Sunday, December 27, 2009

No Limits to Learning in Top 10 Assistive Technology Blogs for 2009

Top 50 Blogs for Special Education Teachers - No Limits to Learning Included!

Online has put out their Top 50 list of Blogs for Special Education Teachers. They have broken down the top fifty into 6 categories:
1. Sped Teaching Tips and Strategies
2. technology and Assistive Technology
3. Specific Disabilities
4. Special Education News and Policy
5. Special Education Law
6. Various Topics on Special Education

I am humbled and thrilled to be included in the top 50 special education blogs and among the top 10 assistive technology ones. Many of the other blog authors have contributed to the AT Blog Carnival, which should be coming back for another edition after some time off.
I am in good company with my friend and mentor, Brian Friedlander Ph.D of Assistive Technology; My friend and colleague Patrick Black, of Teaching All Students, who has hosted the AT Blog Carnival in the past and plans to do another here shortly to kick off 2010; Karen Janowski's always amazing, Ed Tech Solutions: Teaching Every Student; and Paul Hamilton's Free Resources from the Net for Every Learner , collaborator from SET BC. Also among the top was AT Cubed by Brian Wojic who administers the Web 2.0 group assistive tech. If you haven't joined this group I would recommend it.
One of my favorie blogs with a writer who always sparks my thinking and challenges the way I approach education and disability is Ira Socol's SpeEdChange. He was included in the Special Education News and Policy category. Kate Ahern's Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs was included under the various topic category. Her blog is always dynamic and crammed with ideas. Her links and resources are about the best you will find on a blog. I have told her that her blog is what mine wants to be some day when it grows up!
So... I encourage you to check these blogs out - many are on my blogroll, and check out the complete list here.

All the best for a GREAT new Year in 2010!


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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Percentally, New iPhone App, Collects and Converts Student Performance Data

Percentally Collects Tallies and Converts to Percentages

Percentally is designed in part by an SLP who is also an Assistive Technology Specialist, Eric Sailer. Percentally looks like a promising way to collect tallies on the fly and convert to percentage data and spreadsheets quickly. If you collect intentional switch hits, correct answers or other student responses, this just might do the trick for you. This app is now available in the iTunes app store for $2.99. Eric has written up a post on it on his blog, "Speech-Language Pathology Sharing" along with his video tutorial. You can watch it below:

All the best to you,


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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Open Content Textbooks Available to All Without Proof of Disability

U. S. Department of Education Grants Funding to Bookshare to Convert OpenContent Textbooks to Accessible Formats

I have been doing a lot of training this past fall on Accessible Instructional Materials and copyright issues. When I share about the content via NIMAS files being available to those who qualify, I see enthusiam fade. Why?
Many special education teachers think at first that the students they have who have reading and processing disabilities or are LD will qualify for NIMAS files under AIM initiatives.
When they realize that you can only freely access these files if you are:
1.) Blind/visually impaired 2.) orthopedically impaired to where you can't hold a book or turn pages, or 3.) diagnosed by a medical doctor with an organic brain dysfunction, they are disappointed.
Now, there has been a new wrinkle to this issue. An open content math/science textbook has been designed and adopted in California that meets their content standards. The press release below, outlines the details. This new open content textbook will be available to any student for free, regardless of disability identification or eligibility status. The files will be able to be downloaded at Bookshare. They are not available yet.
This means that for the first time, there is a textbook that anyone can download for free to access content in aletrnate print formats. The questions that need to be answered are:
1. Will other states adopt this text as a viable alternative to the textbook companies versions?
2. Will school districts allow teachers to use this as supplemental text to support the curriculum to any student needing an alternate format?
3. If so, does this fulfill the requirements of AIM if it is a text other than what everyone else has?
4. What is the quality of content in these open/content texts?

The answers will have to be explored. I will download the files when available and look through them. I am going to pass them on to the curriculum folks in our region to present to curriculum committees for cross-referencing and to see if they are aligned with our content standards. I am also going to ask our state AIM group and text book adoption team if they would look into this and see what they think.
This is an exciting new trend, but it could have some pitfalls if we are not careful. One I see is that the content for schools gets taken out of the hands of free-enterprise and competition for quality by publishers and gets placed in a government-controlled content text that can reflect the standards and opinions it wants to convey. I don't mean to be paranoid, but I think we need to consider and warn against that if this is a trend that might snowball state by state.

All the best to you,

Open Content Textbooks Available to All without Proof of Disability

Release by Benetech and Bookshare - "Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) has awarded Bookshare $100K in supplemental funding to create the first accessible versions of open content digital textbooks. The initial planned conversion of open content textbooks, which are distributed freely under a license selected by the author, are math and science textbooks approved for California students. California is leading the nation in encouraging the use of free, open content textbooks. Under the direction of the Governor, Secretary of Education, and Superintendent of Public Instruction, the California LearningResource Network (CLRN) reviewed for standards alignment open-source digitaltextbooks for grades 9-12 in the subject areas of mathematics and science. While some open content textbooks may be edited, the publishers of these digital high school textbooks are guaranteeing consistent content for the next two years. As other states begin to approve open content textbooks, Bookshare will continue to convert these materials to accessible formats for all students who read better with accessible text. The first open content textbooks approved for use in California will be available via Bookshare at<> The texts will be offered in the accessible DAISY format that enables multi-modal reading, combining highlighted on-screen text with high-quality computer-generated voice, and BRF, a digital Braille format for use with Braille displays orembossed Braille.
"Once again California's innovation has inspired action, as those with reading challenges will soon be able to read the standards-aligned digital textbooks adopted under California's first-in-the-nation digital textbook initiative," said California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
"Thanks to Bookshare and the U.S. Department of Education, these textbooks will be converted into accessible formats so students who struggle with reading traditional textbooks have a new opportunity to enhance their education." Under the terms of the OSEP award, the accessible formats will offer a choice of digital book files with or without images, including detailed math and science illustrations and image descriptions for those with visual disabilities. "Traditional copyrighted books, including those contributed to Bookshare by publishers, are protected with digital rights management technology and available only to those with a documented print disability. But Bookshare's open content books will become part of the freely distributable books in the Bookshare collection and can be used by anybody without proof of disability," says Benetech CEO Jim Fruchterman.
"These accessible books will not only help disabled students throughout the U.S. and globally, but provide parents, teachers and assistive technology developers with free access to real talking textbooks." This initiative builds on Bookshare's experience as the largest converter of digital textbooks from the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC) into accessible formats for students in K-12 public schools.
TheNIMAC is a federally-funded central repository for digital versions of textbooks. About Bookshare Bookshare is the world's largest accessible online library for people withprint disabilities. Through its technology initiatives and partnerships, Bookshare seeks to raise the floor on accessibility so that individuals withprint disabilities have the same ease of access to print materials as peoplewithout disabilities. In 2007, Bookshare received a $32 million five-yearaward from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special EducationPrograms (OSEP), to provide free access for all U.S. students with aqualified print disability. The Bookshare library now has over 60,000 booksand serves more than 70,000 members. Bookshare is an initiative of Benetech, a Palo Alto, CA-based nonprofit that creates sustainable technology to solve pressing social needs. "


