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AT Program News
News for and from the State AT Act Programs, the Alternative Financing Programs, and their community partners
September/October 2010 "Back to School"
In This Issue
Colorado's Device Loan Program for Schools
Toolbox: AT for Making Reading and Writing Tasks Easier for Individuals with Rheumatoid Arthritis
12 Online Resources for AT for Education
Hot Resource: ATIA Conference Discount Code
Low-Tech Tip for Teaching Art: Table Tents!
Tips for Your Online Device Loan Listings from Colorado's AT Partners
Did You Know?: Vermont's AT School Swap Gains Traction
Nifty Product: AT Consideration Quick Wheel
Colorado's Device Loan Program for Schools

In Colorado, the Department of Education funds a comprehensive short-term device loan program and partners with the state's AT Act program at the University of Colorado Denver to run it. The program is a national model and distinguishes itself for providing access not only to device loans, but also to extensive professional development, technical assistance, and for marketing its services down to the level of the IEP team. In August, ATPN spoke with AT Partner's Christina Perkins, MA CCC-SLP, and Sarah Barthel, MS, to learn about the Loan Bank: how it got started, how it operates, the case they are building for its cost-effectiveness, and what they have learned about getting the right equipment to school-aged students with disabilities statewide. The following was gleaned from that conversation.

SWAAAC History

The Loan Bank has grass roots origins. In the early 1980s a group of Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) organized to convince the Colorado Department of Education to fund a statewide program to enable better services for students who use Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Through word of mouth, the program soon attracted interest from therapists and educators working with students with all kinds of disabilities.  Originally known as SWAAC, SWAAAC now includes an extra "A" for "Statewide Assistive Technology and Augmentative and Alternative Communication."

In 1986 SWAAAC team members convinced the Colorado Department of Education to invest in the Loan Bank. A device loan bank, they argued, would help them identify the right equipment for students, and help them demonstrate to schools why providing comprehensive AT evaluations is cost-effective. It would allow for trial and error as therapists work to "feature-match" devices to a student's specific abilities and ensure that a device works well in all environments.

Today the Loan Bank makes possible systematic device trials by SWAAAC team members in Colorado's schools as well as Early Intervention specialists and participating Dept. of Vocational Rehabilitation counselors. In 1998 the Dept. of Education contracted with AT Partners at the University of Colorado Denver to manage the SWAAAC program.

Loan Bank Overview
  • Approximately 1800 devices are available for loan.
  • Devices are provided for 6 week terms (including 2 weeks for shipping) with an option for one extension if there is no waiting list.
  • 88% of devices are stored, maintained, and shipped from AT Partners in Denver. 
  • 12% are maintained in Grand Junction, one of AT Partners' two regional satellites.
  • The online loan bank inventory is available for browsing by anyone.
  • The online "storefront" allows registered users to make loan requests (these include SWAAAC team coordinators, registered Early Intervention consultants, and registered Vocational Rehabilitation counselors).
  • SWAAAC's policies and procedures are reviewed and agreed to online with each loan request. This is known as the "Team Agreement."
  • Software licenses are also managed through this Team Agreement. Users agree to uninstall any software provided through the Loan Bank at the end of the loan term.
Read the rest of Colorado's Device Loan Bank for Schools

Toolbox: Assistive Technology for Making Reading and Writing Tasks Easier for Individuals with Rheumatoid Arthritis

Photo of Elsa M. OrellanoThanks to Elsa M. Orellano, Ph.D., OTR/L, ATP of Puerto Rico's AT Program (PRATP) for compiling these devices, strategies, and resources and contributing them to ATPN.

The following strategies can help increase independence and minimize the joint stress and degeneration associated with writing and reading activities for individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.
  1. Writing
  • Child using angular clip board to writeAngular Surfaces provide arm and forearm support while writing and help to keep a proper head and neck position.

