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Promoting Achievement through Technology and INstruction for all Students
Aug
01

5 Ways to Include Students who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing using Universal Design for Learning

Inclusive-DHH-UDL-PATINS-Project-Poster-Print-Blog-Banner-1

Welcome back to School! While you are planning your seating charts, prepping lunch option boards, and digital homework options take a peek below at 5 easy tips to make sure you are universally including access to the curriculum and participation for all students in your classroom this year. 

Printable Poster to share at your case conferences and beginning of the year in-services. Thumbprint image of the poster below. Thumbprint DHH UDL PATINS Project Poster

  1. Flexible Seating: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing need sight of everyone’s face to follow the conversation. U-Shaped desk arrangements or kidney-shaped tables are best. 
  2. Representing Content: A visual representation (open/closed captions and descriptions) of the spoken language on all media and presentations/lectures are suggested for full access to auditory information in the classroom. 
  3. Small Groups: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often participate and learn from peers best in small groups. Provide device for live captioning software and ear level FM/DM systems to be utilized. Allow students who are deaf or hard of hearing and their group to move to a quiet room or hallway to work to ensure an optimal signal-to-noise ratio. 
  4. Options for Repetition: Students who are deaf or hard of hearing often need options for how the information is represented and may need early access to materials before the information is presented in the classroom. Pre-teaching vocabulary and early access to reading materials and media content allow students to participate in discussions.
  5. Expression of Knowledge: Flexibility in the ways that a student who is deaf or hard of hearing can express what they have learned will increase engagement and motivation to participate in activities. Provide back channel or alternative ways to ask questions, visual presentations in slides, google draw, etc. 

If you and your team need suggestions on implementing any of the above please do not hesitate to contact Katie Taylor, PATINS Project’s deaf/hard of hearing state-wide specialist at ktaylor@patinsproject.org.



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Jul
20

Summer Birthdays and Celebrating Learning

via GIPHY

In the Sharritt family we have 70% of our birthdays in the span of 7 weeks in June through August. It’s both a joy and a challenge to buy gifts, get together to celebrate, and prepare birthday feasts and treats for 7/10 of my favorite folks on the planet. I have even celebrated my January birthday in July for the obvious reason that it won't be cancelled due to an ice storm. 

Gifts this year have ranged from a nose piercing for my daughter turning 16, power tool batteries for my son turning 33, and a train trip adventure for my granddaughter, turning 4. 

Requested (and surprise) treats this summer include:

  •  A Victoria Sponge served with local peaches for Grace who is both a fan of the British Bake Off and all the fruit
  • Brownie sundaes for Victoria turning 17 
  • Kouign Aman pastries for my daughter in law, Lisa (also BBO lover)
  • Chocolate Pie for Ben
  • Anything with sprinkles (Nevaeh and Maggie are kindred spirits on this one)
chocolate cake with sprinkles spelling out the number 16

To celebrate, we have had take-out barbeque on the porch, visits to Chicago, and one of the teenagers is going to have friends over for a giant hide-and-go-seek-in-the-dark at the farm this week. 

Each element of the celebrations connect with each individual and their personality and ongoing story. Even though these are my people, there is something new to be discovered in their identities each year.

We are a few weeks away from returning to school and if you are a teacher you will begin to discover the identities and stories of a new group of students. Edutopia  recently posted  an article and video about connecting identity to learning through language, STEM, and the arts. In the video I noticed the way that each student felt heard and respected, and thought about how each must feel celebrated as well. 



Project-Based Learning is also a great way to add Universal Design for Learning in your classroom. Our PATINS specialists can work with your district, school or department to train your team on these methods. 

Students thrive when they are known. Consider taking the time to work some celebrating into your lessons this fall. We’d love to help you plan the parties! 



 

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Jul
30

Have I Been Doing It Wrong?

Have I Been Doing It Wrong? Clipart of racially diverse students

Recently, a colleague shared an article with me that threw me for a loop and spurred my thinking. Could what I’ve been so passionately sharing with educators all along be wrong? Yikes! 

Well, of course it could be. Because if what we love about teaching most is learning (and I do), then we always seek to expand our knowledge. We also keep open minds and regularly reflect on our practice and understanding. And when we know better, we have the opportunity to do better!

So, here’s what I’m wondering and questioning… “Have I as a white, middle-class American citizen been touting Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a solution that may only be designed in ways to support other white individuals?” Unfortunately, I think the answer is yes. That now put in writing, let me reflect upon why I feel this way. 

Simply based upon my race, gender, and lack of diagnosed disability, I have experienced privilege in ways that I both understand and still have yet to comprehend. Take, for example, my gender and personal experience, as an educator I have always worked with far more educators who identify as she/her than those that may identify as he/his, or they/their. Since I also consider myself to be neurotypical and able-bodied, I find myself pondering what proactive steps I must take in order to appropriately advocate for UDL when my experiences and thus my true empathy are first and foremost limited by traits I did not choose.

My new knowledge on intersectionality from Ijeoma Oluo’s book, So You Want to Talk about Race is also making me question the ways in which I’ve been promoting UDL. For example, I know that I’ve shared how implementing the UDL framework can change the game for a student with an intellectual and/or physical disability, but I have neglected to challenge myself and others to think about more than one demographic of students at a time as the philosophy and culture of UDL represents. 

This neglect has me now reflecting upon how a person of color with a disability may be experiencing their education; or, how a person who is transgender, Black, and has a physical disability may be experiencing their education. Have I been promoting UDL to specifically level the playing field for these individuals? The answer is again sadly no, which tells me that I haven’t been serving all students and that I’ve missed the mark on explicitly sharing the true definition of UDL, which does include a framework for all demographics and their intersections, with educators.  

With equitable access to education for every single student and the gaps in opportunities that have been created through well-intentioned educators like myself, I’ve begun to explore new (to me) research and changes I can make to best serve each and every student. One element I have found and believe is worth sharing is that while there is much research in support of UDL for a variety of students, it is worth noting that Indar (2018) and Azawei, Serenelli & Lundqvist (2016) point out that many studies conducted on UDL leave out specific student demographic information. 

These studies leave me questioning the general population’s comprehension of or attention to who is actually a part of our student body. Thus, I believe the time has come to put our UDL practices under a microscope in search of their demographic weaknesses and to boost true equity in our classrooms both in-person and virtually.

Some ways we can get started are to:

  1. Find and explore research studies with a critical eye for participant demographics and the potential for researcher bias - are a variety of student populations being studied or is it unknown?
  2. Don’t be afraid to admit that some changes may need to be made in your classroom.
  3. Like my colleagues, Jessica Conrad and Bev Sharritt, have mentioned over the past few weeks, explore your own implicit bias using these tests and this study on implicit bias in the early childhood setting. Finding yourself feeling uncomfortable is normal, or at least I hope so, because I certainly had my eyes opened to some of my biases and subsequent actions in and out of the classroom.
  4. Don’t forget that bias isn’t always assigned by a different demographic onto another. Many, if not all, of our students have been socialized to hold both positive and negative beliefs about themselves based upon their cultures, race, gender, etc. Check out the Doll Test to gain more perspective on this idea.
  5. Promote more racially diverse workplaces or push yourself to find more diverse educators and professionals to converse with (as a white person, I consider these tips in more difficult conversations about racism). Social media can be a great place to connect with others from more diverse backgrounds on student, classroom, and school issues.
  6. Ask your students and their families for feedback. How can you make them feel more included?
  7. Consider your shared resources and teaching?
    1. Are you including diversity in your shared images and graphics?
    2. Are you including diverse titles for reading and research?
    3. Are you using inclusive language?
    4. Are you open to constructive criticism when it comes to diversity and genuine inclusion of everyone; not just those students that look and sound like you.
  8. Consider crafting a statement on diversity and/or anti-racism for yourself as an educator or as a school/district to follow. We have dedicated ourselves at PATINS to our statement on anti-racism.
  9. Reach out for support. We are here to explore these issues together!

