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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Jan
18

That Big Guy at Purdue

Screen-Shot-2023-01-18-at-3.26.21-P_20230118-203012_1 Purdue logo with braille


Walking out of the Y the other day, a stranger held the door for me, and, commenting on my sweatshirt said, “It’s a great year to be a Purdue Boilermaker!”

“I know!” I replied, “you’ve heard about the microrobotics work they’re doing for accessibility then!” She looked at me, her enthusiasm switching to puzzlement, then she walked on in, and I walked to my car, shrugging.

She must have been talking about Dave Schleppenbach, giant in the field of STEM accessibility for the blind, and CEO of Tactile Engineering, right? Because the news coming out of his lab in the Purdue Research Park is what this PATINS specialist for blind and all of my teacher colleagues have been waiting to hear for two decades. He’s like some kind of superstar athlete getting double digits in all the categories. It’s like we’re going to finally have a shot at winning it all!

To give you some reference as to why this feels so monumental, when I started in this field teaching science at the Indiana School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in 1996, electronic braille displays were brand new. Essentially, a student who used braille for literacy had an alternative to paper braille–a device that had plastic pins that mechanically popped up and down into the braille code under their fingers. The main limitation, though, was that due to the expense and size of the mechanisms needed for each braille letter, the student could only display 40 cells (letters or spaces) at a time. Usually less than one sentence.

Whole books worth of information (and soon after, access to the whole world through the web) awaited in their device, just like inside their sighted peers’ phones and tablets, but they could only access 40 cells at a time. For sighted folks it would be like 

only being able to read this much of this blog at a time.

Could you imagine taking a comprehension test visually where you had to navigate with a tunnel vision window 40 characters wide seeking a word or answer? Or try to interpret data in a table without being able to see trends instantly? 

Since that time 27 years ago, I’ve attended yearly assistive technology conferences and expos and toured the exhibit halls looking for the breakthrough in science and technology that would allow braille readers to have a full page display that cost less than a million dollars.

Promising players would appear–usually a PhD candidate who won an award for an innovative idea for haptics or air-based braille puffs. They would slam dunk their presentation and my hopes would rebound. I would get excited cheering the team on, but the person must have headed on to a more lucrative contract in a more lucrative industry, like some college basketball star heading to the NBA. Ugh. Their ideas never materialized into a device.

Little did I know, Dave and his colleagues at his company have been quietly plugging away at this problem for the past decade, producing lab equipment for the blind along the way.

They even dared to dream of a device that not only produced a full page of braille, but one that could instantly produce tactile graphics with animation. Animation? You mean the students I’m working with will be able to access games too? Time to buy that Dave Schleppenbach poster to hang on my office wall! 

The key was finding teammates in microrobotics engineering who could develop the tiny robots to build many tiny mechanisms for the braille cells. Does this sound like magic to me? Yes. Do I understand it with any depth? No. Did I just stand up and belt out the Purdue fight song for all the unsung Purdue engineer "heroes and their victories?" Yes, yes I did sing "all hail!". 

Not only will this be a game changer for students in Indiana, it will also create new jobs for Hoosiers who will control all the microrobots to make all the devices for blind folks throughout the world. The excitement must be contagious as I’ve seen so many Purdue hats, shirts, and social media posts in the last few months.

Most importantly, it will open up doors of access and independence for students with blindness who would like to pursue a career in STEM--or just be able to see a whole page of text at once! I’ll be celebrating this victory for a long time. 


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Jan
05

Book It! For Grown-Ups

Book It! For Grown-Ups Were you part of the generation that grew up learning the value of reading as it related to a personal pan pizza? Me too!

Were you part of the generation that grew up learning the value of reading as it related to a personal pan pizza?

Me too!

Pizza Hut’s Book It! program was a cornerstone of my childhood: read so many books a month, and get a little coupon for a free pizza. In elementary school, I devoured books almost as fast as pizza. Throughout my childhood and teens, I always had a stack of novels nearby.

It didn't change until sometime in my 20s. I couldn’t find any enjoyment in reading books and at the time I couldn't pinpoint why. My free time, interests, and access to books had certainly changed. I had a job, responsibilities, and no weekly trip to the library built into my schedule. I just didn't read books anymore, so I described myself as "not much of a reader."

