Wednesday, April 30, 2008

TBI Interview Gives Tools for Parents and Teachers

If you didn't listen to the interview with Patricia Sublette yesterday on No Limits to Learning Live, you missed some great discussion on working through TBI with families, strategies to help these students and some AT discussions:
We discussed the transition back into school after a brain injury, the physical healing process and then the hard work of getting used to developing new skills for learning. Students come back without a strategy for accomplishing tasks, knowing how to work through and finish tasks, etc.
Strategies for reminding students, presenting tasks lists and AT such as using cell phone features, peer note-taking with One Note software for the tablet PC and even the use of the Nintendo DS were discussed.
We also touched on issues of sports injuries and being informed on protocols for concussion and brain injury. With the spring and summer youth sports such as little league, soccer and swimming seasons as well as camping and outdoor recreation season coming, we need to be aware of the higher incidence for injuries.
Patricia had stated that there are about 1.4 million brain injuries in the U.S. annuallly and that half of them are children between 16 and 21 years of age. Because of the high risk-taking nature of teens and the fact that they can survive head injuries better than older adults, they make up a high percentage.
The National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, TBI Publications link has free brochures, wallet cards, posters, DVD education sets, clipboards, etc that you can order to give away. These are great tools to educate coaches, families, young athletes and camp leaders/counselors.
Access the Brain Injury Association of America website and Patricia's TBI Educator site for more information.
The actual site for the No Limits to Learning Live where there are more blog posts, past archives and more links for Patricia are at: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nolimits2learninglive
You can hear the archive of this show by clicking on the Blog Talk Radio Player on my sidebar and go to the web area by clicking on the profile icon within the player.

All the best to you!

Lon

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Working Through Joubert Syndrome with Assistive Technology Tools


I have been working with a student who has Joubert Syndrome for the past year or so. He is in middle school and the parents love him dearly. They struggle with Autistic-like issues as well as orthopedic and cognitive difficulties. One of the key successes for him is his love of the computer. We have set up a laptop and a Big Keys Keyboard for him. We use some online tools, but the program we have seen the most success with is the Intellitools Classroom Suite.

We have been able to adapt his curriculum content so that he can have it set up to select on-screen "buttons"and have content read to him. He can use the Intellitalk to be able to type and hear back what he writes immediately. Since his academic goals tend to be foundational aspects of numbers and letters, the activities are a natural for him. We have been adapting activities to contain high interest topics for him and yet teach the concepts he needs to learn.

Print Disability Access:

Our newest addition is accessing Bookshare.org with his own account to get texts that he can hear. With the access to this, an on-screen reader and Classroom Suite, we are able to modify content so he can have access to the curriculum needed at his level.
The Joubert Syndrome Foundation website has some great information and support links. I would highly recommend checking them out to learn more.

Remember to check into the latest edition of our AT Blog Carnival and the interview with Patricia Sublette coming up this morning on No Limits to Learning Live.

All the best to you!

Lon

Monday, April 28, 2008

Assistive Technology Blog Carnival Edition 2 is Up

The April Edition of Assistive Technology Blog Carnival is Live.
There are some interesting posts for you to link to.

Read about:
-Taking students with multiple disabilities to see Les Miserable
-Assistive Gaming
-A boy with CP writes "My Trip to Space"
-Yahoo's (non)response to issues of "Captcha"
-A virtual community tool designed for Autism
-Leading students out of "The Mystery Spot"
-Issues on E textbooks for College Students
-Wheelchairs, movement and cognitive development for little ones
-iTunes University and podcasting in the classroom
-A trip to Wendy's without AAC , and more...

Contributors unclude myself, Kate Ahern, Ricky Buchanan, Ron Graham, Dr. Barbara Boucher, Robert Martinengo, Jason Voiovich and others.

I am so excited to see some incredible people submit their work. I was humbled and awed by the skills and talents of these folks. Their personal stories alone are amazing, let alone the posts they submitted.

Check it out - you'll be glad you did.

Also: Tomorrow, Tuesday, April 29 at 10:30 am I will be visiting with Patricia Sublette Ph.D about Traumatic Brain Injury on "No Limits to Learning Live". This interview will be followed up next week with an amazing interview with a TBI survivor. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nolimits2learninglive

All the best to you!

Lon

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Treasures Inside: Part Two

The red light was on my voice mail yesterday morning when I came to the office after being out with one of "my boys" yesterday who is back in school after surgery and is in a recline-gurney type chair until next Wednesday. I was helping him with a sip and puff access switch to his boardmaker communication boards on his laptop.
I listened to the message. It was the boy's mother from my previous post yesterday who is battling Muscular Dystrophy along with several other complications.
"My son came home with your card and told me you talked to him about recording his voice. I'd like to talk to you."
I couldn't tell from her tone whether I detected excitement or anger. I wondered if maybe my reference to losing his voice was premature and she was upset. I knew the therapists had met with her but I also knew he didn't have speech services and was in the process of getting the evaluation to be qualified for that.
I braced myself for the worst and called.
"My son came home from school for the first time yesterday excited and happy about his day. It took me a long time to understand what happened and I still don't quite get it, but he told me, "These people came, mom, and they showed me how I can talk!", so tell me what he is talking about." She was obviously happy about the conversation with her son and I could relax.
I explained the way we could record his voice with a free program, Audacity, and then he can archive the files as Mp3's or WAV's to save for later.
"All his life he has been told he should be learning sign so he can communicate that way. We even had a specialist show us a clicker to use with one for yes and two for no so he would be limited to only yes and no response. My son said "I want to be able to talk mom."
My research had turned up that they were relatively new to this area so these were recommendations from somewhere else.
I explained the Tango lab software that allows the user to import sound file messages later into the device. She explained she has access to funding for him and can get most things for him. that was wonderful. This meant we could look beyond basic school services and get an SLP involved in looking at a real AAC device.
"He was given a big expensive Mac last year from Make A Wish Foundation that he uses for his music but none of us know how to really use what is on it."
I set up an appointment to do a home visit next week so we can start the job of showing him how to archive his voice and access his music recording and production. At school we will utilize Co:Writer, the Cruise Trackpad and the Click n Type Virtual Keyboard for him to access his writing/schoolwork that he needs to do. As his condition worsens, print disability access for etext will be a big help.
I hung up the phone remembering what she had said when her son came home from school yesterday: "Yesterday was the first time he has come home excited about school. No one can understand him anymore so he has just given up but yesterday he found some hope."
Hope. wow. What would I do if my life had no hope anymore? What if my son had no hope anymore? And here we were giving it back to him. The mom had shared, "My son and I both know this is a terminal illness and he knows he will die, we have talked about it, but mostly we talk about how he can live."
I need to take that lesson to heart. I need to focus on what I can do to really live my life - not look at all the limitations to it. I need to instill hope in everyone around me and allow it to thrive in my own life everyday.
As I have been preparing the AT Blog Carnival Edition 2 for Monday's release, I have been amazed at how many folks have submitted posts that are just like this young man I have just met. Some of them have had insurmountable-looking odds, yet they are not only surviving but going way beyond what most of us do on a day to day basis. Their daily level of wellness would be a day I would wimp-out and want to take a sick day and stay home. But they continue to push themselves forward. I can learn a big lesson from that.

I hope you have a great Saturday and a wonderful Sunday.
All the best to you!
Lon

Upcoming Events:
1. AT Blog Carnival will be up Monday at: http://atblogcarnival.blogspot.com/
2. No Limits to Learning Live, I will host Patricia Sublette, Ph.D on TBI and education, Tuesday, April 29th at 10:30 am Pacific Time. Tune in and call in with questions or listen to the archive later. http://www.blogtalkradio.com/nolimits2learninglive

Friday, April 25, 2008

Hidden Treasures Inside

I had a wonderful day yesterday. You want to know why? I discovered buried treasure.
The treasure was in a 15 year-old high school boy who I visited yesterday for assistive technology. We had never met before, but I had been hearing that his condition was worsening and that there needed to be some new access method for him over the summer to be able to work at his computer.

