Thursday, April 4, 2013

Top 25 Favorite AT Tools, Part Two: Text and Writing Tools, Apps and Supports



In Part One, I shared a list of most used items for Cause and Effect, Switches, Mounts and AAC.  I want to continue Part Two with tools that have been found most valuable and most-used for accessing text and writing support out in our schools. I also have a couple of organizational tools and honorable mentions.
There are many high-priced software packages that do incredible things but I find that many of our small rural schools don't have the budget to buy/ implement them. We have tried through our instructional technology department and our assistive technology department to find study tools, apps and software that will give the most bang for the buck. we have found some great free open source software and apps that do a great job.
Some of the apps/software below are similar and costs vary. For example, DSpeech is a text reader for the computer as is Snap & Read, but while D Speech is free, Snap & Read is much easier to use and costs $129. For the iPad, Subtext and Voice Dream both read text but Voice Dream interfaces with Bookshare accounts where Subtext accesses text and pdf's you sync with it and/or books you buy linked within the app and then access text to speech. Read2Go, the app from Bookshare costs $19.99 but Voice Dream is half the cost.The difference in all of these is in ease of use for the price you pay, but I like and recommend multiple options depending on the budget one has and the intended end-user.

Text and Reading Tools/Supports:

12. Snap & Read $129 REALLY easy to use. Drag the frames and click to hear selected text on anything on your computer. I won a free copy at a conference sitting in on a Don Johnston presentation (Thanks Don Johnston!)

13. Voice Dream App $9.99 Integrates with Bookshare files for iPad users at half the price of Read2Go and can read other text files off your cloud files you input.

14. Subtext App FREE Great app to access the web,your cloud stored texts and books you can buy online. Has classroom integration features as well. Great literacy support tool.

15, Bookshare service  FREE Federally-funded book access for individuals with print disabilities. Members can download free text reader software for their computer. No iPad apps for free yet though! Someday?

16. Read2Go $19.99 The companion text reader app for the iPad that members can use to download books and read. Includes reading settings for text to speech voices, speed, font size, color, background, etc.

Writing Apps, Tools and Supports:

17. Dragon Naturally Speaking $99 and/or Dragon Dictation for iPad and iPhone, FREE

18. Plaintext App FREE Great app to copy and paste text and save to the cloud on a service like Dropbox or Evernote.

19. DSpeech FREE Open-source free download talking word processor. text reader. Converts text to Mp3 files I use this a lot and give it out all the time.

20. Zentap App FREE  word processor with word prediction - can copy text to Plaintext and store in cloud space.

21. Cosmonaut Stylus $25 Great stylus that feels like a bif fat crayon or marker. Great for students with orthopedic/grip issues.

22. Accessibility Features on iPad OS - the guided acces to lock off parts of the screen alone makes this awesome. add to that the speak text, gesture, font size, pionch and stretch, touch access and screen reader functions and the iPad is a ready-made accommodation tool for learners. My blog post on Accessibility features overview

23. 123 Tracer and ABC Tracer Apps FREE Great for working on letter and number recognition and writing practice - use with the Cosmonaut stylus.

24. Dropbox File sharing, storage and App FREE (2Gb)  I use to access many documents on multiple devices. I have Evernote and Google too - they are all great. Some apps only work with certain file sharing platforms so you will either have to expand your file share/storage accounts or limit the apps you use. One app I use on the iPad only downloads to itself from Dropbox and only uploads to Evernote..go figure!??

and finally... 25. My Study Bar FREE  From Eduapps in the UK/Scotland, this can either be downloaded on a jump drive to be mobile on multiple devices or dedicated download to a computer. It has a suite of accommodation tools for reading, writing, vision, etc., my favorite being Sonar Cursor Ring which is a cursor that students can set the size and color to use to help with tracking the screen. I have used it with students to set a large red square frame tool to move/track as they read on the screen. Definitely check this out...

Honorable Mentions:
There are always some items that you don't know what to do with they deserve to be on the list but you ran out of space.

HM 1: Baiboard App FREE Basically a collaborative whiteboard, but I use it to add scanned worksheets in a pdf format and then students can open them on the iPad and write with their finger or a stylus to do the worksheet, then save for the teacher to grade and print later.