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Monday, December 21, 2009

Creating and Playing Texts as Audiobooks on the iPhone

I had a really good question on email from a reader concerning text reading on an iTouch or iPhone. The question was whether you could take Bookshare Books and have them read on your iPhone or iTouch.
First off, remember that Bookshare files can't be shared. If you want to "play" a file to read, there is the Read Outloud player on Bookshare from Don Johnston that is free with your membership. This will let you hear the book on your computer.
If you want to put the text on your iPhone to read it visually - no text to speech, the app, "Touch Text Reader" is great (for .99 cents). I can upload text files right off my laptop wirelessly into my iPhone without syncing it with a little tool you get online and put on your computer. When you buy the app they give you the link where to get it free. Touch Text Reader opens .txt and.rtf and html docs.but it doesn't let you copy any of the files into a text to speech app. My "Speak it!" app will say anything I paste in - see below for more on Speak it!
Bookshare books come in different formats. You have a .txt file format and an html format. Either of those should be possible to read with an iTouch or iPhone, it just takes a little more work around to get it on there.
I have a text reader app I downloaded on my iPhone called Speak it! I can copy and paste the text from a website in it and it will read it. The thing is that it has to be text in bite-sized chunks - not large files. You have to paste in sections and listen to them. A way around that is to convert chapters of a book to Mp3 and load them in your iTunes and listen. I do that quite a few different ways. Narrator, an iPhone app, will read a list of public domain books they have prepared from the iPhone, but in order to hear a book, you have to download it to read. It can't import any text files or other books to read. In order to hear a text you have you would have to download the text from the book in an email or on a closed web page you use for that purpose ( see blog, My Reading Chair for a sample of how I took a public domain book and put it on this site and had it convert to an audio file online to listen to or download) and then open it in the iPhone browser and then paste into Speak it! I would be hesitant to post chapters even on a closed site with a Bookshare file for copyright reasons.
There aren't any quick apps to buy for your iPhone or iTouch that read text files with synthesized speech in one easy step right now. If it were me wanting to get a Bookshare title onto my iPhone to hear, I would be converting my text file to an Mp3 file by chapter and then uploading them in iTune and listening. Check out DSpeech by Dimios Tools. It is free and will convert any .txt text you paste in to an Mp3 file.

Note: Touch Text Reader, Narrator and Speak it! are all in the apps store at iTunes. Good luck to all you techie ebook folks out there. If anybody has found an easy solution to this let us know!
All the best,

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Assistive Technology Apps for the iPhone and iTouch: AAC and Speech to Text

I have been exploring apps for the iPhone for assistive technology. We are adding an iTouch to our equipment loan center to trial Proloquo2go Here is a blog article on it from the Autism site on

I got word the other day that Nuance is coming out with Dragon Naturally Speaking for the iPhone. The app isn't up and ready yet, but will be soon. See the blog post on Crave from CNET for "Texting without Typing" for more information.

While I was looking, I went to the Nuance site for more information the Dragon iPhone application. I found a great video tutorial on using a voice recorder on the iPhone to add into Dragon and get it transcribed. The video site is called "Skill Casting" and you can see the video here. The teacher is such a fun and pleasant person! I was impressed.

I am probably way behind many of you in getting these tools out and used, but we are seeing the potential of using these handheld apps for our students in middle and high school that think they are too cool to drag around a speech generating device or use some of the mainstream software tools on a "special" computer just for them in the back of the room. Maybe you don't struggle with those issues, but I sure do! Maybe as technology grows, these handheld apps will be the answer for many. Now with the Google phones, Droid, etc. the apps are moving way past only the iPhone. We have to run to keep up...

All the best to you!


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Ricochet: A Service Dog for Disabled Surfers

I loved this video. It is very inspiring. I love that he has found a special place to serve. We should all learn this lesson...



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Friday, November 27, 2009

From Recipes to Rockets: AAC - Part 2

The process of funding a device, the SLP report, Medicaid applications, etc. can be daunting for some. Put on top of that, the time invested in the trials and matching an appropriate device, and you can be sure that when you see the device in a student's hands it is time for celebration.
I shared in Part 1, how we developed activities to get a middle-school boy using a Dynavox V.
We were discouraged after all our work, having Medicaid deny our claim. I have to say that all through this, the Dynavox team in Pittsburgh held our hand and the area consultant kept us in the loop as they did detective work to find what we needed to fix and re-submit our request for funding. Finally the word came back about August that we didn't do 2 things: the diagnosis for the student had a code number that had a .0 after it - we had not put it down. For example, 2145 would not be good enough. It HAD to be 2145.0! Then, for some reason, the screener of the claim wanted to not only see that there was an AT specilaist (me) overseeing the initial implementation and training, but they wanted the NAME of the AT specilaist in the description.
Past experience on everyone's part never showed that this had been necessary before - but - OK, we re-submitted and waited...
September came and went, October came and went, and then the first of November - at last! The device was approved and would be shipped out. We were ready to go down the next road, which is the set up and implementation piece.
I got a call this week from the family - they had the device and were SO excited. They wanted to know when I could come to help them get it set up. I drove over and met with them for a couple of hours and we built the student's user profile. I showed them how to edit buttons and some beginning strategies to get it up and going. Dad took a picture on his phone of his son with the device to send to the SLP that had done all the hard work of getting this boy this device (He had been transferred to new students in a new community in our region and would no longer be working with this student).
It was so exciting to leave the family with a device up and running so they could help their son express himself with his new voice for Thanksgiving break. I drove away with that great feeling that you get when you know you are in a career with some great rewards that are truly the non-financial and intangible kind. I was truly thankful.
I have another student waiting for his new device as well in another town. His didn't get denied, but we have been puzzle-piecing the funding from various sources and it has also come together in the past week or so - and he will be getting his for Christmas!
All the best to you!


