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Jun
30

Assistive Technology for Vision Loss & Reading Comprehension!

If you have attended any of our recent PATINS Tech Expo events, you may have had the opportunity to talk with Greg Blackman of EYE can see, Inc. His company is located right here in Indiana and provides services, products & support for individuals with low-vision or blindness that assist them in their daily lives. As my guest blogger this week, I’m excited to give him the opportunity to let you know a bit more about his company.


EYE Can See logo.

EYE can see, Inc. started in 1998; we are local providers of Assistive Technology for low vision and blindness in Indiana, and work with schools to find tailored solutions to help students succeed in the classroom. We focus our treatment on the students’ specific needs and goals, and how these are best met in their classroom environment. We work with the entire spectrum of equipment from low vision to blindness solutions, hardware and software. We provide equipment to the PATINS Library and are happy to provide on-site demonstrations, assessments, and trainings. We have been the local representatives the top manufacturers of low vision/blindness solutions since we started including Freedom Scientific, Optelec, ZoomText, JAWS, Fusion, HIMS, LVI and OrCam. Over the years of working with schools we’ve identified a few categories of tools that work best for students and schools.

Portable video magnifiers are the most common devices that schools get for students in the classroom.  These devices range in size from a 5” – 17” screen, are battery powered and can easily be taken from class to class. They all will magnify text as much as the students needs and provide different color enhancements as well. Depending on the needs of the students, these devices can come with several advanced features such as distance viewing/magnification, text-to-speech/OCR, and the ability to save documents and record lectures. These devices are small and discreet, very easy to use and great for the classroom environment.

Another device that is very popular with schools and effective with both students with any level of vision loss or reading comprehension issues is called the OrCam READ. It’s a smart pen that will read printed text out loud. The OrCam READ is a laser pointer pen that will read any text you point it at. It reads printed text on hard copy materials and any screens such as computers or tablets. The OrCam Read is a very small, discreet device that is very easy to learn and use. It is a great tool for any level of vision loss or reading comprehension challenges. 

Lastly, for students with any level of visual impairment looking to access the computer, we provide software such as ZoomText, JAWS, Fusion and OpenBook. With these software programs, students with any degree of sight loss can do anything the need to on the computer. These programs all have free demos you can download to try and then we can provide the full product with training and support alongside the PATINS Specialists! 


With all of these products, as well as all of the others from our Assistive Technology Lending Library, PATINS provides Indiana public schools with implementation training and support at no cost! Reach out to our Specialists! Additionally, we work with EYE can see, Inc. to provide local education discounted pricing for many of these items and free on-site demonstrations of any of them. Many of the EYE can see, Inc. products are available through the PATINS Lending Library as well. We ship them to your school and we pay for you to ship them back! Please feel free to contact us directly and let us know how we can help support you and your students!

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Jun
16

Lost

Artist Name - Lost-blog.mp3

A fork on the trail leading into a wooded area.

My family and I, like many of you, travel over summer break. Exploring a new place is the highlight of any trip. Walking down mysterious streets, eating unfamiliar food, hearing the unique voices and sounds, and getting insight on the history of the region based on graffiti or architecture are a few of the reasons wanderlust is written on my heart. But pioneering a new path in an unknown place can also be terrifying. Without warning that right turn was the wrong turn, and now, everything that you know is out of sight. Loneliness and panic fill your brain and tears well up in your eyes. That feeling of being lost can seem demoralizing, making you feel helpless. Then, you turn one more strange corner and the home base comes into view. It is in that moment that you have this overwhelming rush of pride in finding a new road home. What was once obscure and complicated is now recognizable and familiar. Exploring and being lost become essential parts of the same story and are now part of all my trip agendas. 

Balancing the excitement and fear of being lost have not always been so smooth. When I was in first grade, I felt lost while the other students learned reading with ease. My classmates pronounced each of the words on the page effort-less-ly while I struggled to know the sounds and fumbled through read alouds relying heavily on images, context, and the whispers of the other students. It was scary and I felt like I was the only one who couldn’t learn to read. Those feelings of loneliness and fear impeded my reading progress and made every reading assignment feel like an overwhelming task. I had all but given up on reading until fourth grade when I turned a corner. One of my teachers, seeing my reluctance to read, suggested the short chapters of the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Engulfed in the stories and all the possible outcomes, I would read the same book several times which helped build my skills. I then moved on to The Babysitter’s Club book series (the 90s equivalent to binge watching), and I devoured each one, rushing to the library for the next adventure. Being lost in the learning process of reading made me feel ashamed and excluded but exploring topics that interested me gave me a safe space to practice reading. Today, my safe space resides in historical fiction which I read either with my eyes or with my ears on a daily basis. I was lost until I found something that I loved.

