Friday, January 16, 2009

Assistive Technology Comes with Some Good Tears

I drove down the Eastern Slope of the Blue Mountain Range, into the vast expanse of the Grand Ronde Valley, on through Ladd Canyon, past the Elkhorn Mountains and finally arrived at the Haines, North Powder cut-off. Here is where, to the right, another 25 minutes gets you to the Anthony Lakes Ski Lodge, and to the left, a small rural school complex in a mountain town - my destination.

I was there to help the special education teacher at the high school level and a regional speech pathologist build blogs to convert text to Mp3 and then load the e-text on jump Mp3 players that had been purchased for them through their ESD for servicing print disability and given out in a training I had done in early December. These teachers were chomping at the bit to get started.
I was surprised and happy to have the superintendent join us for a discussion on what tools and options were available for them. We discussed, who qualifies and who doesn't , the ins and outs of public domain titles versus copyright material, scanning text and converting, etc.
By the time we got to the computers to get the blogs up and going, the team was looking to get a district Bookshare account for their qualified students and begin to trial a Natural Reader pay version with Mp3 conversion and some wonderful voices.

We set up Gmail accounts and then the Blogger accounts. We went to to find public domain titles to publish and then copied and pasted them into Word documents for clean-up. We then pasted each of 4 chapters into blog posts. Once we had the posts published, we added the Odiogo widget which turns a post into an audio broadcast and allows you to download the audio as an Mp3 files.

The excitement built as we plugged in the USB jump drive RCA Mp3 players and dragged the Mp3 files of their chapters onto the device. As the sped teacher turned it on and listened, her face lit up..."It's on there!" she exclaimed as if she couldn't believe it.
"You did it!" I said.
Tears began to well up in her eyes as she heard the recording of Huck Finn Chapter 1.
"I can't believe we actually got to be able to do it the next time!" she said.
I tried to re-assure her, "Oh, you won't have any problem. Besides, you have the tutorials to walk you through and you can always get in touch with me."
I left with another scheduled training coming up on bookshare and downloading the files and using the free player software.

As I left, I thought about the small welling of tears that were held back at that magic moment when all the focus, effort and concentration paid off. Wow. I need to remember how important and special this is for folks. I use this technology everyday and after awhile I can take it for granted. Here was a small town school, grateful for the tools and training, appreciating what they were entrusted to share with their staff and students.

Days like these make me thrilled I get to do what I do.

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!


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