Wednesday, December 31, 2008

How Will You Achieve Your Resolution for 2009?

The new year brings us a fresh start, a "do-over" card, to try and do things better, make a difference and reach for higher goals. My goal last year was to start an online blog and site dedicated to assistive technology. I feel good about the goals I reached, but I am already looking at what I could have done better, where I got lazy and how to improve in this coming year.
I see parent advocates, dedicated teachers and specialists everyday in my work and I know that at this time of year, we all begin to ask ourselves, "Okay, what am I going to do better this year?" Once you have been able to answer that question, the next one is, "How am I going to stick to this resolution and accomplish it?"
Let me give you a few ideas based on reading and on my own strategies, which have helped me. Maybe they will help you too...

1. See your end goal each day as a done deal. This is important. You need to affirm daily in your mind that you have already accomplished the thing you intend to do. Be thankful that it has been accomplished. Imagine how it feels and what it looks like when that goal is accomplished. Just spend a couple of minutes everyday letting that child-like imagination take over and dream a little bit. Having the faith to see a thing done and being thankful for it are huge pieces in this step.

2. Break the goal down. If I look at the big picture of a goal I have, it can be overwhelming. I have to break it down into "baby steps" so I can take it in bits and pieces. If I begin to accomplish each piece and those pieces lead to the whole, then eventually I will get there. The key is to plan out the steps and devise your strategy which will lead you to success.

3. Stay committed. If you have a goal and have thought out the steps to accomplish it, you are already much closer to success than a lot of people. If you have the passion and energy to see and imagine your end result as completed, then there really is only one thing left to do...commit to do one thing a day (even if it is a little piece of a step) to work on your strategy/plan and not give up until the goal is reached. Stay committed and keep your focus. 99% of the folks who fail, do so because they don't follow through and stay committed to finish. They get preoccupied and distracted and pretty soon the vision is dead and they are back to the same old routine and they have lost the vision. Don't do that! You can achieve your goal if you stick with it. As I have read great authors and teachers of success principles, the standard opinion is that achievement of your goal is 90% attitude, thought and committment and about 10% actual action.

There are more elements to these strategies, enough of them that people have written books on them - and I suppose I could too - but I think the simple strategies above will really help you get started. One of My favorite writers and speakers is Jack Canfield, the author of the Chicken Soup series. He has written "The Success Principles" and has been an inspiration to me. If you can latch onto an author or speaker who is inspirational to you, you can use their writings or CD's to spur you on when your determination grows thin.

Whether you are looking to raise funds for a new program, see new levels of learning with your child or class, push for greater services, achieve greater success in your own career or take on a more personal self-help challenge, I would encourage you to try out the 3 steps above. I know I plan to use them as I spend some time this week setting new goals and planning out my year to come.

All the best in 2009!



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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Add Blogging to Your Classroom Writing Program With Free Online Lesson Resources

Want to Super-charge your writing program in the classroom? How about adding regular blogging as a journaling activity with your students? If writing goals are a part of your 2009 strategy then you will want to explore the resources on the blog post below...
Paul Hamilton's Blog, Free Resources From the Net for Special Education, posted a great blog post sharing online tutorials and lessons for teachers who want to integrate a blog program for their students in the classroom: Blogging Lessons (Online Resources), posted Dec. 27, 2008.
Along with 2 resources to get you started, Paul has posted video of students from a classroom he visited recently as they share about blogging.
In our region, our instructional resources team instructs our tech cadre of teachers on how to integrate blogging in the classroom. I haven't done as much of it as a special education initiative for sped students, but we have been using the blog platform as a medium to modify curriculum for text to speech and print disabilities. You can find my tutorials under the training link at my companion site, No Limits 2 Learning.

I hope you enjoy the last few days of 2008. Here's wishing you the best for 2009!



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Monday, December 29, 2008

UDL Tools Need to Play Role in NCLB Reform

What would the inclusion of Universal design for Learning tools in testing and all-around learning school-wide do to our AYP and School Report Cards?
In a U.S. News and World Report Article, entitled: Education Reformers Tackle NCLB Flaws, the head chancellors of education for New York City, Washington D.C., Chicago (Arne Duncan - nominated by Obama to be the new Secretary of Education) and others, shared their input last July, on what reforms should take place in NCLB. This was in preparation for a revision of the NCLB document.

In a nutshell, this is what I saw as the recommendations before the committee:
1. A higher set of standards based on global content and comparisons - getting us to move from state standards to an national set of standards that reflect an even higher global based set of educational objectives - the one world school approach is on its way.
2. Merit pay for student scores - bonuses for leaps in achievement and higher scores.

