Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Read The "Back to School" Edition of the Assistive Technology Blog Carnival

The Back to School Edition of the Assistive Technology Blog Carnival is up and ready to read.
This month has some great posts sharing parent's perspectives from their blogs where they share their heart about their special needs kids. There is a wonderful post on print disability tools for the Mac, a visit to a special Education teacher's classroom and a post on creating audio books on your own.
Take some time to visit and enjoy!

All the best to you!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Missing: 90,000 Children with Traumatic Brain Injuries

Nationwide Statistics show that there are far more cases of Emergency Room- verified Traumatic Brain Injury in children than there are identifications of TBI disabilities in schools, according to Karen McAvoy, Ph.D. and Judy Dettmer, Ph.D.
In a 2-day workshop on "RTI, Assessment, & Special Education Process for Students with Traumatic Brain Injury", I found some very interesting information that I am passing on to you with our colleagues' permission.
Our trainers shared that TBI has been classified as a low incident disability, but when you look at the ramifications of nation-wide statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Education, The National Center for Disease Control and the National Pediatric Registry, the data tells an interesting story...

National Data:
The National Center for Disease Control states that there is an annual average of 435,000 Emergency Room visits, 37,000 hospitalizations and 2,685 deaths among children due to TBI. This number only identifies those who had the injury reported and were admitted to a hospital. It does not include injuries where the child remained under care at home and did not receive formal medical treatment or where the patient was released without a TBI diagnosis. Because the actual number is low due to the non-reported incidents, experts think that the actual number could be closer to 1.4 million children with TBI injuries a year.
The U.S. Department of Education has said that there is an average of 475,000 TBI injuries among children a year. Their data shows that during the 1991-1992 school year, there were a total of 4, 499,824 students receiving special education. Out of that total, only 245 were served under a TBI disability category. During the 1999 -2000 school year, 5,683,707 students were receiving special education services and of that total, 13,874 children were served under the TBI disability category. 2005 data shows that out of 6,021,462 students receiving special education services, there were 23,449 TBI students.
The above statistics show an increase in children served under the TBI category from 1991 to 2005, and according to the speakers at our conference, there was a lot of hard work done in building awareness about TBI in the school sector during those years.
It is interesting to note though that in 1991, Autism received its' own disability category and in 1992 there were 15,302 students identified. By 2005, there were 192,643 students identified as having autism. There were around 170,000 more identified students for autism than TBI.
In Oregon, 2006 statistics show 1008 students hospitalized for TBI. Oregon had 269 identified students that year.
The National Pediatric Registry reports that 19% of youths who sustain a brain injury will have long term disabilities. Reviewing the data from USDOE and using the 19% guideline, we could conservatively estimate that 19% of 475,000 average reported injuries a year leave us with 90,250 a year nationally. If in 1991 there were 245 children identified, what happened to the other 90,005 children? The presenters asked us, "Are we missing 90,000 students with brain injuries?" and more importantly, "Why are we not identifying these students?"

I will share tomorrow on some possible reasons for identification issues as well as some of the charateristics of TBI for those of you who might like to learn more about TBI. I will also share some AT ideas during the week as well.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Friday, September 26, 2008

The 504 Plan: An under-used Tool in Accommodating Learners?

Is the 504 under-used? Should we give ALL students access to the tools that would be given to accommodate students on a 504 plan? If we did, wouldn't we be covering the needs of everyone?
I was researching these questions and reading up on the implementation of a 504 Plan under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. I know that it gives "legal teeth" to folks that need to advocate for equal access and fight discrimination. That is a good thing and I don't want to sound like this post is advising that we noy use a 504 plan. I just see that there are tools we would use on a 504 that maybe should be considered standard support for anyone. But first, let's look a minute at the 504:
I found a good advocacy resource site, Special Education Advocacy.com. They have a glossary of descriptions that relate to special ed and advocacy. These descriptions are a real help to parents that are new to this whole area and need to find some answers. They shared that the 504 is often an under-used tool in the education arena.
"The 504 protects individuals with disabilities from discrimination from policies or a lack of equipment from recipients of federal funding".
Maybe schools and parents don't take advantage of the power in this tool - instead they either do nothing or go for broke with testing and working on an IEP?
The site's description of 5o4 meetings brought out that the end-result of an effective 504 plan should be equal access for academic success and student achievement in a course of study - not a focus on a disability and why it prevents success. The plan should be developed to encompass not only modifications and accommodations for the curriculum and equal access to the course materials, but also equal access to evaluations, test and assessments of student mastery of content.
The 504 is intended to provide access for those with a disability in the general education setting rather than in special education and an IEP. For those that are unclear (and in my research online I find many professionals and parents alike that are unsure of the actual "legalese") I have a good definition from LD Online - a great resource too by the way...

"A 504 plan is a legal document that outlines a plan of instructional services for students in the general education setting. Students with ADHD often have a 504 plan. While not an IEP, the document usually describes the types of accommodations that will be made for a student in school."

These accomodations can include providing extra support through readers, interpreters or assistive technology such as text to speech tools, special word processing support tools, etc.
If you are a parent sensing that your child has more going on than meets the eye as far as their lack of ability to succeed at school, you might want to explore the 504 as a tool. My thought as to why it is under-used is that possibly it is not commonly presented as an option to parents for fear of over-use. I can hear administrators asking: "What if every parent that thinks their child isn't doing well at school wanted a 504 plan written out and followed? Yikes! What would we do?"
Here is my question: "With all the federal mandates and accountability pieces for average yearly progress staring us in the face and the threat of dropping student achievement, why wouldn't we WANT to identify those with disabilities and accommodate them so they can be successful? "

And then here's another concept:
As well as accommodating special needs for IEP's, special education and 504's, why don't we provide ALL students with the tools they need to succeed, teach them how to use them to self-accommodate, and then no student needs to stick out and be embarassed and we can see the legal mandates for 504's from the Rehab Act and IDEA met in one full swoop.
Seems like a lot easier road to me. Maybe I am over-simplifying it.

