Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Self-Accommodation Should be a Standard of Daily Life

Think of the last time you accommodated something you needed to do. Did you find a tool to help you screw that screw in better, stand on a stool to reach higher, maybe grab your glasses because the print was too small on the side of the box?
We all self-accommodate our limits in skill, whether it is in hearing, vision, height or weight…okay, I will stop there! I think you get the picture. It is interesting to think about how our students accommodate their learning at school. In many ways they are dependent upon our ability to match the right accommodation with the disability they have because they might not be able to accurately tell us or show us or put in the right words what they need or what they can/can’t do to their best ability. They just know “something is too hard” or “it just doesn’t feel good when I try”. We adjust and adapt our way of doing a thing for ourselves but often our students don’t know they even have a choice let alone what the choices are.
Self-accommodation is best used when all the tools and strategies are available to all students. This is a principal of Universal Design for Learning that allows all students to learn in the style that works best for them and not feel different because they choose a tool out of the toolbox to help them spell, write, read or do math. Assistive technology should be all about accommodations that make learning feel good and makes it accessible and possible to accomplish and be successful.
So let me ask the question again, but re-phrase it a little this time. Think of the last time you helped one of your students self-accommodate something they needed to do. Did you offer them a set of headphones and a computer in the back of the room with a talking word processor to help proof-read and edit their writing? Did you offer them a talking dictionary? How about an electronic version of a worksheet or a literature selection that they could listen to and follow along with? There are accommodations that come in plastic colored opaque reading strips, magnifiers, jump drives with loaded study bar tools for organization and note-taking. There are low, mid and high tech tools, many of them free or low cost. There are incredible tools on iTouches and iPads that are making self-accommodation for reading and writing a fun and liberating thing.
Where to start? We will be presenting some of these tools in posts ahead. Begin to use some of these tools for yourself and they will become second-nature to use with your students. Also, students are so innately capable to grab onto technology that if you begin to offer some of these tools they might end up showing you a thing or two! Whatever we do, we need to think of how to help our students access learning in multiple ways with multiple tools and we all come out winners.

All the best,

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Monday, December 10, 2012

Text to Speech Up a Notch with Voice Dream Reader App

I was checking out a list of apps that support Dyslexia  I linked to, Friday November 30, when I came across Voice Dream Reader. The thing that caught my eye was that it supports Bookshare files. I downloaded it and tested it out.
The app ($9.99) allows you to bring in text from Dropbox, and reads many formats including Epub, Word, Plain Text and pdf. There is also a web browser that lets you navigate to a web page, then do a smart save that edits out advertising and other text from the page and gives you the article text ready to go on your shelf. The web page I tried had lost of ads and blocks of unrelated text and it effectively cleaned up the page and gave me the article ready to read.
The voice that comes with it is a female voice that is very pleasant. There are lots of other voices that can be downloaded for .99 each. I especially like "Tyler" if you want a Hugh Jackman voice reading to you - very natural. The text size and background is all able to be customized and it highlights words as it reads. By pinching the screen you can reduce the area of the screen so it is only a few lines of text wide to take away a lot of distracting text so you can focus on the text being read. There is an editor so that you can edit text within the app. The app also offers translation services to translate a document for a nominal fee.
The settings menu includes a Bookshare account that you can activate for .99. It provides for your login, and if you have an individual account, it will let you search and download titles. It does not support organizational accounts at this writing. Paying .99 cents is a "steal of a deal" for those with individual accounts compared to paying 19.99 for the Bookshare app Read2go. Having tried both , I like the streamline way organizations can use Read2go to support students with Bookshare accounts at school on iPads, but I believe the Voice Dream Reader should be a staple reader to access other content within your pdf's, epubs and other stored documents.
I liked the timer that comes with the app, allowing you to set it for a limited time as a sleep setting or when you go out of the app to do other things. Voice Dream Reader keeps reading when you exit out and go to other work.
Finally, I appreciated how quickly an email came when I emailed their support to ask some questions. They were very prompt and very supportive. I have added this app to our list of accessibility apps for students in the classroom. Check it out.
All the best,