Nothing was said about remediation, comparing students to their own past personal best and weighing personal achievement vs. a standardized average score. If we teach students how to accommodate their learning styles and give them the tools to read, write and do math, higher test scores will follow as a natural by-product. One of the problems is that UDL tools on a computer aren't allowed to interface with the standardized test online programs for security reasons without penalty of being considered a modified test.
As to introducing a global set of standards, beyond language differences, words and numbers are used the same way world-wide whether we have a national set of standards or global ones. Let's address how we assess academic success and look at the content as it applies to real life problem solving and skills - not content to pass a test.
Most of the comments from educators after the blog post from US News and World report, showed concerns about merit pay based on scores. The concensus was that teachers will push to teach to the test only - forget about anything else. Concern was that stress would fill the schools as teachers try and squeeze out student performance in higher scores.

I wrote this comment at the bottom of the blog:

"I am scared to see us go from comparing ourselves to each other state-wide with our "school report cards" based on standardized test score for meeting AYP, to a movement of comparing our country to other countries. Since all trends economic and political seem to point to a globalistic society with one "ruling committee", now we see the trend moving into our actual education hearings in D.C. before an overhaul of NCLB- surptise, surprise - no surprise.
My guess is that the powers at the top will just dilute our education system's potency by getting us to teach to more standardized testing rigor and drop off two things:
1. Teaching real content, skills and lifelong learning tools.
2. Basing student achievement on individual past year scores vs. comparing with an ever higher bar standard.
There are many universal design for learning tools that can support learning and accommodate HUGE print disability issues that many students have that are pulling down achievement scores, but they have to be implemented. We need to be allowed to give remediation and real life learning strategies for students - not global comparisons and teaching to tests. We also need to allow students with print diabilities the opportunity to use their tools in the testing process without penalty. If that is what they will use for real life in their world, let them use them now too. We are not getting it right yet by comparing ourselves to each other at home let alone the rest if the world."

I know I am just addressing the tip of the iceberg here, but there needs to be some changes to what we are doing and how we are doing it to see real student success - not just a passing score.

All the best to you...



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Friday, December 26, 2008

Free Text to MP3 Conversion Tutorials Now Available at No Limits 2 Learning

I finally have my training tutorials for my workshops on converting text to MP3 for you online. They are available free on my training page at No Limits 2
I have designed them after guiding quite a few people in sessions on how to do this. I hope I have thought of all the steps and procedures. I wrote them from the standpoint of a relative new-comer to technology. I get a lot of teachers in my trainings that say they have little or no experience - so here's to more experience!
All the best to you...


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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Holiday Wishes from No Limits 2 Learning

Holiday Greetings!

I want to thank all of you for your investment in time over this past year as you have read and participated here at No Limits to Learning, the blog and the website that is growing daily. I have learned so much from you as you have posted comments, sent emails, asked questions and invited me to social bookmarking/web 2.0 sites. The Blog Talk Radio show has been a rewarding project for me as we have listened to some great providers of AT services share this past year. The AT Blog Carnival has also had 8 successful editions since last March - thanks to all of you who have been sending in submissions.

We live in a time when more than ever, we need to press forward to make learning accessible to everyone. That is what No Limits 2 Learning is all about and I look forward to serving you and providing more tutorials, news, interviews and reviews in 2009. May it be a prosperous and enlightening new year for you in spite of all the challenges ahead of us.

Merry Christmas!

All the best to you... always,



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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Explore Edublogs 2008 Best Educational Blog Categories

Edublogs sponsors an educational blog award in various catefories every year. It offers links to some great blog resources. My fellow blogger, Kate Ahern from "Teaching Learners With Multiple Special Needs" has been nominated for best individual blog for 2008. You can go to the Edublogs link to nominees and vote. You can also go there and explore some links to some great blogs.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday...
All the best to you!


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Parent Advocacy Vital Element in Initiatives for Federal Policy

If you are an active advocate or are in the wings thinking about what you need to do towards advocacy but maybe are scared to be too forceful, etc., let me encourage advocate impacts the community in a larger arena even though their primary purpose is their child.
I shared this advocacy topic on the FCTD discussion thread yesterday and thought it was a good one to post here as well The catalyst was a well written piece on the Special Needs 08 blog yesterday (link below) and a wonderful guest commentary from Patricia E Bauer's Disability News that really shares the impact parent advocacy has had on Federal Disability Services and Special Education law. Please check these links out today - they are terrific.

