Sunday, November 23, 2008

Holiday Gift Ideas

With the gift season just around the corner, I wanted to share a few sites that I have used for gifts. I try to be unique in my gift giving. I try to think about the individual or couple that I am purchasing for. Last year the big drive for me was gifts that gave back. This year with the economy being what it is I thought I would find gifts that I could afford and that people in my life need. Everyone needs a good meal. There are times in our lives that we just don't want to cook or we just need some RR from our lives. So I have decided to purchase dinner and movie tickets for all everyone on my gift list. Sorry, if you are reading this and you are on my gift list there will be no surprise for you when you open your gift bag.

Like everyone I am on a tight budget. So to purchase gift cards for local restaurants I turned to http://www.restaurant.com/ . It is like buying a savings bond. You pay a fraction of the cost of what the cost it. For example, for a $25 gift certificate, I paid $10. You don't have the chain restaurants on this site. It is the Main Street restaurants that might be owned by a neighbor or friend. Giving back to your community is important. With the gift certificates being a fraction of the cost, I can purchase more for my money. Instead of getting one restaurant for $50, I can now send my friends and family out 5 times. Yes, there are some strings attached. Some restaurants require a minimum so when you purchase watch the little notes.

Discount movie tickets are the best. This is something that takes some practice. I use either the entertainment book or my credit union they have the best deals. You purchase one ticket and you get a ticket for free. The tickets are typically good for all movies times.

There is a risk to the gifts, I have purchased so many businesses have are going out of business. You need to make sure you have a well established business and that they are not going anywhere. The risk is there and you need to make sure it is a small a risk as possible.

Worse comes to worse, I spent ½ the amount I would have on holiday gifts that get no use like the Handheld game, the video camera they couldn't live without or the clothing that was so in when they picked it out but when they opened it on Christmas morning it was so yesterday.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Take the Time to say THANK YOU - it's FREE

You don't have to agree with the politics of the war. However, everyone should thank a solider for what they do. They are doing that many of us have made the choice not to do. These men and women are defending our freedoms. Without the military we would not have the right to openly agree or disagree about the things we don't like. So take a moment and say Thank you. Show the soldiers that are away from their familiar for the holidays that we appreciate them as humans. We of us have jobs that sometimes no one appreciates but in the end we have a pay off that makes it well worth the effort. Take the 1-2 minutes and just send a note of thank you. The card you write today may be the difference in that soldiers day, week or month.

Something cool that Xerox is doing...
If you go to this web site,
www.LetsSayThanks.com you can pick out a thank you card that is designed by children of all ages, select a pre-written message or write your own message and Xerox will print it and it will be sent to a soldier that is currently serving in Iraq. You can't pick out who gets it, but it will go to a member of the armed services.

How AMAZING it would be if we could get everyone we know to send just one!!!
This is a great site. Please send a card.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Christmas Wish List

I really do try to keep going with the blog but life seems to keep getting in the way. So with Christmas fast approaching I thought it would be nice to see to suggest some toys. The toys are not specifically for children with special needs but are user friendly.


Wii Fit: If you can get your hands on the Wii Fit it is the toy for the whole family. Even if you exercise everyday this is a game that makes it a little more fun. The Wii fit goes along with the wii gaming system. It is a way to keep everyone active in a way that most are not. For the soccer game you have to stand on the Wii Fit unit and move left right forward back head the ball. How about Yoga, nothing like have your own personal yoga instructor. The Wii Fit system keeps track of your BMI. My wii character has been turned into a weeble wobble and she does fall down.

Tag System – LeapFrog – Yeah a toy that reinforces early literacy. The Tag System has a small infrared camera at the tip of the Tag reader which is a large pen. The Tag system can read letters, words and sentences. You have to use a huge selection of specialized program books that go with the Tag system. It does not work on books that do not have the specialized dot. This is a toy that allows struggling readers take control over their own learning. I remember trying to learn to read, sounding out the words, skipping words and trying to get content then going back to the word. This tool allows you to hear the word as many times as you need to have it read to you. It makes the words come alive for early learners and older learners.
Funny Phrases Game: Works with the Tag System. 250,000 silly sentences. What better way to learn language and literacy but by creating silly sentences. Touch the words with your Tag™ Reader and hear them aloud!

Tag Super Speller Team up with Ozzie and Mack to play interactive games and build more than 300 words! Additional learning activities include finding letter names and sounds and how to spell three- and four-letter words.

Poingo Reading System: If you are a fan of LeapFrom Tag system you will also enjoy the Poingo system. Unlike the Tag system the Poingo allows you to touch words and pictures that are in specialized Poingo books. The Poingo system has 6 different books at this time. You can hear sounds as well as music. The pen is a little easier to hold and the buttons are easier to work for a young child. I also like the built in picture walk. Here is a online demo: http://www.mypoingo.com/web/cars.jsp The sound is not as good as the tag system. But the features that are not in the Tag is nice in the Poingo.
Elmo Live – if you haven't had enough of Elmo here is another one. Elmo Live actually speaks through his mouth. It is just like the Teddy Rumpkins from the early 80's. The biggest difference is that the head moves back and forth as he speaks, his arms wave, sits and stands and even crosses his legs while telling stories and jokes. Elmo sings songs and plays games. This Elmo is all the past Elmo's rolled into one. Great toy for literacy and social interaction. What is better than a friend sharing jokes with you that you can share with another? Cost : $60.00 plus taxes

Fisher-Price Kid-Tough Waterproof Digital Camera – this is the camera I have been waiting for. Little kids need a camera that can be go the places they go purposely and accidently. The camera can hold roughly 170 high quality photos. The photos are stored on flash memory no SD slot. The camera is recognized by the computer as a mass media unit. No software installation is needed. My 4 year old niece loves her camera. She was able to take pictures, view the pictures, delete the pictures and even print her pictures. Cost: $50.00

Fisher-Price Disco Dancin Wubbzy - Disco is back baby! This is a character from a TV show for children. But really who can turn away that does cartwheels, the worm (not really Disco), head stand and the wiggle. So ok – Disco really isn't the right name for this toy. It is more of a 80's break dancing toy. But hands down kids love playing with this toy. It does require batteries.


Wild Planet Hyper Dash
a toy to keep your children active and following directions. There are four different levels that allow improvement players skills. Level one uses colors. The device calls out a color and player dashes toward the target. Level two uses colors and numbers. The third level uses commands like strike, double strike, and reverse. The fourth level is the hardest level. The players have to solve math problems. There are other special commends that "team" playing. This is a race against the clock including activities as a memory game. This is a light touch toy. The toy has RFID technology which means Radio frequency. Rough play over a period of time will cause the toy to break.

UNO Flash the device calls the directions and colors. You have to pay attention when the device flashes red in front of you it is your turn. But if you don't pay attention your turn is up and you lose. All the rules are changed and the device takes care of them for you. If you like UNO this is a great game to have for the family game night.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Exhibit Hall - Software

Ok I screwed up. I deleted my whole section on AAC. I will have to repost it tomorrow. I am sorry.