In actuality I was still a reader, a voracious one even. I was just reading different things for different purposes: cooking and travel blogs, news reports, professional journals, comic strips, and the Wikipedia pages on Basque whaling in the 1700s. I spent hours reading every day but if it wasn’t a book with chapters I believed it didn’t count. That frame of mind was harmful: no one way of reading or type of reading is superior to another. When we put books and novels as superior to other types of reading, we set ourselves up to an unequal and inaccessible standard. And when I took the pressure off of being “a good reader = books = pizza” and could find enjoyment in more types of reading.

So I propose a new Book It, A Grown Up Reading Program. There are a few rules:

All reading counts

Books of any length or genre? Good. Children's books? Good. Not-a-books like blogs, comic strips, technical reports, the news, and recipes? All good. Audio, digital text, print? Good, good, good!

Get the tools to help you read

Today I almost exclusively read digital materials. Audiobooks let me multitask, conserve energy, and prevent repetitive motion injuries while the digital text gives me the learning and organization tools I need. Both of these formats are necessary for me to access reading. I also use two types of headphones for audiobooks: bone conduction and noise canceling. You can borrow these types of headphones from our lending library. If I was a student with an IEP, I would insist all this information be written in that document under assistive technology and accessible educational materials.

Did you notice up at the top right corner of the screen we have a ReachDeck accessibility toolbar? If you haven’t yet, try it out. Listen to this blog or another page with the tool. Do some stretches or pace around a bit and read. Did you like it? Would you or your students use something like that again?

Share the joy

Does every student have access to reading materials in your district at the exact same moment as everyone else? 

Do they all get to have interesting reading experiences about a variety of topics? 

Do they need some tools to be successful readers, as most adults do?

If you need support with the above questions, reach out to us, we have tools and ideas to try!

Finally, buy yourself a pizza

Also, splurge on some breadsticks, because you are a grown-up with grown-up money.

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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-Wide Initiative

Accessibility is a District-Wide Initiative Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative with student in wheelchair reaching for book.

“I wish I still had to use my wheelchair.” This was a quiet statement made by one of my students.

While this particular student had made immense progress physically following a stroke, he was continuing to struggle academically and a bit socially to keep up with the ever changing landscape of middle school.

When asked why he wanted to have his wheelchair back, he said “So people would remember I had a stroke.” He felt without an external symbol of his disability, his teachers and friends treated him like he had recovered 100%. They had assumed he was “being lazy” or “being a teenager” when he did not complete his school work. 

I know some days he enjoyed being able to “blend” back into the classroom environment, especially when he was up to some pre-teen trickery. Although he worked hard to cover up his struggles, he needed support. For instance, I noticed he had a particularly hard time editing his writing on the computer. He said looking at the screen would give him a headache and he had trouble reading back what he typed.

Only after the fact did I find out our district had the AEMing for Achievement grant at the time I worked with this student. I had heard rumblings about Snap&Read and Co:Writer from my speech-language pathologist counterparts at other levels. So I asked about the tools but was told “Oh we are trying it out in elementary and high school right now. This will come to the middle school soon.” 

So I waited.

And that was my mistake.

The tools that could have supported my student (and subsequently benefitted his classmates) were literally sitting right in front of him on his Chromebook everyday. District administration never brought us more information about the AEMing for Achievement grant processes and tools that year.

Here is where I wish I had a happy ending to wrap in a big shiny bow to share with you. The truth is we never found a great strategy to help him in middle school and I am not sure what happened once he moved on to high school.

My hope is that you can take away a couple of lessons from my experience.

First of all, my student is an example of many students in our schools who are passed over year in and year out because they do not “look” disabled. Having mobility aids or other assistive devices is not a prerequisite to receiving academic support. We must create a learning environment without barriers. By designing lessons with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind, we can remove barriers to full participation and progress for all students in the classroom.

Second, if you hear of a tool that you feel will help a student, go after it tenaciously. There is always someone willing to help train you, lend it out, or in some cases pay for it. PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library has many devices, software, and educational items to trial with your students for six weeks for free - shipping included!

Third, access to the curriculum is a district wide initiative. In other words - access for all students! This especially applies to students with disabilities who must receive their accessible materials in a “timely manner” (IDEA, 2004). 

