Posts Tagged ‘accessibility’

December 2nd Webinar: Strategies & Tools for Tier I Instruction

November 29th, 2010 2 comments
Image of construction scaffolding

Scaffolding by Brett Weinstein used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

Tier I instruction refers to Response to Intervention (RTI), which is a method of supporting student achievement and preventing failure. Through a school’s RTI plan, instruction and interventions are matched to student need, and are adjusted in relation to student response as measured by assessment of learning. Tier I instructional strategies and interventions are those selected and used by general education teachers, and applications on the MLTI laptops can support teachers in implementing effective practices for content area learning.

During the 3:15 to 4:15 PM delivery of this webinar, Hillary Brumer, Assistive Technology Specialist, and Jamie Jensen, K-12 Technology Integrator, both of RSU 21, are our guests. We will discuss and demonstrate targeted strategies for supporting students with diverse learning needs.

Between 7:15 and 8:15 PM, Robyn Bailey, science teacher at Lincoln Middle School in Portland, will be our guest. We’ll discuss and demonstrate targeted strategies for supporting students of diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

Both sessions will be delivered on Thursday, December 2nd. For information and to register, please choose the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

October 28 Webinar: Accessing the Past – Using Primary Sources Digitally

October 22nd, 2010 No comments

Powerful connections and understandings can be made when a student is able to use primary source material in their work. Their interpretation of documents, letters, photographs, films, contemporary reports and objects creates new learning and meaning, by placing the world of yesterday in the framework of our world today.

For too long, access to primary source material has been limited to museums, archives, historical societies as well as attics and basements. Now, with a growing movement to make digital copies of this material available online, access to primary source material is unprecedented for the student researcher. This access obviously brings great benefits, but also challenges: finding the material, storing the copies, and creating high quality digital copies that are accessible to all.

This webinar will discuss and demonstrate how students can create digital copies of primary source material available in their local area, and make the copies available to online users. We will talk about standards for digital copies of material, and work with tools that can be used in this process. In addition, we will look at online collections that are available for use, and discuss ways in which students can use the material found in collections.There will also be a chance to share your own experiences of using primary source material, both with students and from your own work.

This webinar is a precursor to the Maine Council for Social Studies conference on Friday, November 12. For more details on this conference, please visit

This session will be delivered on Thursday, October 28, at 3:15 PM and again at 7:15 PM. For information and to register, please choose the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

Thanks to Jim Moulton for the image, showing a letter from Charles Potter from Bowdoin, ME, dated Aug 14, 1835.

Accessible Media for Everyone: A Matter of Digital Citizenship

July 21st, 2010 1 comment
Closed caption example

Image by Henrique used under a GNU Free Documentation license, version 1.2

I’m preparing for a session at next week’s MLTI Summer Institute in Castine. So I’m doing some thought processing and figured I’d take advantage of our blogging platform to make that public, and hopefully fine tune my message in the process.

Access to information is a civil right. It has it’s roots in legislative mandates, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act, amended in 2008 (ADA). Section 508, a 1998 amendment to the Rehabilitation Act, requires Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology, including websites and software, accessible to people with disabilities, which has broader and direct implications for organizations that receive Federal funds. Most recently and relevant to education was the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, which has provisions for universal design for learning (UDL). The Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008 has a provision for UDL, as well. (As an aside, you might be interested in reading the recent “Dear Colleague” letter that the U.S. Department of Justice and U.S. Department of Education jointly wrote to the presidents of all U.S. colleges and universities, advising them to not use ereaders that are inaccessible to students with blindness.)

With today’s tools, including those readily available to 1:1 MLTI schools, consistently meeting the legal mandates and – more importantly – doing the right thing has never been closer to conceivable. With awareness, knowledge, and skills (typically in that order), both teachers and students can become self-organizers of practices that model, promote, and foster accessibility for all individuals. I argue that this is an integral component of digital citizenship.

Here’s a classic example: Teachers and students are increasingly creating video to convey information in engaging and innovative ways. Indeed, video is a multimodal technology that can be effective for both teaching and learning. To be a model of UDL, however, even video needs to be scrutinized for accessibility for a wide range of learner needs and preferences. What are the abilities necessary to acquire information from a video? Consider students who are deaf or hard of hearing and learners for whom English is not their first language. Add closed captioning to the video and its content becomes inherently accessible to more students, and even embeds a literacy strategy for all learners.

With some training, coordination, and support from an administrator, teachers and students can accomplish closed captioning of their videos with a product like QuickTime, and begin modeling accessibility and digital citizenship for a wide audience.

