Thursday, December 3, 2009

FCTD Collaborates with SEAT Center to Understand Family Technology Use Patterns

The FCTD has collaborated with the Special Education Assistive Technology (SEAT) Center at Illinois State University to create an online survey to identify family preferences and needs for computer-based technologies. We are asking all interested family members to participate in the survey at:

Professionals who work with family members are encouraged to share the survey link with interested family members with whom they work. The findings will be presented on the FCTD Web site late in January. Thanks!

Did You Know? Alternatives to Fingers on the iPhone

If you or someone you know has trouble using the iPhone’s touch keyboard, there are some workarounds that might just do the trick.

One option is the Pogo iPhone Stylus, a specially designed stylus for the iPhone. Even though the iPhone touch screen is designed to respond to the touch of your fingertip, the Pogo stylus somehow fools the iPhone into thinking it is really a finger. The stylus can give the user greater precision with the selection of on-screen items. The Pogo iPhone Stylus retails for around $15.

For those who would prefer to use a regular computer keyboard instead of the iPhone’s touch keyboard, there are several options. Since there isn’t a way to directly connect a USB keyboard to the iPhone, you will need an adaptor to make the connection, such as the iPod’s Camera connector accessory that costs about $25. If you want something more integrated, take a look at keyboards with integrated iPhone docking stations, like the iConnect Media Keyboard which retails for around $130 (

Tech Tip: Capturing an Image on Your Computer Screen

How to take a screen shot

Taking a screen shot (also known as a screen capture) is essentially having the computer take a picture of what is on the screen. There are countless times when it is easier to show someone what is on your computer screen than to explain it in words over the phone or in an email. For example, if you are trying to teach someone how to use a new program through email, or you are having technical problems and need to show your IT person what is going on, or you are writing an article/report on a software program and want to show examples of what it can do, sharing a screen shot will help!


Taking a full screen shot is easy. Simply press the Print Screen button on your keyboard (on laptops it may be abbreviated i.e. PrtSc). This puts a picture of your screen in the computer’s clipboard, which is exactly the same as when you copy text or an image. Then you can open a program like Word, Notepad, Paint, or Outlook and paste it with either Control – V or right click – Paste. If you just want a screen shot of the current program you are using, hold down Alt when you press Print Screen.

If you want to edit the screen shot, use a paint or image editing program. In paint you can do things like draw arrows or circles to point something out, or you can crop the screen shot to include only the details you want.


On the Mac there are two ways to take screen shots. First, there is a program that comes on every Mac called Grab. You can find it in the folder Applications – Utilities. With grab you can capture pictures of the whole screen, the front-most window, a selected area, or you can even do a timed countdown capture.

Second, you can use these shortcuts:

*Hold down the command key(or apple key on older computers) and the shift key, then press the number 3 to take a picture of the entire screen and save it on the desktop.


*Hold down the command key and shift key, then press the number 4 which turns your cursor into crosshairs which you can click and drag to select an area of the screen to capture. You will hear a shutter sound when an image is captured using either shortcut.

If you want to edit the picture just double click on the picture to open it in Preview, a program that opens image and pdf files. It comes pre-loaded on a Mac. With Preview you can crop the photo or use the annotation tools to make circles and arrows on the picture.

iPhone/iPod Touch

You can even take screen shots on your iPhone or iPod Touch too. Simply press both the home button and the sleep button at the same time. The screen should flash white and you will find the screen shot with the rest of your pictures

Early Childhood Corner: My Turn, Your Turn

Practice Guides are easy to use guides developed for parents and practioners for implementing early literacy learning practices. The CELL parent practice guide for December focuses on taking turns with your toddler to improve his/her social skills. Most toddlers are starting to develop the ability to take part in real interactions with the people around them. But before children can take part in meaningful interactions, they need to learn skills such as how to take turns. Involve your child in taking turns with games, conversations, finger play, and sharing toys. Play with your toddler by taking turns with a toy, talking about what you are doing, and encouraging her to do the same. These activities will help develop the skills she needs to interact well with others.

