ATPN logo: outline of USA lit up like a lightbulb by a red switch.

AT Program News
News for and from the State AT Act Programs, the Alternative Financing Programs, and their community partners

Fall 2011 "Back to School"   
In This Issue
California's Taking Action for Accommodations
Igniting Student Writing with Storybird
Free Stuff: My Study Bar
Beyond the Apps Store!
Nifty Products: The Kids' Project
10 Things Every School District Should Know About AT
Spending Down ARRA? Words of Wisdom from Fred Tchang
ReThinking: He Doesn't Want to be Seen as Different from Karen Janowski

California's Taking Action For Accommodations

AT advocacy gets a shot of adrenaline with this youth-led back-to-school campaign

Y.O. Disabled and Proud logo with fist as an exclamation mark.

This year California's AT Network is partnering with an energized, youth-led, advocacy campaign to educate students with disabilities on their rights to assistive technology.   


The campaign, Take Action for Accommodations, was launched last year by Youth Organizing! Disabled and Proud (YO!). Both AT Network and YO! are programs of the California Foundation of Independent Living Centers (CFILC). YO! launched the campaign after CFILC became aware that state budget cuts were putting the civil rights of community college students in jeopardy.  


"We began educating the community right away about the cuts, and heard from students that they were getting accommodation denial letters," explains CFILC Executive Director Teresa Favuzzi. "The campaign was born out of decisions that policy makers made."   


Today the depth of the problem is well understood. According to the California Association for Postsecondary Education and Disability, while the community college system has experienced cuts averaging about 2.5%, the system has cut disability services more than 40%. As result there have been delays of up to 7 weeks for accommodations, and in some cases outright denials.


Mobility assistance, readers, note takers, large print books, audio books, sign language interpreters, captioning, campus transport services and other essential accommodations are being delayed or denied, putting the academic careers of students with disabilities at risk (TA4A Fact Sheet)


AT Network Director Kim Cantrell teaches within this system and reports hearing first-hand from students how disability services is turning them away. "They're telling them they can't serve anymore students. Yet legally, under Section 504 of the Rehab. Act, they have to serve them."


The fundamental right to equal education for people with disabilities is guaranteed under both federal and state law (Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Section 11135 of the California Government Code). Budget difficulties do not relieve the state or the community college system from the responsibility to provide reasonable accommodations (TA4A Fact Sheet)


The cause, however, is helping to energize YO!--a membership organization of over 300 teens and young adults with disabilities. In the spring of 2010, YO! launched TA4A in partnership with Disability Rights California (DRC, the state's protection and advocacy agency). This year they are working with another legal partner, Disability Rights Advocates.  


Here is how the campaign has evolved, what's been learned so far, and links to YO!'s other school-related initiatives:    


Initial TA4A campaign strategy

  • to reach out to graduating high school seniors and current community college students with disabilities;
  • to educate them about their rights to accommodations;
  • to train them to get students involved on their own campuses who, like themselves, may have been denied services; and
  • to assist students with filing complaints with the U.S. Dept. of Education's Office of Civil Rights (OCR) under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. 

"We won't change the situation if we don't show that enough students with disabilities are impacted"--YO! Organizer Christina Mills


Key campaign activities:

  • In October of 2010, DRC and YO! provided a training on accommodations and Section 504 at the 5 Disability Rights California offices: San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, Sacramento, Oakland. The trainers were in Oakland and the other sites were included via video-conference.
  • Attendees were encouraged to train others on their local campuses and file their own complaints as appropriate. (Check out this TA4A Web page for the "Campaign Resources and Organizers Toolbox"). 

Results to date:

  • 75+ students and parents have been trained. 
  • 7-10 community college campuses are now active with the campaign.
  • Nearly 50 complaints have been filed with OCR.

Lessons learned

"Looking back I would have thought about collecting student stories and experiences myself and then shared them as a group with OCR," reports Organizer Christina Mills. "Students feel safer about sharing their stories with a third-party versus filing a first-hand complaint with OCR." Mills reports that students felt vulnerable to retaliation when filing a complaint, particularly those in smaller rural communities.   


A new partner helps shift the strategy 


YO! is now collaborating with another legal advocacy group, Disability Rights Advocates (DRA), to engage students to share their experiences.


