Jan
13

The VR Dabble

Let me preface by saying I have always been a sucker for technology. I personally found that I have a sense of wonder in what continues to evolve in my own interests. I suppose I can be classified as a “Dabbler” in wide range of devices.

I have made my way through the cell phone jungle from ones that had pullout antennas, to flip phones, to ones with touchscreens of various sizes. I found it a little hard to part with one of my latest cell phones that I had upgraded from. It is a Samsung Galaxy 8S.

I liked this phone because it has a nice screen, an external SD card slot for my music, but it also fits into an external device that turned it into a Virtual Reality (VR) headset. VR has not been around long. Google Goggles had appeared with its cardboard VR, but it wasn’t as solid as what I had. My first few experiences were tours of the solar system, a walk through a museum, and a VR ride on a roller coaster (more about that later).

These experiences seemed somewhat real enough, but they were limited in variety and length. I kind of let it fall by the wayside because my phone’s battery needed to be replaced as it didn’t seem to hold a charge long given the VR demands on the hardware.

Jump forward a couple of years, and we now have a handful of dedicated VR devices and companies working on providing a multitude of VR experiences. Was this the time to reexplore VR? YES!

I did some research and decided to get an Oculus Quest 2. A dedicated VR device that interfaces with Meta, formerly known as Facebook. It not only has the headset but also has 2 handheld controllers.

The Quest 2 fits over the head with adjustable straps to fit snuggly on your head. This takes a little getting used to, as there is a fair about of weight and some critical adjustments to get it just right. The controllers are ergonomically designed to fit in the palm of your hand with a light grasp and it has a variety of buttons and joystick combinations on each hand.

Once set up there are a variety of built-in experiences and ones which can be purchased much like any other device. When the Quest boots up there is a choice of creating a fence or field around yourself to limit your movement before you get too close to objects or there is a stationary selection for when you are standing still or sitting. This component is extremely important, as it is very easy to get so involved that you lose your sense of spatial context. Just Google “VR Fail Compilations” and see why this is important.

What is amazing is how involved you can get in the VR experience that you can easily lose your sense of direction, time and act out with the experience. I mentioned earlier about the VR roller coaster. I have one that is so realistic that I tilt my head left, right, up, and down to the point that I get uncomfortable with the experience. I’ve parked that one for now.

I have found that the documentaries and 360-degree views like climbing Mount Everest or scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef are so immersive that one could feel the sensation of truly being there.

It is taking me some time to get oriented to the controls. Both controllers have a variety of buttons and toggles that all represent and input commands of some kind. However, there is a hands-free interface that mimics hand movement without the controllers which will probably be more suitable for me as I am discovering my inability to manipulate the controllers. I also just set up voice control as if the controllers and hands-free weren’t confusing enough.

A quick Google search for classroom VR setups and not surprising there are several companies that have classroom packages and curriculum to support VR. I will admit that although I have had my Quest 2 for a little over a month, I can connect with how valuable VR would be to engage students in a classroom.

In a matter of seconds, you can be dropped just about anywhere in the world in a 360-degree environment or experience a virtual reality constructed from computer-generated realism. One such scenario is the International Space Station or ISS. The user can experience real footage shots on the ISS and maneuver around with the crew, or a VR setting where there are missions to perform in and out of the ISS. The experience is breathtaking.

I have only scratched the surface of Virtual Reality, but it is enormously engaging. I have already virtually experienced places I will never get to see in person and have a greater appreciation for how I can closely emulate being there. The journey has just begun.

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Jan
06

Is Your Assistive Technology (Still) Biased?

Is our assistive technology still biased? Image: screenshot of a text message that asks

Over a year ago I shared some thoughts about bias in assistive technology: technology was created by humans, so the technology has biases. Biases hurt humans, but humans have the capacity to fix it.

Not surprisingly, some things have changed since I wrote it! There have been small steps towards a more equitable and representative access for all. In 2020 we hadn’t had a single synthesized voice option for Black Americans, and the first one, Tamira, was developed and released earlier last year which is now an option for many Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) software programs.

Also not surprisingly, we have a long way to go.

When someone mentioned to me that we now could finally have Black AAC users with a representative voice, I had to stop and think for a moment.

