Thursday, January 12, 2012

iAT Specialist and iMom

I am an iPhone user. It is always in my hand or my pocket. There are many days I say, "I don't know how I can live without it". Between traveling for work and reading emails and texts while rocking baby to sleep, the iPhone has become an essential tool in staying connected to work and social life. I wanted to share with you some apps that have made my life as an AT Specialist and a new mother easier.

For my job I travel between all the schools in our district. Some days I find myself at several schools and some days I find myself in my office for the whole day. Either way, I must keep track of where I go in order to be reimbursed for mileage. Instead of sitting down at the end of the week trying to remember where I had been, I decided to start using FourSquare to "check-in" to all the schools that I go to. Every school I stop at I check-in to. Then, when I have time to fill out my travel voucher, I can simply access the history of my check-ins via the FourSquare website. This has made keeping track of mileage simple, and more accurate.

Three months ago today, my son Connor was born. What an amazing thing it is to become a parent. During my pregnancy, my husband shared an article with me. "Five tech tools for new parents". From this article, I downloaded both the Labor Mate and Total Baby apps. Leave it to my baby to want to be an assistive technology baby. My water broke while I was attending Closing the Gap conference in Bloomington, MN. I caught a ride with a friend halfway to Fargo, where my husband met us and picked me up to continue to Fargo. I was having contractions the whole way. the Labor Mate app made it very easy to start and stop the timer when contractions began and ended. It also gave stats of average length of contractions and average time between contractions. This was very useful to show the nurses at the hospital once we arrived.

The Total Baby app is great for keeping track of diaper changes, feedings, milestones, baths, doctor visits, growth, and more. This is helpful for parents to remember when the baby last ate, how much, when his last diaper change was, and so on. The app continues to have updates which have recently added new features like a weekly timeline and graph. This app also syncs between iOS devices, so both my husband and I could enter data when we were with our son, and then merge the data at a later time. We used this app steadily for the first 2.5 months until we got comfortable with our son's schedule and understanding when and how much he needs to eat.

Lastly, I have been using the Milk Maid app to help me keep track of breast milk. It has a timer for pumping. The app allows you to track how much milk you have in the fridge, freezer, at daycare, and elsewhere. It also gives statistics of how much milk you make in a day, week, and month. This app has been essential for helping me to keep track of my freezer stash of milk and knowing how long it has been in there and when it expires.

I hope you new moms and traveling workers will find this information to be worthwhile. I am constantly amazed at how technology can streamline and improve our lives. I can only imagine what is yet to come!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

AT Expo!


It's that time of year again! The AT Expo is just around the corner, with the pre-conference on April 27th, and the Expo on April 28th. We are still looking for more vendors. Our presentation spots have all been filled up for the morning of the expo and you can check out the schedule here. Our pre-conference presentations are all set up as well! We have Diana Straube presenting on AT Funding Through the Ages. Sign up to be part of the pre-conference here! Along with the AT Expo, there will be the Metro Area Mayors Committee Luncheon and a Self-Advocacy workshop. The vendor hall is free and open to the public from 11am-6pm on April 28th. I would love to see you stop by the West Fargo Public Schools booth to say hello! Check out the website for all the information you need!


Friday, December 17, 2010

Not just another iPad post

I've been contemplating for a few months now on what to write for a blog post on iPads/iPods in special education. I'm just never really sure if what I would write hasn't already been said. There are so many wonderful adoptions of these devices in the special education world. Last week an article was posted in the local newspaper about a student from our district who received an iPad as a Christmas gift through a Facebook voting contest. You can read the article here. This article inspired me. What is so wonderful about the iPad is how it breaks down technology barriers for some of our students. Having a touch screen interface takes away the challenges of using a mouse. With a touch screen native to the device, it takes away the awkward calibrations of placing a touchscreen on a laptop or desktop. The iPad allows people with disabilities to access technology without any modifications or adaptations. It allows them to be independent, to fit in, to use technology like everyone else.

I recently received these thoughts from a student via the QIAT listserve about the benefits of having an iPad:

1) Less space – I can have my textbook open and my ipad to take notes. When I used the computer, I had to have my aide take my notes because I couldn’t have both in front of me.