It can feel overwhelming to make systemic changes and to get everyone on board. The PATINS Project is here to help you in your efforts to create and sustain an accessible learning environment. PATINS AEMing for Achievement grant teams receive intensive support to set up accessibility policies, procedures, and practices district wide. Additionally, our specialists can help you get the ball rolling if you have questions about designing accessible lessons or would like training in this area. Furthermore, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) provides Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) to qualifying students. All of these services come at no cost to employees of Indiana Local Education Agencies (i.e. public/charter schools). 

Our students do not have time to wait for access to their education. They need it now and the PATINS Project is here to support you in achieving this in 2022 and beyond.

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Jun
10

Tools in Your Toolbox

 

Various battery operated power tools and toolboxes with various tools

Most of us have completed a project, repaired something, helped a friend, written a letter (or blogpost!) at some point.  When planning for these endeavors we usually have a plan and/or a tool in mind.  Often everything goes well but sometimes it doesn't.  To be successful, we must have access to more than one solution or tool.  Students must be offered and taught how to use a variety of tools.  Need ideas?  Please check out the PATINS Project training calendar.

A picture containing outdoor pergola over and outdoor grill/kitchen area

My plan was to help a friend dig three post holes for a pergola (unique design).  We were warned by his neighbor that the ground was hard clay, and the preferred tool would be a towable, one-person auger/post hole digger (available to rent but would take about one hour of our time to borrow and return). I've dug many fence post holes in the past and I have manual post hole diggers.  During my site prep we measured, used my diggers to start the holes and everything looked good (i.e., somewhat soft clay and no rocks).  To save that hour of time, I figured we could use my neighbor's small, gas post hole digger.

I forgot to mention that his neighbor had just built his own pergola and successfully dug six post holes…in the clay. You know what happened next, we were forced to rent the larger one-person auger/post hole digger.  Unfortunately, we had more obstacles; three rose bushes and an outdoor grill/kitchen brick wall.  Respectively, they didn't appreciate the one-person auger’s wide wheelbase or large obtrusive handle.

It took us almost twice the time we planned, and we used three different tools.  However, we got those holes dug!  One tool did not get this task completed.

When students are assigned academic tasks, they should be allowed to choose from several tools to successfully complete those assignments. When writing, students could respond with handwriting, with a keyboard, speech to text, audio recording, video recording, scribe, etc. 

When reading, students could read with their eyes, ears (speech to text solutions), have someone read aloud to them, audio books (e.g., Hoopla or if they qualify, access digitally accessible materials from the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM)).

When communicating, students could use gestures, vocalizations, sign language, partner assisted scanning, static/paper-based communication boards, single message voice output devices (e.g., BigMack), multiple message devices or high-tech dedicated speech generating devices (SGD).

What tools are in your teacher's toolbox?  If you want ideas to fill it up, please reach out directly to one the PATINS specialist.

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Feb
27

The Lenses Adjust The View

Photo collage of four pairs of glasses:  paper 3D, yellow lenses in reading glasses, round rimmed glasses and safety glasses


This week I was reminded that the lenses one looks through, adjust your view. Each year, I visit the optometrist to check my eye health and see if the vision in my eyes has changed any in the last year. The results are typically one of 3 things: 

  1. Vision unchanged and no new prescription
  2. Vision improved, new prescription needed
  3. Vision worsened, new prescription needed

I could even consider new or colored contacts, at this annual visit, which adds another type of lens to consider after my annual check up!

While watching a photographer/videographer friend’s YouTube channel, as he was showcasing a Stream Deck for streaming and productivity, I realized the lens I viewed this equipment with had changed over time. Originally, I used a Stream Deck with OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) for live streaming, for projects unrelated to school based therapy. Then, I moved to the option of using shortcuts to allow a student to press one button and land on the page they needed during instruction, rather than typing out the most common web pages she needed in class.

After viewing my friend’s video, I am reminded of all the options that are available for productivity and shortcuts that can be set up with a Stream Deck by Elgato. Using a device as the manufacturer intended is great, but what if it can be used to increase productivity or increase access to a student’s curriculum? One tip he reminded me of was that one can set up a group of websites that will launch in one window. Another is that a user can have a direct link to their storage drive or email that would allow the student to already be logged in. As an educator or therapist, do you have students that shortcuts like this would work well for? 