References:

Al-Azawei, A., Serenelli, F. & Lundqvist, K. (2016). Universal design for learning (UDL): A content analysis of peer-reviewed journal papers from 2012 to 2015. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(3), p. 39-56. doi: 10.14434/josotl.v16i3.19295

CAST. (2020). About universal design for learning. Retrieved July 29, 2020 from http://www.cast.org/our-work/about-udl.html#.XyLDBfhKjMJ

Indar, G.K. (2018). An equity-based evolution of universal design for learning: Participatory design for intentional inclusivity. Retrieved June 25, 2020 from https://udl-irn.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/Done_INDAR.EDIT_.DH_.JEG-copy.pdf

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Oct
28

Finding the Bright Spot

Finding the Bright Spot

Last week my colleague and friend, Bev Sharritt, reminded me how much I currently miss all of you and my fellow teammates. I think many of us can agree that virtual meetings simply aren’t the same no matter how much we may want them to be. Including this new way to work, this year has made me feel all the feelings and changed so many aspects of my daily life. It has changed the way I work, the way I socialize, the way I eat, the way I dress, the way I exercise, the list goes on. 

Nonetheless, I can’t help but try and find the silver lining in all of this change and unfamiliar territory. I suppose it’s the forever optimist in me, but when I encounter fear, I try to cling to the bright side. Here’s to hoping that some of what we’re learning and the adaptations we’re making in and out of the classroom are here to stay!

For example, this year has introduced me to more educators wanting to know how to make their materials accessible than ever before! As an accessibility advocate, this is incredibly exciting! Accessible materials level the playing field for all students and decrease the opportunity gap that too many of our students experience each and every year. I love hearing about educators working diligently and asking questions about how to make their Canvas and other learning management system courses accessible and their Bitmoji classrooms accessible on top of their digital and printed documents. 

To help support your efforts, a few of my teammates and I have put together a series of three 30-minute webinars that you can request via email for your school district as an Indiana public educator. This series includes how to create accessible materials from scratch, how to upload and publish accessible materials, and how to make inaccessible materials accessible from the student’s perspective.

Furthermore, this year has pushed us to not only think about our students’ access to our materials (representing our content), but the ways in which we engage our students and allow our students to show us what they know; this is the heart and soul of universal design for learning (UDL). We are stretching our creativity, figuring out how to use new tools for access, using virtual platforms for teaching and teletherapy successfully, and reaching students in ways we may have never thought possible. 

I also believe that 2020 has made us take a closer look at our work/life balance and how we care for our mental health. Not to say this didn’t happen because we overworked and pushed ourselves to the limit in some cases, but I’m hoping that it’s been a lesson learned to take with us into the future. Finding our boundaries and learning to say no is healthy! It’s a common phrase because it's true; we must take care of ourselves in order to take care of others. 

Lastly, I think or hope many of us have begun to re-evaluate how and with whom we spend our invaluable free time outside of the classroom. This year has brought me closer to the ones I love through phone calls, texts, Zoom get togethers, and sometimes in person. My quaran-team has helped me get through this year and will be there for me as we end this year and venture into what’s to come in 2021. I hope you’ve found your team and that you, too, are finding the bright spots in your experiences. 

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Jul
29

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal?

Text Consumption: Are All Options Created Equal? Text Consumption: Are all options created equal? Accompanied by eye, ear, and hand graphics.

Reading or as I like to call it, text consumption, is a large part of many of our lives. People may read textbooks with their eyes. Some individuals may read audiobooks with their ears, and others may read Braille books with their fingers. Text can be consumed for understanding in a variety of ways, but are all options created equal? Please share your opinion in a one-question survey linked at the end of the blog.

Midsection of girl reading Braille book

Over the last handful of years, I’ve reflected on my own text consumption habits. I once only considered myself a sighted consumer of text, with some practice listening to text, I found that I really enjoy auditory reading. I especially enjoy having access to text when I’m driving, walking, or mowing. Not only does it stimulate my brain, it makes the minutes tick by much faster. Plus, I’m grateful that as an adult I have options and can choose how I consume text with no fear of being told that I’m not really “reading” if I consume or read an audiobook auditorily.

Have you ever taken a minute to reflect on how you prefer to access and consume text for comprehension and recall? Some questions to ask yourself.
  1. Do you consume text in different ways? What about your students?

  2. Have you investigated ways to ensure your students have equitable access to grade level text using a method(s) that provides them with an optimal opportunity to consume text for comprehension and recall, especially if they struggle to decode text visually?

  3. Have you ever limited a student’s choice of text only because you believe that their struggle to decode it with their eyes means that they can’t glean any meaning from or find joy in it?

It wouldn’t be fair if I asked you to reflect upon those questions without doing so myself. Though hard to admit, I’d have to answer yes to the latter question during my time in the classroom. My students could only choose library books to read for pleasure from within their prescribed reading level as designated by the STAR program. Ugh, what was I thinking? With the knowledge that I have now, this dreadful strategy likely only caused embarrassment for students that were reading below grade level and barriers to texts that, if offered in an alternate format, could have stimulated imaginations, told meaningful stories, and sparked a love for text.

Young student wearing headphones and reading a textbook auditorily
After reflecting upon your text consumption preferences and the opportunities that have been afforded to your previous students, how might you change what it means to consume or read text for comprehension and recall in your classroom this year? 

If you desire to make some changes in your comprehension instruction this year but need some support or ideas, reach out to a PATINS Specialist! We are here and ready to work together to ensure each and every student has the opportunity to receive and interpret text for meaning, which is really why we want students to be able to read in the first place, right? 

Are all text consumption methods created equally? Share your opinion in this one-question survey (opens new window)!

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May
04

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools Educational Interpreters: Considerations for Schools

This week's blog is brought to us by our guest blogger and Language First founder, Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL. Kimberly's biography is at the bottom of this blog. 

Educational interpreters are an important part of the educational team and their work in providing language accessibility for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) students is critical. However, it’s important for school districts contemplating hiring an American Sign Language (ASL)-English interpreter for their DHH student(s) to consider a few vital factors. First, what is the language level of the DHH student? If the student has strong signed language skills, they may benefit from having the academic information interpreted into a visual language. If, however, the student has strong oral language skills and minimal signed language skills, then perhaps there needs to be a discussion as to the ultimate goal of having an educational interpreter in the classroom. If the goal is for the student to learn some ASL, then simply being provided an interpreter will not help them acquire a new language. Educational interpreters do not provide language instruction, and it would not be fair to expect the DHH student to attempt to acquire a new language while simultaneously trying to take in academic information. Additionally, having information interpreted into a language they barely know will likely be unhelpful. 

Most crucially, if the student has minimal signed language skills and minimal oral language skills, an interpreter may not be beneficial. In fact, providing an educational interpreter to a DHH child with no complete first language may be more harmful than helpful. As Caselli et al. (2020) assert, there is no evidence that DHH children with language deprivation can overcome their language difficulties from a single language model, even if that model is fluent in the language. School-aged DHH children without fluency in any language will not be able to simply acquire a signed language from an educational interpreter. Rather, they need intensive and purposeful language intervention in their most accessible language as well as plenty of language models and same-language peers with which to interact.

Another important consideration is the skill level of the educational interpreter. In a study by Schick et al. (2005), the authors found that 60% of the interpreters evaluated did not have the skill level necessary to provide DHH students with full access to the curriculum. This may be a result of state-by-state variation in requirements for interpreter skill levels. Many states don’t have standard requirements for educational interpreters, while others have standards that are gravely below the needs of DHH students (National Association of Interpreters in Education, 2021). Thus, it is critical that the school properly vet ASL-English interpreters who may be working with their students by ensuring they have an objective measure of adequate skill level. 

This is vital for a few reasons. First, interpreters themselves may not be able to accurately estimate their skills. This is due to a human cognitive fallacy called the Dunning-Kruger Effect, or the tendency for less-skilled individuals to rate themselves as highly skilled, and highly skilled individuals to rate themselves as less skilled. Indeed, Fitzmaurice (2020) found that the least skilled interpreters overestimated their skills, while the most skilled interpreters underestimated their skills. Therefore, a score on a standardized test like the Educational Interpreter Proficiency Assessment (EIPA) can be helpful in offering a more objective evaluation of an interpreter’s skills. Second, less skilled interpreters are less accurately interpreting information for their DHH students (Schick et al., 2005). The lower the percentage of accurately interpreted information, the less access DHH students are getting to academic content. Indeed, Schick et al. (1999) found that “many deaf children receive an interpretation of classroom discourse that many distort and inadequately represent the information being communicated” (p. 144).

Our DHH students need and deserve 100% access to academic information at all times, just like their hearing peers. It is our responsibility to ensure that a.) the student is a good candidate for an educational interpreter (if they are not, other educational placements should be discussed), and b.) that interpreter is highly qualified to provide full language access.

