Friday, December 11, 2009

Curriculum Connections

What one thing did you learn, and what will you do differently as a result?

If I have to select the most important thing that I learned through this tutorial, I would have to pinpoint being exposed to the vast software and hardware options available for subscription and/or purchase. In a general sense, I was aware that there are countless technology aids to help those with disabilities. However, researching and reviewing these specific tools exposed me to just how advanced these assistive technology tools are.

Do you plan to recommend this tutorial? If so, please elaborate.

Of course I will recommend this tutorial. It is very thorough and provides insight into overcoming disabilities that a vast majority of people probably are not exposed to. When we think of a disability, many subconsciously think of physical disabilities - even as teachers who are around learning disabilities every day. The tutorial succeeds in balancing the information presented in terms of physical disabilities and learning disabilities.

Do you plan to read or recommend some of the Recommended Reading books or add them to your collection? Will you link our LibraryThing list to your blog? If you have a book recommendation or have read one of the books that does not include a review, please send us your own review so we can share it.

The list is very extensive, but I definitely plan to read a few of the titles on the list. I already have read a few of the books: The Giver (one of my favorite novels)and Freak the Mighty. I haven't read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, but I have seen it in bookstores and been intrigued. I didn't realize the main character has a learning disability. The book is usually reviewed very well, so I will probably buy it and read it over the Christmas break. A few others on the list that I am interested in reading are Flying Solo and The View From Saturday.

The tutorial is an excellent way to learn about all types of disabilities, how to incorporate assistive technology in libraries and in classrooms, and how to most appropriately interact with people living with disabilities so as not be insensitive or condescending.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Week #13 - Etiquette & Awareness

First, I thought the study conducted by Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja raised some interesting points about the use of social networking sites, specifically MySpace in this case (the actual name of the study is entitled Cyberbullying Research Summary - Trends in Adolescent Online Social Networking). I found it very surprising that their research showed a "general trend toward safer and smarter online social networking." I would have figured exactly the opposite. It seems to me that most adolescents feel that they are invincible, whether in the virtual world or the real one. Maybe I am not giving this particular age group enough credit. Perhaps the countless public service messages and radio commercials about online predators are actually getting through to them. Whatever works. It is great that MySpace has been able to eliminate thousands of profiles of registered sex offenders. However, isn't it fairly easy for these same predators to completely make up a profile as if they were teenagers themselves? I'm alarmed that they would have the audacity to create a profile as themselves (real name, address, etc.) in the first place. That is pretty scary.

I took the Disability Awareness Activity Quiz, and I must admit that I did not answer every question correctly. As a society, we are so concerned with not making someone uncomfortable, that we end up doing just that. Of course, there are those who are completely oblivious to the feelings of others, but they would probably be rude or uncaring to anyone, whether he or she is a person with a disability or not. For the most part, however, I think that people want to interact with those living with a disability - they just don't know how to go about doing it without inadvertently offending them. The Ten Commandments of Communicating with People with Disabilities is a very useful, practical guide to follow. One of the questions on the quiz that I missed was, "When conversing with a person who uses a wheelchair, it is preferable to pull up a chair, if available and convenient, and converse at eye level." I answered "False", but the answer is "True". To me, it seems more logical to stand as you normally would, as if to (figuratively) say, "Yes, I know you're in a wheelchair, but we are equal and it seems much more patronizing to make it obvious that I am making an attempt to discuss something at eye level at you." Apparently, this is not the case. I think the nuances of situations like these make people without disabilities uncomfortable with interacting with people with disabilities.

I have a personal example that I still think about. My wife and I were married four years ago. My mother-in-law's friend attended the wedding. She is a person who uses a wheelchair. We decided to do something a little different at the end of the ceremony. Instead of a receiving line, we dismissed each row ourselves at the church and thanked our guests for coming as they left the church pews. My mother-in-law's friend - I'll say her name is Sherri - was seated at the far end of one of the pews with her husband. As we were dismissing rows, we came to their row. Obviously, Sherri couldn't walk down the pew row for us to greet her and her husband, and I didn't know what to do. Should we have walked down the aisle and greeted them, putting them at the center of (I am assuming) unwanted attention? I wanted to thank them for attending the ceremony just as I was for everyone else. I cringe at what I actually did. I sort of waved at them and then quickly looked away. I still think about that and I still don't really know what we should have done. I hope that I didn't make Sherri feel too uncomfortable at that moment. I guess the reason I wanted to share this story is this - Being aware of how we should interact with people living with disabilities is not always a black-or-white, right or wrong issue. There are still shades of grey, but being familiar with the general consensus of what is considered appropriate will go a long way as far as willingly interacting with people living with disabilities.

Here are a few websites that are useful tools in locating and evaluating assistive technology:

Note: I have tried the Insert Link option and been to the Help section many times, but I cannot get the websites to link properly. I am not sure what option I have clicked on this blog site that is not permitting me to link these websites.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Week #12 - Assistive Technology Software Solutions

After I downloaded the Inspiration 8 software, I started to view the tutorials, which emphasized repeatedly that a visual learning format improves student performance. I looked through the various lesson plan examples already pieced together, and I could see the concept of visual learning taking shape, so to speak. I was impressed how the software can support any curriculum in any subject area. Actually putting together a visual lesson plan was a little tedious at first. Although not absolutely necessary, it is probably a good idea that anyone using Inspiration 8 view the tutorials before attempting to put together lesson plans. Overall, Inspiration 8 is pretty innovative and provides a useful alternative to more traditional lectures, handouts, or lesson plans.

InfoEyes is an excellent service for the visually impaired. The service provides live library support, which I am sure few information sites can match. I don't think I have ever heard iVocalize software being used, but I am sure it has similar features to the assistive technology software that I reviewed.