Access more information about this practice guide My Turn, Your Turn

Web Spotlight: Wall Wisher

If you like sticky notes (post-it notes) you will like this month’s featured Web Spotlight,Wall Wisher. Wall Wisher is a sticky-note/notice board for communicating on the Web. Wall Wisher lets users easily communicate on a common topic. This month the Simon Technology Center is using Wall Wisher to ask Tech Note’s Readers: “What would YOU like to see in Tech Notes?” This is an opportunity to let your voice be heard. Users can register for their own wall or simply post a sticky note (comment) as anonymous. So what are you waiting for? Check out the STC Wall Wisher and let us know what you think.

Top Ten STC Staff Picks from ATIA Chicago

1. Project MY VOICE is three-year project between Northern Illinois University and Indian Prairie School District 204. The purpose of the project is to help students with cognitive disabilities learn how to advocate for themselves during the IEP transition process. Using technology such as video cameras and power point, project participants build a presentation using a template with built-in supports such as teach prompts and leading questions. Contact project coordinators for information on these templates.

2. Living the Smart Life is a 15 minute DVD that highlights using technology to make a difference in independence for people with cognitive and intellectual disabilities. This 15 minute story will delight and inspire. The DVD is available for check out in the Simon Technology Center Lending Library. Some of the tools highlighted in the video, including the Pocket Endeavor (software) and the Pharos Traveler GPS 535x (Pocket PC) will also be available for demonstration.

3. DSpeech is a free open source program that combines Text To Speech TTS with Automatic Speech Recognition. It reads aloud the written word and chooses sentences based on the vocal answers of the user. There are several steps so be sure to read through all of the directions for downloading and using.

4. Dr. Linda Mechling presented information on the use of video modeling in a session titled “Use of Video Prompting, Via a Portable DVD Player, Laptop Computer, or PDA as Self-Prompting Devices for Persons with Moderate Intellectual Disabilities.” She presented great examples and referenced several research studies on the use of video modeling.

5. Click and Go Wayfinding Maps produces maps for persons who are blind or deaf/blind. Modeled after the directions feature in Google Maps, Click and Go provides users with customized mobility friendly walking directions.

6. Mega Bee is an electronic eye gaze board that gives voice to previously low tech eye gaze systems with no voice out put. Called a simple-to-use assisted writing tablet, users indicate choices with eye gaze and eye blinks that are added to a message window by a facilitator. When the message is complete, the facilitator activates the message.

7. Information was presented on creating DAISY files using Microsoft Word/Open Office (Creating DAISY Text in Word/Open Office). The Word to DAISY translator or plug in allows users on Word (XP, 2007 and 2003), who are working with Open XML, to easily convert Word documents to DAISY - also called the talking book format. For more information check out this Microsoft article.

8. Literactive - is a free Web based tool for literacy. The site contains free handouts, tips for guided reading, and over one hundred reading activities. Materials and access to the site is free but registration is required. Literactive was developed by educators and technical professionals.

9. Balabolka is a free Text-To-Speech (TTS) program that works with Windows operating system (2000/XP/2003/Vista/7). It does not come with its own voices, but rather uses voices on your computer. You need at least one voice to operate the program. Balabolka is a Russian word that can be translated “ chatterer”. For more detailed information on this program, visit

10. VizZle is a Web-based subscription software that allows users to create individualized interactive teaching materials. Anywhere there is access to the internet, a user can create, share and use. Materials can be printed for table top activities. VizZle also works well with interactive tools such as touch screens and white boards. For more detailed information and to try a free demo, go to

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

STC Staff Top Ten from Closing the Gap

1. Word Talk – is a free text-to-speech plugin for Microsoft Word. It will speak the text of the document and will highlight it as it goes. It contains a talking dictionary to help decide which word spelling is most appropriate

2. WebMath - is a math-help web site that generates answers to specific math questions and problems, as entered by a user, at any particular moment. The math answers are generated and displayed real-time, at the moment a web user types in their math problem and clicks "solve." In addition to the answers, WebMath also shows the student how to arrive at the answer.

