As more districts more toward the use of Chromebooks for 1:1 device use, there are always questions about how these devices can provide the accessibility supports needed by our students with physical and/or learning disabilities. Since Chromebooks don’t allow for installation of software programs (the usual source of specialized reading/writing support), assistive tools must come from apps and extensions that can modify the user interface. These tools, many of which are free, are available from the Chrome Web Store and offer accommodations for visual needs, reading, writing, studying, note-taking, web navigation, etc. Be sure to check out user reviews and give a number of options a trial run before deciding which work best for the intended user.
I love Bookshare, but I will admit that it takes a little work to learn how to use it. That said, it is WELL worth the effort and will make you wonder how your students ever read without it! I was happy to learn today that they now offer an option for web reading without an individual membership and wanted to share this link with you for learning more. Previously, students needed an individual subscription and password to log in outside of the school’s account. Now the teacher can assign a specific log in for them, download books for the student, and assign them to a shared reading list to allow student access from the internet anywhere. Wow. It just keeps getting easier!
I love the free accessibility tools offered by EduApps! Although vision support options are included in the popular MyStudyBar tool, they have gone one step further and created a standalone application called MyVisBar for users with low vision.
MyVisBar can be downloaded to the computer (or a USB drive for added portability) for use with any PC or Android device. It offers excellent magnification with additional built-in supports for learners with visual difficulties. Features include options for changing text contrast (yellow on black), a visible ring to help track the cursor, a nice screen reader, high contrast text editing, color masking for text, and the ability to change the desktop resolution. Similar supports are available for student use within the online PARCC tests. These tools are quite helpful for students with low vision as well as those who need text accommodations to support independent reading.
Gone are the days when we had to purchase expensive technology supports and install from a CD to every computer a student might use. With the growing number of Web 2.0 tools, there are now many free resources available to provide students the accessibility and support features they need, whenever they need them and wherever they are. EduApps is one of my favorite resources and offers some outstanding web 2.0 tools for students who need added support for reading, studying, writing, or using the internet.
EduApps creates accessibility software and offers them as free downloads for the desktop computer and/or Android market. They can be saved to a USB drive as well, allowing students to take the support they need home with them. The popular MyStudyBar (one of my favorites) is a floating toolbar equipped with a range of reading, writing, and organizing tools. Many of the features found on this tool are allowable accommodations on the new PARCC online tests. Use of this tool in the classroom would benefit students who need these supports throughout the year and for participation with online evaluations.
The times are changing …
When Tennessee adopted the Common Core State Standards we accepted the challenge to change what we will teach and how we will teach it to reach new academic heights. Along with that, we also changed how we will test for it and that part has made things a little scary in the world of special education…
When PARCC designed the new tests to evaluate student learning of the CCSS material, they elected to administer them in a brand new computer-delivered format. That’s what is making special education teachers across the country a wee bit nervous.
While nobody is arguing with the move toward technology-based assessments, teachers are overwhelmed by the secondary demand of preparing our learning disabled students to actually access the tests and navigate through them unaided. Students must be able to read the directives, follow the prompts and input the responses without the hand-on assistance of a teacher. There is the real possibility that students may actually become smarter from instruction using the new standards, but might not be able to demonstrate that if they’re are so overwhelmed by the navigation and access issues related to the test that they can’t focus on the content!
The good news… according to the newly released PARCC Accessibility and Accommodations Manual, students will have access to all word processing functions as well as a wide range of integrated assistive technology supports during testing. Examples include text-to-speech, voice dictation, word prediction, spell checkers, pop-up dictionaries, translators, text adjustments, screen magnification and more. If it’s included as a learning support in the IEP, they will be allowed to use it on the test. Now, that’s progress!
The not-so-good news… most of our teachers don’t know how to use these tools, so their students don’t know how either. For students that do, they’ve never been allowed to use them during a high-stakes test. This IS change for the better. These access supports really do level the field for a lot of our kids. We just need a plan for teaching them what they need to know to access and make the most of them.
