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.