3. E-Speaking is a free or shareware program ($15) that enables a user to command and control the computer, dictate emails and letters, and have the program read documents back to you. For individuals with motor impairments that make it difficult or impossible to use a mouse and keyboard, this might be a viable and affordable alternative.

4. iTouch/iPhone Applications can be found at the apple store, on iTunes and on many developers sites. Here are a few of Tara’s favorites from Closing the Gap. iHomework, available for $.99, is a simple application to keep school work and life organized. Visules, available for $4.99, is a visual support created by a father of a child with autism. Visules communicates checklists and prompts using text, images and colors. Visual Scheduler, available for $2.99, is an organizational tool using video, visual and audio prompting. iStudiez Pro (formerly iStudent Pro), available for $2.99, is a multi function homework planner that helps a user take charge of their schedule.

5. What Have We Learned Lately is both a commentary and a compilation of articles on assistive technology research and practice. The work of Dave Edyburn, the list from this and previous years, captures articles that professionals in assistive technology may want to read to stay current with assistive technology research and practice. A takeaway from the session was a visual map of the current articles on research and practice along with a map of the literature from 2008.

6. Free to Read, Write and Communicate was a session done by Barb Wollak from St. Paul Public Schools. Her fast paced session took participants on a journey of FREE resources for electronic text online, technology Web sites that support literacy and communication, and literacy resource examples. Contact Barb for your own list of FREE online resources.

7. The Simon Technology Center did three sessions at Closing the Gap. A Comparison of Software Programs for Creating Visual Supports, Resources for Digital Literature, and Comparing Digital Book Players handouts can be found on the PACER Web site under presentation handouts.

8. Loc-Line is a simple plastice ball and socket system that is flexible but self-supporting. It is also flexible and allows for repositioning. It can be used for holding switches, fiber optics, utensils, for supporting straws and much more. You can get more information by contacting Modular Hose.

9. Dare 2 Dream is the motivational message of Ryan Duncanwood, an inspirational young man we met in the vendor hall. Ryan uses an augmentative communication device to speak and does presentations to groups both large and small. He speaks on the topics of Independent Living Skills, Self-Advocacy, Disability Rights, Assistive Technology and Adaptive Sports.

10. Developing Your Personal Learning Network was a presentation by Paula Walser on providing individuals with learning and access to leaders and experts around the world via Web 2.0 technologies. Her top five list included: 1) Join a professional social network. 2) Pick 5 blogs you find interesting and start reading them. 3) Set up an iGoogle account using your professional email and subscribe to the blogs you selected in Google Reader. 4) Become a part of the conversation and start commenting on the blogs you read. 5) Join the micro social networking phenomena by reading Tweets at Twitter.

Product Spotlight: FACELAND

Through gestures, speech, body language, writing, facial expressions and other means, we are able to share our thoughts and ideas, build relationships, and express our needs. When a communicator cannot decode one or more of these areas of communication successfully, the communication intent can be lost. FACELAND by do2learn, is a computer software program compatible with Windows 2000, XP, and Vista and Mac OS X 10.3.9 or newer operating systems that teaches users how to decode facial expressions.

FACELAND takes users through an amusement park journey where they learn about and practice 6 emotions including surprise, anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and happiness. These basic facial expressions are at the heart of communication and needed for proper decoding of messages to occur. Each facial expression is identified clearly and 11 interactive games encourage users to continue distinguishing the differences between them. Users can visit the cafĂ© and help flip “face cakes” saving only those cakes with the specified face expression on them or users can make the glop-o-meter rise as they glop out disgusted faces.

To try FACELAND or for more information about this program contact the Simon Technology Center at 952-838-9000 or E-mail

Web Spotlight: Pogo Boards

This Web-based resource brings our count of board making tools up to ten. This means parents and professionals creating visual supports for learners have choices and options when considering purchasing a board making tool. Pogo Boards is one of four Web based resource that allows users to create and manage content anywhere and anytime they have access to a computer and the internet. Pogo Boards allows users to share their boards with others and gives an advances search features that includes a Google image search. The advanced Google search allows a user to search other domains including sign language sites. Pogo Boards offers users a 7 day full version trial. Pogo Boards is $9.95/month or $69/year. Group pricing is available.

