Friday, October 31, 2014 makes me happy.

Never mind the storied rivalry between the universities.  Rich Goldberg and Kevin Caves work with UNC and Duke respectively in very unique engineering programs, and they and their students collaborate to make amazing things happen.

Every year they collaborate on a program where their students develop custom assistive technology
"You just bend your hand in it and boom, it closes." ~Holden
devices for people with disabilities.  According to their website: "their project ideas come from therapists and clinicians in Durham and Chapel Hill who serve as project advisors throughout the semester". My guess is that they stay local because their students need to be able to work closely with their "clients".

You can find info about their program here

Their mandate, as I understand it, is to make a device that is useful/necessary to increase the individual's occupational performance and independence. The "thing" they build can not be available on the market.  Over the years I've seen some really remarkable products from them to help students in both Durham and Chapel Hill.

Recently they worked with a local boy to 3D print a prosthetic hand. Material cost: $20. There is a terrific article with accompanying video and WUNC audio interview here. Of note is that the projects are made for specific individuals and are not commercially available at this junction, nor do Goldberg or Caves plan to make them available. My guess is having done the ground work, commercialization is left up to some other individual.

Stay inspired!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Guided Access on your iDevice got even better.

Time Limit, bottom right
Tek-Ninjas, if you are like me, you were excited by the Guided Access feature on your iDevice, when it came out a few years ago. Well, with the new operating system, OS8, there are some improvements, which make the feature even better!

To start with, the adult can now set a timer for how long the app will run. The interface is incredibly simple. 

Within the timer function, the user can designate what the time bell sounds like, and also have a warning voice let the student know when the time is almost up. This can help tremendously with transitions. 

The timer function can be used to help students know how long they "must" participate in a given app, or how long they "get" to play a game. 

Pretty cool, huh?!

Happy therapy!

Disappointed by Time...

If you are on Facebook, or tuned into teaching related news, likely you've heard of this coming Time Magazine cover (beginning of November). Read the fine print... if you are a teacher, it should be offensive. If you are not a teacher, it should still be offensive.

Word on the 'net has it that the article inside is actually fair and balanced. But boy does that cover get my hackles up. Guess that was the intention?

Across America, teachers are being asked to serve as counselors, parents, food-banks, cops, custodians, oh, and lets not forget they are supposed to teach. Yet Time Magazine wants to focus on how hard it is to fire bad teachers?!?!

The American Federation of Teachers is running a petition to get Time Magazine to apologize for the offensive cover. You can find that here if you are interested.

#TIMEfail #subscriptioncancelled #techmillionairesdon'tknowshitaboutteaching

Happy teaching folks. Carry on the good fight.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Tar Heel Reader!

Hey Tek-Ninjas, are you familiar with Tar Heel Reader? If not, you should be. The Tar Heel Reader is an online collection of FREE, easy-to-read, and accessible books on a range of topics. 

Books are written by anyone, including students, parents, teachers, and therapists. Books can be read aloud using one of three different computer voices to choose from, a child's, a woman's, or man's. Or, read by the user. Each book can be accessed using a variety of interfaces including touch screens, Intellikeys, or up to 3 switches. 

Currently the books are available in several different languages, and the site even challenges users to contact them for help with translations. 

When writing a book yourself, you must first email the administrator and get a registration code. This was a little frustrating, as I had to hunt around the website to find this information. 

One thing to be aware of. Tar Heel Reader was originally created to provide appropriate subject matter for older individuals who struggled with reading (i.e.: not having 16 year olds reading Dr. Seuss). as a result there may be some subject matter that is not appropriate for younger children. As with every intervention, adult supervision is necessary. 

This is a really terrific resource both for readers and writers. 

Happy therapy!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Vendors, Closing the Gap: 2014

Just a few of the many vendors at Closing the Gap this year.
Tobii goes big!

Don Johnston represents!

Jabbla in the house.

Origin is here.

No technology conference would be complete without RESNA!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Zot Artz: A closer look

Giant Roller
This morning I just had to go back to Dwayne Szotz's area to learn more about his Zot Artz events & experiences. According to their website: "Creative expresssion is a primary human need, necessary for self-fulfillment and self esteem. Art is a from of creative expression in which individuals with disabilities can excel, given the opportunity."
As a fellow artist, I couldn't agree more! Zot Artz's mission is as follows:
Pogo Stamp
"Rather than finding ways for people with disabilities to participate in activities for non-disabled people, we create entirely new activities and projects for people with disabilities and invite those without disabilities to join in."
Stencil Creation
This mission is what really makes Zot Artz so unique and fabulous. On their website you can purchase tools from them, or arrange an event at your site. Art work projects vary in size and scope, allowing for graded difficulty to suit the user. Here at Closing the Gap folks with and without disabilities decorated their canvas totes provided by the conference.
Tools include custom made stamps of all different sizes, including hand-held rollers, wheel-chair driven rollers, and pogo stamps.
Hand Held Roller
As an Occupational Therapist I get all kinds of excited thinking about the skills this activity engages (sequencing, hand-use, bi-lateral hand-use, planning, just to name a few). As an artist, well, the end results are really beautiful.
So, take a closer look at Zot Artz, and see if this interesting Assistive Technology might become an important part of whatever program you are working with.