My son had gotten a Taco Bell Comic Book Maker CD software in his kid’s meal and had been dragging the background, characters and bubbles to make comic pages. He was typing text in the bubbles to write the story. I thought…why not take that with me today for my visit to make a fun and motivating activity with writing and practice using the AT too?
I took a USB
Ablenet Cruise Trackpad for him to try because he is losing fine-motor. I put the comic book software with it and he practiced using the track pad to navigate. Then we opened the Click-n -type virtual keyboard and he practiced interfacing with it to add text to the bubble in the comic. It worked great. Every now and then he would turn in his wheelchair and grin from ear-to-ear at his assistant, a male of about 26 or so that seemed like a great guy to have work with him.
I had him use Click-n-type with a Word document and with
Co:Writer by Don Johnston. He was doing very well and I was beginning to see he knew his way around a computer very well. I thought how great it was showing him what he could do with this technology.
The team had talked about looking at a speech device for him because he is having more difficulty communicating too. I showed him how he could use
Audacity, a free open-source recording software at home with a microphone headset to make WAV or Mp3 files of things he would like to archive to put on a Tango or an on-screen communication device we could make for free on a laptop. I made an Mp3 file saying “I want a big fat hamburger.” He grinned again.
“He has recording software on his computer at home,” said the assistant.
“What?” I asked.
“He makes rap recordings with his computer software, mixes them and makes CD’s. He sells them.”
I was dumb-founded.
The case manager, school counselor and other team members had known nothing of this. This was a kid who had a body that was shutting down and no one understood him. He had progressively gotten sullen, angry at times and was having behavioral issues. The boy I saw was a motivated, creative and enterprising kid that no one understood. Somehow, we had happened to meet today and all of a sudden we hit the jackpot and found out how to help him. He obviously doesn’t need motivation, he has that. What he needs is someone to help him tap his inner creativity and the person inside screaming to get out. Now that we know where we can go to support him, the sky is the limit.
“I didn’t know I had a celebrity here!” I said.
He beamed.
“I am so proud of you! You are so far ahead of what I thought. Here you are a musician creating CD’s and needing a way to keep doing what you love to do. We will get you going with this.”
This student looked relieved. He conveyed that, yes, he wanted to use the equipment and he could make it work.
I left a loaded laptop, comic maker CD and the track pad with him for a trial. It is a no-brainer that he can use the track pad for access - for now. I showed him a head tracker by Natural Point that can be used when the time comes.
I found a treasure inside a kid that I really didn’t expect to find. I was surprised and encouraged to find that we can really make a difference in this boy’s life. I have funding to purchase one of the track pads for him so that he has it by summer. I offered to do home visit to help him get a speech/communication voice archive started and help with any access issues.

Treasure sometimes comes in unexpected places. Yesterday I found a motherlode.

All the best to you!

Lon

Also: Today (Friday) is the last day to submit a post to the April edition of the AT Blog Carnival. Check the sidebar if you wish to contribute.

(This post also appears on my No Limits to Life Blog from yesterday. I just felt it was worth having both places!)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Autism Through the Eyes of Parents

Left Brain/Right Brain is a blog dedicated to autism.There is a wonderful video on it posted October 3, 2008. As a slide show plays autistic children, letters are read by the parents on how they love and believe in their kids. This was on the heels of a forward in Jenny McCarthy's book by Dr. kartzinel, and autism expert. He says:
“Autism, as I see it, steals the soul from a child; then, if allowed, relentlessly sucks life’s marrow out of the family members, one by one..”

There are kids that have autism and move through life with "no soul" according to Dr. Kartenzil. The video plays the response to this and the images are priceless. It has 47 comments, most by parents and they need to be read.

Check out the video HERE

Autism Diva is another blog that provides the transcripts of what the parents on the video are saying and allows folks to read and follow while the video plays. She has more commentary on the situation and where it is headed as far as autism support.

Since I have been writing on parent advocacy, I found this would be a nice tie in. It's very inspiring . I hope you enjoy it.

All the best to you!

Lon

image credit: http://www.jammygallery.org.au/images/AUTISM.jpg

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Administrator Ethics: Principals should be advocates too!

Parents Shouldn't be the only advocates...
I spent some time last night at my office, pulling together my final portfolio for a review for my administrator's license. There are six domains and the one I had the hardest time with was the ethical standards one. If I couldn't find some activity to do that involved ethics, I was supposed to read an article and review it, interview someone about their ethical standards, etc.
I chose to write a reflection on the issue of advocacy since it is a reoccuring theme with me on this blog. I have been reading material on special education and IDEA law. I have been working diligently on a report (The ASPA Report - Action Steps for Parent Advocacy), but I have been dragging my feet lately and have put it on the back burner because something wasn't quite "there" yet in the concept. Then it hit me - parents aren't the only advocates - at least they shouldn't be.
Last night when I was writing on the ethics standard I discussed the issue of administrators following through with special needs issues and demands when the parent finally gets vocal enough. If a principal at a school is functioning that way I believe they are not ethically-based in their work with kids. I believe that to be ethical in how we administrate special education and specifically, modified curriculum and assistive technology, we are proactive about it, not waiting for the squeaky wheel to get our attention.
Now I know you might be thinking, "Aw, come on Lon, be realistic. You can't always be proactive about everyone on your caseload all the time." The problem with that is that we really don't have an option if we are going to be compliant with the legal mandate we have. I am not perfect (surprise!) and I kick myself for not reminding someone to follow through - it is me not following through to get someone else to follow through, but I have a standard I try for and I strive for it so that one more student won't fall through the cracks and go most of a school year without the support he needs.
I would encourage you to encourage advocacy within the school family you relate to. I will press on with my advocacy checklist report and when it is done it will be accessible to you for free. I hope soon.
All the best to you!
Lon

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Lorax Free on Kid Thing

The interactive book site Kidthing, has "The Lorax" as their free book online right now. Here is what they are saying about it:

The Lorax! (read-along animated digital book) Free to Your Classroom

"Celebrate Earth Day with The Lorax, Dr. Seuss' timeless tale of the environment available for the first time ever in a read-along animated digital format. This special edition of Dr. Seuss' cautionary tale will be available for free exclusively on kidthing through April 30. The pages come to life on your computer screen with animation, narration and sound effects. Or, turn the sound off and read the book aloud. kidthing runs on Windows XP and Vista. The Mac version is coming soon. Download at www.kidthing.com/thelorax".

My Impressions:
There is a reader you have to download onto your computer to play the book. I downloaded the book and played it on the player and it is very nice. The graphics are great and the sound quality is wonderful. I would definitely invest in a few of these books for my kids to watch and read along with. I can see some great applications for kids who have access issues and can't hold and turn the pages of a real book.
The site is still in beta format so there are a few issues. It took a while to download the book and there is no window showing download progress. If you are used to that, you will not see it and you might think it isn't doing anything. It downloads in the background. I just went on to other things and eventually the player showed the book under purchases. I don't know if the book time-expires after April 30th and is not available anymore. I'll let you know what happens.
I also wonder about backing up of purchases. If I lose my hard drive, is the account and player linked to an online server space that has stored my book purchases? If so, that would be great - I would be able to have my books accessed on any computer I had the player on - just log into my account. I wish itunes could do that! When you sign up they ask for a school and a grade. I put in one of my schools and "other" as the grade. I know they are targeting teachers with this offer, but as a parent, put in your childs school, check "other" and you should be able to download too. Don't let the classroom and school piece stop you from checking this out.
One other comment I will make is that even though you are not charged for the free download, you have to put in your credit card info and set up an account to do this. If you are at all opposed to doing this then you might want to skip this free offer. I have protected accounts online and enjoy the ease of shopping that way, but to each their own...
I am under the impression that they have various promotional free books from time to time and I have asked them to keep me posted when they have them so I can let you know.

All the best to you!
Lon


Sunday, April 20, 2008

Final Week to Submit to AT Blog Carnival and Other News...

