May
10

A Taste of Anxiety

For my birthday and spring break last month, I was fortunate enough to celebrate in Mexico with my husband, Chris, and some friends. We spent the first part of the trip in Puerto Vallarta. It is a remarkable city filled with buzzing culture, delightful foods, beautiful beaches, and lovely people. As one of Mexico’s tourist destinations, many local staff speak English in addition to their native language. This was much appreciated by the majority of our group since we are English speakers trying out our tiny bits of conversational Spanish on occasion. 

alt=Friends at the beach in Puerta Vallarta. From left to right: Andrew, Chris, and Jena.

The second part of our trip took us to Mexico City to continue our vacation with our close friend, Andrew, who recently moved there for a new job. It was wonderful getting to see where he resides and to be guided through the city by someone who knew his way around. It was especially nice having a guide who is multilingual and speaks Spanish fluently. This is because I naively overestimated the number of English speakers in Mexico City based upon my previous international travels to tourist destinations in non-English speaking countries. 

Despite a language barrier for my husband and me, Andrew confidently led us through a handful of the city’s neighborhoods, to some amazing restaurants, and to some of the “can’t miss” sites to see. One of our adventures included a hot air balloon ride at sunrise over the architectural site of the pre-hispanic city of Teotihuacan. It has gone down in my book as one of the coolest experiences I’ve had to date!

Vantage point from a hot air balloon of one of the two remaining pyramids of Teotihuacan.
Overall, the trip was refreshing, enlightening, and a total blast until the language barrier came for us the morning of our flight home… 

It was 6am and we were pulling up to terminal one, the domestic terminal, because Andrew was also flying out to venture to another part of Mexico the same morning. Thankfully, before getting out of the Uber, he had chatted with the driver about taking us to the international terminal--terminal two--upon his departure.

So we said our goodbyes, Andrew walked into the airport, and we got back in the Uber. Expecting the Uber to head to terminal two per the conversation he had with Andrew, Chris and I buckled up and I said, “Terminal two,” to which the driver began responding to me in Spanish as we stayed parked at terminal one.  

My anxiety was immediately awakened, and Chris and I looked at each other with confusion. I began asking myself what are we going to do? Why isn’t he driving? How far is terminal two? Is there another way we could get there? 

I decided to get out of the car and look around for someone that could possibly interpret for us. The only language I was hearing was Spanish, and there were not that many people around. Failing to find an interpreter, I got back in the car and pulled out Microsoft Translator on my phone. Now, I wish I could tell you a success story about how this app magically saved us and opened lines of communication in this moment, but sadly, it did not. Instead, when I would put the phone close enough to the driver for my speaker to pick him up, he would stop talking. I tried asking him to repeat in Spanish (though I wasn’t even conjugating the verb correctly), but he remained silent. 

With my anxiety becoming palpable, I decided to give Andrew a call, though I wholeheartedly did not expect him to answer. Luckily, he answered my call. I explained that the Uber driver wasn’t leaving terminal one and that we were not able to figure out why. I then put Andrew on speaker phone so that he could talk to the driver. 

After a short conversation between the two of them, the call went silent. I could tell Andrew was still on the line, but he was not replying to my frantic calls of his name and asking him what’s going on. I look over at Chris and think, what are we going to do? Why isn’t Andrew answering me? At this point, I made the decision to get out of this car and be done with the ride. Chris and I got out, and I began knocking on the trunk to communicate that we needed to get our luggage out. 

Our efforts were gratefully met with the driver saying, “Hey, hey!” and pointing to his phone. This is when I noticed that Andrew had requested a new Uber ride with our driver to get us to terminal two. With some cautious relief, we got back into the car. The driver accepted the ride on his app, and off we went. 

I couldn’t have been more relieved to arrive at terminal two. As it turns out the terminals are far enough apart that we couldn’t have easily walked, and navigating a way there would likely have proven just as stressful as our Uber situation due to the language barrier. 

Heading into the international terminal and being greeted by someone who was multilingual began to tamp down my anxiety, though now I was feeling somewhat nauseated from the stress. Regardless, we had made it with enough time to get checked in, through security, and to grab a snack before our flight departed. 

