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Notes from the Dec 2 Webinar: Strategies & Tools for Tier I Instruction

December 6th, 2010 No comments
Image of Juto

Academic vocabulary through images

We had two informative sessions last Thursday and I’d like to publicly thank my guests, Hillary Brumer and Jamie Jensen of RSU 21, and Robyn Bailey of Lincoln Middle School in Portland.

I’ve been promoting and teaching universal design for learning (UDL) for ten years, and as a former science teacher, I look at UDL through the lens of content area teaching. So when Response to Intervention (RTI) came along, I immediately made a connection with Tier 1, which is general education classroom instruction for all students. Now that schools are planning and implementing RTI, the demand has grown for strategies that work with the widest possible number of students. How to leverage technology with those strategies was what we aimed to deliver in both the afternoon and evening shows.

A Primer on RTI

Although most of us are either aware of or woking within RTI in schools, we introduced the webinar with a brief overview by defining it as a system of tiered interventions. One part of the history of it’s origins is that it was a response to the shortcomings of the existing referral process for special education, which is the discrepancy between a student’s IQ and how far they’ve fallen behind in general education.

The first tier of this system (Tier 1) is general classroom instruction. Tier 1 is made up of universal interventions or strategies that are known to work for most learners. According to RTI’s mandate, 80% of students are expected to respond successfully to Tier I interventions by the general education teacher.

Tier 2 interventions are more targeted than Tier 1 and are provided in the general education classroom, and Tier 3 interventions are the most intense with one-on-one instruction, typically by a specialist.

The most important message that I wanted to send about RTI is that the tiers are fluid. Students who don’t respond to Tier 1 instruction at any given time should be expected to move between or among the tiers, rather than remain in either Tier 2 or Tier 3 for extended periods of time.

For more information about RTI, please visit the Maine Department of Education and the National Center on RTI

Adopt a Capacity Mindset

“Capacity thinking” means that we believe that all students have the capacity to learn. Tapping into that capacity is the first step of Tier 1 instruction. To collect information about students’ capacities, such as their preferred ways of learning, interests, prior knowledge, culture, and content readiness, we introduced a variety of systematic learner profile tools and methods:

Learning style inventories

Conversations

Observations

Interviews

Surveys

Home visits

Family conferences

The Tools & Strategies

Because the specific topics of the morning and afternoon sessions differed, we’ll branch off here and review the 3:15 to 4:15 PM show, followed by that for 7:15 to 8:15 PM.

Afternoon show: Strategies & tools for students with diverse learning needs and preferences

This was really a “don’t they all?” hour because the most important message that emerged was that there’s no strategy or tool for all students. As we talked about the featured MLTI applications, we continuously returned to the need to remind ourselves that technology opens up options, and not one of the tools that we demonstrated should be used without considering or combining with the others. All of the applications can be used for both teacher instruction and student learning, leading us to discuss the power of having students understand their own learning preferences and, therefore, to independently apply the strategies that work best for them. To accomplish that, explicitly teaching learning strategies to students needs to be as much a part of Tier 1 as selecting the most appropriate instructional strategies for our content areas.

Here are the tools and associated strategies:

Readability

Readability converts a “distraction-full” web page into a “distraction-free” and customizable display that clearly presents the content of the page, allowing kids (and grownups) to free themselves of the temptation to pursue an advertisement or conduct any other other off-task task.  It’s easy to set up in 2 steps at the web site of Readability

Text to Speech

Your MacBook has built-in speech, meaning that any digital text that appears on your screen can be read aloud by your computer. The history of speech synthesis might lead you to assume that all system voices are mechanical and without inflection, but recent research has contributed to great strides. Apple introduced “Alex” in Leopard and this voice continues to be a favorite among speech synthesis users. With inexpensive earphones or earbuds that many kids carry with them, the possibilities are endless:

Support for students with specific learning disabilities who benefit from both seeing the text and hearing it read aloud (with the independence to stop/start/rewind as needed)

Focus for students with ADHD

Scaffold for English learners

Proofreader for writers

For instructions, see my QuickTip at iTunes U

Additional voices, including world languages, are available for download from commercial vendors, such as

Cepstral

AssistiveWare Infovox iVox

Add (text selection) to iTunes as a Spoken Track

Another option is for students to convert digital text to a separate audio file spoken by Alex, which can be transferred to an MP3 player or iPod. This can be an appealing option for students who are strong auditory processors and for whom seeing the text is actually a distraction. Being “digital natives,” many students might simply prefer to listen to the audio file because it’s an opportunity to use the technology they more typically use outside of school. (But don’t forget to do checks for understanding to make sure this method is actually working for them.) Here’s how to create a spoken track of digital text, which will work in any application that is native or built for Mac OS X, including but not limited to Safari, TextEdit, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Mail, and NoteShare:

  1. Highlight the text that you want to convert to an audio file
  2. Go to the application’s menu (e.g., if you’re in Safari, go to the Safari menu in the upper left corner of the window)
  3. Choose “Services”
  4. Choose “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track” (If you don’t see this, choose “Services Preferences…” at the bottom of the same menu. This will open System Preferences. In the scrolling area on the right side, find the Text section, and then choose the box for “Add to iTunes as a Spoken Track”)
  5. The file will open in iTunes.