It’s a start, but that one voice is one attempt to represent a diverse umbrella of accents in the United States. That voice alone can’t accomplish all that needs to be done to have a "representative voice" for Black American AAC users. For example, when you look closer at the language in most of the robust software for AAC, you notice the bias: you can’t conjugate sentences properly in African American English (AAE). In some software you can say “he is sick” but you can’t say “he be sick” which is a common linguistic feature of many varieties of AAE. The “habitual be” in some AAE and Irish varieties, for example, shows the difference between being sick once or habitually being sick. I can’t conjugate “ain’t” or say “finna.” The word prediction doesn’t predict the correct grammar or vocabulary of AAE.

“Of course not. We don’t want them to sound uneducated.”

Oh yikes. Or as many would say in the Midwest: “ope!”

Prescriptive grammar, the idea there could ever be “the right way” to speak a language, is still a prevalent bias in education and assistive technology. As a speech-language pathologist, there is a lot of harm to children and families by describing a linguistically valid way of communicating as “uneducated” and not representing it properly.

We want all students to be able to sound like their community. There is power in knowing how to communicate in the way your community expects (or to defy the rules, as you choose). To know the very words you say tie you to your family and generations of history is like having a bit of your ancestors in every sentence. We still haven’t created technology that allows that for every person, only some, and that’s a problem.

As perhaps some English speakers could have said 900 years ago:

Englisc meagol witodlic un−l¯æd fâgung (very roughly translated to Old English: English is strong because of its variety).

It’s said that addressing bias is a lot like tending a garden, not winning a race. You put in a lot of sustained effort and you might see a little growth. Sometimes you don’t (yet). When you’ve addressed the bias you notice, give it a few weeks, and then your work and effort will be needed again for something you never noticed before.

It’s the garden worth tending to as we have a lot of human potential to grow.

Resources:

Do You Speak American? from PBS

Contact a PATINS Specialist on how to incorporate your student’s language(s) and dialect(s) into their communication system.

PATINS also has a webinar on "Culturally and Linguistically Representative AAC" that any Indiana PreK-12 stakeholder can request live. Email me to schedule it at a time that works for you.

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Dec
30

Recharged and Raring to Go!

Figure 1 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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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
16

Guest Blogger: Access to Education…Access to Thrive

Introduction to our guest blogger, Emily Ott

Over the past year or so, I have had the pleasure of working with many dedicated educators who are committed to creating inclusive classrooms through the use to accessible eduational materials (AEM) and assistive technology (AT). One of those educators is Emily Ott, who is on a third year AEMing for Achievement team at Greenwood Community Schools. In her blog she describes her experience as an new educator and an active member of the AEM team at her school.

Access to Education…Access to Thrive

As I began teaching, accessibility was an educational term that, quite honestly, really intimidated me. I wanted to be an inclusive educator. I loved my students and wanted them all to succeed. The issue? I wasn’t sure how to get there. I wasn’t sure what accessibility was all about and I definitely wasn’t confident in my ability to make and provide educational materials accessible to all learners. Hopefully this post will encourage, challenge, and inspire you, as an educator, supporter, school nurse, parent, administrator, student, or, school guidance counselor, etc. Yes, you, the one in the thick of it. Let’s break it down now, y’all…

The What

Accessibility is simply this: giving all students access to learning in ways best suited for them…incorporating technology or not. This video will give you a brief overview of accessible materials in easy to understand language.

photo is captioned

Caption: A student having a conversation through sign language with his classroom teacher reflecting on how his day had gone, what behaviors he had improved upon that day, and his behavior goal for the next day.

The When

Students deserve to receive an accessible education every single time they step through the doors. Whether students come to school ready to learn or not, we as educators have the opportunity to create a safe place for inclusive learning with each interaction we have with each individual student. So the “when” is the moment the student walks into the building.

The Where

This is where accessibility becomes tricky. We can control what we can control, yes. However, we must also fight for what we believe to be right. Fluidity and communication throughout my building and district is started by ME. I can choose to begin a conversation about accessibility with colleagues in my area of expertise. When push comes to shove, the culture in my building and in my district is changed through me. The same is true for you. Challenge yourself to see each inch of your building as your “where.”