A similar “barrier to learning” analysis can be conducted for all of the electronic information and digital instructional materials that we and our students create. And if we collaborate with students in this process, we’ll model and ultimately instill a disposition for doing the right thing.

A Discussion with Mount Desert Island High School: Notes from the June 3rd Webinar

June 7th, 2010 2 comments

Thanks to the folks who logged in Thursday afternoon or evening to participate in the webinar, Mount Desert Island High School: A Case Study for Integrating Accessible Instructional Materials (AIM) in the Content Areas. My guest facilitator was Paige Collins, MDI HS special education teacher and fellow member of Maine’s AIM Community of Practice. Additional guests included Mark Arnold (MDIHS technology integrator), Roberta Raymond (MDI HS special education teacher in the Life Skills program), and Casey Rush (MDI HS Drama/English teacher).

The topic of AIM in the content areas is important to the education of all students, but particularly for students with disabilities that interfere with their access to printed text. Print disabilities include blindness and low vision, certain physical conditions (e,g., a disability that interferes with physically turning the pages of a book), and specific learning disabilities, such as dyslexia. So, to put the need for – and implementation of – AIM into context, we explored the actions of these educators because MDI High School has begun to provide instructional materials in electronic formats for all students, so that it’s not necessarily an accommodation for students with unique needs. That is, it’s a model of universal design for learning (UDL) because all students have access to flexible formats of materials that inherently allow the use of assistive technologies, such as text to speech, screen magnification, and portable media players.

We set out with the essential question:
How does a school develop a system of differentiated instructional materials for all learners, including students with print disabilities? Read more…

June 3rd Webinar: UDL in a Maine High School – A Case Study for AIM in the Content Areas

June 1st, 2010 No comments
What's your AIM?

Artwork by Andrew Greenstone

Among the primary barriers to student learning in the content areas is the common inaccessibility of the instructional materials for students with print disabilities, as well as all students for whom flexible media results in deeper and more meaningful understanding of subject matter. Universal design for learning (UDL) can address this flaw in curriculum design by guiding educators to provide multiple representations of information for all students. This week, our guest is Paige Collins, a special education teacher at Mount Desert Island High School. Paige and other MDIHS representatives will share with us multiple aspects of how teachers have integrated accessible instructional materials (AIM) in content area curriculum and how all students are accessing them. Please join us and contribute your own school’s successes and challenges as we discuss what works in selecting, acquiring, and using AIM.

This session will be delivered on Thursday, June 3, at 3:15 – 4:15 PM and again at 7:15 – 8:15 PM. For information and to register, please choose the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

April 15 Webinar: Considering A Student's Need for Assistive Technology

April 12th, 2010 No comments

Image of Eye-Gazing Tracking SystemUnderstanding and meeting a student’s need for assistive technology (AT) can be an unfamiliar and complicated undertaking. This week, Mary Beth Walsh of Mainely Access will be our guest as we examine multiple aspects of AT, including it’s relationship with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) and recommendations for classroom use.

This session will be delivered on Thursday, April 15, from 3:15 – 4:15 pm and 7:15 – 8:15 pm. For information, please access the WebCasts tab at the top of this page.

Image by cobalt123 used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 license.

Communication: Notes from the 1/28/10 Webinar

January 29th, 2010 No comments

Illustration of 2 heads in profile with wires connecting them.Thanks to the folks who logged in yesterday afternoon or evening to participate in the webinar on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) options for the MLTI MacBooks. My guest facilitator was Deb Dimmick of ALLTech at Spurwink Services. Deb is an Assistive Technology Practitioner (ATP). While her primary work is with K-12 schools, Deb’s experience and expertise is deepened by the services she provides to individuals across the lifespan, from pre-schoolers to seniors who are learning or adjusting to new ways to communicate and access information.

Our essential question for the webinar was, “What is communication?” A deceivingly simple question as we journeyed through the multiple ways that individuals can express themselves through augmentative strategies or alternative means. And, of course, communication requires effective transfer and interaction. Regardless of our ability, we all rely on the need to integrate communication strategies, which include no-tech, low-tech, and high-tech:

Sign language
Facial and body gestures
Symbols, drawings, and photos
Printed text
Text-based voice output
Low-tech communication boards with text and images
High-tech communication systems

During the webinar, examples of all of these strategies were demonstrated. Deb provided videos of ALLTech therapists working one-on-one with students, giving us the opportunity to observe a range of AAC tools and strategies.