If you’re unfamiliar with iTunes or otherwise need help beyond this step, don’t hesitate to contact me or any MLTI Integration Mentor.

Speech Recognition

We discussed both the successes and the pitfalls of speech recognition, which is a technology that allows users to control their computers by speaking. It is commonly suggested as a potential solution for students who have difficulty with writing because the spoken words appear on screen. It’s true that speech recognition has been shown to work for this purpose, but only when the software has been purposefully matched with the needs, preferences, and strengths of the student for whom it is being suggested. You can learn more about speech recognition for the Mac at the web site of Nuance.

GeoGebra

Jamie, who is now the K-12 Technology Integrator for RSU 21, is a former high school math teacher. He gave a demonstration of how he used GeoGebra to help students interactively visualize and graph algebraic equations. GeoGebra is pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks.

Voice Recording

For some students, speaking what they know is the most effective way for us to measure the extent to which they are making progress toward meeting unit objectives. And, as teachers, conveying information in both text and voice can mean the difference between some and most students’ understanding of our message. This can be accomplished using QuickTime Player on your MLTI MacBook. Here are the steps:

  1. Open QuickTime Player
  2. Go to File > New Audio Recording (note that this version of QuickTime also supports movie and screen recordings)
  3. Press the red record button on the Audio Recording floating window
  4. Make your recording
  5. Press stop button
  6. Play your recording back to confirm your satisfaction
  7. Save the file to your computer and share it via email, web site, blog, wiki, pen drive, etc

iCal

Hillary shared with us a screenshot of a student’s iCal calendar. It’s color-coded by subject area. Beyond due dates, it includes projects that the student is working on to make sure they are completed by the due date, as well as activities outside of school. iCal can also be shared across computers, enabling parents and others to support students’ organization and schedules. iCal is pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks.

Concept Mapping

We concluded with the process of concept mapping, which is a meaning-making strategy. Sometimes called mind mapping, visual mapping, or webbing, among other terms, this has shown to be effective at helping learners make connections among ideas, facts, and concepts. When used as formative assessment, it’s a way to identify learning misconceptions. MLTI MacBooks have two concept mapping applications that we discussed and demonstrated: OmniGraffle and Freemind.

Resources that were shared during the afternoon show:

CITEd TechMatrix

UDL Toolkit

EdTech Solutions

LD OnLine

WestEd’s Using Technology to Support Diverse Learners

Evening show: Strategies & tools for English learners

We began the evening show by discussing the unique needs and preferences of English learners. Robyn provided us with a description of teaching science to English learners. We chose to focus on strategies associated with academic vocabulary because, although a unique process for English learners, it is a need for all students across the content areas. Robyn introduced us to Juto, whose picture appears on this blog post, a student whose first language is Japanese and was the mini case study of our webinar.

Robyn walked us through the steps of a strategy that she commonly uses when introducing a new unit. We broke the steps down into individual strategies and accompanying tools.

The first strategy we call “multiple means of accessing text” by using Open Education Resources (OERs) in digital text format that can be accessed via text to speech, conversion to audio file, text enlargement, or Braille.

The second is “differentiation of text types and complexity” by providing tiered instructional materials at her Portaportal page (Lexile level, use of images, amount of text vs white space, etc).

The third strategy we identified is “supporting legibility and readability of text” by utilizing Readability.

The fourth is “student identification and recording of unknown words,” for which Stickies, pre-loaded on all MLTI MacBooks, was chosen.

And, finally, “analysis of words and building of vocabulary” was demonstrated through the use of a digital Frayer Model.

Resources shared during the evening webinar included

MARVEL (Maine’s Virtual Library is host to numerous databases and can be searched by Lexile levels)

IRIS Center’s Cultural and Linguistic Differences:  What Teachers Should Know

IRIS Center’s Anchoring Math Instruction to Cultural Relevance

IRIS Center’s RTI and Cultural Considerations

English Language Learner Instruction in Middle and High School

Pre-reading Activities for ELLs

NCCRESt Practitioner Briefs

Across both the afternoon and evening webinars, we concluded that

  • Tier 1 universal interventions are based on what we know about how most students learn;
  • We need knowledge of our students in order to select the most appropriate strategies, and therefore the right tools;
  • Technology opens up means and modalities by which students can meet the same high expectations.

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.

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.

"Seeing," Self-Realization and Social Networking – More on Making Meaning

July 15th, 2010 No comments
Who Am I? from licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license (http://www.flickr.com/photos/paurian/3707187124/)

Who Am I? licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic license from http://www.flickr.com/photos/paurian/3707187124/

Two conversations I have had lately have really made me think about students, teaching, technology and 21st Century skills. Added to that, a number of my former students have friended me on Facebook and have talked about what they remember about my class. Basically, my thoughts have been directed to the difference between what we, as teachers, want them to remember, and what they actually remember. Then, I am led to ponder how that melds with the specific memories that lead to success in their lives. Deep, huh? So, once again, I am on the trail of making meaning.