The Why and Who

The why and who are our students. They deserve it. They deserve the best. They deserve someone who fights for and believes in them. I believe in my students. I believe that their best is good enough, but I also believe that they can handle adversity. I believe that they are worthy of endless love and support as they journey through life. They’re just like me, just wandering around trying to figure it out. Let’s not forget why we show up and who we show up for. Here you’ll see some faces of my “who”. They also happen to be my “why”.

Left photo         Right photo    

Caption: (Left) A student is smiling with his work after completing an assignment using Co:Writer. (Right) A student is smiling holding a note that says “I love you.”

The How

  1. Start a conversation.
  2. Be vulnerable about where you are on this journey.
  3. Think deeper about accessibility.
Have your students reflect accessibility, as well.

Attending the
Access to Education Conference the past three years has been a huge point of growth for me. I encourage you to look into attending the conference next year. Lastly, reach out! I would love to give any advice or encouragement I can. You can follow this link to find my name and get in touch. Also, don’t forget the resources and staff at PATINS who are always available to train, coach, and support you as an educator. I will leave you with an affirmation to hopefully help you stay encouraged as we close out 2021. 

Educator’s Affirmation

"I am a skilled and talented educator. I am not alone in the weariness of teaching. My best as an educator is enough. I do not have to strive for perfection. I will work as hard as I can to support all students in my sphere of influence."

About Me

I’m a second (and a half) year special education, teacher/dog mom, living and working in central Indiana (Greenwood to be exact). I began teaching in January 2020, right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. It has been a wild ride, but I am working on being mindful, staying present in each moment, and remaining grateful. I love reading, spending time with my family and friends, supporting students, and encouraging others! I also recently started an accessibility team for my building as part of goals our district team created. We were third year recipients of the AEMing for Achievement Grant, so this was the perfect opportunity to think outside the box and create something great for students, families, and staff! 

photo is captioned

Caption: Miss Ott is smiling with her two year old Miniature Australian Shepherd, Maisie.

Extra Special Thank Yous

Thank you to Amanda Crecelius at PATINS Project, accessibility extraordinaire, for all of her support as I’ve dipped my toes into all this accessibility stuff. Thank you to Greenwood Community Schools and its leadership for being a community of lovers and includers.

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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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Dec
01

Small Steps, Big Gains

Screen-Shot-2021-12-01-at-12.35.23-PM creek with stepping stones

QR code to audio versions
QR Code to Audio Version

Artist Name - big-steps.mp3


Have you ever come upon a creek and need to get to the otherside? You think if you make a good run and jump, you can make it. I have done this more times than I can even count. I have made it a few times. However, splash! Your foot lands into the water and soaks through your shoes. You were so close! Now you walk away with soggy feet and potentially miserable for the rest of your journey. 

Now, think about the times when you come across a creek and someone before you has already set out the rocks or logs for you to walk on to get across. Perhaps you find them yourself and make a path on the water. You take your time, hold out your arms for balance and slowly make your way, really thinking of the strategy to make it across without falling into the water. Some of the rocks may have seemed unbalanced but you kept going even if nervous. Maybe you have someone on the other side who reached out their hand for that last jump across. You make it! You celebrate.

Yes, attempting to make the jump seems like a quicker way to get across. However, it is the steps you put down to slowly make your way and perhaps leave steps behind for others that is the most consistent. 

ladder with big steps and a ladder with tiny steps

Steps we need... 

As a PATINS Specialist, I have the honor to work with specific school districts who are recipients of our AEMing for Achievement Grant. Through this grant, school districts assemble a team to develop a sustainable system for the acquisition of Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) for their students in a timely manner. They are essentially creating a path, much like the rocks and logs, so that all of their teachers can get across and know how to ensure that all of their students receive their needed accommodations. They are setting the groundwork for current and new staff to know the why and how of AEM. Building those steps is key for long term success. 

More steps needed…

Students who qualify for AEM, assistive technology is often an element for access. Which also means there is a need for implementation of new accommodations for students. This could be new assistive technology, new schedules, new devices, new strategies, etc. Oftentimes we get so excited for our students to succeed, we hand over new ways so they can quickly jump into the new...when in reality, it is the steps between that will bring potential proficiency and consistency. Not to mention, those steps create opportunities for our students to succeed. These are all skills that need to be taught. It can be the difference between students embracing their support for learning and students who get frustrated and give up. 

