Friday, October 31, 2008

The Assistive Technology Blog Carnival "Mad Scientist" Edition is Up

Happy Halloween!

I am proud to present the October Mad Scientist Edition of The Assistive Technology Blog Carnival. We have quite a few posts this month from some great bloggers.

Check out ideas on talking book PowerPoints, useful Mac tips and ideas, creating switch adapted toys, A mad scientist party, Using Multiple Communication boards, and more.

There are some mad scientist projects like a tech'ed out pumpkin, a look at Tesla on video, Superman fights a mad scientist and a Mad Scientist site with online how to science experiments. There is even a link to a Mad Scientist video game you can download (a pretty substantial demo) for free.

I hope you enjoy!


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Live Interview Today with DAISY Consortium - Sharing the Vision: Making Information Accessible to Everyone

Secretary General of DAISY Consortium will be my guest this afternoon at 2 PM Pacific on No Limits 2 Learning Live on Blog Talk Radio

Ever since I worked on several pieces concerning the process of converting text to the DAISY format using MS Word last spring, I have had some wonderful discourse with folks from the DAISY consortium. They proved their ability to be on top of the online discussion concerning their tools and public opinion when they left comments clarifying some technical issues I had with converting text.
I commended them for their involvement at this level and the team expressed their thanks for the positive input. You see, we forget that there are folks hard at work dedicating days and weeks and months of time to build software to make our lives easier. Many times their efforts go unnoticed and only the negative responses are all that get heard.
I want to share that the DAISY Consortium team has gone above and beyond in their supporting their tools and technology. In light of this, I am very honored to be able to present an interview with George Kerscher Ph.D. and Secretary General of DAISY Consortium and Lynn Leith, the editor of the DAISY Planet online newsletter and Head of Information Services. Lynn has a long background in Canada with the CNIB Library for the blind in audio master production. She has been great to correspond with me and work on setting up this interview.
We will be discussing the NIMAS standards, an update for the MS Word plug -in, strategies for using DAISY files for learning supports, as well as future goals and projects. We will also be talking about the WBU treaty proposal for WIPO -World Intellectual PropertyOrganization taking place on Nov 3 and their thoughts on its implications.

I hope you will join us today, Tuesday, October 29th at 2 PM Pacific time at No Limits 2 Learning Live for the interview.

As always, the archive will be up after the live stream for folks to access from the player on my sidebar or from the talk show archive at the link above. I am also starting to put all the archives on my No Limits 2 site under the archives link along with many other resources.

Remember also that the Assistive Technology Blog Carnival "Mad Scientist" Edition will be up on Halloween day and there will be some fun surprises.

All the best to you!


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Yikes! A Switch-adapted Toy for Halloween

A vintage battery operated Frankenstein brings memories of the fun we had as kids with Halloween toys. Why not create a fun switch operated toy using a battery interrupter to bring some Halloween fun to the orthopedically impaired?

Whether it is a screaming doorknocker, a Frankenstein dancing to the monster mash, a rat with glowing eyes or an animated witch, using a battery interrupter can transform a simple toy into a fun treat with a seasonal flair.

There are two ways you can do the battery interrupting. One way is to get a thin piece of copper metal and using snips or scissors, cut it in a circle or square about the size of a dime.

Using speaker wire, solder one of each of the two wires to either side of the copper plate. The other end needs to have the wires soldered to a 3.5 mini jack plug that you can buy at Radio Shack or at a computer electronics shop.

The following tutorial will give you some pictures and directions that are more specific:

Here is another way for the more technically challenged:
Save some time and buy a pre-made battery interruptor from Enabling Devices for $9.95. They also have a nice free tutorial pdf on how to install and use their battery interruptors.
I have used a notching file tool that allows me to notch a hole in the side of the battery door so that the cord can fit through. These can be bought through infogrip for $9.

I have found that the straight-forward toy, as far as having a single action and single switch, is a lot easier to adapt. I bought one toy that had 3 settings and by using the interrupter, I only got one feature and it wasn't that exciting. To get to the main brain of the toy, I had to undo a lot of screws only to find a plastic casing I would have had to break. I would suggest looking for the simplest featured toys you can find for this kind of project.

Here are some pictures and links to some fun Halloween toys that might work I found on a quick search:

Switch adapted toys can make all the difference for kids with orthopedic impairments or low functioning students working on cause and effect. Just make sure that you know what stimulates or scares your students so you are not setting them up for a real scare that you didn't intend on having happen! If you have children that have fun with the ghosts and goblins at Halloween, these adapted toys could be a real treat!
All the best to you!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Coming Up November 3: World Treaty Proposal on Accessible Information Needs Your Voice

Today I read a blog post by my friend Ron Graham on Access Ability,"Call to Advocacy for Accessible Information".
Even though I have done my post for the day, I felt this was very important information to get out to you. It underlies much of what I work towards in the area of accessiblility. Ron is alerting us to a new treaty for the blind and visually impaired. It addresses all the things that are frustrating me about having incredible technology to access print in new media formats but having out-dated legal issues binding the use of the technology and limiting access.
Ron's post has all the information and links needed to understand and to actively alert our leaders on voting for this treaty. WIPO is the World Intellectual Property Organization and the meeting where this will be on the agenda is November 3.
If I am able to connect with DAISY Consortium for a radio show this week, we will discuss this.
Below is an excerpt from the bulletin concerning the treaty. I have put some text in red that I found very appropriate!

World Blind Union proposal for a WIPO Treaty for Blind, Visually Impaired and other Reading Disabled Persons
"Today persons who are blind or otherwise reading disabled face enormous obstacles in accessing copyrighted works. In an ideal world, publishers would make works available in formats accessible to the blind, visually impaired and reading disabled. In practice, this happens only rarely. Even in the wealthiest markets,1 less than 5 percent of published books are accessible to persons who are blind, and access in developing countries is often more limited. At the same time, innovations in information technology have created exciting opportunities to expand access. Traditionally, visually impaired persons have relied upon audio works that were cumbersome to use, expensive raised paper braille editions of works, and large type books printed on paper.
Today these approaches are being supplemented by a number of new digital technologies. Using standards like the Digital Accessible Information SYstem (DAISY), it is possible to publish works with highly usable indexes and searching technologies that can be used in audio, refreshable raised braille, or large type readers. Documents can be distributed at very low costs over the Internet or cell phone networks. The prices of the new digital reading devices vary according to functionality and purpose, but are becoming very affordable, even in developing countries.
While new technologies make it possible to imagine a world where visually impaired persons have access to a broad variety of documents at the same time as sighted people, the out-of-date legal environment is a barrier. Far more often than not, it is too difficult or impossible to obtain licenses from copyright owners. Some countries have limitations and exceptions in copyright laws to enable works to be made accessible for persons with reading disabilities without the permission of copyright owners, but the provisions vary considerably from country to country, and are often quite restrictive, or focused only on older technologies such as raised paper braille. Of particular concern to the WBU is the fact that the current regimes of limitations and exceptions do not permit the import and exports of accessible works. As a consequence of these factors, the total number of accessible works is very low, particularly in smaller market countries.