The Assistive Technology Blog Carnival for April will be released soon so this week is the last chance to get in on it. The deadline for submissions is this Friday night, April 25th. I will put it together and have it up next Monday, April 28th. I have enjoyed reading through posts that have been sent and am in the process of replying to folks and getting the blog ready.
If you have a post that you have written on AT and would like it included, please check out the carnival blog site at: http://atblogcarnival.blogspot.com/. I have been happy with the response even though it has just started. We had a problem with the website of the people who originally conceived the idea and host the listings of all the blog carnivals and act as a go-between to send the host submitted posts. They have, as you have probably read on my sidebar, not done anything about the requests to use Recaptcha or something like it that will allow the blind to submit. I haven't heard anything from them as of yet and I sent them an email a week ago. We are just leaving them out of the loop and doing our own blog post sharing from the Blogger Assistive Technology Blog Carnival Blog I set up. You can find all the information and details there ( at the link above). I am disappointed that we have not heard something from them. I told them that I would love to be able to write to everyone that they had corrected the issue, but I'm not sure where they sit with it all. They probably just think that we are hecklers that are emailing them . Too bad.
Well, I hope you have a great week. I am back from some walks on the beach and time with family. I got my engines re-charged and I'm ready to tackle some fun projects this week. One is to set up a time to do a No Limits to Learning Live Blog Talk Radio Interview on Traumatic Brain Injury with Patricia Sublette Ph.D. I will let you know when this will occur. I am shooting for this Thursday morning - we'll see. If you didn't listen, there is a great interview with Richard Ellenson from The Tango! Company, Blink Twice. you can listen on my side bar.
I am working on a day workshop class on setting up a blog from scratch with the widgets that will help you keep track of readers, learn some basic multi media techniques and ways to use blogs to enhance how you serve. This blog has been a wonderful resource for me in many ways. I will share some of my ideas with you as I put them together.
I have been working with a boy who has CVI (here is a link on it from APH) and have developed some PowerPoint Activities with large letters on contrast for him to see, as well as some large tracking movement and sound he enjoys. The vision specialist and I have also been using a set of pre-braille touch overlays with textures and shapes from American Printing House for him to use. The software works with Intellikeys and Classroom Suite. I would like to do some variations on those and get some more video tutorials posted. So much I want to do and I just have to take it a little at a time.
I have to say that I appreciate the comments that are made. They add so much and I learn from them so don't be shy - let's hear some more of you give us your contributions.
Check in and watch for more to come. It's fun to discover new things to share with you. I am planning ahead and laying out some great things for May and beyond.
All the best to you!
Lon

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Transitions without Motivation


Since this is a Saturday post and I will be at the Oregon Coast, I thought I would leave you with a thought on education and transitioning kids and adults with assistive technology.

I have always looked at the motivation factor when looking at success or failure of lessons and units I develop. During my initial teaching years I worked hard at the pedagogy of designing curriculum, the anticipatory set or introduction you gave to the lesson and whether or not you established a real-life connection to students and gave them a reason to learn the content.

Yesterday I was visiting with my sister who is the main family care-giver to our aunt. My aunt has had to move from a small home in a senior living community to a small apartment within the community with more care. She had a stroke, has hand tremors and memory loss. She was a media specialist and librarian in the Salem Oregon Public Schools for years and was always into computers. In her younger years, she was the one with all the new gadgets at our family dinners. I credit a lot of my desire to teach and my love of technology to her example growing up. My sister and I were talking about me helping her access her computer through AT, but the motivation factor isn't there. She has lost all desire to connect with her world because she is losing her independence and would rather die.
I will be doing an AT evaluation on a high school boy soon that is going through a similar situation, except he is losing fine motor, speech and is classified as terminal. He needs support to maintain his quality of life as long as possible. Over the summer, access to computer games and the Internet will be a big piece of his entertainment as he is home all day.
So there are similarities here, but at opposite ends of the age spectrum. When it comes to transitioning students or senior adults into assistive technology support, it doesn't matter the age. Grief and depression have to be dealt with and addressed where folks are losing independence. It takes a great deal of empathy and patience on our part in helping them to adapt.

As an AT specialist I can be looked at as the bad guy coming to force folks to do something they don't want to do - but the reality is that the process of implementation is forcing them to come to grips with their grief and have to let go of it to move on. Grief can be a security blanket and it is no fun being the one that has to take it away. I see the AT as a way to exchange blankets and give a healthier one to hold onto.
One of my goals is to help the individual overcome the desire to just curl up and die. I look at the interests of the individual and try to help them see what is possible. Moving in small access steps to gain a sense of independence is a huge factor. We all have an inner desire to fight for survival and freedom. If I can tap that tinder and spark it to flame, there might be a chance to implement, but it all comes back to that motivation factor. My teaching years, keeping young sixth graders engaged and learning is paying off these days in situations I am facing.

If you have some techniques that have proven successful, I'm sure we would love to hear from you. I would encourage you to post a comment sharing with us what you have done to help others overcome, or how you personally overcame.

I am posting this as a Saturday post even though it is Friday. I will be gone this weekend and can't guarantee I will be where I can post anything. I haven't figured out the auto-post process yet. I know there is a way to do it. I read a tutorial on using an auto-responder and sending the blog post to the blogger email address to post. If you know more on that, I would love to hear! Have a great weekend!

All the best to you!

Lon

Friday, April 18, 2008

Putting Print Disability Access to Work...the Process of Implementation Begins

I was driving through a spring snowstorm in the mountains Wednesday morning at 6:45. I was on my way to an implementation training session. I would be facing a superintendent, a principal, several teachers, a speech pathologist, a resource specialist, a parent and her advocate. I had been up late the night before preparing some copies of information on Internet sites, links to resources, talking book and braille subscription services, ideas for implementing the e-text for the group to look through (the blog posts I wrote here on the topic were used for a lot of it). We had been able to establish eligibility for the student with Bookshare and now were ready to look at the state service sanctioned by NIMAC and how to put this all together for the student.
Since we have been exploring e-text and print disability this week, I thought I might bring in this experience because it seems to add some relevency to the discussion. Because after all, when it comes down to it, if we can't successfully implement AT we feel is worthwhile, what good will it do the student? So...I will continue.
We split our 3 hour work session into 2 parts. The first section was spent reviewing 2 main objectives for the student, going over Oregon Special Education Law as it addresses access to printed materials and IDEA and access in a timely manner. We then took time to go over the services and tools I had outlined in their packets.

Here is where we began to see useful strategy planning for implementation:
We used a large pad and taped our brainstorming strategies on the wall. We had identified one main task/objective and set out to identify the strategies that would work, who would implement them, how often the teachers would meet to discuss the process and make adjustments, what training I would come back to do later and how often, etc. We left the meeting with a concrete training day next month, a list of things to learn, an in-service meeting before school next fall and a start to what looks like a promising action plan.

I left the meeting proud of the cooperation by the group, the postive way everyone contributed and the effort that was put out and seen by all as necessary in the coming year.
As I reflected on the processes of the morning and tried to sort out why it all clicked, I tried to pat myself on the back for being a great group leader, organized and ready to guide the group into a succesful inmplementation plan, but, even though I know those elements need to be there and were to a certain extent, they still could have meant nothing if... if what? ...if people couldn't have put their own differences aside and looked out for the best interests of the student.

I can have the best laid plans, but if the folks I am working with take sides and can't work together - well then, the only one truly hurt is the student. I know that there are probably things about my personality that help disarm hostitlity and help folks relax and see that we are a team, that no one is going to bite their head off because they tried something that didn't work, etc. but still, as I drove on, I kept coming back to that principle of being positive and being a part of a solution.
Supporting the team and being a contributing member is so important and it really made itself evident in the group process today. I believe that behind every positive and successful implementation of assistive technology, there is a collaborative, cooperative team willing to put out their best effort for a child.

I just have to say thank you to all those folks that worked so hard and were willing to give in - and also say thank you to everyone reading this who are doing the same in all your corners of the world. My hat goes off to you!

All the best!

Lon

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Don Johnston: Classmate Reader and Premier Assistive Toolkit Devices


Classmate Reader By Humanware and sold by Don Johnston Company

The Classmate Reader allows students to listen to audio version of text as well as follow a highlighted version on the screen. This allows multiple sensory input for learning support.The device reads from SD cards that are put in the reader. You can either use a crad reader to transfer files or use the included USB cable to do direct file transfer from a PC. The devcie is available for Windows only. The device has a talking dictionary, allows bookmarking, highlighting and voice recording. These are all helpful study tools for the student with print disabilities that need extra support.

The device has headphones, external speaker and a full-color screen that allows viewing by the studnt where the student sets preferences for font size and color, background colr, letter and line spacing and speed of scrolling text.

Formats it reads includes the NIMAS format, DAISY, txt. files and coming soon with an update...Mp3 files. Depending on the file format, you will see and hear the content or only be able to access one or the other. I like that the reader includes a stylus and a writable digital screen to make text notes as well. the battery lasts 7 hours and recharges in 4. You can read and charge the unit at the same time. Learn more on their website HERE. The price is $439.