For a list of links for tools that can support learning for ALL students - and could be a strong support for students on a 504 plan, see my post here.

All the best to you!


Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Accommodations for Students: Roll Up Your Sleeves and Do it!

I am hearing: "We should be using this for ALL our students!" and "What about our students with learning difficulties that aren't on an IEP? Shouldn't we be helping them use this too?"
These are the comments I am hearing more and more as I travel around our districts and share great tools like Intellitools/Cambium Learning's new Version 4 of Classroom Suite, Premiere Literacy's Accessibility Suite, text to speech tools that are free online and methods to use the cheap Jump drive Mp3 players you can get at the big name chain stores for $29.95.
As I demonstrate AT tools for learning, the common element that always comes up is the concern for the kids that need these tools but don't qualify for an IEP. I sat in a sped teacher's office yesterday morning and we discussed a whole lot of tools like the ones mentioned above. We discussed how the school needs to implement these tools and train the teachers so everyone can benefit. The problem is, "We discussed". I am tired of "cussing and discussing" as one of my elders used to say.
I have begun implementation. I am training teachers. I am writing about it on my blog. I am challenging administrators. As I said in a monthly special ed teachers meeting for another ESD where I spoke and demonstrated print disability tools this month, "Lets stop talking about it and roll up our sleeves and do it."

Here are some ideas to get your ball rolling:
1. Experiment with a scanner. Try scanning a page as a text file instead of an image file. Clean up the text file, i.e. delete misspells and numbers, lines, dashes, etc. Get it readable ready.

2. Try a free text reader like Natural Reader. Download it to your computer and then open the window and copy/paste in your text from the scanned page - hear it read. You have made one quantum leap!

3. Try using Firefox as a browser and use some of the add-on tools that are free like Click-speak and the Google Gadget Merriam Webster Dictionary support.

4. Play with Mp3's. Try experimenting with odiogo on a blog you set up for free somewhere like Blogger just to convert text to Mp3 files.This is just the beginning, but it gives you a start.

We will have to talk about how to start implementing this with students in an up coming post.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Advocacy Can Come From the Most Unexpected Places

I have been writing and sharing about advocacy on my blog since I started it almost a year ago. Over this past year I have written some posts that I turned into articles on Ezine Articles (See the sidebar on my blog for links to these articles) about advocacy tips and have been working on a free report: Action Steps to Advocacy (ASA Report) that is almost ready to put up for folks to access.
I had an email and follow-up call recently asking me if I would moderate a national online discussion on "Family Advocacy and Family-School Partnerships." I am honored to be asked and have agreed to moderate, but at the same time I am humbled when I think of all the resources out there and experts in the field. I just have been working from practical observations and common sense as I have seen what has worked and what has failed for parents as advocates. I see the angry ones, the lost ones, the frustrated ones and the collaborative ones, the veterans and the newbies.
I am thankful that I believe I have an extra dose of compassion in that I understand somewhat what it means to be thrust overnight into a world of being an advocate with no experience because your newborn was born with a severe impairment or even multiple disabilities. A parent can send a child to football practice one day or, in my part of the country, out to ride a horse after school, and end up with a head injury - next thing you know - you are looking at rehab and assistive technology.
I was reading a discussion thread from a parent on a site the other day and they shared that they believed if they would have waited for the school to initiate something for their son, he would still be floundering and behind. The fact that they as parents, saw themselves as the only advocates, and that they were initiating the discussion and pulling in outside advice and professional expertise into the picture - added up to a better response from the principal and the school towards developing a plan of action.
I know in my own world, I have many needs surrounding me throughout our region. I am trying to keep up with all of them but I find that the parents and schools that are most vocal, most on top of the situation in getting requests, reports and ideas to me, etc. are the ones that get the most service. It's not that I don't care about all of the situations around me. All of them get met to a certain degree, but the ones I enjoy the most are the ones where everyone is positive, pro-active and ready to do whatever it takes.
In all these cases, it always points back to someone that was a powerful advocate for that child. Sometimes the advocate isn't necessarily the parent. Sometimes it is the principal - I have some right now that are the biggest advocates you could want for a student. Sometimes it is the teacher - I have seen parents who literally frustrate and try and block any positive progress - even to the point of denying equipment and services offered by the school - even though they agree to and have their child on an IEP. Yep, try and figure that one out! If it weren't for a teacher that continues to push for the best for these children in these cases, a child would not be getting anything.
I see advocacy as having many faces and many styles. It is great to see AT company reps that genuinely want the best for a student even if it isn't their company product getting purchased. I had an AAC rep tell me a story recently about a request for help. This rep actually wrote a request for funding letter out for a parent that asked even though they were getting another device from another company - that's advocacy!
Don't ever underestimate where it can come from.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Familiy Center on Technology and Disability: Treasure-Store of Information

The Family Center on Technology and Disability provides a range of information resources on assistive and instructional technologies. Funded by the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office of Special Education Programs, the site offers an indepth topic-related bi-monthly newsletter. I spent some time looking through the resources and topics on the site and they are very impressive.
The August September issue is on AT and High Incidence Disabilities and the work of Karen Janowski, educator and AT/educational technology consultant who has the EdTechSolutions: Teaching Every Student blog. I have been enjoying reading Karen's writing and the issue from the FCTD was great to discover.
The Family Center site offers an archive of their newsletters on various AT topics. They are packed full of information that will be a great resource for anyone involved with assistive technology. Topics include Universal Design, AT and Families, Preservice Training, Matching child and AT, Accessing Literacy AT, etc.
On their link, "AT Resources" they offer a searchable database where you can check all the topics that apply and get a list of articles and reviews that address the topics you selected. There is a list of AT Organizations, AT Fact Sheets, PowerPoints and Success stories. The Center provides an annual AT Resource CD with all the published materials at the end of each year by request. There is also an online discussion thread on a topic every few months.
If you haven't explored this site, I would recommend giving it some serious consideration. The resources there are high quality and offers something for everyone.

All the best to you!


Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Monday, September 22, 2008

Weathering and Surviving the Storm

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ike, my friend and fellow-blogger, Ron Graham of AcessAbility shared about adjusting to life when everything around you is NOT "life as normal". Schools are out, electricity is still out for about a million people, grocery stores do not have most perishable items, and folks have damaged property.
In spite of the adjustments to be made, some folks are expected to jump back into work and function as if nothing happened, when in actuality, something traumatic has disrupted many lives. I think about Ron, who shared his experiences and a friend's experiences through this time right now - seeing places they love destroyed. Ron has his power back on and is beginning to catch up on life, but it is going to take awhile for his community to be up and running again.
As I read his post, I thought about how we met through blogging and what a friend he has become to me. I have been able to catch up with him from time to time with email, share stories and get advice for folks I meet that are visually impaired. Ron has a great heart and a story to match it.
The most interesting thing to me is that although Ron is blind, all the disruption of Ike in his life hasn't seemed to create any more stress or inconvenience for him than anyone else - and that is one of the reasons I admire him. He is an example of someone who has accommodated for his circumstances in life, adjusted and moved on with the same expectations on himself as he would have for anyone else - with or without an impairment. Definitely one who I would want on my side if I was in a place where I needed rehabilitation and someone to help me adjust to new changes in my lifestyle.
I have several students in my case load that have new changes in their lifestyle as they are coming back to school this fall. I hope that I can be a positive influence for change and help them with new accommodations as we use new assistive technology and work into a productive academic year. I hope that, like Ron, I can help them move through the "not so normal" stages and get to that place where they can settle in and feel they have something to look forward to every day. I hope you can make a difference for someone in a positive way too this week. So, if you are reading this on Monday - go out this week and use your skills to create a little more peace and blessing in someone else's life. I am sure you are doing that in ways that you have no idea about every day.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Learning To Thrive With Attention Deficit Disorder : NPR

"Lots of us find ourselves a little scattered at moments. Who hasn't spaced out during a meeting? Or BlackBerryed their way through a conference call, only to find out later that they missed the one important point?

For Emily Algire, 19, distraction is not just the result of too much technology in her life. She was diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD) in high school. She recalls 'earth-to-Emily' moments, when she'd be staring out the window during class and a teacher would call on her.

'Do you understand, Emily?' she recalls her teacher asking. 'Yes, yes, a little bit,' she'd respond." Read More

Listen to NPR Report

Friday, September 19, 2008

Economic Crisis and IDEA Mandates: Where Are We Headed?

The recent federal money bail-outs of financial institutions and the subsequent stock market slide, deemed an "Economic 9/11", has me asking some serious questions about where our funding sources for schools and special education are headed. As I drove to work, Public Radio had a piece on the Secure Rural Schools program and efforts to get it re-authorized.
In the past, rural schools in Oregon and Washington State have been able to qualify for supplemental federal support through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act passed in 2000. The financial support amounted to over 200 million dollars to Oregon rural schools where there were a lack of other economic factors to offset costs, i.e. closed lumber mills, federal lands without industry surrounding a community. It also provided support to many other rural programs in the states that qualified.
Congresss did not feel the Act should be permanent and final legislation closed/terminated the program in 2006. Blue Oregon posted a guest column by Congressman Peter DeFazio, (D- Eugene, Oregon) about the battle to re-authorize the Act. The challenge has been coming up with the resource avenue that will fund the program. As the program has been tried to be re-authorized through write-ins on energy bills, evidently big oil and energy has resisted and lobbied against inclusion. The column by DeFazio takes us through the maze of attempt after attempt to get this funding resource back into the hands of our rural schools.
What does this have to do with assistive technology?
While polticians play their games and work for or against re-authorization, school programs falter. Through IDEA 2004, we have a mandate to provide assistive technology to students. Some of the districts in my region do not pay into a pot for AT services because they don't have a budget to pay for it. They bring me in on a case by case basis - which doesn't happen very often. I have had visits with district SLP's that will "wish" I could help and I can't. I can refer them to OTAP (Oregon Technology Access Program) for an AAC device, but I can't loan equipment from my center or do evaluations, etc.
As our economic situation worsens nation-wide, I ask myself, "Where are our funding priorities going to fall as budgets tighten? What ramifications will this have on special education and the staff number, assistive technology support etc.?" Just because the feds mandate something, doesn't mean it will get funded. Our schools are burdened with all kinds of mandates when there is no money to support them. My job security is not determined by the fact that what I do is federally mandated somewhere. The dire needs of individuals with disabilities will not necessarily be met because of mandates either - when push comes to shove. This makes our advocacy efforts more important than ever.
My only answer right now is to stay involved. We need every federal and state program we can get to support schools right now. We also need administrators in school districts that will allocate dollars to keep our special education and support services running. Let's work together to continue to push and be vocal for our students with disabilities.

All the best to you as we "hang in there!"


Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Accessible Instructional Materials: Shift Happens

I was reading a post on EdTech Solutions by Karen Janowski on paradigm shift occurring (or not) because of IDEA 2004 mandate for accessible instructional materials (AIM). Reading through IDEA 2004 section 674 (e) (2) (B), it says:

"To provide access to print instructional materials, including textbooks, in accessible media, free of charge, to blind or other persons with print disabilities in elementary schools and secondary schools, in accordance with such terms and procedures as the National Instructional Materials Access Center may prescribe." (674/c/1/D includes postsecondary and graduate schools as well.)