References:

Caselli, N. C., Hall, W. C., & Henner, J. (2020). American Sign Language interpreters in public schools: An illusion of inclusion that perpetuates language deprivation. Maternal and Child Health Journal.  

Fitzmaurice, S. (2020). Educational interpreters and the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Journal of Interpretation, 28(2).

National Association of Interpreters in Education (2021). State Requirements for EducationalInterpreters. https://naiedu.org/state-standards/

Schick, B., Williams, K., & Kupermintz, H. (2005). Look who’s being left behind: Educational interpreters and access to education for deaf and hard-of-hearing students. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 11(1), 3-20.

Schick, B., Williams, K., Bolster, L. (1999). Skill levels of educational interpreters working in public schools. Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education, 4(2), 144-155.


Kimberly Sanzo, MS, CCC-SLP, BCS-CL


Kim is a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who is committed to educating parents and professionals on the neurological effects of a late or incomplete first language acquisition for Deaf and hard of hearing children. She received her M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from Gallaudet University in 2012 and is a board-certified specialist in child language (BCS-CL) through the American Board of Child Language and Language Disorders.

Kim is also the founder of Language First. Language First aims to educate and raise awareness about American Sign Language (ASL)/English bilingualism and the importance of a strong first language foundation for Deaf and hard of hearing (DHH) children. You can find more information on Language First social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram and website.

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Mar
24

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person!

Did You Miss Us? Tech Expo 2022 is In-Person! Teacher and student smiling at one another. Tech Expo 2022 PATINS Project with IN*SOURCE. April 14, Carmel IN.

Almost one year to the date, I wrote the blog “PATINS Tech Expo 2021 with IN*SOURCE - Exciting Updates!” about our second virtual Tech Expo. Fortunately, we are back 100% in-person in Carmel, Indiana for PATINS Tech Expo 2022. We are excited to partner with IN*SOURCE for the fifth time!! It’s quite apparent over 400 of you are looking forward to hands-on time with assistive technology, face-to-face conversations with resource organizations, and fun and networking too!

The presentation schedule has been set with 20 excellent sessions from knowledgeable experts, including representatives from Apple, Don Johnston, Inc (makers of Snap&Read, Co:Writer, uPar), Texthelp, Microsoft, and many more! All sessions will show you how to boost accessibility in your classroom without adding more to your plate and provide valuable information to share with parents/families about their child’s future. Nearly all presentations tie into a big topic for educators - literacy!

In addition to the presentations, there are over 40 exhibitors available throughout the day! They will answer your questions, provide resources for supporting Indiana students both in and out of the classroom, and introduce you to their transformational products and services. Attendees will not want to miss the live Exhibit Hall to find out how to win educational door prizes from our generous donors!

Check out the presentation Schedule-At-A-Glance and Exhibit Hall List now.

There is still plenty of time in the school year to make an impact on that one student who needs better access to communicate, read, write, and/or socialize. Tech Expo 2022 is the spot to find your a-ha solutions.

Only two week’s left to register for a no-cost ticket. This includes free parking and complimentary breakfast and lunch, plus you can earn up to four Professional Growth Points (PGPs)/Contact Hours for attending.

I hope to see you on April 14 in Carmel, IN!


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Mar
09

"There is No Cure for Autism:" A Mother’s Journey with Her Son


Photo of Daniel with student Dylan back in the year 2001

Audio version of this blog
 (8 minutes 35 seconds)


Derek would scratch, hit, scream, and was unable to remain still for more than a fraction of a second at a time. It was May of 2000. It was 22 short years ago and it was the beginning of an experience that would shape the next two decades of both my professional and personal lives and would help to continually reignite the passion in me to keep going in this challenging educational work, year after year. 

I was still an undergrad at Purdue and my side-jobs as a paraprofessional, respite worker, camp counselor, and Big Brothers volunteer all had me so frustrated in the missed potential I perceived in many of the older students and adults I worked with, that I quit all of my part-time jobs and started a behavioral consulting service for young children on the autism spectrum. One of my very first clients was Lianna, the loving, smart, determined, caring, patient, and strong mother of Derek. It is with great honor that I welcome Lianna as my guest blogger this week who graciously shares a portion of her journey! 

Young Derek holding a purple stuff bear
Things were normal until just after he turned two years old. He started displaying some odd behaviors, like staring at his hands and flapping them. If he didn't recognize a person, he would start screaming until the person left. When his dad took off his eyeglasses, Derek would start screaming and it would take a considerable amount of time for him to settle again. There were a lot of behavioral issues, including scratching himself and hitting his siblings because he still couldn't talk. I thought he was just a late talker, and I expressed my concern to his pediatrician, who gave us a referral to a neurologist. At the next doctor’s appointment, the pediatrician gave us the diagnosis of “Severe Autism with Mental Retardation.” That was 1998 and I had never heard of autism before, so I asked his pediatrician what the cure for it was. With a sad face, I remembered what he said to me vividly: “Mrs. Dawson, there is no cure for autism, you have to prepare yourself that your son might live in an institution because he will be hard to handle for you later on.” That was the last time we saw his pediatrician or any doctor.

I immersed myself in finding a cure or at least, how to help improve my son’s berserk behavior. I lived and breathed autism. The Barnes and Noble bookstore became our favorite place to visit until I stumbled upon one particular book on behavior intervention for young children with autism. That book became my bible. Luckily, we lived one town away from Purdue University and I put an ad in the Purdue Exponent newspaper. I started hiring Purdue University Special Education pre-service teachers and Speech, Occupational Therapy, and art students. This is when I met Daniel McNulty, a special-education pre-service student, along with some other bright students who were willing to make a difference in Derek’s life. Daniel McNulty facilitated the Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) with Derek when ABA was not even known or accepted in a school setting. It is not easy to implement, especially with a child who lives his own little world. Pulling him out of that world and his autism-related behaviors, I pictured was like pulling him out of a darkness filled with repetitive and odd behaviors. This was not an easy task for Daniel McNulty or for myself. Daniel seemed a miracle worker, rewarding Derek’s positive behavior with popcorn and other tangible items that Derek preferred at the time. He started sitting at the table and doing the short tasks that he was prompted to do, starting with things like clapping his hands, pointing to letter sounds of the alphabet, and identifying colors.

It was a long, dark, difficult road ahead, full of twists and turns. I was a desperate mother who was desperate to give my son the best chances in life that I could! I integrated different approaches, as to not leave any stone unturned. Applied Behavioral Analysis, Auditory Integration training, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and Gluten-free and Casein-free diet. Following his diagnosis, I started seeing a naturopathic doctor who did some biofeedback along with lots of vitamin therapy. It turned out that Daniel McNulty accepted a classroom teaching position in the school corporation that would be where Derek attended Kindergarten through 12th grade, which meant that Daniel wrote Derek's Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals and ensured that the appropriate accommodations and assistive technologies were in place! This also meant that Derek never had the same sort of summer vacation as many other kids. His school sent a teacher to our house all summer long for extended school year services to help compensate for the lack of progress during the school year. We were very lucky to be living in a good school district that wanted the best for Derek, as we did. 

Derek standing in wrestling stance, facing an opponent in high school wrestling

Fast-forwarding through substantial behavioral therapies and other educational services, and never-ending hope, high expectations, and perseverance; Derek graduated last year with a degree in Mechanical Engineering Technology at the age of 24 from one of the best engineering schools in the country, Purdue University. There were a lot of challenges along the way, but somehow, we managed to get through them, one by one, and to conquer that uphill battle. I always told Derek that he was a warrior and I called him Victor. From the background, in the stands, I always cheered him on with “Go, Victor!” I'm sure some people thought I must have had two sons out there! Derek always asked me why I called him Victor, especially when he was wrestling (his favorite sport, which he was great at, and perhaps channeled some of his aggression onto the mat). I told him I called him Victor because he is my warrior and while this road is full of barriers, he will be victorious. I told him he is one in a million and he is very lucky, that not all kids with autism are afforded the opportunity to overcome their challenges and function independently as he does. I thank God, that I met his angels like Daniel McNulty, Shelly K., and Betty R., who introduced me to a holistic approach to autism. Without these people who helped pulled him out of the dark, he probably wouldn’t be living independently now. 