Tools by Premier Assistive:

Keys to Access: By Premier Assistive is the "Swiss Army Knife" of text readers and learning support. This USB drive/Mp3 player has 2 GB memory and houses 10 learning software apps by Premier Assistive including: Scan and Read Pro, Talking Word Processor, Premier Predictor Pro, PDF Equalizer, PDF Magic Pro, Text-to-Audio, E-Text Reader, Universal Reader Plus, Ultimate Talking Dictionary and Talking Calculator.

With this device, you just insert the USB drive in any computer and a floating toolbar appears on your screen. You can access any of the AT software tools on the spot form the drive and no software needs to be installed on a computer. The price is $349.95 The Premier to Go is the jump drive without the Mp3 reader. It sells for $299.95


Premier's answer to the Video ipod - the Vpod: For $449.95, this device holds all the 10 software tools above, to use on any computer but in a unit that besides audio files in Mp3, WAV and WMP files (doesn't play itunes/ipod files), plays Mp4 video files that are avi. files.


And just so we are being fair about what is shared - something free too!

EText Reader for Linux and Windows: This free downloadable application allows you to read any of the public domain downloaded e text files in the font size, color and spacing you want. It saves the last reading position and allows for multiple bookmarks. By double-clicking a word, it allows you to access a help document dictionary or online dictionaries of your choosing. It also links to browse through Gutenberg.org website text files. There is no text to speech with this, but with it's ability to allow the modification of text size and color it could be a nice addition.

Well, I still don't have all the things coveredthat I wanted to, but I hope this gives you some things to explore. Until next time,

All the best to you!

Lon

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bookshare.org: Another Electronic Book Resource

In this section on Electronic Books, I wanted to share with you some other resources I hadn't talked about yet.

Bookshare.org:
Bookshare.org received federal grant funds to provide free accounts for downloadable text for students that have been identified by the school or district as having a print disability. I was informed at our state meeting that if a school submits a name for a free account to Bookshare.org, they should have the print disability identification documentation in the student's file to support your claim. You will need to fax that identification letter to Bookshare.org in order to set up the account. If you don't know who can identify a student as having a print disability, check my post yesterday on access and legal definitions. You can also read through the Bookshare.org legal requirements page. They give a list that includes a learing disability specialist, i.e. a school psychologist.
Once a school has submitted a student for eligibility to the Bookshare site and they are approved, the student is assigned a quantity of download files and a password. The downloadable texts are free. If you have the eligibility documentation but are not in school, the cost is $50 a year and a one time fee of $25. Books can be downloaded in BRF - a cross platform Duxbury braille format file for braille readers and printer/embossers, and in DAISY: Digital Access Information System Consortium - a digital talking book format used by several readers - explained bwlow. You can read about the format at Bookshare
here. You can also search a list of NIMAS format texts on the site.
There is a catch to this system:
If you believe that print text should be freely accessible to all folks with disabilities, then you might think twice about this site - especially if you don't have the money to maintain eligibility after you are out of school. One of the comments made by a very well-informed colleague who has been commenting on this topic should be noted. He shares that after an individual is out of school, and even in college years, maintaining the required documentation for eligibility can be quite costly. Being seen by a specialist and having a documentation letter written every three years to maintain status is difficult for many.
He says:

"I believe in "lifespan" solutions, not things that are only useful in school. And once students leave school they will need to have medical coverage in order to remain "listed as disabled." In fact, students who move from high school to community college to universities often need to pay large amounts to be re-certified as "disabled" because their school psych reports are now "over 3 years old."

I think this is very important to remember. I am addressing tools for education for the most part here, so I will present the information and leave your use of these tools -based on ethics of these issues - up to your own discretion. Maybe we need to explore options to get a continuing diagnosis freely provided for those with print disabilities. I'm sure there are groups lobbying for it as we speak.

There is a great article from Reading Rockets on Accessible Textbooks that is a great guide for parents. I discovered it reading a post on Charles Fox's Special Ed Law Blog in a search though his posts on assistive technology.

Don Johnston Company has just announced that they are in the process of providing their Solo: Read Outloud format on Bookshare.org. in the 2008-09 school year. Their texts will be free to all Bookshare.org members. For more information on the Read Outloud tool go to the
Don Johnston website here. The company also has a reader called the Classmate Reader which I will present tomorrow. I am going to explore seeing if Don would be available to discuss the Read: Out Loud component to Solo and the Bookshare.org relationship they are building. It could be quite interesting.


P.S. I discovered another great archive of links to public domain texts of all kinds... check out:
http://bluephoenix4book.blogspot.com/

All the best to you!

Lon

Monday, April 14, 2008

Debbie Wooten: Living a Life with No Limits…

Pretend you are 7 years old, then imagine you have Spina Bifida. Then let’s pretend you contracted polio at 5 months of age. Then let’s pretend you are black and live in Chicago in the late fifties and sixties, then add having an alcohol-abusing mother and being a victim of abuse. Then let’s add one more thing - you won’t accept the word “can’t”. You are getting an idea of the amazing personal strength of spirit that bubbles forth from the monologue of comedian Debbie Wooten.
Sitting in the theatre of Blue Mountain Community College tonight for the 10th Annual Spring Arts and Culture Festival keynote lecture, Debbie Wooten wowed the crowd. She shared her experiences as a young girl growing up in the ghetto of Chicago, wanting to be normal and attending a school for crippled children. Segregation came in more than color for Debbie as she grew through high school in a system that segregated all disabilities to their own school. “When the polio shots stopped the polio kids,” shared Debbie, “ we got a new group, the gang-bangers that got shot and didn’t die. Their attitude was so bad - they would say, “What are ya gonna do to me - shoot me?” They had attitude just moving in their wheelchairs!”
Debbie’s monologue took us from laughter to serious thought as she shared her meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a child. She shook his hand and he spoke to her, giving her his undivided attention for a moment. After sharing that rare moment with us, she shook hands of some members of the audience and asked them to pass on the dream she had been carrying on from Dr. King. One by one, everyone passed the handshake on until the entire room had been touched.
The phrase that left with me from the evening was her mandate to be a “box cutter.” Debbie shared, “People will want to put you in their idea of a little box to live in based on their statistics about who you are, what color of skin, what disability, what gender, what amount of education you have, and so on. Be a box cutter and cut yourself out of the boxes -don’t let anyone tell you what you can or can’t be”
Popular with the college lecture circuit, Debbie’s profile can be found on her link from her booking company’s website, “Portland Day and Night“. She combines humor with a serious message of not accepting defeat and living a positive lifestyle. Debbie informed us of her pending appearance this summer on a CBS reality show as well as her work with many great stand-up comedians.It is rare to find a speaker and a comedian that can make us laugh at our adversity and feel encouraged. If you ever get a chance to hear Debbie, go and you won’t be disappointed. I put this post on No Limits to Life first tonight and thought I would include it here also for those of you that don't check out both. This was too good for you to miss!
I have invited Debbie to be a guest on "No Limits to Learning Live" on Blog Talk Radio. I am hoping she can share some wonderful insights with you - we'll see how it works out - I'll let you know if we get something together.

All the best to you!

Lon

image credit: http://www.portlandnightandday.com/index.php?action=browse&category=Comedy&performer=Debbie%20Wooten

Access to Materials for Print Disabilities - Copyright and Legal Definitions

In continuing the topic of electronic books, I am going to attempt to tackle a somewhat confusing topic. The topic is access to electronic text materials, who gets them and how they qualify.

IDEA, section 300.172 requires that textbooks and related core instructional materials be provided to students with print disabilities. They are to have them in specialized formats and in a timely manner. Timely manner is perceived to be when the other students receive instructional materials and the specialized format can be braille, audio, digital text or large print. Students with print disabilities are to receive these materials to gain the information needed to complete tasks, master IEP goals and reach curriculum standards.

Chafee Ammendment and Disabilities Defined:
Under the Chafee ammendment to the copyright law in 1931, students with print disabilities are those who have been certified by a "comptent authority" as unable to read printed materials because of a visual impairment or blindness, physical limitations or an organic dysfunction.
Blind is defined as having a visual acuity of 20/200 or less and those whose visual disability with correction prevents the reading of standard printed material.
Other persons with print disabilities is defined as those who are unable to read or use standard printed materials as a result of a physical limitation or resulting form organic dysfunction and of sufficient severity to prevent the reading of printed materials in a normal manner.
Competent Authority:
The list is long as to who is designated competent to make a diagnosis for qualification. It ranges from M.D.'s in medicine, osteopathy, opthamology, optometry, registered nurses, therapists, and institutions and public welfare agencies. In absence of these, it states that certification may be made by professional librarians or by any person acceptable to the Library of Congress. See an attorney if you are wanting legal advice on who should qualify in your situation as competent if it varies from qualifications listed in these ammendments.