I’m sharing this story with you because it highlighted the anxiety and full body stress I felt in a single experience in which a language barrier was present. Upon reflection of this moment, I’m filled with empathy for our English learners in our schools and communities. This is because as someone who knows some Spanish and how to use translation technology, all my knowledge flew out the window in a time of elevated stress. Your students and families have likely felt the same way in more than one instance. 

It is my hope that this story helps you reframe the experiences of your students and their families who are learning English. Could you be offering a more inclusive experience at your beginning and end of the year events and gatherings with Office 365’s Present Live in PowerPoint? Have you implemented apps like Microsoft Translator during conferences or meetings to support equitable communication? Have families been included in the training of their student’s assistive technology through an interpreter? 

We know there are many languages present in our public schools and not all languages are supported through translation technologies, but we are here to help you navigate those waters. Microsoft, iOS, and Google do have some great translation tools for many languages though. It would be my pleasure to support your use of any Microsoft or Windows based tool as the Microsoft/Windows PATINS Specialist. Email me any time! Plus, our passionate English Learner Specialist, Amanda Crecelius, would be happy to support language access for your multilingual students. 

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Jan
06

Is Your Assistive Technology (Still) Biased?

Is our assistive technology still biased? Image: screenshot of a text message that asks

Over a year ago I shared some thoughts about bias in assistive technology: technology was created by humans, so the technology has biases. Biases hurt humans, but humans have the capacity to fix it.

Not surprisingly, some things have changed since I wrote it! There have been small steps towards a more equitable and representative access for all. In 2020 we hadn’t had a single synthesized voice option for Black Americans, and the first one, Tamira, was developed and released earlier last year which is now an option for many Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) software programs.

Also not surprisingly, we have a long way to go.

When someone mentioned to me that we now could finally have Black AAC users with a representative voice, I had to stop and think for a moment.

It’s a start, but that one voice is one attempt to represent a diverse umbrella of accents in the United States. That voice alone can’t accomplish all that needs to be done to have a "representative voice" for Black American AAC users. For example, when you look closer at the language in most of the robust software for AAC, you notice the bias: you can’t conjugate sentences properly in African American English (AAE). In some software you can say “he is sick” but you can’t say “he be sick” which is a common linguistic feature of many varieties of AAE. The “habitual be” in some AAE and Irish varieties, for example, shows the difference between being sick once or habitually being sick. I can’t conjugate “ain’t” or say “finna.” The word prediction doesn’t predict the correct grammar or vocabulary of AAE.

“Of course not. We don’t want them to sound uneducated.”

Oh yikes. Or as many would say in the Midwest: “ope!”

Prescriptive grammar, the idea there could ever be “the right way” to speak a language, is still a prevalent bias in education and assistive technology. As a speech-language pathologist, there is a lot of harm to children and families by describing a linguistically valid way of communicating as “uneducated” and not representing it properly.

We want all students to be able to sound like their community. There is power in knowing how to communicate in the way your community expects (or to defy the rules, as you choose). To know the very words you say tie you to your family and generations of history is like having a bit of your ancestors in every sentence. We still haven’t created technology that allows that for every person, only some, and that’s a problem.

As perhaps some English speakers could have said 900 years ago:

Englisc meagol witodlic un−l¯æd fâgung (very roughly translated to Old English: English is strong because of its variety).

It’s said that addressing bias is a lot like tending a garden, not winning a race. You put in a lot of sustained effort and you might see a little growth. Sometimes you don’t (yet). When you’ve addressed the bias you notice, give it a few weeks, and then your work and effort will be needed again for something you never noticed before.

It’s the garden worth tending to as we have a lot of human potential to grow.

Resources:

Do You Speak American? from PBS

Contact a PATINS Specialist on how to incorporate your student’s language(s) and dialect(s) into their communication system.

PATINS also has a webinar on "Culturally and Linguistically Representative AAC" that any Indiana PreK-12 stakeholder can request live. Email me to schedule it at a time that works for you.

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Dec
30

Bump in the Road

20212021

Hello! It's here again, then end of another year. New Year's Eve. But not just any year. This was the year of 'rona (a.k.a. COVID-19). Good-bye 2020. You were a HUGE bump in the road and we are still feeling the jolt. Many changes and so much loss (loved ones, instructional time, face to face time, family time…normalcy). The year has been difficult in many ways for students, parents, families, teachers, frontline healthcare workers and more. Everyone has been affected in one way or another but we continue on. Two days ago marked the three year anniversary of my son's death. This remembrance hit me harder than past years. However, we must focus on what we can control and how we can support our students. They are counting on us to lead, teach and support them.