  • Pencil grips
    Hand using a rubber pencil grip with pencil on notepapermanufactured in rubber or plastic, these provide a stable grip, increase writing coordination and precision, achieve a better pencil grip posture, and decrease the strength needed to manipulate writing tools. Foam, such as air conditioning pipe insulation or Styrofoam spheres, are effective for providing a better grip, better than wrapping a pencil with tape. On the market these items are available in different forms, so the student should have the opportunity to experiment with different types of pencil grips.
  • Carbon Paper allows the student to have a copy of the notes taken by other students in his or her class(es). This strategy helps compensate for writing difficulties during lectures.

  • Voice Recorders compensate for writing challenges, preventing joint stress on the hands. They can be used to record classes, document information, or task instructions. After class, the student can copy the recorded information without time pressure and with needed breaks to avoid hand pain and fatigue.
Read more AT for Reading and Writing...
hand on laptop keyboard12 Online Resources for AT for Education
  1. UDL Tech Toolkit. This is a very, very deep resource of FREE "universal design for learning" tools! Categories include: apps, audio books, free text-to-speech, graphic organizers, multimedia and digital storytelling, study skills tools, literacy tools, writing tools, collaborative tools, research tools, math tools, and tools to compensate for handwriting issues. This Wikispace is organized by Karen Janowski (an assistive and educational technology consultant in MA) and Joyce Valenza (a librarian extraordinaire in PA). Janowski also has a highly recommended blog: Teaching Every Student.

  2. WatchKnow. Free Educational Videos for K-12 Students to support the UDL classroom. The site aims to index and organize 50,000 educational videos by the end of 2010!  Each video is categorized and accompanied by a description, age level information, and rating. The site is maintained by teachers and librarians and is foundation supported. Brought to us by a co-founder of Wikipedia, Larry Sanger. Videos are not often captioned.

  3. The Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO). This site, from the University of Buffalo, provides information on AT applications that help students with disabilities learn in elementary classrooms; it includes online tutorials, AT planning tools, and links. Funded by OSERS.

  4. Need AT for Math? Check out this great video posted at the Virginia Department of Education's Training and Technical Assistance Center (T/TAC) at VCU's Assistive Technology Blog. "Sometimes we just need a little memory jog to remind us of some AT solutions we might consider when students are struggling in math..."

  5. LD OnLine - Technology. Many good articles about the use of technology for students with learning disabilities. Included are general information, technology reviews, classroom applications, and information on making the right decisions when integrating technology.

  6. A.T.TIPScast is an audio podcast produced by Christopher Bugaj, co-author of The Practical and Fun Guide to AT in Public Schools. The podcast is also practical and fun and usually less than 10 minutes long.
Read the rest of 12 Online Resources for AT for Education
Hot Resource: ATIA Conference Discount

ATIA 2010 Chicago: October 27-30. Click here to learn more! with image of nightime Chicago skylineATIA, the Assistive Technology Industry Association, is holding its annual Chicago conference on October 27th-30th, 2010, and its Orlando conference January 26th-29th, 2011.

To receive a $30.00 discount on the cost of registration for either conference, use discount code: APCH.

ATIA conferences feature more than 100 exhibitors of the latest products and services as well as valuable educational programs strands.

Learn more about ATIA 2010 Chicago
Learn more about ATIA 2011 Orlando
Low-Tech Tip for Teaching Art: Table Tents!

Thanks to Katie Ablard, MS OTR/L, for sending ATPN this tip for the art room. Ablard is a school-based occupational therapist for Maryland's Montgomery County public schools.

Table tents are a simple strategy to support visual learners in the art classroom. In the typical art classroom, multi-step instructions are given verbally at the beginning of each class. With table tents, these instructions are written out and/or presented graphically in a step-by-step format.

Some art teachers will make enough table tents for each table or pair of students. To make a table tent:
  1. Print out the directions on the bottom half of an 8 � x 11" piece of paper.
  2. Fold the piece of paper in half.
  3. Place the paper standing upright at the table and, voila, a table tent.
table tent with steps for creating a coil pot and photo of a completed pot.