NIMAS:
I have been at several state-wide sessions to discuss the implications of the NIMAS formatting of text materials and how foks qualify. NIMAS is the National Instructional Materials Accessibility Standard. You can read an overview on NIMAS at the U.S. Dept. of Education site under IDEA HERE. The site lists some legal definitions, but it basically spells out that states needed to provide a standard format NIMAS for those with print disabilities starting in July of 2006.
Publishers of textbooks have been demanding strict protection of any files of their current textbook series. The files have to be administerd by NIMAC the access center for NIMAS, and given out on a case by case qualification basis through an approved state agency that administrates the flow of files to indentified individuals. In Oregon, that identified agency is
The Oregon Textbook and Media Center, housed at Willamette ESD. The American Foundation for the Blind lists a directory by state for these centers. You can look up your instructional resource center for the blind and visually impaired here: (AFB Centers Directory) They also list some nice information about NIMAS and frequently asked questions and self study tool, etc.

I have more to share on this that has to do with Bookshare.org and some companion services as well as formats and readers. Also a great resource article link for parents. I think that will be continued tomorrow since this is probably enough information overload for one day!

I would like to acknowledge Gayle Bowser, now retired, but the developer and presenter on a lot of the information I shared today. She is a gold-mine of information and her clear thought processes have helped us sort this out and explore it's implications. I would like to have her on a podcast or the talk radio show to discuss this with us. I'll have to work on that one.

All the best to you!

Lon

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Live Ink & Clip Read


Live Ink Allows Easier Tracking and Reading

I was reading over some great comments on the bottom of yesterday's post on Electronic Book Resources. (If you missed them, go back and read them!) I was sharing them with a colleague at his house while smelling BBQ ribs in his smoker on the back deck - we are having 78 degree afternoon weather today and pretending summer is here!
He asked me if I had seen Live Ink. I said I hadn't. He showed me this service that allows you to copy and paste any text into a reader and it breaks it up for a view that is much easier on the eyes. Check it out here (Live Ink). They have a fun demo to see how it works.
I recently went through a study on the foveal vs. the peripherary view. It was being applied to web design, but the concept applies to the way Live Ink and the Clip Read Reader work. Your foveal view is circular. When you read or scan a page, you only see a small diameter around the pin-point of your focus. The eyes do a lot of jumping and scanning to pick up details. With the Live Ink concept, words aren't linear like they are in a book or on a computer screen. They almost look like a poem with no more than 4 or 5 words to a line and the lines may be staggered depending on the content.
It is much easier to read this way, especially if your eyes have a hard time tracking long lines of text. I have students that can't track a line of text at all and need to see words in sets of 2 or 3 at a time move across the window for them. I would like to try this service for the 30 day free trial. It costs $89 for a year - kind of spendy maybe, but if you have a hard time tracking, since you can use this with all your web reading and ebook text, it could be a great help. If you read reports or briefs or technical documents all day on a computer, I would definitely check it out.

All the best to you - It's time to enjoy some ribs!

Lon

Friday, April 11, 2008

Resources to Build Free Electronic Books and More...

Some Incredible Online Book Resources


This week I hosted an electronic book day workshop for teachers. Shar Burgoyne, trainer from Oregon Technology Access Project brought her travelling road show and set up laptops loaded with software to play with text to speech tools. We downloaded free public domain literature to copy and paste into speech engine software so students can read with more accessibility - especially if they have a print disability. The public domain/free e-text links are below.

Shar pointed out some new sites that I have missed, to add to my toolkit and I shared a few of my own. I thought I would list some resources and links below you can explore. Thanks Shar and OTAP for giving us a great training and a fun day! Below is a sampling of our exploration day...

Online text to speech tools: These have free versions and more advanced pay versions.

Read Please

Natural Reader - I liked that the pay version of this software converted text to Mp3 files to save for creating audio book versions of text.

Odiogo - this tool is what I use on my blog and My Reading Chair Site - it not only reads text online but it allows Mps download of the file so it can function as a type of converter of sorts too.


Reading Sites for ebooks:
Bookbox - You can download one free book that has a player to download too. You can listen to the book and then re-record the text with a mic while reading, and the story will play with student narration. A great way to allow students to hear themselves read and critique themselves as well as enjoy hearing themselves tell the story. It also has many languages to choose from.

Kidthing - This site is in its beta form. They have partnered with Dr. Seuss so "Horton Hears a Who" is their freebie download book. It downloads with a player that installs on your computer. When you are on the site it can read the books. The books are read with a real voice and the pages turn with a click that is possible to activate with a switch and switch interface for kids that have lost their motor skills to hold a book or turn a page. I can think of one pre-schooler right now that was fitted for a new power chair that could use this. I am going to be setting up his computer interface and this would work really well for him to have his own control over books he wants to read. You can create your own online library so when you go there, they are all under your account ready to read.

Kiddierecords - I was born in the late 1950's and I spent a lot of my childhood laying in front of my 45 or 78 rpm light up Bozo the Clown record player listening to fairy tales, songs, Disneyland records and making up great pictures in my imagination to go with them. This site is a nostalgia GOLDMINE. The site has archives of audio files for all the great book and record sets from the '40's, '50's and '60's. There is something for everyone there. I especially like that they have scanned many of the pages in the storybook sets and you can download the images as well as the audio story. A couple of years ago, I imbedded the audio files into a powerpoint and made each picture fill a slide. My son and his friends laid on the floor with my laptop, listened to the story and took turns doing the left-click when they heard the sound that was the cue to turn the page. I saw myself all over again - except this time it was a laptop instead of a record player!

Public Domain and Free Access Text:
Gutenberg.org - This site is the grandaddy and has thousands of texts, audio version in Mp3 and great scanned images of the antque book illustrations. I like having the illustrations as well as the text to work with.


Knowledgerush - This was new site for me and had many of the titles that Gutenberg had - just a different layout and some other titles as well. It is a little more "MySpaceish" looking and more of a social bookmarking web 2.0 feel. There are submitted poems, reviews by readers, etc.

Other Reader Services: These services allow you to purchase electronic text and audio versions of books.
Google Book Search - "Google said that it is scanning more than 3,000 books per day, a rate that translates into more than 1 million annually." You can read about this in the wikipedia article. You can download and start your own book collection through them.

Microsoft Reader - There are some free books as well as the pay for download kinds here.

Amazon Kindle: Aldoblog had a nice post on the Kindle and mentioned the audio piece. You can download Audible books that will play on the Kindle. The link is below.

Audible - Online pay electronic book download site

The Holy Grail of Public Domain, Foreign Language and World Literature-by the-Alphabet-Resource-list.

This is the "Hail Mary" of book links I have found. You might have a better one but this one - astounding! "Fry your brain" :o) looking at site links on the Online Books Page.

And I didn't really explore all the readers, the Don Johnston catalog, Pix writer, and more...that will be another day.

All the best to you!

Lon


image link: http://lifehacker.com/software/books/build-your-virtual-library-online-with-google-book-search-297220.php

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Reflections on Yesterday's Interview on the Tango! and Richard Ellenson

Some take-aways from yesterday's interview:

I don't know about you, but I thought yesterday's interview was pretty incredible. If you didn't listen, you missed a rare treat and you should go down to the player on my sidebar and listen right away...
I guess ignorance is bliss, because I didn't really know it would be a big undertaking to coordinate a national personality interview and then run a switchboard live-streaming on the Internet AND have a boy with a speech device (for only 3 months) there to "talk". Even though it took some effort on everyone's part to put it all together, I thought it was a great "goosebumps" moment. I was willing to take the risk and so were the folks at the Blink Twice Company. They obviously "think outside the box" and this interview was definitely outside the box for normal promotion, press and interviews for any company. But they did it. Thanks, Blink Twice and Richard!
Photo above: Richard Ellenson with son Thomas and Tango

Richard, the CEO, was amazed at how Taylor could use the device and convey his feelings and thoughts with only the pre-programmed choices of the device over the phone where there is no visual to pick up on for cues to emotion, feeling, etc. Richard said he was having a proud moment - and he had every right to feel that way. His device is a big success.
What I liked about the interview was that it wasn't promotion of self and company for dollars, it was a promotion of an idea that kids can communicate if we give them the time and tools to do it. Richard brought out the parallel of packing a backpack to go on a mountain climb. By the time you add all the words and phrases you want to use to describe the trip - so they are all at your fingertips, you are so bogged down you fall backwards. If we pre-prepare small phrases and conversation segments under a topic and use them instead, we can respond quicker and travel lighter. That was one of the analogies used to describe the Tango! and what it does.