Karen referred to an article by Skip Stahl on the TRLD Site stating that getting this trend going will jump start the adaptation of curriculum into accessible formats for all students. He believes that is the shift that will be taking place in education in the future. You can read her commentary on it to get more of the information.
Reading this related closely to what I was doing yesterday and I wanted to share:
I spent a half-day yesterday doing an in-service training at a high school for several teachers and administrators on developing accessible materials. We scanned text book pages, copied them into a closed blog for one student to access and used a text to speech engine and an Mp3 converter. We dragged Mp3's onto a jumpdrive Mp3 player and listened back to the text. We built teacher blogs with odiogo and set up student emails and invited them to join. It was exciting for them to paste widgets into the code side of their blogs and see videos play in and see the text book come alive on the page as they listened to it. They were having some ah-ha moments. The lights were turining on for them.
We were accomplishing great things and as the superintendent of the district sat and watched what we were doing, he too was excited to see the potential. He was ready to see his staff use these blogs and link them on the school site. (Of course then we have to be careful of what text we are scanning and posting - we have to watch out for the copyright violations).
The amazing thing was... I saw that shift happen. The students that these blogs were prepared for will get to have some fun exploring how to do this too.
I asked the teachers to let the students pick some content online and paste it into a blog post and hear it or let them find a video to embed. Let them explore content they are excited about to learn the process of using the tools. Once they use the tools to access what they want to read, hear and see, they will buy in and then they will use the tools for their schoolwork too. If we don't develop the real-life correlation to the use of the tool, we can build all these cool methods for access and then put the most boring thing on earth there and the student will hear "blah, blah, wah, wah, wah".
Here is an example: We had scanned the first page of chapter one of a business english text book. It was exciting to use OCR and see the text ready to hear, but we had some cleaning up of the text to do since the scanning is never 100% perfect. They did some of the editing and I asked them to listen back to what they had. It was the most awful, boring text I had about ever heard or read."If I were the student supposed to use this new way of access and my first introduction to it was this passage, I would tune out just like that - snap." I said. "Why not let the student listen to or find something they want so you get the excitement and buy in?"
A teacher found a horse polo video and embedded it. She also found a short story on Gutenberg.org to add. The creative juices were flowing. We were on our way to getting buy-in from the staff and the administration. The student is next - and that is who this is all for!
So...the shift can begin to take place for this school and this staff, but the shift also has to take place for the students. They have to adjust to the change so they know what they can expect and how they are allowed to access the material - and maybe what they are allowed to access. When the students arrive there, then things really begin to take off.
I will be eager to see what happens in the weeks and months ahead.

All the best to you!


Assistive Technology Blog Carnival is taking posts on a "Back to School" topic. The deadline is Friday, September 26. If you would like to share a blog post with us, check out the details at http://atblogcarnival.blogspot.com/

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Save Fuel, Hold a Virtual Meeting

"Can you please check your schedule and send me some times that you can be available and then I will contact the others?" I had just sent back a response to a second request for a planning meeting over a student, saying I had more scheduling conflicts. The team in this instance has about 8 members and we are having an awful time trying to find a slot when everyone can be at the school for a meeting. This is not an IEP - this is just a planning and strategy time. It involves driving upwards of 100 miles one way for at least one team member who is an OT and covers a wide territory. It would be 50 miles round trip for me - a cost of $25 in gas, multiplied by 8 team members is $400 just to be there for the milege expense - and that is a low figure since many drive more than my 50 miles.
One member emailed in response, "Why don't we just email and try and get what we can get done that way for awhile since we all can't be together at the same time." To which I replied, "I can set up a private, closed chat room online where we can all log in with a password and instant message a meeting. It means we all have to be at a computer at the same time, but we don't have to be in the same room."
"I think, based on our options at this point, the chat room might be the way to go," replied the sped specialist.
I got on Meebo.com, set up a chat room and marked it private - access with password only. I named the room, uploaded a graphic for it, set up a password and submitted it. I had a URL address for the room immediately and emailed it to the team. If they already have Google Talk, Yahoo or MSN Messenger, etc. they can access the new team chat room through their existing IM service, or they can set up a free new Meebo account.
I would like to have video conferencing from laptops set up but we don't have that option set up yet on our work force laptops. Google Talk has an actual voice/audio feature and there are services like Skype, but then we're into microphone land with our team and that can be complicated as well since some don't have them and the built in mic can be poor quality on the IM voice features.
All the things considered, for free, I was able to set up a closed, password protected chat room for team planning in about 5 minutes and send it out to the team. Once everyone becomes members we can see who is online and chat privately over student service issues and progress, etc. The chat room archives a log of the meetings and members times online, etc. so there is also a record of the meetings and who was there. If a parent wants to be involved, a simple email invite can allow access.
The logistics of setting up different chat rooms with different passwords for various schools or students might be something to entertain if you want to ensure that team members from other teams aren't logging in to see the discussion if you are using the samed chatroom across different districts and schools. If they do sign in and they aren't invited, you can see they are there and ask them to log off. I think most of the time I can use mine as a tool and invite folks in from our OT, PT, SLP and Autism staff without worry of someone being in on a meeting they aren't a part of. Since it is closed and we will be inviting team members via email to participate on a certain date and time, I highly doubt we will have any staff there that aren't supposed to be. Still, if it is a concern you might just set it up for that one student and get the whole team, parents and administrators in on it. It will be one way we can not only get around the logistics of meeting dates, but also save on miileage costs.

With fuel the way it is, a big piece of our budget goes to mileage and anywhere we can cut will be great. This also demonstrates to schools and the community that we are trying to use alternative means through technology to save expenses and to be efficient in everything we do.
I plan to implement more of this as the year progresses.

All the best to you!

Monday, September 15, 2008

ADHD Awareness Week

During National ADHD Awareness Week (September 14 - 20), ADDitude magazine is offering a free online information center and support network.

ADDA, CHADD and ADDitude Magazine are promoting the week this year using the theme – "From First Years to Golden Years: AD/HD and Life's Relationships." Free Teleclass Series starts tomorrow:

Time: 9PM (EST)
Toll Free: 888-676-3315
Canada: 513-562-2954
Conference ID: 91333

Website Log In:
Website: http://www.webdialogs.com/join
Conference ID: 91333

Tuesday, September 16th
Speakers: Ari Tuckman & Linda Anderson
Title: "Q and A – Everything You Wanted to Know about AD/HD – But Were Afraid to Ask!"

Wednesday, September 17th
Speaker: Nancy Ratey
Title: "The Disorganized Mind: Coaching Your ADHD Brain to Take Control of Your Time, Tasks, and Talents"

Thursday, September 18th
Speaker: Dr. Stephen Hinshaw
Title: "Q and A – Everything You Wanted to Know about AD/HD – But Didn't Know to Ask!"

