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!