Early Childhood Corner: CELL Infant Practice Guide Scribble, Scribble

This month’s CELL practice guide gives suggestions on how parents can help their infants begin to scribble and draw using a variety of writing tools. Crayons, pencils, markers, or any other writing tools that are easy for young children to grasp and hold will work best. Making marks and scribbles comes naturally to most children. Showing a child how to use drawing and writing instruments to scribble is often all it takes for her to try to do it on her own. Turn the scribbling activity into a conversation by talking about what your child is doing and by showing how excited you are by her efforts at “writing.”

Access more information about this practice guide Scribble, Scribble

Tech Tip: Creating a PDF Dopcument

Have you ever tried to open a file on your computer, but your computer doesn’t recognize the file type or you don’t have the program that created the file? Saving a document or file as a PDF file can easily solve this problem. PDF stands for Portable Document Format and was first created by Adobe. This format was designed so people could create a file that could easily be shared between different computers (PC, MAC, Linux) and operating systems (Windows, Vista, Mac) and it would always look exactly the same. This format is a great way to share digital versions of brochures, posters and other documents with people and it doesn’t require them to buy new software to view it.

Create a PDF using a PC
If you have Microsoft Office 2007 then Word, Excel, PowerPoint and the other Office applications have an option under the “Save As” menu to create a PDF. If you are using an earlier version of Office or want to create a PDF in a different program then you can download a free software program called CutePDF Writer. CutePDF Writer allows you to create a PDF out of anything that can be printed on the computer.

Simply download and install CutePDF Writer on your computer. CutePDF will become one of your printer choices when you go to print a document. After you have installed CutePDF, find a document you would like to save as a PDF. Next act like you are going to print the document and when the computer asks you which printer to use you can select CutePDF Writer from the printer list. Give your file a name and save and you have successfully created a PDF version of your document.

Create a PDF using a Mac
Apple made a deal with Adobe to include PDF creation in every version of Mac OS 10.

Similar to CutePDF Writer you open your document and choose File- Print. On the menu that appears you will see a special button marked PDF. Select this button and choose “Save As PDF.” On the Mac you can even set a password to protect who can access the PDF.

So you might be saying “Wow, this is great! Why don’t we just make every document into a PDF?” There are a few draw backs. Creating PDFs is free but once they are in that format, they can not be edited without purchasing expensive software. Text can be copied and pasted into a new document but the text cannot be changed on the original PDF document. To open any PDF file, including the ones you now know how to make, on both a PC and a Mac users will need a PDF viewer such as Adobe Acrobat or Foxit Reader. Mac computers come pre-loaded with Preview which can read PDF files.

Did You Know? Web-Based Boardmaker

Mayer-Johnson has released Print Editor, a Web based version of their popular board making tool, Boardmaker, available through Adapted Learning. Web based resources give users the ability to have access to their boards anytime and anywhere that they have access to a computer and the internet. Print Editor is available as a subscription to current owners of Boardmaker V6. When submitting information for your subscription you provide the license key for Boardmaker V6. It has most of the features of Boardmaker so will feel very familiar to people who use this popular tool. Print Editor uses Flash technology and will open in a new working window. It is designed as an editing tool so it has most but not all of the features of Boardmaker V6. A 1 year subscription to Print Editor is $79.00. Information about Print Editor and Adapted Learning, a Boardmaker sharing environment can be found online at the Mayer-Johnson Web site.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Assistive Technology Re-Use: Reduce - Reuse-Recycle

What do I do with assistive technology when I don't need it anymore? How do I recycle technology equipment with electronic components? How do I find people that may want what I have to sell or give away? These questions and more are answered by the growing AT reuse movement.

