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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Monday, May 4, 2009

Plan Now for Strong Fall Transitions with Students Using Assistive Technology

As we face spring and the end of the school year, we have transitions...the movement of a student from elementary to middle, middle to high school, on to college and then out the door to life. It seems like it happens all too fast.
There are so many changes and adjustments to make. Parents get nervous about new settings, new staff and how their child will fare. Teachers feel overwhelmed by new cases that they have to study and students that they have to become familiar with. There are new routines to learn, new curriculum, new environments, etc.
I have seen transitions that were seamless and transitions that were bumpy at best. New teachers have to get up to speed on a student, but sometimes the same assistants go with a student to help. New IEP's and new goals, re-adjusting and fine-tuning what is being done - all can slow down progress being made.
In assistive technology, I have the distinct honor to follow sudents through their school career, so I can be one point of A.T. memory so to speak, going to new schools with the students as they advance and sharing what we have been doing can help a lot.
To help prevent the potential bogging down of the wheels of progress, here are some ideas you can implement in your transition planning now to make next fall a whole lot easier:

1. Don't assume anything! Never assume that a new school in your district will pick up the AT torch and carry it on without any glitches. Be available every step of the way to get things started. The AT specialist (or other specialist in charge of it) may be the only AT advocate for the student in the new environment for awhile. Don't dismiss your importance in training and sharing what is being used for support and accommodations.
1. Use Video: Take video now (don't wait) of a special activity that showcases the use of AT with a student. Send it on with the student and let the up-coming staff see first-hand what the student can do and what is possible to accomplish.
2. Send up-to-date reports at the end of the year explaining what was used specifically and how it was incorporated. Don't assume therapists in other areas will include details about it in their reports. Many of the files I get on new students have sparse AT notes. Sometimes there are notes of trials or recommendations, but not a lot of detail on things that were used and how they were used.
3. Transition equipment as well as students within a district. Try to make purchases district purchases - not individual school purchases. I have some schools that buy a Big Mack, a recordable communicator, or some piece of equipment and send it on with a student within the district for the student, but sometimes a school will keep the equipment for other students and send a student on empty-handed. It then becomes the high school or middle school's responsibility to find the money to get it to continue a service plan. This can eat up weeks or even months of time. I have an equipment center that can loan items to schools in the interim, but many districts don't have that luxury. Plan ahead for these glitches.
4. Spend time investing in the new staff that works with the student as soon as possible. Try and shorten the lag time between the first day of school and getting AT implementation up and running, by really shadowing an assistant for a few sessions. Follow the "Watch me, then do it with me, then do it by yourself while I watch you" steps to training and you will have strong AT implementation coming out of transition.

Following these steps takes some extra effort, but when you weigh the time spent at the beginning of a new transition done well vs. time spent over an over throughout the year struggling to get something going, the first example is more efficient in the long run and will save you time. I know there are many of you that have advice in this area and it would be great to hear from you.

Our new topic for our next Assistive Technology Blog Carnival coming up will be on transitions and how they went well or went bad - what tricks or tips help, what the obstacles are and how to overcome them. I will be posting more on this over the week and hope to hear from many of you. We can share information that will strengthen this area for all of us.

All the best as you press into the last few weeks of the school year!



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