Applications that are available on the MLTI MacBooks can be used for low-tech AAC development by students, teachers, and parents. The uses of these applications for supporting communication go beyond AAC, to multimodal learning for literacy achievement by all students. For example:

Comic Life: Best known for creating what might be called “sequential art” (or simply comics), Comic Life can be used to design creative and innovative communication boards with simple to complex sequences of images and callouts.

iPhoto: Photos, drawings, and symbols from a variety of sources that are meaningful to students can be added to iPhoto and categorized by “Events.” The image description field in iPhoto can be used to detail information about source and relevance.

Keynote: Text and images can be integrated across multiple pages in the form of slides.

Pages: Designed for graphics and desktop publishing, Pages is an ideal tool for integrating text and pictures in creative ways.

PhotoBooth: Uses the MacBook’s built-in camera, allowing students to spontaneously capture self-portraits, photos of peers, objects, settings…whatever may be timely and relevant.

When I asked for other ideas for ways to use the MLTI apps for designing AAC, contributions included:

NoteShare: Organizing images by pages and sections, and using the Voice Memo feature for peers, teachers, parents to add annotations

OmniGraffle: Using actions and multiple canvases to create dynamic displays

And, of course, any of the above applications in combination with your MacBook’s Text to Speech function can extend the power of your low tech creations.

Higher-tech options in the form of commercial software are also available for the MacBook. As one example, Deb demonstrated Boardmaker.

And I couldn’t let Deb go without introducing everyone to Proloquo2Go, which is an AAC application for the iPhone and iPod touch. We enjoyed speculating the implications of Apple’s newly announced iPad.

Web Resources Shared:
University of Nebraska AAC YAACK



Image by Joan M. Mas, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license.

To Know VoiceOver: Notes from the December 10th Webinar

December 14th, 2009 1 comment
Wordle image of terms from informal transcription of webinar

Wordle of informal webinar transcription

Thanks to all who participated in last Thursday’s webinar, “Getting to Know VoiceOver.” Steve Sawczyn of AT Maine was our guest and provided a basic, albeit truly stellar, overview of VoiceOver, the built-in screen reader for Macs. More importantly, he gave us numerous take-aways for being better educators of all learners, including students who are blind or have low vision.

In Steve’s introduction, he explained that he’s been blind since birth and started using Apple computers in the 3rd grade when his teacher got a grant. In his own educational experience, the greatest barrier to learning has been access to information. Having to wait for materials to become available in alternative formats (i.e., purchased, converted, or transcribed), greatly disadvantages students with print disabilities. What has been the greatest contributor to access to learning? Steve cites technology from an early age as playing a large role in successful learning experiences. Even more important has been the ability to read Braille. He describes it as a “gift” he was given at an early age. He states, “It’s one thing to listen to text, such as by speech synthesizer or book in audio format, but another thing is to be able to read it in a way that you know what the punctuation is, understand the conceptual layout, flow of paragraphs…subtle things are lost in the translation to any audio format.”

Some anecdotes about *VoiceOver (VO)

  • VO is “integrated.” That is, every Mac (Tiger and newer) has VO built in. You don’t need to install, download, or configure anything. It’s just there.
  • In the past, Steve’s experience was to use “special workstations” or computers adapted with assistive technology for users with disabilities. Today, he can use any Mac, from his childrens’ laptops to trying out new devices at the Apple Store (a favorite pastime, apparently).
  • VO- and non VO-users can collaborate because it is designed to be an accessible interface for everyone. The caption panel displays in text everything that VO is speaking aloud. VO can be used by sighted users with the mouse and trackpad and by VO-users via keyboard shortcuts and commands. This is due to the VO cursor, which allows control of what the user wants to access on the screen. As Steve explains, “Similar to the way a sighted user chooses to focus on specific content, VO gives me a conceptual overview of what is on the screen, and I can jump right to the area of interest. In other words, with VO you learn to use applications as a blind user the same way you would as a sighted user.”
  • Braille devices are compatible with VO. For example, students who use refreshable Braille displays can connect their devices to their MLTI laptops and VO will produce output.

In summary, Steve convinced us that VoiceOver is a tool to improve opportunities for students with blindness and low vision to have the same access to instructional materials – and at the same time – as their peers. His hope is that all educators understand, even though they may not know how to use tools like VoiceOver, these supports exist to allow them to fully integrate students who are blind into the curriculum.

Steve can be reached at

Sites shared during the webinar

AT Maine

VoiceOver in Depth

Apple Accessibility

Woopid video tutorial

Mac-cessibility Network

*Our coverage of VoiceOver is specific to Mac OS X Leopard, which is on the MLTI laptops.