Hundreds of organizations around the country are involved in some sort of assistive technology reuse. The goal of AT reuse is to work together to get still useful AT into the hand of those who need it. The following links will provide more information about the national AT reuse movement:

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services
This site provides information about the what, who, why and how of the national AT reuse movement. A link to the phamplet Recycle Your AT can be found at this site.

Pass It On Center
The Pass It On Center is a national AT reuse technical assistance resource funded by the Rehabilitation Services Administration. Find a local reuse program, attend an information Webinar on AT reuse or get information about the national AT reuse conference at the Pass It On Center Website.

A few Minnesota agencies that provide AT reuse services:
Goodwill/Easter Seals Minnesota's Medical Equipment Loan Program
This loan program collects, cleans and repairs used medical equipment for short-term loan. Loan Sites: St. Paul, Rochester, St. Cloud and Willmar.

Minnesota Computers for Schools
The MCFS is a nonprofit organization that focuses on re-purposing technology as well as helping schools recycle older technology. MCFS places high quality refurbished computer systems across the state of Minnesota. Their Special Kids Program is designed to help students with frequent absencess or special needs get an affordable high quality computer. Applications are accepted during the school year.

Minnesota Multiple Sclerosis Society Equipment Exchange & Loan Pool Program
the program is available on the MS Website and allows people to donate, sell or trade medical equipment. It also allows users to search for equipment.

PACER SUPER Service (Still Useful Product and Equipment Referral)
The PACER SUPER Service connects people seeking to buy used assistive technology with sellers. Buyers contact sellers of used equipment directly. PACER does not provide technical support for products. PACER requests all items for sale are clean and in working condition, but can not in any way guarantee the quality of the product.
PCs for People
PCs for People is a MN nonprofit organization that refurbishes donated computes and gets them into the hands of people with limited access to technology.

STARTE (Minnesota STAR Technology Exchange)
STAR Tecnology Exchange (STARTE) is an online classified ads, service that promotes the reuse of assistive technology. the goal is to get technology that is not being used into the hands of people who will benefit from the technology.

United Cerebral Palsy of Central Minnesota - Computers Go Round
Computers Go Round is a program of UCP of Central Minnesota that distributes quality recycled computers to children and adults with any disability for a nominal fee.

Produce Spotlight: KNFB Reader Mobile

KNFB Reader Mobile, developed by KNFB Reading Technologies Inc., is an application compatible with the Nokia N82 cell phone. the cell phone does not need to be activated by a service provider to operate this application. KNFB Reader Mobile provides portable reading accessibility on the go. Using the camera on the phone, pictures taken of printed text are converted to electronic text using optical character recognition (OCR) technology. The electronic text can be read aloud by the application with text displayed in sync with the spoken words. Multiple pages of text may be captured and saved in a single document within the phone's memory. Electronic documents and books may be transferred to and from a computer. the KNFB Reader Mobile application software is available for $1,000.00 and packages including the Nokia N82 cell phone can be found for around $1,500, $2,000.00.

Web Spotlight: Mrs. Riley's Page Builder

Mrs. Riley is a new Web-based program for building and creating visual supports. Teachers, parents and professionals can collaboratively create and share materials. Because it is Web-based, materials are available anywhere you have access to the internet and a printer. It works on both Mac and PC and in all standard Web browsers. High speed internet and current operating systems are recommended. Mrs. Riley includes features such as: the ability to upload your own pictures, search for pictures on the Web, browse their library of 3,000+ symbols and sharing of materials with others. You can try Mrs. Riley Page Builder for free (24 hours). Pricing starts at just $5.00 for one month, $15.00 for four months or $45 for twelve months (all for one user). Group pricing is also available. Check out more about Mrs. Riley at

Early Childhood Corner: CELL Preschooler Practice Guide - Alpha Fun

The CELL Practice Guide for October, Alpha Fun, focuses on how parents can help their preschooler recognize and identify letters. By interacting with your child while playing with letter blocks, magnetic letters, and alphabet puzzles, you will make letter learning fun and exciting. Alphabet toys also help preschoolers begin to form words without the added pressure of writing. As your child lines up magnetic letters on the refrigerator door, stacks alphabet blocks, or strings alphabet beads, talk with your child about what he/she is doing and encourage his/her interest and curiosity about letter sounds.