Derek sitting in Purdue University cap and gownDerek standing in front of a massive Caterpillar dump truck
Autism is not a life sentence as I once thought it to be and as our pediatrician made it out to be. It may not be an easy journey and there will be times of seemingly insurmountable challenges, but those make the victories that much sweeter as well. Derek is now working in engineering for Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, off-highway diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives, and lives independently out of state! When I talk to Derek on the phone now, he complains that he has a lot of meetings and big projects at work. I just smile in deep gratitude for that, and in my mind, I scream, "yes, Victor!

Derek standing with his mom, Lianna, in front of the Purdue Engineering fountain
For all the parents, family members, and educators that are a part of the critical team supporting a "Victor," do not give up. You are probably the strongest advocate and the biggest voice for your children. There is hope!  Derek is the living proof of it. Seek out resources and help, as it's out there for you! Search for Daniel McNultys, the Shelly K's, the Betty R's, and the many tools and resources that are available through organizations like PATINS

Derek's IEPs always included accommodations for text-to-speech (TTS), word-prediction, graphic organizers, reduced verbal instructions, extra time, and additional non-verbal prompts when needed, and others! While some people viewed these accommodations as "cheating" or "lowering expectations," Derek's amazing success as a young adult and highly productive professional member of society is proof that these accommodations actually facilitated setting and achieving incredibly high expectations for a once young, non-verbal, physically aggressive child who was not able to focus!" 


PATINS
1. Lending Library of Assistive Technology 
2. Training and Professional Development Specialists
3. AEMing for Achievement Grant (Open now, Closes May 30th)
4. Statewide Conferences in November and April (Tech Expo Registration Open Now) 


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Feb
27

The Lenses Adjust The View

Photo collage of four pairs of glasses:  paper 3D, yellow lenses in reading glasses, round rimmed glasses and safety glasses


This week I was reminded that the lenses one looks through, adjust your view. Each year, I visit the optometrist to check my eye health and see if the vision in my eyes has changed any in the last year. The results are typically one of 3 things: 

  1. Vision unchanged and no new prescription
  2. Vision improved, new prescription needed
  3. Vision worsened, new prescription needed

I could even consider new or colored contacts, at this annual visit, which adds another type of lens to consider after my annual check up!

While watching a photographer/videographer friend’s YouTube channel, as he was showcasing a Stream Deck for streaming and productivity, I realized the lens I viewed this equipment with had changed over time. Originally, I used a Stream Deck with OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) for live streaming, for projects unrelated to school based therapy. Then, I moved to the option of using shortcuts to allow a student to press one button and land on the page they needed during instruction, rather than typing out the most common web pages she needed in class.

After viewing my friend’s video, I am reminded of all the options that are available for productivity and shortcuts that can be set up with a Stream Deck by Elgato. Using a device as the manufacturer intended is great, but what if it can be used to increase productivity or increase access to a student’s curriculum? One tip he reminded me of was that one can set up a group of websites that will launch in one window. Another is that a user can have a direct link to their storage drive or email that would allow the student to already be logged in. As an educator or therapist, do you have students that shortcuts like this would work well for? 

I am thankful for a different lens to view this valuable technology! The PATINS Project Lending Library has both a Stream Deck 15 and a mini available for loan, along with thousands of other resources to help Indiana’s students. Indiana’s educators are able to check out resources for a 6 week loan to gather data and see if the tool is a good fit for the student’s needs.

Myself or any of our PATINS Specialists are available to assist with set up and training for use of a Stream Deck, or any other Lending Library loan that an Indiana educator would like to trial as Assistive Technology or use the view of the Universal Design for Learning lens. Reach out to us today!

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Feb
09

The ramp AND stairs

The ramp AND stairs The ramp AND stairs

Next time it snows, I invite you to take a look at your ramps outside of your school buildings. Are the ramps AND the stairs shoveled and salted or just the steps? One sign that your school or district is fully inclusive is that the ramp is included in the clearing of snow. Every staff member needs the mindset that ALL of our students are included in ALL of the classrooms and buildings. This means the ramp is included. After all, who can use the ramp versus the stairs? EVERYONE. 

I am calling on each one of you to have this very important discussion with your staff on behalf of each one of our unique, bright students. As we are charged with educating ALL of our students as they come to our buildings, let’s not make accessing the building their first barrier to their education. 

The photo below was captured at an Indiana school the week of February 7th, 2022. ramp with snow and stairs shoveled and salted entrance into a school building with text ramp and stairs

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Feb
03

Creating Accessible Learning Environments for All—Questions That Can Guide Our Design

This week I would like to introduce guest blogger, Matt Brenner, District Technology Coach for Southwest Allen County Schools (SACS) and SACS AEMing for Achievement grant team member. Each year as part of the grant process, all the teams meet in January to share positive outcomes thus far and goals for the remainder of the year. As the representative for his team, Matt shared four guiding questions they are using to drive their team's and district's discussion on accessibility. Because many other teams were finding the use of these guiding questions to be insightful and inspiring during the meeting, I'm grateful and excited that he agreed to share the four questions in this blog just for you!


Educators have always believed that variability exists between learners, yet our instructional practices do not always address this belief. While this gap between our educational beliefs and our practices was already worthy of attention prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a renewed awareness of it because of the many struggles students, educators, and families experienced during the past two years. These common struggles have created an opportunity for us to re-examine our beliefs, continue to ask questions about our instructional practices, and work together to determine how to make learning more accessible to all students.

Making learning accessible for all is the goal of educators. While accessibility is a simple concept in theory, it can become more complicated as it is put into practice. We need to acknowledge its complexity by modeling the practice of asking questions to gain a better understanding and to frame our conversations about accessibility. This will lead to logical, purposeful, and well-intended discourse to occur and to better outcomes for all of our learners. Let’s explore what questions we can use to guide our conversations around accessibility.

Four Fundamental Questions About Accessibility

  1. To whom are our learning environments truly accessible? A learning environment includes more than just the physical space of a classroom. We need to expand our understanding of both where learning can take place and what needs to be available for learning to take place. A learning environment includes the physical location of the learning, the resources and curriculum available to the students, and the lesson design. Let’s quickly examine a typical curriculum or lesson materials. Most curriculum and educational materials are designed and developed to address the needs of the so-called ‘average student’ and the ‘average brain.’ Through modern educational neuroscience, we have learned that there is no average student, nor is there an average brain. But because the majority of our curriculum and instructional practices are implemented through this lens of designing for ‘the average,’ we unintentionally make learning inaccessible by placing barriers within our environments.  This means that for many of our learners, much of their learning is not accessible because of a barrier that was inadvertently placed within the lesson design. For example, we may introduce a concept to a student and assume that they have the background knowledge necessary to become (and remain) engaged throughout the entire lesson. However, their lack of background knowledge to the topic is actually a barrier to them engaging in the lesson. To reduce that barrier, a teacher can activate or supply background knowledge through providing visuals, demonstrations, or models. By doing so, that barrier has been reduced and students are more likely to engage and persist in their learning. We need to acknowledge that the barriers to learning are not within the learner, but in how the learning environment is designed.

  2. Under what conditions are they truly accessible? Educational neuroscience has also made clear that learners do not have one global, or fixed, learning profile. Instead, they have jagged learning profiles that may shift depending on a variety of factors. Context truly makes a difference. Simply put, what may be accessible to one type of learner in one setting may be inaccessible to the same learner in a different setting. We need to be mindful of this reality as we consider the accessibility of our learning environments. We can design for variability within our learning environment by embracing flexibility in our design. Flexible resources and tools can be used in several different ways to express understanding over the same information. For example, flexible resources are used within a learning environment when a teacher allows students to use a resource in a way that is meaningful to the student rather than requiring the resource to be used in a specific, predetermined way. Based on its inherent flexibility, technology can also offer opportunities for students to make their learning more accessible, regardless of their context. As an educator, it is not as important to know why a particular student would need to experience this level of flexibility; it is more important to offer the flexibility to all your students based on our classroom’s variability and jagged learning profiles so that they can all have access to their learning.

  3. What if we saw accessibility as the ‘main course’ of our design decisions instead of the ‘leftovers?’ Accessibility is often discussed through the reactive response of special education versus the more proactive approach of general education. General education teachers may see it as “one more thing” to worry about or that “we do not have time to worry about making everything accessible.” These are natural responses given educators’ heavy workload and limited time. However, when taking a more proactive approach in our design, we usually discover that “What is essential for some, is useful for all.” If we did a little digging, we would find that there is an inherent, common, and yet incorrect assumption that “general education students” learn similarly to each other. Based on educational neuroscience, we know that is not true because of learner variability. Because of the variability that exists within the “general education” population, there are likely students that could benefit from greater accessibility. By increasing access for our specialized populations, we are actually increasing usability for everyone because so many hidden learning barriers exist in our student population. This subtle, yet profound shift in our design has tremendous implications in improving learning outcomes for all. Accessibility should not be viewed as “one more thing,” it should be viewed as “the thing.” It should be our SWAG…the stuff we all get.

