Assistive Technology Corner

Assistive Technology Software

Mary Ann Abbott, S.L.P.D.
In the Winter 2006 newsletter we discussed the SETT. SETT is an acronym for Student, Environments, Tasks, and Tools. The SETT Framework is a tool that helps teams gather and organize information that can be used to guide collaborative decisions about services that foster the educational success of students with disabilities. The SETT Framework is built on the premise that in order to develop an appropriate system of assistive technology devices and services, teams must first gather information about the student, the customary environments in which the student spends his/her time, and the tasks that are required for the student to be an active participant in the teaching/learning processes that lead to educational success. The SETT Framework as well as other pertinent forms and guidelines may be found on the SETT homepage at http://www2.edc.org/NCIP/workshops/sett/SETT_home.html and the SETT FRamework page at http://www2.edc.org/ NCIP/workshops/sett/SETT_Framework.html. See the Winter 2006 issue of the CAPHI Newsletter for the full article.

You’ve assessed your student. You know his/her strengths and weaknesses. You’ve used the SETT framework to determine what he/she needs to be able to do that he/she can’t do because of his/her disability. You’ve come up with a list of features that you think may be beneficial for your student and you’re ready to tackle the world of assistive technology (AT) software. Okay, here we go! Most people head straight for their catalogs or the company web site for information about the different software products.

MYTH: Product descriptions are always accurate.

REALITY: Product descriptions are designed to sell products. As a result, these descriptions don’t always point out limitations for some technology users.

How do you find out if a company’s product has all of the features that will meet the needs of your student? Try before you buy! Most of the major software companies have free demo disks or downloads available for many of the products you wish to try. The Learning Disabilities and Assistive Technology web site (http://www.gatfl.org/ldguide/vendors.htm) has a wonderful list of vender resources with their web addresses, phone numbers, and a brief description of the company. Another good source for resource links is the AAC Intervention.com web site (http://www.aacintervention.com/links.html).

Nothing beats actually trying the software yourself, but having a knowledgeable person to help you is even better! Okay, I admit it; this is a shameless plug for the Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference sponsored by California State University at Northridge (CSUN). The main conference will be held March 21-24, 2007 at the LAX Airport Marriott and Hilton. There are pre-conference seminars and workshops offered for a separate fee. This year for the first time, the CSUN conference will host a Young Researcher’s Symposium as part of the pre-conference activities. In addition, this year’s conference will be held in conjunction with the United States Society for Augmentative and Alternative Communication (USSAAC) Biennial Conference (http://www.ussaac.org/about.php).

This international conference is packed with knowledgeable presenters and practical, useful information. The conference is a wonderful opportunity to talk to AT/AAC professionals, persons who use AT and AAC, and the venders. You can touch the products, pose problems, troubleshoot software you may already own, and “test drive” the new software yourself. If you can’t attend the conference itself, take advantage of the exhibit hall. Admission to the exhibit hall is FREE!

Many of our CAPHI members are wonderful resources who use AT and AAC in their classroom every day with great success. I urge you to submit a paper and present at the conference. The best presentations usually come from those who’ve “been there, done that”. The Call for Papers for the 2007 Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference will be available in mid-August with the submission deadline of September 22, 2006. Check the web site for information (http://www.csun.edu/cod/conf/index.htm).

Most of the companies exhibiting at CSUN offer a 10% discount or free shipping on their products, but classroom budgets are always tight and there is usually little or no money left by March. However, the best kept secret is that the Soft Touch Company (http://www.softtouch.com) offers most of their titles for half price at the conference! I’d like to take this opportunity to describe a few of their titles.

Research indicates that when students select their own books to read, their literacy levels improve. My Own BookShelf is an authoring program that gives students the ability to select their own books and to read them as often as they wish. This Steps to Learning Program walks you through making books, putting books on bookshelves, and selecting books for students to read. You have the ability to individualize each student’s bookshelf with the accessibility options he/she needs to be successful. Programming wizards assist you to add pictures, movies, sounds, and text. My Own BookShelf even collects data on each student’s reading experience. Books can also be printed as hard copies for the classroom library or to share at home. The program includes a book reader for sharing your electronic books with others. Students will increase their literacy experiences as they listen to and read stories independently. Creating highly motivating age-appropriate texts is as easy as 1-2-3. I was able to create an eight-page book about my grandson in as little as fifteen minutes.

How often have you been faced with the dilemma of how to assess students with moderate to severe disabilities? Test Me Score Me is an authoring program that can be used to create alternative assessment materials. There are nine different templates that you can use or you can choose to create a test from scratch. You can create tests with yes/no or up to five multiple-choice answers. The program randomly presents the answers each time a test is taken. You can use pictures, movies, text, and/or speech to support the content. You can print your tests out, or choose to export to share with other colleagues or parents. Universal access modes include switch use, mouse, touch screen, and Intellikeys keyboard. Once the test has been taken, test results are captured that can be printed out for the student’s portfolio.

One of the newest programs that this writer has not yet reviewed is Task Builder. Task Builder was created especially for students on the autism spectrum who need step-by-step visual information for doing tasks or following a schedule. This program can be used to teach or reinforce tasks. Task Builder can be used to illustrate tasks by showing the steps in detail using photos, movies, printed words, and/or speech. Task Builder social story templates with pictures of the student doing the tasks may increase student engagement, interest, and compliance. Tasks can be printed in small or large format for the students to follow. The printed steps of a task may be displayed in the appropriate work area. You can share tasks with others. Just export a task and the Task Builder Player goes with it. You can also import tasks created by others into your copy of Task Builder. I intend to test drive this software at CSUN in March and if it performs as well as My Own BookShelf and Test Me Score Me, it will quickly be added to my personal AT software library – as a conference half price special I hope.

Take advantage of the CSUN conference in March if you can. Be sure to call or e-mail companies to request demo disks or check their web sites for free downloads. AT software is a big investment. Try before you buy to be sure that the features that are advertised will meet the needs of your students. Test drive the software to find out if it is user-friendly and worth your valuable time and precious classroom or personal funds.

Mary Ann Abbott is an Assistive Technology Specialist in the Los Angeles Unified School District and a Lecturer for the Department of Communication Disorders at California State University, Los Angeles. She is Vice-President of CAPHI.

This article is from the CAPHI Newsletter, Summer 2006.