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

24 05 2017


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:


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 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 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!

The New iPad- Is It For You?

19 04 2012

Recently I have reached a milestone. Last month, I celebrated turning 40. What better way to celebrate than buying oneself the new iPad. Of course I have my son, husband, in-laws and grandmother to thank for contributing to the cause.

Happy birthday to me....

Initially, I was not going to buy it. I was perfectly happy with the district-issued iPad 2 I was using for evaluations and testing apps. I loved the size, the camera was okay -though not as great as my iPhone 4’s camera. It did what I needed it to do, and can do what I need it to do for the students that I work with. I could customize work easily, record video, use apps and existing content. With  the addition of PaperPort Notes, dictation was all set.

However, after seeing the new iPad in person, I wanted one. I opted for a white 32 GB wi-fi model. I don’t need 3 or 4 G as I’m not planning on using it in my car, or in a jungle somewhere. Why did I want a new iPad over the iPad 2?  Here are a few reasons:

1. The display

2. The camera

3. Built-in dictation

4. The design

I ordered my new iPad and anxiously awaited its arrival. Of course, setup and configuration was a snap as usual with any iOS device. The same Accessibility features that I love on the iPad2 are the same on the new iPad. Once I had it set, I had to play.

What I first noticed was the display. It almost looks 3D to me. It’s vibrant, crisp, and super sharp even at close range. There is not as much pixelation as there is in older iPads. To illustrate, I’ve taken a couple of pictures.

The picture on the left hand side is of the Messaging app on the iPad 2. I got as close as possible with my iPhone camera without blurring the image, however, it does. It doesn’t look too bad, right?

That is until you look at the same icon on the new iPad. Note that the app icon is more vibrant all around. There isn’t as much blurring as there is in the ipad2 image with the same distance.

Apple touts the new iPad as having 4 times as more pixels than the iPad2. The retina display is amazing.

This may not matter to the average user, but from an Assistive Technology standpoint, it’s huge. This better display affords me to assess students with low vision or scanning issues and compare with better accuracy. Content can be even closer than before without as much of a chance of it blurring. Exciting!

The next task was to test the camera. I love to take pictures. I’m an Instagram-a-holic when it comes to my phone. I like using the iPad2 camera for taking pictures of existing content for a student and using it in a different way. So, I had to test the new iPad camera out.

The first image was taken with an iPad2. The image on the right was taken with the new iPad with its 5 megapixel iSight camera.

There is a discernable difference when taking pictures with the new iPad. The image is more stable. It’s crisper, and focuses quicker on the things I need it to.

In terms of using the camera to document student work, students, and transforming existing content, this tool will help to ensure that what is being delivered to students is not blurry and can be seen well.

With Dropbox, taking existing content and loading it onto other students ipads will be super easy. I think this camera may rival my iPhone’s. I probably should test that theory another time.

What has me the most jazzed is the built-in dictation. This means that ANY app that has a built in keyboard will allow users to dictate. Wow. I had to try this out in several ways. Dictating an e-mail was a snap, as was dictating in the notes app.  I tried dictating in Evernote. Amazing. I also tried Splashtop Remote Desktop to remote into my computer, open a blank Pages document, and used the dictation feature of the new iPad. Imagine my sheer delight when the words appeared on the document.

Dictating on my computer using Splashtop and the new iPad

Why is this a big deal? It was just cool that it could be done. If a user has more than one tool – say, a laptop, or has limited mobility, Splashtop can now be used in a different way besides just controlling a computer for display.

Lastly, the contour of the new iPad is more comfortable in my hands. I am a voracious reader. I’ve been recently reading on the iPad2. Finding a comfortable way to hold the device while reading has been a challenge. With the new iPad, the devices fits comfortably in my hand – particularly in landscape mode, which is how I like to read. It feels as close to reading a real book as it can get. While it’s just as comfortable in portrait mode, it’s not my preferred method of reading on the iPad.

So, is the new iPad right for you? If you’re looking for a sharper camera, built-in dictation, comfort in use, and brilliant display, then this is the device for you. I’m amazed at how Apple can continue to make an already great product even better, and I’m looking forward to using this to create and share content with students and teachers.