  4. What if we viewed greater accessibility as an opportunity for us to raise the bar for all learners instead of lowering it? As educators, our goal is not simply to make information accessible to all learners, but to make learning more accessible. Accessibility is not about lowering expectations, in fact it is the opposite. When we make learning more accessible, that means we are providing learning materials, tools, and environments that make it possible for all students to be challenged to their fullest extent. This is accomplished by allowing students to choose flexible tools within their learning environment that are meaningful to them to express their understanding of the teacher’s learning goals. This will provide students with the opportunity to truly demonstrate what they know within a learning environment with fewer barriers in it. It is essential to know our students, their learning profiles, and our instructional goals so that we can determine when to provide support and when to challenge them. With this mindset, balance, and alignment, we can continue to raise the bar for all of our students by making their learning more accessible.

There is no doubt that every learner learns differently and has different needs. Educators will continue to search for instructional practices that will enhance their ability to reach all learners. As educators we can proactively address those needs by adopting a mindset focused on making our learning environments more accessible to all. If we do this, we will discover and unlock the potential of all our learners.

Resources:

Nelson, Loui Lord. Design and Deliver: Planning and Teaching Using Universal Design for Learning. Brookes Publishing Co, 2021.

Ralabate, Patti. Your UDL Lesson Planner: The Step-by-Step Guide for Teaching All Learners. Brookes Publishing, 2016.

Rose, David H., et al. Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning.
Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2002.

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Dec
30

Recharged and Raring to Go!

Battery with lightning over it with the word charging

Recharged and raring to go!

Winter break often cannot come soon enough. Up to this point in the school year, we have been depleted by so many things such as lack of connection with family, daily workload, testing, grading, COVID worries, our own health, unexpected changes, and advertising. Advertising is all around us knowingly or unknowingly shaping our behavior and not necessarily for the better. So, we strive to counteract these forces in the new calendar year by planning new goals for personal habits, health, finances, professional growth and more.   

Change is inevitable, growth is optional. Considering the number of ads we encounter on a daily basis, how easy it is to neglect our physical health and how we may not make time for professional growth, I ask you to pick three things to change for the next year and choose to grow.

Screen_Shot_2021-12-30_at_12.45.01_PM.png

Figure 2 Man running away while looking over his shoulder at advertising icons chasing him.

We are bombarded with advertising on TV, Radio, Billboards, emails, social media and more. Just yesterday while I was trying to enter and update my password on the vendor’s website, I had to close pop-ups from the vendor inviting me to enter my email to win $100!

In 2004, “The advertising industry spends $12 billion per year on ads targeted to children, bombarding young audiences with persuasive messages through media such as television and the Internet. The average child is exposed to more than 40,000 TV commercials a year, according to studies.” – Protecting Children from Advertising, American Psychological Association 2004

In 2007, it was reported that on average, people were exposed to 5,000 ads per day.

In 2021, that number is estimated to be between 6,000 and 10,000 ads per day!

#1 Reduce the amount of time you spend on social media and talk about social media's impact and effects with your students.

To Do: 

  • Connect with a family member or do something active that brings you joy (i.e., electronics break). These are actions that can recharge you mentally and physically.
  • Block ads (Android, iOS, WIN, Mac, Chrome)
  • Use built-in tools to reduce website distractions [great to help with focus]:
  • You can also use 3rd party solutions to improve focus like:

Figure 3 Before using Reader Mode, example similar to what one might see when accessing an article on a website showing the extra content that can be distracting.

 

Figure 4 Using Reader Mode, example in Safari on a Mac computer. Irrelevant content has been removed, the background color and text are higher contrast and the only content on the page is from the blog post.

#2 Make healthier choices.

It’s easy to skip taking care of yourself given work and family commitments. Convenience and fast food are easy but will cost your body in the long run. Working into the late hours of the night to “get one more” thing done also comes at a cost.

Keeping your body healthy helps you have more energy to meet the mental and physical demands that your students bring. Rest, drink enough water and reduce caffeine. That’s a tough one. I like coffee! I am fortunate enough to still be able to run. Running keeps my heart, body and mind healthy.

To Do:  

  • Choose something physical that you enjoy and do it!
  • Maintain a regular bedtime routine
  • Consume some mindfulness blogs, newsletters, books or podcasts

#3 Improve your knowledge and expertise.

No single educator can know everything. Hopefully, you are already part of a team (e.g., grade level, focus area, specialty area, etc.) that shares knowledge and information to overcome problems and improve learning. If you are not or your team needs assistance, you can:

To Do:

  • Connect with a PATINS/ICAM staff member to learn new ideas to help you improve your instruction and take your students' academic, literacy and communication skills to the next level!
  • View Free PATINS Training Videos and earn Continuing Education Hours.

Figure 5 Battery showing Full Charge

By making just three changes, you will recharge your mental and physical batteries, have more focus and provide better instructional support for your students! Have a great New Year in 2022!

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Jan
19

A Girl, a Frog, and Accessibility

20220120-004655frog-dissection-and-iPad-Pro A student with blue plastic gloves completes a frog dissection using an iPad to enlarge her view of the task.

Once upon a time there was a girl in middle school. She was like every other middle school girl, in that she wanted to succeed in school. She was also like every other middle school girl who wants to be noticed but is painfully averse to being singled out. 

Her inner heart cried out, “Look at me!” and “Everyone is staring at me!” at the same time. 

This fairy tale intro is one that I’ve heard throughout my years as both a PATINS specialist and a teacher for the blind before that. Adolescence is hard. Needing to use large print books that don’t fit in a backpack and using a magnifying device to see the board makes it harder. 

Most of the students I’ve worked with have been able to move past the “everyone is watching me” mindset. Once I got a teen girl to use her magnifier because she had a cute student teacher and she could see him in hunky detail with it. Another teen girl used the technology for some mean girl antics, inviting a peer to her desk and zooming in on other peers to make fun of them. This made me cry, not because she misbehaved, but because it was so normal. When you have a disability, feeling normal can be a luxury.

The advent of one to one devices and built in accessibility has been a game changer for all folks with low vision, and especially for the teenage folks feeling all the feels. Now students are able to get digital texts delivered to their devices through the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) and facilitated by their district’s Digital Rights Manager (DRM). And whatever is projected onto the board at the front of the room can be sent electronically to the student’s device. 

All of the platforms continue to race like a fairy tale hero on horseback to outdo each other with built in accessibility features like enlarged/bold format, enlarged mouse/cursor, special color filters for folks with color blindness, and many ways to have text converted to speech with more and more human-sounding voices

I received the cover photo for this blog from one of our stakeholders of an 8th grade girl using an iPad Pro clamped in a stand to enlarge her frog dissection in science class. She wrote, “In observing her during the frog dissection lab it was evident that her confidence and efficiency with the task grew using the tablet clamped to her lab table.” She went on to describe how the student took the lead in the dissection where before she would have been dependent on the partner to report observations. 

This also made me cry because 

  1. A CONFIDENT adolescent is more beautiful than any Disney Princess. 
  2. When I was a science teacher at the Indiana School for the Blind from 1996 - 2000 all we could do was buy the extra jumbo frogs from Carolina Biological Supply. 

This student and many others are benefitting tremendously from new technology. Here’s to their continued success and just the right amount of getting in trouble so that they can live happily ever after. 

Masked female student looking at a frog dissection through an iPad Pro


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Dec
23

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative

Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative Accessibility is a District-wide Initiative with student in wheelchair reaching for book.

“I wish I still had to use my wheelchair.” This was a quiet statement made by one of my students.

While this particular student had made immense progress physically following a stroke, he was continuing to struggle academically and a bit socially to keep up with the ever changing landscape of middle school.

When asked why he wanted to have his wheelchair back, he said “So people would remember I had a stroke.” He felt without an external symbol of his disability, his teachers and friends treated him like he had recovered 100%. They had assumed he was “being lazy” or “being a teenager” when he did not complete his school work. 