HM 2: Flipboard App FREE  I use this to set up all my favorite topics I track. Each topic is presented in a magazine format and aggregates the top tweets, posts and articles off the Internet in one simple spot...Love it!

HM 3: Touchfire keyboard for iPad $49.95 Add this rubbery see-through overlay to your iPad on-screen keyboard to add more tactile interaction. Pogue's Review

Hope you enjoy exploring these tools!

All the best,

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Top 25 Favorite AT Tools, Part One: Switches and AAC

There are things I love to use and have found to be the bread and butter items I go back to over and over professionally as an AT Specialist. With budgets tight, folks are always wondering what they can get that will get used and not sit on a shelf. I decided to share with you the ones that seem to always be in demand and NEVER sitting on the shelf. I have included their cost, a link and notes how I use it where appropriate.

Cause and Effect, Switches and Mounts: 
I am always putting together an adapted toy with a switch and a latch timer or plugging in a radio and twinkle lights or fan to use with a latch timer. Often the switch has to be mounted too. The 4 items below are what I use the most. I have an array of fans, light balls/sets I have made, radios, tape players and switch adapted toys to mix and match out in schools for variety (That could be another post in itself).

1. Ablenet Universal Mount with friction knob $235 Get access to a switch by mounting on a wheelchair, standard or desk/table.

2. Ablenet Powerlink 4 $329 Can use with radios, tape players, light sets, juicer/blender, etc.

3. Jelly Bean Switch with Latch Timer $109 Use with battery operated switch-adapted devices/toys.

4. Switch Adapted Toy ($40-50 Range) Check out Enabling Devices Therapeutic Learning for many plush toys, action toys, light and motion toys, fans and musical instrument toys.

Note: You can learn to adapt your own toys too! Battery Interuptor method  Multiple Action Toys with soldering/rewiring   You tube has videos on this as well. Link to buy battery Interuptor and videos from Enabling Devices

Augmentative Communication:
I have an arsenal of most used and most checked out items listed below. There are many more that are great and get used but these just keep coming up as the most utilized items.

5. Big Mack $119 Use to record single messages. Can mount on the Universal Mount. It has ports to plug in toys and devices to activate while saying the message.
(I use it to read books with kids. I record the page and have them press to read on the fly. We record and read the whole book page by page and have a great time. They get to "read" by pressing and get initial literacy and sequencing support/training.)

6. Cheap Talk 8 with levels $309 I use overlays created with Boardmaker to create board sets that support an activity, a concept or steps in a routine. Can use it for more than "I need to go potty" or "drink please" !

7. Boardmaker Software $399 Use to create Schedules, Routines, Choice boards, Sentence strips, overlays for devices and more...

8. Go Talk One (set of 4) $12 each Use to create mix and match phrases, sequencing activities, etc. Not just a speech output single message tool but a way to structure language and build phrases, identify colors, things, etc.

9. Sonoflex Lite App FREE  We use this on iPads as a way to build sentences, learn language, categories, etc. for early learners as well as a speech output trial board. The full version is $99.

10. Proloquo2Go App $190  We use this on the iPad and iTouch for trials. With the new version's core vocabulary option it has streamlined the access for users.

11. Sounding Board App FREE  This free app has a great board template to design and customize 1 to 9 buttons. Boards can be linked too. It scans and also works with the Blue 2 bluetooth switch from Ablenet. There are pre-made boards that can be bought at the online store.

Hope this gives you some resources to build your own equipment collection.

NEXT TIME: Part Two will be on Text and Writing Tools. Apps and Supports so check back!

All the best,


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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hands on Science with Exploriments App Series

My son is getting very interested in doing science experiments with batteries, wiring and making simple circuits. He has grown up with one of those construction sets, (Snap Circuits Amazon $21.90) where you snap the colored plastic bars into the series and add a battery and light bulb, sound generator or fan and make it all run. He is now wanting to explore more on his own.

