Many of you may or may not know of Sady’s story. KVRR did a story on her and her powerful message that people need to look beyond the disability and see the ability. Obviously Sady has physical challenges and barriers to overcome, but she does’t let that stop her from realizing her dreams. Just like everyone else in business and in this world, we all need the right tools to do our jobs. With the right tools, talent and hard work, we can do anything.
I am always searching for tools that make a true difference in the lives of students of all abilities. I am constantly looking for solutions that level the playing field and give all learners the opportunity to learn to the best of their ability. I also feel that designing a classroom, a curriculum or any learning environment with Universal Design for Learning in mind is essential.
Last week I did a workshop for about one of those powerful tools. I did a workshop on Read&Write and Equatio by Texthelp. During the workshop, I was doing a feature set demonstration. As I went through the toolbar feature by feature I realized that there are tools that all students can use regardless if they have a disability or not. We all can benefit from these supports. During the explore time, as I walked around the room I could hear teachers saying that this feature or that feature would be great for this student or that student. These were elementary and middle school teachers and they were talking about how they can support their students.
Read&Write is a powerful solution that runs across devices and platforms. It basically is a feature loaded tool bar that sits above your applications or browser that supports reading and writing. It’s a great support for struggling readers, students with dyslexia, English Language Learners, students with executive functioning issues, students with learning disabilities or any student who wants to have the tools to make learning easier. Tools such as:
Text to Speech
Highlighting for Study Skills
These are just a few of the over 80 features that are available across the platforms. It is available on Windows PCs, Macs, Google, iPad and Android tablets. The nice thing is that students have one login that works across all devices.
Another powerful solution is Equatio. Equatio provides supports for creating mathematical equations, formulas, Desmos graphs and more. It has powerful features like Speech input for creating equations and formulas, math word prediction, handwriting recognition, reading equations aloud, and more.
Texthelp makes it easy for teachers and students to explore their powerful solutions. Teachers get a free subscription to Read&Write and Equatio so they can explore all the features. Students can try Read&Write and Equatio for 30 days to see if it is right for them. After the 30 day trial period, they still have access to a restricted version but have access to basic features.
I am always looking for solutions that will level the playing field for all learners. Today’s technologies are opening up opportunities for students to have the tools to support them to become successful learners. These tools not only help them in school but are life long tools that will help them be successful after they leave school. I am also as passionate about finding tools that allow them to enjoy other activities in their life. In a previous post Music for All, I looked at solutions that provided persons of all abilities to be able to create and perform music. Another area I am always looking for solutions in is in the area of gaming.
When I was a teacher in the classroom, one practice I had during my IEP meeting with parents was to ask them one specific question. The question I would ask was, “In the next year. what is one thing you wish your child could do or if there is one thing that could make your lives easier, what would that be"?”. When they answered that question, I would include that in a goal for the year. I had a student in my classroom named Chris who was significantly involved. When I asked his mother what one thing would she like to see, her comment really made an impact with me. Her answer was “I have always wanted Chris to play Nintendo with his brother”. So we adapted one of the old Nintendo controllers with switch jacks so he could use a switch to control the buttons. For his goal, we worked on switch access and switch activation and the tool was the adapted controller. This was a skill he could transfer to other aspects of his life like communication and access to the curriculum. After several months we sent the controller home and now he and his brother could play Nintendo together. When playing his favorite game, his brother would control the helicopter and Chris would run a machine gun. It was an awesome moment watching them play together.
You can’t imagine how excited I was to see Microsoft release the Xbox Adapted Controller . I haven’t been able to get my hands on one yet, but the potential for providing opportunities for all gamers really excites me. Looking at the back of the unit, there are a ton of external jacks that provide a whole lot of controls on the controller.
I can’t wait to see it in action. I love the Microsoft Holiday ad that Microsoft ran over Christmas. That commercial captured the same excitement I felt when i watched Chris and his brother play their first Nintendo game together.
One of the things that I am extremely passionate about is access. Access to computers, mobile devices, access to control their environment and access to the curriculum are so important. However, more important than the access itself is the ability to access their education, their world, and their dreams.