Kidthing Gives Free Content for Read Across America

Have you downloaded your free kidthing player yet? Are you getting the free children's literature they pass along to us from month to month? If you can't answer "yes" to these questions and you teach, work with, or have children, you are missing out...big time. I was excited to find out that kidthing is a partner with NEA in giving away FREE downloads of selected books from the NEA Read Across America book list throughout this school year.
The featured free book until September 30 is "The Storytellers Candle" by Lucia Gonzales and Lulu Delacre. These books don't expire and time out so you don't have them anymore, they continue to be in your library. There are more on the way and I will keep you informed as they become available.
The kidthing websiote has the details and they say:
"Pre-school, kindergarten, elementary and junior-high school teachers and librarians are eligible to participate in this program. No purchase is required. Selected books will be available for download only during the calendar month they are featured as the Read Across America book. You will need to download and install the free kidthing player and register with kidthing to receive these books."
On www.kidthing.com/nea , there is a sign up now button where you put in your information to sign up for the NEA book list program. Once you fill in teacher information, you will be prompted to download the player. The player is a new version so if you have the player already, you will be able to also get the new version and re-download your previously purchased material again. If you have purchased a lot of content, the re-downloading of your content might take awhile, which could be kind of a hassle - but at this time I don't think there is any other way to back up your purchases. They ask that you sign in with the same user and password so you get your old purchased content. Maybe they are on a compressed download and then unpack in the re-unstall so it doesn't take too long. I will have to check into this and let you know.

Whenever I post on the kidthing free downloads, they are some of my most popular posts. they continue to be top of the list for folks to read. I hope you will go to one of my archived posts on the initial kidthing review or the interview on blog talk radio with the CEO, Larry Hitchcock.
This exciting children's book player plays interactive books from major publishers right on your computer without having children be on the Internet. You purchase the media and literature you want, download it and play it with the player. It is iTunes for children's books basically - yet it has many elements of social networking with family and friends online in a safe environment to share books, video, pictures and games.
National Geographic Kids, Dr. Seuss and Wee Sing are just a few of the major titles that have agreed to offer kidthing content. If I were a teacher in an elementary classroom again, I would have this on a learning center computer with headphones in a heart beat - and best of all, the titles are very reasonable in price and For your special needs students and students that need support in reading with an engaging medium, kidthing could just be the ticket.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Free Custom Chat Rooms with MeeBo for Professional Development

Meebo is an instant messaging tool that allows you to connect with all your friends and colleagues from Google Talk, Yahoo, Aim, MSN and more. Their logo says, "Instant Messaging Everywhere." You can set up your own chatroom, name it, upload and image, and add a widget code to your blog or site to have it ready to access anytime. Invite others to join and you can start discussing, sharing and planning.
I see applications for this with OT's, PT's and SLP's when we are all spread out in different places. If everyone has been invited and joins as friends and the chat room is private - not public, you can see who is available and ask questions, do planning, etc. You can also set up a a virtual meeting in advance where everyone could join in at a certain time for a planning strategy session.
I have placed a Meebo widget on my sidebar that will show when I am available, called "No Limits 2 Learning AT Chat". You are welcome to visit this public chat room area on my blog sidebar or from the Meebo website. If I am there, ask a question, throw a suggestion or comment my way. I thought it would make a fun experiment.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Simplified Technology is a Gift From Linda Burkhart

80 people sat at tables, each fastening wire to a cookie sheet. Lines of would-be solderers were waiting to solder wires to a mini-plug that would complete a home-made cookie sheet switch with a large bolt on a wire. When the switch was plugged into a Powerlink latch/timer, and a radio (in our case) was plugged into the power, the contact of the metal bolt with the metal sheet created a circuit that made the radio play. We used open file folders trimmed to the size of the sheet as "stencils" to cut out tracing patterns for the kids to practice letters, mazes, any kind of fine motor and hand/eye coordination activities. The reward...music, a toy, or something that would be a response - as long as they stayed within the lines.
Even though I attended this workshop 2 years ago, I still use my cookie sheet switch. In fact, I demonstrated it to a group of early intervention and early childhood sped teachers last week and several were writing down the parts they needed to make one.
Attending one of Linda's workshops is an adventure in creating wonderful things out of everyday junk-drawer items. She uses sponges, pvc, cottage cheese containers, battery fans from the dollar store, foam place mats and velcro to create games and activities that really engage kids.
Linda has a long history as a therapist who integrated low tech and switch access to develop cause and effect games and activities. She has logged hours of video to show case histories and examples of her work with children and how she found the spark that triggered a reaction that gave a foothold for developing communication.
On "Teaching Learners with Multiple Special Needs", one of my favorite blogs, there was a post today on low tech eye gaze and mounting. There were some great resources there and it jogged my memory about Linda's workshop. We had built a pvc eye gaze stand that day as well, and I have it in my equipment closet. It is nice because it can break apart easily to tote with you for sessions with students and it is inexpensive to build. I will have to look for the plans or create my own from the stand so you can make one. We also made a pvc frame to wrap around a laptop base with a flat cover over the laptop so you can velcro switches to it and use them with cause and effect activites. The cover hides all the keys and buttons from children with wandering fingers.
I would go to see Linda's workshops again in a heartbeat. She has been a pioneer in switch access and has several software activities she designed in the Intellitools Classroom Suite package with overlays for the Intellikeys board. Check out her site, Simplified Technology, and look through the make it yourself and handouts area. It is full of free resources. You should also check through her books and resources for sale. I have a couple of CD's I bought that are absolutely packed with activities and guides to make and use them. Her wealth of knowledge, compassion for special needs kids and her resources online are a gift to us. If you haven 't discovered her services and resources, it is high-time you did!