Talking with my family has helped. Who can you talk to?


We have all experienced "bumps in the road" this year. What follows certainly caps off my 2020 year. Yesterday, as I was delivering a cup of perfectly brewed and sweetened coffee to my wife, I misjudged (subconsciously) with my eyes the proximity of my dog's bedside steps. Thankfully (NOT), my second toe located it for me. OUCH! CRACK! It was one of those "It hurts so bad, you have to laugh to keep from crying." No curse words. I tried to walk it off.  The pain finally subsided but later the reality set in. Oh no, I didn't run yesterday and now I won't be able to run tonight. What about my over year long streak of Sunday long runs? Runners don't often listen to their own bodies, the advice of doctors or even Dr. Google. 

This "bump" will alter my next few weeks (Rose colored glasses view. Reality might be, ugh, "several" weeks. Sad face). The bumps and losses from the virus have been worse for some but have affected us all. These have been months long changes that will now carry over into a year of changes. Masks, virtual learning, no handshakes, no fist bumps, no hugs. I only provided TWO onsite school visits since March. I am a people person. I miss working directly with people. We have adapted and I believe it will get better. Here's a related blogpost from Jeff Bond, PATINS ICAM,  "I just don’t like this isolation stuff."


I have some close colleagues with whom I connect
. Can you be that someone for a colleague?


Our routines were dramatically altered this year and we adopted the "new normal." We had to adapt in order to continue serving our students, families and stakeholders. Virtual learning. Drive through pick ups at school. Equipment porch drop-offs. No more face to face meetings. Virtual continuing education conferences. Increased phone calls, emails and tons of VIDEO CONFERENCING! I worked to improve my webinars, presentations and materials to better support educators' service delivery methods. I attended numerous professional development opportunities, watched lots of videos, read and listened. Are you teaching the same way you also have and using the same materials you always have? We are all busy but we all must adapt and improve. Amanda Crecelius, PATINS Specialist says it well here:  "Our DIY School Year."


I continue to run (for me), read (for pleasure and learning), listen to new podcasts (for pleasure and learning), try new AAC solutions and just began learning how to 3D print (That has been a learning curve like no other). 
What things are you doing to nourish your mind and body and to make you a better teacher?

Most recent books (usually Libby App (FREE Library books) OR paper copies from Barnes and Noble - I support Brick and Mortar as much as possible): All We Ever WantedThe Nightengale, and Atomic Habits

Most recent podcasts: Ten Junk Miles (running - edgy), Talking with Tech, and Hidden Brain

New and/or FREE AAC/AT Solutions: Flexible Mounts (video), Accessible Switch Activities, Tar Heel Reader, Shared Reader, Gameplay


We have made it this far, let's see it through! Come on 2021!!! I have mentioned before that I run marathons. I'm still stuck at 42 states completed. The New Orleans marathon in February was my only 2020 marathon, all others were cancelled. Ugh. I'll get there. We will get there. It will get better. The PATINS Project and ICAM are here to help. We can provide FREE trainings tailored to the needs of your team, school or district. All you have to do is ask!


Check out our Training Calendar for upcoming FREE trainings!


Borrow something from our Lending Library for 6 weeks with FREE shipping both ways!


Register
for the PATINS Winter Edcamp 2021 on February 9!

EdCamp Winter 2021EdCamp Winter 2021 PATINS Staff Bitmojis participating in various winter activities on Ski Slope

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Oct
24

Growing Up in Mainstream Public School: Things I Wish I Knew Back Then

This week we have the privilege of reading advice for those growing up deaf/hard of hearing from the very talented guest blogger, Sara Miller, M.S. Ed. Enjoy! 


It was the late 1980’s when I was diagnosed with severe-profound bilateral sensorineural hearing loss and received my first pair of hearing aids. I was almost three and I’m told that I loved my hearing aids so much that I never wanted to take them off! 