I shared on the thread:
"When you advocate for services and coordinate and draw others to collaborate together on awareness of those who have been underserved, you are creating a ripple effect that impacts many. On the blog, Special Education Truth, the author explained in a post titled "History Says: Advocacy Starts with You", that "Rud Turnbull, a special education expert at the Beach Center on Disability at the University of Kansas, says his most effective work has been not as a professor, but as a parent." You can read the guest commentary by Rud here:

One of his points is:
"First, the future of any child with a disability born in this decade is promising largely because of the private action –- the community organizing — that parents of children with disabilities began more than 50 years ago."
Rud goes on to share the impact that family advocates have had in shaping disability services and policies. On a similar note, in my own practice, it has been shared that clarification of law and instances of grey areas in interpreting special education law, will be clarified through practice and litigation - meaning, that when a lawsuit challenges, it causes clarification and brings us closer to accurate definitions. That is a sad commentary on how things sometimes get done, but that process again is triggered by a parent advocate or advocacy group oftentimes. I would encourage you to read both of these posts in the links above. There is a lot of wonderful information in them and I am excited to find these new and informative resources.
Also, stop by the FCTD Discussion on advocacy I am co-moderating through the end of December. We would love to have you share your thoughts - or just stop by to read what folks are saying.

All the best to you,


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Monday, December 22, 2008

Obama Shares on Education Reform in the U.S. and New Secretary

Obama says: "Well, I think it’s time we raised expectations for our kids all across this country and built schools that meet – and exceed – those expectations." This is taken from President-elect Obama's press release on the nomination of a new Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan. He shares his reasons for his nominating Mr. Duncan and gives us some inkling of his views on education reform.
One of the things I appreciated in his release was this:
"For years, we have talked our education problems to death in Washington, but failed to act, stuck in the same tired debates that have stymied our progress and left schools and parents to fend for themselves: Democrat versus Republican; vouchers versus the status quo; more money versus more reform – all along failing to acknowledge that both sides have good ideas and good intentions.
We cannot continue on like this. It is morally unacceptable for our children – and economically untenable for America. We need a new vision for a 21st century education system – one where we aren’t just supporting existing schools, but spurring innovation; where we’re not just investing more money, but demanding more reform; where parents take responsibility for their children’s success; where we’re recruiting, retaining, and rewarding an army of new teachers; where we hold our schools, teachers and government accountable for results; and where we expect all our children not only to graduate high school, but to graduate college and get a good paying job."

You can read the entire release and draw some of your own conclusions about where education is headed over the next 4 years. I didn't see anything about special education there, but you can go to Jim Gerl's Special Ed Law Blog and read what he says about it. I will be doing some research and seeing what I can come up with for you. Ever since Don Johnston told us in his interview about the re-authorization of NCLB and the opinions he had about trends coming, I have been trying to find out more.

All the best to you,


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Friday, December 19, 2008

This and That: Home on a Snow Day, Educational and Political Blog Discovered and More Toys for Special Needs

The snow has been falling - you can see how much snow we have in our field. We have been Cross-country skiing up our mountain the past week or two. All our schools in our region are shut down today. A big storm came through yesterday - which means I am home today. My son was supposed to have a pajama party morning at school with his class, with the Polar Express movie, so guess what I will be doing this morning? Eating pancakes, drinking cocoa and watching Polar Express with 2 feet of snow piled outside. Yup. Polar Express Pajama Party time!
I taught elementary school too many years to not know a good thing when I see one.

So if you are in an office or school somewhere today, I hope you will enjoy your day while I spend mine watching Polar Express and sitting by the fire sipping coffee and writing some posts for the up coming vacation. I will be sharing some articles and blogs of interest and pre-posting them so they are up over the next 2 weeks. I will throw in a few of my own updates in between as well.
I hope the shopping ideas and switch adapted toys were helpful. I sure wish you all a Merry Christmas - but I will save the real Christmas posts until Christmas Eve and Christmas day.
I wanted to give you a link to an article that I have found very informative:
"Toys for Kids with Special Needs" is from a blog I just discovered that you need to check out.
I have recently added it to my sidebar after the author, Mark Miller, had left a comment on a post of mine concerning the adapted toys. I visited his site and was impressed. I thought I would add his post on adapted toys today. Check out his blog, Special Needs Truth '08, where Mark comments on the political scene and special education. He has been following the new Obama administration in regards to education and I will be referring to some of his research and writing in some posts coming up.
Have a great day - All the best to you!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Resources for Adapting Toys and Using Switches

Toys at Christmas are a big part of what makes Christmas what it is. If there isn't something to play with, even for adults, then something is missing. Imagine the children with disabilities who would love to have a switch hooked up to a toy so they could make it go themsleves. I have tried to give folks some information on this so they could go out and get what they need to do just that.

Electric Toys and Powerlink Units:
I shared a blog post, linked here, on some toys and devices that work with a Powerlink control unit. This unit, available from Ablenet, allows you to plug in appliances, radios and electronic toys to control the power to it via a switch. It can run fans, juicers, popcorn poppers, Lite Brites, etc. You use the switches you can get from Ablenet, Enabling Devices, etc.

