Fall 2013: Assistive Technology (AT) for Learning
--Success Story Smackdown!

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Two Journeys with Dyslexia
and Assistive Technology

Therese Willkomm and Carolyn Phillips share their stories and some favorite ways to write

Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects the processing of written and, sometimes, spoken language. It is the most common form of language-based learning disability in the United States, yet it is often poorly identified or accommodated in school. For this reason, ATPN offers a look at two experiences with dyslexia and assistive technology (AT) gleaned from our AT program community--those of Therese Willkomm, Director of AT in NH, and Carolyn Phillips, Director of Tools for Life and the Pass It On Center in GA. Both Willkomm and Phillips were students with dyslexia; and each navigated her education to come out the other side evangelizing AT.

Act I: Therese Willkomm

"I want kids to know that even though they may learn differently, they still have an important contribution to make, that the way they see the world has value,"  emphasizes Therese Willkomm, PhD, speaking with ATPN last May. Willkomm grew up farming in Wisconsin; today she is a clinical assistant professor in the Dept. of Occupational Therapy at UNH, and the author of two how-to books on low-tech solutions for individuals with disabilities. 
"When you grow up in a rural area farming, you know you're valued--I was one of ten kids--you have chores to do with animals, important things to do."  It wasn't until she entered school that she received a different message. "Children love to explore the world, and up until age six they're allowed to color outside the lines. But in first grade you learn there are rules for how you should see the world, rules for how you should write. I had a hard time right away because my letters kept going upside down and backwards." 
With her dyslexia unidentified, Willkomm struggled to read and write far into high school. As result, her expectations were vocational not academic. But then an English teacher, a woman who enjoyed her creativity, recognized her challenges. "She said to me, 'You're not stupid. You have a learning disability, and you can go to college.' "
She ended up at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. There she acquired her books on tape through Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic (RB&D, now Learning Ally). Instead of writing papers, she created slide presentations and gave oral reports. She achieved straight A's her first semester, and went on to graduate summa cum laude. Years of feeling stupid were mollified. "It was an incredibly positive experience," she says.

Early AT Strategies

Her success, however, had as much to do with her own ingenuity (and, of course, motivation), as with the accommodations themselves. It was the late 1970s, an era before software for text-to-speech with text highlighting and bookmarking (i.e. Kurzweil 3000, Read&Write Gold, VoiceDream)--before, even, the mainstream adoption of the personal computer.  On her own she discovered listening to books on tape while following along with the hard copy and a highlighter. The discovery was empowering. Words she knew, but rarely recognized in print, were now instantly decoded; she could see, for example, what "frontal lobe" or "neuroprogramming" looked like. She could highlight important words and return to them for study and memorization. It worked because it made her engage the material in a way that was visual, tactile, and auditory. And it became especially effective when she then spoke those newly-decoded words into her own tape recorder, creating condensed audio notes in her own voice. These she'd review over breakfast, while driving, whenever.
With recording lectures, she applied the same resourcefulness. The problem with lectures, she'd found, was that audio recordings were too long and unwieldy. Years before the invention of the Smart Pen (or software like Audio Note and Audio Notetaker), Willkomm devised a method for highlighting audio lecture content; during class she would tap-tap next to the microphone on her cassette recorder to mark the location of content she judged important or that she'd need to review. Those taps were easily discernible when she'd scan for them later on fast forward with her RB&D tape deck. She could listen for a quick "click click" and find and listen to that part of the recording she'd missed in class or didn't understand. 