Slate Software, Inc. : Slater Software has upgraded their software Pixwriter and picture library. The library is roughly 9000 high – resolution Literacy Support Pictures They has also created additional science and health curriculum materials out. If you haven't checked out what Slate Software is doing you really need to have over to their site. The curriculum materials are very well constructed and developed. The most exciting thing is that the teachers do not have to spend their time create the materials and they can focus on the important things, teaching, interacting and enjoying their students. Slate software also has free materials on their website. Check their site and see the other products that they offer.

Stages software has developed a new Math program. Stages software has been around for a long time but this is the first time that they have moved from language/literacy to math. I had the pleasure of sitting through a workshop about this specific piece of software because it is an area in general that is lacking for our students. The author of this program has made sense of the research on math. The activities are well organized in an attractive package, easy to follow and it collects meaningful data. The software can be used with all students in your classroom. The software has screens that are about the task that the student is working on. The screens are clean and none distractible backgrounds. The software is not drill and skill software. It allows the student to demonstrate competency of what they know and don't know so you can focus on the skills they need based on the data collected.

More tomorrow …. Tired, sorry.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Workshop Sessions

8:00AM - How to assess, teach and use the Head as an Access site for AT: Given by Karen Kangas and Lisa Rotelli. If you get a chance, please take a class with Karen Kangas.  Karen's background is in seating and positioning. All I can say is WOW! She had me sitting up straight in my chair wide eyed and ready to learn at 8 am.

 
 

Here are the highlights of the presentation:

 
 

1. Get over the myth that the head isn't the place to start. Follow the development of the human body. The head develops before the trunk or limbs.

2. If you don't have proper position then you might as well start there without positioning then you can't have true control.

3.  Electronic switches vs. mechanical switch - the feedback isn't the click you hear but the success of participation.

4. Single switch access is the most difficult. Give two switch access to a student and you give a person independence.

5. Fatigue is cognitive not a physical fatigue.

6. Hands are the last extremity to develop. Control of the hands does not happen until puberty.

7. The Switch is not the activity. Do not make switch activation the activity. Making the switch the activity is similar to taking the pen cap off the pen and saying the student wrote a paragraph. Having the proper tool just makes the participating the activity.


 

Here is the task analysis of using a mechanical switch:


 

  1. Location
  2. Touch
  3. Press it
  4. Hold it
  5. Release it


 

It requires graded movement. Majority of individuals that are using switches do not have graded movement. It is all or nothing but we expect control.


 

10:00 AM Cliff Notes about Nimas


 

This may not be the most exciting conversation but it is important to understand how NIMAS and NIMAC affect accessible text.


 

  1. Students with a 504 are not eligible for NIMAS – NIMAC files.
  2. State and local educational agencies are responsible for having it in their contracts with textbook companies. This is not a special education issue as much as it is the issue with the person who is ordering the textbooks. So that means we need to start with a conversation with the people that ORDER the books.
  3. NIMAC and NIMAS are for elementary and secondary because they are covered under IDEA.
  4. All states were required to be registered for NIMAS.
  5. Definition of PUBLSHED the OSEP defines it as AVALABLE for PURCHASE from July 19, 2006 that means not that to book was created in July, 2006 but that it is STILL FOR SALE.
  6. PRINT DISABILITY has not been defined by IDEA – it is defined in other laws so the OSEP hasn't at this time defined what it means.
  7. All digital material is not accessible.

Websites of Interest:

http://aimcast.blogspot.com

http://aim.cast.org

http://nimas.cast.org

http://www.nimac.us/


 

12:00 – Taking applications with you. This is a workshop that talked about using the USB or flash cards to store portable applications. I didn't get a handout because I arrived late. I am hoping to get one from the presenter. But the presentation is about the applications that I wrote about in Sept.


 

2:00 – Closing the Gap 2008 Presentation, Portfolios That Work by Mary Ann Lowe SLP. D., CCC-SLP and Samuel Sennott: Portfolio's are not a new concept to education but the way that these portfolios are being used. The electronic portfolios are being used as a living document that grows and changes with the individual. It is a documentary of a child's progression in skills as well as keeping track of all the materials for the team in ONE location. No two portfolios are alike because individuals are not alike. The content materials are systematically placed but what goes into the content of the portfolio is left up to the individual. For more information, you can check out the website: http://alltogether.wordpress.com/


 

4:00 – Helping teachers understand UDL and Differential Instruction

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Switch It Time - Jumps into Gaming

I putted around the exhibit hall today. I was trying to find something that was worth writing about. When I go through the exhibit hall I am on a hunt looking for something that two switch users or a switch user and a peer can do together. Switch In Time which is typically known for the music software for switch users has jumped into gaming for student that are switch users. Their newest piece of software is called Super Switch Hitter. There are many features that I like in Super Switch Hitter. It is Wii version of baseball for switch users. Baseball is the all American game that every child should get to play.

Switch modes: Single Switch, Multiple switches, Auto scanning, two step-scanning

  • The first is that realistic based graphics. The pitcher actually throws a ball; the batter actually hits the ball foul or into the field. The players in the field also play their part. You can have auto-fielding.
  • Another aspect is how customizable the software is to the students that may want to use it. The ball size varies from eraser size to roughly a quarter with a black frame.
  • The speed of the ball goes from crawling slow to flash speed. For me, I like the "hover ball" this is great for batting practice. It is errorless batting.
  • When you hit a home run --- the student gets to hear --- We Will Rock You.
  • You hear the ball hitting the bat.

If you are at Closing the Gap – make sure you check out SWITCH IN TIME booth. It is in the main hall directly across the Don Johnston.


OMG ! Lesson learned

If I didn't have bad luck I wouldn't have luck. This has nothing to do with my presentation that I attended. But you must here this story.


So I checked in on Monday to the Sheraton South in Bloomington, MN where CTG happens. I am told that I must leave a credit card on file with a $40 hold for any charge I may send to the room (food, drink, internet, movies). So I agree that I will leave the card just for the $40 but I do not want the hotel to hold my credit card for the hotel because a PO is being faxed to the hotel once the accounts receivables contacts me with the cost of the stay. The receipt I signed was for $40 on my ATM card. So tonight before heading down to dinner, I decided to check my bank card ... guess what the brain surgeons did... you got it charged my ATM for $1206 for my hotel stay. The most amusing piece of this is this - it isn't human error, it is the systems fault. yes, the systems is not the who checked me in. the system is not who swiped my card and had a conversation with. the system is not the one that checked my photo id. The system can't do anything unless the HUMAN helps it operate. They said the girl did everything correct according to procedure. Except that she did not uncheck the box that said charge to the card.


The kicker of all this is that the hotel received the PO for the cost of the stay today. They were paid in full. If I didn't check my account tonight, they would have been paid twice for the hotel stay.


So tomorrow, I have to go to the front desk again, they will take me to the "business office" so we can fix this. I am sure it is going to be a nightmare for the next few weeks until we can fix this nightmare.


Here is my lesson:


I will never again use my ATM or credit card for incidentals. I am going to go to purchase a Visa gift card for $50. They can charge the $40 to the gift card and if the "system" wants to charge the credit card more -- Good Luck.


I understand that errors happen. But when the "system" doesn't allow you to check past notes, what was received for the customers account and you can't fix the issue immediately there is a problem. All the manager on duty had to do is fax a letter to my bank to release the funds. Except she couldn't do that because " the system" doesn't allow her to do that. What she could do was given me dinner in the restaurant.


