The iLearn team at LCA is fortunate enough to spend three days in San Diego, California to participate in the 27th Annual International Technology and Persons with Disabilities Conference, hosted by California State University – Northridge. What is even more exciting is that we have also been offered the opportunity to present on our work with the iLearn program, and how we are using the iPad to support the children we serve at LCA. So far, after an entire day of conferencing, networking, learning, getting lost, and rushing from conference session to session, we’re feeling enthused and excited for what the future holds, and proud of the work we’re doing now and are able to share at this global get-together. Although the iLearn team’s focus has primarily been on using the iPad, it’s been awesome to see how the technology community has been hard at work to upgrade and improve what other technologies can do to support people of all ages and all needs in their daily lives. We’ve seen the consumer debut of Windows 8, developments with the Kinect, advances in eye gaze technology, symbol-maker software, and on and on and on… stay tuned to hear about the rest of the conference. You can also keep track of us on Facebook and Twitter.

Highlights from Mari’s sessions:

  • Preview of the Windows 8 user interface (UI) seemed pretty interesting.  Reminded me a lot of the new Kinect interface with the square tiles.  I really like the idea of having the same UI on all of my different devices from my laptop to my tablet to my smartphone.  And the great thing is that this consistent UI is also great for people with disabilities who can also expect a similar experience on all of their devices.  It seems like the team at Microsoft has put a lot of thought into designing Windows 8 to be accessible right out of the box.
  • The Future of assistive technology (AT) in the Cloud – this presentation was interesting because it showed some early attempts at using the cloud for assistive technology including the web based screen reader developed at the University of Washington (webanywhere.cs.washington.edu).  The presenter from TextHelp also introduced a great vision for the future of cloud computing and AT called the Global Public Inclusive Infrastructure (GPII) (http://GPII.org/).  Here is a video about the GPII –

Highlights from Michelle’s sessions:

  • Matching Persons and Cognitive Technology – this presentation looked at how technology supports could help people with cognitive disabilities in areas such as emotions, thoughts, and memory.  Although the presentation didn’t address concepts that were entirely new to me, the presenter shared some resources that I hadn’t previously been aware of.  I’m excited to check out www.ablelinktech.comwww.abledata.com and www.eastin.info
  • QIAT (Quality Indicators for Assistive Technology) Conversations: Leveraging the Indicators – QIAT is a group that has identified eight areas important to the development of assistive technology programs.  This presentation looked at how the QIAT leadership team has been analyzing the indicators for each of the eight areas to quantify the influence each one has on each of the others.  Once quantified in this way, teams can make the best decisions about changes that will make the most difference to an assistive technology program.  www.qiat.org
  • Symbols for Literacy, Learning, and Independence – this presentation was a product demonstration for widget software.  This software is a symbol system used for integrating symbols into everyday life.  The two software programs we looked at are SymWriter and InPrint.  SymWriter caters to writing tasks, where students can complete writing assignments with symbols, even young students who are still learning basic writing skills.  InPrint is similar to Boardmaker Software and allows teachers and therapists to create print materials with symbol supports.  Some of the books produced with this software were really nice.  I’d love to have it for our story time center!  As a surprise, at the end of the session, all attendees were given a free copy of SymWriter!

Highlights from Vina’s sessions:

  • B-Calm and Hypersensitivity to Sound in Children with Autism – this presentation discussed the B-calm Sound System, which is a product that offers specific sound frequencies and intensities to block out sounds that children with autism can be hypersensitive to. It differs from other auditory integration trainings in that it is meant to be used similar to an iPod or other mp3 player, with background noise that can be listed to on headphones or other sound systems to support regulation and decrease the disruptive behaviors that can occur due to loud, unexpected, or unwanted noises in different environments. They have done some research in collaboration with Eastern Carolina University that has shown effectiveness for children and teens with autism who have used the system, and plan on continuing their research. I also liked how they are a relatively affordable option, offering both sounds systems and headphones as well as downloadable audio tracks. Although the concept isn’t brand new (it reminded me of all the college roommates I had who insisted they couldn’t study unless they had music blaring in our dorm room) it does seem like an affordable, practical approach for supporting regulation in “noisy” environments. www.b-calmsound.com
  • Growing With Augmentative-Alternative Communication (AAC) – Choosing Dynamic Goals – this presentation offered a simplified template to choosing AAC goals for children and adults with various levels in communication skills. It offered guidelines for assessing and determining a client’s current communication abilities across linguistic, social, and operational skills in order to appropriately create goals that work towards communicative competence. I appreciated how this method outlines how to determine a baseline for goal writing, as well as creating short term goals to work towards reaching long terms goals which could be applied to AAC goals as well as other therapy goals. This template was one I’d seen before, but it’s always a great reminder to of how important and valuable it can be to write measurable goals to track progress!
  • Matrix-Maker – Matrix-Maker is symbol software developed by Inclusive Technologies, based out of the UK. I wasn’t sure if I was interested in exploring other symbol software options, but to my delight, I thought the software was extremely user-friendly, efficient, and adaptable for lots of different therapy activities. Everything is template based, so you add and edit pictures and apply them to as many templates as your heart desires! It was so easy to use, the presenter challenged a session attendee (not me, thankfully!) to recreate a template in less than a minute! After the “Minute to Win It” contestant successfully completed her challenge, all of the session participates won a free copy of Matrix-Maker! Woohoo!

Until next time – cheers from San Diego!

Mari, Michelle, and Vina

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