Tech Tips: Keyboard Shortcuts

Keyboard shortcuts for both Windows PC and Mac computers are a great way speed up work, cut down on excessive mouse movement, and make programs on the computer more accessible. Keyboard shortcuts make the computer more accessible because it can cut down on how much the mouse needs to be used.

Keyboard shortcuts are when you use a combination of keys on the keyboard to perform a certain action, such as copy, paste, print and more.

To perform a keyboard shortcut hold down one or more of the command keys and then, while keeping the command keys held down, press an additional key on the keyboard. (Ctrl, Alt, the Windows key, and shift key).

On the Mac operating system keyboard shortcuts are almost the same except the Mac has a key called the Command key on both sides of the space bar. The most commonly used key on Windows is Ctrl; on Mac it’s Command. You may already be familiar with shortcuts such as copy (Ctrl + C) and paste (Ctrl + V) but there are many, many more.

To discover new keyboard shortcuts, explore your program’s menu bar and help menu. The menu bar is the bar across the top of a program that contains the file, edit, and other menus. When you click on a menu such as “file”, you will see a list of commands i.e. New, Save, Print. To the right of the commands you will see their keyboard shortcut. You can also open a program’s help menu and search “keyboard shortcuts.”

Did You Know? WinZoom has Gone Mobile!

Did you know WinZoom USB, a computer screen magnification tool, was just released on USB (universal serial bus) for Windows compatible computers? The makers of WinZoom have taken a computer software program that once required an installation process and turned it into a portable, USB technology that can be used at home, work, school, and in the community.

This USB technology allows users to take their technology with them and benefit from its screen enhancement tools such 1.5X to 35X magnification, font smoothing, screen reading capabilities, and color, mouse, and locator enhancements anywhere they go. This plug and play device does not require installation or computer administration rights.

For more information about WinZoom visit: For more information about screen magnification tools like this, or to receive a demonstration of this software in the Simon Technology Center, please contact us at 952-838-9000 or Check back for our comparison of available USB programs and learn more about what “going mobile” means.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Webinar 101: Part 1 - Getting Started

by Bridget Gilormini

Part 1—Getting Started

A Webinar—short for “Web seminar”—is a great way to attend a workshop without ever having to leave your home or office. Convenient and cost saving, Webinars are presented via the Internet and can reach a large audience. The process for participating is simple—once you know the basics. If you’re new to Webinars, knowing the following three things will help you have a positive experience.

First, you will need a computer with high-speed Internet access. The most current versions of system software and browsers tend to have the features needed to view and interact with a Webinar, so be sure your system is up to date. For example, if you are using Firefox for Mac to access the Internet, be sure you are using Firefox 3.5.2. If you are able to register for a Webinar, you probably will be able to view the Webinar as well.

Second, you will need to have an e-mail address. Information about a Webinar typically is delivered electronically. Once you register online, you’ll receive confirmation information, reminders, notification of any changes, a link to the workshop, evaluations, certificates of attendance, and the like. (If you don’t receive the information you’re expecting, check your junk mail folder. Some e-mail systems interpret Webinar e-mails as spam.)

Some organizations allow you to specify whether they may use your e-mail and registration information for other purposes, such as marketing research, mailing lists, or survey requests. If you want to be sure your personal e-mail address is not shared, you may want to set up an e-mail address just for attending Webinars.

Third, you may want to know that Webinars can be delivered through different software programs. While they have similar features, each has a different way of organizing and delivering the information. Some, for example, allow the presenter to make accommodations such as captioning or audio descriptions. You can request accommodations when you register. PACER uses a tool called GoToWebinar by Citrix. Other popular tools used include: Adobe, iLinc, Saba, Webex, Conference Plus, MicroSoft Live Meeting, and IBM Lotus SameTime.