Learning and Teaching Emerging AT

Willkomm matured professionally in tandem with the development of AT.  By 1982 she was training other students entering the university with learning disabilities on her strategies, as well as learning emerging AT herself. In the 80's there was the Arkenstone Reader which could scan print and read it back (in an awkward digitized voice). In the early 90s, while working on her PhD, she used Dragon Dictate, the first mainstream speech recognition program, making possible writing with her voice; and equally revolutionary was a  Voice Organizer, aiding with her executive functioning. Through her own experiences and her experience helping others, she came to see acquiring the tech itself as just a third of the battle. There was also learning to use it effectively, and maintaining the equipment--a lesson painfully lived when her Voice Organizer failed in graduate school (and gone were all her appointments and reminders). Journeying personally and professionally with AT in this way, Willkomm became an expert on software for individuals with learning disabilities as she formally pursued her doctorate in rehabilitation technology. Today she advocates a range of AT for individuals who experience dyslexia or other print disabilities. 

Cutting Edge AT 

Her current favorite writing strategy is the built-in speech-to-text tool available on her iPad. The feature is now integrated into all of iPad's functionality (the pop-up keyboard  includes a mic). And helpful for editing is iPad's recent adoption of text-highlighting  with Speak Selection (targeted text-to-speech available in the Accessibility settings). Now when her iPad reads aloud her words (with its high-quality synthesized voice), the text highlights in synch with the audio (useful for locating errors). Indeed her latest book, Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes Book II: Ordinary Items, Extraordinary Solutions, was created entirely with her voice and the Pages app, in this way.
Another strategy Willkomm uses for writing is to combine Dragon Naturally Speaking for text creation with Ginger Software for correcting grammar. Dragon is speech-recognition software for use on a computer (or smart phone). It allows users to create text by speaking (and also navigate applications with voice commands). For speech to text, its advantage over iPad's voice recognition is its playback options. It can read out loud a user's text with its synthesized voice or it can play back the user's own voice recorded while speaking that text. Both options highlight words on the screen in synch with the audio. And comparing each allows Willkomm to hear how Dragon captured her words against her original intent.
Next Willkomm uses Ginger Software for editing. Unlike Microsoft Word, Ginger suggests revisions for awkward sentences and poor grammar. Used with Dragon, Willkomm can hear her sentences, compare them with Ginger's suggestions,  and accept or reject a revision. 

A Creative Cutting Edge

As a kinesthetic learner, rehabilitation professional, and teacher, Willkomm has become something of a low-tech and high-tech diva of AT. From childhood forward she has explored and enjoyed materials--problem solving with wire and twine on the farm, building with scotch tape and paperclips in the back of her high school English class, and finding solutions to every day problems with every day materials  (which her books now document). Indeed, for Willkomm, "cutting edge AT" now ranges from the latest apps for mobile devices to literally "cutting edges" with an exacto knife and corrugated plastic  (recently she received a patent for her do-it-yourself A.T. Pad stand).
Ultimately, seeing the world upside down and backwards, Willkomm believes, has given her a creative edge for problem solving. In her hands a plastic microwaveable plate, turned upside down, becomes a mounting surface for an iPad stand. A nylon flag pole holder, turned upside down, mounts a tablet computer to a wheelchair; and right side up it holds a fishing pole or umbrella. "Dyslexia," she says, "is a gift to be embraced."
As for writing, Willkomm says the message she most tries to convey is that not all students need to write with a pen, pencil or keyboard. The important thing is getting out your thoughts. "We need to educate teachers about different ways and different methods. If you're so incredibly exhausted after twenty minutes because you are forcing yourself to write, and you're fatigued and depressed and have anxiety, and all of that, because you're trying to do what society is expecting you to do, then stop! There's nothing wrong with using assistive technology! Assistive technology is wonderful."

Act II: Carolyn Phillips

College became possible for Therese Willkomm only once her learning disabilities were identified. Carolyn Phillips's story is different. She was already there. 
Phillips is director of Tools for Life, Georgia's AT Act program housed at Georgia Tech. There Phillips relishes working with individuals with disabilities, especially students, and whole families, helping to identify assistive technology strategies. "I don't want anyone to go through what I did," she says.
As a freshman at the University of Georgia, she began the year a standout student in her English class. She participated in classroom discussions, and received an A on her first paper--created outside of class--on Kafka's The Metamorphosis. But then her teacher asked her to write and turn in a reflection composed entirely in the classroom. Phillips knew the jig was up. 
Longhand she wrote with letters turned backward, repetitive word choice, and misspellings. Her teacher was astounded. "I never would have believed it," she told Phillips, "if I hadn't seen it myself. It's not like you left class and came back drunk!" That day she referred Phillips to the LD Clinic on campus.  Years of hiding had come to an end.