2) I can lift the IPAD myself. When I use the computer I have to have someone set it up for me. My IPAD can be tucked into the side of my chair and I can reach it.

3) Power – with my laptop I always had to be near an outlet or make sure the laptop was charged for the classes that didn’t have outlets. My IPAD is always ready to go.

4) Waiting – there is no waiting for windows to start. I slide the bar and I am ready to work.

5) Independent: because of my fatigue level often I tire out moving the mouse before I am done working. Now I can finish a worksheet because I don’t have to move as much as I did.

6) Enlarging – I don’t have to worry if the photocopier is down or my aide forgot to change font size, I can enlarge text by dragging the content and scrolling.

7) Dictionary at hand: All I have to do is tap on the word and my dictionary opens on the IPAD. In the past, I had to highlight the word, open IE and then go to and paste my word. Now it is one step instead of 4-5 steps.

8) Copy and pasting is two easy steps – highlight and copy comes right up. With the computer I need to use the mouse or the keyboard to highlight text, right click or go to edit to copy, open a second document to paste (edit paste or right click and paste), now I can paste to a clipboard within seconds instead of minutes.

9) Speed: I am faster. I am independent. I am the student I can be with the IPAD. With the computer I was a student. But I am not independent. I have to wait for someone to assist me. I worked three times as hard with ¼ of the result.

10) Games – on the laptop I wasn’t allowed games even though they support my memory and fine motor skills. With the IPAD I can have games that support my IEP goals. I need to increase speed of typing, speed of navigation practice makes perfect. Practice shouldn’t be boring.

The iPad is a tool with many resources. Before all of these resources were not available in one place. Now, the iPad puts them all neatly in one portable, shiny, accessible package. There are some things the iPad cannot do, but the benefits and independence it gives many of our students justifies the value for the iPad. It provides a technology that is accessible and engaging, as well as giving our students the independence they deserve.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

AT in the Kitchen

I must admit, I'm a bit of a foodie. You can often find me watching Food Network on Saturday mornings, curled up with some homemade egg bake. Technology for cooking has come a long way since the early days of putting a hunk of meat on a stick over a fire. This leaves me to ponder if the technology is accessible for people with disabilities. Is there any of today's modern technology that is helpful to those with physical or developmental disabilities? Is there AT for the kitchen?

If you take a look at the Assistive and Instructional Technology Lab at the University of Texas at Austin, you will notice a section on kitchen items. These include large type timers, color coded measuring utensils, and jar openers.

Some other things to consider are larger handles for easier grip. Check out these two vegetable peelers.

The one on the right is going to be much easier to grip and maneuver with the large handled soft grip.

I happen to really like the idea that Rachael Ray has with her spoons. They are called "Lazy Spoons". The spoons have a notch on the side, so you can keep the spoon with the pot you are cooking without it falling to the floor. For those with low vision, cookbooks with large print have now become easier to locate. Even popular cookbooks like the "South Beach Diet" cookbook are available in large print.

To keep a recipe stable while cooking, a "page up" or a recipe book holder can be used. This keeps your hands free for cooking, and your recipe in a secure place.

Pictured on the left is a one-handed cutting board, which stabilizes the food while chopping.

There are also tools such as battery operated sifters, talking egg timers, and talking thermometers available.

Being able to be independent in the kitchen is so important. In schools, students are taught basic cooking skills to help foster their independence and teach them safety in the kitchen. With accessible kitchens and accessible cooking tools available, our students, friends, and family members with special needs can have more independence in their daily lives.

Let's get cooking!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Social Media

My husband and I were recently having a discussion about social media. With his new job he has created a Twitter account and is learning the ins-and-outs of social networking advertising. He said he was impressed with my Twitter account and how I follow people and businesses that pertain to special education, education technology, and assistive technology. I got to thinking about how social media has impacted me. I have met many new colleagues, gained countless resources, and learned tons of new and up-to-date information. With Facebook hitting 500 million users this week (good time for a blog post on social media, right?), social media is impacting our society in a big way. But how, HOW, do we get this into the classroom? How can our students with special needs take on the monster that is social media? Well, some have already been doing it for quite awhile - and with great finesse.