I am thankful for a different lens to view this valuable technology! The PATINS Project Lending Library has both a Stream Deck 15 and a mini available for loan, along with thousands of other resources to help Indiana’s students. Indiana’s educators are able to check out resources for a 6 week loan to gather data and see if the tool is a good fit for the student’s needs.

Myself or any of our PATINS Specialists are available to assist with set up and training for use of a Stream Deck, or any other Lending Library loan that an Indiana educator would like to trial as Assistive Technology or use the view of the Universal Design for Learning lens. Reach out to us today!

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Jun
25

Indiana Educators Focused on Accessibility in 2019-2020

Indiana Educators Focused on Accessibility in 2019-2020. Blog title above a group of people waving.

We often tell our students “you're more than a number”, meaning they have incredible qualities that are difficult to measure in a standardized manner. Creativity and grit are a few of these tricky to quantify metrics. Now, it’s not only Indiana students who have amazing, unmeasurable talents, our educators do too. And one there is one that was particularly evident during the 2019-2020 school year - determination. Specifically, a determination to educate their students whether the learning environment was the classroom or home.

Check out the graphic below showing the support PATINS/ICAM staff have provided this school year. While you’re looking at it, please remember, behind each number is a determined Indiana educator:

A general educator from College Park Elementary in MSD of Pike Township who attended the “Accessibility in Canvas and Beyond” webinar by Jena Fahlbush benefited from having another perspective - “Seeing examples of a screen reader helped me so much. I realized I was unknowingly doing so many things that would make learning more difficult for a student with low vision. After the session, I was able to make fast, easy fixes that will make learning more accessible. I also learned many tips and tricks to help students with hearing impairments or language needs as well.”

A special educator from Binford Elementary School in Monroe County Community School Corporation who can spend her time more efficiently after learning about new, free tools at Jessica Conrad’s “I Love Data 2” training - “I am so excited about Google Data Studio!! I cannot tell you how many hours I have spent trying to pull multiple pieces together into easy-to-read graphs/charts. Game changer!”

A cost-conscious instructional coach at an elementary in Elwood Community School Corporation who attended “DIY Fidgets & Sensory Tools to Enhance Continuous Learning” with Bev Sharritt, Jena Fahlbush, Katie Taylor, Kelli Suding, and Lisa Benfield - “I love these easy, affordable ideas that teachers can easily create at home for student use.”

Note: Indiana public/charter school employees can request any of the above trainings at no-cost.

Graphic showing 2019-2020 PATINS Project services in Indiana. Specifics in text below image.
Graphic: Indiana Educator Reach by the PATINS Project 2019-2020

  • 1,000+ Tech Expo registrants: PATINS/ICAM staff, with the assistance of IN*SOURCE, swiftly pivoted to a new platform due to COVID-19 and successfully held the first ever, virtual Tech Expo 2020! Also, in November we hosted over 400 attendees at our 2-day Access to Education 2019 conference.
  • 6,044 Training participants: The passion Indiana educators have for providing all students access to the curriculum is unmatched as evidenced by the outstanding turnout at our no-cost trainings this school year.
  • 73% Indiana public and charter schools reached: The PATINS Project has served seventy-three percent of Indiana school corporations and forty-two percent of Indiana preschool through grade 12 schools this year. Our small, dedicated staff goes to great lengths to deliver high-quality technical assistance to meet the access needs of all students through Assistive Technology, Accessible Educational Materials, and Universal Design for Learning.
  • 10,600+ Material and assistance requests fulfilled: Need to trial an assistive technology device? Have a question about Accessible Educational Materials (AEM)? Looking for information on the Universal Design for Learning framework? PATINS/ICAM staff are Indiana educators' go-to resource for improving access to the curriculum which leads to increased literacy skills.

Are you an educator behind one of these numbers? Tell us about your experience in the comment section below.

Want to be a part of the Indiana educators making education accessible in 2020-2021? Here are a few ways to get started:

  • Apply by July 31, 2020 to be one of the Indiana school corporations in our next AEMing for Achievement grant cohort.
  • Register for the first ever virtual Access to Education 2020! ($100 for 2 days, $50 for a single day)
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