Mom's Home-baked UDL 

Phillips explains she was lucky growing up. Her mother, Francis Phillips, was a talented grade-school teacher, and likely dyslexic herself. "Mom taught me to read and write, and she practiced Universal Design for Learning (UDL) before anyone really did that," she says. "Mom always said, 'You're smart. You just think differently, how else can you show what you know?'"
Her mother also went to bat for her at school in the fourth grade. It was during a parent-teacher conference, and Phillips was supposed to be on the playground with her sisters. Instead she hung back and listened at the door to a devastating report. Her teacher declared she was failing every subject, and warned she faced a lifetime of struggle. She said she knew Carolyn had tested well on her IQ--indeed in the gifted range--but she couldn't explain those scores because she didn't think she could learn. Ahead she saw a future of delinquency for Carolyn, low-wage work, and probably, early pregnancy.
Phillips heard her mother stand up and knock her chair over backwards. "Mom told my teacher that she clearly didn’t know how to teach her child." The next day, Phillips entered a new fourth grade class where the students were busy writing poetry. To her surprise, the new teacher saw through her poor spelling and backward letters, told her that her poem was brilliant, and went on to have it published in two places.

Miss Helen

From there Phillips was in and out of gifted classrooms while masking and covering for her writing deficits. In high school she won awards in science and technology; she even edited the student paper. "I'd say to my teachers, 'You don't really want another paper to grade! How about I write a poem? Do an interpretive dance? Bake tacos? Most of the time they thought it was a creative way to demonstrate my knowledge and it worked. I thrived in educational environments that allowed for alternative ways to show that I know the material, whatever it was."
When a term paper was unavoidable, her parents provided a unique way to accommodate the task. It was a kind of early relay or home-grown speech to text solution; it was... her father's secretary, Miss Helen. 
Straight through to her first year of college, Phillips dictated her papers to her father's secretary over the phone. Miss Helen would listen and type, and then send home the hard copy for corrections. "They were always my words, in my own 'voice.' She knew I was very sensitive to that." But Phillips's first year of college was in the late 80s, predating email and fax. To meet her Kafka paper's deadline, she'd had to drive it back and forth, more than an hour each way. She earned an A on that paper, but the routine, she feared, was unsustainable. 

Computer Lab

Once diagnosed with dyslexia (among other learning disabilities), Phillips was provided with general accommodations that included Recordings for the Blind & Dyslexic, extended time for papers and tests, a person to read to her, as well as assistance with note taking. Like Willkomm, her experience with accommodations, and then learning emerging AT, would influence her career choice. 
In college she helped run the university's first computer lab and had her own set of keys. There she learned about word processing, especially spell check, and she worked on her papers at all hours. When the university invested in Dragon Dictate, she helped train students with spinal cord injuries to use it, and adopted it herself. Then, as a psychology major, she counseled students with academic anxieties, and increasingly found she sought them technology solutions. "Often I would end their sessions in the computer lab. That's when I started to figure out I needed to change my career plans."
Still, in those early days of AT, she says it was tough going. It took her ten years to finish her bachelors degree. Her masters, on the other hand, she completed in just two (and with a 4.0 grade point average).