Taylor, the 4th grade boy with the device, surprised us all. We had in our minds what he would say to reply to Richard's questions, but Taylor used the Tango to say what HE wanted to say in spite of what we might have thought the response should be. He showed his personality through the device. Taylor didn't just speak- he communicated. The company is sending Taylor a complimentary small keyboard that can USB into the device and allow him to type and speak what he wants rather than use the windows on the device. We were excited about that.
After the interview, I had a team meeting about a new candidate for AAC and the Tango came up. The team asked, "If mom allows it, could Taylor bring his Tango over to the school and tell this student about it, show it and demonstrate how it has helped him?" They were thinking that because some kids struggle with using a device in public because they stand out, maybe a peer could do a much better job of helping the kid buy in to the idea than an adult could. I think we have a celebrity on our hands and maybe a spokesperson to boot!
The thought of peer training with AT devices is exciting to me. As a classroom teacher for over 25 years in my background, I used peer editing and peer conferencing and peer teaching alot. I just didn't cross it over until today. I think having a peer mentor program with AT would be incredible. How about an AT camp where older users get to share and help new users? Has anyone done that? I'm sure they are out there. Today was a big leap for me in what I see as possible. It was a day I'll remember for a long time. I hope you have those leaps and those days from time to time too.

All the best to you!

Lon

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

AT Blog Carnival Update and Richard Ellenson Interview Today

Assistive Technology Blog Carnival Update - Clarification on Topic for Edition #2:
The next edition of our newly started Assistive Technology Blog Carnival will be out on April 28th. If you are thinking about submitting a blog post to our blogger's circle, you are more than welcome. I hope to see it grow over the next few months. I have received some great submissions from new contributors already in the past week or so.
One thing that came up from several bloggers was the topic for Edition #2. They felt it needed clarification. I have done that. If you go to the AT Blog Carnival Home Blog, it has an updated post on the topic for April. Please feel free to submit your topic of interest ideas. Believe me, it really helps to hear from you!
What is a Blog Carnival?
A blog carnival is a "travelling" blog that is hosted by different bloggers on their blog- a different host each month (or on the home blog if no one steps forward). We agree on a topic and share posts with that month's host to post at the end of the month. This allows us to network in a more dynamic and living way - not just by comments. I am finding it very rewarding already in the 3 weeks since I started it with one edition done. I have met more interesting and talented people and have been enjoying their writing.
If you are interested, I would encourage you to submit!

Richard Ellenson, CEO of Blink Twice and Creator of the Tango! will be my special guest today on No Limits to Learning Live at 10:30 am Pacific time.
If you want to listen in, go to the No Limits to Learning Live area on Blog Talk Radio and listen to the live stream. The show will be archived and available after about 10 or 15 minutes of the end of the broadcast. It will link through my player on the sidebar.

Have a great day and all the best to you!

Lon

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Oregon Special Education Grades Are In - and they "ain't" Lookin' Good...

We recently received the state-wide assessment of special education in Oregon. The grade-card didn't look too great.
The Oregonian put out the report and you can read the whole thing here if you are interested.
The ODE Report stated that more than 1,400 special education students dropped out of school this past year. In Portland-Metro schools, more special education students dropped out than earned a regular diploma. Statewide only one-third could read or do math at grade level.

Oregon has 72,000 special education students, with two-thirds having learning disabilities or speech or language impairments, according to the state assistant superintendent who oversees Special Education. A state panel set goals for us.. no less than 58% of special education learners earning their regular diploma, no more than a 6% drop-out rate and no more than 11% spending 60% or more of their day in a resource/life skills classroom. These goals set by "educators, parents and others" are the measuring stick that our special education program was being held to, and based on those goals, most of the state flunked this past year.

Maybe this committe should set up a drop-out rate percentage they can live with for special education teachers that are burning out with an overload of students, a lack of funding and a high standard set without the tools to reach it.
I wonder why students with special needs who for the most part aren't socially integrated with the regular student body would care to stay in school. Would I? Would you?
I have been reading some extremely good writing lately on socialization and equipping special needs learners for life. The bulk of it points towards helping special needs students find their own independence in making choices and being able to do the best with what they have. I am in some life skills classes in high schools where teachers and assistants are making a real difference in kids lives. They are giving kids freedom to go and be a part of the student body, but have a refuge to come in and catch their breath and relax when they need a break.

I went to the 17th birthday party for a boy at a local high school this week end. Some how, the conversation got onto a family that had a student in the special ed program. There were comments made about the oddness, the way she didn't fit in, and I sat back listened and observed. Finally I asked, "What is the general opinion by the student body at the high school towards the special needs kids in the life skills classes? Do they accept them, pity them, make fun of them, encourage and help them?"
Our birthday boy paused a minute and said "They make fun of them mostly."
"Well, I better not ever catch you doing that!" said his grandma.
"I don't!" he replied.
"Why do you think they do that?" I asked.
He thought about it and said, "They just don't like them I guess. They are different than everyone else."

Whether the "life skills" students are in or out of the resource room, the fact remains that we won't change the world by fighting prejudice and ignorance. We will change it by providing awareness and opportunities for real positive social interaction through community volunteer projects and teaming up all kids to help others in need. Not in artificial school environments that attempt to appear integrated. For most high school environments it can be devastating to wear the wrong clothes or hairstyle - let alone have physical and cognitive diabilities. If you listen to my podcast on the sidebar from the Career Showcase in February, one girl summed it up for a lot of kids when she said, when referring to a boy I have worked with that has an assistant, "They (the general student body) don't make fun of him, they like him. They pity him more than anything."
When "normal" and "cool" kids can really spend some quality time with "special learners" serving through a river clean up, an urban renewal project, or some volunteer project that gets them on an even playing field, their whole priority base gets challenged and they realize what really matters. I think that might be a reason why some kids make fun and show their ignorance, because of the fear of seeing the real humanity - then it's no fun to make fun anymore.

So as I think of this integration challenge in our schools, the socialization piece and the way to make school a place where these "drop-outs" want to be, I realize that I don't want to set any drop-out rate for special education that I can "live with." I would like to see more funding and a greater reality check on the part of government that the diploma isn't necessarily the "be all" and "end all" for these students as much as it is giving them the tools to function as a positive member of society out there whether they can pass the Certificate of Advanced Mastery in Math or not.

Whether you agree or disagree, that's OK. I know it is always "more complicated than that" and I can accept that. Let's just stop flunking our fantastically dedicated special education departments and our fantastically amazing special needs kids and give them a hand up.


All the best to you!


Lon

Monday, April 7, 2008

Blink Twice CEO, Richard Ellenson Live on Wednesday

Tango Creator, Richard Ellenson will Visit with Taylor, a Student Using his Device, this Wednesday on No Limits to Learning Live, BlogTalk Radio.


I am so excited to share that it is official - this Wednesday the 9th at 10:30 a.m. Pacific Time, you can tune in live to our No Limits to Learning Live show to hear a rare treat. This is the first time to my knowledge that Richard Ellenson, the CEO of Blink Twice, will have been on a live coast to coast Internet broadcast with a child that uses his device. We have asked him to share some pointers with our student, Taylor, (who has his parental consent to do this -they are excited too!) and generally discuss the device, his story, the company, etc.