Young Sara with hearing aids on.
It was during the 1990s and early 2000’s when I attended public elementary/middle/high schools in small rural towns in Northwest Ohio. I was the only deaf student in my grade to be mainstreamed full time. During these years, there were a lot of trials and triumphs. 


Looking back, there are a few things I wish I had known to help guide myself through the process of being the only deaf kid in my mainstream class. If I could, I would go back in time and share a few things with my younger self:


Number 1: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There are many other deaf and hard of hearing kids out there who are also born into hearing families. In fact, 90% of deaf and hard of hearing kids are born to hearing families. 75% of those kids attend public school, just like you do. While you may be the only kid to be mainstreamed full time in your school, there are many others just like you out there in the world who are going through the same experiences you are. You will meet them later on in life and establish wonderful relationships. 


Number 2: DO NOT READ INTO HEARING PEOPLE’S FACIAL EXPRESSIONS TOO MUCH. Understand that we deaf people tend to naturally rely on visual cues much more than our hearing peers. If a person doesn’t smile, frowns, or has a neutral look on their face, it does not mean they don’t like you or are mad at you. They simply could just be having a rough day caused by something that has absolutely nothing to do with you. Acknowledge and understand this fact in order to save yourself from unnecessary hurt feelings over misreading someone’s emotions. 


Number 3: PEOPLE ARE NOT STARING AT YOU WHEN YOU SIGN BECAUSE YOU’RE WEIRD OR DIFFERENT, THEY STARE BECAUSE THEY ARE FASCINATED WITH SIGN LANGUAGE. I know... This is so hard to fully believe or understand. When you know you are different, you feel as if everyone is always staring at you. Staring at your Phonic Ear box strapped to your chest. Staring at the long cords from that box that lead up to your ears. Staring at your hearing aids. Staring at your hands when you choose to communicate using sign language. That’s when the staring seems to be the worst. But what you don’t know is that those people stare because they wish they knew how to sign too. Reach out to those individuals and ask if they’d like to learn. Teach them the joy of signing.


Number 4: ADVOCATE FOR ACCESS. Hold your teachers accountable for making content accessible. Request captions for all videos and movies. No exceptions. Utilize note-takers in all subject areas. Let your teachers know not to talk towards the chalkboard and to face you when instructing. Ask your peers to repeat themselves when you didn’t quite catch everything they said in class discussions. And yes, even consider having an interpreter for your core content classes. You deserve the right to have access to ALL that is going on around you. Things you don’t even know you’re missing can be filled by having an interpreter present. Learning these advocacy skills early on will benefit you later in life. 


Number 5: YOU WILL FALL IN LOVE AND GET MARRIED. In your high school years, you will often cry yourself to sleep wondering if you’ll ever find love and get married. You’ll question how someone would ever want a wife who cannot hear. Why would they choose to love someone who is deaf when they could have someone who can hear perfectly like all of your peers. Those nights of self-doubt and the tears you cry will be for nothing. You will meet your soulmate in the spring of your senior year of high school and get married that very summer just before entering college. In fact, you’ll be the first in your class to marry and he will even surprise you by signing a portion of his vows to you at your wedding. Your husband is the kindest and most loving soul who will accept and adore every part of you, especially your deafness.


Number 6: ENCOURAGE YOUR FAMILY TO LEARN SIGN LANGUAGE EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN SPEAK. You are the only deaf individual in your entire family (Extended family included). Your parents will bombard you with language and read to you on a daily basis. You’ll fall in love with reading. They’ll have high expectations for you to soak up any and all language learning opportunities around you and you will exceed those expectations. You will acquire and utilize spoken language with relative ease. Therefore, English will be your first language. In your first few years of school, you’ll learn Signed Exact English, but the only person who you’ll teach sign language to at home is your older sister. (She will later become an educational interpreter.) 


However, you really need to teach your parents (and family and friends) to sign as well. They are not against it. If they knew how much it would help you in social situations, they’d learn in a heartbeat. (Looking back, they wished they had). Since you speak so well, it’s easy to fool yourself and everyone else around you into thinking that everything is being understood. But deep down, you know you are not understanding everything around you. That sickening pit in your stomach that you get when you’re about to enter a challenging environment: basketball games, dark restaurants, the mall, birthday parties, movie theater, etc., that’s a direct result of the anxiety you subconsciously have knowing how hard you’re going to have to work just to keep up with a small amount of what is going on. This is where sign language can benefit you. It can bring to life what you would normally miss. It can give you complete access to your surroundings. It can reduce your anxiety and allow you to enjoy your surroundings.  So, please teach those closest to you how to sign. You’ll thank yourself in the future.