"We were about to change our campaign strategy when we noticed that Disability Rights Advocates [had] sent out a call for students experiencing denial of services," explains Mills. "DRA is taking anonymous complaints which is different than what OCR require[s]. We're hoping that more students will come forward with their stories if they know their information is secure." If DRA can get enough evidence to show that accommodations complaints are an issue, then they will look into taking further legal action.    


More YO! advocacy 


YO! has two additional campaigns, both relevant to back-to-school: 

 For more information:


 Contact: Kim Cantrell, director, AT Network


Igniting Student Writing with Storybird


One tech-savvy parent's just-in-time classroom intervention


Last year my second-grader was learning to hate writing. "It's the worst part of the day," he'd say. "I can never think of anything to write about!"  


His teacher, it turned out, used no prompts and fiction was outlawed. ("Their plots are too messy at this age" she told me.) Writing periods were spent practicing the structure of a paragraph among other prescriptive tasks.  

Our First Day of Miss Carrot Top's Grade 1-2 with image of cats.    

Back in graduate school, I'd had the opportunity to teach high-schoolers a summer course I called "Writing with Passion for School and for Yourself." Now I was wondering how I could also show my son that writing is satisfying, nourishing and essential. How could I show his class? (After all, I'm a writer not an educator.)


At an AT Advisory Council meeting in December, I took the opportunity to share my woes with Karen Janowski. Janowski is an educational technology and AT specialist working with public schools in Massachusetts (see "ReThinking: He Doesn't Want to be Seen as Different" in the sidebar). I told Janowski about my son, how he receives reading room support and hates writing so much he gets angry with waitresses who bring him crayons.


She recommended trialing, a free online storytelling program. Storybird allows users to create gorgeous picture books by selecting graphics by participating artists, and writing accompanying text. The site is durable for young students; once logged in, student projects are automatically saved as they work. Once a book is finished, the project may be published online and/or ordered in hard copy.

Back at my son's school (in Vermont), a group of parents and I decided to tackle integrating Storybird into his class of 20 first- and second-graders. For guidance I enlisted the support of the reading specialist (she met with me on her own time and attended class when she could manage it). To get into the weekly schedule, I took over the class computer lab (unstructured time used solely for learning the keyboard and playing games). And to motivate the kids, I got a grant from the PTO to buy one soft-cover copy of each student's book for them as a keepsake.

My Goals:
  • To give the students a writing project that was completely theirs.
  • To envision themselves as published authors (elevate their task and sense-of-self).
  • To introduce them to the elements of a story (concepts of plot, character, and setting--part of the state standards).
  • To provide motivation for learning basic word processing skills and sentence construction.
  • To model my own love of writing.
  • To have fun.
Nuts and Bolts:
  • To introduce the unit, I showed them a Storybird I wrote (above) which incorporated some of their first names to get them excited. (Here is the Google Doc slide presentation I used to guide them on that first day. Be sure to click on the speaker notes).
  • To ensure enough time, including time to learn and play with the Web site, we met weekly for over four months of the school year.  
  • The first set of weeks was spent writing individual stories; the last half we spent in small groups on collaborative works (adult facilitated!)
  • Collaborative stories were shared in a final wrap-up celebration using a SMART Board.  
  • At the end of the school year, the students chose which stories they wanted the PTO to purchase (their individual or their group project).
The Devil in the Details:
  • 4 adults helped in computer lab each week.
  • I pre-registered each student at home to create simple user names and passwords.
  • I used a projected screen to help guide them through log-in and tools.  
  • To maximize class time, eventually we learned to arrive early to pre-log them in, choosing who would sit where for a quieter classroom (it worked!)
  • We came up with some parameters: no project could be over 20 pages, and words must accompany every page.
  • One parent made colorful, paper "choosing hats" for drawing names when conflicts in small groups needed resolving.
  • Storybird updates were sent home to parents including login instructions for home access.
  • Initial grumbling about lost free computer lab time vanished by the second week.
  • A mid-session show of hands revealed 50% of the classroom was working on Storybird at home, writing on their own free time (and not always the students we would have predicted!)
  • Logging in, I found that older siblings had also created stories or collaborated with younger siblings to get in on the action!
  • The first-grader on the autism spectrum enjoyed sequencing pictures and thrived contributing during group work (he was assigned to the reading specialist's group).
  • I used a SMART Board with my small group, which made everyone eager to place pictures, enter text, and stand up to read what we had created.
  • Final results varied, predictably, by skill level. For some, just learning to navigate the site, drag and drop pictures, and move a cursor were big accomplishments. However, all developed a range of skills much faster than anticipated. Most were eager to read and share their stories with the class and answer questions (making me wish we'd had more time for literary criticism because they loved it).
  • Their plots were, indeed, messy. They loved them anyway.   
Special Needs (with input from Karen Janowski):
  • Storybird works with Co:Writer word prediction and Dragon Naturally Speaking software.
  • Storybird is forgiving and flexible; students can easily change, edit, correct, and update their work. Nothing is unfixable, even after you hit "publish."
  • Spell check may be enabled or disabled (I found many second-graders were empowered and delighted to use spell check).
  • Reluctant or struggling writers love placing and sequencing pictures. The artwork inspires storytelling.
  • Older students can collaborate via email on a common Storybird project (swapping turns). Comments may be left on published works (a huge motivator).
Final note:

