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!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Quickly Creating Quizzes...

Library of Quizes
Recently I was looking for a tool which would allow me to quickly create a multiple choice series of questions for a student. After scanning the internet a bit I stumbled upon Quizmaker, by Benno Lauther.  Quizmaker is an iPad only app.  The app is described in German which gave me a little bit of pause as I don't speak German,  as was the app support web-site.  Because of this, I was not entirely sure it was what I wanted. But, at $1.99 I decided to take the plunge. It was definitely worth it!

Quiz Creator
Quizmaker is intuitive, and fun to use. The graphics are sweet, with vibrant colors.  The ability to import photos from your photo album is easy.  Using Quizmaker, a series of multiple choice questions can be generated on the fly. Each question has 3 possible answers, and you can create written or audio questions (or both), as well as custom audio responses.  Wrong answers can be customized to have a audio response, or no feedback.  Creating and editing your content is a breeze.  Question sets can be saved to use at a later date, which is a significant plus for educators.  
A Quiz

What I would like to see is the ability to scan the answers, so my switch users could access this app. Then, we would have a really significant product for such a population. The app developer emailed me this link for English support

Overall, this is a great tool for educators and therapists to use as an alternative writing tool for tests or quizzes. 

Happy Therapy!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Pendulum and Politics...

The political climate is often like a pendulum, swinging from one extreme to another.  The deconstruction of public education has been swinging for a long time in North Carolina.  Could it be beginning to swing back to sanity?

IMHO, teaching has been under attack in our great nation for several years now. As a country, we have asked teachers to perform the tasks of teacher, parent, social worker, behavior specialist, english-as-second-language-teacher, and many other tasks beyond the scope of their training. All while decreasing pay and benefits for the same job.  North Carolina has been a front runner of such craziness.  North Carolina is ranked 46th to 49th (depending on which source you reference) in teacher pay. Remember how many states there are in the US? That's pretty low.

It seems disingenuous at best to hear Governor McCrory "lament the state's near-bottom average teacher salary" after the gutting his administration just gave NC teachers (cutting education budget by $285 million, lay-offs, eliminating differential pay for Master's level teachers, etc). The $4,200 pay bump to be doled out over two years to the newest teachers (by some estimates about 24,000 teachers)is a move in the right direction, but may well stick in the craw of veteran teachers (by some estimates about 71,000 teachers) who might resent new teachers making more than they.

I don't have any faith in McCrory and his "friends" wanting to repair our education system.  I'm of the opinion that they are not interested in doing so. However, what they may be interested in, is if enough North Carolinians continue to be outraged and express their outrage in a variety of forums.  That is why he's offered this tiny pay-bump, and with enough pressure may make further changes. So, keep the pressure on folks, speak out, write McCrory, and support your teachers however you can.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Keeping your data usage low...

So, if your like me, you use Facebook. A lot. Maybe with students, maybe for personal use. For me, it's a "love-hate" relationship. Facebook is constantly changing and often for the better, but sometimes, not.

Touch Facebook
One "improvement" is making videos automatically load while your scrolling on your mobile device. This is fine if your on wifi, or have unlimited data. But if not, you may notice your mobile bill going through the roof as your data consumption drastically increases.

So, this is fixable, at least on an iDevice. Go into your Settings. Then touch your Facebook. Within Facebook choose Settings right under the Facebook icon.  Once in Settings, turn on "Auto-play on WiFi only". This process will help you keep you or your kid's phone bills a bit more manageable. 

This tip came to me from my buddy and head wrestling coach, DeWitt Driscoll.  He's officially a junior Tek-Ninja now!  

Speaking of wrestling, my posts have been sporadic at best lately, as my wrestling team is competing a lot, and dominating in the process! Great fun, but cutting into my writing time. Just a few more weeks, and the season will end, and I will resume blogging more regularly.

I assume the other platforms (Droid, Mobile Windows) offer a similar feature.  If any readers can comment on this, other readers would likely appreciate that.

Happy therapy!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reheating old food for thought...

I have had the opportunity today to meet with several thoughtful professionals who are in the process of developing an Assistive Technology Team for a small rural school system here in North Carolina. I enjoy these meetings for several reasons. One, such discussions require that I take a closer look at my own work processes, and theoretical models.  Another reason is that with new programs and new people come new ideas and solutions.

One topic which we delved into is how do we determine "if someone get's new tech?" 

It's about the goals!
And again, we returned to the notion that "goals must drive technology". As an Occupational Therapist I was taught that a 'client-centered' evaluation informed the goals. The goals then informed the interventions.  The interventions 'should' then create the outcomes that were needed based on the evaluation.

Really, it's circular, and the same concept can be applied here with Assistive Technology.

The logic above protects us from just handing out technology because it's new and cool. If Johnny is struggling with the writing process, his IEP goals should be about writing. A possible intervention might be a dictation to scribe, raised line paper, word-processor, word-prediction software, or a laptop.

If Jill struggles with basic communication, her goals should be about functional communication.  A possible intervention may be a PODD, communication cards, Step-by-step, iTouch, or Dynavox.

I would not have a goal that spoke to Johnny or Jill mastering a word-prediction program, or using an iTouch, but I may have a short term objective addressing some of those component level skills.

As a team we are interested in what goal might require technology? We are interested in what modalities have the professionals tried already? What kind of progress is the student making towards their goals? If there are a number of proven but untried interventions we may ask the team to try such strategies first. Also, if the student is making progress on their progress reports, then likely, they don't need a layer of technology in their school life.

I'm interested in other folks thoughts on this subject. Anyone else care to weigh in?

Happy Therapy!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

"Elephant Sighting" is Published!

Hey Tek-Ninjas! A few blogs ago I wrote about the new software iBook Author from Apple that allows one to write and publish books on iBook to be downloaded and read on Macs, or iDevices.  Well, shortly after that, I submitted a manuscript written by my nephew Niky, and illustrated by yours truly.

Today Elephant Sighting,  was approved and released to 51 countries!

Elephant Sighting can be downloaded here. My next step in this project, is to make a few editorial changes, and see how long the changes take to go into effect. I'll post when that is complete. 

In the meantime, please, rush out and download the free copy of Elephant Sighting. Who knows, in a few months Niky and I may decide to sell it rather than give it away. 

Happy writing!