A Universally Designed Thanksgiving Gathering

black raspberry pie
Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The Sharritt’s have already stuffed themselves once last Sunday as we hosted my husband’s Kincaid cousins, and we’re on our way to Lansing today to feast with our daughter Grace, her husband Chris, and their family of choice at their church.


I hope you are on your way to a gathering filled with love, moist turkey, and many kinds of pie. It’s a time for human to human contact, something we may feel a little uneasy about in these days of personal interaction mediated by devices. We’ve been seeing Cousin Cyndi’s baking wins and fails all year on Pinterest, and now it’s time to sit down and actually break some honey twist bread with her. Uncle Mickey has been lurking on Facebook all year, and while we haven’t seen him, he’ll know much about what we’ve been up to by monitoring our newsfeed.


It is a new and ever-changing social dynamic we’re all figuring out together. I thought I’d share some tools I’ve discovered as a Specialist for
PATINS that might help you navigate this tricky digitally disposed world.


There are many apps designed to help folks who struggle with social skills. And I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing like a family gathering to make you feel like your social skills have been set back a couple of decades. A Jeopardy-style game called 10 Ways helps students learn to recognize idioms, sarcasm (also known in our family as decoding what Uncle Roger is saying), and how to start a conversation, among other things. These are mainly developed for people with autism, but who among us couldn’t benefit from choosing “listening for 400” or “personal space for 100” and learning some pointers to help us improve at getting along?

gameboard for 10 ways app showing the categories body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, personal space, and eye contact

Working with students who have blindness or low vision, I am constantly on the lookout for ways to help these kids find ways to interpret social situations without the benefit of seeing body language and facial expressions. A new viewing device called the
OrCam helps them to not only read print in their environment (signs, menus, books), but can also be taught to recognize faces of their friends and family. The lens on their special glasses sees who is present when they enter a room, and voices names into the user’s earphones. An app for your phone called Seeing AI does this as well with the phone’s camera, and goes a step further: you can train it to not only recognize “Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture, but you can train it to recognize “Angry Aunt Ethel” and “Happy Aunt Ethel” by taking her picture with those facial expressions. Then when you walk into the kitchen you’ll know if she’s discovered that you broke into the fudge stashed in the pantry before she yells at you.


screen from seeing AI app showing boy aiming his phone at a girl with the text

I don’t have low vision, but this app is helping me to remember which one is Auntie Mid and which one is Auntie Rene (same enormous nose and sweet smile) just by discreetly aiming my phone their way. Honestly, it is helping me keep track of names for folks I may only see a couple times per year at the family dinner. At PATINS we are promoting a movement in education towards
Universal Design for Learning and this app is a good example of how one tool designed for a special need or task can evolve into an improved learning environment for all (including those of us who have 51 first cousins!)


There are new instant captioning apps for the hearing impaired that use voice recognition to put speech into text. This is huge for both students in a classroom, and also for Grandpa who is struggling to hear his granddaughter speak to him over the football game.

There are three major principles for Universal Design for Learning: Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression. Engagement entails getting someone interested in learning, like this little cheer my son Ben did with his younger cousins to get them get motivated to help dry dishes.

Representation is the practice of presenting content in many different ways. For Thanksgiving, this obviously translates into having as many flavors, colors and textures of pie as possible. You also might want to contrast with a cheesecake or flan.

The final principle, Action & Expression is easily illustrated at any family gathering. Look around the table at the beautiful diversity that came from the same bank of DNA, and embrace all the forms of expression that we have to share what we know.
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Learning with Laughter

Kelli laughing
Cachinnate: “to laugh loudly”


“You gotta have a sense of humor or this career will take you down,” was what Dr. Cathy Pratt, Director of the Indiana Resource Center for Autism (IRCA) said during her training titled: Understanding and Managing Challenging Behaviors. She hit the nail on the head.

If you know me, you will know that laughing is one of my favorite things to do. Whatever means of communication that we have, laughing is a universal expression and when shared, can be life changing in moments. I’ve always told my students that laughing is good for their insides and I firmly believe that. Laughter releases those feel-good chemicals called endorphins. It decreases the hormones that cause stress and even helps keep you healthy by increasing immune cells. Laughter is also believed to be able to temporarily relieve pain.


