Friday, May 23, 2014

Patience is the key...

Aug Comm Tools
Yesterday my colleague, Ashley Robinson and I had the privilege of observing a self-contained classroom with 6 students with severe language impairments. Every student utilized some kind of augmentative communication tool, and often more than one.

We were very impressed with what we saw.  Ashley and I came on time for morning group, and observed from the back of the room.  Morning group looked much like any morning group for young students with a review of the date, the weather, and who was present. The difference between this group and others is the communication devices, and the slower conversational pace. And, this is where the magic occurs.

The teacher would ask who wanted answer a given question. All around the group, a careful observer could witness students work to coordinate uncooperative bodies to respond via a switch or pad. For students who are language impaired, and as the case is in this class, also presenting with severe motor impairments, organizing their response takes significant effort. And time.  Teacher Assistants are helping by holding devices at optimum locations.  Once it's established who will be answering the question of the moment, the real question is asked. And then the waiting begins.

Eye Gaze Board
At one point, another student in the group (with better motor skills and response time) expressed some exasperation at the wait. The teacher encouraged patience.

Eventually (about two minutes) the student successfully targeted a switch providing an answer. This is real communication. But the key is waiting.

Later in conversation with the teacher, I compliment her and her staff for being so patient. She mentions that she sometimes has to remind colleagues in school to wait for her student's response time.  An adult will greet one of her students with a question (such as: how are you?), but go to leave before the student responds because it takes awhile. She will call them back, and say "hey, don't walk away, he/she is working on an answer".

So, the key to success here is patience. If you ask a language and motorically impaired student a question, you have to wait for the answer. Sometimes you might wait several minutes. But, it will be worth the wait!

Happy Therapy!

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Happy Birthday Tek-Ninja!

Two years ago today I was inspired for some inexplicable reason to write a blog. My first article was called "The Covenant", and it was about our responsibility as parents to stay educated and aware of the cyber-world on behalf of our children.

Most popular articles
Since then, I've written over 200 posts, mostly though not exclusively about technology and education. I don't think of myself as a writer. Many of my blogs are likely riddled with grammatical errors. And my level of productivity varies. Some weeks, I write several times. Some weeks I don't write at all. I enjoy seeing how many "hits" an article receives, however, there is no monetary incentive to writing. 
International Readers!
So, why write? There is no money. There is no prestige or power. I write because the process helps me to think about my practice as an Assistive Technology Professional, and as an Occupational Therapist. Writing helps me organize my thinking, and scrutinize my assumptions. It also makes me reach beyond the tools that I might typically gravitate to from inertia. 

Tek-Ninja has been a great vehicle for me to develop my practice. I hope the writing has been of some use to others. Happy birthday to me, and happy therapy to you!

Thanks for reading!

Friday, May 16, 2014

Resistance is Futile!

Tek-Ninjas, if you've been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember this article I wrote a few years ago.

In the article I wrote about a conversation I had with a sales rep for a prominent education software company.  I had (and still do have) a lot of respect for the fellow, but I thought he was way off base on his opinion here.

Turns out, I was correct. Yes. this is one of those "I told you so" moments! 

He had posited that his company would NEVER make an app for the iPad, suggesting that the devices were essentially toys, without sufficient computing power to do their programs justice.

Well, several months ago his company released an iPad version of their prize software. I'm not gonna share who and what it is, because I don't want this conversation to reflect poorly on them.  I will say it's a really fine app that achieves everything the desktop version does.  I will add that with increased portability (intrinsic to the iPad of course), a more intuitive interface, and a fraction of the price the iPad version is a superior product.

To be fair, when we first had this debate, the iPads were new, and they did not have the processing power they now offer. It was a different beast. I'm pleased to see they have come around and created such a fine app.

One of his big concerns was that teachers/therapists/and parents would use the iPad much like the t.v. has been used on some occassions, replacing meaningful interaction with a "babysitting" device. This was for me a cautionary notion.

I still maintain, that the efficacy of any software whether on an iPad or laptop/desktop increases significantly with oversight from an educator, or therapist. 

This oversight means someone will apply educational/clinical reasoning to guide the process. Someone who will draw out the teaching moments, highlight successes, illuminate issues in order to correct them, tailoring the experience to the user.

So, my take home notions here? One: as iPads continue to become more powerful devices, expect to see even more powerful software solutions becoming available (COOL!), and two: continue to be vigilant of your practice... be mindful of any intervention you utilize so that the interventions purposfully bring you closer to your client/student's goals.

Happy Therapy!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Refreshments anyone?

We (in my school district) have been struggling with what technology to provide staff. Five years ago, we "refreshed" all the Exceptional Children Staff laptops.  That was thanks to the Stimulous Funding, which provided several hundred MacBooks and PCs. We knew that we would have to revisit the issue in 4-5 years, as best practice suggests replacing laptops around that time frame. We knew it would be painful. Now, here we are.

Historically we provide our Elementary and Middle schools with Macs, and the High schools get PCs. Not sure who decided that, but it occurred long before I arrived on the scene. The Macs cost us around $950. The "Business Quality" PCs we purchase cost around $900. Lets guess I replace 250 devices. That is $231,250. Sheesh.