Favorite AT

These days Phillips estimates she uses over twenty different forms of AT in the course of a day. They include many apps for the iPhone that contribute to her living, learning, work and play. For reading she uses a range of screen readers (text to speech), from the built-in and free options (i.e. Natural Reader) to TextHelp and WYNN.  For writing, she uses Dragon voice recognition on her computer and iPhone (or Siri for quick emails). She also writes with a keyboard. Two of her favorite typing tools are word prediction and abbreviation expansion. 
Word prediction (Read&Write, WordQ, Co:Writer) is software that anticipates the words a user will type, provides options for quick selection (similar to spell check), and generally makes writing possible with far fewer keystrokes. She prefers TextHelp (Read&Write Gold) for its high quality word prediction. (See a comparison chart of word prediction software at this Spectronics Web page).

Abbreviation expansion (or "text expansion") allows writers to paste text they use repeatedly with just a few letters or symbols. For example, Phillips types T-L-M-S for the Tools for Life mission statement; the abbreviation will generate the entire sentence. Options for abbreviation expansion include TextExpander and TextExpander touch for Mac and iOS devices, and Texter for Windows.

A Revolution--A Calling

Like Willkomm, Phillips marvels that Dragon once cost over $20,000 and is now a free app for her iPhone ("We are, absolutely, living a revolution," she says). She thinks back to those generalized accommodations she received in college, compared with everything available today, and describes how satisfying her work is now. "I get to come up with customized solutions for people to help them be successful." 
Indeed, she likes to say that people with learning disabilities are "my people," that she feels a kindred spirit that shapes her attitude at Tools for Life. "For me, the best solutions are not always discovered through evaluations. Sometimes the best approach is to hang out with the person, to hang out with intent... with the intention of making life even better. I encourage people to relax, play, and try out some new solutions until they find the best one for them. I love the technology, the process and the positive outcomes. I'm lucky that that I get to play with people to help them reach their goals!"
In her latest book, Willkomm mentions approaching her work with love. Phillips clearly feels the same way. "It doesn't feel like work," she says. "It's more of a calling."
Thanks to Therese Willkomm and Carolyn Phillips for sharing their stories with ATPN!
For a quick visual summary of some AT options for students who experience dyslexia, check out this Infographic by Jamie Martin of the Kildonan School. Also of potential interest is this recent New York Times op-ed by Blake Charlton (a novelist and physician with dyslexia).

Classroom Teachers Learning (and Implementing) AT!

Jane Gay on ICATER’s approach to better teacher prep

A man wearing a headset is speaking in front of a class and pointing to a screen with the following text, "This is a demonstration of Dragon Naturally Speaking. Dragon lets me dictate into the computer and it prints what I say."

ICATER Director Jim Stachowiak speaks to a class

The problem: teachers, including new teachers coming out of college, are often not prepared to work with a student’s assistive technology (AT). AT needed to be embedded in the philosophy of teacher preparation, and as a thread in the total curriculum, not presented as a one-time guest lecture. IPAT (the Iowa Program for Assistive Technology) did not have the staff time or expertise to meet this need statewide.

The approach: IPAT worked with the University Of Iowa College Of Education to explore how to better prepare teachers to implement AT in the classroom.

The solution: the Iowa Center for Assistive Technology in Education and Research (ICATER) was created in 2006 to prepare students in the College of Education (COE), as well as existing teachers across the state, to implement AT in the classroom. Initially funded by COE (and today by a blend of COE, contracts, and grant funds), ICATER pursues its goals through a variety of activities including:
  • AT lectures in every College of Education course. This means AT is built into the total regular and special education curriculum, and also the Counseling and Education Administration departments. (For one course, COE students are required to explore and create AT demonstration videos on a specific AT which is then presented to other students.)
  • An AT/Computer Lab allows students to test drive AT equipment and software. COE students are allowed to borrow AT for their K-12 students.
  • A Traveling AT/Computer Lab provides training on AT in general or on specific AT for school districts statewide.
  • AT Summer Institutes provide unique summer learning opportunities for teachers, combining current relevant topics in AT with hands-on learning opportunities. Institutes are held on both sides of the state annually.
  • Regional Education AT Conferences provide another opportunity for ICATER to collaborate and reach classroom teachers and school administrators.   
  • “AT Tips of the Day” are pushed out to ICATER Facebook friends and as Tweets. They are also provided for use by community schools or Area Education Agencies as daily screensavers or posters. (Find them on ICATER’s Web page; they are free to deploy.)
  • Weekly Webinars are provided on AT topics and software and archived on the Web site. ICATER is also currently working to create a Virtual AT Lab to allow COE faculty and students, Area Education Agencies or schools to temporarily download AT for demonstration, assessment or training across the state.
  • Technical Assistance has been provided to the University of Northern Iowa by ICATER to replicate this model service for its students (this is very important as it is considered the “Teachers College” in Iowa).
Learn more about ICATER and its services at the ICATER Web page.

