Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Shameless Self Promotion

Hey Tek-Ninjas! I'm sharing my latest endeavor in the arts. It is a collection of some of my digital art. It can be viewed for free, here on my site, or by going straight to issuu. Thanks for looking. I'll be blogging again, soon!

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Modern Heroes in North Carolina

More than 100 North Carolina teachers, school employees, and parents made a 20 mile March to the Capitol in order to present to Governor Pat McCrory on June 14 and 15. Struggling under a decade of budget cuts and a general lack of resources, the marchers have had enough.

The group, planned to address a few points with McCrory, and requested a meeting in advance. They were intending to ask that he expand Medicaid, spend the budget surplus on students, and repeal HB2. 

Alas, the Capitol building shut down early and McCrory refused to meet with the group. The group, insisting that they be heard, took to the streets. With the arrival of the police and impending arrest, 14 teachers joined arms creating a line across the road. They were all arrested.

Each protester has different but compelling reasons for their Civil Disobedience. I'm impressed by them all. Meanwhile, rather than meet with teachers who are on the frontline, McCrory and his compatriots are discussing farming out poor performing schools to private Charter School businesses. I don't have a beef wth Charter schools necessarily, some are great in fact. But we have people who care and want to make a difference in place right now.  

Let's stand up for our students where we can.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Getting to know you...

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Yesterday, at the Carolina HealthTEC Live Conference in Asheville, I learned about a really terrific app. While exploring it, and chatting with a rep, I realized I know the app creator. Pretty cool!

The app is called Know Me. Per the app developers: 
"Know Me is an integrated set of tools to help you express who you are to the people in your life. The main feature is Profile, a way of visually displaying important information about you. Profile is supported by Gallery, a place for longer documents linked to your profile, as well as Team Talk, a place where conversations between you and your team are kept."
Here is what I can tell you. I downloaded the app for free onto my iPad. Then within a few minutes, I'd created my own profile using the very intuitive interface, incorporating pictures from my photo gallery, as well as one I took on the spot. Downloading the app onto my iPhone (still for free), and logging in, the app populated immediately with my profile. On the phone, the profile is not editable, which is good to prevent accidental change.

With this app, an individual with limited communication skills can met a new person, and easily share with them who they are. 

At the bottom of the app is an emergency tab where you can enter your caregiver's name and contact info.

The app is elegant, and incredibly intuitive. Take a look at it!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Saving Boardmaker PDF's to Google Drive

Hey Tek-Ninjas! This article is primarily written with my work colleagues in mind, as we are leaving one piece of software for another.

Many folks have a lot of work made in the first program. In order to be able to access it, you will need to save the files as PDF's. This will allow you to still use the boards, however, you won't be able to easily change them. If you have a lot of files that you want to save, plan on this taking awhile. You may want to do it in multiple steps.

But, here are the steps.

Open a Board file and then select "Print".

In the bottom left corner select PDF, and within that pull down menu choose "Save as PDF".

Before you actually click save, in the bottom corner click on "New Folder".

In the box that comes up, create a name.

Now, save your board in this new file. Subsequent boards will just be saved in this board. This process will make it easier to organize or even move to your Google Drive.

If you want to take the next step of moving your PDF's to your Google Drive follow these steps.

It is recommended that you download and proceed with the browser Chrome in order to upload a whole file.

Open your Google Drive and select "New".

Choose "Folder" and create a Boardmaker PDF folder.

Next, click on "New" and choose "File Upload". Now you can simply drag your previously made PDF folder into your browser. 

Depending on how many pages you have, this process may take some time. Good luck and don't hesitate to email with questions.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Abilipad: Customizable Notepad and Keyboard!

Hey Tek-Ninjas! Are you familiar with Abilipad? If not, take a look at it. I reviewed it awhile back, but only considering one small aspect of the app. More recently, I've had further opportunity to dig into this robust app, and frankly I'm astonished at just how great it is.

The word prediction function remains good. But what is truly significant is how easy it is to create
unique and custom keyboards with pictures, symbols, individual words, and even whole phrases in a "key". It reminds me in some ways for Cricksoft's Clicker, or Slaterware's Pixwriter, but at a fraction of the cost; $19.99.

Making a custom keyboard is remarkably simple. The control board is intuitive. Pictures can be added from the iPad or from Pixabay. Text can be added, which can then be read out loud by a quality computer voice when "typed" by the end user.

Built into the app are links to several tutorial videos as well as an online instructional book.

Sharing boards is easy using the built in email or DropBox access.

Keyboard Creation
Adding to the value, if you run into a problem, there is a direct email link to the app creator, Cheryl Bregman. She is remarkably fast in responding, and very helpful.

Abilipad is ideal for your emerging writers, or to set up with scanning and switch access as an alternative writing tool.