So there is my Lesson. I hope no one else has this issue. I will start to blog about the exhibit hall and workshops I attend tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Closing the Gap - Off to a Rocking Start - Preconference

Today was the first day of pre-conferences at Closing the Gap. I had mix emotions about attending the conference because of my back and family concerns. I knew once I arrived in Minnesota all those concerns would wash away. Ok the back is still an issue but they have great beds. So let me tell you about a great workshop that I attended.

The workshop was presented by Keri Huddleston, Teru Langsdale and Moria Soulia who are from the Washoe County School District in Reno, NV. It was called Making a difference with your consultative services. The presentation was straightforward, well throughout and very laid back. It was the perfect workshop for me. I needed a workshop that would ease me into Closing the Gap mode.

As an Assistive technology consultant, I am often viewed as the “hitman” coming to tell the “team” what they could do to improve their services to a specific student. So without all the nice jargon – what you are not doing that you should be doing. This presentation had you looking at your process of delivering services. The first thing is that you need to make sure you at the “teams” to serve them. You might be shaking your head but keep reading. I often think of an AT consultant as a bridge builder. It is important to listen to what everyone on the team thinks and validate what they believe or think. If you do not listen and understand their feeling, then you will get nowhere quick. That bridge just became a frail vine. The first step in the process is the information gathering. Decide on what information is important to you to do a good service and secondly make sure the process is not overwhelming. You have to make sure you can document your intake and information you are gathering.

The next piece would be the decision making process. Again, this is a meeting and it is important to DOCUMENT the meeting. The notes should be shared with everyone that are present and absent. No volunteering another member for something if they cannot or didn’t make the meeting. Make sure there is nothing that can be lost in transition. Always make sure that you give timelines, follow through with how something is or aren’t working.

This was the eye opener for me. We all can make a laundry list of the things the staff members need to do or could be doing for the student but really we need to be asking, what laundry list we can create to about the staff and their needs. What is making the individual or team not to buy into the technology for a student? What are they strong at and what skills are they lacking? This is what I walked about thinking. We need to really think about SETT framework in relation to the staff. If the staff does not feel supported, does not feel validated and does not feel their needs are being met then how can we expect the staff to support the student?

Documentation about training and support is a must. Document every move you make. As a consultant you need your paperwork to talk for you. It needs to outline what you have done or haven’t done. The process needs to be see-through to everyone on and off the team. A person walking in off the street should be able to read the information and just pick up where you left off.

I really liked the concept that the building principal should sign off that they know about the assistive technology services. I know this is something that is lacking in my referral process. The building principal is going to be the on-site person to help you get things done if things aren’t working the way it is planned.

I also walked away from this presentation with the feeling that we will always be in the process. It is a give and take. We need to treat AT consultation in the district as we would a business. Make the plan, create your mission, Outline how it will happen and make sure the procedures are in writing.

If you get a chance, I recommend seeing the presentation. I know I did not give the props it should have. Any questions, please feel free to ask. I will do my best to answer.

Monday, October 13, 2008

I have arrived in Minn. for Closing the Gap

I have arrived at the hotel. I am all prepared for my first preconference session that starts at 8am.

Here is what I learned suitcases can't weight more than 50 lbs or you get charged an overweight fee. It isn't worth bring a second page because it will cost you .....

There is a $15 charge for each bag you carry. Crazy I know.

A taxi from the hotel cost $33 with tip. The hotel shuttle wasn't coming for another 2 hours. Sorry love the airport but didn't want to be like Tom Hanks sitting around for hours. Just wanted my bed at the hotel.

Being at CTG for 2008 -- priceless.

If anyone has a question please let me know. I will try my best to find the answer.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Win Boardmaker Plus

Just a quick note - enter to win Boardmaker Plus. It is worth a shot and win your own copy. Just remember don't use your work email or do it during work hours. If so, technically it belongs to the establishment that you work for.

http://www.dynavoxtech.com/win/

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Road Warrior - My personal top 10

I have been a road warrior for the past 7 years. For those that are wondering what I define as a road warrior, I define anyone that is a road warrior if they spend more time in the car or plane then they do in their own bed or home. I travel on average 1300 miles a month just for appointments. In the years, I have traveled I have found ways to make my life just a little easier.

1. GPS - if you don't have one, you need to get one. I strongly suggest one that is active updates (Satellite) and gives you traffic updates.

2. Neat Receipt Scanner - this has made my life so much easier. I am the first to admit that I have a horrible with paper. This device allows me to manage my receipts, reports from school districts, worksheets for students and anything that can be scanned in single sheet. If you are a road warrior, you have to save your gas receipts, food receipts, store receipts for expense sheets. This device makes it super easy with just a push of a button. You can organize your material fast and easy. Runs off the USB.

3. Portable Printer - I don't use my portable printer. I have a lightweight printer that I use for evaluations or just fast reports. I have found that it comes in handy when you need it RIGHT NOW. The printer cartilages can be expensive but if you only print what you have to it isn't that much. Runs off the USB.

There are other options but I have found them to be inconvenient such as Printeron or Printme which allow you to virtual print to specific hot spots. I found that Staples or Kinkos can take a PDF and print it just as easily with no contract or monthly service.

4. Paper - I hate paper being left in an open package in the car. It allows dust, moister and other stuff to get on the paper so I found a plastic case that is perfect for holding a ream of paper. It keeps it protected; I always have clean and dry paper. The plastic case actually looks like a plastic brief case.

5. Sharpie or Felt tip markers for writing messages or directions. Pens always run out of ink, they don't write on many services and the sharpie or felt pens are perfect for fast notes.

6. Large Post it note pad - Nothing works better when you are on the side of the road trying to retrieve voicemail or take directions. Stick it to the steering wheel and write away you don't have to worry about the note moving as you write.

7. Car adaptor for your electronics - A laptop battery or your cell phone can only last so long. The car adaptors allow you to charge your batteries when you are working on the car. Now don't get silly don't try to run all your electronics at a time, pick and choose what is a must have.

8. WIFI finder – Yes, I admit it, I borrow strangers opened WIFI. If they are going to leave it open, I am going to us it for checking and sending email. Rarely would I send files. If you feel guilty about using someone’s free WIFI then you can find many stores or restaurants that have free WIFI while you eat or sit outside the building.

9. File Tote – offers you document holders, binder space and a surface to lean on when working. I like the file totes that are canvas and zipper because when school ends for the year, I can fold up and store for the next season.

10. Internet back up space – I go for the free space especially if you use encrypted files. It allows me not to worry about thumb drives, which computer a file is one or if someone has to wait for something. The best is that you don’t have to stress that the computer hard drive has lost your files.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Syncing Files to the Jumpdrives

It seems that technology and I have come to an impasse. My work laptop is on its last byte and it needs to hold off just a little longer until a replacement comes. My home system apparently thinks that it needs an overhaul piece by piece. In the last three weeks I have replaced the power supply, the video card and now the hard drive is working so slow, I think it is a commodore 64. So to say the least I have been very cranky with the anxiety of backing up my files and securing that everything I need is off the systems before they finally tell me good-bye for the last time.