We have had a few weeks to spend with our students this school year and are busy building relationships, let us remember to get their blood flowing to assist with concentration. This can be done by offering several silly brain breaks during the day for any grade level. For example, each student tells a partner their name and address by keeping their tongue at the roof of their mouth. This could be done for a student using an AAC device by saying a sentence backward.

We are in the midst of offering the appropriate accommodations to meet all of the diverse needs in our classroom and it can all seem overwhelming at times. We all need laughter in some form. We need smiles that beam from the inside out at times. All students need a mode of communication. Laughing can assist students to build relationships and boost self confidence. While we continue to teach our expert learners on an academic level, let’s add a new word to their vocabulary: cachinnate. Not just give them the word, but live it often within the four walls of the classroom.

Let me get you started...
Lady laughing
Contagious Cachinnating Lady 



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Death By Paperwork

"Death By Paperwork" in a creepy font and a blood splatter
First: I made it out alive. You will too.

This year I messed something up in my back, and by April it was hard to sit for more than twenty minutes at a time. Every drive, conference or meeting I was engaged for a bit and then the rest of the day was spent imitating your favorite wiggly child, trying to ease the pain. I felt terrible.

Sometimes it got better, and then it got worse. I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

I had enough and went to a specialist, definitely not something I was looking forward to. I hate going to the doctor. But within a few sessions, my life had changed.

It was like getting glasses in the correct prescription or wearing good shoes after years of wearing Old Navy flip flops. I didn’t know how bad it was until I experienced how my spine was meant to be.

About three years into my career I had another issue that was a major pain: paperwork.

Paperwork is like back pain. Everyone gets some, some people get more than they can handle. It comes when it’s least convenient and it will not go away if you ignore it. By the end of my third-year the IEPs, evaluations, and caseload documents piled up to my ears. It was affecting my ability to do my job and my family life. I felt terrible. If death by paperwork was a thing, it felt imminent.

I complained. I ignored it. I tried what I knew to fix it, I asked friends for ideas. Nothing really worked.

An administrator gently suggested I see some “specialists.” I did not want to admit that I was struggling to anyone, but after meeting with others who were amazing at keeping on top of it all, they gave me some ideas. They pointed out some of my mistakes, the weight that was causing the paperwork pain, and they helped me develop my paperwork treatment plan.

In less than two months, I started to feel better. My files were in order and I felt in control. By the next year, I was rocking a weekly paperwork schedule and found tools to help me streamline and automate. I was spending even more time working with kids than I was before! It was career changing. I didn’t know how good it could be.

You, dear reader, might be dealing with some pain in your career. Maybe it’s paperwork or a student on your mind who you don’t know how to reach. Maybe it’s a new tool or expectation that’s pain in your neck, and doing your job effectively seems out of reach. Maybe you complained or ignored it. You tried what you knew to fix it, you asked friends for ideas. Nothing may have worked.

If it’s related to supporting student’s access to education, we’ve got a team of specialists here to help.

It might just change your life.


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Summer Musings, Student Thoughts


Summer. What a great time to store up some natural vitamin D, enjoy the outdoors, and clear our minds from the doldrums and cobwebs that some of us collect during the winter months and look for renewal for the upcoming school year.


At our house, we remodeled our kitchen and, that was an undertaking! It only took three times longer than anticipated but the end result is gorgeous. One does not realize how old something is until it is updated though to be sure, my daughter did try to advise me of this for a while. I took the opportunity afforded by dust, chaos, and disarray to purge the rest of the house. This made the mayhem worse. The saving grace for me was in knowing this messiness was temporary and actually, in my relative control. We have expanded some of the renewal to include new carpeting, which should be installed next week. So it is not smooth sailing yet. Then, of course our family get together is happening before the carpet comes in so it is not “perfect”. There is a lesson in there, too. Perfect is not necessary. 