I decided to look for apps for the iPad that let you drag and build circuits - I came across "Exploriments" which is a set of app science experiments on different topics, all very hands-on. The first one is free and explores weight and mass letting you try playing with weight differences on different planets,
Check out their Blog HERE

Here is a demo video on their unit on electrical circuits:

Here is a link to their app page that explains insights in the different units and shows demo videos for some of them.
The Unit I downloaded had an overall actions button that showed what the activity chosen can do and how to manipulate it. It was very easy to use. The insight button gave you a set of scrolling index card style insights 1-10 of things learned in each activity. The free mass/weight app had 3 built-in activities each on a concept.
For students that need hands-on ways to learn material, I would highly recommend checking these out. They range from free to 3.99 for individual app topics such as units on motion, weight and mass, electricity, optics, Newton's Law, compunds, Pendulums, Vectors, etc.
Teachers may be interested to know they have these available for use on a computer for the Promethean and SMART board.
Have fun Exploring!

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

AT Tools for Everyone's Toolbox, Part One:

In December I wrote a post, "Self -Accomodation Should be a Standard of Daily Life". In it we looked at the ways we accommodate the tasks we do day to day. We looked at how students need to have tools that are accessible to them and help them accommodate their learning. It is also important that all the tools be available to all learners with equal access.

Assistive Technology
The definition of Assistive Technology according to IDEA is:

“Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of children with disabilities.”

Assistive Technology has lived behind the special education boundary lines for a long time, but trends are pushing us forward and prodding us with the idea that assistive technology and universal design principles aren’t just for our special needs population, but should be integrated into learning for everyone. Students spend 7 -8 hours a day in the process of learning new things and experiencing challenges to succeed. They certainly deserve as much of a level-playing field as we can give them.Think about the words “increase, maintain or improve”. There are greater demands on educators for accountability to demonstrate that all our students are increasing and improving test scores and mastery of common core goals. We want to see our student’s knowledge and abilities increase and improve, but students with degenerative disabilities may struggle just to maintain, so we need to make sure we include them in this too. If I feel that I have to work harder sometimes to maintain, just think about how our students feel! Put yourself in your student’s shoes and you will realize accommodations need to be there for everyone.
What are the tools to help them on this “Road to Success”?
There are low-tech, mid-tech and high-tech tools for student accommodation. Below is an overview of the low tech tools that should be available. In future posts we will cover mid and high tech tools as well as links to specific free software and video tutorials.

Low Tech Tools:
Low-tech tools are things like special pens and pencils, highlighters, scissors with special grips, pencil grips, embossed line paper, slant boards, transparent color overlays to lay over text for reading, text-framing strips, highlighter tape, colored keyboard labels, number lines and counting boards, enlarged worksheets, page magnifiers, fidget toys to help with concentration and sensory issues, highlighters, tabs, color-coded folders and visual schedules for organization. Having these things available in an organizer for class access would be one low-cost way to expand tools for accommodations.
Guide your students in understanding how they learn and show them how and when to use tools that make it easier for them. You might sit down with your students in a conference format and work with them to fill out a “Personal Learning Styles and Tools Profile” that helps them think through and check the things they know would help them succeed. Adjust and adapt it throughout the term or school year and help them define and focus-in on the tools that work the best for them in different situations.
Taking the time to set up the foundations for accommodation can reap huge benefits for all your students and establish life-long patterns for success.

To check out an online comprehensive toolbox go to:
A great place to see many low tech tools in one spot is View their LoTTIE (Low Tech Tools for Inclusive Education) kits.

All the best to you!

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Aurasma App: Augment Reality With a "Virtual" Routine Schedule

Wouldn't it be great if you could aim an iPad or iTouch camera at a symbol or picture on a daily visual schedule and get an instant video of what the steps are for that routine? Well you can for free with the Aurasma App.
In 4 simple steps you can link a video in your camera roll or photo album as an overlay and sync it to an item or a picture symbol in the classroom. Once that is done, a student can hold the iPad or iTouch with the Aurasma App on, and the camera automatically sees the image and starts the video.

Easy Steps:
Get the Symbol
I went to Google images and picked a picture of a fiddler for music and copied and pasted it into a Word document, enlarged and printed it off for my wall "symbol". (You could use your Visual schedule images, etc.)

Choose the video
I looked on my camera roll and found the video clip I wanted to use of the teacher in music, then opened the Aurasma app and pressed the plus sign to add a new aura/overlay. It asked what overlay I wanted and I selected the "Device" option, then pressed a plus sign and browsed/to  my video to attach it.

