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!