The Proposed Treaty
The WBU seeks to greatly expand access to works by a global platform for distributing accessible works. This involves creating a harmonized global minimum standard for copyright limitations and exceptions for blind, visually impaired and reading disabled persons that allows exports and imports of works in accessible formats to qualified persons. It is anticipated that this will both facilitate greater access to works under copyright limitations and exceptions, and also motivate publishers to publish works in accessible formats.
The basic structure of the proposal is a two tiered set of limitations and exceptions to the rights of copyright owners. Non-profit institutions would have the right to publish and distribute works in accessible formats if four conditions were met.
The person or organization wishing to undertake any activity under this provision has lawful access to that work or a copy of that work;
the work is converted to an accessible format, which may include any means needed to navigate information in the accessible format, but does not introduce changes other than those needed to make the work accessible to a visually impaired person;
copies of the work are supplied exclusively to be used by visually impaired persons; and
the activity is undertaken on a non-profit basis.
The Treaty proposal also provides for more limited exceptions for commercial publishers to make works available to the visually impaired when:
“the work or copy of the work that is to be made into an accessible format is not reasonably available in an identical or largely equivalent format enabling access for the visually impaired, and the entity providing this accessible format gives notice to the owner of copyright of such use and adequate remuneration to copyright owners is available.”
The biggest beneficiaries of the treaty will be blind and visually impaired persons living in developing countries, as they will have far greater access to works currently only available in high-income countries. However, even developed countries will benefit enormously from the liberalization of access to foreign collections of accessible works, and from the expansion of the rights for the visually impaired, including in areas such as technological protection measures or restrictive contracts. Moreover, given the importance of economies of scale, everyone will benefit from the larger global market for accessible works."

Read the full document here:


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Have A "Mad Scientist" Assistive Technology Halloween Party

It is officially Halloween Week! I have several posts to share with a Halloween theme this week as well as the release of our AT Blog Carnival Mad Scientist Edition coming out this Friday and a new No Limits 2 Learning Live Blog Talk Radio interview.

The mad scientist in me is having too much fun.
I hosted a weekend party up on our mountain this past weekend and the dinner Saturday night was a Thai meal. I dressed up in my asylum shirt, fake tattoo arms and hockey mask to serve the dinner.

Late Saturday night, I went to work on this month's Assistive Technology Blog Carnival and found an email submission from Alicia Odom, author of smdteacher blog. She had so many good ideas, I couldn't wait until Halloween day to post her link on the AT Blog Carnival, so I am linking it below so you can get some ideas from it. Maybe you can use something for your classroom party this week.

Mad Scientist Halloween Party

I love her games. integration of AT devices and supports. Thanks Alicia!

Make sure to check out the Assistive Technology Blog Carnival Mad Scientist Edition on Halloween Day. We have more from Alicia and others on creative uses for AT. There will also be some video clips on mad scientists, links to student activities in science and some other surprises. It's not too late for YOU to submit something either!
Submit to

Tomorrow I will be sharing how to adapt some fun Halloween battery-operated toys for the orthopedically impaired and some cause and effect fun.
My guests for my talk show are starting to line up again after a brief hiatus to get my fall school schedule up and running. I made lots of contacts at Closing the Gap for interviews. DAISY Consortium is working with me on an interview possibly this Wednesday for No Limits 2 Learning Live - I will know soon and you can check back on Wednesday morning to see if it is happening in the afternoon that day or not. More details to follow...

Happy Halloween Everyone!



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Friday, October 24, 2008

Starting Bell on Wall Street: Carnage as Dow Falls, But Life Goes On in Special Education

I have been feeling life move in slow motion lately as I have watched our world financial crisis. This morning at 5 a.m. as I was readying myself to write a post for the day, I put CNBC in the background and watched as the reports came in from the opening of the European markets earlier today. A plunge in stocks had an impact on U.S. futures showing a drop of over 500 points before we are even open. The implication is that we will see an 1,100 point plunge at the opening this morning. Russia has closed their market for the day and will not open until next week.
NYSE said they were committed to open on time at 9:30 Eastern time. At this point CNBC have their cameras on the NYSE floor and the host said they will be there for the starting bell and they will be recording "the carnage". The opening is starting any time here as I write.
I just have to share this today because my first thought isn't about where my retirement is going (although that thought is there!) but more the thought of what the implications will be for schools and special education services. Will schools opt to cut therapist jobs and make do with their own staff to meet needs? Will services to these students suffer because of the process of cutting corners?
What are your thoughts on where we are headed? I asked our superintendent almost 3 weeks ago if he thought it was too early to forecast where we were headed. He shared that we are OK through this biennium, but the next one will be hard. He is looking at all kinds of options to cut costs that involve new fuel efficient vehicles, teleservice and video conference service delivery options where possible. (The NYSE is open and has fallen 322 points in the first 3 minutes. Now as I write it has dropped 390. Now 425 points while I write this.) He also shared that education has weathered the storm better than many other professions in recession. During the Great Depression schools still opened and teachers taught.
I welcome your thoughts on this. I would like to know what others are sensing as to the implications for student services. Whatever is happening in the financial world, I am still getting up in the morning and meeting with teachers, specialists, students and pressing on with state initiatives for opening up access and availability of accessible instructional materials. Life goes on...

All the best to you!



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Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Breakthrough Makes it All Worthwhile

Freedom and the control to choose is one of the basic rights we exercise everyday. When we are able to give that to a special needs student who has never really had the opportunity to control what they want and how much or how long, it is a special thing.
Yesterday I was working with one of our SLP's who wanted to experiment with a radio and some cause and effect activities with a middle school boy. We plugged the radio into an Ablenet Powerlink 3 and had a Big Red Switch set up with a timer. It only took about three or four attempts and some music to play for this student to get the idea that when he hit the switch he would hear music.
We had it on a local country station and Toby Keith was singing as this boy rocked to the beat. As soon as the music would stop, he would hit the switch to start it again and laugh and look at us all with absolute delight - he was making something go on his own and he really liked it.
We worked with some cause and effect animations with switch interface on the computer as well, but the visual was too subtle for him at this point. We took him back to the radio and he was excited to try music some more.
The assistants and teacher said that this was the first time they had found something he could respond to and make some kind of choice for. We are working to lay a foundation to expand into simple communication switch commands for cause and effect activities. It will be fun to see where it leads.
For those of you who have experienced this, you know what I mean, but for those of you who haven't, it's hard to convey the thrill it is to see a student have the light dawn that they have some element of control over something they like for the first time. It is a revelation and it just makes me all the more determined to keep working for the development of more for these kids.