Jane Gay is IPAT’s executive director. She also serves on the ICATER Advisory Board.

Inclusive Music Project Inspires Students, Raises Expectations

Tennessee TAC's Bob Kibler on one creative project's unexpected outcome

Three rows of elegantly dressed young adults with Greek sculpture behind them.
John Overton High School students and teacher Hamilton Moore (front row, third from the left) and Michael Fox (back row, on far right) pose for a group picture following their performance at the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park
Students in the Life Skills Class at John Overton High School (JOHS) in Nashville, TN had a first-time opportunity to participate with their peers in inclusive music instruction last year and the results were extraordinary. Through the use of adapted music instruments and iPads with music apps, they formed a percussion band along with students participating in the English as a Second Language Program at the school. Music instruction was supported by a two-day artist-resident percussionist provided by VSA Tennessee. The instruments, iPads, and apps, along with technical assistance, were provided by Technology Access Center (TAC) staff members with funding from the Disability Law and Advocacy of Tennessee and the Tennessee Technology Access Program
The JOHS students performed at the Tennessee Association for Assistive Technology conference for over 50 session attendees and received a standing ovation. They also performed for over 150 attendees as part of the Golden Ratio Program at the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park [see video thumbnail link below], and additionally participated in a performance at their school. An article about the Golden Ratio Program mentioned the students and pictured some of them in the January 2013 edition of the Nashville Arts Magazine, and another featured them and their instruments in the March edition of the Gallatin Life magazine. The TAC electronic newsletter, TechKnowledge, included articles about the students in the October 2012 and January 2013 editions.

YouTube video thumbnail showing students seated playing percussion instruments. Link opens in a new window.
JOHS students performing at the Parthenon in Nashville's Centennial Park

When asked for an update after so much success, the JOHS Life Skills teacher, Michael Fox, reported that the program has "opened the door for my students, for the first time, to really want to join up with one of the academies at Overton. All of the students who participated want to join the Musical Performance Academy because they say ‘That's the academy we belong in now because we are musicians!’”  
That outcome exceeded the project's expectations. Prior to this opportunity, JOHS life skills students were not receiving music instruction and were not attending regular education classes. Thanks to this project it is anticipated that they will, indeed, participate in the Musical Performance Academy; and that they will pave the way for those coming up through the school in future years to, in fact, be student musicians.

Bob Kibler is executive director of the Technology Access Center in Nashville, TN