I know some days he enjoyed being able to “blend” back into the classroom environment, especially when he was up to some pre-teen trickery. Although he worked hard to cover up his struggles, he needed support. For instance, I noticed he had a particularly hard time editing his writing on the computer. He said looking at the screen would give him a headache and he had trouble reading back what he typed.

Only after the fact did I find out our district had the AEMing for Achievement grant at the time I worked with this student. I had heard rumblings about Snap&Read and Co:Writer from my speech-language pathologist counterparts at other levels. So I asked about the tools but was told “Oh we are trying it out in elementary and high school right now. This will come to the middle school soon.” 

So I waited.

And that was my mistake.

The tools that could have supported my student (and subsequently benefitted his classmates) were literally sitting right in front of him on his Chromebook everyday. District administration never brought us more information about the AEMing for Achievement grant processes and tools that year.

Here is where I wish I had a happy ending to wrap in a big shiny bow to share with you. The truth is we never found a great strategy to help him in middle school and I am not sure what happened once he moved on to high school.

My hope is that you can take away a couple of lessons from my experience.

First of all, my student is an example of many students in our schools who are passed over year in and year out because they do not “look” disabled. Having mobility aids or other assistive devices is not a prerequisite to receiving academic support. We must create a learning environment without barriers. By designing lessons with Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in mind, we can remove barriers to full participation and progress for all students in the classroom.

Second, if you hear of a tool that you feel will help a student, go after it tenaciously. There is always someone willing to help train you, lend it out, or in some cases pay for it. PATINS Assistive Technology Lending Library has many devices, software, and educational items to trial with your students for six weeks for free - shipping included!

Third, access to the curriculum is a district wide initiative. In other words - access for all students! This especially applies to students with disabilities who must receive their accessible materials in a “timely manner” (IDEA, 2004). 

It can feel overwhelming to make systemic changes and to get everyone on board. The PATINS Project is here to help you in your efforts to create and sustain an accessible learning environment. PATINS AEMing for Achievement grant teams receive intensive support to set up accessibility policies, procedures, and practices district wide. Additionally, our specialists can help you get the ball rolling if you have questions about designing accessible lessons or would like training in this area. Furthermore, the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM) provides Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) to qualifying students. All of these services come at no cost to employees of Indiana Local Education Agencies (i.e. public/charter schools). 

Our students do not have time to wait for access to their education. They need it now and the PATINS Project is here to support you in achieving this in 2022 and beyond.

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Dec
08

Reasons To Stay Strong, Collaborative, Positive, and Brave


Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with her husband, son, and daughter.
As educators, we are all quite aware of the many reasons it's challenging to keep pushing on, especially right now. Rather than spend even one more sentence reiterating those reasons, however, I want to emphasize the reasons it's so critical that we don't stop moving forward, that we find ways to re-kindle the fires that fuel and warm us, that we remember there are people who need us to do just that, and that we will likely also need someone else to do that for us at some point in our lives, as we are all inevitably Temporarily Abled

It's been a good while since I've had a guest blogger. In fact, it was August of 2019 when Beth Poss graced my blog with her wisdom on designing and decorating a classroom with more function than form! ...definitely, a read worth revisiting! I'm pretty picky when it comes to sharing my turn to blog with another writer. It was a pretty easy decision, however, when I learned about the most recent PATINS Starfish Award winner, Mandy Hall, M.S. CCC-SLP! All Indiana educators, administrators, related service staff, and all other school personnel are eligible for this award that is presented to the super heroes who consistently go above and beyond to meet the needs of all students through Universal Design for Learning, the implementation of Accessible Educational Materials and Assistive Technology, in order to be most meaningfully included in all aspects of their educational environment! Mandy Hall absolutely embodies all of this and while we wait in eager anticipation for her official Starfish Award video to be released on PATINS TV, she has most graciously agreed to guest-blog with me this week! Mandy has worked as a speech-language pathologist for sixteen years serving students ranging from preschool through high school as well as volunteering her time to support the communication needs of adults in her community.

"One busy evening at work (summer job) led an unexpected customer to me. Our eyes met and she immediately looked so familiar. It was Karen, Tony’s mom! I remembered her son from my own grade school when I was little! He was the young boy who carried around ‘that thing’ because he never spoke. I never knew the name of it, or got to use it with him, but I now know the importance of those things! Anyway, I remember not seeing him very much; he was always in the smaller room down the hall, with “that bald teacher.” I also now realize the extreme importance of inclusion!

Karen looked at me and said, “I heard you’re the girl I need to talk to!” Her son, Tony, is now thirty four (oh my gosh!) years old. Karen shared that he still lives with her, and that he is still unable to verbally communicate with his mouth. I shared with her that I am, indeed, a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP) and that I love helping people learn to share their voice through Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC)! 

Working with learners who have intensive needs can be very tough, and sometimes you get to feeling like it’s never enough, or questioning how you will ever be able to make a difference. Progress can often be slow, but the (SLP) life is fast paced! It can be easy to lose your direction, your passion, your spark, and to feel like you’re drowning in frustration and piling tasks. There are some keys though, that I want to share, to keeping your drive strong, your passion thriving, and the outcomes with your learners trending upward! Mentorship, collaboration, the support of a partner, family, continuous learning and development, community resources, and celebrating the small wins each day.

Fast forward - I would finish my day at school and began visiting Tony every Wednesday evening to work with him using an AAC device. I will say that magic happens at their kitchen table on those evenings! Well, perhaps not magic, but many small wins that are celebrated with vigor! Tony and I share many moments of joy, filling my heart, his parents’ hearts; and Tony is communicating! I quickly realized that I was getting my ‘spark’ back through each of these small wins with and through the support of this family and them with my support! Oddly enough, sometimes it’s the finding of extra work like this, that can reignite the passion! This includes the sharing in joy from our littlest students, at 3 years of age, to adults at thirty four plus! First words, first moments of experiencing in learners that eagerness to communicate and a readiness to learn; the first time parents and caregivers are hearing and seeing their loved ones communicate their feelings, their wants, their preferences in life! 


Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with a student and parents
Reaching those milestones to be able to share in those particular joys with other people isn’t usually an easy task, that’s for sure. It takes an entire team, which can include SLPs, SLPAs, teachers, OTs,
parents, administration, support staff, and community partners! You just have to be
all in and open to utilizing them all!

For me, it all started with an amazing mentorship, with the incredibly skilled SLP, Cathy Samuels. I was an SLP Assistant for her. She showed me the ropes and I witnessed the powerful and moving changes she was able to initiate with kids. I wanted to be able to do that! I remember navigating through our first AAC user experience, which was uncharted waters at the time, and we felt like it was just too complicated for us. Paintbrush man, a bucket, a pot boiling? What are these pictures and how will kids ever figure this out? Well, they do. And they do it beautifully. We doubted initially, and they proved us wrong over and over. This may just have been the start of me embracing continual life-long learning, professional development, and not capping possibility!

84 cupcakes in a 7 by 12 grid, each with a paper decoration topper representing one of the 84 buttons of the LAMP Words for Life home page.

The tables have now turned. Me, Cathy's former SLPA, finished graduate school and became an SLP myself! In turn, I then find an irreplaceable SLPA to work alongside me; my own sister! Without my sister/SLPA, there is absolutely no way that I could do this job. She jumps right in with some of the most inspiring bravery I've every seen, to help with any and every group of learners, any level of need, and has also found a love of working with kids in their AAC journeys! Her shared passion, drive, and support of me, has allowed so many of the kids we work with, to be true communicators, which in turn, feeds my ‘spark’ even more! Find those people around you who support you and believe in the work that you do and utilize them!  

Starfish award winner, Mandy Hall, with her sister who is also her SLPA

Helping people, kids and adults, obtain their own communication device can certainly be challenging. Writing funding reports, fighting medicaid, writing appeals, attending appeals hearings with attorneys and parents; all to fight for a person who is unable to tell us their basic wants and needs. The frustration with that, easily reaches high levels and there are times when giving up seems like the only option, and sometimes it’s easy to forget about the resources that are available to you, but critically important to those people you're serving!

A family shared with me a foundation that is now, near and dear to my heart, and many of the families we serve here; Anna’s Celebration of Life. When devices have been denied funding for various reasons, this foundation has pulled through for us and graciously gifted communication devices so that our learners voices can finally be shared! One young girl’s short life on this Earth, is now changing the lives of so many others with exceptional needs in Indiana. Brad Haberman has built a phenomenal foundation that provides to so many children; including 4 of our own here!