The power and importance of access became so apparent to me when I met Brian. Brian was a 50 year old county worker that lived about 50 miles north of us. He went through a series of strokes and lost almost everything except his mind and his sense of humor. The only thing he could move were his eyes and his chin. We set him up with a wobble switch at his chin and used a scanning system called SwitchXS which was made by Assistiveware. With the switch and scanning system, Brian had access to a computer. The computer gave him access to the internet, access to powerful tools and gave him his voice. I witnessed how access to the tools freed Brian from the things that were holding him back. I realized how these tools were more than accessibility, they were accessing abilities.
As I started working more with switch access, I was lucky enough to meet amazing users who were taking switch control to levels I couldn’t have imagined. People such as Sady Paulson and Christopher Hills who were using switch control to edit videos. I followed people like Mike Phillips who used switch control to become a gamer, reviewer and author.
So you can only imagine how excited I was when Apple included switch control as an integrated part of the iOS on their mobile devices. This switch control provided many more people access to these devices. It allowed access to apps for communication, publishing, creating music, writing, etc. Access to apps we all use in our lives. When Apple decided to include and support accessibility features on their devices; they made a statement that access for all users is not only important but a right. Not only is it a right but it is the right thing to do. Apple now includes accessibility features across all their devices - computers, mobile devices, Apple TV and Apple Watch. Other companies such as Microsoft, Google, Android are also recognizing the importance of accessibility and including these features in their operating systems. Exciting times.
Using switch control, switch users can do everything that is typically done with a keyboard and mouse. At that point the technology is transparent. We see the video editors, the publishers, the artists, the graphic designers, computer programmers, computer support, etc… As these access tools are updated and refined; I am so excited for what the future will bring.
Today’s switch users inspire me. However, they do not inspire me in the way you think. As I see the things that they are doing as video editors, authors, artists, computer support, etc…, I am inspired to find the other video editors, authors, artists, etc… who need access through switch control.
There are so many people that show how important and powerful switch control is. Users such as -
The transition after high school after high school is difficult for many students. It can be especially difficult for students who learn differently whether they take an educational or a vocational path. If they take an educational path they will needs supports to make them successful students as well as daily living skills. For students who take a vocational path, they will need tools and strategies to be successful in the workplace and to live as independently as possible. Luckily mobile devices can a great solution for help them. There are thousands of apps that can assist them to be successful no matter what path they choose for their lives. These devices are portable and everyone as one.
I developed this app wheel as a guide to starting point when starting to search for apps to support those students in transition. This wheel is broken down into needs areas, areas where students may have difficulty, app categories to explore and finally suggested apps to consider. This list is not, nor is it meant to be a definitive list. This list is intended to give you a starting place and a rationale for picking certain apps.
Many students have difficulty with some type of executive functioning. Whether it is planning, organization, prioritizing, monitoring, evaluating progress, etc… This can significantly affect their learning and success in the classroom. Fortunately there are many solutions to help overcome obstacles to their learning. Mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPad can provide them with supports the help them be successful in school and beyond. So I created an app wheel to assist parents, teachers and students when searching for apps. This wheel breaks down apps by executive functioning skill, executive functioning issue areas and then app categories. The list isn’t meant to be all inclusive but rather a place to start looking for apps.
Several years ago, I was preparing for a workshop I was presenting on selecting apps for students on the spectrum. When preparing for the workshop, I did a search on the internet for people’s top 10 lists of apps for students on the spectrum. There were lots of lists out there, but there wasn’t any rhyme or reason why apps were on the list. Some apps on those lists just didn’t make any sense why they were on the list. One night I did a search and came across a top 10 list, and the number one app on the list was Angry Birds! So I decided there should be a reason an app is on a list so I created the App Wheel for autism. The wheel breaks down apps by learning characteristics, learning traits and app categories. The list isn’t meant to be all inclusive but rather a place to start looking for apps. I just updated the list to version 5.
Click here to download version 5. Feel free to share however you feel appropriate.