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole

A personal reflection on the impact of assistive technology by Shelby Nurse

Head-shot of Shelby Nurse

When I was born a dear family friend--a talented artist--drew a sketch of a bird with a quote that reads:  “Although we cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over our heads, we can refuse to let them build nests in our hair.”  This is the philosophy I have chosen to live my life by. At ten months old I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy; thirty percent of my brain was scarred, leaving me without the ability to walk. Even though I face numerous physical challenges on a daily basis, I do not let my disability define who I am. 
For parents with children with disabilities, and even their children reading this, I want to stress that I’m sharing my story as a source of genuine encouragement rather than boasting. Currently I am a 22-year-old junior at the University of South Florida Saint Petersburg with plans to go on to complete a masters program and eventually pursue a career as a university Learning Specialist.  It would be easy for me to allow cerebral palsy to overtake my life in a negative way, but I do not let it stop me from living life to the fullest.
Assistive technology has played a big part in my life and my success. When most babies begin to explore their surroundings, they often bump into objects around them. I experienced this milestone at the age of two and a half when I was fitted for my very first power chair. I collided into walls. Looking back, I remember feeling this great sense of freedom and pride because for the first time my mobility was not dependent on assistance from others. My parents describe the smile on my face as my “I can do it myself smile,” and that is exactly how I felt. This was my first introduction to assistive technology. It was only the beginning. 
Now fast forward to age five when it was time for me to go to kindergarten. The entire summer before school began I came up with every reason I could not go. Yet despite my best efforts, my parents told me everything would be okay and dropped me off that first day. So I not only had to contend with the typical separation anxiety and feelings experienced by all new kindergartners,  I also worried whether I would be accepted because I was physically different. At the end of the day, however, I came home with the same “I can do it myself smile.”  I looked at my parents and said, “Guess what? I am not so different after all!”
At school the goal for assistive technology has always been for me to find the right method or tool to complete the same task as my peers.  So in kindergarten when we began to study the alphabet, when all of my friends were learning to identify and write letters, I was doing the same on the keyboard.  As I got older, my fellow classmates were learning organizational skills by writing in their planners while I was utilizing Microsoft Outlook to accomplish the same task. When everyone else was using a graphing calculator, I used a computer program called TI-80 SmartView that showed the identical calculator on my computer screen and instead of pushing the buttons with my fingers, I used my mouse to successfully navigate the same tool as my classmates.
Due to my visual impairments, reading has always been a struggle for me.  I can read, on average, ten pages at a time which makes reading long chapters difficult. To compensate, I have used a variety of adaptive instructional materials including large print and audio formats. Currently I use Kurzweil 3000, which is a program that can read any printed material aloud. In addition, it consists of interactive study aids, such as highlighting, dictionaries, footnotes, and word prediction.

As I reached college and note taking became even more of a necessity, I used Livescribe pens and notebooks. This is a system that uses specialized dot paper and a pen with an infrared camera and audio recorder. As notes are being taken, the recording function captures what is being said during lectures, linking written notes to the audio for playback.
In general, I have always looked at assistive technology the same way that Alice looked at the rabbit hole.  She was excited to venture into the undiscovered world, but she was not quite sure what she would find.  In my experience, assistive technology provides endless opportunities for not only academic success but also the independence necessary to be a unique person. I can honestly say that if I had not fallen down that rabbit hole I would not be the person I am today. My message to parents and students is have faith and fall!

Shelby Nurse was a featured speaker at the Catalyst Project's Employment Summit this past May in Maryland.

Tracking School AT in Nebraska

The Assistive Technology Partnership Deploys AT4ALL with Lincoln Public Schools

AT for all logo. Lincoln Public Schools (LPS) in Lincoln Nebraska currently utilizes AT4ALL.com, an equipment reutilization database, to list and inventory assistive technology (AT) devices. All new AT equipment, devices, instructional and resource materials are listed on the site for staff and professionals within the school system. More than 2,600 items were listed for the large district of nearly 37,000 students.  
Nebraska Assistive Technology (ATP) staff provided the database training to key school personnel and assisted with the process of listing items, and gathering information from manufacturer’s web sites for item descriptions and specifications.

QR codes (Quick Response Codes) were an AT4ALL feature LPS was interested and excited about, however the use of a mobile smart device was not available to school staff. ATP was able to offer an iPod touch for LPS staff to have on loan. We downloaded a free QR reader and staff now use it to read QR codes when checking equipment in and out. 
AT4ALL continues to be a resource LPS utilizes to help students, families, and professionals across the district. 

-Angie Ransom, Marketing Specialist, Assistive Technology Partnership

Read more about AT4ALL at this AT Program News page.