All the best to you!



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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Fusion Keyboard as Writing and Text to Speech Tool

I spent the day yesterday at our state AT Advisory Board meeting in Salem. I always enjoy listening to what other AT coordinators are using and what they are excited about. One of the pieces of equipment I heard several leaders mention was the Fusion Keyboard by Advanced Keyboard technologies.

I have been using an Alphasmart Neo coupled with Write Outloud To Go from Don Johnston. I bought a small set of speakers that plug in the headphone port and the students have been using it to type to talk. Although I like it, I have had trouble with the WOL To Go disappearing when the battery dies. I have to re-sync it every time. I also have trouble with the speakers not being attached. I like what I read and hear concerning the Fusion Keyboard.

Here's what the company says about it:

"In response to the specific requests from AT, OT and Special needs teachers from around the country, AKT developed the Fusion portable keyboard. Fusion offers the programs and features that Special Needs professionals have been asking for - for years: Text to Speech, excellent word prediction programming, a large LCD display with adjustable font size all on an easy to use, low-cost platform."

You can order a demo device for trial through the website. I like that it has a built-in speaker so carting around an external speaker (like I have been doing) isn't necessary. The cost is $369, but I have heard you can get them for less depending on where you order it.

I have ordered a demo device to look at. I will let you know what I think when I play with it awhile. The company has a cart that holds a lab set, and a charger. This might be a great support alternative so that the whole class has a choice to use this tool, not just one or two that need special support. We all know how kids hate to stand out - plus, we are offering that UDL principal of tools for everyone. Wouldn't this be a great tool to support accessibility to writing and editing for many of our students that don't qualify under traditional eligibilities, yet need the extra support?

All the best to you!



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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Animated Sign Dictionary Makes a Valuable Resource

While at Closing the Gap I went to a presentation on adapting software tools for the deaf and hard of hearing. Dan Herlihy, of Connective Technology Solutions, the presenter, shared how he used an animated library of words in sign to attach as a dictionary in Kurzweil 3000. He also used it to embed quick clips of words as sign in Intellitools Classroom Suite and Clicker 5.

The dictionary, or library might be a more appropriate term, is produced by Sign Smith Studio from Vcom3D Inc. You can buy individual CD's or the complete library set. They have a science dictionary, a general animated dictionary, an ASL package for the iPhone, iTouch and iTunes, and a studio to put phrases together.

One of the main designers who is deaf himself, was available to answer questions. He showed me a new system they are working on that works on a cell phone or PDA and allows translation by grouping words into phrases It does ASL through the animations as a way of interpretation. This is used on the iPhone tool I think. You can download a free player, a $1.99 sample, and a $29.99 library for the iPhone and iTouch off iTunes now. The link is at the website. I have a screen shot of the offerings on iTunes below.

Take a look at their tools. You can power up curriculum for students that need communication support through sign and make your curriculum come alive.

All the best to you!


Monday, October 20, 2008

Ask the Expert: Mp3 Interview with Dr. Joy Zabala on Copyright Issues and IDEA 2004

Dr. Joy Zabala is the pioneer innovator of the SETT process for evaluation and implementation of Assistive Technology. She is also the project manager for the AIM (Accessible Instructional Materials) Consortium for CAST. She shared her expertise on copyright and IDEA with me while at Closing the Gap. When you want advice from an expert she is definitely the "Go-to Gal". (The interview is at the bottom of the post)

We have been bouncing around some opinions on interpretation of copyright here on the blog lately, and I have been sharing methods to get printed text into accessible formats. We have discussed scanning and converting to Mp3, using text to speech readers, Mp3 players, purchased software from Premier Literacy and Kurzweil. We have even explored the new DAISY save MS Word (this past summer). We have had the DAISY Consortium folks jump into the discussion and I have found it all to be educational, informative and challenging to my thinking. There are still gaps in my understanding and I wanted some clarification if at all possible to keep me away from potential legal land mines.

While I was at Closing the Gap in Minneapolis, I sat in on several sessions that addressed RTI, NIMAS, AIM and UDL. In these sessions, there were always questions about how copyright law impacts the implementations mandated under IDEA 2004. Dr. Joy Zabala had some good things to say about it. I asked her if she would sit down with me a few minutes and share some of her thoughts with us. She happily agreed - thank you Dr. Joy!

Even though we are still a long way from having all the lines drawn and grey areas defined about who qualifies in certain instances, who is a "competent professional" to make decisions on who has a legitimate print disability, and what constitutes "fair use for education" in adapting print materials, we do have some experts that can guide us on what we need to consider and how to go about setting legal guidelines at a state level. Dr. Zabala is one of these we can go to for some guidance.

I am proud and honored to present my interview with Dr. Joy on this topic. We intended to go about 10 or 15 minutes, but as we got to discussing the topic, it stretched out a little longer - almost 30 minutes! I think you will find some good advice and information on where we are in the process of implementing access for print disabilities right now.

The interview is linked below, and I have also posted the interview on my new No Limits 2 Learning Website main page and under "Archive" where I will be storing all my audio files for free access anytime.

Interview With Dr. Joy Zabala on Copyright Issues and IDEA 2004 Mp3 - recorded at Closing the Gap Conference, 2008


Dr. Joy Zabala's Web site

AIM Consortium/CAST

I hope you enjoy the interview. All the best to you!



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Friday, October 17, 2008

Ablelink Technologies: Cognitive Supports for Cell Phones

I found a great tool at Closing the Gap in the exhibit hall yesterday, Ablelink Technologies, so I recorded an interview and posted it for you today. I set it up as a podcast on my gcast but it isn't up yet, so I have the Mp3 file below so you can hear it on your own player now. You can also right-click on the link and save the target as... and download it to your computer. Snap shot will also create a player for you as you roll over the link.
I can see this for Autism, traumatic brain injury, cognitive low to mid functioning...


Ablelink Interview

All the best to you!