The PATINS Project of Indiana has also helped in big ways! Learning of PATINS, a few years ago, I was able to acquire items from the Lending Library for 6-week loans, for free! I was reminded of all the wonderful things PATINS does this past Fall. I was able to attend their 2 day Access To Education conference, learning, listening, and taking in so much useful information! I’m not afraid to reach out, ask for help, and request devices for loan. How do we know what our kids can and cannot do unless we try as many possibilities as we can find? ...and how do we possibly do that without organizations and services like PATINS! That’s the beauty I have found through PATINS. Their support and understanding goes far beyond the loaning of a device or the provision of an accessible material. It’s the implementation support, the follow-up, the training, the feeling of someone holding my hand through the process if necessary, that makes all the difference! PATINS has allowed for some of my learners to figure out that an expensive speech generating device is just too heavy, and that the keyguard is better than a touchguide, and that headpoint access, while exhausting, can work! We learned through two loaner devices that one particular student needs a lighter, more accessible device with special features that cannot be accessed through an iPad, for example. That trial and error process simply wouldn’t be possible without PATINS!

Circling back to Tony, it’s tough to realize, after 34 years and multiple therapists and educators, Tony was only able to communicate with two people (his mom and his dad). I am going to do my best to make sure that Tony gets his forever voice; to keep and never have to return. Though you may not be able to reach them all right away, if you can change the life for even just one by recognizing, facilitating and encouraging communication, then that one will make you want to dig and reach even harder to find the next! Seek out mentorship and try to recognize it when it falls in your lap even if it might seem like a challenge to your current way of thinking! Share the accountability and the responsibility with your team, partner, family! Seek out and utilize the resources that already exist and are so eager to serve you, for free, like PATINS! My goal; to be able to make sure that all of my learners find and have their voices before they walk through their school’s door for the last time."

While Mandy is super-busy, I have no doubt she'll do whatever she can to support you in your own journey to support others! Please reach out to me if you'd like to be put in touch with our latest Starfish Award Winner, Mandy Hall! And... if you know someone who's also doing inspiring work to include all students meaningfully, please don't hesitate to nominate them for a PATINS Starfish Award of their own! You can also learn about the past 13 Starfish Award Winners!

For now, I'll leave you with an email I was sent back in April of 2018, from a Director of Special Education in Indiana. It's an email that I'll never forget and it absolutely reinforces the passion, dedication, and urgency that Mandy Hall represents. Thank goodness someone thought to borrow a speech-generating communication device from PATINS near the end of this 3rd grader's year, but... what about all the things he never got to share during the previous 8-9 years of his life... things that we'll never get to know. Stay passionate, stay eager, driven, fighting for those who need you right now, and using the resources around you! PATINS is here to support you!

On Apr 30, 2018, at 4:58pm,     Daniel - will you please forward this to whomever there at PATINS sends out the assistive technology for us to trial? We have a Dynavox on order to trial with a 3rd grade student of ours at                Elementary School (he is the one for which your staff has been assisting us with the AT evaluation). He passed away quite unexpectedly this past Saturday (April 28, 2018). We need to cancel that request to borrow the device.  Thanks so much -                  ,      Special Education Director

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Oct
27

Nevermind

Nevermind Nevermind

Imagine that you are in a group with three of your best friends, you are standing outside with a light wind blowing, a few birds chirping, one of your friends is describing their first date they met through an online dating service. Suddenly a fire truck comes by with the siren blasting. Your friend doesn’t stop sharing their story, the firetruck passes, and all three friends start laughing, while you are taking a minute, trying to piece together what you think they might have said and why they are all laughing. 

Take a moment and think about what emotion you might be displayed on your face; is it a look of confusion and thought or do you smile, nod your head and maybe even laugh? Next, you ask your friend to repeat the last part because you missed it with the fire truck siren. Your friend quickly says, “Oh, never mind.” Then another friend starts talking. How does this make you feel? As your friend passively brushes the story and laughter off, you might feel disappointed and left out of the group of friends. Anything else you might feel? 

Now let’s apply these same concepts to our classroom, our students, and those that are deaf/hard of hearing. Do similar situations happen during the school day? Sure they do! It may look different such as background noise or music, lack of visual representations of the content, a classroom of small groups all talking, social groups at recess or lunch, the list goes on.  

The same applies during family gatherings such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Diwali, Eid Al-Fitr, Festa Junina, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, just to name a few. 

While completing my master's program at Ball State University, one of my deaf professors described this feeling as being brushed off like a dog that wants to play but you’re just busy doing something else. 

Please think about these situations and how they may make you feel. Take a moment and repeat the conversation for someone who is truly wanting to know what you said when they ask you to repeat yourself. These moments are fleeting for some and isolating for others. If we are going to cancel anything this season, let’s cancel Nevermind.


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Oct
01

AAC Awareness Month

AAC Awareness Month AAC Awareness Month with quote from USSAAC.

"International AAC Awareness Month is celebrated around the world each October. The goal is to raise awareness of augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) and to inform the public about the many different ways in which people communicate using communication devices." - International Society of Augmentative and Alternative Communication

A few things to know about AAC:

  1. There is No Prerequisite for using AAC - as long as you are breathing, you are a candidate
  2. Everyone has the right to communicate - treat the communicator with respect and offer AAC solutions
  3. Presume competence/potential for the communicator - expect that communicator can learn, wants to connect with others, develop literacy skills and more
  4. Give the communicator adequate wait time to formulate a response
  5. High Tech is not necessarily the answer nor is any one particular device or app - complete an AAC assessment to determine the best fit solution for your student

Augmentative means to add to someone’s speech. Alternative means to be used instead of speech. Some people use AAC throughout their life. Others may use AAC only for a short time, like when they have surgery and can’t talk. - American Speech-Language Hearing Association

AAC is more than just high tech, fancy communication devices. It can be as simple as teaching a student gestures/signs (e.g., more or help), writing/drawing, to tactile symbols, pictures, icons/symbols, simple voice output devices to high tech devices like an iPad with an AAC app or a dedicated speech generating device (SGD).

Here are a few tools/resources to help your promote communication skills:

AAC Intervention Website by Caroline Musselwhite

Communication Matrix The Communication Matrix has created a free assessment tool to help families and professionals easily understand the communication status, progress, and unique needs of anyone functioning at the early stages of communication or using forms of communication other than speaking or writing.

Dynamic AAC Goals (DAGG-2) The primary objectives of the Dynamic AAC Goals Grid-2 are to provide a systematic means to assess (and reassess) an individual’s current skills in AAC and to assist partners in developing a comprehensive, long-reaching plan for enhancing the AAC user’s communicative independence.

PrAACtical AAC Website PrAACtical AAC supports a community of professionals and families who are determined to improve the communication and literacy abilities of people with significant communication difficulties. 

Lauren Enders (Facebook) compiles an exceptionally thorough resource that highlights the many AAC apps/software that go on sale during October.

Infographic created by Lauren Enders showing numerous AAC apps/software on sale for AAC Awareness month. Plain text version linked below graphic.

PDF with AAC & Educational App Sale information (info from above) for October 2021 provided by Lauren S. Enders, MA, CCC-SLP.

Do you want to learn more? Check out the
PATINS Training Calendar. If you don't see a training that meets your needs, look over the PATINS Professional Development Guide for inspiration. The guide offers summaries to some of our most popular in-person trainings and webinars developed by our team of specialists that are available year-round upon request. These are offered at no-cost for Indiana public LEA employees.

If you have an AAC case you would like help with, request a free consultation with a PATINS AAC Specialist by completing our AAC Consultation FormYou will meet with at least one or more Specialists to review your case and help brainstorm ideas.

Want additional Professional Development?  Come to our 2021 virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now!

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Sep
23

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

I Never Learned About UDL In College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either) I Never Learned About UDL in College (And What You Can Do If You Didn't Either)

“You do UDL so well!” said the Director of Special Education.

“Thanks!” I cheerfully responded. It’s always nice to know your administrator values your work, especially as a brand new employee.

But, as I walked away, I thought “What am I doing well? What does UDL mean?”

To this day, I am not sure how I was implementing the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) well. Did he hear I allowed students to choose topics for writing based on their interests? Did he know I start each language therapy session with ample background knowledge? Or did he see I was encouraging students to use both low and high tech assistive technology options that fit them best? I can only guess. At the time, I assumed UDL was a term everyone else knew and I had somehow missed this after six years of college.

