to convert any video format you have already converted into .avi from another format (using media convert) so that when you finish the movie in Windows Movie Maker it will end up in .wmv file format (That is the file type that is accepted and played in PowerPoint). Windows Movie Maker basically becomes an editor and converter if you need to clip out some of the video or want to add titles. If not, you could just use the raw footage and convert directly to .wmv to insert in your PowerPoint.

No matter what your purpose is with an activity - whether it is a lesson, a talking book, etc. using narration/text to speech and video can make it come to life and be much more powerful. If you are thinking, "I don't have time to do that", remember that once you have done a couple of these and learned the basic elements, it will come easier and when you see the response you get from students, you will be hooked.

Tomorrow I will share part 2 on face lifts for PowerPoint that will include background, fonts, graphics and ideas for branching activities for interactivity and switch access. Hmmm...maybe that is too much for one more day. There might have to be a part 3 too!

All the best to you!