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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Teaching Every Student with UDL Tools: A Process and Strategy for Implementation

I am at Closing the Gap in Minneapolis today. I will be collecting information and ideas to share with you. I am attending some sesssions on UDL and accessibility, so I will be giving you a summary of what I hear and some thoughts on it based on applications for AT in classrooms - especially as it fits within the parameters of what I do.
For today, I would encourage you to take a look at The E Text Version of "Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning" by David H. Rose & Anne Meyer.
This book is presented online by CAST: Teaching Every Student
There is so much to do to provide our students equal access. They are in desperate need of it. As I sat in a regional special ed administrators meeting this past week, I heard them talk about the RTI model and the issues surrounding the identifying of students for special education services. They were acknowledging that there were students that didn't qualify, but still had needs.
Sadly, I didn't feel at that moment that my sharing some UDL principles and getting them to see the idea of accessibility for ALL students as very productive.
Last month I showed them the Premier Literacy Grant and tools as well as some free print disability tools. One director is already on board and has applied and we are preparing for implementation. Next month I will be sharing our AT model and flow chart for identification, assessment and team implementation with these directors. We will also have an AAC company rep there to share. I think I am presenting them with some good tools, but it is obvious that they have too much pressing on them to focus on this issue and so it is up to me (and those of you that do what I do) to "roll up sleeves" and start going out and doing it. This will help expand the practice - not sitting in meetings and preaching about it.
I have said this before and I will say it again - I am all over going out and showing, supporting and modeling the components of print accessibility and UDL with teachers, getting them to use it and help students be able to do it. I am excited when I see the light come on and folks "get it". That is when I feel that my efforts pay off.
I think we have been able to esatablish that a need is there. Now we need to offer the answer and implement it effectively. If the results are effective, then we have a platform to expand.

All the best to you!


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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Promethean Board and Activstudio Have Applications for AT

We have several districts that have purchased Promethean Boards, a computerized whiteboard, and our instructional technology team have been holding trainings and getting teachers familiar with the cool tricks that the board and the software packages can do.
Last year I had set up a trial with Kurzweil 3ooo and the teacher and the CP student loved it. It had been the first time he had been able to turn in his worksheets with the rest of the class. They had used the K3000 program and a scanner and converted his wprksheets. Then he used the Click-n-Type keyboard to enter his answers in the fields set up on the e worksheet. Then they printed the worksheet and handed it in.
The trial was a success but the specific program wasn't written in the IEP. The school wanted to trial some other methods to get the student access to his worksheets and assignments. Enter the Promethean Board and its software.
The sped teacher told me the other day that she wanted to try the Activstudio software with this student to access his paper assignments. I asked her what it did. She said you could scan any papers you want to put up on the Promethean Board and enter the answers on the board - or from a computer. Since they already had the software, they wanted to see if it would give similar access for keyboarding in the answer fields.
While visiting with the instructional technology folks in our region I asked about Activstudio. They said similar things also. I haven't gotten to assess this feature yet because I haven't had a chance to use it with a scanner, but it sounds like a great tool. Of course there won't be all the K3000 bells and whistles like the text to speech, study tools, etc. but since the school has it, why not give it a try. There are some nice applications for the low visionl earner with it. We used it last year with Intellitools Classroom Suite 4 to give a CVI student a chance to see things big and manipulate them. He loved it.
I did a little research and found a thread on Promethean Planet, a discussion thread for sharing ideas on the Promethean Board. Under the topic scanning and importing, Bill Lohman, an area rep for the company shared the following:

"When you import a scanned image and it is this:right click on the "fit" on the menu...choose the selection you want. I usually choose "best fit to page"...This will resize the image. I then lock it to the background so that the students can then annotate over it without accidentally selecting it. I have not had any problems with slowing my flipcharts down at this point. I could see issues if you do not have sufficient RAM and harddrive space though. I have used flipcharts with several large images (my latest postcard to Hilary) with no significant performance issues, its just 6 mb. Another option would be to scan the worksheet with a decent OCR program and scan it into text.. "

Bill Lohman
Promethean Inc.
Gulf States Area Manager

I am going to observe how it goes , spend some time learning the software and give you feedback. If any of you use this tool already and have used this feature, maybe you can give us your impressions.

All the best to you!


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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Closing the Gap Conference: Offer More with AT Services

This post is a personal invitation to come say hello to me at "Closing the Gap" in Minneapolis this week if you are attending. I am presenting a one hour workshop on building free online blog tools that support AT service delivery.
I will be sharing my online tools and some sites that give muti-media, web 2.0 and social networking potential for AT in different areas. We will talk about matching the design of a blog and the widgets you use with the purpose for the tool.
The session will be Friday, the 17th in Edina Sheraton from 12:30 to 1:30. Bring your lunch and join us.
No Limits 2 Learning Website is Live and in Process:
I have posted my handouts and some tutorials on my companion web site No Limits 2 Learning, under the Training section. I have been working to get my website up and get materials on there for free download. I have a resource area that I haven't had time to build yet, but will house all the links to free tools, software downloads, trials, etc. I have started an archive to my Blog Talk Radio Show under "archive" and have a few up. My goal is to get all my shows up there for download and have transcripts available.
I have recently finished a report - Action Steps to Advocacy, based on observations in my work on what makes successful advocacy. This report will be linked for a download from this blog and my website here in the next couple of weeks. The release will coincide with a focus on advocacy and AT interview of me by the Family Center on Technology and Disability Site and a discussion thread I will be co-moderating in November. There will be more info coming as that all gets going next month. Should be fun!

I haven't forgotten about sharing the Promethean Board tool. I will get to that this week as well.
I hope to meet some of you in person this week at Closing the Gap - come say "Hi" if you can.

All the best to you!


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Monday, October 13, 2008

Call for Posts and Links for the Halloween "Mad Scientist" Edition of the AT Blog Carnival

Frankenstein made his monster, the farmer above grew his human-faced pumpkins... What do you "grow" with AT?
The October edition of the Assistive Technology Blog Carnival is on what you create using AT or maybe a "how to" to use AT. Maybe you use AT to support you in your vocation, to write, to do art, create music, produce video, maybe something surprising we wouldn't ever think of.
If you are an educator, maybe you would be able to share a link to a post on what you or others are creating with technology or something that has a use for AT. Artwork, music, poetry, video created with AT would be fun too. Adults or children's projects made using AT would be very cool...
I have 2 submissions/tutorials already from a teacher who shows us how to create some tools and activities that are useful and fun. Let the "Mad scientist" come out in you and share something with us.
If none of that sparks an idea, I thought about this..."What is your most "Scary" story concerning AT. A time it didn't work right, a time someone totally didn't get it and you thought, "That's scary"... I can think of me when I first was introduced to AT and I look back on what I didn't know and I think..."That's SCARY". It is amazing how much I have grown - but I still have a long way to go. And of course, if nothing fits for you, you are welcome to share whatever you like.
Send links to me by Monday, October 27 and I will post them for a fun issue posted on October 31, Halloween Day! Pass the word around and I hope to hear from some of you. I will also include some fun Halloween links for your enjoyment! You could include one of those too...
All the best to you!