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Thursday, December 6, 2012

Reading Apps: Subtext App Will Read to You

I have been playing with different reading apps to look at accessing text for students. Our Instructional Technology team that writes iDevice in the Mountains, showed me Subtext this morning and I really like it. It has a quality voice and it is free. It has many supports for group readers in the classroom. It also hooks into Google Books to access public domain free classics and about any book you would want to buy AND reads it without worry of a text to speech voice feature inaccessible by the publisher as has been the case on the Kindle. If you are wanting a free reader with a nice voice that tracks and highlights the text, increases font size and imports in the books, web articles and documents, this is a great choice.
 iDevice in the Mountains did an awesome review with a tutorial, so rather than re-write what they have done, go to their post and check it out for yourself. They say:

"We're often visiting with teachers that need to have accommodations allowing a device to read text to students.  They ask, "Is it possible to have the iPad read something like aTween Tribune article"?
(Continue to full post)

I have several reading, text to speech apps I will be reviewing here over the next few posts so be sure to check back.
All the best,

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Friday, November 30, 2012

iPad Apps List for Dyslexia: University of Michigan

I had a request for some apps for the iPad that could help with phonics and early reading and writing for young children with Dyslexia. I found this list of apps for Dyslexia today and thought I would pass it along from the University of Michigan.
A nice set of Apps...did you know Bookshare has a FREE app for Android now: Go Read?
Have a great Weekend,

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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New Technology Raises New Challenges in Accessibility : What Are They?

The iPad has LOTS of accessibility features for folks, but what about switch access and accessibility interfaces for scanning on the tablet and within apps? There seems to be one switch for one app developer and another switch for another app developer but they don't work together.  There's lots of work to do to create uniform standards for accessible add-on devices and apps.

This and other topics were batted around in "A Life of Learning Magic: An Interview with Byron Wilkes", as I interviewed the CEO of Learning Magic Inc. You can listen to the interview HERE.
The mobile app craze and the lack of a standard among companies for apps and switches that specialize in SPED and learning has made it difficult to see where the future is heading in access for the end users. Byron discussed the changes that need to take place in the new iPad, Android, Kindle world to make programming, tools and peripherals uniform for users with disabilities.
Have companies that sell Clicker 5, Classroom Suite and My Own Bookshelf toyed with developing them as apps? I asked Byron this question since his Learning Magic content played on these software titles. Listen to what Byron shares on this subject.
I would highly recommend sitting in on this 40 minute discussion.  I welcome your comments and discussion too!

Here is a developer, KomodoOpenlab/ TECLA that has made the main iPad and some applications accessible with scanning and a single switch. there are other videos and they have an interesting website. Maybe we can get them on the talk show to share their ideas too:

You can also listen to the program on the right side bar in the Blog Talk Radio Player.
All the best,

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Free Goodies Available at Learning Magic: Closing Doors end of 2012

Learning Magic, a pioneer in interactive learning on the computer will be closing its doors the end of December 2012. The company, founded by Byron Wilkes, has been dedicated to developing materials and templates for students with special needs to access the fun of learning through motivating topics such as wildlife, nature and ecosystems around the world. Byron teamed up with experts in the SPED Learning and Speech Language Pathology field to develop materials that addressed key learning concepts in fun and motivating software.  Many of these activities featured hundreds of photographic images Byron took of fish in coral reefs, roaming under a rain forest canopy or trekking across Kenya with camera in-hand to capture the "magic" that led to learning in a special way. I thought of him as a Marty Stouffer, Marlin Perkins, Jacques Cousteau and Crocodile Hunter rolled into one for special needs kids. His packaged units, complete with vocabulary, writing starters and lesson plans were designed to play in software such as Intellitools Classroom Suite, Crick Clicker 5 and SoftTouch My Own Bookshelf.

A set of his photography available to use in your own lessons, PCS and Topic/Communication Boards:

I first met Byron when he came down and participated in an Eastern Oregon Summer Institute for teachers. He spent a couple of days with me helping in my classes and sharing his software and concepts for interactive and adapted learning that fostered writing and reading in high interest titles for students with learning or physical impairments. Byron donated his product library to our Assistive Technology Center for our teachers to trial for purchase. Through the years I have run into him at many national conferences and sessions and he has had a great impact on me.