So, we've been exploring different options. One option is the Chromebooks.  The brand our district would use retails for about $325. That is $81,250. Obviously significantly cheaper.  I've been using a Chromebook exclusively for several months to see how it would work in our environment. There are a lot pros (price, simplicity, speed, and price).  These devices would be ideal for our students in a 1:1 situation, but unfortunately, I'm unconvinced they will work for our EC staff. The problems include the following: Chrome doesn't work with our complicated Microsoft Word forms, does not work (well) if there is no wifi present, will not run educational software our teachers are already invested in (both financially and time-wise).  Some of these issues might be manageable, for example, move away from the Word forms... maybe, but not happening anytime soon. And there are some great educational apps for Chrome, but just not enough to replace what we have with out tremendous training.  Also, we have a lot of money invested in Smart Boards, and the Chromebook won't run Notebook, even the web-based beta product.

Another option we have looked at is iPads. By themselves, they are not a viable workstation. But, with a bluetooth keyboard, and a Microsoft Office subscription we might make it work. But at the end of the day, we are spending roughly $700 to outfit such a device, which would be about $175,000 for the district. The biggest issue we face in our district is getting them to print effortlessly. Sure I can print, but all of our staff (even the least tech-wavy) need to be able to print effortlessly. So, this won't work either.  Not yet.

So, I'm wondering, any great ideas out there? What are other school districts doing? People making iPads or Chromebooks work? I'd love to hear success stories!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The elusive keyboarding unicorn...

Raise your hand if you've worked with/know a student with well documented fine motor issues and prescribed/asked for a key-boarding program for that student with all the home-row bells and whistles?

I have.

For years I've followed this protocol.

Sometimes I still will. But, if someone struggles with fine motor activities, does it make sense to ask this person to isolate individual fingers, utilizing all 10 in unison, with timing, precision, and speed, key-boarding from the home-row? Might that itself be a tremendous challenge? A very interesting, short, and understandable study by Niles-Campbell, Tam, Mays, and Skidmore in the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists journal dared utter this phrase:
"Ten finger touch-typing is a gold standard that may not produce gold"
 ZOIKS!!! Heresy!

The authors of this study suggest that for many students developing competence and functionality with a hunt and peck method may be a best outcome. They also go on to state that the "[engagement] in meaningful keyboarding activities is the best way to learn keyboarding", which then suggests NOT keyboarding programs.

Whoa! Meaningful activities?! Darned Occupational Therapists! Perhaps laboring over a keyboarding program for lengthy periods everyday is not ideal.

I still ask students to participate for 10 minutes 3-5 days a week if they do not have a sense of key-location. It should be an iterative process. Starting with a goal for home-row keys, but carefully monitoring and changing those expectations as necessary. If a student can type with a hunt and peck method faster or with dramatically increased legibility over their hand-writing, this is functional, and may be the end goal.

In addition to a keyboarding program, students will best acquire skills engaged in keyboarding activities that have meaning such as tackling homework, chatting online with a friend, writing emails or stories. The more interactive and non-repetitive the task, the more "fun" it's likely to be.

I'd love to hear other's thoughts on this topic.

Happy Therapy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

AppleVis Exploring Apple's Work

I have always been impressed by both Microsoft and Apple's attention to how folks with Visual Impairments might access their operating systems. Both companies have historically offered tools embedded in their software, at no additional cost. Granted the quality has varied from year to year.  Often, because they are in the business of selling operating systems, and not accessibility equipment, finding information about these features is not as easy as one might like.

Recently, my brillant colleague and VI teacher, here in the schools sent me a link to AppleVis, showing "what's new and changed for blind and low vision users in i0S7.1. AppleVis is a community-based web site that is managed by a small number of volunteers. They are NOT Apple.

I was impressed by the work Apple continues to do, and frankly how big can the market share be for them? This is good work, with minimal financial gain. (okay, I will quit hero-worshipping Apple for a few minutes).

According to AppleVis, there are 6 new Accessibility features in i0S7.1, including 3 contrast settings rather than one, allowing users to choose an option that best supports their vision. One other feature is the ability to enable Bold Text for icons, text on i0S labels, keyboard, and the calculator. For the other four, visit their page, 'cause I don't want to steal all their thunder.

The page also lists the 25 improvements that have been made to pre-existing features including significant changes to VoiceOver functions.

In addition, the site offers up 13 bugs still found in the system. Love that they are willing to share the successes, as well as what still needs to be worked on.  It's comforting to find that an issue your having is not just yours alone.

Finally, I found the comments from other readers to be very edifying, and as useful as the official info. There are some smart users out there!

Intrigued by the wealth of info, I wanted to look a bit closer at who AppleVis is. This is pulled from their site:
A community-powered website for blind and low-vision users of Apple's range of Mac computers, the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
AppleVis is a rich resource that strives to empower the community by offering multiple pathways to access and share relevant and useful information. As a community, we seek to encourage and support people in exploring the many ways in which these mainstream products and related applications can offer opportunities to the vision-impaired for personal enrichment, independence and empowerment.
AppleVis also offers resources and mechanisms for raising awareness of the accessibility of Apple products and related applications, and for promoting further advancement in accessibility.

Membership is free. They do however welcome donations, as they are volunteer run, with no sponsorship. The site has several pages to explore apps, a forum for users to share ideas, a well maintained blog, Podcasts (tech oriented), Guides, and App Deals are listed, and finally Accessory Reviews. WOW! I am blown away by the thoroughness of their work.

If you or someone you know has visual impairments, this site seems like a necessity!

Happy Therapy!