As I gear up for the 2017-2018 school year, I cannot help but reflect on the daily lives of some of our students. This is not a statement of poverty, class, background or anything else. It is just life. The issue of clutter, chaos and stability crosses all the lines. So, how does this impact our students?   

On an individual level, consider how each of us is able to focus, find things, concentrate, think, create, remember or recall in an environment where we feel we have control, or where we feel we do not. A great example of this comes to mind with the topic of homework. How can homework get done in the midst of chaos? Let alone get done effectively. What does it take to set students up for success when it comes to homework completion? We have to look at individual needs on a universal level.

If we follow the UDL principles set by CAST and follow up work at the UDL Center we have an expectation to facilitate students ability to become expert learners. How can a child and young adult be resourceful and knowledgeable; strategic and goal-directed; purposeful and motivated amidst clutter, chaos, mayhem and limited choices? I think of students with complex disabilities.  Again, the issues cross all the demographic lines. Without a voice or a way to effectively communicate, an individual is dependent on the organizational style, timelines, thought processes of those around them. I do not see how this can promote the development of expert learners.

As an occupational therapist, we look at the whole person, not just the physical aspects of disability. When I see homework not getting completed, there are usually a number of reasons and punitive measures do not seem to get better results. These other reasons can include many issues including significant/subtle learning disabilities, no adult support, poor executive functioning, and emotional issues. This is obviously not a comprehensive list, but you get the idea. Also, a question that is good to ask is “What is the purpose of the activity?” The answer to that question alone can make a big difference in focusing on critical elements of performance for a student that is useful in growing their expert learner potential. This can even be explored with seating and positioning in the classroom. Without control and confidence of one’s physical state, learning becomes the secondary focus. So, homework, in-class work, whatever the work of a student is we need to know what we are working toward universally, know the student individually, and intentionally plan upfront for all the diversity and chaos eager to learn this year!

Let’s find “techy” ways to help students find their own control and stability in a chaotic world.
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The Hyphen

I never quite realized why I chose a career in special education until this spring. Both of my brothers are electrical engineers and I had a math minor in college. Ending up as a special educator certainly was not my intention when I went off to college. I always would joke that I selected a profession that did not require a government clearance.

Recently, I realized that my mother influenced my career. Mom made it a priority in her life to make sure everyone was cared for, that no one was forgotten. She single handedly took care of my dad for twelve years after he had a debilitating stroke. When I would take her to doctor's appointments she would always take time and ask the doctor how they were doing almost immediately after they would ask her how she was doing. I would often just chalk up this behavior as part of her dementia.

But then it hit me. She knew exactly what she was doing by asking the doctors how they were doing. It was not related to dementia at all. At her assisted living facility I would watch her make sure that fellow residents had everything they needed at meals. She would inform nursing staff if she thought a resident needed some attention. She always had a stash of Lifesaver mints to give to residents and employees. She truly cared for everyone and in her own little way worked to make everyone's life just a little better. For 93 years she had been tossing starfish back into the ocean!

Why did I end up in the special education field? I was destined by my upbringing! I was taught to seek out starfish and return them to the ocean. When I was in the classroom I would somehow always get a challenging student or two because 'I could work with their uniqueness '. At the time I would wonder what I did to make my supervisor continually give me challenging caseloads. I know now that my caseload was based on my ability to see the starfish in everyone. We all need to find the starfish and return them one at a time to the ocean.

I am sure my mom taught me a lot of things. It has just taken me 64 years to realize how she modeled and shaped my life and career. Thanks Mom for your patience with your middle child. You threw me back into the ocean many times!

You always hear it is the hyphen or dash that really counts between your birth and death. It represents the accomplishments, both good and bad, in the course of one's life. Mom has quite a distinctive hyphen, oh the stories it could tell!

Rest In Peace, Mom
February 14, 1924 - June 17, 2017

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Julie Kuhn
Jim, this brought me to tears. How beautiful and thank you for sharing this amazing reflection. What a rich life.
Thursday, 13 July 2017 10:42
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Spring

I grew up in a Belgian neighborhood. Most of my adult neighbors were immigrants or first generation Americans. ‘Broken English’ was the neighborhood language, English was the second language. The Belgians take great pride in the appearance of their household and neighborhood. Lawns were perfectly manicured, weeds were pulled. Neighbors could be seen twice daily sweeping the curbs due to cars kicking stones up onto the sidewalk.

