Thursday, December 3, 2009

Module 5 Curriculum Connections for Assistive Technology

I like the lesson plan that introduces students to different disabilities by requiring them to do some research. It really made me think about how little I learned about physical and cognitive disabilities when I was in primary and secondary school. What I know about different disabilities I have basically learned through my experiences by interacting with people with disabilities. I think that all health teachers should be requiring their students to learn about people's differences so that through knowledge students will be more compassionate and understanding of the challenges that some people face.

I still have much to learn about how to help student with disabilities but am thankful that this course and the CSLA modules have made me aware of the assistive technology that is available to level the playing field for students with disabilities. It is amazing how far we have come at helping all students achieve, and I am glad that technology is making life easier for those with disabilities.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Module 4 Disabilities Etiquette and Awareness

After reviewing the information from Module 3 on proper etiquette when meeting people with disabilities, I thought the information could be summed up very simply. Treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.

The section on hidden disabilities reminded me of my experiences with my ex-boyfriend who is an amputee due to a motorcycle accident. He has a "C-leg," and when I met him I noticed that walked a bit different, but many people often didn't notice and thought that he had both his legs. For the longest time, I thought a C-leg which mean computerized leg, was a sea-leg. Hee, hee, I thought that it was a waterproof leg like aquaman would have. I learned a lot about amputees and just about people with disabilities in general from my experience with my ex.

One of the most profound things I learned is that even though people knew that my ex was an amputee, they acted like he was "good as new" because of his amazing prosthetic. The truth is that it is a daily struggle both mentally and physically for him, and he really could only walk about a mile or so without discomfort, mainly because the friction from the prosthetic is hard on the skin. Of course, it seems that men/boys with a physically disability often have a hard time acknowledging their hardships. Also, I think many students (but, of course, not all) are uncomfortable being forthright about their learning challenges.

I guess what I am getting at is that it is important to keep in mind that many disabilities are hidden ones. Of course, I think the easiest thing to do is treat everyone with kindness and be observant. If a student is struggling, it is the right thing to ask if they are okay or if they need help just like you would for anyone. I think some people are afraid to address such things, but I see people with disabilities as being just like everyone else. I think everyone has different challenges in life.

Here are some websites on Assistive Technology that I think are useful. I was unable to get them to link in Blogger. This seems to be a consistent problem with this application.
“Teacher Tap,” professional development resources for educators and librarians, is an awesome website with tons of information/links on technology and special needs. This is a must bookmark site in my opinion!
Information and resources for children and adults with disabilities
SCATP (South Carolina Assistive Technology Plan) is federally funded by the US Department of Education of South Carolina. This is a well organized site with links to some great resources. I think this site is managed by a Janet Jendron who is Assistive Technology Program Coordinator at USC School of Medicine.
This webpage created by North Central Regional Educational Laboratory has tables that list the most commonly used AT devices for K-12 students. The table is divided into five AT categories: vision, communication, access, hearing, and learning/studying. NCREL is a nonprofit whose goal is “ improving our nation's schools to make them safe and productive places where children can learn and grow.” They specialize in the educational applications of technology.
Of course, Wikipedia provides a good introduction and has sections on hardware and software.

Module 3 Evaluating AT Software

Here is my comparison of three AT Software programs:

Software name: Inspiration

Company: Inspiration Software, Inc., founded in 1982, mission is to provide software that increase visual thinking and learning

Cost: Ranges from $70 for a single license to $895 for 20 licenses

Features: Allows students to plan assignments by graphic organizers, concept maps, webs, and idea maps

Pros:Has on-demand training videos, improves writing proficiency, helps students visualize difficult concepts

Cons: This technology would not be helpful to the blind or visually impaired.

Software name: Kurzweil 3000,a comprehensive reading, writing and learning software solution for any struggling reader, including individuals with learning difficulties, such as dyslexia, attention deficit disorder or those who are English Language Learners.

Company: Kurzweil Educational Systems, leading developer of reading technology for people with learning difficulties and those who are blind or visually impaired.

Cost:$395-$2695 (1-5 learning stations)

Features:can access any information, reads to students in a human-like voice, provides visual and auditory feedback, includes highlighting, text circle tools, bookmarks, voice notes,has audible spell checker

Pros: can access info. whether it is printed, electronic, or on the web,increases reading fluency, and teaches study skills

Software name: ICommunicator

Company: Interactive Solutions, Inc. (ISI), a subsidiary of Teltronics, Inc. since 1999.

Cost: $6500 with significant cost for annual support and upgrades

Features: Converts speech to text, speech/text to video sign language and speech/text into a computer-generated voice for those who are hard of hearing or deaf, built-in dictionary/thesaurus

Pros: enables the deaf to attend regular classes without a translator and independently communicate with others, encourages increased literacy, etc.

Con: very expensive

How can I implement technology in my school or library?

From working on my tech plan, it is apparent that implementing technology in a school library or in any setting should involve thorough planning. Collaboration and leadership are key to the process of implementing AT. I don't think that a SLMS should try to do this on their own, but need support and input from many different people. This idea is suggested in Jurkowski when the process of forming a tech planning committee is discussed. I would do a lot of research, visit other schools who are using AT, and discuss the needs of the district with many teachers, IT specialists, and with representatives from hardware and software companies. I think that to implement AT effectively, I would adopt hardware and software a little at a time and on a trial basis before purchasing a bunch of equipment.