Digital Does Not Equal Accessible!

21 12 2017

We’ve recently refreshed the copiers in our district. You’d think this wasn’t a big deal, however, the ability to scan in color is pretty exciting (I know, it doesn’t take much to bring joy to my world)!  This opens up a whole new level of possibility for teachers who, with the best of intentions, want to ensure that students have access to content on a tablet or laptop.

This is a great idea.  Paperless classrooms are now a “thing”, and that’s great for the trees and the environment! Simply scanning documents into a copier and posting them in Google Classroom DOES make them digital. It DOES lend itself to a paperless classroom. However, what it does NOT do is make that media ACCESSIBLE.

What does accessible mean? When we are talking about content that is on a computer phone, or tablet, we mean that ANY user can use tools to access the content (i.e. screen reader, text to speech, magnification software, etc).  The content literally comes to life for a user with (or without) disabilities.

I posed this question a while ago on “the Twitter”, as I know I’m not the first person to talk about this concept, or face this dilemma in their setting.  In reaching out to my PLN (Professional Learning Network, I received some wonderful responses! Here’s what they had to say when I posted the graphic “Digital does not Equal Accessible” and asked for their thoughts.

Nancy4thewin

In other words- ALL means ALL.

 

leslieaudrey

In other words, intentional use, with end user (i.e. students) as focus.

 

audreymikeuse

In other words, don’t be afraid to explore and allow students to explore as well! 

leslie

In other words- Dear Developers, please listen to us as you continue to develop tools to support ALL  learners.

 

MikeMarotta

There are no other words here- this about sums up this whole blog  post! 

 

Luis Perez

In other words, forethought, not afterthought. 

 

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In other words, leverage UDL.

I also took the time to email John Brandt  from MaineCite and Cynthia Curry from CAST and the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (AEM Center) on the subject, as their primary roles in their work center around accessibility.

John graciously shared some resources, which help in building understanding around accessibility as a forethought, not an afterthought:
Born Accessible from Benetech

Born Accessible Guide from CTD Institute

Tara Robertson’s thoughts on digital vs. accessible

Building Accessible Infrastructures

Cynthia Curry, in the most eloquent of ways, summed up how to think about accessibility rather nicely:

“Materials can be born print and require retrofitting

Materials can be born digital but difficult or impossible to retrofit

Materials can be born accessible and thereby readily usable”

 

I hope this post and resources are helpful to you in developing deeper understanding of accessibility. Many thanks to  John Brandt,  Cynthia Curry, Leslie DiChiara, Nancy Kawaja, Mike Marotta, Cheryl Oakes, Audrey O’Clair, and Luis Perez for their time, expertise, and invaluable contributions.

” Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better”

– Maya Angelou*.

*Cynthia Curry used this quote in a presentation at ACTEM in October. I love it.

 

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How 1:1 Initiatives Transform Accessibility, AT, and UDL

24 05 2017

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Many school districts have 1:1 technology initiatives. I am SO blessed to work in a school district that has 1:1 devices for students in grades 1-12. When I started as an AT Specialist almost 8 years ago, we only had 1:1 initiatives in grades 7-8. In those 8 years, we have built capacity to provide a device for EVERY student in grades 1-12!

While 1:1 initiatives offer access to technology and a whole lot of other cool things, what our 1:1 initiative and subsequent expansion has done for the population that I serve has been nothing short of amazing. AT doesn’t become an “afterthought”. In fact, supports such as dictation, speech to text, word prediction, screen zoom, display resolution, and highlighters have become available to EVERY student in the district. EVERY student has access to these tools regardless of IEP, disability, learning style, or need. This means that if a student needs a particular strategy or support, it’s there.  This, quite simply, is UDL. To have a device that can be easily customized, that is the same as every other student takes some of the “stigma” out of having something that is perceived as “different”, which can lead to device abandonment.

For students that require speech to text, text to speech, word prediction, accessible educational materials (AEM), or some other support as is required on an IEP, 504 plan or another learning plan, having 1:1 technology makes it super easy to customize, and also helps the student build confidence in their skill set as they age. The younger a student has access to and employs a particular tool (ie dictation), the more comfortable and proficient they become when they are older. Practice and consistency of device have helped us in this way. In some instances, I have witnessed students that have used dictation or word prediction no longer need to use the tool because it’s just “clicked” for them. For students that may not have an IEP of 504 plan, but can benefit from providing access to text to speech, dictation, or word prediction, having these strategies and supports in place, as part of the 1:1 Initiative, provides equity. Not everyone may need to use the tools, but they are there if they are needed.