The hobby of choice was racing pigeons. Every Saturday they would take a crate of their best birds to a designated location to have them turned loose early the next morning to see whose pigeon would return back to their respective coop the fastest and give their owners bragging rights.

Annually in spring and fall were two very special events……Spring cleaning and Fall cleaning. They would wait for the perfect string of days so that windows could be opened to air out the house. Over the next few days every inch of the house got a thorough cleaning. Furniture had to be moved and every wall in the house was washed. Carpets were shampooed. Draperies were taken down and cleaned! All the closets were reorganized! Windows were washed inside and out! The neighborhood smelled like Spic n Span! Six months later a repeat performance.

Well it’s spring again. The neighborhood I grew up in is now ‘integrated’ with non-Belgians who don’t have the same work ethic as old timers once did. But something can be said about that work ethic. It sort of provided each household with a clean slate that was refreshed and renewed.

As educators, a good spring cleaning may just be in order. With ESSA (Every Student Succeeds Act) and the Dear Colleague Letter, we as educators are being asked to do a thorough cleaning. But instead of washing walls and shampooing carpets in our classrooms we are being asked to refine out teaching styles by insisting that all students live up to high standards and incorporating UDL principles into everything we do. It is not a simple task. Nor is it a task that can be completed in just a few days. Nevertheless, it is an important task. Generations of students will benefit.


And just like when I was growing up the deep cleaning was an annual event held twice a year, we cannot be complacent with an occasional deep cleaning of our teaching style. It, too, needs to undergo a good cleaning and rejuvenation often. So get out the proverbial ‘Spic n Span’ frequently and transform your classroom into a learning environment where everyone has an opportunity to learn. Our students will be grateful for it.


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SETT and the Right Tool

Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.57.53 PM I am currently doing something I’ve always wanted to do, I’m flipping a house. I’ve been watching professionals do this for years on TV. I’ve always enjoyed doing things like that. One week I rented scaffolding, repainted a two story great room, stairs, kitchen and bedroom and tiled (for the first time) the kitchen backsplash. I have learned two good lessons through doing these things and I suspect a third.

Lesson #1 - It is all about having the right tool for the task. Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 7.34.21 AM

The available assistive technology is varied and vast. There are as many solutions as there are questions. The trick is not just to figure out the correct solution, but to realize when the question may have changed. I use the SETT Framework by Joy Zabala when trying to help educators and students find the right AT solution.

The SETT Framework works through four specific areas to facilitate choosing the correct solution to fit the problem. SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, and Tools. Student, Environment and Task are all considered at the same time in no particular order. These three things are closely connected. Change one of these three pieces and the entire picture changes dramatically. The Tool becomes the answer to this equation.

Student + Environment + Task = Tool

For the past three years, I have been looking at adding an AT tool to our Lending Library. It is a communication device for students who are deaf or hard of hearing. It was never requested by a teacher for loan and when I discussed it with teachers and my peers, they thought it would be useful in the outside world, but not as much in school. This year, when considering this tool, we framed it in the setting of transition. In that situation a student looking at college and work interviews would benefit from being familiar with this device so that they could carry it with them to facilitate communication. That change of Environment made all the difference. Now it was a good idea to have this tool in the Lending Library

If we change the task, we are looking at an entirely different tool again. Perhaps the task is reading instead of speaking. Same student same challenges different task, different tool. It's all about having the right tool for the task.

Lesson #2 - It is ok to get some help from the professionals.

I’ve busted some pipes, gotten in over my head on electrical wiring etc. My favorite contractor pays for his golf games thanks to me! Here’s where I remind you to email or call us. You knew that. But really, it is what we do, and we all love doing it.