Technology Chats Over Micro-brews:Let's Get Instructional and Assistive Technology Working Together

We need to "marry" instructional technology in the schools with assistive technology - what better way to start than over a micro-brew?
It is Sunday night, I have spent the late autumn afternoon in a true Oktoberfest, wandering a green and gold corn maze in the country near Walla Walla, WA. We drove with some of our friends and all of our children, by vineyards and hay bales, making our way to the little farm which has a hot dog stand and lawn chairs around a bonfire at the entrance. This is tradition anymore. We have been taking our children here since they were 2 - even have gotten our family Christmas card pictures taken here. We love it.
After the corn maze we visited another tradition, a micro brewery, and sat outside and had nachos, onion rings, buffalos wings and sweet potato fries - oh yes and a locally brewed Walla Walla Wheat beer with lemon. I am now sitting by the fire ready to write a Monday post with a full tummy and happy heart. So what did I learn today? I think I need to start a new series on my blog: "Technology Chats Over Microbrews"
The friends we went with happen to be our regional instructional technology gurus - really. They handle all the professional development with teachers in our region for instructional best practice with technology. They serve at the state level in the instructional technology state cadre and hold a regional cadre. The first regional one last week had about 50 teachers there from our schools. They all freely donated their time from 4:30 to 7:30 with a free dinner (free food always bribes teachers!). Seriously, the training is so relevent, powerful and exciting that there are often teachers turned down because of a lack of space.
So here we were at the table and we began to talk about projects at work, several things. One is a district that is now applying for the Premier Literacy grant for their suite of accessibility tools. The district wants me to train and help in implementation. I thought what better way to integrate these friends who do our instructional technology than to invite them into the process of implementing this software for the first district in our region to get this grant. What better people to pull into the idea of UDL and accessibility tools for ALL students than these two. If they buy in and help me implement this first district - and they see the power of it, maybe they will help spread the news. We also talked about some tools with the Promethean Board that I hadn't realized could be a boon to us in AT - I will share that tomorrow.

I want to encourage you to look at how you can pull the instructional technology experts in your area into the discussion and implementation of AT for all students. So often we are in different camps - and both are trying to accomplish the same thing - support for education using technology, but we do it seperately. I know that we serve different school populations at times, but with RTI and NCLB, those populations are merging. By combining efforts we can provide a holistic approach, combining the best of both worlds.
I have much more to say on this topic, but will save some for another post. In the meantime, find a corn maze near you in the next 2 weeks, get a carload of friends and spend a lazy Sunday afternoon exploring. Then sit by a fire with your favorite food, drink and friends - but even better, make them friends who happen to work with instructional technology - maybe a first date? See where it leads...

All the best to you!


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Saturday, October 11, 2008

South Africa, Global Financial Crisis and Assistive Technology

I have had the fortune to make friends with an educator in South Africa through email. I was asked if I could answer some questions about voices for Clicker 5. We found out that you can use your own favorite voice with Clicker 5 - you don't have to just use theirs.
In our conversation, I mentioned that I had taught in Capetown with a music school there for 6 weeks. I was asked about it and also about whether my son had a disability or not. After I wrote my reply and read it, I realized how much I miss Africa and the wonderful people I met there. They taught me a new meaning to the phrase "Joy in adversity". I thought I would share my response with you...

"My school was a private school based in Dallas Texas in the USA. We did satellite schools around the world where the school was a 6 week boarding school environment. We did night classes in the city and weekly concerts where we brought in guest artists. During the day we had classes for the boarders and they got to learn from the guest artist all week as well. They were put in bands and we had a faculty that were professional musicians from U.S., New Zealand, Sydney and Capetown. I was the faculty band leader and keyboard and songwriting instructor. I got the artists CD's and charts and rehearsed the band as a cover band for the artist for the Friday night concerts. I did a new artist each week for 6 weeks.
I joke because our venue was a block from the beach. I walked on the beach the second day there and then was so busy I didn't see it until the end of the school. I walked on it one more time before I flew out!
Some locals took me up into the wine country for a day and we went hiking out on a point where the oceans came together, saw some wildlife, went to the top of Table rock, went to a large mall/shopping area by the harbor, but the BEST was living with local students in the dorms, jamming and being taught that South African "groove".

I have wonderful memories...My son, I am happy to say is completely (overly full of energy sometimes!) healthy. I am the one with the disability. I had a spontaneouos dissection of my right vertebral artery which caused a lesion on my brain about 2 years ago. I spent 5 days in the hospital. I am fine other than symptoms of a traumatic brain injury - there are many - and mine are on the less serious side but still a pain in the neck and something I have to compensate for.
South Africa had a big impact on me. I felt accepted and loved by the time I left. The students gave me FAR MORE than I ever gave them. I bet you know that feeling."
(As I got to know these students, many of them shared their stories of how their families had their homes and belongings taken by the government and were put in the townships. I listened to their music and harmonies - the joy in its' sound and tears would fill my eyes. I had so much to be thankful for. As I think about what is happening in our government and financial global situation, I see those faces and know if they made it then, I can make it now too!)

All the best to you,


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Friday, October 10, 2008

Issues of Good Faith, Fair Use and Big Heart

I was reading some comments on my blog from the other day on copyright issues. I hear strong and convincing perspectives from folks that say we should provide materials for students with disabilities and that whether we know the absolute boundaries to copyright issues for that student and the materials they are using or not, we still should provide them.
On the other hand, a perspective was brought forward that we need to remember the rights of the writers and companies that developed the materials and their end of the spectrum. Even though we may want to use text that we aren't sure about as far as the legality of the use, we need to make sure we are following the laws that protect the material. Here are my thoughts on this...
I titled this post "Good Faith, Fair Use and Big Heart" for the following reasons:

I think I do a lot of things in good faith through my day. I just have this sense of checks and balances that I operate in that extends out to the teachers I serve, the students I believe in, the equipment I check out and leave places, the materials I loan, the money I give, etc. For example,
I had a teacher ask for a scanner the other day. I had told you last week that I had been denied some software for a student I had put in a purchase request for. Well, I knew I couldn't look for a pocket of money anywhere but my own for this one. I told her to ask her administrator and the "powers that be" for the $69 to purchase it. I told her if she couldn't find anyone, anywhere in her school, parents, fellow teachers, school board or parents club who would give her the money, let me know and I would buy it for her myself - really. I had enough faith in people and organizations to believe someone would support her need - and if not, I would.
I use copyrighted material with good faith that I will be seen as an educator that is not abusing it, that I am using it within the parameters of a student who has a one-to-one correlation to the textbook on the shelf. I also operate in good faith that the publishers would see it that way too based on the fair use/copyright law ammendments I have studied as they relate to disabilities and education. I guess that is where the fair use ties in for me.
And I suppose it is pretty obvious that my heart is probably too big for my own good when it comes to doing things on my own when I can't find it anywhere else or don't want to ask. As an educator, from my time in teacher college on through my career, I have ALWAYS spent my own money for supplies and things that I wanted for my kids. There was never a second thought or question about it. It is that way with this blog. I have it tied to my server and my email set -up and all of that costs me, but it is my way of giving there too.
I believe that one of the greatest and most positive parts of my experience online in blogging this past year has been the big heart I see in many of you that write blogs, read, teach, parent, serve, etc. The growth of readership on my blog has come through my sharing other's blogs on mine and so on. The viral nature of giving before recieving has made blogging a wonderful process for me. If someone wants to use my writing as a resource for free, that is fine. If they turn around and sell it...well, that would mess up my perspective on good faith, wouldn't it?

All the best to you,


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Thursday, October 9, 2008

Using Spanish Voices for Text to Speech

Yesterday I worked with an assistant in a classroom that was scanning a childrens book in spanish to use with a student learning spanish. We scanned several pages as text files and put them into Wordpad.
Once we had 4 pages of text, we highlighted it and copy/pasted it into the Natural Reader free download player. The reader read the text but it was an English voice and so the pronunciations were all wrong. Since the assistant was Hispanic, she got a kick out of the wrong pronunciation but was visibly disappointed because she had done all this work in trying to scan and build the e text into an audio book.
"I read it and recorded it at home with a microphone on our computer." she said.
What a novel idea! (I am just kidding) but she is right - after I showed her how to scan a book, paste the text into a reader, record it and convert it to an Mp3, we are back to just reading and recording it. I am partially responsible for her disappointment because I hadn't thought about the spanish issue in pronunciation. I know now.
Natural Reader has a set of voices for $49.95 that have 2 great English voices, 1 French and 1 Spanish as well as some others. Premier Literacy has a voice selection menu with a Cepstral Spanish voice. Since the school I am working with on this project is applying for the grant from Premier Literacy to get their software package, they are waiting to use the Spanish voice on it instead of buying the Natural Reader package.
The lesson learned in this is that I can get in a "geek mode" and start doing all kinds of converting and cool tricks and forget the KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) motto. I know that everyone always has the option to just read and record a chapter, but there is some kind of power we exercise when we can scan our own textbook, paste the text into a reader and see it read and hear it as well. Having an Mp3 of it to listen to "on the go" is also a great option for students. I want to empower them to be able to do this for themselves.
The assistant I am working with is still looking forward to being in charge of making Mp3's and working on accessible text for those students that need it. She is also going to help students learn how to do this for themselves once she has got it down. I just thought I would share my thoughts on this with you and what it meant to me today.
I would value your comments - what do you think? Is it overkill to skip the Mp3 download off a blog because of copyright concerns and use the Audacity tool or should we just hook up a microphone to the computer and start recording while we read to save time and trouble?
Let's hear your thoughts.

All the best to you!


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Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Make Free Audio Book Mp3's Using Audacity

Use Audacity to make audio book Mp3 files with E text:

Because there are some issues as to whether copyright law is being violated or not when trying to convert textbooks to Mp3 by using the Odiogo tool, some might feel more comfortable with using a voice on their computer instead. If so, you can download Naturalsoft's Natural Reader and use Audacity (a free open-source sound editor) to "record" your reader in real time and then convert it to Mp3. It makes an extra step but for some it is worth the peace of mind. The Odiogo voice is so much nicer than Microsoft Sam, which is what plays on my computer when I use Natural Reader - but that is the the sacrifice you make if you are working with free tools.

I am presenting this at Closing the Gap in Minneapolis next week, along with other uses for free tools and blogs, but I carved out a portion of a tutorial for my workshop to give you below. This is new material that I haven't shared before. My instructional technology co-worker shared this trick with me last weekend and I am excited to use it. I recorded some of my text read by Natural Reader and the quality of the recording Audacity made was great. I might need to buy the Natural Soft voices so I can record my text in a better voice and have nicer recordings.

I hope you enjoy...

What You Need:

(We assume you have scanned or found text you want to record to put in a reader already. If you want to know more on scanning, check out my post on that topic here.)

1. Open Audacity to record.

2. Set the microphone to "stereo mix" (older versions) or "wave mix out"(newer versions). This stops recording sound from outside and uses the internal signal going to the speakers .

3. If you start the record button on Audacity and then start "play" on a text reader reading feature (like in Natural Reader) - it will record the reading. Stop the Audacity program when passage is completely read.

4. Once done, in Audacity, clean up the beginning and end for any blank space and then convert the file just recorded to an Mp3 by choosing "file" and selecting the pull-down menu and "convert to Mp3". You need to add a special encoder to Audacity the first time you convert. The directions are below, after step 5.

5. Save the file where you want it. You could link files to download from your server in closed blogs for students. Save the file on your server and copy paste the address or hyperlink it to a document name on the blog.

Getting the Encoder to convert to Mp3 in Audacity:

The first time you convert to an Mp3 format in Audacity, you need the free Lame encoder to be installed with Audacity.
You can get the Lame encoder here:

1. Download the free encoder (save) and open on your desktop. Drag the utility onto the desktop and then pick up the steps of saving the recorded file as an Mp3.

2. Audacity will tell you it cannot convert the file until it has the Lame encoder and will ask if you want it to find it. Say "yes" and then browse to your desktop where you put it and double-click on it. Audacity will add it to your utilities for on its' own and then ask you to go ahead with the step below:

3. Indicate where to save the file somewhere on your computer, choose to save it there and finish the conversion.

Students can use this tool to access textbooks and literature that can be added to a simple Mp3 player that can be bought for as cheap as $20 or $30.

All the best to you!


Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Converting Textbooks to Audio Books and Copyright Issues

I have been showing folks how to scan textbooks and other materials into text files and use a text reader to allow students with print disabilities access to the text with audio support. Steven Timmer of Premier Literacy and also a representative from Kurzweil 3000, both demonstrating products that scan text and read, have developed their products based on allowing students to access the textbook. They have told me that if a book has been purchased for a student and you are scanning a section of it for digital access by that student only, you are fine. You have a one-to-one connection between the book and the student it was intended for. But is that true? How do I know? I guess the fact that they are both still working and their companies have not been closed and the developers have stayed out of jail means something!
In a similar vein, I have been told that if the above-mentioned selection is posted on the Internet for a student and the access is password protected for the student it was intended for only, you are not in violation of copyright and are protected under education and fair use.