Does your school district have accessibility and AEM policies and procedures in place? If so, do you know where to find them? If you are unsure, have you asked? Do you know what a Digital Rights Manager (DRM) is? Do you know who your DRM is in your district? Are your students receiving accessible materials in a timely manner? Are you intentionally teaching your students how to use their assistive technology accommodations? 

PATINS-ICAM staff can certainly assist you in developing those essential steps to support all of your students. We can help ensure that accessibility is in the forefront from start to finish… Contact us

door opening to stairs

While hoping you have superhero jump strength to jump across any barrier you may cross sounds pretty awesome, it’s when you lay out those tiny steps that can get you to the other side more consistently. A little more work upfront can alleviate so many unnecessary barriers for our students. Our students deserve it. 

While I have zero doubt we will end up with a few more soggy shoes in the future, let’s just be mindful that we will always make sure that those behind us can get across. 

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Nov
29

Always Thankful for...Community

Scrabble Pieces making the words:  In lifting others we rise

Two years ago I began working for the PATINS Project. These two years have flown by! Having just wrapped up an amazing Access to Education Conference and with Thanksgiving this month as well, I have been reflecting on so much personally and professionally.

While reflecting, one word I keep coming back to is community. While working as an Occupational Therapist and Assistive Technology Coordinator for an Indianapolis area school for many years, I considered the PATINS Project as part of my community. I knew that I was never alone when I had a question or needed to bounce ideas off someone else to come up with the best assistive technology tool to help a student maximize their independence. The
PATINS Lending Library, the ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) and PATINS Specialists were always there just an email or phone call away when I needed technical support, to borrow equipment, or set up a student with AEM (Accessible Educational Materials). I attended numerous PATINS Trainings and also requested support for AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) consultations. The district I was in also received the AEMing for Achievement Grant one year. I often hear stakeholders say, “I didn’t know about PATINS. I wish I knew earlier.” Pass along the information about PATINS to your colleagues. Tell them about our Tuesday night Twitter chats! They will thank you for enlarging their community!

Today, I still have that sense of community working with the team of professionals at PATINS. If I have a question, or want to share one of my crazy Do-It-Yourself ideas, I have colleagues that will support me and provide that sense of community. My colleagues challenge me and encourage constant growth. Our Specialists have a depth of knowledge of AT and UDL that is a diverse treasure. I encourage folks to check out the specialties of each Specialist and use the Specialists as a resource!

Do you have a community to rely on? I am so thankful for mine. Do not be afraid to increase that community and use the resources available to you within the PATINS Project. Iron sharpens iron and we all benefit from a strong community of support. We are here for you.

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Nov
19

SLPs and me!

20 years ago, I received a phone call that changed the course of my professional career. At the time, I was actively seeking a full-time elementary teaching position. There were few openings and it was difficult to even get an interview. I decided to take a part-time position in the Tech Department so that I could make some contacts and hopefully, this would help me to at least get an interview.

The Tech Department job ended up being a wonderful opportunity. I learned so much and was able to build on my computer skills while assisting classroom teachers and other school personnel. I worked with so many outstanding staff members including Media Specialists and Speech-Language Pathologists (SLP). 

Unbeknownst to me, an SLP who I had assisted and worked closely with had made a phone call to the Special Education Director about a job that was posted for an Assistive Technology (AT) position with the PATINS Project. She felt that my education background along with the Tech experience made me a great candidate for this position. I received a phone call from him and he asked me to come in for an interview. 

While I was excited, honored, and surprised I was also caught off guard. I was not sure what Assistive Technology was, but I was eager to do some research and to discover more about this field. Luckily for me, the interview went well and I was named the new PATINS Project Coordinator for SW Indiana. 

I have since moved into the position of ICAM (Indiana Center for Accessible Materials) Digital Services Specialist. These 20 years have been incredible for me both professionally and personally. I have been blessed to be able to impact so many teachers, staff, and especially students. I am so proud of the work that the PATINS Project/ICAM does every day.

On the personal side, I was also exposing AT to my daughter. I frequently used her to try out new AT products and solutions. When she was old enough, I took her to trainings and workshops, and before I knew it she was jumping in to assist and even to present! Now, as many of you know because I tell everyone as a very proud mom, she is an SLP with a school corporation in Indiana. 

An SLP changed the course of my professional career and now an SLP (my daughter) will be changing the course of many students. 