Who decides who should use a particular tool and who shouldn’t? It’s a team-based decision, really. It’s a philosophy of providing strategies and supports FIRST that will best benefit our children. Careful thought and consideration should be given, but it’s really cool to see a student that once detested writing suddenly have a voice and want to write. There’s power in empowerment, and it’s super cool to be able to provide that for students.

It would be foolish of me to just say “Hey! Go 1:1 and all of your problems will be solved!” That isn’t the case. Sometimes the device that the district provides is not the right tool for an individual student. That is where a comprehensive Assistive Technology Evaluation will help teams determine the most appropriate device will be for a student.  Matching tool to task is a critical piece of the process. That is where we are also fortunate in this district to have a 1:1 iPad initiative for our programs for our most significant learners.

1:1 initiatives are benefitting students in more ways than simply providing a device. It’s providing access to learning. It’s providing equity. It’s engaging students in the learning process in a way that is amazing to witness. It’s not necessarily the initiative itself- it’s HOW that initiative is leveraged to help meet the learning needs of ALL students.





Make Math Accessible and FUN with EquatIO!

7 04 2017

One of the best parts of my work is to try new tools to see if they will help our students and staff. Well, I have just finished playing around with a great new tool called EquatIO.

From TextHelper John McGowan  (@jmacattak), EquatIO is super cool. Unlike its Google Docs add-on cousin g(Math), EquatIO works with Google Docs and Google Forms to give a more accessible math experience. Having a touchscreen Chromebook makes for even more fun!

EquatIO is more than just an equation editor. The main features of EquatIO are handwriting recognition, prediction, and dictation. It allows the user a different mode of access in creating mathematical expressions, solving mathematical equations, and creating accessible math opportunities for students with unique learning challenges. Equations seem less daunting. To have the ability to handwrite and convert an equation or mathematical expression to text is pretty cool, but to be able to dictate or have EquatIO predict the expression helps to reduce or eliminate barriers to math that often exist due to disability, impairment, or mismatch of curriculum to learning style.

Don’t just take my word for it- see how EquatIO can work in Google Docs:

Or Google Forms:

Check out how handwriting recognition works:

EquatIO is currently available on the Chrome Web Store. Try it to see how EquatIO can be used in creating accessible tests and quizzes, assignments, and how it can be used with students who present with unique learning challenges!

 

 





It’s Not a Crutch: It’s UDL.

17 02 2017

The past couple of weeks I have encountered some interesting thoughts regarding the use of technology for helping students access learning. I’ve especially heard some thoughts regarding the use of text-to-speech, speech-to-text,  and word prediction for students to better access learning on grade level.

Here’s what I’ve encountered:

  • A belief that allowing a child to access Accessible Instructional Materials is a crutch.
  • A question of why a child would even access tools such as text-to-speech, speech-to-text, or word prediction because that individual felt it was a “crutch”, making the child forever dependent on the tools, therefore diminishing the learning process.
  • A belief that by introducing technology as a support that educators would be “done away with” and technology would replace “good instruction”.

These encounters have made me think, take some deep breaths, send these people some love and understanding, It’s also strengthened my resolve to spread the word about how technology can be leveraged to support learning, make learning fun, and give students support when (and if) they need it.

Perhaps these statements are FEAR based. Fear that a child would be labeled. Fear that we are enabling our children. Fear that technology will replace the art and science of teaching. Perhaps it’s more of a lack of understanding or awareness on how technology can eliminate barriers to learning.

The role I play is a truly unique one. I spend time researching tools and methods to help students with special needs access learning. I use Assistive Technology to help with this practice. I have seen students flourish using technology as a TOOL to reduce or eliminate BARRIERS TO LEARNING. Learning becomes FUN for students. Or at least, not as hard.

I also see students that do not have special needs that could benefit from these tools before it’s too late. Before they are referred. Or labeled.

In the past 7 years of this work, a common theme emerges:

How can we provide strategies and supports as a forethought, and not as an afterthought?