In reality, I did not sleep through the lesson on UDL. My former classmates confirmed we had never learned the term. While not explicitly taught, the UDL Guidelines were interwoven throughout my graduate coursework. This may have been the case for you.

I have refined my understanding of UDL and its' implementation through attending conferences, trainings, and trialing what works best. It has made me a better educator for my students. By removing barriers to accessing school work, they saw real, impactful academic success. We even had conversations about moving students back to the diploma track. This created life-changing opportunities for my students and their families.

Are you ready to do UDL well too? Here are a few opportunities provided for no-cost by the PATINS Project.

  • The Access to Education (A2E) 2021 virtual conference is a great opportunity to learn more. There is an outstanding line up of local and national presenters who are eager to teach you the why and how of UDL. Our presenters have created preview videos to give you a snapshot of what you can expect to learn at A2E 2021. If you register for both conference days before September 29, 2021, we will send a welcome box, including earbuds (eligibility requirements apply).

  • Try out the PATINS Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Lesson Plan Creator or interact with the Virtual UDL Classroom.

  • Contact Us for in-depth, individualized support and trainings.

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Sep
10

Perception, Least Restrictive Environment, and Changing A Culture

As humans, we tend to perceive the things we’re already looking for. …the things that we are expecting to see, the sounds we are expecting to hear, and the things we are expecting to feel.

Executive functions refer to brain activities that regulate or control cognitive and behavioral processes. It’s responsible for initiating, organizing, and prioritizing what we think about. Subsequently, what we think about is what we tend to perceive. Knowing, understanding, and being aware of this has huge potential implications for nearly everything in our daily lives, including how we teach, how we learn, and the expectations we have for others’ learning.

When teaching new motorcyclists the fundamentals of controlling a two-wheeled vehicle for the first time, safety is up the utmost concern! We actually begin with this very concept of perception. For example, total braking distance is determined by first perceiving that there is a threat, second by reacting to it, and finally by the actual physics involved in stopping the motorcycle. The perception part is overtly critical in whether or not this process will be successful! In that regard, much time and effort is focused on demonstrating how perception improves drastically if the brain has a priority (safety, threats, escape paths). The idea is to see everything but pull out the most significant factors in that moment, quickly, to be processed and reacted to!

Do you see the rabbit or do you see the duck? Both? 

Image of a drawing that can be perceived as a duck or a rabbit

If you only see one or the other, your brain has likely been conditioned, for whatever reason, to search for and perceive that particular animal over the other one. The really cool thing, however, is that you can reshape this! You can train your brain to perceive the other animal and once you do, you won't be able to NOT see them both from that point on! You might also check out this auditory and video version of the old duck/rabbit drawing on YouTube. 

Clearly, this becomes very important as a motorcyclist is scanning the road ahead, traffic to the sides and to the rear in the rider's mirrors. The more potential threats and potential escape paths that the rider is able to perceive quickly, the greater any risk becomes offset by skill and awareness. Personally, I work very hard at getting better at this, both on a motorcycle and in education in general! 

Getting better at perceiving things more deeply and/or in differing ways isn't easy. It requires deliberate focus, continued effort, and dedication. I wonder, a lot, how often we let our initial perceptions about learners settle as our only perceptions about them. For now, let's allow the rabbit to represent the more limiting or negative parts of what we perceive and the duck to represent the other parts that we're not perceiving, yet. 

Back in February of 2019, I wrote about an experience very much related to this, concerning a colleague I was traveling with and the difficulties she was forced to deal with as a result of initial perceptions. How often do we experience a student's IEP and gain a perception that we stick with and subconsciously allow to set the cap on our expectations for that learner? How often do we witness a student in the hallway making a poor decision, or hearsay from a previous teacher, etc., and allow the same thing to occur?

Even further back in June of 2017, I wrote about myself as a younger student and the way I was perceived by many of my teachers. Perceptions that guided what they felt I should be doing differently...how I needed to change...perceptions that clouded them from noticing that I loved to compose, that I loved to draw, that I loved music, that I love motorcycles even then! They just saw the rabbit! I wanted them to see the duck too!

More recently, I've been heard a lot about Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) and student proficiency. Both of which are highly important factors for consideration in schools! When learners are perceived as one thing, solely by their disability category, their inability to speak using their mouth, or their need to receive information in specialized or accessible formats, for example, they often get placed in more restrictive environments! When this sort of thing happens more than once, a trend begins to form. When that trend isn't deliberately, and sometimes uncomfortably stopped, a culture begins to form. ...a culture of, "this is just the way we do things here," or "we just don't have the resources here to do it differently." When that sort of culture has formed in a place, it really means, "we've decided we're satisfied with only seeing the rabbit, we just can't see the duck in there." This sort of mentality becomes very difficult to change. It requires the strongest, most tenacious, and wise parts of a place, to change.

This involves the combining of one's perception and their brain's executive functions. In other words, if a person maintains the priority to actively seek out certain things within a space or environment, the senses and the mind can process them very quickly and accurately. If an educator WANTS to perceive the capabilities of a learner or the ability to see the duck, they usually will have to seek out training, discussion, debate, mentorship, and collaboration!

This is where organizations like PATINS are so valuable to Indiana's public education. It takes trust, which is built over time! Encouragement, which has to be genuine and timely! Accessiblity and adaptability, which require great skill and practice! All active participants, which takes planning and patience. ...and Goal-oriented experiences, which are purposeful and requires great focus. Those 5 pillars represent, construct, and support everything that the PATINS staff builds, shares, creates, and offers to Indiana public schools, at no-cost to them! The offerings from this PATINS team are no accident! Through hundreds of combined years of experience and genuine passion for inclusivity and progress, we're here for you, Indiana. Reach out to us!! Come to our 2021 Virtual PATINS Access to Education (A2E) Conference on November 16, 17, 18! Registration is open now! Sign up for one of our Specialist's MANY GREAT no-cost trainings

Allow yourself to acknowledge that you, maybe, aren't always perceiving the "duck." Possess a desire to perceive more than just the "rabbit," because you trust that it's there. Reach out to others and request assistance in exploring a situation differently, focusing on different parts of it, and enjoy the process, as you begin to perceive so much more than you ever noticed before!

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Sep
02

No More Sticks & Stones

“Ya know, I do not think you are college material. I think your best route is to just find a job when you graduate,” said the educator to a student when asking for advice on how to apply for college.

Does this statement make you cringe? Does it make you upset? Has something like this ever been said to you in some capacity? How did you feel? How did you respond? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments.Mad bitmoji imageMany of you have most likely heard the saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” For me, that is one of the most untrue statements. I feel like it's merely a way to protect ourselves from feeling hurt. Not only can words hurt, they can truly change the trajectory of one’s life. 

Fortunately, the student that I mentioned above had an excellent support system. While those words did hurt, he was able to use them as fuel to pursue college and graduate. Not all students are so fortunate. Many students have already felt that about themselves their whole school career and those words would only be a confirmation. It makes me wonder how many times that one educator said that to a student, and how many took it as truth and confirmation.

The way we interact and the words we choose with our students can impact their daily outlook, not only academically but behaviorally and socially. 

I work with many students who share with me that they do not want to go to school each day. They do not want to use accommodations they may need in fear of looking different than their peers. I get it. While I am not one of these students, I certainly have experiences that help me relate to those feelings. We can gather experiences of our own to perhaps attempt to be relatable. If we cannot, our students' reflections of themselves can be validated by simply saying, “I hear what you are saying and while I have not experienced that feeling, I believe that you feel that way.” This certainly would never be a chosen opportunity to lower the expectations that our students may have of themselves. 

The student who is yelling, “I hate my dyslexia” after he fails a test, does not need us to feel sorry for him and then lower the expectation of the assessment. He needs time spent helping him understand his dyslexia, making sure he has the accommodations that he needs with accessible instruction. He is the student who does not want to look different from his peers. How can we help him not feel different from his peers? We have conversations about learning differences with all of our students. We immerse ourselves in the principles of Universal Design for Learning and then implement. Need help? Reach out to us!  

Do not underestimate the power of your position as an educator. We are not in the business to “make or break” our students. We are in the business of meeting our students where they are, with high expectations and ensuring equitable opportunities for all, not just some. 

Teach your students how to be champions for themselves. Then, when someone says to your student, “Ya know, I don’t think you can do that.” Their response: “Wanna bet? Watch me.” Teach them how to always bet on themselves. That is always a win.
If people are doubting how far you can go, go so far that you can't hear them anymore.


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