Richard Ellenson has been featured on ABC World News Tonight as the Person of the week, CNBC, and The New York Times. We are so honored to have this opportunity to share with him.
You can view the ABC video clip and other news articles about Richard and the Tango on the Blink Twice site news link HERE.
The show will be accessible live while streaming on the Talk Radio Site and then archived to be available on the player in my sidebar within 15 minutes after the broadcast. My Talk Radio Blog has posts and past segments you can access also. Mark this on your calendar and share it with those that you know that would be interested. You can either catch it live or grab the archive later. Hope you can listen in...
All the best to you!
Lon

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Realizing Positive Change in Multiple Areas of Life

Positive Change. There is a lot of power in those two words. I woke up in the middle of the night feeling so grateful for two powerfully-positive events that happened this week - one of them yesterday. I remembered that my wife had told me that if I got up in the night, to go rotate some slow-cooking chicken being prepared for a big celebration dinner we are going to this afternoon. I went and stirred the pot and then, since I was up anyway, decided to check my blogs and read emails.
I enjoyed reading the comments on my "Sour Grapes" blog from Friday. I really wrote from the heart on that one and believe so strongly in the principles behind it. As I read the comments and went to read one commentor's linked post and comment on his blog, the idea for a follow-up post began to form. Both commentors addressed important ideas that stem from my mentioning of the Law of Attraction the other day.
Even though this blog is not about success and positive change in personal life issues persay, as my post brought out on Friday, success for my students, therapists and educators is really important to me. Positive change for my students is the whole purpose of why my job exists! So really, any principles I practice that accomplish this in my personal life would naturally be pretty smart to apply to my professional life too.
We have been trained to separate personal from professional when it comes to the dynamics of how we function at work. I would say that it is important to a certain extent, but when it comes to success principles, they should be able to be applied holistically in all areas of your life. Your work with special needs and multiple disabilities should benefit from those principles. Incoporate the ideas below and see what happens! I challenge you!

If you will indulge me a little...
I have seen incredible changes in my life over the past year or so, initially due to a stroke that put me in the hospital and put a different "spin" on life for me. It gave me a new angle to view assistive technology from and it made me look at AT from a user standpoint more than a provider standpoint. It also caused me to take a serious look at the "fruits of my labors" financially, relationally and professionally. I felt as if I was running in circles and wasn't very effective in any area of my life. I really was "dead inside" to a certain extent and didn't even know it.
I began then, and continue now to do more reading on success principles. Some books are sales and business oriented and others are self-help oriented, but all of them have had one thing in common. They illustrate and teach that we are, literally, what we think.
They all have another dynamic in common: Being grateful and thankful for what you have and what you will have as you believe and visualize it, are powerful attractors of those things. If you are diligent to focus on being grateful and apply it to new, positive and specific change, over time, you will see that positive change comes to be part of your reality, (and that was exactly what happened with the two events that had so powerfully come about this past week).
As I have practiced this - and believe me it has not always been easy to walk in the face of fear under some real challenges and still be grateful -I have found my faith to be strengthened, my relationships to be healthier, less stressful, my finances to be stronger and my professional life more enjoyable and more effectual.
One of the comments from yesterday brought out that we need to be appreciating our community, the support we have and our world around us rather than being a "victim" of what is happening around us. That is so true. If you do ONE thing different this spring that will effect positive change for you in the months ahead, make it be "an attitude of gratitude." I know that sounds simplistic and maybe a little cliche, but believe me, it will make all the difference in the world.
I think it was interesting that my topic the other day seemed to "ring true" for others. I appreciate hearing from you. If these two contributors agreed with some of the concepts I shared, I know there are a lot more of you out there that do too. If you will challenge yourself to think outside your normal box and allow yourself to expect great things and be thankful for them ahead of time, you will see positive change come.
Here's one last thing I would challenge you to do:
Sit down and write down what you want. You can't be thankful ahead of time for something if you don't know what it is. You have to be specific. You can't generalize and say, "I want to be happy." Think about what things would make you happy and write them down. Think about your profession and write down specific things you would like to see change for you and those you serve. Do this in any area of your life that you feel needs an overhaul. Don't worry about the "how" right now, just begin to affirm the things you want and allow the "how" to materialize through ideas, conversations, changes in circumstances, etc. If you are consistent to implement these things, the catalysts for change will flow and the results will follow. I know this as sure as I know the sun will come up tomorrow because it is a living and active element that happens in my life on a regular basis. It will work for anyone willing and wanting to see positive change.

All and only the best to you!
Lon

Friday, April 4, 2008

Sour Grapes or Great Wine: What do you Make out of What You Have?


This is a VERY Special Post for me that I HAVE to share with you even though I already did one today...

I hung up the phone yesterday after a complaint call. I don't get them very often, but this person's perception was that nothing had been going right and Assistive Technology at her school was a big bust this year. At first I hung up and blamed myself and let myself get beat up over it. I cover 7 counties and 12 school districts not counting a district that doesn't have AT services that contracted me out for a special case. I can say that there were valid issues for this caller with networking all the specialists and coordinating trials, political issues with the district and budget issues, etc.
All that said and done (which were valid reasons beyond my control that caused things to drag out far longer than they needed too - but the trial was completed, the device was purchased by the district and the assistants have been trained - the student has the device - I don't know how that is a big bust, but...) as I said, all that said and done, the bottom line is that students need evals, assessments and implementation of devices in a timely manner, even if I am the only one. Legally, I am responsible to do my part to implement the assistive technology.

Ok. So I accept my responsibility, but there is an element to this that came to me today in my office while I was setting up funding grants, channels of money, requests that we are filling for students in need on my caseload. I am getting to be "Santa Claus" and love it when I can do that. We have a grant request right now with our local Indian Casino, Wildhorse, for AAC devices in EVERY early childhood and Early Intervention classroom in our area. We have a hospital grant we received for orthopedic support to decide how to spend from our pool of requests, state funds and county referrals for funds.
As I looked at all these requests we get to fill I have to share something about it that struck me. It has to do with the elements of advocacy that I have been writing about lately in articles, my series and on a free brief that I will be making available for download soon. As I was looking at the students in need, the requests, etc, I thought about the call yesterday.

What is the difference between the perception of the caller I had and the perception of others that are on the receiving end right now?
I don't know if you are familiar with the law of attraction, but it states that what we think, how we feel and what we believe dicatates what our reality is. If things are rotten, then look at the self-talk and the mode of operation you live in from day-to-day. Maybe if you change how you think, feel and operate, your future will shift into something much brighter.
I thought of that in this situation. There are certainly thousands of dollars worth of need in our area right now, but only a fraction of the educators, schools and administrators are actively believing anything can be funded, anything is possible or believe that "We will get what we need no matter what."
Those people are the ones in line right now receiving. Not because I chose them over someone else that asked, but because the flow of resources go to the ones that seek, put out effort, believe and develop relationships all around. This is the Law of Attraction in action. I believe that this law comes into play in our professional and budgetary lives just as surely as it comes into play in our personal lives. I feel as an administrator that I have an obligation and duty to keep myself positive and believe in the impossible. I also need to put that belief into action steps. I can't just sit and wait for it to fall in my lap. By living this way, I believe my department, my service and my program will benefit in huge ways. And it does by the way!
These folks on the receiving end are living this positive way too and they are the main ones who have networked with our agency, requested services, used our services and developed a relationship.

I can go to some schools or visit with some families and feel like a part of their world. There is a very cohesive and collaborative energy with them.
Other schools or families I visit feel cold, skeptical or even partially hostile. I wrote in my advocacy and elements of implementation posts that a key element to success is developing a positive relationship with the service, therapy and educational staff that a parent works with. I believe educators and administrators need to practice this in their networking too.
I am naturally a positive person and I gravitate towards others that are positive. I can bend over backwards to put out special effort and serve and still not make some folks happy. I serve with a smile anyway, but it is ironic how for the most part those folks never "swing for the fences" and consequently live in a "half empty" world.
I would encourage you - no matter who you are and what you do, to look at life as a wonderful place full of incredible opportunities. Be grateful everyday for what you have and be thankful ahead of time for what is coming. These are simple concepts that can be very hard to practice on a daily basis, especially if things aren't great right now. Discipline yourself to change and eventually your circumstances will follow- and that change will have a dramatic impact on the children that depend on you.

I sincerely wish ONLY the BEST for you today. Have a GREAT weekend.

Lon

SpeEd Change: Blog of Note

Another terrific Blogger!