December 10 Webinar: Getting to Know VoiceOver

December 7th, 2009 No comments

Screenshot of VoiceOver

VoiceOver is known as Apple’s built-in screen reader, but can be better described as an accessible interface for everyone. Not to be confused with text to speech, VoiceOver provides voice description of all onscreen elements, features a caption panel, and allows users to control their computer using only the keyboard. Our guest, Steve Sawczyn of AT Maine, will demonstrate why VoiceOver is a tool that all educators should get to know. Most importantly, we’ll discuss how we can improve our UDL practices by understanding the unique learning needs of students who are blind or have low vision.

Please join us Thursday, December 10, at 3:15 or 7:15 pm (or both!). Click on the WebCasts tab at the top of this page to find links for registration and directions for joining the webinar.

Say, how do I do that? Notes from the October 29 Webinar

October 30th, 2009 4 comments

Thanks to everyone who came to yesterday’s webinars and contributed to the exploration of ways that the MLTI MacBooks are universally designed and culturally responsive to user needs and preferences. These features enable access for all students, lending to flexible, learner-centered environments. Here’s a review of the features we examined.

Say you want to: Make changes to how your desktop items appear
Do this: From the Finder, press the Command-J keys together or select View > Show View Options from the menu. A “Desktop” floating palette will appear.

Say you want to: Make changes to how items appear inside folders
Do this: Open the folder, then press the Command-J keys together or select View > Show View Options from the menu. A floating palette will appear. The palette is contextual, meaning the options listed in the palette depend on how you have selected to view the items in the folder (i.e., icons, list, columns, or Cover Flow). In the Cover Flow view, you can get a “quick view” of the featured file by pressing the spacebar.

Say you want to: Enable Text to Speech
Do this: Open System Preferences > Speech pane. The System Voice field is a drop-down menu. Recall that Alex is a relatively new voice and based on what is known as “concatenative” technology. That is, Apple took a human-recorded voice and synthesized it together to create words that might not have been recorded. If you listen closely, you’ll even hear him breathe. As good as Alex is, individual students may prefer or need a different voice. Among others, Cepstral and Infovox iVox offer additional naturally-sounding voices, including world languages, for download. Once you’ve selected a voice from the System Voice menu, adjust the Speaking Rate slider until you get the right voice-rate combination. Then, select the box next to the statement, “Speak selected text when the key is pressed,” and the Set Key… button. A drop-down box will appear. This is the field in which you press your self-assigned key combination to activate speech. Remember to make it something unique (i.e., if you choose command-S, that keyboard shortcut will no longer be applicable to saving files). In my experience, “option-`” has been a reliable combination, where “`” is the grave/tilde key, just below the esc key in the upper left corner of your keyboard.

Say you want to: Zoom
Do this: Open System Preferences > Universal Access pane > Seeing tab. Remember to choose the Options button to specify the magnification range, as well as to select the box next to “Only when the pointer reaches an edge.” This will keep the screen image from following your cursor, which causes the “sea sickness” sensation. Recall that an alternative route to Zoom is the “2-finger scroll.” For this method, open System Preferences > Trackpad pane.

Say you want to: Use Sticky Keys
Do this: Open System Preferences > Universal Access pane > Keyboard tab. When you turn on Sticky Keys, you can press shortcut keys in sequence rather than simultaneously.

Say you want to: Enlarge your cursor
Do this: Open System Preferences > Universal Access pane > Mouse & Trackpad tab. Adjust the Cursor Size slider.

Say you want to: Show Universal Access Status in your menu bar
Do this: Open System Preferences > Universal Access pane. Select the box at the bottom.

Say you want to: Change or add keyboard shortcuts
Do this: Open System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse pane > Keyboard Shortcuts tab.

Say you want to: Customize laptops for students from diverse geographic backgrounds (or any students who are learning another culture or world language)
Do this: Open System Preferences > International pane. Under the Language tab, you can drag the language you want to see in menus and dialogs to the top of the list. Under the Formats tab, you can change the date, time, and number formats used by your laptop to match conventions of other world geographic regions. Finally, under the Input Menu tab, you can select a keyboard layout for another language. If you check the box next to “Show input menu in menu bar,” the input menu will appear in the upper right corner of your menu bar (near the sound icon). Show Character Palette and Show Keyboard Viewer will be listed under that menu.

Say you want to: Use closed captioning in QuickTime to provide an additional mode to convey content from movies and other motion media
Do this: Enable captions in QuickTime by opening the QuickTime menu > General > Show closed captions when available. You can also self-caption your video, which is a topic for another time…