In March my son was stuck at home with walking pneumonia while I was stuck out of state due to a snow storm. Using Skype with Storybird, however, I was able to babysit him for over an hour, providing respite for my partner. I chose Skype's "screen share" option, and he and I took turns reading published Storybirds aloud to each other (I turned the pages as well as guided him, word-by-word, using the cursor). It was a wonderful way to visit with each other as well as support his learning.

Plus, these days he admits that writing is not the worst part of his day.

-Eliza Anderson, ATPN editor-in-chief
Free Stuff: My Study Bar

MyStudyBar tool bar graphic with icons for planning, reading, writing, vision, voice, and help.

Here's a terrific free tool from Scotland for Windows operating systems. Open source tools that support research, planning, structuring and writing are all organized for ease of access with My Study Bar.

My Study Bar provides 15 apps to choose from, including Xmind for planning and organization; T-Bar for customizing font and color backgrounds; Lingoes for when you need a talking dictionary; LetMeType for help with text input; Balabolka for converting text to audio, a speech-to-text app, and more.

XP, Vista, and Windows 7 are all supported, and the program can run off a USB stick. Step-by-step tutorials are also provided. Find it all at this JISC RSC Scotland N&E Web page.

Thanks to SC Assistive Technology Program Director Carol Page for suggesting My Study Bar to ATPN!
Join Our Mailing List
Quick Links
Beyond the Apps Store!

Fingers on a keyboard.
10 Web pages with apps for special education and adults with disabilities


As the volume of apps for mobile devices explodes, Web sites are cropping up to help us learn, review, and share about them. Below is a selection to help you get started:

1. Apps for Children with Special Needs (
Videos of apps in action to help parents, educators, caregivers and professionals make more informed purchases. The creator is a parent who has also launched an effort to give away 50 iPads in 50 states. 


2.; I Education Apps Review
Founded by an education technology specialist, this site has created a community of over 500 educators, administrators, and app developers, including 30 volunteer "educator" app reviewers.  Apps are categorized by grade level and tagged by subject. There is also a special education category with 10 reviews so far. A great place to explore (and help grow?)

3. Teach with your iPad
This is a Wiki with a special education page. There are a lot of educators out there creating Wikis to share education technology advice and this is one of them.

4. Mobile Learning for Special Needs
Founded by a special educator, this Wiki includes 140 iPad/iPhone apps organized by category in addition to articles, video case studies and captioned video tutorials on devices.

5. Moms With Apps: special needs page
An online catalog of apps created by family-friendly developers.

6. iPodsibilities
"One teacher's thoughts on using iPods and iPads in the classroom."  Apps, reviews, lesson plans and more--including for special education.

Beyond Special Education...

7. iPhone/iPad Apps for AAC

8. iPhone/iPad Apps for Magnification and Vision Support

9. iPhone/iPad Apps for Literacy Support
These link to large spread sheets explaining, comparing, and reviewing apps! The AAC page sorts apps with symbols/pictures only, apps with symbols and text-to-speech, and text-based-only apps. The Vision page sorts apps by magnification and other vision support. The Literacy Support sheet is more of a listing only. They are provided by the Spectronics Web site--a supplier of inclusive learning technologies in Australia and New Zealand.

10. AAC TechConnect Apps Assistant
The Apps Assistant is under development to help sort through the sea of AAC apps through a series of basic questions. Check out the apps list and sign up for beta testing.