Byron sent out an email sharing:

"We want to first thank the thousands of teachers/therapists/parents and others who have worked with us in the creation/testing and use of our proven products.  Our website (www.learningmagicinc.com) will go off line at the end of December, so we encourage you to go to our "Goodies" section and download as many of the free IntelliTools Classroom Suite, Clicker 5 and My Own Bookshelf activities as you would like.

Our commercial products will remain available throughout the end of the calendar year or until inventories run out.  If you would like product or pricing information please feel free to email us at info@learningmagicinc.com.

Thank you again for your support and encouragement throughout the years"

Thank you Byron for your investment in children and the thousands of students who have had more fun learning because of you and your efforts! I am looking forward to hearing about your next great adventure!

You can listen to Byron share about his life's work and his thoughts on the future of technology and special needs on Blog Talk Radio, Wednesday November 28th at 10 a.m. The archive will be available on the side-bar player afterwards as well.

All the best...

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Monday, November 19, 2012

The Adapted Stylus: Which One Would You Choose?

The type of stylus used on an iPad or other tablet screen can be crucial for the success of a student trying to write, draw and select areas on a screen. Fine and gross motor issues need to be considered in the process of selecting a stylus for children with orthopedic impairments and there are an array of choices. OT's with Apps ran a nice list of them in a recent post I am linking here: iPad Adaptive Styluses for Individuals with Mobility Impairment. They shared:

A stylus with a long bendable extension:

A stylus with a handle grip:

A stylus adapted on a snorkel mouthpiece to use in the teeth:

...and many more! Links to the places to purchase these and other adapted styluses can be found in the linked post. Think about the access piece for your student The right stylus might open the door to greater success and productivity.
All the best,
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Proloquo2Go Resources for Version 2.0

This past summer, the new Proloquo2Go Version 2.0 was released. I have been excited about the new basic and core vocabulary feature. You can choose an option for a basic or core word vocabulary. You can also choose how many columns you want it to be which can correspond to the level of the user.
PR Web put out an explanation of it this way:

"Version 2.0 offers two completely new research-based vocabularies: Basic Communication for beginning communicators and Core Word for more advanced communicators using or developing their language skills. An analysis of commonly used sentences has shown that the new Core Word vocabulary reduces the number of steps to build a sentence by more than 30%, when compared to the previous version of Proloquo2Go."

I wanted to link some resources to read and watch that take you through the paces of the new version.

A popular Autism blog site that reviews apps, Autism Plugged In, has posted a review on the new version: Is Proloquo2Go Really Worth $189.99?

Here also, is a link from Spectronics Blog on the new 2.0 version.

Webinar and Video Tutorial Resources on Proloquo2go:

Autism Plugged In presented a Proloquo2go iPad Demo Workshop. The videos of the day workshop have been uploaded to You Tube and you can access the list of topics here.

Spectronics Blog has a webinar on the new features you can access here.

Here is a link to the full manual for Proloquo2go version 2.0

If you are looking to understand the changes and new features, check out these links!
All the best,

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Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Toontastic App for Writing, Communication, Emotions and ...FUN!

I saw the Toontastic App for the iPad yesterday. The SPED teacher showing it to me was very excited about it . This teacher has her students working on animated stories using this app. Here are the elements that made it popular with her and her students:

1. The "Story board" goes through the different stages of a story, they call a "Story Arc",  from setup, conflict, challenge, climax and resolution. Kids can create a scene that represents each element of a story. They can also reduce or expand the number of scenes representing these elements.

2. Students can select a setting background or draw their own background and save/catalog it.

3. They can pick "toys" which are the characters in the story to animate. They remind me of movable Play-mobile figures.There are several free ones and more can be purchased in themes of castle, sports, town, space, monsters, Halloween, pirates, etc. They can also draw their own characters, color them and catalog them in the character library.

3. Students start "rolling the camera" and move the characters, re-pose movable parts and read their script to create the scene.

4. Mood matching to Music: This was a HUGE plus to the teacher I visited with because she has students who cannot read emotion real well. The music step in the app has different emotions to select and then slide up or down for different music intensity/style that matches, i.e. friendly moves to loving to passionate. Each level has different classical music matching it and a cartoon icon with a cartoon face showing that emotion.

5. Once the scene is done they repeat the steps for the next element in their "Story Arc". It then packages it all together and asks them to name their movie and categorize it. They can either save locally on the iPad or post to an online account area for view by others.