Unlike my contractor, PATINS provides professional help at no cost to you, but you knew that too. The thing is, the other educators, general and special educators, may not. Help them out. Introduce them to us! Bring them to the PATINS Tech Expo on April 12th!

That brings us the lesson I think I'm going to learn...
Lesson #3 - In flipping houses the person who always makes money is the contractor. I’ll let you know. The bathroom is done and the kitchen is ½ way. A contractor is there painting today. We are hoping to be done at the end of the month.


* Shaved Shih-Tzu update:

UDL (Universal Design for Learning) works in this area too!  
Our haircuts are now uniform and cute!Screen Shot 2017 03 08 at 6.58.21 PM
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What We Can Learn Through the Eyes of a Child

IMG_0817.jpg

Meet Nora. The most amazing Little on the face of the earth, A.K.A.my granddaughter.

At ten months of age, she is taking on the world around her. Among other things, she is busy exploring her physical environment, deepening her connections with others both socially and emotionally, and encountering the language around her with great zeal.

Like many children, her parents and numerous others have a vested interest in providing her with multiple ways to engage in their world of language and their methods of communication. She is enjoying a variety of experiences that include read alouds, interactive books, rhythm and rhyme, movement, body language, facial expressions, physical contact, tactile explorations and more.

As I’ve watched Nora light up with joy when her mother sings songs and chants rhymes with her, my mind has repeatedly gone back to a Hands Land workshop I attended this past fall. The workshop featured American Sign Language (ASL) rhymes and rhythms designed for young children whose native language is ASL. (I do not know very much ASL, by the way.)

The Hands Land ASL rhymes and rhythms are specifically designed to promote language acquisition, phonological awareness and foundation for literacy. During the workshop, we experienced a variety of activities that incorporated story, rhythm, rhyme, movement, body language, facial expressions and more. I’m pretty sure I lit up with the same joy I’ve seen roll across Nora’s face so many times.

The value and importance of early and consistent language development is a well-proven fact. Children who are deaf and hard of hearing experience the world through a visual lens; their language is visual and their learning style is visual. As a point of clarification, children who are hard of hearing who use listening and spoken language are still reliant on visual language learning, such as lip reading and body language.

A fully accessible language with which children can interact naturally is vital for every child. The problem is many children who are deaf and hard of hearing have less access to early and consistent language than their hearing counterparts. While children who are deaf and hard of hearing use visual language and visual learning, they may come to school without having had the necessary exposure and access to their natural language and learning style.

According to Marschark and Hauser, in their book How Deaf Children Learn, there is a positive correlation between children who have a strong early language foundation and their cognitive development. The issue of being deaf has no negative impact on cognitive development; rather, it is an issue of not having had enough access to language. The particular background of every child who is deaf or hard of hearing varies dramatically related to how he or she has learned language and how he or she uses language for communication.

This information is significant to me for a number of reasons:

1) It challenges me to think about my own communication methods and the ways in which I interact with the students I encounter.

2) I realize I have much to learn from each and every student regarding his or her particular background with language and his or her use of that language for communication.

3) Even if I know the preferred language and communication method of a student, it doesn’t mean that he or she has had sufficient exposure or access to it.

4) There is joy in the acquisition of language and in being able to communicate with other people. That’s called human connection. I want to do everything within my power to facilitate that kind of joy.

PATINS is here to support you in every way we can. It brings us great joy to make new connections and to deepen already established ones! Give us a call!

* An informative, free online course by Gallaudet University, “Educating Students Who are Deaf or Hard of Hearing: A Guide for Professionals in General Education Settings” offers a wealth of knowledge, insights and instructional strategies related to the education of Deaf and Hard of Hearing. This course served as a key source of information for this writing.



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Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!

The turkey has been devoured! The belt has been adjusted one notch! The thought of eating leftover turkey at one more meal is nauseating! “Jingle Bells”, “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer”, “The 12 Days of Christmas” and other Christmas music are jamming the radio stations! The annual showing of girl with SantaIt’s a Charlie Brown Christmas” will preempt a favorite show. The Christmas season is here whether we are ready for it or not!