I started an Assistive Technology Blog Carnival last month and we had our first issue out the end of March. Requests for submissions going in the second issue have started and I had an assistive technology specialist from Michigan share some quality submissions.
Ira David Socol has the SpEd Change Blog and he is an author as well. His book, "The Drool Room" is a novel about a profoundly dyslexic boy who grows to a man. You can check it out at Amazon .com.
I don't want to give away too much since he will be sharing in our April AT Blog Carnival, but he has a post right now on equipping special needs students with a toolbelt of tools that can be used for various tasks when they leave school and are out in the bigger world. His post causes us to analyze how we implement AT and whether we enable students to be independent or hold them back and keep them dependent.
I especially thought hard about the way we provide technology and the assumptions we make in how we provide it. He asked if your school has all the AT software that is available for free on all computers, accessible to all students to use. Good point. I guess I am guilty of putting those items on computers only if there are students that need them - in a prescriptive way.
I would encourage you to take a look at this blog and if you are in education or work with special needs folks, take a second look at some of the details to how you decide to implement.
I am delighted to include this blog on my sidebar.

All the best to you!

Lon

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Access Ability: A Blog with Great Information, and other news...


A Positive Accessibilty Blog:

I love it when I get comments and make new friends and discover new resources. Yesterday, Ron Graham left a comment on my No Limits to Life Blog post concerning Colleges and Universities having their Presidents use wheelchairs to get around in and see how accessible their campus is. It is a revelation for them.

I went to Ron's Blog, Access Ability ( great name) and found someone who has a strong belief in having a positive outlook on life to achieve great things. He obviously knows what he is talking about because after being blinded in an auto accident in 1993, Ron went on to earn an AAS (Criminal Justice), BS (Behavior Science), and MA (Clinical Psychology). He has done a lot of work at the University and Community College level in disability support services.
He has some great posts on assistive technology and education as well. Please check him out. I am putting his link on my list on the sidebar.

Our first blog talk radio show went fine:
On another note, We had our Blog Talk Radio Braodcast yesterday and it was a lot of fun. The speech pathologist, Carol, and the student, Taylor, called in on the switchboard and we we had another caller from our OT/PT department call in too. We chatted for awhile and Taylor got to share with his device. When time was up we kept going on the recording even though we thought it was over..so there is a little spontaneous at the end but that is OK. I wish their sound quality was a little higher, but, it sounds like talk radio!

The Tango! Company, Blink Twice, asked for the link and I guess quite a few folks listened in and are excited about the up-coming interview with Richard Ellenson the CEO and Tango Creator. Although it is not official yet, it is looking like we will be doing a 30 minute show with him next Wednesday, April 9th at 10:30 am Pacific Time. The company is as excited about doing this interview with Taylor as we are. I will schedule the segment on the No Limits to Learning Live site as soon as I have a final word that it is a go.

Conferences Coming Up in My Area Next Week:
I have three workshops/ conferences coming up where I am going to squeeze in some recorded interviews for future podcats. I haven't done one for awhile. The guest speakers coming are:

Patricia Sublette Ph.D who is teaching a workshop on Supporting Students with Traumatic Brain Injury. Pat was excited to do an interview this week, but her schedule got jammed up and we couldn't fit it in. One way or another I want you to hear her share and we will have an interview.
Another is Shar Burgoyne, who is here next week to present a day workshop on Electronic Books as Tools for Struggling Readers. Shar is the state-wide trainer of assistive technology for the Oregon Technology Access Program. I am wanting to have her share on Ebooks as well as some ideas for parents and AT users for literacy and access.

Ami Muillenberg and Angela Binning are teaching in the Early Care and Education Conference for the communities in our region. They are presenting strategies and tools for early learners success. Ami and Angela are specialists in Early Childhood Learning and have worked with Head Start and Positive Behavior Support.

So there is the news of what is going on. I am usually the "blur" passing by but it is always nice to sit and visit with you.

All the best to you!

Lon

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Assistive Technology is Worth the Effort: Funding Issues; Part 3 of 3 in a Series

Funding and Resource Issues - another part of the puzzle:

I have a problem with allowing money issues to dictate what we will or won't do for children when it comes to assistive technology. I have the belief that if we are mandated to provide services to all children to access their education equally, then the standard we need to meet is pretty high and it needs to be funded no matter what.

What is that standard?
Equal access, period. This means that Johnny in the wheelchair, needs to access the computer to do the same tasks as the student that can walk in, sit down and go to work. I used to be a professional development trainer for education technology. I would take a teacher and class of children into the school computer lab and model how to effectively use technology in a lesson on a topic using research and study skills, write and produce an interactive PowerPoint Presentation, etc. In those sessions I had regular students that used 30% of their potential in producing a product. I would have a disabled student doing the same project and because of their challenges, they were putting out 110% effort to produce.
My point is that there is so much extra energy having to be spent by these special needs students just in doing the tasks, that we should be bending over backwards to provide them with every possible solution needed to make access as easy for them as possible so we are accomplishing the goal of equal access.
I have been in many meetings with different dynamics when it comes to the team discussing what assistive technology is needed for a student. Some administrators on these teams are poised and ready to do whatever it takes - and that means pulling favors with the local Rotary or Kiwanis Clubs for fund-raising support if it comes to that. I see other administrators and even parents that say "We can't afford that." They see the obstacles ahead and go the path of least resistance.

There are so many resources out there to fund AT if you have the following things in hand:
1. Documented Support of the Effectiveness of the Device or Software:
There is a process for evaluating the effectiveness of AT. There are trials, like we mentioned in the last installment of this series, that are run to collect specific data on how effective the trialed equipment works to support the task or goal. This process has been outlined by various groups in various models, but the fundamentals are the same. The model we use is SETT. It can be found at the WATI website. The pioneers of this model have been mentors to me and I have felt so honored to sit under their training.
SETT basically means knowing the Student, the Environment, the Task and the Tools. These are all components in the assessment, trial, data collection, decision making and implementation. There is a lot more to it, but at least this gives you a general idea.
Thinking through these things as a team and having solid documentation, gives a donor the data needed to make a decision on granting funds. They can see the proof that the requested item will work.

2. Connections to Therapists and County/statewide Programs:
I don't know how it works in your state, but with me, there a a lot of avenues for funding that come through state health care systems for children with orthopedic disabilities, mental and learning disabilities and vision, speech and hearing disabilities. These funds can run out by spring and there are various criteria like the AT has to be for home use, or the AT has to be something used at school that can be duplicated for to and from school integration.
These types of funds are managed by directors of programs that oversee therapists that work with children at a regional level. As referrals come in, needs are assessed and necessary supports can be funded. I would pursue the trail of finding out who the director is of the therapists that work with your child and find out what funding sources are available and what specific types of support the funds can provide. If there are funds available, you will most likely need the data from above, several quotes for prices on the item or items and a letter from the sped teacher/case manager, an assistive technology specialist and the therapists involved endorsing the item as an effective and necessary support. In order to get the letter and the data, you will have to do the third piece in the puzzle listed next.

3. Local Support Through Your School Administrator and the IEP Team:
Working as a team is probably one of the most effective ways to see results. If you are NOT a team player, I would suggest that you get that skill developed. You will see incredible results when you can work together with others. I wrote a series a month or so ago on parent advocacy and then expanded on it with articles that were published through Ezine Articles. The articles are available on my sidebar. The principle in the series that applies here is the ability to work in a positive and supportive manner with the school team rather than being defensive and confrontational. Being willing to do research and assist with fund raising or data collecting as a volunteer are ways to be a part of the team in a supportive way. Many times educational assistants are doing actual trials with students on software and devices. Having you there to learn about the equipment or software and volunteer some time to sit in and help record times a switch is accessed with a clicker counter, etc. can be a real support. Integrating that data collection with a device at home and counting clicks and hits to send back to school can help to.
I have learned a real lesson in the extent of parental involvement from a great couple with a child who has CP. The dad's company pays an hourly rate for time spent volunteering by their employees. He volunteers during the week when he can, clocks the hours and gets a check from
work to give to the classroom. They are planning to buy software for integrating curriculum supports for their child in the room each year as the child progresses through school. The teachers that get to have this child will receive benefits in many ways. Good for them!

The three areas above are some solid beginning steps I recommend to follow. This content is a sneak peek at some of the material I am developing for release in a bundle of AT resources and activities this spring. I will be releasing some content here and there for you to read as it is developed. I would love your feedback so I am giving you what you want. If you have questions or would like more specifics please comment or email me and I will try and address those issues.

Don't forget the interview on blog talk radio live coming up later today.

All the best to you!

Lon