All the best to you,

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Notescribe Now has More Power in Premium Version

Creating a data base with custom tags and references for your research just got a shot of steroids. Higher Symmetry, creator of Notescribe, the searchable, custom data base software has just released a new premium version.
The original version allowed the user to create one data base with various categories. The new Premium version allows the user to create as many seperate data bases as they want. There are other features as well, but based on my conversations with Jeff, that seemed to be the main feature of the premium release.
Now you can have a data base for recipes, a data base for movies, a data base for science topics, etc. and do it all with a very user-friendly interface. I am excited to say that the company has been working on a way to allow a text to speech engine work with the program so those with visual impairments can hear their notes. I have to commend them for this. They stepped up to the plate and have put some energy and time into this development. I feel good about supporting a company that is willing to listen and work on accessibility features at folks' request. Thanks Jeff!
I do a lot of searches online where I find and copy text for notes off onto Word documents. With Notescribe I can do the same copy/paste, but put it in a searchable system for retrieval and have my sources listed as well. It takes the same amount of time, but now instead of folders full of Word docs, I have one system and it is searchable by keywords I build in.
I interviewed Jeff Sholl, the CEO of Higher Symmetry Software and creator of Notescribe a while back with a segment "Organizing Your World with Notescribe". He had mentioned that a new premium package was coming. He also said that anyone who has purchased the original Notescribe can upgrade to the new for the difference in price. This is a great tool and the basic and premium versions are available in a trial download for free. If you already have the basic version, you can trial the premium add on for a 10 days to do a test drive. The cost to upgrade from basic is just $15.
I have a big day today at our Children's Rodeo for Special Needs Kids. I will be getting some great interviews and stories to share, so stay connected for results of that. I have several other items of interest that I will be sharing later this week as well. I Hope you have a great Wednesday!

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Free Mouseless Browsing, Key and Super Search Shortcuts

One of the challenges I have is working with students that need a way to navigate a computer without a mouse. Because of orthopedic impairments, getting around with a mouse is difficult. For some of us, it doesn't matter whether we have an impairment or that it's just that we don't want to do extra- we like to work with as little hand wandering as possible. And let's face it - it gets a little tiring reaching for that mouse all the time.
Well, I found a mouseless browsing add-on to Firefox by Rudolf Noe that imbeds a small number id to each link on the browser page. When I hold down Ctrl and type the number, the cursor goes there and the link either opens or the search window opens to type a word into it. It is pretty slick. One thing I found though was that when I navigated around the page with the id numbers, sometimes my page up and down wouldn't scroll the page anymore - I probably need to just work with it some more.

Key Shortcuts for Firefox
If you want to get around more mouse-lessly beyond the id tags with the mouseless browsing add-in, you can use some nifty shortcuts, for example:
Ctrl + L highlights the location bar/URL address window
Ctrl + K highlights the search bar window
Okay, and get this one...once you have used the Ctrl+K to get to the search bar, keep holding down the Ctrl key and use the up and down arrows to scroll through different search engine sites. You will see Google, Yahoo, Answers, Ebay, Amazon, etc. Try it!
Ctrl + F takes you to the find window at the bottom where you can type in a word and find all its instances on the page.
I can't take the credit for knowing these myself. There are these and more great tricks on the Lifehacker post "Hack Attack: Mouse-less Firefox".

Super Search Shortcuts with YubNub
Go to YubNub - "A (Social) command line for the web." You WILL be amazed...
You can type in commands to do all your searches. For example:
gim = google image. You type in gim (leave a space) and then whatever you want to see images of , like this: "gim football" takes me quickly to a page full of football images from Google Images. Amazon = am; Wikipedia = wp; and so on. The list is on their home page. On top of that, you can create your own commands to be personalized searches you use frequently.
If you would rather work directly from Firefox instead of from the YubNub page, you can download a YubNub bar that goes into the add-in area as another choice on your search bar. the link is here. On this link there are directions how to put it in the MS Internet Explorer and Safari too.
Mouseless tasks can make life a little easier if you get in the habit of using them. Blind folks live with these types of tasks and shortcuts all the time when working with JAWS and navigating on the screen. Using them (and remembering them) makes me appreciate the effort that goes into using the computer for folks that are blind or visually impaired. If we sighted folks put out a little more effort we can get familiar with many shortcuts that will make life easier, and for those with orthopedic issues, allow working in a lot smaller workspace and save some of their fatigue.

All the best to you!

Lon is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Monday, September 8, 2008

How to Create Audio Books for Free and Low Cost

I was listening to an Mp3 I had downloaded recently from a national talk radio show that I enjoy. They had been interviewing an author and it was the time in the show when folks can call in and share opinions, ask questions, etc. A caller was put on the air and he said: "I am a blind person, and I love listening to your show. I would love to read your book but I have to have it in another format on tape or Braille. I get books from American Printing House and I wondered if I can get your book someway."
The author said he didn't have his books in an audio version but he would send anyone a book for free that was blind if they wanted to have someone read it on a tape recorder or something, but he didn't know anything about books for the blind and couldn't do Braille. The caller had sounded like someone who didn't really know about the technology available to them. Neither did the host or the author.
I was listening to an archived file of the interview several days after the fact and wished I could have called in and given some tips. I guess because I work in AT, I assume most people who need access to tools already know about them and that I am not sharing anything new - but I need to stop assuming that. I am giving a presentation this afternoon to a group of folks in special education that don't know how to do this at all. Since I am not able to call in and answer the gentleman's question that called in, I'll share with you. I know I have shared this before, but for new readers, here it goes:

In order to do the things I suggest, you need the following:
1. A computer - that is a given!
2. A Scanner - the scanner can be a 4 in one printer/fax/photocopier/scanner, or a dedicated flatbed scanner. You can buy a new one for around $65 at the big general stores like Target, Wal-Mart, etc. Make sure it has OCR (Optical Character recognition).
3. A FREE text reader. I use Read Natural. You are stuck with the voices on your computer until you purchase the upgrade. The upgrade pay version has great voices AND an Mp3 converter tool - very cool.
4. An Mp3 player - This is optional. You can hear the text on a computer for free, but if you want something portable, you will want one of these. What I like is that these little jump-drive players use the USB port right into the computer, no cables or wires (except the headphones). You can then open the device on the computer screen and drag and drop in converted e-text files to listen to. I bought a little jump-drive RCA makes. I can drag and drop music or documents from my computer right onto the jump drive and then listen to them from the player - quick and easy. It cost $29.95 and has1 Gig Memory. This is a lot better than using an iPod and iTunes and having to sync your device and build playlists etc. I have an iPod and I find I don't use it to listen to quick downloaded talk shows, articles, converted files, etc. because the iPod doesn't lend itself to on-the-fly syncing.