More good news…as part of my graduate level work with Western Governors University, I have taken on this topic for my courses in instructional design. I will be posting information and links for Web 2.0 tools that replicate those we’ll see on PARCC tests. As I gather information and ideas, create new materials and find new resources, I will be sharing them here. We have been advocating for the increased use of AT and this is the best thing to happen to our LD kids in a very long time! Let’s turn ‘scared’ into EXCITED!
I have just fallen in love with another web 2.0 support to add to our technology toolkits! The Mada Assistive Technology Center in Qatar has created an amazing array of web 2.0 supports packaged in a single toolbar for improving web accessibility. The “ATbar” contains tools for font magnification, text-to-speech, word prediction, background and font color changes, pop-up dictionary, spell checker and readability adjustments (to reduce visual clutter).
There are three versions of the ATbar:
- The download version stays available when you move between web pages and is made up of the standard functions.
- The lite version acts in a similar way to a bookmark or favorite and has to selected each time you visit a new web page – it also has the standard functions.
- The marketplace version allows you to build your own ATbar, by choosing the plug-ins to suit your needs then save the custom made bar as a bookmark.
- Other software is available on a USB flash drive with an accessible menu system as a Portable Accessibility Toolkit and there is a desktop version of the ATbar on the download page.
These supports are available for download onto any PC for personal use or directly onto your own website or WordPress blog as a plug-in for those who visit your site.
And…best of all…they’re FREE!!
For more information, visit their site https://www.atbar.org
I keep a million notes on student and classroom needs, assessment findings, etc. and I have begun to lean heavily on my voice dictation tools to get it all written down before I’ve forgotten it all. If you’ve never used Dragon Naturally Speaking, you should give the free version a trial run. I have the Dragon Dictation app on my iPod and use this for making notes throughout the day. Once back at the office, I upload the notes through my wi-fi onto the software on my desktop for transcription. We use it for our students with writing difficulties and also for our teachers who need to keep notes throughout the day without taking their hands off the students. It’s easy and it’s accurate! For more information on the full range of Dragon programs available, visit http://www.nuance.com/for-individuals/index.htm
I am often asked to recommend screen magnifiers for students with low vision who are struggling with computer use. There are several amazing, multi-function programs available for purchase with a wide range of features, but they can cost between $199 – $500 per installation. This becomes a pricey option, especially since we may not know exactly what each student needs and they may need the support on multiple systems across classrooms (or buildings). With that in mind, I always recommend starting with one of the freebie or low cost options available online.
Mac systems have a nice set of assistive technology supports built in, including cursor enlargement, color inversion, voice dictation and the Zoom magnifier. Many of you may be familiar with these features, as they are also on the iPad. http://www.apple.com/accessibility/osx/#vision
Windows systems are also equipped with similiar supports, including text-to-speech, voice dictation and a screen magnifier: http://windows.microsoft.com/en-us/windows7/make-items-on-the-screen-appear-bigger-magnifier
Here’s a link to a wonderful article by the American Federation for the Blind, comparing some of the most popular freeware and shareware (low cost) screen magnification programs. You might want to look at these as possible options for any of your low-vision students using a range of computers in different settings. These are just some of the freebie and cheaper choices as reviewed by AFB. http://www.afb.org/afbpress/pub.asp?DocID=aw140403
The freeware options are just that: free. But they may not have a wide range of features, offer low screen resolution or lack tech support. The shareware options allow you to take a free trial download, then buy if you like them. All listed here are under $29 and the authors make several specific recommendations based upon their trials.
The article suggests creating a separate user account on the computer so the files are downloaded there and then activated by the student user when they log in. We have always used this approach so the system reverts to standard settings once the user has logged off.
If you have a contained classroom or lab, you may want to put one of these on a single system so those students with low vision have immediate access to an adapted computer. These are inexpensive options for students to use at home, as well.