In the past Windows had the briefcase system which I think was the most valuable under utilized free useful program that Microsoft offered. The Briefcase is like a folder only better because it synchronizes the files. For anyone that is jumping from computer system to computer system this is extremely helpful especially when updating communication boards, reports or note files. The Briefcase synchronizes and updates the files on your original computer to the modified versions when you reconnect your portable drive to the desktop computer. I like this system because the Briefcase stores and displays the update status of files. It keeps track of whether a file is linked to the original file on your main computer, or whether it is a stray file (a file that is not connected to another file on your original computer). Since I am losing the battle of the computer systems, it is extremely helpful to keep track to keep my files organized and to keep track of the most recent versions of your files. I use this with all file formats not just MS Products.

Most do not know that the Briefcase is still on their computer systems. In Microsoft wisdom they hid it. Here are the steps to locating it:

How to Create a New Briefcase

  1. Right click on your desktop. A menu will appear.
  2. Click on New.
  3. Click on Briefcase.
  4. Right click on the briefcase. A menu will appear
  5. Click on rename – name the briefcase.
  6. Locate the files you want to move – drag the files to the briefcase.
  7. When you double click on the briefcase you will receive a message – click ok your files are now in the briefcase.

Now you know Microsoft is always looking to improve. They have made a new improved, faster way to move data. The new application is called SyncToy. It is a little more advance then the Briefcase because of the way it synchronizes files and tracks files. SyncToy is a free download from Microsoft .

The first thing you have to do is create a folder pair. A folder pair is a collection of data items that tells SyncToy how to synchronize two folders. What is cool is you can have subfolders. For example, one folder pair might be defined to synchronize a copy of a folder named "My Pictures" on your desktop computer and a folder named "My Photos" on your laptop computer. SyncToy saves how you want your folder pairs synced so you can sync again and again with a single click of a button.

Remember this is a BETA tool so things don’t always work seamlessly. I have been only running it a week. So far so good but the forums talk about some of the issues. I am optimistic that SyncToy is going to be a wonderful tool when it comes out of BETA.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

What is there to be excited about

Let's start with WELCOME BACK TO A NEW SCHOOL YEAR


Then let's move onto what can we get excited about.

How about a new product from Crick Software? I am so bummed that I didn't get to beta test this product for them. The WriteOnline tool is all a tight little talking word processor, word prediction and their Word Bar. Honestly, I love Crick products. One of my all time favorite products from Crick is the Word Bar. I use this with my niece for her frequently asked "how to spell words" and giving her a functional word bank to cover the topic that she is writing about. Now I haven't seen the software so I cannot sing the praises of the software. I can tell you from the screenshots that the talking word processor has the look of MS Word. You have to look very hard to realize that it isn't MS Word you are looking at. The layout for the word predication opens as a toolbar on the side of the screen. I would like to know if I can pick where the word prediction is positioned or if I can make the word prediction follow my cursor. There are pros and cons to each of these. My guess is that the word prediction has been improved, it was a decent tool prior so I am sure it is going to be up there in with WordQ and Co:Writer. From the description offered on the website it looks like they have given you many options for different levels of your writers. I am excited about the possibility of offering this tool as a possibility for the UDL toolkits in school districts. The next big question would be can you purchase the word prediction as a stand alone for students that just need that tool. I can't say enough nice things about Word Bar. It is one of those tools that never gets talked about but it is a great product for the student that doesn't need word prediction but does need support with word retrieval, topic specific words and the personal word wall. It is just enough support for some students. The biggest question that I have is will this product be available for stand alone machines without internet access. I like the fact that companies are moving toward internet portals for applications. However, there is still a need for stand alone products because there are districts that do not have wireless access or internet access in general. I know it is hard to believe but there are students that do not have internet access at home so even though the student can access these tools over the internet it is difficult to do if you don't have that tool. I am hoping that Crick considers the possibility of having this writing tool for individual stand alone machines that doesn’t require internet access. Even if they don't, I am still excited about the possibility of this tool.

Boardmaker Plus Player is something I am excited about. It is something that has been needed for a long time. I am glad that Mayer-Johnson took this route for parents and classrooms. I think they may still find that the sales of Plus decreases and the number of players increase. I can see districts purchasing 2 copies of plus but 20 copies of the player. At first glance you think the price is steep for a player at $79 but you can install the Plus Player on one computer per computer disc allowing students to use the activities you create without having to worry about your Boardmaker Plus disc getting ruined.



Thursday, August 28, 2008

Emergency Procedures

The say there is no furor like a women’s fury and Mother Nature has been showing frustration and power over this hurricane season. We are only up to the letter H and we have already seen Fay cry 26 inches of rain over Florida. I am not exactly sure if Fay had a boyfriend leave her or she just loved Florida so much and was having a tantrum every time Mother told her it was time to move on but she kept coming back like a 4 year old that was told to no more ice cream at an ice cream parlor. There is another storm on the way and the men are trying to flex their power sending out their third to bat Gustav. He is demonstrating to be a sturdy and tough storm. He is heading to the United States and there is warning for the Gulf States. I am praying that he turns away because Florida and Louisiana do not need the visits.

Since Katrina many in the AT field have tried to help people with disabilities and their families or guardians prepare for such weather emergencies. There is a wonderful site that was shared on the QIAT list serv this evening
Disaster Preparedness and People with Complex Communication Needs . So many individuals with disabilities lost valuable equipment, service animals and tools during Katrina. It is often said that things can be replaced but you cannot replace a life. This statement is true but for a person with a disability their equipment is their lives. So if you have students, consumers, friends or family, please take a look at what was designed by a collaboration among the United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC) Gulf Relief Committee, the Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center on Communication Enhancement (AAC-RERC), and News-2-You, Inc.

Please remember to have your own preparedness kit for your family. I live on the Jersey shore and I can tell you that I wait with bated breath during the North ester storms or Hurricane season. We haven’t suffered from a hurricane in 10 or more years. So as I say we are living on borrowed time since we had to evacuate. With that thought in mind and knowing that weather is not the only thing that can make me leave our home I have done the following:

  1. A plan of where will we meet if we cannot reach other by cell phones.
  2. Cash to pay for hotel – gas and food for a week. I think of the “need a vacation fund”. Our family pulls our funds and creates a special account for these emergency moments.
  3. Make sure that I have a list of all the members of my immediate family with their most current picture.
  4. A list of all cell phone numbers of immediate family.
  5. Emergency contact cards for each person. This is often tricky because when we travel we carry emergency contact cards – we list a person that we are not traveling with. We have special contact people for when we are together.
  6. Our family had to list 2 people that we trusted with our important information. We have purposely picked 2 people that do not live in our state but we trust with our most precious information.
  7. A list of all medications that each member of the family is taking with their doctor’s names, refill numbers and any allergies that they may have to other medications.
  8. Copies of birth certificates, marriage license and insurance policies.
  9. I have an electronic copy of all medical reports and IEP files.
  10. Photos of our cars – the conditions they are in.
  11. Photos of our pets, pet records and shots.
  12. Copy of all credit cards with numbers to call to cancel or get further assistance.
  13. Copy of all banking information.
  14. Scanned family photos and copies of movies or videos stored on DVD’s and internet vault.

I am sure I have missed some things that we have. Now how we store this information.