The World:
Toontastic has a share feature on "Toontube"  that shows the globe and places all over where movies have been posted. I selected Madagascar and got an adventure movie  drawn and created by a student there. He did speak in English so you could understand it. Very cool. No one can contact the creators and no personal information is posted - just the nickname, name of movie and number of "likes". You can Share the video too so there is a social network aspect to it on a limited basis.

The teacher that shared this app with me says that her students are learning about cultures so they have been viewing videos created by kids from places they talk about. She is also excited to see students who are quiet and reserved verbally, using the app to talk and record their stories.
Initial download is free which includes the animator/player with limited scenes and characters to play with. More can be purchased in sets or the complete package can be added for $9.99. 
Check it out!

All the best,

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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Autism Funding Resources for iPads

I received a letter today from some parents discouraged because their insurance denied an iPad with an AAC app for their son. We did trials with him using it last spring and over the summer they collected the pieces needed to submit a request. I have found it dis-heartening that insurance companies will cover an $8000 AAC device that is durable medical equipment but won't fund an iPad with a communication app that will provide the same support. I know this doesn't hold true in all cases and I know too that every child is different and the $8000 devices can be what is needed, but when it isn't and insurance won't cover it, where can parents look?
In response to this dilemma, a friend, and parent of a special needs boy, sent me a link, "Funding for  iPads" a list of resources developed by The Autism Society contact center. They have had many parents contact them with questions on where to look for funding help to purchase an iPad.

Other Resources and Articles:
If you are interested in more information about iPad funding resources and the issues surrounding it, documentation needed, etc. go to this link "How to Get an iPad Funded" by TACA (Talk About Curing Autism)
Also, "Five Steps to Getting an iPad Covered by Insurance" contains some great tips and sample documents you can use for greater success in filing a claim with your medical insurance for an iPad.

I hope you can find a source to fund an iPad for your child!

All the best,

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Monday, November 5, 2012

Summary of Accessibility Features for iPad in iOS 6

Here is quick summary of the accessibility features for the new iOS 6 on the iPad for those of us who need a short simple summary to have as a reference. Go down the list with the iPad and play with each feature - if you have been putting this off, now is the time!

Accessibility Features on the iPad (iOS 6)
Under settings, scroll down near bottom and tap Accessibility. There are accommodations under Vision, Hearing, Learning, Physical & Motor, and triple click settings with Guided access, Voice-over, etc. Below are descriptions of the features within Accessibility.

  • Voice Over – allows you to touch areas of the screen and hear what is under your fingertips. Allows you to double-tap after hearing to open. 3 finger swipes move to different screens left, right, up and down. Experiment: Try turning on Voice Over and navigate around the iPad, iTunes, web, email, etc. with a blindfold or your eyes closed. Makes for an interesting experience! Under the Voice Over settings there is Typing Feedback which speaks each symbol on the keyboard when you tap it. It also speaks the words in your text you are typing when you tap the sentence.
  • Zoom – Allows you to use a three-fingered tap and drag to access and use zoom feature. Note: If you use zoom feature and try to type with the keyboard you have to slide the keyboard around to see all the keys and you can’t see what you are typing while you type.
  • Large Text – you can set the size of font for your notebook, email and some other features. It does not change the text size within apps like word processing apps, games, etc. It only interfaces with the basic apps that came with the iPad.
  • Invert Colors – Inverts and brightens in certain colors to make it more visible to folks with vision-related issues.
  • Speak Selection – adds a speak function to the copy/paste/select text/select all bar. There are settings within it for speed, dialect (get an Irish, British, Aussie woman’s voice). Has a highlight word feature as well.
  • Speak Auto Text - Here suggested corrections related to the auto-text feature are spoken.
  • Mono Audio – turns off stereo channels
  • Guided Access – a triple-click of the home button opens Guided Access where you can circle areas of the screen to lock out access. Sets with a password so students can get in and turn it off. Note: if you lose password, just hold home and sleep button together for 10 seconds and the iPad will turn off. You can then re-open the iPad and Guided Access and then re-set the password.
Physical and Motor

· Assistive Touch – record and set custom gestures that can be activated from Favorites that allow you to activate/use the iPad. Just for fun...The video above shows how to make a gesture to play Angry Birds which helps in getting down the feature and how it works.