The first conversation occurred in a grocery store with a private college math professor with whom I collaborated with in the 90’s, helping teachers understand more about fractals, chaos, and dynamical systems. We talked about how students are coming into class more prepared to visualize complex concepts, and how a few of his graduates have made a business out of creating incredible visualizations. One example he shared with me was based on the confluence of Obama’s inauguration and cell phones. The first, simple visualization dealt with looking at the national map and a kind of dynamic graph that showed the number of outgoing cell phone calls at any particular time. The map had all these jiggling little points that were cool to look at, and then the “bloom” of calls being made from the Washington D.C. area over the days of the inauguration. Pretty neat, and the results were all to be expected. Then his eyes twinkled as he described the second visualization – the same national map, but the little jiggly points represented the destination localities of those same cell phone calls. Wouldn’t that animation have been valuable to Political Action Committees and lobbyists! I thought about this as an example of how our students may “see” beyond our ken, and how we need to recognize that visual literacy is crucial part of literacy in general in the 21st Century.

The second conversation was during a family gathering talking about all our children as young adults and how they have found their niches. Not all of them enjoyed school, feeling as if they were overlooked because they weren’t necessarily the kids who were good at “doing school.” Conversely, many of their teachers were not skilled at recognizing students as individuals with different interests, talents, and abilities. But these kids grew up, found jobs, and raised families in spite of the way they were taught. When we tried to analyze their successes, we came to the conclusion that they were able to look at problems in a methodical way, and they were mostly self-taught. Yes, learning to read and do math were important – don’t get me wrong. But we agreed that their scores on common assessments generally made less difference to their success than their experiences in authentic learning. To them, learning how to learn made all the difference, and they love to learn in their own milieu. What helped them the most was their ability to adapt – a very important skill in the world of today and the future. I have yet to be convinced that most of the assessments given nowadays to gauge student achievement actually measure the skills needed in the world they will inherit. I thought about this as an example of how universal design and the ability of technology to individualize will help today’s students to show their interests and talents in a way that was not readily available last generation and prepare them for their roles in the 21st Century.

Then, there have been my Facebook conversations with former students as “friends.” I would agree that it has been a small, self-selected sample, but it has been both a pleasant and provocative experience to “hear” them. They have shared a bit of their journeys through life and I can’t help feeling a little pride in having had a small part in their successes. When I think back to my interaction with most of them and their classes, I realize that usually they had “permission” to be themselves and they took full advantage of it. Then I recognized that Facebook actually promotes a similar kind of self-realization. Web 2.0 social networking can educe personality and individualism in ways that old-school education often couldn’t. What users choose to reveal about themselves is a reflection of what they think about themselves. This kind of reflection and connection with others can lead to a higher level of personal interaction that has the potential of enhancing learning as individuals and in groups. So, finally, I thought about this as another example of how we, as teachers, need to appreciate how the world outside of school has changed, and how we need to adjust our practice accordingly to meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

So, to take all these random thoughts and apply them to making memories and meaning, let’s try to consolidate them. 1) This generation of students can visualize in ways we might not have appreciated before, so we can try to take advantage of that “open door” to their learning to help them remember what we think is important. 2) Our students are definitely distinct individuals, with different experiences, talents and learning styles. Providing them with relevant avenues for learning and assessment will allow for better retention of processes and content. 3) The potential for self-realization that social networking provides is important to include in the 21st Century classroom as another avenue for constructionist teaching and learning.

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.

AT Considerations: Notes from the April 15 Webinar

April 19th, 2010 No comments

Thanks to the folks who logged in Thursday afternoon or evening to participate in the webinar, Considering a Student’s Need for Assistive Technology. My guest facilitator was Mary Beth Walsh of Mainely Access Inc, a company in southern Maine that conducts computer access evaluations, training in the use of assistive technology (AT), and production of Braille. Mary Beth and her business partner, Mike Adams, have been supporting students with disabilities in accessing the MLTI laptops since the inception of the program.

We set out with the essential question,
What are the considerations for achieving successful AT integration?

First, what is AT? Mary Beth explained it in terms of student independence. That is, AT is anything that allows a student to accomplish a task without relying on another person. We pondered this for awhile, discussing the implications for student self-direction, motivation, engagement, and self-monitoring. Envision a student who has the freedom to control the rate at which a text is read aloud to her, even being able to pause upon demand, rewind, fast forward, all in the pursuit of independently accessing the content of the material.

A Federal definition of AT, presented in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1997 (IDEA ’97), also exists.

To further illustrate the definition of AT, we used the “AT Continuum,” which presents AT as low-tech, mid-tech, and high-tech (see figure below). Mary Beth described her experience of oftentimes working with professionals who assume that AT has to be expensive and sophisticated. She explained that, typically, the best place to begin matching a student with the most appropriate AT is with the least expensive, least complicated, and least intrusive options. From there, technology with more features and supports can be added to the AT assessment process. Read more…

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

SymbolWorld

Widgit

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 steve@atmaine.com

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.