We each have a set of the documents in a secured location. The electronic information is stored on encrypted jump drives. It is a lot of work to maintain them but it is worth the piece of mind.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Word Clouds

So often as educators we want our students work neat and tidy. But student in general do not think in the organized manner that we adults do. Children love to play with how things look, how words fit together (not sound together) and how creative they can be. Look on any students notebook that has been doodled you will see Word Clouds. Word Clouds are a bunch of words that are linked together in a creative fashion. They are anything but organized. Visually they are a piece of art.

http://wordle.net/ is a tool that students can use to create an electronic worldle. It is a quick little program that may excite students to use new words in their writing or even encouraging a student to write. In Wordle, you can change every aspect of the word art that is created by using different fonts, layouts, and color schemes. One of the things we know is that words have different meanings to students and sometimes it is not how something is written but the intent the words have. With written words we have to add the tone, but with Wordle we can have the students give us the tone of their writing by being creative.

Have some fun with words. Writing is an creative outlet. Let the students that struggle with writing and often organization have some fun with it.

What about the old Apps?

About two weeks ago my desktop computer decided that it didn’t need to work any longer. Now you would think I would be stressed but I really wasn’t. Because my back has been so bad, I spent a lot of time flat on my back using my laptop. So all the major work I had completed or was working on was on the laptop. But I still needed the desktop. I am a creator of habit and I like reading my mail on a large screen and I like working on large screen when I am able. Thank goodness for my Sony desktop that I had sitting collecting dust. I am not sure why I ever got rid of the Sony but it is back doing the work that my HP decided was too good for it. So any way let me get to the reason for this post.

The Sony is naked of the programs that I find extremely helpful when creating tutorials or Boardmaker boards, I decided to Google for a program to replace SNAGIT. What is SNAGIT you may ask? SnagIt is a screen capturing program that operates under the Windows operating system. It is distributed by TechSmith. If you are running Vista and don’t need all the bells of the SNAGIT program you system already comes with the basic of the screen capture. However, I cannot live without the bells and whistles of SNAGIT.

You would think I know the address by heart but off I went to Google. I came upon a website that many of you with older computer systems or who don’t care about the newest and latest will love. It is called Old Apps
http://www.oldapps.com/ . Now many of the applications maybe of no interest to you but let me tell you a few that are worth getting your hands on:

  • Snagit 7.0 screen capture software
  • HyperSnap screen capture software.
  • WinZip compression software. This is the most common that you see.
  • WinRAR this is a less recognized zip program but it actually zips better then
  • WinZip. It is a much tighter compression.
  • Paint Shop Pro – great for photos

Some of the software is trialware so check the description carefully. Other programs are full working programs with key registration codes.

Happy hunting to find a few gems of your own. I would stay clear of the peer to peer sharing sites. Limewire, Napster and Bearshare are rife with nasty viruses and malware programs. I would also check the company website because some of the applications that are being offered already are free if you use the lite version of the software.

Another great site:
http://www.oldversion.com

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Portable Apps

One of the best products that I have been given from work is TextHelp Read and Write Gold Mobile. It allows me to use students computers that they are familiar with during evaluations or training. I still go through the process of allowing the students to see all the options (WYNN and Kurzweil). So I started to think that there has to be some other applications that I can run from my portable drives.



With just a little searching I came across http://portableapps.com/suite. I am impressed with the list of applications that are on this list. I downloaded the Suite product. In the suite application you get the following the applications


  • Mozilla Firefox, Portable Edition (web browser)

  • Mozilla Thunderbird, Portable Edition (email)

  • Mozilla Sunbird, Portable Edition (calendar/tasks)

  • ClamWin Portable (antivirus)

  • Pidgin Portable (instant messaging)

  • Sumatra PDF Portable (PDF reader)

  • KeePass Password Safe Portable (password manager)

  • Sudoku Portable (game)

  • Mines-Perfect Portable (game)

  • CoolPlayer+ Portable (audio player)

  • OpenOffice.org Portable* (office suite)

  • Writer (word processor)

  • Calc (spreadsheet)

  • Impress (presentations)

  • Base (database utility)

  • Draw (drawing)

I have been using these products on a thumbdrive that I had hanging around it is a 1 gig drive. The application worked seamlessly on any PC computer that I plugged into as long as they accepted USB products. Since I installed the suite and it worked well I decided to give the other apps a whirl.


The new apps that I have added is the accessibility products - on-screen keyboard and screen magnifier. I am not crazy about the magnifier but it does exactly it is meant to do. It has come in handy a few times for my consumers. The on-screen keyboard app just allows you to find the windows on-screen keyboard that comes with windows. The benefit to this feature is that if you are on a unfamiliar computer it will remembers your settings for sound, hover to select or click to select, always on top, keyboard layout and more as you move from PC to PC. One less thing to worry about.


There is only one educational app which is a fun little app called portable planetarium. It is a app that seems will get little use in the classroom. The app that I have to give props to portable apps for is giving GIMP Portable. If you like Photoshop, GIMP is a product that will do the same with less bells and whistles.

If you are a mobile consultant or student, this is a great little application to have on your jump drive. All your settings are saved so there is no stress of having things look different.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Call for Participation 2008 - Closing the Gap

Just a fast note that the deadline to put your presentation is approaching quickly. The deadline is 2:00 pm Central Daylight Time on Thursday, May 1, 2008.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Tradgey

I have not blogged in a while not that I am a daily blogger but I also fell off the face of email and list servs. Some of you may have heard but others may not know at all, on March 18th, 2008 my beautiful, precious niece Brittany Cena was murdered. She was taken from our family at the hands of a family member.

The days following her murder, are a blur. The things I remember the most are the rote things that have to happen and no one really wants to do. No one wants to make the phone calls to confirm what was read in the newspaper. No one wants to retell the story over and over again because the more you repeat it, the more it is reality. No one wants to pick out the clothing because what she would typically wear couldn’t be used. No one wants to go to the funeral home and make the arrangements. This is just another dose of reality that our beloved family member has to be laid to rest and we will never see her beautiful green eyes, smile or the hear her laugh until she cries. In the days following any death, the days blur together in the rote tasks. However, the biggest differences are: dealing with the press and having to go to court to face the evil bastard that did this.

Going to court was horrible. There is so much pent up frustration and anger. It is the first time you will face the monster that took your loved one. It is also the first time you begin to see that court is not about the person that was murdered but all about the person that did the crime. You know the press is going to be there. You know the court room is going to be packed with the curious. You are lead to the courtroom by the Sheriff’s offers and victim’s advocate. They explained the procedure prior to you going to the court house. You enter the court room and you hear the snap of the cameras and all the eyes of the curious bearing down on you. You don't look up or around and you avoid eye contact with anyone other then the person sitting next to you. The person that murdered Brittany actually looked at my devastated and heartbroken sister and brother in law and hysterical niece and said “I am sorry, I didn’t mean it”. That is it nothing more, nothing less. The court session last 5 minutes it feels like an eternity and you are shuffled out again. The whole time you stare down the person that took Brittany and you wish that he would just man up and say I deserve to die. Although you also wish no one should feel the pain and sorrow of your heart breaking every second of everyday, you want this person to feel the pain and sorrow you are feeling. You want to transfer the rage, guilt, pain to this person.