I had recommended a slot car race track to use with a Powerlink, and later found it was battery operated. I edited the post to show a new electric race track set that would work with a Powerlink and let folks know I had not seen the tiny words on the box saying "runs with batteries" until I had zoomed in on it on a second visit.

This brought up a discussion with a fellow blogger who had gotten excited about using the race set. We discussed how you can use a battery interruptor and rig your own switch access to the battery operated set as well. I thought I could compare the two methods and share a little more on the battery type of switch access.

Battery operated toys and switch access:
If you have a toy that has a simple on/off switch to run it, you can put a battery interrupter inside between the positive end of the battery and the metal end plate in the compartment that holds the battery. The interrupter is a small copper disc that has a wire welded on each side for positive and negative. When you plug a switch into a jack on the end of the interruptor cord, and hold the switch down, the curcuit is closed and the battery juice goes on in. When you let up on the switch, the circuit is now open and the power stops. If you turn the toy on before you use the switch, it is ready to be operated by the switch - does that make sense? If the toy isn't on first, then obviously it won't "go" whether you have the switch pressed down or not.

The trick to adapting toys like this is that if you don't have a simple on/off switch on the toy - let's say it has multiple actions and there is a control unit up inside, sometimes using the battery interrupter won't get it to do the thing you want.
I bought a Curious George train engine once that tooted and ran in a circle, but you had a middle switch setting for off and a sound switch setting and a run the train setting. There was a brain up inside the toy and I would have had to tear it apart to get to it to bypass the other switch and get it to do what I wanted. To do this would have called for hard wiring. I have included a site with directions on how to do surgery on an Elmo to get to the brain up inside and adapt it that illustrates this hard wiring.

So when it comes to that race car set I told you about, you would definitely have to look at it up close first and see how it works before you would know how to adapt it. That's one thing I like about Enabling Devices. They do all the work for you so the toys are ready to play with. Whether you use a Powerlink Unit, a battery interrupter, do it yourself or buy a pre-made model, switch activated toys are great for kids with disabilities.

Let's get to playing!

Links to tutorials and supplies you might find helpful:

1. Link to purchase battery interrupters and other supplies.

3. Converting a toy via hardwiring - WARNING: Shows graphic pictures of Elmo in surgery!

4. Article on a non profit - RePlay for Kids which adapts recycled toys to give away - great idea.

5. Tutorials on Switch Adapted Toys - including how to make your own switch.

6. Adapted play and switch toys, shares on the importance of adapted play.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

If Santa Used Assistive Technology: (Part Two)

In order to see Christmas Eve pull off without a hitch, Santa has to do some pretty amazing data base management for all those naughty and nice lists. He also has millions of letters (and probably emails these days) to read with requests from children all over the world containing their Christmas wish lists. Wouldn't it be nice to have some help remembering what needs to get done and manage all the letters and lists?
Yesterday, in part one of this blog post, we looked at some visual supports with AT that might help Santa out with his Christmas preparations. In part two today, we share some organizational helps and text helps that can get that sack stuffed and loaded on the sleigh with greater ease and accuracy.

Speech to Text Organizational Help:
There are those days when paint, wood and building supplies run low in the workshop. There comes the time to order more grain and hay and those special reindeer treats. One way Santa can keep up with the odds and ends needs of the day is to use Jott with his cell phone and connect it to his Google Calendar. Jott helps create to-do lists, do hands-free emailing, even put a post up on your blog - all from your cell phone. This is a speech to text service that will have the Easter Bunny and Cupid envious - I bet they could use the help too!

Text to speech helps do multi-tasking:
Nothing makes the work go by faster than having something to listen to while you do those "no brainer" tasks. I like to listen to ebooks, articles, reports and miscellaneous texts while I am doing other things. I can't write while I listen too well, but I can shine some sleigh bells, saddle soap some sleigh harnesses, brush some reindeer or decorate cookies, trees and toys with some great info playing on a "boombox" in the background or on some headphones.

My favorite new toy this season to listen with has been the Pearl 1 or 2 GB Flash drive Mp3 player from RCA (Overstock .com). For around $30, I have enough listening space to cram on lots of 4 hour radio interviews, downloaded e courses and other fun things like converted text of ebooks I have bought or downloaded for free.

When it comes to converting text, I have been pasting my text into a blank blog I set up just for that purpose, using the widget from Odiogo .com for a text to speech converter tool - it downloads text to Mp3 and you can set up a blog here on Blogger and do all of it for free. Stop thinking that blogs and Mp3 downloads are just for people who want to talk to the world or create podcast shows to subscribe to. Santa can set up his own blog and Odiogo feed just to paste in his own ebooks and artcles to listen to. He just has to remember to delete anything that would be copyrighted - we wouldn't want to see Santa in court for copyright violations!
Santa could also use this tool to create informative and educational audio versions of trainings he needs his elves to complete, especially helpful, would be the support it would give to those elves with print disabilities - those pesky "invisible" processing disorders.