When my children were younger they would pour through catalogs and newspaper inserts to create that perfect wish list. “Don’t worry these are just toys we are asking from Santa!” would be echoed each year. And Santa’s helpers would go from store to store looking for items on the wish list trying to get the best deal. (This was prior to the days of the internet and online shopping.) It certainly wasn’t an easy task the year they wanted Ghostbuster toys! But it was all worth it to see the wonder of Christmas through the eyes of a child!

Finding the perfect gift for some children can be very difficult and frustrating. Searching the internet has provided some resources to assist in that gift selection. The Toy Guide for Differently-Abled Kids from Toys R Us not only provwrapped Christmas Giftides toy suggestions but tips for buying toys and safe play tips. Purdue University has a 2016 Engineering Gift Guide that provides STEM related gift suggestions for children. Sensory University provides suggestions for sensory needs. A Day in Our Shoes has toy ideas for ‘kids with autism or developmental delays’. And of course, Enabling Devices has a variety of items that can be considered as potential gift items. Just remember the box the gift came in and the wrapping paper will be one of the most played with item for a few days!!!! Also, One Place for Special Needs provides some very helpful suggestions on visiting Santa, creating holiday traditions and, in general, surviving the holidays.

Naturally, my adult children’s Christmas list has evolved over the years. Items have become fewer. Some items are practical. Some items have become costlier. No longer do Santa’s helpers get newspaper ads with items circled or pictures cut and taped to paper to create a visual list. Now Santa’s helpers hear things such as ‘my list is on Amazon’ and ‘I just added a couple more things to the list’! And to my children’s dismay Santa’s helpers still seem to find ways to deviate some from their list. (And for the record this Santa’s Helper is glad he can shop online!) Enjoy the wonders of the holiday season and enjoy them through the eyes of a child! And, Yes Virginia, There is a Santa Claus!    


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Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!

Food Trucks & Snow Cones & Grasshoppers, Oh My!
I have a slight obsession with food trucks.  I follow the food truck schedule on FB. Then, assume most people around me are just as excited as I am that one is parked in our office lot.  (They’re not.)  Recently, I have honed in on snow cone ice.  I passed a food truck this summer that HAD snow cones!  I felt like I was in heaven. 

When I get gas at the station, I HAVE to end the dollar amount on a zero (0) or a five (5).  I struggle with beginning a project and having to stop in the middle.  I am allergic to hay and as a young child, got bucked off of a horse and quickly found out what manure tastes like. (It tastes like it smells…blah.)
Boy holding nose in disgust
Watching scary movies as a child has left me STILL to this day, always pulling the blankets up past my neck to keep vampires away; and occasionally jumping up on the bed so no Boogieman can grab my feet.  (Yes, I am a grown-up.) As if that isn’t enough, mice will make me find a safe spot on top of furniture; but grasshoppers can nearly make me pass out from fear.

If you have never met me or maybe even DO know me, you probably would not know those things about me.  I’m terrible about talking about “me.”  It’s out of my comfort zone to share things about myself.  This reflection made me think of students in the time we are at now…BACK TO SCHOOL!
Back to school!

As teachers, the first weeks of school are spent getting to know your students, students getting to know you, and students getting to know their peers.  For students who struggle with expression and communication, this can create high levels of anxiety; or students who are nonverbal may be unable to get to know their peers equally.
With that said, while being focused on the implementation of accessible educational materials (AEM),let’s not lose sight of being socially accessible as well.  Here are a few ways to make that happen:

telegami logo   Telegami:  Create a quick avatar, typed or spoken text
 
TeleStory Logo  TeleStory:  Write and tell your story via video

ChatterPix Logo  ChatterPix:  Take photo, draw line over mouth, and record voice

Photo Mapo Logo    Photo Mapo:  Great app to share summer adventures or wish list places

Book Creator Logo  Book Creator:  I feel like this should be a “staple” app; but is great to use for digital About Me books.
 
Give all students that voice for introductions, regardless of barrier and allow them multiple ways to find their own zone of comfort to open up and share with their peers.  Let the friendships begin!

Drawing of boy and girl happy
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