Unlike most deaths, you don’t have the press hounding you for the story. “Tell Brittany’s side of the story”, “The public wants to know about Brittany”, “Tell us how you are feeling”, “Do you want to make a comment on …”. The press at times were relentless and cold. The devil knows that they have a job to do but why would they think we would care that the public wants to know. Forget the fact that we are trying to deal with the lose of a loved one; you want us to also care about what the public thinks. The only public we cared about is the public that knew Brittany and cared about her and she cared about them. Brittany’s friends, friends of the family knew Brittany and know the caring heart that my sister Denise has. Brittany’s friends have been such a support system to my sister, her husband, her daughters and my parents. Teenagers should not have to know the pain of losing a friend in this matter or any other way but they have rallied around to give the support and love that is needed at this time. They are a force to be recognized standing up and telling the press “We just want to be left alone”. They have such grace.

The other big difference is that everyday is a new reminder that your loved one did not pass from illness or natural causes. There is not a day that goes by that a phone call, letter or person doesn't arrive to just add onto the burden of grief.

We received a letter from the prosecutor’s office asking us to write a statement about how the death of our funny, creative, passionate Brittany has impacted our lives. All you want to say is please rewind time so you can watch the pain, sorrow, disbelief and shock on our hearts. How do you put into words the impact her death has made? She was 15 years old; she was just 13 days shy of her 16th birthday. There are so many things she never got to experience but the one thing she had to know is that everyone loved her so much. The impact that it has left is, why? We will never know why. Even if the person that murdered Brittany offers a WHY would that fill the void that we have in our lives. I think not. Answering of the why will never erase the questions that we have as a family.

The impact that losing my niece has left on me is that I will never get to experience all the things we had planned. We were going to go to San Francisco. It was her birthday present from me. She wanted to travel and see the world but she wanted to experience SFO because she knew I loved it there. We had plans of going to Italy when she graduated High School. We were going to start planning the trip in just a few months. Yes, Brittany was very much like me in many ways. She liked planning and being prepared. Brittany was my counter part. She was organized and fun loving. I am organized and serious. Her sister is engaged to be married; I am honored to be her maid of honor. Herb her fiancé is a good man. Any man that can tolerate my family is a special person. But Brittany was looking forward to planning the bridal shower, the bachelorette party and everything that goes along with the wedding. We will never get the chance to have her sense of style and flair adds to the parties and weddings.

The impact is even greater then the superficial pieces of our lives. Brittany was such a beautiful soul. When she smiled she made you feel loved. Brittany has a quiet presence when in a group. Although she liked being the center of attention she often would sit back and take the whole experience in. She wanted to experience the whole thing not just the moments. Brittany was a warm soul. She never let anyone friend, foe or strangers go without a smile or kind word. How many teenagers do you know that really embraced being kind to others just because it was the right thing to do? Don’t get me wrong, Brittany could be a “beach”. But often it wasn’t her being nasty; people just don’t like to hear the truth. She spoke her mind and told you the truth even if you didn’t want to hear it. There were rough jagged edges that Brittany had but she was only 15. Those rough jagged edges would have smoothed out and become a shining gem but she was taken before her full potential could ever be recognized.

The impact of losing Brittany isn’t even truly felt at this time. We are still to numb and going through the motions of what we call a life that the impact is not truly felt. We miss her more daily. The pain and sorrow will never go away. Each milestone she never got to experience is going to be knife in our hearts. The impact is that this person she called cousin – the brother I never had and loved unconditionally took her life without remorse. The impact is that you lose all sense of trust and security. The impact is that I will never get to call my niece and tease her about taking my younger niece on vacation or teasing her that she is too young to do something. The impact is that I will never get to call her and yell at her that she needs to step it up and toe the line. The impact is that I will never see her spread her wings and take flight as an adult who I know would have made a difference in others lives.

The impact is that life cannot return to what was once our normal lives because there is nothing normal about having your loved one murdered. We are told we have to got back to our lives and continue living but really how do you move forward.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Software Review: Confident Reader



While researching a specialist in the field of dyslexia I found this tool Confident Reader. When you click on the website you are greeted with “overcome dyslexia with confident reader". As a professional, I know that dyslexia is a life long struggle and with strategies and support you can accommodate the difficulties that you have in the areas of reading. Now as a family member of a child that is struggle with reading you get the curiosity of a toddler in the toy cabinet. So what is the next magic cure that is going to help my child overcome her dyslexia? What for it……….

Yes, it is assistive technology. Being an assistive technology specialist, I pretty much embrace all new technology that comes to the market. You never know what tool will support the student you are working with. But come on marketing people. Why o, why do you have to say that a child will overcome their reading disability. Assistive technology is an accommodation, one tool in the tool chest to support the student in reading and writing. Assistive technology is not a teacher so it will never teach a skill. It may help with sight word reinforcement but again it will never teach.

I had high hopes and expectations for this software especially since the company says “overcome dyslexia with confident reader” even the big dogs in the game of asssistive technology aren't that confident. Since the company set the bar so high, I set my expectations high.

Word processor:

The word processor has a clean lay out. The menu bar is similar icons to MS Word. The differences would be the settings, spelling and word prediction buttons that appear at the end of the toolbar. The word processor has a feeling of a blog or website. You have an area off to the right for your writing. The size is roughly the width of a standard piece of paper (8 inches wide) and height of 8 inches.

There is a menu that appears to the left side of the screen. The read button, is the top button fairly large. Then under it you have the back button, pause and forward button. Then you have the MP3 button. And then the speech button which you can set to letter, word or sentence. The voice is another menu at the bottom of the page on the left.

I have mixed feelings about having the MP3 button where it is. It just seems like you would want to have common features together such as the reading, the speaker and the typing button. And have the MP3 button seperate from the other features.I know I am being critical but I can see so many student converting their files when they really only wanted to pause the reading. With that said, I LOVE how easy it is to covert the file to MP3 - it's a click of a button and you are rolling.

The software is very easy to set up. The settings include: text to speech, font, hot key, tool bars, typing echo and spelling.

Text to speech: tab that allows you to set your defaults. This is where can select your voice and speed. But you can also do this on screen.
MP3 settings: Output and format that you want the text to be saved as.

Font: Select from the fonts on your computer. Set your default font size. You also set up your background color.

Hot Keys: you can set hot keys for reading/ pause, stop, text to MP3, maximize and minimize, speed up, speed down and change reader.

Toolbars: You can pick check which program you would like the software to work in Word, Excel or Outlook.

Typing Echo: Letter by letter, Word or sentence

Spelling: ignore words with numbers, ignore words in uppercase, ignore words in mixed case, show suggestions, check while typing.

Spell check is extremely poor. The spell check is better in MS word and a free program that I downloaded. For example, I wrote the following sentence, I wesh I coold go to the stor to perchas a new cumputr. The spellcheck in Confident Reader offered wish and could as number 9 choice, 13 spot for store and there were no suggestions for purchase and computer. The same sentence in MS Word resulted in more corrections and better predictability of the word the individual was trying to write. Wish was the second choice. Could was the second choice. Store was the fourth choice. Purchase no suggestion. Computer was the first choice.If this software was meant for individuals with dyslexia, you would think that the spell check would be equal or improved upon then MS word.

The background is very interesting. If you select a background color your background changes but as your start to write the background color stays. However, after you have the program read the text the background is removed from around your words. Even trying to change the color does not make the background become solid again. If I set the background to a color I would want the color to be consistent throughout the whole document.