We have only begun to scrape the surface here. If we wanted to explore accommodations for disabled elves concerning accessibility in the workplace, we would be here a lot longer. We could start in on all sorts of other assistive devices, but we will just stick to Santa this year.

I hope you are having a wonderful holiday season...

All the best to you!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

If Santa Used Assistive Technology What Would it Be? Part One:

We all know that Santa has to make his trip around the world in one night. We also know that he is overweight and wears glasses. With all the great gadgets and supports we see available to those of us with disabilities, obvious or hidden, surely there is something that could assist Santa as he prepares for his biggest night of the year, making it a little easier on him. Sometimes we don't know we need AT until we try it.

Since we sometimes see Santa with glasses and sometimes without, my guess is that he struggles off and on with some visual impairment. I have glasses and I don't like to wear them because they get dirty and I can't see through them and then I have to clean them - except I don't have my cleaning cloth around... so I use some wonderful simple technology to make up for my deficiencies. (This probably sounds like whining and seems pretty trivial to those of you who really have severe visual impairment or are blind. Sorry - I am just thankful to have these tools for my inconvenient vision issues.)

Here are some suggestions Santa might find helpful this year:

Font size in the web browser: I like to read larger print so my eyes don't tire as fast, allowing me to read without my glasses longer (Somehow that doesn't seem too smart). I go up to the view menu in Interenet Explorer and go to "text size". I can choose between 5 sizes - I use the medium setting.

Larger Icons on Desktop:
I like to see nice finger-tip size icons on my desktop, not microscopic icons the size of a paper punch hole. I live with most of my files and works in progress on my desktop. Here's what I would tell Santa to do...

Steps for changing desktop icon size in Windows XP:

1. Right Click Desktop + Choose “Properties”

2. In the Properties Window click on the “Appearance Tab” at the top.

3. In the Appearance Window click on the button called “Advanced”

4. In the Advanced Appearance Window choose “Item:” from the drop down list and choose “Icon” and you can choose desired Icon size. By default many users will see 32 x 32 pixels but this can be changed to whatever you want.

Credit for the task above goes to:

Virtual Manifying Glass:
This free software download can really help with seeing things on the computer close-up. The "glass" has adjustable power and size and slides around the screen with a click and drag motion.
It works great in those elf staff meetings when you have a data projector shining toy production projections for the next quarter and need to zoom in on a piece of data or show a web address.

Get the free download here.

These tools make my life easier on a day to day basis. Maybe they will help you too. We hope Santa will check in as we look at some AT support items for handling those naughty and nice lists with some great computer software tools for text to speech and the data base.

You can purchase the glasses pictured on Santa above for $2.95 from Caufield's Novelty. This serves also as my credit to the picture:

Merry Christmas!



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Monday, December 15, 2008

Top Christmas Gifts for Special Needs Featured in The Holiday Edition of the AT Blog Carnival

Ho, Ho, have ten days left until Christmas to get that last minute shopping done. You also have just a few days left to shop online and guarantee that you get what you ordered in time.
If you are stumped with what to buy and you are a parent, relative or friend of someone with a disability, then you might need some suggestions. We haven't seen or read a "Top Ten Special Needs Gift Ideas" list on any popular mainstream publications so I thought I would put out a call for suggestions from other assistive technology bloggers. We had a great response!

There are all kinds of cool gadgets and gifts in various price ranges. What is nice too is that the authors have given us their opinions and reviews on many of these items.

Read the Holiday Edition of the AT Blog Carnival, "My Favorite Things".
Enjoy...and Merry Christmas!


Friday, December 12, 2008

Voicethread as a Holiday Gift for Families, Teachers and Parent Advocates

Voicethread is a subscription that can support networking and connectivity for advocacy or for fun inter-family communication and sharing...
Imagine being given a year subscription to a service that allows unlimited Voice (microphone) and text commenting, Images, docs and videos, Doodling, Embedding, Moderation, Identities, Sharing up online AND the ability to have unlimited voice threads (or recorded comments) about the above media posted by friends, family or colleagues online. I think it is wonderful. The free version gives you 3 free voicethreads, where the $59.95 a year pro version gives you unlimited. Here's a little story to illustrate how it works.
We were at a friends house for dinner yesterday and our hostess told at dinner how she had been working with an elementary teacher that day, helping get student-drawn pictures for Christmas with comments done, scanned and in a Powerpoint. They found that the the writing of the words each student would do with their picture would take up too much room on a PowerPoint slide, so they decided to record the students voices reading the text on the slides.
Then they had a thought...if they dumped the pictures into a Powerpoint as a slide show from My Pictures, and then uploaded it online to Voicethread, it would be there for each student to comment on and tell about their individual pictures and then be there to share later as well.