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Nov
04

Believe

The word Believe

I am a huge fan of the show Ted Lasso on Apple TV. It’s the only reason I subscribe to yet another TV app. Each episode puts a huge smile on my face at some point, if I haven’t already been smiling my way through the entire show. For me, the writers have crafted a plot line that tells a charming story via a cast of characters that embody many of the best human traits: honesty, respect, trust, kindness, acceptance, optimism, and compassion for one another.

For those that are unfamiliar with the show, it is set in England, and Jason Sudakis plays Richmond football (soccer) coach, Ted Lasso. Lasso is a passionate coach that defines winning as wholeheartedly believing in yourself and your team while playing your best. In fact, he tapes the word “Believe” written in large letters to the wall of the locker room in the first episode. It is through Lasso’s confidence in the power of belief that connects and bonds the team more deeply as the show progresses. 

Though the show is fictional, it is Lasso’s optimistic coaching style and belief in his team that always makes me reflect on the coaching role we all have as real-life educators. The role that asks each of us to lead by example and to model the very traits shown in the shows’ characters. The role in which we identify our students’ strengths and maximize their opportunities to grow, to learn, and to achieve success. The role where we dismiss doubts in students’ abilities and trade them for the high expectations for each and every student.

We, as coaches and educators, are in control of creating an environment in which all students, like Lasso’s players, are set up for success, and where a student’s background, ethnicity, disability, gender, or race does not cloud our vision of what they can achieve. An environment where we refrain from making assumptions and instead, remain optimistic and presume competence in the face of the challenges and believe in our students’ abilities to learn how to read and write, to work with and manipulate numbers, to engage in meaningful communication, and to achieve great things!

When we believe in ourselves as coaches and educators and in our students no matter what, there’s no telling what accomplishments we may witness!

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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
21

New, not Normal

A ball of blue yarn and the beginning of a knitting project on circular knitting needles


I stopped knitting in March of 2020. It was a small thing that happened amidst some big things. There was this new thing called a pandemic. We were all blinking like Dorothy staring out into Munchkin Land. My daughter and her family moved in with us. We had a toddler in the house and a daily wifi supply that needed to be stretched between two high schoolers, one grad-schooler, and 3 adults with full time jobs. So the knitting got shoved into a cupboard because we had to figure out grocery pick up and all the Zoom features.

Then time became blurry. The initial event felt a little thrilling like being stuck at home during the blizzard of ‘78. Then came the slump of daily reality. We stopped making homemade bread and added routines for checking the numbers in our county and the emails for school status. We’d pause while ordering another box of masks on Amazon and ask, “are we in Season 2 of the pandemic or have we moved on to Season 3?” 

In my work with PATINS and supporting teachers for the blind the pandemic has caused me to view my stakeholders in a new way. I had always known that the 140 or so itinerant teachers for the blind in Indiana struggle with feelings of isolation. When your caseload is spread over several districts or counties and you’re also educating staff about a low incidence disability, isolation comes without “unprecedented times”.  

Now they were being called to work in isolation from their students, and find ways to teach tactile skills remotely over a visual medium. They kept going, and they kept calling asking for ideas. We established some online professional learning communities to share obstacles and ways to overcome them. New strong bonds forged between teachers and families. Many who were hesitant to learn new assistive technology for braille were now forced to get a crash course, and finding they could stare down their fear of the blinking braille curser.

Many teachers and districts were forced to look at the accessibility of their online content. They worked to learn how to post and curate higher quality lessons and materials. The daily showing up to do the next impossible thing has generated better methods for future education. 

I’m trying to restart knitting. The weather is turning cooler, and life is feeling cautiously calmer. I have mastered the grocery order, which I will stick with post COVID. It saves time, I waste less food, and I’ve learned that it is much easier to leave the M&M’s out of my virtual cart than out of a real one.  I can make it to the Zoom meeting like a champion, putting on my earrings and lip gloss 2 minutes before it starts. 

I’m not sure why I’m restarting now. The daily showing up doesn’t feel much different, and I can’t say that I feel like the crisis is over. I’m hearing the phrase “new normal” lately like we used “unprecedented times” in the spring of 2020. “Normal” isn’t a real thing, right? But I can see glimpses of “new” on the daily, and will continue to look for them. 