Happy therapy!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Closing the Gap: Day One, weeeeee!

Day one of Closing the Gap Assistive Technology Conference here in Minneapolis. WOW! So much great stuff to see and learn about.

I spent the morning wandering around the vendors booths, seeing old friends, and making new ones. Technology has come a long way folks!

So many great products available.

I had a chance to talk with Mel Dashner, VP of Origin Instruments, and the switch interface equipment they are making is really terrific with paletable pricing.

I also spent some time with Lalitha Nagarajan, ther Director of invention labs, creator of Avaz, which I reviewed awhile back. They have some really terrific upgrades to Avaz which I was not aware of, and some amazing apps in development. Keep an eye out for new products from them!

Also, I spent some really valuable time with Mauricio Meza of Komodo, makers of the Tecla Shield. Expect a review of their very sophisticated switch interface soon.

Finally, I had the opportunity to talk with Dwayne and some of his "art assistants" from Zot Artz. Really fun work happening there. I hope to get back with Dwayne this week and learn more about their program.

I gleaned quite a bit from Sarah Herrlinger, Senior Product Manager from Apple regarding Accessiblity Features in Apple's iDevices. Some of this was "basic" info for me, but some of it really clarified how the accessibility features can work. I hope to blog about some of this more later.

The stand out seminar for me so far was with Denise DeCoste, creator of the Writing Protoco.  l which will soon be available from Don Johnston. I hope to take a closer look at her assessment tool soon.

So, I'm finishing lunch now, and heading back down soon.
Happy therapy!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Reposting: A favorite app: iWrite Words

Back in 2012 I wrote about iWrite Words as one of my favorite apps. It continues to be one of my favorites, and so I thought I'd repost this write-up!

There are a lot of great apps which help kids learn and practice letter and number formation. However, like most Occupational Therapists, I am particular about how students form their letters and numbers.  Many apps form letters haphazardly, or at least not consistently from the top down.  iWrite Words starts letters just like a Miata... Top down baby!

Compatible on all iDevices, iWrite Words is 81.1 MB. The app retails for $2.99, and there is a lite version which is free.                 

iWrite Words dovetails nicely with the handwriting work I do with my students. The graphics and sound effects are engaging and playful. I have used it in sessions with a single student, and I've used it in groups of up to four students (each student using a iPad or iTouch). 

Upon opening the app the user is presented with options to trace upper-case, and lower-case letters, short words, and numbers.  The user drags a crab along the character outline.  If the user's finger deviates from the proper course, they hear a "boing", and start the character over. After tracing the character successfully, the user must drag the character into a spinning star shaped hole.

If the student is stuck, he can click on the play icon and see the character traced in animation. In addition, there are a number of ways a therapist/teacher/parent can custom tailor the app to the users needs. Customization includes many options, but to name just a few, the adult can change difficulty (tracing path size), and handed-ness.  In addition, the app allows for changing letter formation style. Without naming some of the more popular teaching methods, to the discerning eye, it becomes evident what they are offering. One can also change the gender of the voice that offers directions and affirmations.  

A final nice touch is the alphabet song which sings out with each tap on the screen.

Overall iWrite Words is a terrific app. It's appealing to my students, and an excellent tool to augment my handwriting work.

Happy therapy!

Leaving on a jet plane...

Hey Tek-Ninjas! In an hour I will head to the airport to fly to Minneapolis for the Closing the Gap conference. It has been about 4 years since I've attended this conference and I'm so excited!

According to the website the 32nd annual conference is:
The most practical, practitioner-driven AT conference in North America!
This year's conference builds on a tradition of providing a comprehensive examination of the most current uses of technology by persons with disabilities and the professionals who work with them. 
Topics will cover a broad spectrum of technology as it is being applied to all disabilities and age groups in education, rehabilitation, vocation, and independent living.
 If this years conference is as good as the last I attended, I'm sure to learn much, and hopefully have ideas to share with you all.

I'll be in touch!
Happy therapy.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Handwriting Activity Made Easy

Cursive work-sheet
Recently a colleague who is working with our Occupational Course of Study students came to me and said she wanted to work on cursive signatures for her students. Alas, her cursive is terrible (self-report, not my judgement). So, she wondered if there was a program that could make individual sheets for each student to work on their names.

A quick google search found Handwritingworksheets. Easy, quick, and best of all, FREE.  The website allows the user to make worksheets in manuscript, D'Nealian manuscript, and cursive. In addition, the user can made individual words which are repeated, short sentences, or a paragraph.  Because it is web-based, it can be used on Windows, Mac, Linux, Pi, or another platform you are sporting.  Also of interest, sizing is customizable, as is the page orientation (landscape or portrait). Also, font colors are infinitely tailorable.

There is some research (don't ask me to cite it, 'cause I don't remember and will just do a google search as can you) which says tracing letters is perhaps one of the least efficacious ways to learn letters. With this site, it is possible to make one word traceable, and the next just have starting dots for the letters.

For those of you working on handwriting, I hope this proves to be a useful tool.

Happy Therapy!