Once you post a family video, a photo album, etc. and send the link to family and friends, they can go online and as they play the video or slideshow, they can record comments, actually write and doodle on the image, and use it to moderate discussions or analysis of a topic.
I can see all kinds of potential in this for parents who are sharing videos of children with family members, maybe wanting an assessment from a specialist who is too far away to come visit personally, share school projects and assignments,etc.
You can watch different samples of what they do with Voicethread on the site. If you are looking for a unique and fun gift for someone who is really into online networking and communications, this could be a really great gift.
Here is a breakdown on the difference between the free and paid versions. Pricing
Browse what it can do HERE.
There is an educational version designed for the classroom as well.
All the best to you!


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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Assistive Technology Holiday Gift Idea:Switch and Powerlink for Electrical Toys

Electric toys like a Light Brite, slot car race track or a train set, can be fun at Christmas, but how fun would it be if children with orthopedic diabilities could use a switch to run them? Don't skip these toys because a child can't access's how!
Enter the Powerlink 3. These are what we have in my equipment center for trials. I am going to explain how to use electrical toys using a switch, without having to adapt or modify the toy or use any wires.
The Powerlink 3 has two plug receptacles that allow you to plug in electrical devices and operate them with a switch. The switch (or switches when using 2 toys) is plugged into the Powerlink 3 and then the toy is plugged in. By pressing the switch, the child allows power to pass to the toy. If the toy is already turned on to run, the switch will make it go.

The Powerlink has 4 modes: (Described off the Ablenet website)
Direct: Keeps appliances ON as long as the switch is activated.
Timed Seconds: Runs appliance from 1 to 60 seconds with each switch activation.
Timed Minutes: Runs appliance from 1 to 60 minutes with each switch activation.
Latch: First switch activation turns appliance ON; second activation turns it OFF.

We have been using one of these to teach cause and effect in order to develop switch access communication down the road. Activities have included a Lite Brite and a juicer to make fresh apple juice. The Powerlink can be a way to link electric devices that help teach strategies that will be used in life skills, but besides that they are just plain fun when hooked up for kids that normally can't access toys. It is a thrill for them. If you want a memorable Christmas, hook up one of these and a special toy and watch what kids do - if it is the first time they have had control over a toy like this, the excitement is worth it all.

Ablenet, has a holiday gift ideas page. They are announcing 20% off on selected items in the holiday buyers guide area. They have the "Twist" which is a jelly bean switch with changeable colored tops. Check it out on the their gift page as well.

Some toys that will operate with a switch and a Powelink. I found them at

Slot car race set - I found one on Amazon for $34.99 (I found it is battery powered and won't work for the Powerlink so here is another one! -Carrera Go Mario Kart - $66.10 on Amazon. I like this one better anyway. It says it has a transformer so to me that means it plugs in.

Portable Radio - I found that a small portable radio makes a great music source. If it has a cassette and you have some old tapes, it works best. A DVD or CD doesn't work with the power interrupting because you have to start it again and have to press the play button to go again. $19.99

North Pole Christmas Express Train set - $44.99

Lite Brite - a whole bunch of them...I didn't know there were that many options!

Stir Crazy Popcorn Popper - Kids love to watch the wire kernel pusher go and turn around. There switch can control it. Around $30.

There are a few electrical toys and items to get you started. I am surprised how more things are going to computerized toys with batteries. There don't seem to be as many plugged in toys as I remember as a kid, but they are still out there with a little searching. Happy Holidays!

All the best to you!



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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Using Technology for Communication Strategies Between School and Home

My latest from The Family Center on Technology and Disability discussion thread. I am moderating there all month - there are some great things being shared there, so come join the discussion!

"One of the things I hear from parents is that they work with a team on a new strategy and then get weary of not hearing what is going on with the implementation, what is expected, assignments that need to be done, etc. They feel like the accountability piece is missing. Below is an idea that might help in bridging that communication gap.I don't know how "Techie" many of you are, but did you know that if you have a teacher that maintains a classroom blog that can be subscribed to, you can set it up as an RSS feed where the daily class assignments and general directions and notices could be picked up on a Google homepage that can be set up to be your Internet browser homepage?
If you have a good two-way relationship with a parent ( or parent with a teacher), you can set up a free blog on blogger and send assignments and class announcements etc. or general info from home.You can't put personal comments and notes on student issues on the blog, because of privacy issues, but you might want to transfer general assignment information and notes that are posted on a blog so that they automatically appear as a feed on your Google homepage.
You can create a blog by setting up a gmail account at, then use the info from it to set up the blog at You can set up the home page with iGoogle and then add the address of a blog you want to keep up on onto your home page by going to "add stuff".
If you want to skip the feed and subscription and just be able to communicate personally and privately, you can set up a Blogger blog and close it so it is open by invitation and password only. Instead of having the latest info on your desktop each time it is updated, you go to the blog address and read the latest post in private.
Whichever way you choose, I think for those that want to implement technology to its' fullest, this is a great way to be posted and communicate. There are all kinds of "widgets" that do cool things to enhance your home page and your blog. All take a little effort, but the experienced gained is priceless.
You can find a printable tutorial on how to set up a blog on blogger at in the training section . "

All the best to you!