Features are as listed:

The adaptive notepad provides scaffolding and support:
•Distraction-free writing space
•Word Prediction (available in English, Spanish, French and German language settings)

•Set the text style (font, size and color) and background color 
•Include images from the image library or use your own pictures
•Add, duplicate and reorder pages 
•Link keyboards to effortlessly shift between from one to the next.

•Words are highlighted as they are spoken
•Speaks letters, words and /or sentences
•AAC option with easily accessible clear text button
•Adjust the reading speed

Accessibility Features:
•Bluetooth enabled for use with a wireless keyboard 
•Insert text from emails, text documents or webpages to hear it read out loud 
•Languages include: Arabic, Czech, Danish, Dutch (Belgium, Netherlands), English (Australia, Ireland, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States), Finnish, French (Canada, France), German, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Slovak, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish

For many of us, $20 feels like a relatively big chunk of change for an app, but really, for all it does, it is a remarkable bargain!


Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Pogo Boards Changing the Landscape

 Hey Tek-Ninjas! Our district has been wrestling with a dilemma. We are planning on replacing all all laptops at the Elementary level. That is roughly 10 schools. We replaced the Middle school laptops last year. It is expensive.

On top of the significant cost, this change has unplanned ripple effects. Modern laptops seem to all be dropping CD drives. Remember 12+ years ago when Apple got rid of the floppy drive? Then PC's followed suit? We all kicked and screamed 'cause our software wouldn't work. Well, here we go again. Apple started phasing out CD drives a few years ago, and now PC's seem to following along.

Our district has approximately 100 copies of "THE DOMINANT SYMBOL SOFTWARE" (TDSS) out there, which was purchased with Stimulus funding back in 2000. It still works fine, but won't on the new laptops (or not without a major process/headache per each device), especially as we are changing OS platforms at some schools.

Our staff who use TDSS really rely on it. But, upgrading TDSS for the new computers would cost over $12,000 PER YEAR!

Home Screen
So, it was out of necessity that I started shopping around again for symbol software, but this time more earnestly.

Enter Pogo Boards. Pogo Boards is an online, subscription model which is easy to use, and provides access to millions of images through an integrated Google search, thousands of unique, custom symbols with SymbolStix and the PiCS symbol set.

Pogo Boards arguably has the most robust symbol library available in one place.

There is a free 14 day trial to get a feel for PogoBoards, and I encourage users to sign up and use it with a student or classroom in mind, not just to tinker around. This process will facilitate you actually learning how to use it.

The PogoBoards website offers several "how-to-videos" to help you in your learning curve.

As a user, if you are at all familiar with Microsoft Word, the interface will be intuitive. It looks similar.

The bottom line though, is the price is down-right affordable. My subscription for the same group of folks on the TDSS will be roughly $2,500 annually. Thates a significant savings.

Users can make their boards on a Mac at work, then when they get home, feasibly log into a home PC or Linux computer and access the same work.  Cross platform is huge.

In addition, boards made online can be downloaded to the free app on your iPad or iPhone.

And finally, sharing of materials within a school or district is simple.

Change from a preferred tool is often challenging. My hope for our district is that this won't be too painful. I will keep you all posted!


Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Switch Access Continues to Improve!

Hey Tek-Ninjas! I've been wrestling with switch access lately. It is often a source of frustration for me. The promises are big, the reality is often less than!

Of the many switch interfaces I've played with, the one I keep returning to for the most success is the
 Swifty, made by Origin. Swifty uses standard USB Human Interface Device (HID) drivers and works with Windows, Macintosh and Linux computers and many AAC devices.  The Swifty retails for $79.95.

For accessing iPads, Origin has answers as well. They provide the Tapio for newer iPads using a Lightening charging port. With Tapio and an adaptive switch, a single switch user can have complete access to an iPad, an iPhone or an iPod touch, using Apple's Switch Control. The Tapio
retails for $99.95. If you have a 2nd or 3rd generation iPad, Origin still has an answer for you. Purchase the Tapio with Apple 30-pin Dock to USB Camera Adapter and a USB Extender Cable. This bundle sells for $109.95.

Just a Few Switch Choices
Using the Swifty or the Tapio allows you to then also use a myriad of switches depending on your
user's needs. You may decide to go with a jelly bean switch, toggle, or any of the other dozens of switches, mounting them wherever your user has the best consistent volitional movement. I recommend involving your Occupational Therapist or Physical Therapist in determining these locations if possible.

The other bit of switch access that has me excited is the iPad's use of the camera and/or the screen. Using a Tapio in conjunction with the camera, we can set up step scanning, and using a head turn, or tapping the screen (anywhere) of the iPad to select. When you are in accessibility, and choosing your switch, after having chosen "External" for the Tapio, try "Screen" or "Camera". One of those options may prove helpful in unlocking a student's potential.