When we identify and get documentation of a medically certifiable disability, then we most definitely have an allowance for the adaptability of copyrighted text for that student, but with those that are borderline or just have struggles with reading their books, what can we safely do?
I took it one step further with the Odiogo text to speech reader and Mp3 download tool. Odiogo works great for getting my blog posts out there for folks to read or to download like a podcast to listen to - but what about copyrighted text? And Odiogo has emailed me and told me that when a blog is closed, their feed doesn't work - this means in order to use the scanned text files with Odiogo, I have to open up the blog to anyone - and then I am in risky territory.

I found a great article from UC Berkley that contains links to sites with explanations about copyrighted teaching materials in the classroom. They share "Four Factors" regarding fair use in U.S. copyright law:
1.) The purpose and character of the use; 2.) The nature of the copyrighted work; 3.) The amount and significance of the portion copied; 4.) The impact of use on the potential market.

The article states:
"No guidelines have been established nationally or at the University for fair use in electronic media. The University adopted guidelines in 1986 for the reproduction (photocopying) of copyrighted works for teaching and research purposes, and these could be consulted for general parameters."
I read through their information and would recommend their piece on fair use on the web and web rules of thumb.

I am trying to be careful that I am not teaching anyone to do anything that violates copyright. This means that I need to research and know what I am doing. My understanding of the guidelines seems to allow for a section of the text to be behind a password protected area or firewall for teacher and student access only. UC Berkley said in the report above: "If access is limited through passwords or firewalls to only faculty and students, your fair use argument will be stronger."

I have been shown a way to convert Mp3 files of e text without publishing it on the Internet to do the conversion where it would violate copyright. I have also been able to use tools to do it where it is free as well. I will be sharing this in a tutorial/post as we continue to explore fair use, web use of text and copyright issues. I will also be including this process in a workshop I will be presenting in Minneapolis, MN for Closing the Gap on October 17, 12:30 to 1:30 PM. If any of you are going to be attendinig, come say hello and give me some moral support - my first national conference presentation!

All the best to you!


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Monday, October 6, 2008

Ripple Effect: You Never Know Who You Will Impact

My first real teaching job was in 1984 in Reno, Nevada. I couldn't find a public school that had any openings and I was desperate to teach. I went through the yellow pages and began to look up private academies and Christian schools. I planned on playing piano in clubs on the weekend and do my teaching during the week. I was single and didn't really know anybody except a best friend and his wife that told me I should come down and do music and teach.
I visited several private schools and left resumes and cards. One called and had a position for single room grades 5, 6, 7 and 8. I checked everything out, had an interview and was hired.

I had 7 students that first year and I remember them all - Sarah, Aurora, Lori and her brother; Leslie and her brother, and a boy that came in mid year with "issues". The interesting thing is that when I look back on it now, the kids I had, really ranged in spectrum.

I had 2 talented and gifted students that were not challenged in public school classrooms and the parents hoped to find more motivational and steroid-charged curriculum for them. I had several regular middle-of-the-road students that were cruising along without too much need for special help and then I had a few that were struggling and had learning disorders and emotional issues. They hadn't made it in the public scene and needed a smaller class sizes for more one-on-one attention and help. So this was my FIRST year - a gambit of grades and needs at the same time.

That year we did all kinds of research related project based learning. I developed a literature- based reading program and we used textbooks for science, math, social studies and spelling. My core literacy was my baby and I LOVED it.
There were internal problems in the school and the board had argued, parents were unhappy - not with me or the teaching, but with some board personalities and issues I didn't know about.
At the end of the year, they were going to close the doors.

Through a fluke of sheer luck I ended up in an elementary school with a sixth grade classroom the next fall. And guess who came to be in my class? Three of the fifth graders that had been in my room the previous year. I took that as the ultimate compliment that those parents trusted me with their student's minds two years in a row.
I taught there several years before I decided to move to Hawaii and then ended up in Asia and in an international music school for the next 7 years. I taught in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, then on to Sydney, Australia; Capetown, S. Africa; London, Amsterdam, Budapest. I was still single and had the luxury of being able to do whatever I wanted in life at that point...sigh, those were the days!
Anyway, 24 years after my first classroom in Nevada, I got an email today. To paraphrase it, it went kind of like this... "Hi Mr. Thornburg. I did a search for you today online and found you. I was one of your students in Reno a long time ago. I am a teacher and I credit you as one of the reasons why I wanted to be a teacher. I have 2 wonderful children..."

I am speechless. She was one of the 5th graders that followed me to the sixth grade the next year. She survived two whole years of me and I was a rookie to boot! I still represented something to her in teaching that made her choose it for her life's work. IN-credible!

I want to challenge you. Remember the movie "It's a Wonderful Life"? Remember how Jimmy Stewart realized that if he hadn't been around, things would have been a whole lot different and through the ripple effect, he impacted many lives and their offspring's lives as well. Well I kind of felt that way when I read the email today and I want you to realize that this works in your life as well.
I get emails from folks and read comments. I visit and read your blogs, so know something about you. You are wonderful. Most of you are either teachers, parents, users of AT or inventors of AT and software. You are having a HUGE impact on children and adults with disabilities. Do you know how much the ripple effect causes you to literally impact the world? It does and I want you to realize that, and let that encourage you when you feel under-appreciated. As teachers, we have the potential to make a giant impact on our world.

Now, just believe it...

All the best to you!


Friday, October 3, 2008

Advocacy and Implementation of AT Takes Patience

The theme of the day was patience. It seemed as though I was trying to implement the same tools for the same students but in transition to new schools with new staff, or I was swimming against the tide as I attempted to service needs. Here are the reasons I wanted to bang my head on a wall today:

1. I had a teacher say that she got in trouble by her technology coordinator because she bought some AT software approved by the district that he didn't "approve" for the computer first. Excuse me?!! Technology is supposed to serve teachers and students - not the other way around.
2. I had a modification request for a lap tray that we discussed last spring. I have had the tray sitting in my office for 2 weeks this fall because everyone really is too busy to find the time to hunt down the picture in a catalog out of a huge stack of catalogs for a pattern so I can drill holes and modify the tray. I was asked if it was done by two different folks yesterday. (I did get to soldering/repairing a vibrating pillow switch yesterday. It's fixed and in circulation again.)
3. I was denied funding for software for a student because he didn't fit the right category.
4. I visited a student that we have in transition to the middle school. I am re-teaching the strategies for this student again with new staff - and the boy has seizures that cause him to lose new ground so it seems to be 2 steps forward, 3 steps back.
5. I began to start on AAC trials for a boy that needed to start the first of September but because it takes awhile for things to settle down and requests to come in - we are finally getting to it.