Happy searching!
Nifty Products:
The Kids' Project
Wooden adjustable corner seat shown in two positions.
Adjustable Corner Sitter. "Sitting on the floor to play with blocks or to color is part of being a child."

Affordable easels, incline boards, adjustable desks, adaptive classroom chairs, corner sitters (support for sitting on the floor with everyone else), adaptive preschool toys, and more can be found at The Kids' Project, a program of the non-profit Pine Tree Society.

Pine Street Society: discovering abilities together

The Kids' Project adaptive equipment is comparable to top of the line adaptive equipment at 40-75% below commercial prices, providing more opportunities for greater success for children with special needs.

Their high-quality adaptive equipment is made by volunteer woodworkers and upholsterers. Find them at the Pine Tree Society Web site.

Reminder: AT Program News makes no endorsement, representation, or warranty expressed or implied for any product, device, or information set forth in this newsletter. AT Program News has not examined, reviewed, or tested any product or device referred to in this newsletter.
10 Things Every School District Should Know About AT

GPAT logo with two hands. Check out this online training from the Georgia Project for Assistive Technology (a program of the Georgia Dept. of Education). Useful to school systems in any state (as well as parents, educators, therapists, and others), this 4 part video series helps frame essential concepts and action steps for the responsible provision of AT services. Whether you have an AT program in place or are in the process of developing a program, here are

10 Things Every District Should Know About Assistive Technology.  

Spending Down ARRA?


Photo of Fred TchangAs the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act expires August 30th, 2011, consider these words of wisdom from Fred Tchang (director of AT Services at Advancing Opportunities in NJ):

 "Districts have contacted my organization countless times requesting a laundry
list of technology they ought to purchase. We advise
those districts to buy less, not more and to put
more money into training and support. In corporate
America, I'm told, companies set aside one-third of their technology funds for training and
implementation. Yet too many school districts continue to commit too much of their available funding into equipment and far too little, if anything, to training and implementation."

Read the full article, "Beyond ARRA," at this
Family Center on Technology and Disabilty Web page.

He Doesn't Want to be Seen as Different  


EdTech Solutions: Teaching Every Student.


I've heard that refrain numerous times.


"But... he doesn't want to be seen as different."


It's usually uttered in response to specific technology recommendations offered during the IEP team process. The team typically nods their head in agreement; after all, it is a priority that the student completes school tasks in the same manner as their peers, or uses the same school tools as their friends. (Or is it?)


Unfortunately, I realize another team is unaware of Universal Design for Learning principals.  If they understood UDL, they would appreciate the importance of offering MULTIPLE methods of engagement, presentation and expression. Instead, they are sticking to the "one size fits all" approach, an approach which fails to meet the needs of all learners. It's an approach that allows teams to agree, "He doesn't want to be seen as different."

My challenge to the team is to change the culture, don't let the student be seen as different. Offer multiple methods of expression. Give choices. Offer alternatives to the traditional methods which fail many kids.

Sometimes students need a different method.

A classic example is the Poster Board.

Think of all the poster boards that have been assigned over the years. For some students, the fine motor or visual processing skills required to complete that task are nearly impossible without significant help from home. Paper can be the disability. Two alternatives are Glogster or VoiceThread, free online multimedia tools which minimize the potential output challenges. In addition, these tools can be more engaging.

But don't just change the expectation to ALL students will now create a Glog. Introduce them to the tools. Then let students choose the tool which will help them accomplish the task in the way that works best for them. Promote an environment where they are not seen as different. Every one chooses the method which promotes success. Some students will opt for the paper poster board, others will choose another option.

The essential point is the availability of choice. When there is choice, no one is seen as different. Every student gets what they need.

Easily accomplished in an age of numerous tool choices. Need a starting place? Refer to the UDL Tech Toolkit wiki to get you going.

-Karen Janowski

Karen Janowski is an assistive and educational technology consultant in Massachusetts. This blog post was originally published May 13, 2011 at Teaching Every Student and is reprinted with permission.

Call for Themes!    


What's on your wish list for themes ATPN should cover? What do you most want to read about in the coming year? All feedback is welcome, valuable, and much appreciated. Email I love hearing from you.

-Eliza Anderson, ATPN editor-in-chief