This was not my sudden shift to embracing being lost. Fast forward to college decision time. As my peers began looking at career choices and college, I reflected on my understimulated time in high school. I had moved through general education classes with little connection or interest which led to an increased lack of effort on my part. I was lost in the possibilities since there was not a high expectation that I would even attend college. My grades were dismal and my confidence shot, high school did not seem like a good fit for me. Feeling pressure that I should do something with my life, I finally settled on studying business at a local community college. While I was attending this community college I turned a corner. My local church was looking for a youth group leader so I stepped into that role and found a love of project planning and working with teens. Soon I was headed off to university to study education. I thought that I had finally found my dream job until the results of my Praxis came back and I had not scored high enough to complete my course and get my teaching license. I felt I had taken another wrong turn and those feelings of being lost returned with increased hopelessness. But where Praxis said no, Spain said yes. Soon after my graduation, I took a position as an English teacher to multilingual students in Madrid, Spain. Following a month-long intensive training program, I stepped into my first classroom teaching English to adults. I followed that experience with getting my teaching license, and soon after, my master’s in education. Being lost led me to teach for over twenty years in three different countries and seven different subjects. I was lost until I found a place that was right for me.

My last experience solidified my many similar lost moments throughout adulthood. Arriving in Indianapolis after living in Mexico for 10 years, I stepped into job interview after job interview knowing that my lack of professional connections in Indianapolis overshadowed my background and education. I started in a job designed for a high schooler with low pay, long hours, and little consideration for multiple years’ experience, a master’s degree and being multilingual. Being lost and exploring work options with a small child depending on me took me to a new level of scary. I accepted those wrong turns and settled into a world of being lost. Those wrong turns seemed to be endless with each job leading only to temporary positions and little promise of a home base. The corner that seemed out-of-sight came into view when I was working as an adjunct professor at IUPUI and Jena Fahlbush and Katie Taylor came to present about UDL and PATINS. I started to see some familiarity return. Collaborating with co-workers, working with educators in Indiana, and seeing students get access to materials like those that I missed out on brought me full circle in my exploration process. I was lost until I found people who recognized that the road to success may look different for each individual.

Having access to materials that students love, creating a space that feels right for them, and recognizing various ways to get to the same target can convert feelings of being lost into an adventure of exploration. Experience the joys of being lost as you search the many titles on Mackinvia and Bookshare through the ICAM for students with print disabilities, including dyslexia. Additionally Vox books, c-pens, and livescribe pens are just some of the items available in the Lending Library that any IN educator can check out for a six-week trial period. Don’t forget the built-in text-to-speech, word prediction, and dictation features on your student’s computer. Also connect with a PATINS Specialist to explore strategies, tools, and resources to open up new routes for you and your students.

I have often been off the beaten traditional path but in the midst of a state of “being lost” I have had many opportunities to explore the multitude of ways to reach my goals. Being on the outside has its own feelings of loneliness but knowing that this path is MY path has led me to embrace and even love being lost. 

This is my story, what’s yours? Share on twitter #PatinsIcam 

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Jun
10

Tools in Your Toolbox

 

Various battery operated power tools and toolboxes with various tools

Most of us have completed a project, repaired something, helped a friend, written a letter (or blogpost!) at some point.  When planning for these endeavors we usually have a plan and/or a tool in mind.  Often everything goes well but sometimes it doesn't.  To be successful, we must have access to more than one solution or tool.  Students must be offered and taught how to use a variety of tools.  Need ideas?  Please check out the PATINS Project training calendar.

A picture containing outdoor pergola over and outdoor grill/kitchen area

My plan was to help a friend dig three post holes for a pergola (unique design).  We were warned by his neighbor that the ground was hard clay, and the preferred tool would be a towable, one-person auger/post hole digger (available to rent but would take about one hour of our time to borrow and return). I've dug many fence post holes in the past and I have manual post hole diggers.  During my site prep we measured, used my diggers to start the holes and everything looked good (i.e., somewhat soft clay and no rocks).  To save that hour of time, I figured we could use my neighbor's small, gas post hole digger.

I forgot to mention that his neighbor had just built his own pergola and successfully dug six post holes…in the clay. You know what happened next, we were forced to rent the larger one-person auger/post hole digger.  Unfortunately, we had more obstacles; three rose bushes and an outdoor grill/kitchen brick wall.  Respectively, they didn't appreciate the one-person auger’s wide wheelbase or large obtrusive handle.

It took us almost twice the time we planned, and we used three different tools.  However, we got those holes dug!  One tool did not get this task completed.

When students are assigned academic tasks, they should be allowed to choose from several tools to successfully complete those assignments. When writing, students could respond with handwriting, with a keyboard, speech to text, audio recording, video recording, scribe, etc. 

When reading, students could read with their eyes, ears (speech to text solutions), have someone read aloud to them, audio books (e.g., Hoopla or if they qualify, access digitally accessible materials from the Indiana Center for Accessible Materials (ICAM)).

When communicating, students could use gestures, vocalizations, sign language, partner assisted scanning, static/paper-based communication boards, single message voice output devices (e.g., BigMack), multiple message devices or high-tech dedicated speech generating devices (SGD).

What tools are in your teacher's toolbox?  If you want ideas to fill it up, please reach out directly to one the PATINS specialist.

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