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Thursday, November 26, 2009

From Recipes to Rockets: Building a Fun Foundation for AAC use

One of my biggest thrills is getting to be there when students get their "voice". It is extra special when it happens over the holidays, making them ones to remember. I have been working with a speech pathologist and a family for over a year trialing devices and doing activities to develop skills with a middle school boy in order to have a speech device. We decided on the Dynavox V, and designed activities for him to use coordinating communication boards we designed.
This student had a history of short attention span, getting bored quickly with everything. I had tried working with specialists through elementary years to design a binder, picture exchange systems, use recordable symbol boards like with a Go Talk, but he would refuse an nothing could be developed.
So... last year, in a new school in a new district, we embarked on the Dynavox trials. Our first activity was building a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Since food is the way to a middle school boy's heart, we graduated to a build a pizza activity as well. As we did these, we had a partner for the student be a helper and we set out all the ingredients. We had a folder in a snacks category that was "Build a Sandwich" or "Build a Pizza". We had all the ingredients pictured and listed with voice output and also had directive buttons labeled and pictured with a sequence of tasks to complete the activity. We went through all the items and directions with the students and checked him out on them by having him show us and "tell" us each button.
Then he used the buttons to tell the partner what to get and what to help him do to finish the recipe and then the the finished product.
We video-taped each of these and with permission from the family, showed them to the fellow-SLP's in staff meetings.
Last spring our culminating activity for the year was pretty ambitious. We bought a simple beginner level rocket kit and took digital photos of all the parts and sequences to building it. We built pages in his school/classes/science area and followed the same process of teaching him the parts identification, labeling and sequences to the finished product. We then took him out with his class to the football field to launch the rocket. We even had the countdown and lift-off ready for him to use on the device.
We saw a boy that never would use a device to communicate, begin to get the connection that this could be fun and be used to do things and work together. It went beyond the usual run-of-the-mill buttons we tend to use at school - "I'm thirsty", "I'm done", "when is recess?", "I need to use the bathroom" - with the picture of the toilet on the button - how exciting!
We began the actual funding piece with awesome support from the Dynavox team in Pittsburgh, and our area consultant. We applied to Medicaid, got the SLP report, all essential pieces in the packet and off it went.
About July, we heard back that Medicaid had denied the claim and we were back at square-one having to re-submit the claim. Summer turned to fall and still no device. There had been 9 months of school dedicated to training and trialing, we had all our ducks in a row, but still no device.
Was all our labor in vain? I received emails from the rep and the company that they were trying to find out why Medicaid denied it and we just had to sit tight until we knew what was wrong so we could correct it.
Part 2 is coming up with the end results...

All the best,

Friday, October 23, 2009

In the News: Kids Use Nintendo Wii to Learn Skills - Video

Yesterday KEPR TV and KVEW TV came and taped for a news clip. The students had fun showing what they could do. Although a lot ended up on the cutting floor, there are some interesting pieces. It gives you a rough idea of what we are doing. As promised, here is the link to the KEPR article and segment. They have the link to the video there as well:

All the best,


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wii Therapy: Findings in Motor Integration/planning and Sensory Systems

Can observing children using theWii help us learn more about their weaknesses and develop strategies to use the Wii to augment traditional therapy and educational practice?

The Wii mat for Outdoor Challenge is pictured above, along with the pipleslider game the students play when sitting on the mat. By leaning left or right and patting their hands, the can steer themselves down the slide.

My question at the top is quite a mouthful! We are struggling to get valid results from observing students using the Wii and find ways to use it to support their goals. They love to play the Wii and it can be a real motivating factor. Whether we are looking at social interaction and systems that students work in with autism, or orthopedic issues in motor integration and planning, our efforts are showing some positive results as we have used the Wii in several situations this fall.

I have been working with a PT/OT and a early childhood specialist in an early childhood program. We have been bringing students in from the morning and afternoon sessions to "play". They have more speech and social goals than orthopedic ones. We have used the Outdoor Challenge game mat to play games like Mole Stomper, Pipe Slider and Timber Trail. All of these involve skills like running in place, foot/eye coordination, left/right orientation, balance, anticipation and developing problem solving systems, etc.

It has been enlightening to see how these young children develop better skills through trial and error, but we have also been able to pinpoint certain deficiencies in age-appropriate developmental skills within the motor planning, fine motor and right/left skills. We have also noticed that the students that have speech issues do not necessarily have motor planning issues as well when using the Wii, but most everyone has some area of deficiency when using the Wii that we can monitor and work on skill strengthening.
We have 2 TV stations coming out to the classroom tomorrow to tape the students and our therapists and myself on the pilot program. If we get a video clip of the piece to share online, I will link to it.

Since we have developed this program, we have been able to use it for some high school age students with autism as well. The thing we are noticing with them is that when they have to do something out of their sensory system - something that cause them to have to adjust and "tweek" their receptive sense, there can be some learning and higher tolerance as an outcome. For example, if we ask a student to take off their shoes and stand on the Wii Fit Board to play a balance game, they might refuse or have a hard time dealing with doing something in their sock feet. The lure of the game and the motivational factor there might be the ticket to get them to comply and give it a try. When this happens, the door can open to new sensations and willingness to try. We have had similar instances with sitting on a mat on the floor, being in sock feet on the mat and putting the strap on the Wii remote around a wrist.

We have just purchased the components for a second system that will go into a student autism group in a high school to work on social and sensory developmental goals. We also have a fourth grade deaf boy who is in a wheelchair and will be using the Wii therapy to do some eye/hand coordination and integration of a speech device with game symbols and basic communication to play with the teacher and a peer.

This has been an interesting journey. I have actually been so busy that I have had to focus on other directions and let this go. In spite of my negligence at times, the teachers and specialists have owned the program and run with it. They have been sharing results and ideas, and proposing new ways to apply the games to student needs. It is taking on a life of its' own!

We have a goal to develop improved data collection forms and develop some tutorials and helps for specialists and teachers to integrate games. We are a long way from that yet - but things are definitely taking shape.
More to come as things develop.

Note: The Wii is not used for official diagnosis, evaluation or screening. It is only used as another tool to see what students can and cannot do and give them a fun and motivating way to develop and achieve goals - approaching them from a different angle.
All the best,

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is it a Mystery? Self-accommodation Needs Information and Self-Awareness

Assistive technology has been a unfamiliar concept for many living in my rural Eastern Oregon region, but in the past 5 years I have been working on building a program, and this fall we have begun to see the efforts pay off. I have been literally overwhelmed with new requests for evaluations, observations, new students, personal development trainings, involvement in accessible instructional materials directions state-wide (not to mention spending every waking minute not at work, spent underneath our home built in 1897, excavating and leveling and putting in new beams - and shutting 'er up before the snow flies - I live high in the mountains).
I am FINALLY at a place where I can sit by the crackling fire in the wood stove this evening, after my son practiced his fiddle tunes and his spelling words, to play some cards and then write on my blog - a dear friend I have missed but have been much too preoccupied this past few months.
I haven't meant to neglect my AT writing but there has been too much going on in life lately to chronicle. I think I have been on overload. It is like walking through a buffet line and not knowing what to try first. There have been many students and many ideas and new relationships built.

I wanted to share about a high school girl I drove to see way out in the boondocks in a small community who has central auditory processing issues and has low grades as an eighth grader. I was asked to come and observe and do an evaluation based on her needing support to write and get her ideas down. I observed her in a language arts class, write an essay on the computer. She could write on the fly and use the spell checker and word prediction well. She could do the mechanics, but the teacher spent a lot of time with her trying to get her to flesh out the main ideas and words that emphasized the major points. She wasn't quite getting that.

I visited with her afterward and explained that I was there to help her with some ways to write and organize her thoughts. I asked her:
"The papers in your file say that you have a central auditory processing disorder. Do you know what that is?" I asked.
She shook her head "No".
"It's like this," I said, "Do you ever feel like your brain is like a radio and you hear what people tell you but you can't tune in the station clear enough so later you can't remember what you were supposed to do?"

Her eyes got big and she nodded, "yes".