These three tips should help you feel more comfortable navigating the world of Webinars. If you would like to view an archived Webinar on “How to Attend and Navigate a Webinar,” visit and click on the link for “Webinar 101.”

In Part II of this article, coming next month, we’ll talk about what happens after you register for a Webinar and how to find Webinars in which you are interested.

Did You Know? NEW Accessibility Features in Windows 7

When Windows 7 is released this fall, it will feature several new accessibility enhancements. For example, the Magnifier in Windows 7 will include both a full screen and “lens” mode that focuses on a specific area of the screen. The speech recognition in Windows 7 will offer more advanced voice control so you can compose emails or even surf the Internet without touching the keyboard. To learn more about the accessibility features in Windows 7, visit

STC Consultant’s Corner

Does your school need an AT consultant?

Does your school or district need help selecting, acquiring, or using assistive technology devices or software? Could your school benefit from expert guidance regarding the appropriate strategies or technologies for use in regular or special education settings? If so, the PACER Simon Technology Center can help. Our experienced and knowledgeable assistive technology team can provide a variety of services that include:

  • Training and supporting district teams in the selection, acquisition, and use of assistive technology devices.
  • Consultations regarding any student’s specific assistive technology needs
  • Recommendations regarding appropriate strategies and/or technologies for use in regular or special education settings
  • Development of an assistive technology plan or program
  • Dissemination of information regarding available resources

To learn more about PACER Simon Technology Center consultation services, contact Bridget Gilormini, Simon Technology Center coordinator, at 952-838-9000 to discuss options and rates.

Web Spotlight: Atomic Learning

Atomic Learning has been providing comprehensive online training with short, easy to understand videos for almost 10 years. Their expansive library includes tutorials on software like Microsoft Word to lessons on 21st century skills for the classroom. But most notably they have a large segment on assistive technology.

Atomic Learning’s assistive technology videos lead you step by step on how to use some of the most popular AT solutions available. From Boardmaker to WYNN, each tutorial is broken up into a series of small videos that allow you to quickly learn from the beginning or jump ahead for more advanced tips and techniques. If you are curious about what is available and how the videos look, you can browse their collection and watch the first two videos on any subject for free.

Atomic learning is a subscription-based service. A year of individual access to their library costs $99.99 for just the technology skills and $149.99 for access to their assistive technology library. You can also request a price quote and get a trial subscription for your school. Volume pricing is available at a significant discount to schools, districts, organizations and businesses. Be sure to check with your school or organization to see if they provide access to Atomic Learning before signing up. If a school has a contract with Atomic Learning, then access to the site is extended to attending students and their parents/guardians.

Early Childhood Corner: CELL Infant Practice Guide – Playing with Words

September’s featured CELL Practice Guide focuses on toddlers’ first interactions with letters of the alphabet and developing their letter recognition skills. Before a child learns to read, he or she must be able to identify letters and words and understand how print is different than pictures. To help toddlers become familiar with letters and words, gather together several alphabet toys such as alphabet blocks, magnet or foam letters or create letter toys using items such as alphabet cookie cutters or cut out sponges. Play with your child and describe to them what they are doing with the letters

Access more information about this practice guide Playing with Words.

Product Spotlight: Talking Photo Album

A talking photo album can be a cost effective communication tool to help children and adults who are nonverbal communicate. The Talking Photo Album has 24 pages that each hold a 4”x6” photo. A voice recording up to 10 seconds can be recorded for each page of the device. When a photo, symbol, or text card is inserted, it becomes an effective communication tool.

This tool can be used for to create talking stories, make a communication book, or record step-by-step directions.

Talking photo albums can be used in a variety of ways to increase independence, communication, and support literacy skills. More information about the talking photo album can be found online at:, or

$30 - $50

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Kids Click: Your Quick Guide to Computer Access Methods for Young Children

by Tenley Mcdonald

Computers are increasingly present in early childhood classrooms, and they can be a fun way for young children to learn and interact with their peers. For young children with disabilities, however, access to computers can be a challenge. Fortunately, many options are available to help children use the computer so they can develop important early learning skills. Here are several popular options.

