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. 

 

cheryloakes.jpg

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

IMG_2577

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!

 

 

 





Making Curriculum Materials Accessible for All Students: An Overview of AIM

4 08 2016

Educators are challenged to provide curricum materials that are accessible to all learners. It can be quite a challenge in providing this without any prior knowledge, resources, or processes. Ensuring that all curriculum materials are accessible to all students requires careful planning, consideration, timely delivery, and a team-based decision making process. Curriculum Materials should be accessible to all students as a forethought, not an afterthought. There are those instances where a student will require a specialized format (ie large print, braille, digital or audio text) to access the curriculum. This is known as providing Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) or Accessible Educational Materials (AEM).

I’ve created a simplified flowchart of AIM and the decision-making process for IEP teams (for those visual learners out there):

Screen Shot 2016-08-04 at 12.46.54 PM

There are a wealth of resources regarding AIM/AEM. Recently, I have had the honor to present on the topic for MaineAIM and SimpleK12.com. I offer these resources to you, the reader, to help you better understand the AIM process and provide resources in te selection, acquisition, and use of AIM for your students.

Check out the webinar from MaineAIM regarding AIM/AEM, Assistive Technology, and the IEP here

Check out the webinar on AIM from simplek12.com here! 

Providing AIM for your students in a timely manner will help keep the content accessible, ensure FAPE, and provide your students the opportunity to learn grade-level material regardless of disability.  I hope these resources are helpful to you as you navigate the AIM/AEM process for your students!





iOS 6 Features and Updates

1 10 2012

Apple has recently released iOS6. Depending on the device, certain features of iOS 6 will be available to users. For example, on my new iPad, Siri is now available. Of course, now I want to upgrade my iPhone 4 because of Siri (among other reasons, but that’s another post for another day).

Aside from a better mail interface, enhancements to Safari, better integration with social networks, and a few other things (I won’t go there with maps), one of the coolest features is Guided Access, which basically prevents a student from navigating out of an app by pressing the home button. While I’m a fan of Bubcaps, I’m an even bigger fan of Guided Access for a multitude of reasons:

1. Password protected so users cannot re-enable the home button

2. For AAC users, this is a perfect way to ensure that the iPad is being used as an AAC device

3. For reluctant learners that do not want to use a particular app, this reinforces concepts such as first then, and prevents any unnecessary struggles for users that may inadvertently navigate out of an app.

Here’s how to enable Guided Access on an iPad:

Guided Access promises to be a powerful tool for our most significantly disabled students who tend to press the home button by accident, or to quit an app they do not prefer to use. It also creates increased opportunities for AAC users to access their device more effectively, therefore targeting its purpose.

Overall, I’m impressed with iOS 6 and have noticed new features every day. However, Guided Access is one of the coolest features!