I started to share ideas, "What if we were to work on finding some tools, maybe a voice recorder to help you remember. You can have teachers say directions, instructions - maybe even record a class where they tell everyone a lot of important information for a test. You can use this to help you get it again."

I shared how we could set up a special binder with pockets to hold cards that tell her what the big picture ideas are in a class or steps to a project. We are going to have the staff that work with her in for a meeting and talk about low and mid tech and what might best support her.

I think the "take home" for me was that I was talking to an eighth grader who had never been told what her learning disorder was or how to accommodate for it.
In order to be successful, students with disabilities need to know what they have going on and what tools best will give them the life skills they need to succeed independently in life.
Let's take the mystery out of the issues our students face. Let's help them understand how things can be different and they can begin to have power over what they can read study and write. Empowerment and independence is what it is all about!

All the best,


Monday, September 21, 2009

Free OCR Programs for Print Disabilities

I have been using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software for quite some time to work on ways to accommodate student learning and help students be able to access printed text when they have print disabilities. I wrote a review of Top OCR and Access Apps last spring and I have been demonstrating Top OCR to sped teachers, assistants and SLP's to use with their students.
I have grappled with all the intricate issues of copyright but I just show teachers the tools, advised them on what is within reasonable limits of the law balanced with what we are mandated to provide in AIM, and leave interpretations up to individual teachers, administrators and districts.
I have used Access Apps in several downloadable versions (it installs on a jump drive). The line up has changed as far as the tools RSC has included over the past year. I was disappointed to find Top OCR was gone. I had referred a parent to it after an inquiry on text to speech tools that were supportive with scanned text. I recommended Kurzweil 3000, but cautioned on the price. If a person is willing to give up some of the cadillac luxuries, a lot can be said for free open source tools.
I stumbled across a great review on the Top 5 Free OCR Softwares and thought I would pass it on. Hope it helps some of you as you sort your way through the many options for those with print disabilities.
All the best to you!


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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Wii Therapy, AIM, AAC and Everything in Between: Welcome Back!

I have taken a huge bit of the summer to be offline and rest, spend time with family, etc. I am excited to get back to writing and bring posts that will encourage and stimulate your creative juices. We just returned from a great trip to Toronto and now - back to it!
With Labor Day is behind us, it is time for gearing up towards goals for children and for me, pressing onwards to new goals in my knowledge and professional development. I know that we are being told that stimulus funds are available for AT and I am writing and developing recommendations for items for Autism and AT for our districts. I will have to share them and get your feedback.
I am on a state AIM committee that is working on our implementation of print diability materials in a timely manner and will be developing our protcols for requests and connecting teachers and students with materials, knowing qualifications for access, etc.
My biggest surprise in the projects I have been involved in has been the interest in the Wii as therapy. We tested it out last spring and it seemed very successful. I am going to an ECSE classroom today to work with some children for their motor skill activity time. We have two local TV networks that are working on stories on what we are doing and we are continuing to develop our data collection sheets this fall and fine-tune things. I am working on developing some overlays with speech devices to incorporate with the Wii therapy so we can develop some communication goal work alongside the motor work as well.
I stumbled across some new successes using neuro-feedback for dyslexia with great results. The doctor that has been doing this work has agreed to an interview and so I will be writing about this and setting up a time this fall for him to share what they are doing with you.
There is so much to do and so little time. Just take a deep breath and remember to pursue the things that give you joy. Those will being about your greatest success...
Have a great fall and do great things out there!

All the best to you,


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Friday, July 17, 2009

New Mobile Technologies Partner with Bookshare

Individuals with Print Disabilities Can Now Use Mobile Technologies for Accessing Bookshare Titles. Bookshare and Code Factory Announce Partnership.

Individuals with print disabilities can now choose new, low-cost mobile technologies to read more than 50,000 digital books and periodicals thanks to a partnership between Bookshare, the world’s largest online library of accessible books for people with print disabilities, and Code Factory, Barcelona Spain; a leading global provider of screen readers, screen magnifiers, and Braille interfaces for a wide range of mainstream mobile devices.

The Mobile Speak screen readers for mobile phones developed by Code Factory use synthesized speech to read aloud information displayed on the mobile phone screens including ebooks stored on their phones. Using this technology, Bookshare members who are blind or have visual impairments will have new alternatives and features like navigation, bookmarking and text search, to access digital books for work, study or reading pleasure.
“For years, individuals with print disabilities have needed the ability to read books on a readily-available, low-cost, portable device such as the mobile phone,” said Jim Fruchterman, CEO of Benetech, the nonprofit organization which operates Bookshare. “We envision students with visual impairments or learning disabilities on the bus reading textbooks and other assignments with their phones. In rural areas or homes without computers, individuals can download digital books at school or a community center with computer access and read the content anywhere using their mobile phone. Mobile phone technologies will bring Bookshare books to people and students who previously lacked a portable technology solution to read digital books, magazines and newspapers on the go.”

To read Bookshare books, users of Mobile Speak can download books and periodicals from the Bookshare website ( to their PC and transfer them to their mobile phones or PDAs. Code Factory provides accessible solutions for Symbian phones as well as Windows Mobile Smartphones and Pocket PCs.
If users have a Symbian phone (e.g. Nokia phone) they can install the Mobile DAISY Player application in addition to the Mobile Speak screen reader application. Mobile DAISY Player is a book reader which will allow users with sight and visual impairments to read Bookshare files in DAISY (Digital Accessible Information System) format. Mobile DAISY Player is the first and only mobile phone DAISY application to support both DAISY 2.02 and DAISY 3.0 (NISO) book formats. Users can adjust the speed of reading without changing the pitch, set bookmarks to favorite places in the contents screen, navigate by character, word, sentence or paragraph, and configure font sizes and screen colors.

Individuals with a Windows Mobile device can also read Bookshare books in BRF (Braille Ready Format) through the built-in Braille reader implemented in Mobile Speak Smartphone and Mobile Speak Pocket. The Braille reader application will read Bookshare BRF files in English through users’ active speech synthesizer whether or not a Braille display is connected. Users having a refreshable Braille display can read Bookshare books in Braille which is particularly useful for deaf-blind users.

Bookshare member Larry L. Lewis, Jr., President and Founder of Flying Blind, LLC, uses the Mobile Speak application to read Bookshare books on the go. “My Mobile Speak-equipped Smartphone is convenient and allows me to accomplish more tasks while carrying fewer devices,” said Lewis. “Code Factory's BRF reader allows me the flexibility to read Bookshare books with a wireless Braille display or to simply listen to the text while it is read by Mobile Speak.”

“Bookshare and Code Factory share a vision to provide individuals with disabilities around the globe with greater access to a vast collection of digital books and information,” said Eduard Sanchez, CEO of Code Factory. “We value this introduction from Bookshare, a social enterprise, to identify the latest mobile technologies as a solution that will raise the level of access for these individuals.”

Product Information Links:
Bookshare Membership – Code Factory Promotion Code

Bookshare offers memberships to individuals in the U.S. and around the world for a nominal fee. The library has tens of thousands of books including fiction, non-fiction, textbooks, educational reading, newspapers and magazines, plus two free software applications that read digital content. To learn more visit

Applicants, other than U.S. students who qualify for free memberships, will receive a $25 waiver on a set up fee. To receive this waiver, you must: 1) enter promo code: Codefactory in your registration form and 2) send an email to to request the waiver.