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Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mobile library tools Using Assistive Technology

Mobile Library Tools using assistive technology, mobile phones and other strategies are the topic of a post from 2 Cool Tools. Although the post is geared towards the librarian, there are some great ideas and free services.
Read about the use of an iPhone, Cell phone tours, Jott, and other great services. You can know for some of these, there is a higher cost, but the strategies are sound.

Assistive Technology Blog Carnival submission date closing soon.
The AT Blog Carnival is taking submissions on your favorite post that has to do with Christmas, great gift ideas, etc. The deadline is this coming Friday night the 12th. You can send them to me at: One of the main topics for this edition will be some great posts by bloggers sharing what they want for Christmas and their lists of hot AT items for that special needs someone on your list.

All the best to you!



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Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Gift Idea: Glow Station from Crayola

Time for another Holiday Gift Idea - this one under $25: The Glow Station is a creative gift idea from Crayola. Children can write with glow pens and use patterned stencils to create wonderful designs. This has all the fun of the old finger painting but without the mess. Used as a station in a classroom with young children or as therapy for older students, the glow station can add a new and popular area for exploration and work on hand-eye coordination. I have been seeing this item on several teacher's wish lists this year.

You can find the Glow Station at major retailers for around $25.00. Target is selling it online for $24.99.

All the best to you!


Friday, December 5, 2008

Federal Changes in Toy Testing May Interrupt Switch Adapted Toy Making in U.S.

Is the Fed turning into the Grinch when it comes to adapted toys for orthopedically impaired children?

In an attempt to prevent lead-based paint and unsafe toys coming into the U.S., new federally imposed standards and regulations may inadverdently bring an end to the availability of switch-adapted toys in America.
Nancy Nord (pictured above) acting chief of the CPSC - Consumer Product Safety Commission,
defended her agency in light of a record number of toy recalls for safety issues last year. See the full story here.
In an article from ABC News, August of 2008, we were informed of new regulations and federal standards on toy safety:

"Mandatory federal standards will soon dictate how many children's products are made before they can be sold in stores. On Thursday, the president signed into law an expansive consumer product safety measure that includes, among many elements, tough new standards for lead and chemicals in products meant for kids younger than 12. It also calls for mandatory safety tests and sets forth more ways to keep kids safe in the event of a recall. "

I heard the other day that some of our major assistive technology toy companies in the USA may be struggling to navigate the new mandatory safety tests. The companies that adapt toys for switch activation are already combatting a downturn in our economy. The extra expense and manpower to jump through legal hoops to meet new testing criteria could pose a challenge great enough to put them out of business.

If you are a user of manufactured switch-adapted toys, you might want to research into the regulations and contact your manufacturers main headquarters and ask how you can help. I plan to contact several companies that adapt toys and get their perspectives on this. I will share what I learn and see if we can get a discussion on the talk show about it. Once we have some definite data and testimony on the issues, a letter to your congressman or woman might be in order.

The ABC news article went on to say:
"This bill will help to ensure that products Americans find on their store shelves are safe and that the regulating agencies have the resources they need to enforce law," White House Deputy Press Secretary Tony Fratto said today. "This has become an increasingly difficult and complex job as more imports from more nations are now sold in the United States than ever before. Although we had some concerns with the bill, we're pleased that Congress included some recommendations from the President's Action Plan for Import Safety."
I can see regulating and imposing safety tests on imported toys based on the recalls of toys due to toxic paint and malfunctions that damage children, but when a toy that has already passed an inspection is then adapted by another company in the United States, shouldn't there be some provisions?

Santa isn't working in his toyshop with a jolly ho, ho, ho on this one.

I will keep you posted...

All the best to you!


Thursday, December 4, 2008

Don Johnston Shares on Advocacy and Perspectives on Obama Administration's NCLB Reauthorization

Don Johnston Speaks:
Don shares his strategies for student self-advocacy, student reaction to his book, "Building Wings" and changes he sees coming in the re-authorization of NCLB during the upcoming Obama administration.
Don talked of the "double-failure system we have in our school system where students fail in general education and so we place them in special education where they fail again. We bring in AT at the last as an intervention when it should be brought in FIRST.
Listen to our discussion on NCLB and Don's perception of positive change in the re-authorization of NCLB under Obama. He had some interesting things to say...and didn't back down on stepping on any toes!
You can access the full interview here: Don Johnston Interview 12/3/08 It is also on the player on my sidebar.
Access the online free version of "Building Wings" and download the companion teaching materials and reader's theatre script on their website HERE.