Add an "Aura"
The app asked if I wanted to add an Aura. I laid the picture of the fiddler down on the table and held the iPad over the picture and looked to see that the red/yellow/green slider went to green, then clicked on the camera icon and took the picture.

Name your new Aura
I named it the title I wanted for my class activity/routine and it saved and linked the two together.

Use Your New symbol linked video with your schedule
Now when I hover over the image with the app on it gives me purple swirls and starts the video hovering over the symbol in real time.

Here is a video of  Aurasma being used in education:

I am going to work with an intensive learning center I consult with to take some short videos of important routines and link them to some schedule symbols and see if we can't make this a fun and motivating way to learn how to come in quietly, sit at circle, listen to a book, have music time, wash hands for snack, etc. How about a video of a storybook that when the cover is scanned it reads and asks questions? How about a flash card or manipulative activity with a short clip on how to sort or play? I would love to use videos with card symbols that model cooperative play, sharing, taking turns and more.
The idea are endless.

Go have some fun!
All the best,

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Build Your Own Virtual Driving Course for Training Joystick Driving Skills

I couldn't find a free online driving game that would allow us to use a mouse or joystick mouse emulator to steer a car around streets and help a student train to drive a power chair. We wanted him to be able to practice on a computer before the real joystick was attached to his chair.
I finally decided to make my own driving course and I used Power Point to create different virtual mazes/courses that he can maneuver through. I found mounds of dirt, motocross tracks, barns, grocery stores, post offices, gas stations, student desks, start and finish signs, etc. on Google images and then created my slides of a dirt track, 4 city blocks and an intersection, a classroom with rows of desks, and more.
The key to this was using the Sonar Cursor Ring Program so we could set the cursor to be a big red ring to use to "trace" the track with the joystick around the course. You can use larger and colored cursor settings on your computer to facilitate this as well as downloading and importing cursors. I think it would be fun to add my own custom cursor, an image of a wheelchair with the head of the student photo-shopped on to make it more fun. Be creative!
Unfortunately the organization that supported and offered the Sonar Cursor Ring has closed their website but you can still get the free program as a part of Access Apps/EduApps and My Study Bar Downloads.
If you want to design your own custom cursor, making it be a wheelchair, dune buggy, etc. you can copy an image and edit it and add it to your mouse setting pointers/cursors list to choose. Here is a Youtube video for you to "geek out" on how to create a custom cursor for your computer:

We used the Penny Giles Roller II Joystick USB Mouse Emulator for the computer with interchangeable handle and soft ball tops. You can get it for $345 from Boundless Assistive Technology online.

We don't have one of these in our equipment center but fortunately we were able to use the Oregon Technology Access Program (OTAP) out of Roseburg, Oregon to borrow one to trial. This is a free service to Oregonians and you pay return shipping. Whether you are an Oregon school district or a family/home you should check them out.

Here are some screen shots to give you and idea what you can create.

Basic Simple Cross Hair Practice Course (Tracing up/down, left/right):

Object to Object Navigation Course:
Classroom Desk Obstacle Course:
Dirt Track Course:

Dirt Track 2 (Made with Paint Program)

City Intersection Course:

Have fun and safe driving!
All the best to you...

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Monday, January 7, 2013

Operating Switch Adapted Toys with the iPad

I have been asked about ways to use the iPad for switch operation of something other than apps on the screen or typing/communicating. There are children using the iPad, but not for creative play due to their limitations.We have one bluetooth switch to run a speech app that step scans, but nothing to operate toys with the iPad.
I found this article on the Switchamajig that allows you to use the iPad as a controller to run RC cars and toys. It lets you use multiple switches so you can steer a toy, access multiple functions of a toy, etc. The only thing is that you will need a switch port for each function to connect to the controller. The developer designed the controller for his 2 year-old to be able to play in a more interesting and creative way. He also adapted the toys to work with it. He offers quite a few toys  that will operate with his controller if you don't know how to or don't have the time to tear open a toy and do the adapting yourself! There are some videos on Youtube that show how to adapt the toys put out by Switchamajig. There is an intro Youtube video below.
Here is the iTunes link to the free app.
Check out the site and the blog post from Adapting Creatively. There is also a $50 discount available through this blog.
All the best to you!

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