Mobile Speak Pricing and Distribution Information
Code Factory’s accessible solutions are available in the U.S. through several distributors, including AT&T. The price for Mobile Speak starts at $89 for AT&T customers. For more information about the AT&T and Code Factory partnership visit

To find the closest distributor visit

To download Mobile Speak screen readers, visit

To learn how to get a trial, visit

Mobile DAISY Player Information
To download Mobile DAISY Player for a free trial for 30 days, visit

To buy Mobile DAISY Player, contact the following distributors or look for other Code Factory distributors at

- Adaptive Technology Resources at
or call 262.375.2020
- Handy Tech North America at
or call 651.636.5184
- Vision Cue at
or call 888.318.2582

All the best to you!


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Monday, July 6, 2009

Dynavox has Merged with Blink Twice!

Industry Leaders have Joined Forces to Better Serve Individuals with Speech, Language and Learning Disabilities.

DynaVox Mayer-Johnson has announced they have merged with Blink Twice, effective today, July 6, 2009. DynaVox and Blink Twice are now one company with the broadest range of products in the industry.

Here is the infomation I received today:

"DynaVox is the leading provider of symbol-based communication software and speech generating devices for children and adults with speech, language and learning disabilities. Blink Twice is the developer of the Tango, an innovative, synthesized symbol-based communication device designed primarily for children and teens. Today's merger reinforces our joint commitment to providing the appropriate communication solution for each client's unique needs.
DynaVox recognizes that augmented communicators have different needs, and our goal is to offer the right product to best meet the needs of each individual. DynaVox is excited to have the Tango as part of its product offering. We admire the innovative approach that Blink Twice has taken towards creating an easy to access, aesthetically pleasing device, along with engaging symbols and voices which are particularly appealing to children and teens.

For more information about the Tango, please visit the DynaVox Website at

Sales, support and manufacturing activities for the Tango will be integrated into DynaVox, with all key employees of Blink Twice joining the DynaVox team. With the Tango as part of the DynaVox family, customers will enjoy the benefits of DynaVox's industry leading support capabilities - what we like to call the DynaVox Difference. Tango customers will now benefit from:
• Increased local support through our team of over 100 North American Sales Consultants - find yours online at
• Enhanced technical support coverage, now provided by the DynaVox Tech Support team, from 8 AM to 7 PM Eastern time. 866-DYNAVOX (396-2869)
• Expedited and accurate management of the reimbursement process, with the DynaVox Funding Team handling all Medicaid, Medicare, and insurance processing.
• Tango's inclusion in the DynaVox DREAM and rental programs.
• High quality manufacturing and the DynaCare service you've come to expect from DynaVox.

Dynavox is ready to assist you with all of your needs for the Tango.
All new orders should now be placed with the DynaVox Customer Support Team at 866-DYNAVOX (396-2869).
They are also working to expedite the delivery of all Tango devices currently on order."

Full Press Release

All the best to you!



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Monday, June 29, 2009

WATI Free Online AT Resources on Talk Radio Show

Jill Gierach of Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) was my guest this morning on No Limits 2 Learning Live!


We had a great time discussing the resources in their Assessing Student Needs for Assistive Technology manual, (4th edition pdf link here). They are working on a 5 th edition that will be aimed at RTI and curriculum content areas more specifically in organization.
You can also listen on my blog player on the sidebar and access older shows there in the list.

All the best to you!


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Friday, June 26, 2009

WATI Director Jill Gierach on Blog Talk Radio Monday, June 29

No Limits 2 Learning Live is proud to host WATI (Wisconsin Assistive Technology Initiative) Director, Jill Geirach Monday, June 29 at 9 a.m. Pacific time.
WATI resources have been some my best and most-used tools in assessing and implementing assistive technology. If you have never explored the free documents on their website, you need to add them to your knowledge base. Due to some budget cuts (we all know about that these days!) and some re-structuring, WATI will be taking on a little different look in the future.
Listen in as Jill shares about free resources from the WATI shelves and join us as we celebrate a wonderful history of WATI support for students with special needs and the teachers and parents that serve them.
If you would like to call in and talk with Jill, call 347 945-5431, Monday, June 29 at 9 a.m. Pacific.
You can listen live here or access the archive after the show on the sidebar player on the blog or Blog Talk Radio/ No Limits 2 Learning Live! show episode.

All the best to you!



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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Assessing Formats for Accessible Instructional Materials, Part Two

Matching an AIM (Accessible Instructional Materials) format (See part one for format types) with students involves more than just locating a textbook title in etext or qualifying for eligibility to acquire NIMAS files. The correct software, type of reader, text to speech voice, method of access and visual settings for those with orthopedic or low vision issues all combine to make or break the implementation of the text in an alternative format.
In Oregon, we have the Talking Book and Braille Service for our Blind and low vision students. They usually access braille formats or listen through a Braillenote or computer. They use JAWS to navigate the computer and DAISY files that can be in a braille format (.brf).
OTAP, The Oregon Technology Access Program, has begun to develop a new state recognized media provider for accessing titles for those that are not blind - but either orthopedically impaired or having an organic brain dysfunction (See part one for more on eligibility and these conditions). As a teacher or parent gets past the eligibility piece and on into the accessing of materials, you have options of using and state media providers that are recognized by NIMAC. There are other services that provide public domain texts in e formats such as and Lit2Go, etc.
As an assistive technology specialis, I am trying to develop a procedure which will help me streamline the process by which I work with teachers and IEP teams, so that we know what services we want to use for a student to access titles and what software and hardware will best serve the student to access and hear/see the text files.

What areas need to be considered in a Learning Media Assessment?
Below is a sample I have been brainstorming as a possible checklist for a Learning Media Assessment Form. It is a work in progress, but you can take it as it is and tweek it for your own use. I will hopefully have a finished and working document by the time school starts in September, and this is not an all-inclusive form - but it is a start. Let me know your thoughts and feedback. If you are familiar with the SETT method of AT Assessment, you will recognize those pieces in the sample below.