If you have a book, but no audio version what do you do?
In this instance, you can scan the pages using the scanner with OCR that will recognize the text and turn it into an RTF (Rich Text Format). It will open in a Windows, Mac or Linux operating system. After you scan the text you can use your free downloaded Natural Reader to hear the text read to you. You have to open the mini toolbar that floats on the screen and the highlight the text and let it read - or you can open the reading window and paste the text in to be read.

Converting Text to Mp3
There are tools out there that can take your text and convert it to an Mp3 file. There is the Natural Reader upgrade I already mentioned above. Premier Literacy has an Mp3 conversion button on several of their readers and has a program called "Text to Audio" for $69.95 that will convert large amounts of text and create sections every 10 minutes or when you specify. The Kurzweil 3000 has a text to Mp3 feature also but the program costs about $1200 - $1500.

A work-around buying software to convert text to Mp3 is to start a blog just for this purpose - like I have with My Reading Chair and copy paste your text into a post. Add the Odiogo free player onto your blog and then be able to download your text as an Mp3 format onto your computer for free.
Anyone can do this, but one caution: If you are scanning copyrighted text, there is a fair use allowance for the owner of a book to adapt the text for their own private use, BUT - If you use a blog, you need to keep it closed to others and delete the post as soon as you have your converted text to Mp3 files so you are not opening it up to the world-wide-web. That would definitely be a copyright violation! Also, if you are scanning a book and creating files of audio text you need to keep it for your own use and not give it to others.
If a book is in public domain, you are fine to do what you want with it. Gutenberg.org is a great source for public domain works and many titles have audio versions ready to download for free.

I hope this has helped some of you get to accessing some books and listening - I know I am having a lot of fun with it and it helps me and my students.
All the best,

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

SpeEdChange: Learning to give up...

SpeEdChange: Learning to give up...

How "hard" is it to learn a language? Check out Ira's post for a great reminder of the intricacies involved in learning to match symbols and sounds. Watch the "I Love Lucy" clip!

Thanks Ira!

Children's Rodeo Brings Special Needs Children a Day With a Cowboy

The Cowboys Are Coming!

One of my favorite times of the year is here. Every year, the second week of September, the town of Pendleton, Oregon turns into a cowboy Mardi Gras where the Pendleton Round-up resides. Started in 1910, the rodeo is one of the oldest and largest in the world.
Boasting a large purse of prize money, professional rodeo cowboy atheletes come to compete from all over the world. It is in this setting, that the Round up Association and my employer, Umatilla Morrow Education Service District co-sponsor a special rodeo for special needs children.

The pro cowboys volunteer to take a child through a circuit of activities out in the arena. From roping to riding, these children get to rub elbows with real cowboys and spend some time making a cowboy dream come true.You can read all about the Children's Rodeo on the UMESD Website.

The director, Karen Parker will be my guest on No Limits 2 Learning Live on Blog Talk Radio next Monday, September 8 at 10 am Pacific. The archive will be available on the sidebar of my blog afterwards.
I will be interviewing cowboys, kids and parents during the event next week and putting a podcast together to share highlights in the next couple of weeks.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Finding the Right Assistive Technology

I slid the slider with my mouse and watched the numbers roll forwards to 70%, slid the slider the other way and went to 20%. What was I selecting? The degree of summarization being applied to convert text with the PDF Equalizer from Premier Literacy. When I decided on a percentage and allowed it to summarize, a new window opened with the summarization of the text. The text reader read the text to me and my first thought was, "Where have you been all my life? Where were you in my college days?!!"
I have heard some criticism of these tools because they cost money and some folks believe there should be free tools for support and accommodation for the impaired so they can access text just like anyone else - and it shouldn't cost them. The Premier Literacy Company has their grant program to give district licenses for their software suite. Any home computers of students can use a password from the district to get that current version for free at home too. I know that once a person is out of school, they lose that school umbrella of benefit - but there are other avenues.

I for one, would LOVE to see accessibility tools for free and there are quite a few open source tools as well as free "trials" that don't expire, and also online tools for browsers, etc. But I do believe that we can either access the free basic tools and survive, or we can have some nicer tools if we choose to pay for them.The folks that design many of these programs have to make a living too - and some of them are blind or visually impaired, and this is how they make their living. I feel good knowing I am contributing to their efforts to be independent and free to provide for themselves. So I guess it all depends on how you want to look at it. Both have their merit and neither is wrong.I really don't want to make this blog a place to pitch products, but I do want to share on different tools I am testing and using, give feedback and allow readers to check out their options.
A few months ago I was working with the Microsoft tool that saves Word documents as DAISY files. With the help of the company, we were able to figure out the process of transferring a text from a Word document to a DAISY formatted talking book file. Now that was all free - except you had to have MS Word already to utilize it. (I need to work on a tutorial to explain that - I promised I would...)
This past week, I shared excitement with a high school teacher as he blew the dust off a flatbed scanner with OCR (Optical Character Recognition), scanned a worksheet, opened it up and had the Natural Reader toolbar read the scanned text to him. That was all free - except he had to have the scanner. They are as low as $60 - 70 these days.
So there are ways to get your text into an audible format - it is just that there are SO many ways that it gets overwhelming. Should I use Kurzweill 3000, Premier Literacy, free tools and my scanner? I guess it comes down to:
1. Who is the person using it?
2. Where are they going to use it?
3. What are they needing it to do?
4. What bundle of technology and software best serves the first three issues?
This is sometimes called the SETT approach: Student, Tools, Tasks & Tools.