Pros: easy to use, clear high quality voices, easy conversion for MP3, saves as rtf or txt files, does not visually cue students to misspelled words, highlights full sentences and highlights the words as it reads.

Cons: spell check, funky background, none speaking spell check, no control over font color, highlight of text can't change setence and word highlight to maybe just the word.

Word prediction

The ConfidentReader comes with built in word prediction. Since word prediction typically is suggested for children that struggle with spelling it would be helpful to use a product that actually works with they way they spell. More times then not a child struggles with the phonetic awareness of words. The errors can be seen at the first letter. If the student cannot get the correct first letter the word prediction in this program would not be helpful. The software does not correct phonetic based errors. I tried some frequently misspelled words: cep = keep, phitch = pitch, bec = because (3 letters). Even for a common word "this" I had to add the first three letters before it offered the word on the list at the number 7 location.

Although not all children with dyslexia struggle with phonetics, it would be helpful to have a product that would pick up phonetic based errors. The word prediction did not do this. I am rating the word prediction as poor because the child has to be able to get the first letter correct and for most words you have to put in a second or third letter before the word appears on the list. I was also disappointed that I couldn't change the type of font, the size of font or change the color of the box.

Pros: integrated into the product, you can hear the word by clicking on the speaker to the right of the word. The word prediction has predict in box that follows the cursor.


Cons: No way to change the font size, change the color of the box or font that the word prediction, if you have one letter wrong it will not support writing.

E-book reader:

This feature was not working. I clicked on the icon and all my computer did was search.



Is it worth the cost of $69.00, yes if you don't need a good spell check or good word prediction. However, if you need a good spell check tool and word prediction program, I suggest you keep looking. There are some excellent programs on the market that are reasonable in price and do exactly what is expected. The best thing about this product is the human sounding voices and the easy MP3 conversation.
Please do not take my word for it. Download the software for 10 tries and tell me what you think: http://www.confidentreader.com/index.htm click on the download button. Please be aware that when you unzip the file you will have 14 files on your desktop or other location.

Monday, March 10, 2008

New Curriculum for special needs students

I have to admit, I don't often get over to the News-2-you website. Many of the students I support have it at school or parents have purchased it for their students at home. Tonight, I was wondering what to do at 1 a.m. so I thought would check it out.

When I first went to the website, I thought I was at the wrong page. The website was nothing like I remembered. It was corporate looking; it lost the feel of fun and educational feel. Now that isn’t a bad thing especially when you are expanding your company’s possibilities to new global market. So although it sounds negative, I like the changes that were made. The site is clean, easy to navigate, visually pleasing and you can find the information that I was looking for without digging.

Now the exciting thing I came across was that News-2- you is releasing a COMPLETE curriculum in the coming year. The curriculum is going to be called Unique Learning System.
http://www.uniquelearningsystem.com/

At a glance:

  • Four separate grade bands. Allows you to teach age-appropriate material regardless of the students’ prior abilities.
  • 25 activities are available to download and use immediately.
  • Meet the core curriculum standards of state and national
  • All of lessons are aligned to content standards and include differentiated tasks and progress monitoring strategies to meet the needs of every student.

I can't wait to see what the Unique Curriculum looks like. I say ... It's about time. I might even decide to head back to the classroom since there is now a curriculum to follow and they say I won't have to spend hours with adaptations and modifications.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Call for Presenters ..... Take the step

Have something to share.... want to be the person in the front of the room creating the conversation about hot topics in AT , going back to OLD school and generating the next big movement, why not present. The conferences are always looking for new presenters.

TRLD - which is held in San Francisco every year is calling for presenters. The conference is on the small size but has a big heart. It will be held January 22-24, 2009. Yes, SFO is not the warmest place in the summer but in the Winter it is a nice cool rainy place. Even in the rain SFO is a great place to visit. TRLD is looking for presenters. Submit March 10th through June 2nd, 2008!

CTG - which is held in Minneapolis, Minnesota is looking for presenters. The conference has an educational background. Minnesota can be warm or chilly depending on the year. It is being held on October 16-18, 2008. Deadline: - 2:00 pm Central Daylight Time on Thursday, May 1, 2008

ATIA - is held in Florida in the winter. How nice to be able to relax by the pool while everyone else is freezing back home. The conference is unlike most of the conferences. The workshops are spread out nicely, you get lunch daily and you get to see the vending hall without worrying about what you are missing. January 28 - 31, 2009 - Orlando, Florida. No call at this time.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Low Cost laptop - NOT the OLPC

Last year, I was excited about the Foleo from Palm. And then I was disappointed that Palm postponed the release of the Foleo because of poor reviews and constant criticism. With Palms recorder, it was one of the smartest moves they have made. Don’t get me wrong, I am a PALM carrier but I am the first to admit that the company leaves much to be desired. So out to the pile heap FOLEO goes.

Then there was all the hype with the OLPC because it was a tool that was affordable. The problem is that I personally cannot see many students wanting to use something that is such a live color of green. Especially if they are self-conscious about what others may think.

Now there are some products that have been getting a ton of buzz for about a year. Intel was seems to want to do the same thing that OLPC wanted to do. Apparently, there is some animosity between Intel and OLPC. Rumor has it that, Intel said something that OLPC didn’t like it. I really don’t think it matters but everyone needs something to talk about. How else do you get free publicity?

So anyway…

You must check out the
Asus Eee PC (pronounced “E P C”). The ASUS Eee PC is an ultra portable notebook computer with prices starting at $399 and $599. The strange little fact is that it was was developed jointly by Intel and ASUSTeK based on Intel's Classmate PC project. The difference is that Eee PC was directed at the consumer market. From the reviews and the blogs about this “laptop”, it is a well liked device. I would say that if you have a student that needs more flexibility then the DANA and you aren’t ready to go the full next step to a laptop this device could be a solution. The hard drive is small, only 4GB hard drive. However, using an SD card (most recommend this); it is a great tool for productivity. It runs open source software Open Office. Comes in a rainbow of pastel colors. Specs for the ASUS According to the website for ASUS - EeePC will also run Windows in the feature. Expect the price to increase.


It is said that the Eee PC was designed for the consumer market and the Classmate was designed for the developing nations. Here is what I don’t understand. If the Eee PC is for consumers in the US, why would you give Linxus and open source software for the price you are charging? The reason I ask this is that the Intel Classmate (not to be confused with the Humanware Classmate sold by DonJohnston,) comes with Windows XP or Linxus options, it can have MS Office 2003 and a 2 gig hard drive if you are running window or 1 gig hard drive if you are using Linux. It retails for $225-$400 depending on the configuration. It is a rugged designed laptop that has a beautiful leather cover that doubles as a sturdy handle. Specs for the Classmate (PDF File)

Mind-Controlled Video Games

Sci-fi is about to become reality there is a new game controller called the Emotiv EPOC Neuroheadset which can open a world of possibilities for children and adults with disabilities that haven’t been able to play video games. Or people like me who are not coordinated enough to play video games beyond the arrow up and shoot button. Game developers have finally game out with a tool that ALL players can be equal participants in an electronic game.