How I WISH I'd Gotten Through School!

by Valerie Stafford-Mallis 

Head-shot of Valerie Stafford-MallisWhen I enrolled in an MBA program in 2000, my hearing loss had progressed markedly in the 20+ years since I completed my undergraduate degree. I found I was unable to comprehend the spoken word in the classroom (my hearing loss was severe-to-profound).  No one in campus administration ever mentioned getting me CART (Communication Access Realtime Translation) or TypeWell or note-takers or even assistive listening devices! I did not know enough to ask for them. I just withdrew from the program. 
A few months later I re-enrolled in an online MBA program and paid 50% more than I would have paid had I taken the classes bricks and mortar. After three years and many hours of self-study I did complete my Master’s degree. But, if I had known THEN what I know now about assistive technology, captions, and self-advocacy, how much less traumatic it would have been!  This is partly what drives my passion in my work to make the spoken word accessible to others who are deaf and hard of hearing.  No one should have to go through what I did!  When I am lecturing and I tell that story, I close by saying “And on the eighth day, ladies and gentlemen, God created captioning.”

Valerie Stafford-Mallis is business development manager at Alternative Communication Services

TypeIt ReadIt: Eye-friendly Text to Speech from SchoolFreeware

A tip from Nebraska's Nancy Noha and Corinne Holtz!

As a student and later as an employee, Corinne Holtz has utilized Windows and Mac platforms. Corinne says, “Since my brain injury initially resulted in a loss of depth perception and double vision, I have used a variety of low tech supports to train my eye to track horizontally. I have tested every free text-to-speech program available to support my visual impairment."
Now that Corinne works in an all-Mac environment at the Assistive Technology Partnership, she uses TypeIt ReadIt. The text-to-speech software program has simple features, an intuitive interface, and a large visual display. As a Technology Specialist she enters work assessments and solutions for clients of Nebraska VR into an online database. Using the auditory output feature of the software has helped Corinne proofread and find typographical errors in her work. Corrine also helps students, consumers, and employees explore the possibilities of this tool.

Learn more and download TypeIt ReadIt at SchoolFreeware.

AT for Learning: Getting Better All the Time!

Clay Christenson's personal motivation for helping others learn AT

Head-shot of Clay Christenson
It was evident at an early age that learning was going to be a challenge for me. At the age of sixteen, I was diagnosed with ADD and a form of dyslexia, disabilities that would haunt me through high school and even through college. While I was aware of them, and I excelled in other areas, I still had trouble keeping up. Taking notes while comprehending a lecture, for example, was difficult. I used a tape recorder, but the mic wasn’t of great quality, and I had lots of material to sort through, etc. Sometimes I felt a loss of hope that I could learn.
Today the smartpen--with an effective mic, camera, and recorder--allows students to excel in situations where I struggled. The smartpen allows a student to go back at any point in their notes and play back that part of the lecture. I wish I’d had this assistive technology to make learning easier and give me greater confidence in my abilities. As the Utah Assistive Technology Lab Coordinator, I’m now in the position to recommend and teach students about this technology. This doesn’t take away my difficult memories of struggling through school, but it is rewarding to see students succeed where I failed.
The smart pen is just one innovation. Recently I helped a student with learning disabilities who came nto the AT Lab looking for answers. She was feeling defeated, but I showed her Dragon Naturally Speaking (speech recognition software) and immediately I saw her regain some confidence. The fast-paced nature of changing AT is benefiting those with learning disabilities greatly. From the iPad to adaptive computer software, the sky is the limit. 
Clay Christenson is the AT Lab Coordinator at the Utah Assistive Technology Program.

Can You Hear Me Now?

Newsletter accessibility feedback sought

No pain, no gain! This newsletter edition represents a significant overhaul in the interest of accessibility. Thanks to John Brandt of Maine CITE for raising my awareness. I may not be able to address everything (such as the limitations of your email provider), but I'd like to hear and learn from your experiences (and apply due diligence). Who knows? There may be a future ATPN article percolating about this transition...

Eliza Anderson, Editor-in-chief, ATPN

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