Learning Media Assessment Document
Student information:
Classroom Teacher:

Case Manager:

Student Diagnosis:

Student Objectives? IEP Goals?:

Planning AIM:
1. Has the textbook and other materials been identified that need to be accessible? List below:

2. Who is the primary contact (your staff) for materials, converted files, etc.

3. What Authorized Users are being used? Bookshare ____; RFB & D ______; Other _______

4. In what settings will the student need text to be accessed? School ____; Home ____; Other _______________;

5. What are needs for implementation/staff training?

Media Assesment:
Check the type of media this student should use:

Audio (Mp3 file only) ___

Audio (DAISY) _____

Etext for large print only ____

Etext with reader _____

Format for etext: pdf ____; txt ____; html ____; BRF ____; DAISY _____; xml _____;

Software Tool used to read etext: K3000 _____; Read Outloud ____; DSpeech ____; TopOCR _____; Wynn _____; iTunes _____;

Hardware Tool: Classmate Reader _____; Mp3 device (i.e., ipod/Zune/Etc.) _____;

Optional readers for blind users (DAISY): AMIS _____; Victor Reader _____; Dolphin _____;ZoomTextPlus _____; JAWS _____;

Hardware Tool: Braillenote _____; PacMate ______;

This is all I have so far. Take this as a start and customize it to fit your needs.
I would suggest visiting the AIM consortium area on CAST and visiting the CAST site in general for more resources.
OTAP is working on a much more extensive set of info sheets and assessment pieces, designed by Gayl Bowser. Check the OTAP site this next fall to see when they will be accessible. Also, I am teaching 2 day classess in the Portland area in August for the Oregon Assistive Technology Summer Institute. College credit will be available through Portland State University. I will be teaching a day on free and low cost print disability tools, and a day on using Access Apps tools. Check here for registration and details. The venue is about an hour from the Oregon Coast as well.

All the best to you,



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Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Kidthing Offers Free Downloads of Summer Books,Videos and Games

Free Games on Kidthing this summer....

Kidthing, the games and ebook player for kids is promoting free games each week throughout the summer. You can download the player for free and the access the free game downloads. There are games such as The Great Outdoors word search and soccer math. July will bring a group of patriotic themed games and activities. Once downloaded, games and books can be accessed off-line on the player, so kids don't need to be on the Internet to play.
My past Kidthing posts still seem to be some of the most popular and if you haven't tried out this player and catalog of books and activities you should give it a try. I have used a switch and interface with the books to allow students to turn the pages and of course many of the books can be read to the students. The access piece matched with the books available, make it great - especially for younger or cognitively lower students. They also have an NEA/Read Across America program during the school year that allows teachers to download a free book a month - many of them Dr. Seuss titles.
We have a lot of fun with kidthing at home and my 7 year old son asks to play and read on there all the time.

All the best to you!



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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Assessing Formats for Accessible Instructional Materials, Part One

Getting curriculum to students in an accessible format can be a challenge, but it is a federal mandate. We are to provide materials in a timely manner which means, "At the same time as the other students".
In Oregon, we are working on a protocol for helping districts and educators streamline the process for identifying what type of format AIM (accessible instructional materials) needs to be in and how to access the materials in a timely manner and implement them.
If you are looking at qualifying some students you have, or you are a parent that knows your child needs textbooks, articles and handouts in an alternative format, but aren't currently getting them, this post might help.

What are the formats we are talking about? Most common are: Large print; Mp3 audio; DAISY files; text files in a .txt format that can be opened by a text reader (see past posts on my blog for text to speech tools); or a text file that can be opened in a program or web browser with different color text and background. (Access Apps has some great free tools for this)
These formats require an e-copy of the text book or other materials so that the text can be converted, manipulated by an assistant, parent, teacher or the reader.
Accessing the Format:
We will assume for this post that the student has already qualified and eligibility has been proven. Briefly though, the standard requirements for eligibility are that the student needs to 1.) either be blind or visually impaired, 2.) orthopedically impaired to the point where a book cannot be held or pages turned, or finally, 3.) the student has an organic brain dysfunction that causes a processing or reading disorder.
A doctor's letter supporting one of these three eligibilities is needed for accessing copyright protected files through a state authorized media provider of files coming from the NIMAC (National Instructional Materials Access Center).
Another option, , requires that a competent professional make this determination and it doesn't necessarily have to be a doctor. A special education teacher, a specialist in the field of disability, etc. can make this determination. You can consult the website under qualifications for membership eligibility for more information. Bookshare is working hard to expand their ability to locate and provide textbooks for students so check them out.
I recently had a visit from a young woman who was a nursing student who wanted to know about some tools to help her access her nursing textbooks. She was able to connect me with a regional school psych who had tested her in community college for eligibility on a learning disability. I was able to send him the Bookshare form and he was able to sign off on her eligibility and fax it in.

These are some of the foundational pieces to setting up access to instructional materials that are copyright protected. We will look at the process of assessing formats for students and implementing in part two.

All the best to you!



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Monday, June 22, 2009

A "Bug" in the System: AAC Care Tip to Save You Money

I have to share a tip I found out about this week that could save you upwards of $1500 on repair costs on those expensive dynamic display touch screen AAC devices that are used for communication...
"This is the service/repair department. We have your device ready to send back. Could you call us for details on your repair?"
I had been given a mal-functioning touch screen AAC device from a high school that needed repairs for the second time on a USB port. I was glad it was done and called the service department back to find out what was up.
"Hello Mr. Thornburg. We have replaced a main board in the device. It looked new other than being dirty - more than what we could just clean. I wanted to let you know that we found what looked like roach legs and fecal matter behind the screen. Sometimes if a device isn't working properly and gets stored away in a closet, garage or basement in a box, it becomes the "home" for insects."
I was getting a little grossed out I have to say... "You are kidding me, right?"
"No" he replied. "We see a lot of damage to devices because of bug issues." He went on to say, "We are replacing the board free this time and the USB port is working fine, but we are making a note of the bug issue and the free replacement. If it gets returned again and has the same issue, we will have to charge for the replacement of the board and labor which will run about $1600.00."
"Wow. I think this device is getting stored in a snap lid box from now on. Thanks for the free repair and the word of warning."
I called a different AAC device company's rep and asked if this was a common issue. I was cautioned that although it is not probably an issue for actively used devices, that folks store them away not thinking and the little vents and holes can become an inviting "hotel for insects".
"Be careful though about reporting that this is a common issue because it just can be another factor to cause folks looking at AAC devices to decide against them." the rep advised me. "A post about this could be helpful though just to help people be more aware and care for their devices."

So...there you have it. Who would have known? I guess our repeated repair had a literal bug in the system. I have visited the classroom where this device resides many times and it is a very clean room and a neat and tidy environment. I don't have any ideas about how this could have happened except that the OT that works with the student told me that the device doesn't go home with the student in the summer. "It gets locked up at school through the summer months." I was told. There could be our issue. If you have these type of devices stored away for the summer months you might want to re-think your storage strategies.
I will be advising all our AAC device owners to get a snap lid storage box to put the whole device, charger and case in when not in use. I don't want to see a $1600 dollar repair bill next time and maybe this advice will help you avoid a costly repair bill as well.

All the best to you!


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Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Mountain Ranch Visit with a Todd's Paralysis Student for Summer AT

Summer is here and kids are at home. Are you looking for a tool to sharpen skills and keep them engaged over the summer months?