We will be asking the above 4 questions with an elementary boy in a team setting here soon. We will be, once again, nailing down what tools to access print and writing might work for this student. Each one of these kids are different and their needs are so diverse that I need to customize my thinking one child at a time. In the meantime I can go play a little with the AT gadgets and software I manage. That's one of the reasons I love this job -and I still like that incredible summary tool!

All the best to you!


Lon is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Taking a Closer Look at the Dynavox InterACCT System

Yesterday I had a great interview with Linnea McAfoose from Dynavox. She shared on the InterACCT system that is the foundation of the Series 5 software on their AAC devices. I made the comment on yesterday's blog that I thought they sold the software for laptops as a stand-alone item, but I was wrong - they don't. Through some comments and emails, I was alerted to my error - I stand corrected. I am so glad some of you took the time to inform me. It is nice to hear from folks and get your input on things. You can get a trial CD with the full version on a 180 day expiration through a Dynavox representative. I would suggest going to their website: http://www.dynavoxtech.com/ to find out who a representative in your area would be.

During the interview Linnea clearly shared her passion about communication development and language growth with students. I asked a couple of hard questions: "Why did you choose Dynavox?" "Being an expert, what is your conviction as to why you chose to work with the Dynavox system? What reasons do you have that caused you to support the Dynavox AAC over other devices?"
Linnea shared that the software on the devices has been developed in conjunction with researchers and groups that use devices and know what really needs to be there. She also said that the team that designed the new software had let themselves dream big as to what they would want if they could "have it all" in a high-end AAC device. They wanted to be able to make the system easily understandable and quickly accessible - not something that is always possible with technologies today.

The way that a beginner is taught to use an AAC device has just as much to do with the success of the device as the bells and whistles and elements in the system contained in the device. Linnea stressed that we need to use age-appropriate content and situations to teach and use a device. There are over 2000 new vocabulary words added to a child's vocabulary each year at school and at home in the k through grade 12 years. This includes curriculum content and new trends, pop culture terms and other words that crop up in daily life as well. Trying to keep up with this is a challenge in using an AAC device, but the company is striving to work on developing a way to include this element through the InterACCT system.

The interview with Linnea is crammed full of good concepts on developing language with a device and I would recommend listening to the archive. You can access this segment on the No Limits 2 Learning live player on the sidebar of my blog or at the Blog Talk Radio Site for the show.
All the best to you!

Lon is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Options in Using a Laptop for AAC

I get email questions from time to time. Folks ask a variety of questions concerning equipment, software and AT evaluations, advocacy, etc. I recently received a question that I felt might be good to share with everyone:
"What software can you purchase that would make the laptop function similarly to the Dynavox. So far, we're interested in Speaking Dynamically Pro. What do you think of this program and do you have any other suggestions?"
Great question! With the prices on dynamic display devices upwards to $7000, using a laptop can be an alternative. I have used laptops with Boardmaker Speaking Dynamically Pro, and it has a lot of potential. There is a lot of work that has to be put into building the communication sets/pages you want - but it can be done. A lot of thought and planning go into the software that comes loaded on devices and you can get ideas off of demo software and Internet sites to spark your own ideas with SDP. The program is about $649.
Dynavox sells its Series 5 software to load on a laptop. This gives you a chance to demo the whole system on the Dynavox devices on your laptop to get a feel for how it works. I got a free trial CD from our Oregon state representative from Dynavox. You might want to give the trial a try and see what you think. Also, if you do get the Boardmaker SDP, there is a CD called Velocity for about $399 that has sets ready to go - but you have to use the SDP with it and by the time you get the SDP @ $649 and the Velocity at $350 - you are in the $1000 range - maybe the Dynavox System 5 software is comporable.
Another thing to think about is that Dynavox has the Boardmaker Bridge that allows you to add sets you build with the SDP onto a Dynavox V Series. Since Mayer Johnson (which makes the Boardmaker products) and Dynavox are the same company now, there have been efforts to blend the devices with the software tools to provide a complete package. This effort has seemed to pay off. There are some great tools available through this company.
I have built speech device style branching topics with PowerPoint, although there is no way to access the choices other than a mouse. There is no scanning to make choices in PowerPoint. I am working on some basic communication pages with Powerpoint to provide in the future so check in for more on that as I get them put together. I have a video tutorial on how to assign sound and set up the basics of a communication board on the link above. You might want to check that out.
There really is no substitute for a dynamic display device, but if you are up to the challenge of building your own communication pages on a laptop to save money, it can be done.

All the best to you!

Lon Thornburg is a guest contributor, sharing from his blog, No Limits to Learning which celebrates human potential through assistive technology. He also has a talk show, No Limits 2 Learning Live on Blog Talk Radio.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Guest Shares Effective Strategies for Developing Language and Communication with AAC

Developing AAC supports for students with communication disabilities at an early age is becoming an important strategy for me in my region. We have several students at the high school level that are finally getting devices that are way overdue. If we can begin to support our students early on - in kindergarten and first grade, we can lay a foundation for them to grow and develop with their peers.
Linnea McAfoose, CCC-SLP, is an expert in developing strategies for language development and communication. In fact, she has been working on the Dynavox team as co-designer of the software series that is placed on the dynamic display devices. She has played an important role in the InterACCT framework which is a part of the Series 5 software for the Dynavox dynamic display devices.
Linnea will be on No Limits 2 Learning Live tomorrow, Wednesday, September 3 at 10:00 a.m.
You can call in with questions on the live stream or listen to the archive afterwards. I am looking forward to hearing her share about the system and how it moves from supporting beginning communicators all the way through advanced communication. The system grows with the user and has many adaptable features.
Join our visit and hear strategies for developing language and communication with the students and dependents in your care.

All the best to you!

Lon is an assistive technology specialist and professional development trainer who lives in Oregon and serves 12 districts in 7 counties. He hosts the No Limits 2 Learning Blog and The No Limits 2 Learning Live Talk Show on Blog Talk Radio. He is sharing as a contributing writer on LD LIVE!