Touch Screen: Placed on or built into a computer monitor, a touch screen allows the user to activate the computer or select a program by touching the screen instead of using a mouse. The ability to make a direct selection is helpful for children who may have difficulty understanding the relationship between the mouse and the cursor on the monitor.

Switch: When a child is unable to use a standard keyboard or mouse, a switch offers a helpful alternative. Connected to the computer through a device called an interface, a switch is usually a large, one-button device that is activated when the child presses it. Scanning software moves across the choices on the screen, and the child presses the switch when the preferred option is highlighted. Software programs designed for children with disabilities often have scanning available in their options menus. If not, users must purchase scanning software separately.

Alternative Mouse: For young children who understand how to use a mouse but find the size daunting, several alternatives are available. A tiny mouse that’s easier for little hands to maneuver is one popular option. Another choice is a one-button mouse that eliminates the right-click function found on a standard mouse. Other alternatives include a trackball or joystick. With a trackball, the user moves a small ball on a stationary base to control the cursor. A joystick is another option to control the cursor and may be especially well-suited for a young child who already uses such a device to control his or her wheelchair.

Alternative Keyboard: With variations in size, shape, layout, or function, alternative keyboards give users the functions that meet their needs. Young beginners, for example, may find that keyboards with large keys and bright colors help them find letters more quickly. Some children may prefer a keyboard where letters are in alphabetical order instead of the standard QWERTY layout. Children who need visual clarity and would benefit from having tactile information on the keys may like keyboards with alternative labels. Those with fine-motor challenges may find that keyguards—hard plastic covers with holes for each key—help them avoid striking unwanted keys. For those who need to protect their keyboards from spills or saliva, thin plastic sheets called moisture guards are an option.

For more information about these and other assistive technology options, please contact the Simon Technology Center at 952-838-9000 or Members of the Simon Technology Center Library may borrow these and other items.

Web Spotlight: Tar Heel Reader

One of the biggest challenges parents and educators face in helping older struggling readers improve their literacy skills is finding appropriate reading material. Research shows that one of the ways struggling readers improve their skills is to read more text at their reading level. While they might benefit from the simplicity and text structure of books like Brown Bear Brown Bear by Eric Carle, most older struggling readers would be mortified to be caught reading such books. This challenge was addressed in a big way when Gary Bishop, Professor of Computer Science at the University of North Carolina and Karen Erickson, Director of the Center for Literacy and Disability Studies, took an idea and collaborate to create Tar Heel Reader. At last, a way to easily create books that consist of engaging pictures and easy to read text brought to you by Tar Heel Reader. Tar Heel Reader is a Web based FREE application that allows users to create and read books on a variety of topics. As of Augsut 5, 2009, 4,938 books have been created in 8 different languages and read by more than 1/2 million people from 109 different countries!

Content is driven by the people who use the site. Anyone can browse and read the ever growing collection. Books can be read aloud, downloaded, and used as a template to create your own version of a book. If you are interested in creating books, contact the Simon Technology Center at or the site manager at Tar Heel Reader at for the invitation code. It's not a secret, they just don't want the spammers to get a hold of it. Visit Tar Heel Reader at

Children with Disabilities: Reading and Writing the Four Blocks Way by Karen Erickson and David Koppenhaver

Reading with Franz - a You Tube Video created by aacstuff about using a switch in various positions to access books on Tar Heel Reader.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Web Spotlight: Wordle

Consider the substance of the words that make up a speech, a description, a letter. Wordle is an online tool that allows users to create "word clouds" using text that you cut and paste from another source. The words that are larger in the clouds appear more frequently in the source text. Explore different configurations and color choices by selecting the randomize button.

More than just a toy, Wordle is a literacy tool to create word clouds and get learners interacting with text in a new and different way. Pictured are 100 words from Lincoln's Gettysburg Address created in Wordle and saved as an image. Visit Wordle online at and start creating today.

Do you use Wordle in an interesting and creative way for education? Please feel free to share by leaving a comment. We would love to hear from you.