Today I made a home visit, driving through our local Indian Reservation of the Cayuse and Umatilla, winding along the Umatilla River out into ranch country. I was taking a laptop loaded with Clicker 5 by Crick Software, out to the most beautiful piece of heaven you could want to see - straight out of a Louis L'Amour western. I drove up a gravel drive, under the hanging brand sign of the ranch and drove up to the main house, where a little cowpoke was waving me down on the porch. The family greeted me and I had a chance to sit with their little girl who just finished the first grade.
Mandy, (I will call her for this post) has Todd's Paralysis, a side-effect of epilepsy that comes on as a type of seizure. She has several in the early waking hours of the morning before school on a regular basis. They have effected her right side and she uses her left hand to do most things. Her speech is pretty good but she has to put alot of effort out to be understood.
Her teacher at school shared that she has mastered the material for first grade, but has difficulty writing and so she cannot get her work done and handed in at school with the other students in her class. The hope was that there would be something she could use with a laptop to type and print her work.
I got out a loaner laptop loaded with Clicker 5 to leave with them to play with for a month or so. Clicker 5 has a talking word processor window and a pop-up keyboard on the screen. It also has editable buttons in various templates that allow you to build word walls, build your own guided sentence writing activities complete with sound, animation and pictures that correspond to the words. My hope was that Mandy could begin typing using the mouse on the pop up keyboard and use word wall buttons where possible as well to practice writing skills over the summer in prep for fall.

We set up the introduction demo that let her go through the program and see how it works and try various activities. She needs to develop mouse skills so she can access the buttons on the screen, but with guided prtactice from mom and dad, she was pointing out the correct words for fruits to match pictures and her reading skills and word recognition was excellent.
I left them with dad building a word wall page with mommy, daddy, her horse, ranch, etc. They were building a sentence for her to tell about her horse when I left. The family was up and running with the basics to use the program within 15 minutes.
If you have a young student home for the summer that needs text to speech, picture linking to words and opportunities to build dynamic pages for inspiring writing, check out Clicker 5. The cost is $229 for Windows/Mac.

All the best to you,

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Wii Therapy Baseline Sets Stage for Program Pilot

Our ESD released the following article this week. From this I have had several newspapers and two TV stations call for further stories. I thought I would share the article below:

"Nintendo Wii has taken the video game industry and many American households by storm, and now the game system is starting to be used as a form of physical and occupational therapy to help improvement movement and motor skills.
When Pendleton Academies closed its doors last fall, the Umatilla-Morrow Education Service District (UMESD) acquired several used Nintendo Wii game consoles. They were handed down to UMESD Assistive Technology Specialist Lon Thornburg, who began to research the use of Wii systems in physical and occupational therapy with special needs students. The results?
Now Thornburg, physical therapist Jodi Garberg and occupational therapist Christi Sullivan are working together to create a pilot program for the Wii therapy. They spent two days observing students using the system and several games at Sandstone Middle School and Hermiston High School to develop a baseline of activities and design a data collection model for the program.
The trio are hoping to create a pilot program that will be used for six months at a time at two different schools (to be determined) next year. They’ll study the effectiveness of the system to motivate special needs students, as well as how well it helps to improve their communication and motor skills. The pilot program will also give them the opportunity to improve the program, its uses and effectiveness, as well as refine the data collection model.
“We think it’ll also be a good tool for diagnosing what some of these kids can’t do,” Thornburg said. “I think there are just tons of possibilities with this system.”
Thornburg emphasizes that this program is not something for kids to have the chance to just fool around with.
“We want to make sure people understand we’re being very clinical about this,” Thornburg said. He noted that the only expenses so far have been to purchase several Wii games, such as the sport pack, Outdoor Challenge and Wii Fit. All of the consoles and remotes were donated when Pendleton Academies closed.
The Wii Fit aerobics and balance programs have fun therapeutic movements such as the hula hoop, penguin slide, ski slalom, tightrope walk and balance bubble. The Outdoor Challenge features a “mole stomper,” trampoline, water slide, jump rope and trail rider. These games help special needs students to improve their balance and motor skills.
Through his research, Thornburg has found other physical and occupational therapists across the country who are using the Wii systems in rehabilitation centers, assisted living centers and even for war veterans in VA medical centers.
“Doing the physical therapy can be quite painful for some of the veterans, so using the Wii helps them with their therapy while helping to take their minds off the pain by doing something fun,” Thornburg said.
Thornburg also has connected with Mershon Hinkel, an occupational therapist in Philadelphia known as the “Wii OT.” The pair have shared various Wii therapy ideas and experiences.
By refining the program through the pilot project, Thornburg hopes to collect enough tangible and effective data and experiences to apply for grant funding to help the program take flight in more schools with the UMESD’s physical and occupational therapists."

All the best to you!


Thursday, June 4, 2009

New Projects for June on No Limits to Learning

Hello Everyone!
I am "re-surfacing" after a pretty intense few weeks where I have just not had the energy to chronicle my work. Instead, I will try to start unpacking some of the thoughts surrounding the following topics that have filled the last 2 or 3 weeks of my life:

1. Accessible Instructional Materials/ conducting Learning Media Assessments - what does this mean, what is involved and how do you do it?
2. Social capital and how special needs students can get it, keep it and let it help them transition on after High School.
3. Wii therapy experiments in middle and high school: What we found and the data collection we are developing for OT/PT/Communication and Social Skills.
4. Lessons learned from success (and failures) in setting up AT pilot programs.
5. New Edition of Access Apps and changes/new programs.
6. Developing a rocketry unit and using AAC
7. Using AAC with Wii Therapy

As you can see, I have had quite a lot going on and have been tying up loose ends on transition meetings, setting up summer trainings, etc. I have quite a bit to write about. I just need life to slow down enough to get it out of my head and onto the blog.
I have pretty much posted every weekday for the past year and a half until this past month - please forgive me and I will do better. Who knows, maybe you have been so busy you haven't had a chance to read much either!

WATI Director on Blog Talk Radio Interview coming this month!
I am honored to be interviewing the director of the Wisconson Assistive Technology Initiative (WATI) about their program. Unfortunately, due to budget and the economy, WATI will be closing the doors, but the website, a vision of director Jill Gierach MSE ATP will continue and all its' great resources should remain for us. We have not set a definite date, but it will be on in a couple of weeks. Keep posted for dates and more info as it gets closer.

Have a great first week of June...
All the best to you!


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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

3D Printer Robotics May Lead to Home Design for AT

Imagine a home 3D printer/ fabricator where you "print" a device by loading a fabrication software plan/ program for what you want to build, supply the raw materials and let the "robot" build it.

A Standard Freeform Fabricator (SFF) designed by "Fab at Home" will do just this. With Open-source software, folks are experimenting with designing 3D and useful objects. h+ Magazine posted an article sharing about the system and that it is being used in universities to learn design and engineering as well as experimental handicapped assistive devices.
Cornell University published an article: "Object Augmentation for the Visually Impaired Using RP" (pdf here). Sibley School of Mechanical and Aero-space engineering, Cornell Univ. Computing and Information Science, and ELIA Life Technology Inc, used a free form fabricator to "print" a tacticle alphabet on various surfaces.

Here is a video that shows the unit making a watch...

Find more videos like this on hplus community
All the best to you!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Math Tool Accommodations: Number Pads, Calculators and More

I received a question about options for number pads and calculators for the computer. The need was to isolate the number keys so the letter keys weren't being hit. As I got to looking at options, I thought I might as well share my ideas with you. If you know of some cool apps for this or tricks, share them in the comment section. I have left out big button calculators, but they are great tools too. It just depends on what you are wanting to do. The question I received came from a computer keyboard need.