The answer is UDL. Check out the video below:

Think about your Smartphone. If you access voice typing to compose an email or text message, you are accessing a tool that’s originally intended for a student with a disability, but you have access to it. Is it a crutch?

Or, do you use closed captioning when you watch TV in bed so that you don’t disturb your significant other who is sleeping next to you, you are also accessing a tool that’s originally intended for a student with a disability. Will you make the nightly newscaster obsolete by accessing it? Hardly.

Educators have a tough job. One where they are charged with ensuring that children are learning, growing, thriving, and flourishing. They work hard to ensure that this happens. But, what if we took a moment and looked at how we can support all learners, as well as support all teachers, of making sure that the necessary strategies and supports were put in place first, and not afterward? How would that look?  Would we be empowering our students and teachers? Why wouldn’t we want to give strategies and supports first and not later on when a student or teacher is frustrated, overwhelmed, or it’s too late?

In short, it’s not a crutch, it’s UDL.

If you would like to learn more about UDL:

http://www.cast.org

http://www.udlcenter.org

 





How to use the Dictionary, Picture Dictionary, and Screen Mask Features of Read and Write in a Google Doc.

3 02 2017

This is Part 2 of a series of tutorials to assist staff and students in accessing and using Read and Write for Google.  The first tutorial covered how to use prediction, text to speech, and voice typing. 

Below is a quick tutorial on how to use the dictionary, picture dictionary, and screen mask features of Read and Write.  Enjoy!

I hope this tutorial is helpful as students and staff continue to use Read and Write for Google. The next tutorial- how to use Highlighting Tools, Collect Highlights, and how to generate vocabulary lists using Read and Write will be coming soon! Stay tuned!

 

 

 





How to use Prediction, Text-To-Speech, and Dictation Features of Read and Write for Google Chrome

27 01 2017

Read and Write for Google Chrome is our District Solution to assist students of ALL abilities with reading, writing, and researching. This is a first in a series of tutorials that will help students and staff access and use the Word Prediction, Text-To-Speech, and Dictation features of Read and Write for Google Chrome. 

Having a student access these tools are intended to support gaps and weaknesses in skill sets, while providing access to grade level content. Research is emerging that shows placing these strategies aids in improving learning outcomes for students, including listening comprehension, grammar, syntax, and written output. It is exciting to see a student that is shown a tool that can aid in reducing or eliminating a barrier. It literally opens a whole new world to them. If you’re not sure, look at these pictures of students that were shown word prediction, text-to-speech, and dictation on their Chromebooks.

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Learning should be fun and providing strategies and supports first will only help to improve the quality of the learning experience for students. Read and Write for Google Chrome is available to every student as needed to access grade level content. I hope this tutorial is helpful!

 

 





Make Worksheets Accessible and FUN!

1 11 2016

Do you have a student that struggles with worksheets? Do they struggle with writing? Vision?  Do you have access to an iPad? You can easily transform your worksheets into an accessible format that will transform the learning experience for your students. Here’s what you need:

iPad   og.jpg

Notability App  Notability_for_iPhone__iPod_touch__and_iPad_on_the_iTunes_App_Store.png

iScanner App       Screen Shot 2016-11-01 at 11.48.01 AM.png

Targus Stylus     2e352d32-ee23-475f-91ca-e7582fadf2bf_1.7fc20ab9015756e78e505a2ceb43b599.jpeg

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Here’s what you do:

  1. Take a picture using iScanner of the worksheet(s) you need. Make sure that your image is not blurry by tapping on the iPad screen prior to taking a picture.
  2. Edit the picture and rename the picture in iScanner.
  3. Using the export option, send the worksheet to Notability.
  4. Notability will automatically open the worksheet. You will have options to rename and organize the file.

Now you have an alternate way for students to access worksheets using touch technology. A student has reported that they now “enjoy math” since having their workbook on their iPad.

Creating opportunities for students to learn in a modality that makes sense for them doesn’t have to be too tricky or cumbersome. Transform and create accessible content easily using an iPad with Notability and iScanner apps. Adding a stylus gives an opportunity for students to interact with content that is similar to paper and pencil, but is more engaging and fun, yet still allows for that critical activation of the brain/motor that is essential for learning