Friday, September 5, 2008

Finding the Right Assistive Technology

I slid the slider with my mouse and watched the numbers roll forwards to 70%, slid the slider the other way and went to 20%. What was I selecting? The degree of summarization being applied to convert text with the PDF Equalizer from Premier Literacy. when I decided on a percentage and allowed it to summarize, a new window opened with the summarization of the text. The text reader read the text to me and my first thought was, "Where have you been all my life? Where were you in my college days?!!"
I have heard some criticism of these tools because they cost money and some folks believe there should be free tools for support and accommodation for the impaired so they can access text just like anyone else - and it shouldn't cost them. The Premier Literacy Company has their grant program to give district licenses for their software suite. Any home computers of students can use a password from the district to get that current version for free too. I know that once a person is out of school, they lose that umbrella of benefit - but there are other avenues.
I for one, would LOVE to see accessibility tools for free and there are quite a few open source tools as well as free "trials" that don't expire, and also online tools for browsers, etc. But I do believe that we can either access the free basic tools and survive, or we can have some nicer tools if we choose to pay for them.
The folks that design many of these programs have to make a living too - and some of them are blind or visually impaired, and this is how they make their living. I feel good knowing I am contributing to their efforts to be independent and free to provide for themselves. So I guess it all depends on how you want to look at it. Both have their merit and neither is wrong.
I really don't want to make this blog a place to pitch products, but I do want to share on different tools I am testing and using, give feedback and allow readers to check out their options.
A few months ago I was working with the Microsoft tool that saves Word documents as DAISY files. With the help of the company, we were able to figure out the process of transferring a text from a Word document to a DAISY formatted talking book file. Now that was all free - except you had to have MS Word already to utilize it. (I need to work on a tutorial to explain that - I promised I would...)
This past week, I shared excitement with a high school teacher as he blew the dust off a flatbed scanner with OCR (Optical Character Recognition), scanned a worksheet, opened it up and had the Natural Reader toolbar read the scanned text to him. That was all free - except he had to have the scanner. They are as low as $60 - 70 these days.
So there are ways to get your text into an audible format - it is just that there are SO many ways that it gets overwhelming. Should I use Kurzweill 3000, Premier Literacy, free tools and my scanner? I guess it comes down to:
1. Who is the person using it?
2; Where are they going to use it?
3. What are they needing it to do?
4. What bundle of technology and software best serves the first three issues?
This is sometimes called the SETT approach: Student, Tools, Tasks & Tools.

We will be asking the above 4 questions with an elementary boy that we will be in a team setting for here soon. We will be, once again, nailing down what tools to access print and writing are options for this student. Every one of these kids are different and their needs are diverse so I need to customize my thinking one child at a time.
In the meantime I can go play a little with this stuff too. That's one of the reasons I love this job -and I still like that incredible summary tool!

All the best to you!


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