You could use small pvc pipe and elbows and ends to make a “stand” that covers the part of the keyboard you don’t want and leave the numbers at the end. I made one a few years back to cover the keyboard on a laptop – pretty simple – I covered it with foam board from a craft store and covered it with felt. We used it as a flat surface and used velcro to fasten jelly bean switches on it. (Thanks Linda Burkhart!)
Another option is a mini USB pad – here is one for $20 at Target online.

I use comfort software's on-screen keyboard. They have many editable on-screen keyboards and I like one that is a number pad only – you can download the program and get a whole suite of keyboards, word prediction and you can change the size and customize. I put a screen shot of one at the top of this post. The program has a preview download version to try out. I think you can stay in evaluation mode as long as you want to put up with the start-up sales stuff. Their website is:

There is also an online virtual calculator for the visually impaired here:
This site has all kinds of calculators for different purposes so definitely check them out.

Last but not least, I will refer you again to the Calcu Type online switch activated scanning calculator which is another great on computer math accommodation tool .

All the best to you!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rocketry with AAC


I have been "in the trenches" over the past week or so and also off to some great trainings, one on transitioning and building social capital for students and a state meeting on implementing accessible print materials. between all this I have been building pages for a Dynavox VMax for a rocketry project with 2 of our non-verbal students. We video-taped one student last week and I will be doing another this week and next.

I built several pages, one branching off a science class page with 3 button/folders:1.) Rocket parts 2.) Building the rocket and 3.) Launching the rocket. I used a digital camera and took pictures of the parts in the package and made buttons for the main ones. I purchased a rocket kit with some pre-assembled parts so it only took about 15 minutes to build. I also took pictures of hands doing the assembly pieces and the actual launching. We even made a countdown page with 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, lift-off buttons.

Since we are using a speech output device, I am having the student using the device work with an assistant and use the device to tell the partner what items to get, and what they will do next, clear through the launch. What an exciting way to build involvement and motivation to use AAC. The student has been practicing where all the boards and buttons are. It should be great fun! I am looking forward to a sunny afternoon launch out on the football field soon!

All the best to you...


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Using Stimulus Dollars to Build Your Essential Assistive Technology Toolbox

What Essentials are in Your Toolbox?

I was asked to recommend some tools that I consider "staples of the trade" to put in a tollbox for special ed classrooms. I was asked to keep it "reasonable" in cost and equip with the essentials. I might be sticking my neck out here, but I thought I would throw my list out to you and get your feedback. What am I missing? What would be better? Give us your ideas... remember, in this scenario there is money to spend!

My Toolbox List:
Boardmaker software $399 (Mayer Johnson)
Super Talker Progressive Communicator - $339 (Ablenet)
2 Jelly Bean switches - $45 each (Ablenet)

1 Switch Interface Pro USB 5.0 - $99 (Don Johnston)

1 Big Mack Communicator - $109 (Ablenet)

1 Big Red Switch - $45 (Ablenet)

I Universal Mount - $80 (Ablenet)

1 Powerlink 3 - $189 ( I would get a cheap radio to use with it) (Ablenet)

2 Battery Interrupters (AA and C/D sizes) - $12 each (Enabling Devices)

1 Touchscreen (13"-15") - $179 (Don Johnston)

1 Canon Canoscan LiDE 200 flatbed scanner with OmniPage SE OCR software- $99

1 Mp3/voice recorder/audiobook flash drive player - $39.95 (RCA Pearl)

Don Johnston SOLO Literacy Suite with Talking Word Processor, Graphic Organizer, Text Reader, Word Prediction. - $749 (Don Johnston)

(A free suite of tools with some lower-end tools like on SOLO comes in Access Apps as a download to put on a 2GB flashdrive) A low cost alternative I recently discovered is Confident Reader. It will not read DAISY files, but you can get one that does free online from if you have an account, They also have a free version of a Don Johnston Reader.

There are so many great software tools like Classroom Suite, Clicker 5, Kurzweil 3000, etc. but with the tools above I could do alot - I think I could survive fairly well actually. I also know there are lots of different kinds of switches, but we have our equipment center to trial varities of switches so I would check them out and get them as needed. There are low-end ideas like pencil grips, see-through color strips, etc. What are your resources? (things you would want to be on your list?)

All the best to you!


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Piloting Our Own Wii Therapy to Support OT in the Schools

Wii-abilitation or Wii-therapy is becoming more and more popular. I can tell by the increase in posts, articles and sites about it online. As I shared not too long ago, we were given a Wii, leftover from a program that had been closed. The Wii had some parts missing and the Wii Sports CD scratched beyond use. I got a call from a director asking me if we could use it for assistive technology somehow.
I went through the storage tub and sorted through broken remotes and odds and ends (there had been 2 Wiis at one time) and got enough working pieces to make up one good set. I bought an Outdoor Adventure mat and game, a Wii Fit board and Wii Play. I went online and printed off a good Wii Fit tutorial that lists all the activities and put together overviews from resources online for the Outdoor Adventure and the Wii Play.
We had a "launch" at a monthly OT/PT meeting last week and I gave the specialists an arsenal of articles supporting the use of the Wii in schools, veterans hospitals, care facilities, etc. I began to get requests from therapists to come out to some schools and help them get started.

A Time for Assessment
One of the OT's has set up two days, one at a middle school and one at a high school where I will set up the Wii in a closed setting. Throughout the day, we will bring in various students and based on their motor level and ability, try some games out and decide what activities will support the unique needs of that student. Will it be eye-hand coordination, balance, fine motor, speeding up reflex action, or just getting a student out of a chair, onto a mat and letting them slide down the water slide steering with their hands on the mat?
I drafted up a rough data sheet for starters that has the student information on the top as well as motor ability and motor goals, and then lists all the games with space for notes. We can fill out a form for a student, check all the games that apply to the goal and get a baseline started.
If we can pilot a program in a couple of schools and get some data that shows this is helping students, we can use that to start more Wii's in more schools under the direction of the OT/PT's.
Wii and Communication?
I have an interesting case developing for a non-verbal student where we are going to incorporate some augmentative communication with the Wii Sports to allow this student to play against a classmate and use the Communication Overlays to choose games, make comments, take turns, build a Mii (I have made boards with all the head, eyes, nose, hair, etc. parts ready to use) and say "Good game!" A great Mii site to visit for some ideas for your boards is a Mii Creator site.
Some students need a motivator to use alternate forms of communication. We are trailing a Dynavox with a student that is doing terrific things because we are having him build sandwiches, make pizza and build and shoot a model rocket (this Friday!). He happens to be in the middle school where we are bringing the Wii, so I will build some pages for using the Wii and incorporate the Dynavox V into it.
Blending tools and supports is getting to be so much fun and I find it allows some of those unique needs kids have to be met in a way that just can't happen with a one-size-fits-all philosophy.

All the best to you!


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