The Emotiv Neuroheadset is a wireless game control that is designed to allow games to use their thoughts, expressions and emotions to control the game. According to the company the headset can detect facial expressions, emotions and cognitive actions like pushing and pulling objects. According to the company dictionary

No matter how exciting this is for your typical gamer, the possibilities for children and adults with disabilities are off the charts. How cool would it be for teenagers to actually play a game without needing to coordinate body movements, special switch arrays or special set-ups for access?

“The Expressiv™ suite uses signals measured by Emotiv’s neuroheadset to interpret player facial expressions in real-time. It provides a natural enhancement to game interaction by allowing game characters to come to life. When a player smiles, their character can mimic the expression even before they are aware of their own feelings. These expressions can be combined to communicate more complex non-verbal expressions such as "flirt , "look sexy”. ”surprised” or “angry”. Artificial intelligence can now respond to players naturally, in ways only humans have been able to until now.” When I first saw the device I thought children and adults with access issues. But after reading this I started to think of individuals with Autism. Making a game that helps them develop understanding of facial expressions.

As of right now the Neuroheadset will only be sold with the game developed specifically for it but other PC games can be used. The exciting part is that IBM Corp. is teaming up with Emotiv to investigate what the other potentials could be outside of gaming. They are going to explore how humans and computers can interact with each other using the Neuroheadset.
Close your eyes…… and make a wish because realistically the Neuroheadset isn’t that expensive $299.

I am in contact with the company to see if I can see this game control in person. I might need to take a trip to San Francisco. I know it’s a sacrifice but someone has to be the person to go. So I will volunteer my brain to check out the device.

There is not date that I could find for when this can be found in stores or online. They had the launch party on the 19th of February. But as soon as I hear, I will let everyone know where and when it can be purchased.
Another article to read:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2008/02/18/BUDBV2QMG.DTL
Also check out the video: http://www.emotiv.com/corporate/index.html

Thursday, February 21, 2008

E-Paper slap bracelets

Remember when slap bracelets were just made of thin piece of aluminum wrapped in fabric. Come on admit it, you had one or wished your parents would let you have them. They were the bb gun of the 80’s instead of shooting your eye out; you could cut your hand off. Ok so that is an over exaggeration, you wouldn’t cut your hand off but you could cause a nasty little cut.

The Chocolate Agency has made the next great device: E-Paper slap bracelets. This is an innovative concept so it is not on the market just yet and there is no release date that I could find.

Three cool ways to use the E-Paper
www.chocolate-agency.com/en/en.swf

Variant 1: E-Paper MP3-MP4Enjoy music and pictures with the E-Paper MP3-MP4 player bracelet. Thanks to the e-paper technology, this device allows you to manipulate digital content – MP3-MP4 and images as if they were physical prints.

Variant 2: E-Paper GPSMove around freely with the E-Paper GPS bracelet. A “fixed map” function, using a movement-based interface with accelerometers, allows you to virtually fix the map in space and explore it by moving the device around, reproducing the traditional way of exploring a map with your finger.

Variant 3: E-Paper Digital Photo FrameWith e-paper, the digital photo frame becomes very creative and can last forever. It lets you play with images, and create new graphical interactions that change through time thanks to multiple slideshows. The glass cube displays three images at once that interact with the play of reflections. The glass cube is on an aluminum base and three sides are e-paper screens. There is an integrated battery with an induction dock. Put two cubes together and the adjacent sides connect themselves to display a panoramic image, enriching the interactions while displaying bigger photos. Put four, six or one hundred cubes together and see what happens.

If the E-paper can be programmed with images that a student can navigate through, then this could be a possible communication system for AAC users on the go. I could even see it being used for the student or adult who is out on a job site that needs some visual supports to complete a task independently. With this product I can invasion so many possibilities. The only limit is see is the possible cost. You know something cool like this is going to be expensive like everything else in the special needs realm.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Prescription bottles


For anyone dealing with multiple medications and the tiny labels that are put on the bottles will love this gadget. Anytime I have to refill a prescription, I dread making the phone call but the numbers are so small. I know if I am having problems I know others must be having the same issue.

I have found the gadget to help. It magnifies the label by 2x’s. That doesn’t sound like that big of a deal but that makes it so much easier to see the RX on the bottle. The little gadget is very easy to use, open and all you do is slide your bottle in.Turn the label toward the magnification window and you are ready to go. The cheapest I have found it is http://www.microscopes.com/ms-cn-lm-rx55.html

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Alternative Keyboard with a Different Look

I was looking for a keyboard for a young girl that has limited range of her arms and minimal and a light touch. The one stipulation for the keyboard was that she had to use her hands as much as possible but also have an alternative method of access. I think I found the keyboard for her to try in the Lomak had (light operated mouse and keyboard). This keyboard not only addressed a keyboard issue but also a mouse issue for this young lady. A hand or head pointer controls a beam of light that highlights then confirms the key or mouse functions on the keyboard. By confirming each key, only the correct selection is entered, which reduces errors and increases input speed.

I am on the waiting list for the Lomak so as soon as the device comes, I will let everyone know how it goes. There is a US vendor which is http://www.infogrip.com/
UPDATE 3-4-08
I am just 5 days shy of a month since I contacted the company that makes the LOMAK. I still haven't heard when I will get my hands on this device. :0( It does not make me a happy girl. How are you to recommend a tool for a student if you cannot try it out. I will let you let you know if I finally get to try it. JFVH
UPDATE: 4-7-08
It is now over 2 months since I contacted the company that makes the LOMAK. I still haven't heard when I will get my hands on this device. It is very disappointing that I still haven't gotten my hands the keyboard. It is also frustrating because you expect something to happen and still nothing. OK - so I guess this device is now off my list of things to try. I am sorry but life is too short to wait with no response.

The Customizable Mouse

What would you think if I told you that there is a mouse that is moldable? You would think that I really need to get some sleep because I am delusional. Well you might be right about the sleep but at this moment you would be wrong on the delusional part.

The way you look at a mouse is about to change. The new exciting mouse to keep you eye out for will be Moldable Mouse. The moldable mouse can be kneaded into any shape that the user needs and the shape is maintained. The mouse is made with non-toxic lightweight modeling clay, covered with nylon and polyurethane blend fabric. Just the thought of this has my brain thinking of all the students that I have worked with and suggested a mouse that was the best option at the moment but really was far from optimal. Even alterative adaptive mice are not adaptable to the human hand. Wouldn’t you love to have a mouse made especially for you?

The Moldable Mouse is allows a wide array of hand positions when using the mouse. Customization minimizes the chance of common mouse-related injuries such Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. I bet you are wondering how you would click the buttons….. The click buttons and touch-sensitive scroll pad of the mouse are stick-on parts with built-in RFID (Radio Frequency Identification Device), which can be repositioned for maximum comfort. Buttons that you can stick on any part of the mouse, doesn’t that make your mind wonder to all the students or adults that couldn’t use a mouse because the buttons weren’t in the right place for the individual.

The mouse will come in various colors. For the people that want to be green…. The base of the mouse, made of 100% recyclable PC/ABS plastic blend, houses the PCB (Printed Circuit Board), laser optics and batteries.


“Today, modern technology has made it possible for the product to conform to the contours of the user, rather than the other way around.” As we say in the field of assistive technology: Fit the technology to the user not the user to the technology. This mouse is a wonderful possibility.
There is no date for release. So I will have to watch for the date.