7: EMBRACE YOUR DEAFNESS. You will go through a phase in your middle/high school years where you will reject anything and everything to do with deafness. You’ll stop signing and refuse to carry your FM equipment with you to class. You’ll hide your Phonic Ear box and cords under your clothes to try to blend in with your peers as much as possible. You’ll hate being different. You’ll spend a LOT of energy and emotion simply trying to become “hearing” like everyone else is in your class. 


STOP! 


Embrace who you are. Love yourself for who you are. Stop trying so hard to become something that you were never meant to be: “hearing.” Embracing your deafness will save you a lot of heartaches and emotional energy. Know that there are strength and beauty in being Deaf. That there is an entire community of individuals in this world who are just like you. Who knows exactly what it’s like to be deaf. Who will welcome you with open arms? Sadly, you live in a small rural town with no Deaf community or Deaf adult role models. You won’t even meet a Deaf adult until you attend college and are already a deaf adult yourself. However, as soon as you are able, seek out those who are like you. They will fill your heart in a way that the hearing community cannot. In a way that even your closest friends and family cannot. Only when you make these connections will you feel complete and fully able to truly embrace every part of who you are.


Sara Miller, M.S.Ed

she/her

??Deaf adult bringing awareness to deafness & Deaf culture

??‍?Teacher of the D/HH


Look for more from Sara on her social media accounts: @adventuresindeafed and @languagepriority

Sara Miller signing I Love You in American Sign Language.
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Nov
28

This Blog Post is Full of Curse Words

This Blog Post is Full Of Curse Words Icon for various forms of AAC with the large black font reading
About once a month I have to answer a really important question:

“Why is that word on his talker?”

“That word,” is our euphemism for any number of words: body parts (slang and clinical), fart sounds, curse words, words that are culturally irrelevant, childish, or inappropriate for a child [of his age/place where he is/supposed cognitive level]. And someone, somewhere, decided to program it on this child’s Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) device as if encouraging the child to use inappropriate language.

I get it. When I imagined the magical moment of helping a student find her voice with the fancy new Sound Generating Device, I wasn’t expecting her first two-word phrase on her device to be “poop butt” repeated over and over again for the next three days, either.

I get it, I really do! We’re professionals trying to create engaging and enriching environments for our learners and the literacy activity has been derailed because we taught him how to make plurals on his talker and now he loves pluralizing the word “as.”

We admit we’re impressed, but we can’t let that slide.

In moments of “enriched language” that flusters me I take a deep breath and remember:

I am not the language police.

A larger-than-anticipated part of my job has been talking about cuss words. And promoting cuss words. And explaining the functional importance of having access to cuss words. And listening to and programming cuss words into communication devices. And explaining why adults can't delete cuss words and "adult vocabulary" from a kid's voice. And listing all culturally relevant cuss words. And finding good visuals for cuss words.

If my professors could see me now.

So what happens if she talks out of turn, pressing the buttons on her communication app? The same thing that happens to all the other students talking out, of course.

What happens when she won’t stop saying “poop butt”? The same thing you would do for any other child who says it. We don’t duct tape kids mouths, and we don’t take talkers away.

What happens when she uses swear words in class? The same thing that you do for any other student who cusses in class. We can’t forcibly remove words from a speaking child’s vocabulary. We teach, we consider the variables, and we provide natural consequences. We don’t delete words from the communication device.

It is work worth doing, with clear expectations, communication between school and family (and sometimes with the office door closed and the volume down really low as you check to make sure “#$!@” is pronounced correctly). The communication device is a voice, not a school textbook or a representation of just the words you hope or anticipate they’ll use today. It’s their access to their human right to communicate, and sometimes communication is colorful, shocking, or uncomfortable.

Do you agree or disagree with me? Let me know in the comments below, with any language you like.*

*natural consequences apply

The icon AAC in my title image is from ARASAAC, a no-cost Creative Commons license resource for symbols and icons to represent all words (even “those words”).
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enfrdeitptrues

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