I don't like to complain - I am a positive person - and I know I am sticking my neck out a little if folks in my backyard read my blog, but I really do have a point to my sharing this...the fact is, that we are all human and we all have a limit to what we can do in a day. Maybe the tech guy that wasn't happy with the software purchase had just been in a meeting where they were trying to stay on top of managing the flood of stuff that gets put on computers and it was just the wrong news at the wrong time on the wrong day.
Maybe I need to take more initiative and not wait for others to get information and equipment to me. I could do the research for the lap tray modification on my own and not wait.
I should stop trying to have such a big heart that tries to fund everyone's needs and once in awhile say to a school or district - "You need to buy this one" (with money many don't have - and it is only going to get worse.)
Teachers are just now getting into a routine and following up on major AT plans they want to implement this fall - and I just need to relax and go with the flow. The problem is that we all want things to progress faster and see kids get into the right equipment, interventions, therapies, implementations and modifications. Sometimes I think if I am not aggressive and pushing the envelope, there will be some parent somewhere wondering when anything is going to happen for their child.
I think we have a great staff and team of specialists. They are driving all over the country servicing kids and seeing terrific things happen for them - so I don't want to make this sound like a slam on them. We all want the best and get frustrated when we are juggleing 30, 40 or 50 students and can't keep all the balls in the air at the same time.
I talk about advocacy a lot and I hear stories from frustrated parents who wish things would happen faster. Not just in our neck of the woods but through emails and questions too. I hope parents that are struggling with this will know that we are feeling a lot of the same frustrations. If we can focus, take a deep breath, use some patience in the appropriate situations and continue to work towards the common goal, we will get there.

All the best to you,



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Thursday, October 2, 2008

Write Out Loud and Solo Give Great Teacher Supports

Another look at a standard tool reveals more support for teachers.

I had been referred by one of our OT's to help a Title I teacher at a school that sits out on the windswept banks of the Columbia River. An hour drive had brought me to the school, and inside I found a friendly staff and great school climate. The teacher was waiting (I was on time thanks to my inner alarm clock - I had been there 15 minutes early and had caught a cat nap in the car! Yes, that is how we itinerates sometimes survive, eating, sleeping, writing reports, etc in the car - our second home.) and we sat down to go through the Co:Writer and Write Out Loud software from Don Johnston.

It seems that I am always looking for a hot topic, issue or new product to promote on the blog and forget that there are some good "bread and butter" staples in the AT software field that I need to bring up now and then. Write Out Loud with the Co:Writer application is one of these tried and true programs. Let me tell you why.

For those that aren't familiar with them, Co:Writer works with other programs such as MS Word or Powerpoint to place the text in the window. Before it gets there though, you type in a floating window on top of the word processing application you have open. The Co:Writer window reads what you write for audible proofreading support. You also get word prediction underneath so as soon as you see the word you want, you can stop spelling, click on the word and add it to your sentence. You can roll the mouse over the word list and hear each one too if you don't know how to read it very well. THis can be great for getting students to build word recognition and find patterns in spelling by viewing and hearing words, analyzing them and using them in a sentence or paragraph. Once you finsh the sentence or paragraph, you hit enter and it adds it to the Word document after reading you the sentence one more time.

The Write Out Loud program does the same thing as far as the text to speech tool, but it is self contained rather than integrated with a processing program. There is a dictionary and other study helps. But the real power is in the teacher support area with Solo.

Solo gives you a "student central" area that allows the student to access their own work and assignment folders when they log in. When they log in, they also have a set of preferences customized for them as to font size, color of font and background, etc.

When a teacher logs in, they can build writing prompts, assignments and add directions then save as an assignment with locked text so the students can't change anything. Teachers can view student folders and highlight, add comments, etc. and then put it back in the student work folder for editing.

When students log in, they can view their assignment folder and do whatever has been placed inside. If they are still working on a document they have saved, it will be in the My Work folder to continue to edit, etc. They get the text to speech support, the word prediction, word dictionaries under topics that can be added into the word prediction library for a particular assignment/topic.

There is a picture library to pull from for reports and, in our case, we designed a writing activity that used images of games like Trouble and Jenga. We went to the Internet did an image search and added the images to the report - writing about "My Favorite Games."

We asked questions in the assignment so the student could write up a list of single words. Then we designed questions to build more ideas that might need more than one word to describe. After the questions, we gave the student a chance to put the resources from the questions and lists into paragraph form to answer the question about fabvorite games. After we designed the assignment and locked the text, we placed it in the students folder to do tomorrow.

After the assignment is done, the teacher can go in and read and edit and return if necessary, and when done, the final assignment is given a score by the software for you. You can view a chart of the student and see elements such as word count scored for each writing assignment completed. The software even shows you the data in a chart form that tracks growth in writing length and word usage. This data can be printed off and filed for the student records.

I can see copying and pasting text into the program and saving just to read. The voice we used was very nice and had an adjustible set of preferences such as speed of reading.
I have been using these programs to support writing, but hadn't explored the teacher side too much. After 2 hours, I left knowing I wanted to share these teacher supports with you.

All the best to you!


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

A Parent's Guide to Section 504 Gives Answers

"What can you tell me about the evaluation process for students going on a 504 plan?" I asked a specialist while at a traumatic brain injury conference last week.
'I don't think there is one" she replied.
A special education teacher chimed in that no official testing is needed because this falls outside of IDEA and the IEP/Special education services.

Bingo! I found an online article tonight on "Great Schools" that stated:

"Under Section 504, no formalized testing is required. The 504 Committee should look at grades over the past several years, teacher's reports, information from parents or other agencies, state assessment scores or other school administered tests, observations, discipline reports, attendance records, health records, and adaptive behavior information. Schools must consider a variety of sources. A single source of information (such as a doctor's report) cannot be the only information considered. Schools must be able to assure that all information submitted is documented and considered."

I wrote a post last week that discussed the 504 Plan and whether or not it was under-used. I would like to share that the quote above came from a wonderful post, "A Parents Guide to Section 504" that goes through the 504 plan, what it is, how it is addressed in different schools, what rights parents have in section 504 plans, what kind of supports you might expect to see used, etc. This article was written by Mary Durheim and the Educational Rights Information & Consulting Center in 2003. I couldn't find the center when I searched online, but the article is excellent.
I am keeping this material close in case I have questions come up. This information is invaluable. The Great Schools site is also a terrific place to find information. The Learning Disabilities page is full of links and articles.
I hope this information helps and that my thoughts on it the other day didn't muddy the waters too much.

All the best to you!


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