All the best to you!


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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Children Are Like Snowflakes - No Two Are Alike

Children are unique individuals - no two are alike. I wrote on this topic on the FCTD Discussion thread last night. Here is what I wrote:

"When attempting to apply the "One Size Fits All" approach to learning interventions, educators shoot themselves in the foot. I had made the comment above, in the title..., on a thread tonight where a parent commented that they hoped teachers would see their low functioning child for who she really is. In assistive technology, I gave up trying to apply AT software and equipment to students with the OSFA approach shortly after I started. It just doesn't work that way.
Here's why:
1. Every child is unique and has their own personality.
2. Every child has their own unique learning style.
3. Every child has their own unique manifestations of a disorder.
4. Every classroom environment has it's own dynamic which is unique.
5. As a child grows, eyesight changes, nuscle tone changes, equipment must adapt and strategies must adapt as well.
I am sure you could keep adding to the list.
One size fits all? Hardly.
I am amazed when I go into a highly organized life skills room and see all the accommodating unique to different needs of students. I will see a lot of tools available: computers, clipboards, magnifiers, text readers, scanners for converting materials. simple switch activated communication devices, switch adapted toys and devices, printed copies with enlarged text, headphones for listening in private, small groups working in teams on a project - all in the same room. Students are finding the tool for the task and matching it to their learning style because they are unique and they need what works for them. When they transition out of the high school, those learned accommodations will help them continue to know how to function - as long as they have the toolbox to go with them.
To me, that is one important function I have, to create life self-accommodators out of students so they can function to their highest capacity out in the environment they will transition into. My highest calling is to accommodate the individuality and see it shine through in the learning styles of each child.
Hear from A man who found his own way for self -accommodation:
I will be interviewing Don Johnston on my talk radio show Wed. December 3 at 2 PM Pacific.
If you want to hear him share his own story of finding his own way in self-accommodaion and how he co-wrote "Building Wings" his autobiography, check it out at
The interview will be archived there so you can hear it later if you miss the live stream."

Also: Send in any submissions for the Christmas Gift Idea Edition of the At Blog Carnival to me at

All the best to you,


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Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Assistive Technology Gift Idea: Silicone Keyboard

AT Gift Giving Guide: A Roll-up Computer Keyboard
Have you seen those silicone, rubberized, thin keyboards that you can roll up and bounce? When I saw these, I immediately thought of those students we have that are prone to temper issues, being rough with equipment or issues with saliva. All these are good reasons to check out the Duraflex Keyboard or one similar to it. It is durable, thin, lightweight and easy to clean.
The Duraflex is from ErgoKomfort and is $54.95 plus shipping (9.50).
There are other brands for as little $24.95 from Lone Star Keyboards. They have a wide range of prices and styles to check out.
For one student, who could throw a pretty good fit, we suggested that the parents put the monitor behind plexiglass and lock the tower underneath so it is like a monitor in a museum, and then give the student the roll-up keyboard to access the computer. They were wanting any ideas because they had gone through several monitors, but believed the software was helping their son.
The silicone flex keyboard is a holiday gift as low as $24.95 with shipping. By the way, I am not getting any percentages by linking you to these places via my blog. I just want you to know about them. Later this week we will look at some other ergonomic ideas.

Remember, Don Johnston will be with us tomorrow on the live broadcast from No Limits 2 Learning Live, Dec. 3 at 2 PM Pacific. He will be sharing about his book, "Building Wings" and the impact it has had on instructing, learning, and heping children.

All the best to you!


Monday, December 1, 2008

Don Johnston, Wednesday on Talk Radio, and Finding a Foothold: Opening Discussion on FCTD

Don Johnston on his book "Building Wings", will share with us on No Limits 2 Learning Live - Blog Talk Radio, Wednesday, December 3, 2:00 PM Pacific.
I have started a kick-off topic for December at The Family Center on Technology and Disability.
Finding a foothold, to me, means setting up a piece of data, a test, a legal mandate that applies to the situation, or any other anchor than can initiate a positive push towards FAPE for a child in the school setting. You have to have something tangible that starts off an exploration of services for a child - with credibility.
I share on the discussion thread a situation where there is a breakdown of advocacy on part of the family and communication and accountability for mandates on the part of the school in another state. We are discussing teams, advocacy, school/parent partenrships, etc.
You can read my topic and opening statement and jump into the conversation - or just read what folks share. Come join us this month!
Go to:

I will be continuing my gift idea list in the weeks ahead so please send ideas to me via email if you have any...
All the best to you!


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