Check this out: The students at Highland Park Junior High School in St. Paul, Minnesota are using a blog to practice their writing skills. They are also using VoiceThread, Flickr Creative Commons, and many other Web 2.0 tools. They are communicating with ebuddies both on and off the blog.

Here is an article from Mashable offering 4 tips for social media in the classroom.

Here is another article giving 100 ways to use social media in the classroom:

I could give you many more articles about advice and ways for using social media in your classroom, but the important part is to find out what works best for your students. Find out how many of your students are using social media. They may have some insight for you! Perhaps they can explain hashtags and the difference between TweetDeck and HootSuite. Maybe your students transitioning out of high school are already using TweetMyJobs to find post-secondary employment. If your students aren't social media savvy, then how about learning together? Explore the social media universe and bring it back to your students. Ask your technology integration staff for help, if need be.

Although social media may seem like a monster (roar!), what we need to remember is that social media is about connecting people. Connecting me to other assistive technology professionals, connecting car sales to their customers, connecting news to readers, connecting educators to other educators, connecting our transitioning students to jobs, and connecting our students with disabilities to the world.

Let's get connected.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

LocLine Modular Hose

Assistive Technology, it's part assistive, and part technology. Who would have ever thought it would also be part industrial? I have been thrilled with an assessment kit from LocLine Modular Hose which is flexible hose that can be mounted to a wheelchair for switch trials. The main purpose for this hose is for industrial use. Somehow along the way, assistive technology professionals saw it's potential. Now they have a kit specifically for AT use. I have quick attached the hose to my very own "wheelchair" so you can see how it works.

The hose is flexible, but stable. You can easily move it around, yet it won't bend back like a gooseneck mount can. You can also snap off a length of it to make it shorter, or pop it back on(with a little force) to make it longer. The kit comes with 3 feet of hose with a circular base. It also comes with Velcro coins and reusable zip ties. The kit is wonderful for AT evaluations, and trialing switch mount placements.

I hope you find this kit useful for your AT trials!


Monday, May 17, 2010

Popsicle Sticks: A Simple and Versatile Low Tech Tool

Once upon a time, each of us probably made a Popsicle stick picture frame with lots of paint and glitter, and presented it to our moms and dads with grinning pride and joy. It was simple, and easy to make, and our parents pretended to love it.

Sometimes, in the fast paced technologically advanced world we live in, we forget about the simple tools that were once commonplace in the pre-technological classroom. Today, I am going to remind you of the simplest low tech tool of them all: the Popsicle stick. The Popsicle stick is versatile because, well, it's just a wooden stick. You can paint on it, color it, glue it, use it as a bookmark, use it to identify seeds planted, use it to practice tallies, use it to count, use it to stir things, use it as a pointer, and so on and so forth. I am going to share 3 examples with you that I learned from an Autism make-and-take workshop.

1) Follow with your eyes
Have you ever been reading aloud in a classroom, asked a student to follow with his eyes, and he puts his eyes on the book? Here is a solution to helping kids follow along in the book:
2) Asking too many questions
Some students ask many questions, or frequently ask to go to the bathroom. If this is the case, you can make Popsicle sticks with appropriate symbols. Give the student a set number of Popsicle sticks. When they ask a question or ask to go to the bathroom, they give you a Popsicle stick. When they run out of sticks, they cannot ask anymore questions or go to the bathroom anymore. The student will then learn how to space his or her questions out. You can also start to reduce the number of Popsicle sticks as time goes on.
3) Understanding parts of a story
Labeling Popsicle sticks with parts of a story (plot, character, conflict, resolution, setting, etc) will help students to focus on that particular area of the story. Give a student a Popsicle stick. Read the story aloud. When the story is over, the student will share what he or she found in the story related to the Popsicle stick they hold. The group can then discuss. Picture clues on the Popsicle stick will help the student remember what he or she is looking for.

If you have more great ideas for uses of Popsicle sticks in the classroom, please feel free to post below! I hope you find these ideas useful!