As an assistive technology professional, I have done a lot of evaluations and consultations for school age students. Almost all of these evaluations look at accessibility and how students can access the curriculum and for good reason. One of the things that is not considered are ways for students to express themselves creatively. We don’t look at tools that allow them to express themselves artistically or musically. One area that I am always exploring is different ways for students to express themselves through art and music. Luckily there are a lot of tools out there that allow students to access the artist within. This blog will focus on some of the music options that are available.
If a student can’t hold an instrument, play an instrument, read or write music; how can they express themselves musically? Well, there are many options that are out there that can provide them opportunities to be a musician. This post will look at five options that can unlock the musician inside - Skoog, Skwitch, Beamz, Garageband and iPad apps.
Skoogmusic www.skoogmusic.com makes 2 great tools - the Skoog and Skwitch which provide music opportunities for persons of all abilities. The Skoog is an accessible hands-on music interface for the iPad and iPhone. It is a tactile, squashy foam cube that acts as a Bluetooth controller for your iPad. It has multiple points of access and is pressure sensitive (which is configurable). Skoogmusic has 3 apps available on the app store that work with their Skoog - Skoog, Access iOS and Skratch. The Skoog also interfaces with Garageband and other apps that support virtual MIDI. Skoog interfaces with Spotify or your iTunes library so you can jam along with your favorite artists. The Skoog Songbook feature has color-coded notes so students learn to play a song by following the on-screen color-coded notes. Skoogmusic also has great on-line resources such as color coded song sheets so you can play along with your favorite songs as well as a selection of lessons and ideas for your classroom.
Skwitch is a new product by Skoogmusic. Skwitch is a musical instrument that connects to your iPhone and turns it into a music creation tool. It’s easy to create your own music by pressing the Skwitch in different places. The student controls the expression and pace. Students can even create their own songs. Both the Skoog and the Skwitch can also be used to teach coding, but that is another blog post.
Beamz is an interactive music device that is controlled by laser beams. The student plays music by interrupting the laser beams. No matter when the beams are interrupted, the music is always in harmony. The Beamz allows users of all ages, physical and cognitive abilities to play music using hundreds of musical instruments, sound effects and songs. The Beamz works with Apple computers, Windows and iOS devices. On the Apple OS and Windows, the music can also be controlled with keystrokes which means it can also be controlled by switches using a switch interface. The Beamz software can be accessed by eye-gaze using Tobii eye tracker. Beamz connects wirelessly to an iPad. On the iPad, you can use the Beamz controller to play music or use the iPad. You could also use switch control to play Beamz. Beamz has an extensive library of songs and genres to choose from. Beams also has many educational resources and bundles available.
Garageband for iOS is a music creation app that enables students to create their own music. Garageband has been around for a while, but the Live Loops feature provides students the ability to create songs on the fly. When you select a Live Loops template, it opens up a screen with a grid containing different instruments and loops. To create music all you have to do is select a loop or column to start it playing. You can tap on additional loops to add to your song. When you tap on a loop they don’t start or stop as soon as you tap them but they wait until the beginning of the next bar to begin. This assures that your loops or music are always in sync. There are lots of templates or styles available from traditional Chinese to Dubstep. You can even create your own templates. Because this is an app made by Apple, it is fully accessible to those students using switch control and with Voiceover.
Lastly, there are a wide variety of music apps available for the iPad that provide students the opportunity to play and create music. I will provide a more extensive list in the future, but because it is the Christmas season I want to mention one of my favorite apps - Holiday Bells. The reason I like Holiday Bells is because of its versatility, options and simplicity. It also sounds really good. This is a handbells app. There are several ways to use the app. You can select Jingle Bells where you simply tap on the screen or shake your iPad to play the jingle bells. In the handbell mode you can play a handbell by tapping on the screen or shaking the device. You can also select the tone or note you want the iPad to play. So with several iPads, you could conduct a hand-bell choir. In the Handbell Set mode, the user chooses a song, and then follows the snowflakes on the screen to tap the corresponding bells and play the song.I love this app!! Did I say that it is only .99?
So as you can see there are many options out there for students to play, create and express themselves through music. With so many solutions available, there is no excuse not to find the right tool or instrument for that musician in your life.