I was definitely surprised that the basic Windows Vista software available at my fingertips is so extensive when it comes to assistive technology. The options and adjustments that can be made to aid a user with a disability are quite extensive. Actually, there were probably more tutorials about the various options available for Vista than for the other assistive technology software that I read about.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Week #11 - Assistive Technology Hardware Solutions

Watching the videos/stories of two severely physically disabled people overcoming their disabilities was very inspiring. I've seen and read about many stories like these, but it is important to be reminded of them from time to time. Well, more than just from time to time, but you know what I mean. The story of the girl with cerebral palsy who attends college through the use of the DynaVox technology (computer-generated voice recording) specifically touched a nerve because she grew up fairly close to my hometown and attends (or attended) California University of Pennsylvania, which is also pretty close to my hometown. I understand that geography is irrelevant to any feelings that I may have about Beth Anne's struggles and triumphs, but it just makes the situation more concrete somehow. I wonder if Stephen Hawking uses the same, or similar, DynaVox technology to communicate. It seems like the same company could have developed both communcation devices, if they are indeed different.

It is amazing just how much hardware is available for disabled citizens. EnableMart is an excellent website that provides purchasing options for hundreds of devices that aid people with disabilities. While I was browsing through the hardware available on the website and the links provided on the Discovering Assistive Technology webpage, a few stood out. IntelliKeys is a device that is considered by many to be the "leading assistive technology in the world." Looking through the thousands of assistive technology devices available, this seems like a bold statement. However, IntelliKeys probably is the leader in assistive technology because of its versatility. Specifically, its high contrast colors and different keyboard configurations aid several disability groups, including the visually impaired and learning disabled. The Roller Plus Joystick also stood out as an extremely helpful technological aid for people with severe motor impairments.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 10 - Discovering Assistive Technology - Types of Disabilities & Accommodations

It was interesting to see that some celebrities who we hear about every day have to live with and overcome disabilities just like many "regular" citizens. I had heard about the struggles of Howie Mandel and Howard Stern with obsessive compulsive disorder, but I hadn't heard of many of the celebrity disability stories that I read about on the website. As I've mentioned before, I am a huge soccer fan, and I had never heard that Tim Howard, who is a goalkeeper for England's Everton FC, suffers from Tourette's syndrome, or that David Beckham, who is probably the most famous soccer player in the world, suffers from OCD. Also, two authors that I admire a lot - Jack Kerouac and Arthur C. Clarke - lived with schizophrenia and polio, respectively.

The National Federation of the Blind website provided many useful links to information and ideas on how to instruct visually impaired students. The 2009 Youth Slam is an excellent way for blind students from all over the United States to gather, interact, and discuss their classroom obstacles, their inspirations, and their aspirations. Braille is Beautiful is an excellent program that teaches sighted students how to read and write Braille. I reviewed the link for this program and I would definitely find a way to fit it into my curriculum so that my students would have a better appreciation of the struggles and obstacles that their visually impaired classmate must deal with on a daily basis. On a much more practical note, my visually impaired student could more easily participate in peer-reviewed activities if his or her classmates could read Braille., the website for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, is a very useful research tool for teachers. The numerous links vary from general information concerning learning disabilities to links that discuss specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia. The Resource Locator feature on the website is a great search tool for teachers, administrators, and parents alike to find outside help and/or assistance, if needed. Information and/or local aid concerning a learning disablity can be found using a basic keyword search.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

#23 - Week 9 - That's All, Folks

Classroom 2.0 is a very unique method of learning how to use some of the newest technological advancements. Not being a tech-head myself, I probably benefitted from this course more than most. The amount of work that had to be completed was pretty evenly spaced out through the weeks, which was really helpful because, as returning students with full-time jobs, we do not have the luxury of dedicating 100% of our time to our studies. I realize that I am generalizing and speaking for others, but I am pretty sure most of my classmates would agree.

A few of the Web 2.0 tools stood out to me. I will absolutely use my Bloglines account, Technorati to keep track of blogs and editorials, my Zoho account, and my LibraryThing account. These are the sites and accounts that I will probably use the most in the near future. After putting so much work into this blog, I plan on keeping it updated with information related to 2.0 tools.

I am now familiar with several Web tools that I would otherwise not have explored on my own. Perhaps I would have inadvertently stumbled upon them during an information search or something like that, but this course forces you to use these tools for a purpose. The neat thing about the course is that completing the exercises is pretty fun, and you can't really say that about most coursework. I wish I could, but I just can't - with this blog being an exception.

Finally, here's a sentence that sums up the course for me: A cool method of learning how to use Web 2.0 tools without repetition and monotony getting in the way.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

#22 - Week 9 - Is the Future of Print in Trouble? The Story of E-Books

Well, no. This is a topic that I have researched in the recent past for a previous class, and in my (hopefully) informed opinion, I think print material is fairly safe. I researched the Amazon Kindle, an e-reading device that is slowly but surely gaining in sales and popularity. It is an absolutely awesome tool, but there are too many people like me who just like to have actual, tangible books. Call us old-fashioned, but that's the way we like our reading material.

This does not mean that e-books and audio books are not really cool innovations. I visited some of the free e-book websites, and the material available at the click of a mouse is pretty amazing. I specifically enjoyed exploring LibriVox's website. I found a short story by Kurt Vonnegut that I hadn't read before called 2BR02B. I listened to it, and it was an above average short story. I always find that short stories are hit-or-miss. Anyway, LibriVox is different in that it encourages users to volunteer to read and record the dialogue of the available books and/or stories. In the story that I listened to, five different readers contributed to the recording. That is pretty cool because it takes the monotony out of listening to one voice for the entire duration of the reading.

I was so impressed with LibriVox that I added the RSS feed to my BlogLines account. It will alert my account when there is a new reading added to the website.