· Home-click Speed – Set speed to default or slow or slowest

Triple Click
· set what the triple-click is used for i.e. Guided Access, Voice Over, Inverting colors, Zoom or assistive touch.

For a full description of the iPad Accessibilty features, go to the Apple Website:

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Thursday, November 1, 2012

iPad Case with Duct Tape?

Out in the schools the other day, I visited one of my favorite students that has CP and is in a wheelchair. We were able to acquire an iPad for him last year through our regional United Cerebral Palsy Foundation of Oregon and Washington. The wheelchair mount and plate wasn't working well for him and so the team got a roll of black duct tape out and voila! ...a really cool adapted iPad case complete with a foam inner core slanted for his lap and a belt to go around his seat to hold it on.
Pictures are worth a thousand words...so get your roll of duct tape and imagination out and start building!

Sliding the iPad in:
The slanted foam core:

The cover without the iPad inside:

All the best...
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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cosmonaut Stylus Great for Little Hands Writing on iPads

My New Find...The Cosmonaut Stylus is fat, comfortable, smooth to write and draw with, feels like a fat crayon, or maybe a dry erase marker?

Check this out:

"Hey have you seen this?"  a colleague asked while holding up a large black rubber-looking crayon. It was a Cosmonaut Stylus. He handed it to me and had me try it with my iPad. Love at first contact...the stylus is easy to grip and the point makes it much better to write and draw with than the round spongy tips that come on the end of the thin pen/pencil stylus tools.
If you work with students or have a child that needs a wide writing tool - similar to the big crayons for small children to color with, try the Cosmonaut Capacitive Stylus by Studio Neat. I even loved the old fashioned cardboard sleeve/box it comes in that makes the stylus look like an old rocket complete with a story about the early NASA and Russian Astronauts designing writing instruments for space.
I got mine on Amazon for $22.

Watch a COOL video where MisterRogers takes on a "field trip" to watch the Cosmonaut being made:

All the best,

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Use AudioNote for Synchronized Recording and Note Taking on iPad

When students need support for lectures and notes, take a look at AudioNote ($4.99) and AudioNote Lite (free) for the iPad.
AudioNote allows notes to be handwritten in pen mode for drawings and notes, or typed with the keyboard.The lite version can record a lecture and track notes written during the session and sync them to the recording. Tap anywhere on your notes and go to playback and it will replay the lecture recording where you tapped.
The highlight feature re-traces letters in blue as the recording plays so you are reviewing and tracking at the same time. You can email your notes and wi-fi share with the upgraded pay version.
You can buy a Livescribe pen for as low as $99.99 to use with real paper, but you can use this lite app for free with your iPad and get many of the same options open to you - for free. Real pens and real paper are great to have for certain settings, but the tools are there for you with synchronized notes and playback on an iPad.
This tool can be a real support for students with traumatic brain injuries and students that need help with organizing and memory. Check it out.

Here is a video review of Audio Note:

All the best!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Ed Tech Trends to Look for in 2012: AT Connections and Accommodations

I read this article "12 Education Tech Tends to Watch in 2012" today and thought it was an important list of trends to consider in the assistive technology field. One trend in particular caught my attention, the BYOD trend (Bring Your Own Device). More and more, students have iTouches and iPads, Smart phones, laptops and tablets. If we want them to accommodate their learning with tools, text to speech, online dictionaries, research sites, etc. the issue of schools allowing the students to bring these devices to learn is going to have to be addressed.
Fortunately in my region and districts, the students who have laptops or iPads and need them at school are allowed to bring them. They are on IEP's and have the need for support with this tools for accommodating learning. I want to know what will happen when regular student populations want to bring them as well and they are declined the opportunity to use them because of mis-use fears by school administrators and school boards. It will be a growing issue and full of heated debate!
This article from 2010 in Toronto Life: "Why Smart phones in the Classroom Equals Smarter Kids" addresses some of these fears. http://www.torontolife.com/daily/informer/from-print-edition-informer/2011/12/20/jesse-brown-gadget-goes-to-school/
There are some interesting trends to think about and I hope you read and enjoy. I would like to explore some of these trends and share thoughts over how they might impact AT. I welcome your thoughts and comments as well.
All the best in 2012!