Students with autism, in particular, benefit when instructions are presented visually, but all students with difficulties following multi-step directions can benefit from table tents. Younger students can benefit from pictures/picture symbols to indicate each step, while students who are able to read can often use a simple list of written directions to know what to do.

Table tents reinforce reading skills: sight word vocabulary and art vocabulary. They also help a teacher to be extremely clear, concise, and explicit in his or her directions to the whole group. For many students, an explanation with fewer words yields greater understanding. 

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Tips for Your Online Device Loan Listings from Colorado's AT Partners

1. Spotlight devices that have no waiting list. The SWAAAC Loan Bank website includes a "Spotlight Items" page to help build awareness of devices that are effective, but not well known. The program reports that once spotlighted, these devices tend to move quickly and even develop their own waiting lists. The spotlights are particularly successful when they provide classroom suggestions for how devices may be used. The "Spotlight Items" page is updated monthly.

2. Consider an "ask a question" link with each device listing. SWAAAC browsers use these to reach the SWAAAC help desk to learn more.

3. Consider a "tell a friend" link with each device listing. SWAAAC browsers can easily share device ideas with colleagues and others thanks to this feature.

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Did You Know?

Vermont's AT School Swap Gains Traction

AT School Swap logo with school building and recycling arrows

Vermont is taking a reuse approach to helping improve access to AT in schools. Sharon Alderman, the VT AT Reuse Project Coordinator, now has 23 Vermont Supervisory Unions signed up to begin swapping, lending, and donating equipment to one another through the Vermont AT School Swap. The program began, Alderman reports, in response to a need articulated by school personnel: as a way to share equipment among schools and keep assistive technology in the hands of students who benefit from using it.

Vermont is one of several states working on the AT School Swap concept. A consortium of six New England states worked together to first create, the Assistive Technology Exchange of New England. That Craig's List-styled reuse website spurred the idea for a reuse site that might serve schools and districts, a web-based tool to help organize AT inventories (uploaded by schools), and advertise equipment needs as well as equipment available for loan, donation, or trade. "What we heard from educators and administrators," Alderman emphasizes, "is the need to keep devices in circulation once students graduate or move out of district, provide professional support--a way to learn from each other about how the equipment worked in a real classroom--and also a way to better afford expensive equipment to enhance the learning experience."

The states are sharing resources and ideas. Arlene Lugo, director of the Connecticut Tech Act project, took the lead with developing the concept and with creating an ATSS website prototype based on the GetATStuff platform. Now the Massachusetts AT Act program has received a Shapiro Foundation grant that will help fund improvements to this prototype for the Massachusetts context, improvements that will be made available to the other states.

"This kind of systems change takes time, but in Vermont ATSS is beginning to gain traction," Alderman says. She also likes to quote Liz Persaud, training and development coordinator at the Pass It On Center: "'Begin with the end in mind,' is what she always says. The reports that many students and professionals are getting devices they need is inspiring." 

While the website is not yet fully functional, Alderman is signing up schools, registering users, and distributing a monthly email digest to school-based participants. The email includes a spread sheet of AT needs and AT that is currently available. It also motivates readers with a success vignette about a completed school exchange and the impact it is having for a student with a disability.

Attendees of ATIA Chicago 2010 can learn more about Vermont's ATSS and talk with Sharon Alderman. She will be part of a presentation with the Pass It On Center entitled, "Effective AT Reuse in School Systems" on October 29th. Her talk will focus on the pros and cons of beginning an exchange system for schools with a website component. 

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Nifty Product: AT Consideration Quick Wheel
Don't forget the AT!

AT consideration quick wheel

Specifically designed to help IEP teams as they consider the student's need for assistive technology, the wheel:

1. Presents valuable information about assistive technology in an easy-to-understand format.

2. Provides useful resources.

Created by the Technology and Media Division of the Council for Exceptional Children (TAM). TAM reports that more than 100,000 copies of this tool have been distributed nationwide. Cost is $7.95 plus shipping. Find it at this Exceptional Innovations webpage.
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