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Oct
14

Evaluate and Rethink

This morning I had a Zoom meeting with a single Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) team member who was the only one available. Their other team’s lead person was in a classroom subbing because their district did not have any available subs to fill in, and the other members could not take the time out of their extremely busy schedules. In fact, their district is down not only in substitute teachers, but in classroom teachers and paras as well.

There seemed to be an expectation that as we resumed in person learning and were hoping for some sense of normalcy in schools this year, things might lighten up. That does not appear to be the case.

Job openings are available across the state in about every capacity involving education. Job postings are found for teachers, support staff, school nurses, administrators, counselors, bus drivers, cafeteria staff, and the list go on.

Many of these vacancies are not necessarily because of an increase in overall staffing, but an increase in people leaving the educational system.

An article, “How Bad Are School Staffing Shortages? What We Learned by Asking Administrators” in Education Week of October 12, 2021, from administrators polled, “Fifteen percent said shortages are “very severe,” 25 percent said they’re “severe,” and another 37 percent classified staffing challenges as “moderate.” Just 5 percent of administrators said they are not experiencing any staffing shortages in their schools or districts this year. Another 18 percent said the shortages are “mild” or “very mild.””

The article has other interesting statistics that I will let the reader refer to.

As we all see in the daily news, this is not isolated to the field of education, it is a growing concern on a national level, in every form of employment, but that is another focus.

So, for whatever reasons, these staff shortages now exist, and they are numerous. This must have an impact to some degree on the student education. I am not sharing anything that is not obvious to anyone regardless of the circumstances, but it does involve us all.

On a personal note, this school year my five grandchildren, ranging from kindergarten to 6th grade, all have wonderful teachers and support staff. I know their school district is facing similar challenges, but the impact to my grandchildren is barely noticeable.

For all of you educators that continue in the field, in this Covid Era that is so challenging, your dedication and persistence are having an immensely positive impact on students. Thank you!


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Oct
07

the littlest message

infant hand held by an adult hand, the text infant hand held by an adult hand, the text

Sometimes I feel I do little: 

little progress, 

little endless tasks, 

and little accomplished.


Then I remember sometimes I need more little: 

little celebrations,

little breaks,

little reminders of why it’s so important.


Because in this work, we love little:

little differences,

little changes,

for little people who mean everything.


You decided to click on this blog post and make a little room in your day for this message: embrace little, slower, and less in parts of your life. When we love the “little” in our lives, we have space for more of what matters.


My little suggestion today:

Take a little moment and let someone know that showing up and participating in your life today was important. One idea: nominating someone for the PATINS Starfish Award, which has an excellent tradition of celebrating Indiana school employees who have used Universal Design for Learning, Accessible Educational Materials, and assistive technology to meet the needs of their students.

That little memory, after many little moments, will mean more than you can measure.


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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
15

Viva! Accessibility!

Exactly one year ago, I wrote my first blog post for PATINS. I introduced my family and displayed our picture as we celebrated Mexico’s Independence Day on Sept. 16, 2020. This past year has brought me knowledge, friendships, frustrations, heartache, and awareness. I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of adapting that we all have had to do in this time period. As I write this blog on the eve of a celebration of Mexican sovereignty, I am struck by our own paths to liberty as we merge back into our lives with “battle” wounds, weary bodies and minds, and cautious steps toward a hopeful future. 

Last year’s blog post with photo of Amanda Crecelius and family wearing Mexican futbol (soccer) jerseys with the caption: Celebrating Mexican Independence Day, September 16th, 2020

As we walk toward that optimistic horizon, we are often faced with fear of the unknown. In an effort to move forward, we tend to rely on our former strategies and situations, albeit negative, to guide our way.
Spanish philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it,” and British former Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” 

If I could modify these two famous quotes I would say that “those who do not analyze, trim, add, and tailor lessons from the past will remain in a perpetual state of former struggles.” (Quote by: Amanda Crecelius, September 15, 2021) 

During the pandemic, schools scrambled to confront the arising (hidden) inequities that staff, students, and families faced in our own “battlefield” for accessibility and that got meshed with our “battlefield” against COVID. No one was truly prepared for the situation. Some schools used paper packets to reach their students academically, while others connected frantically to new platforms, extensions, and apps. Many educators, students, and families were frustrated with learning new technology, with new methods, with new home/school circumstances. After a long and, in some cases, painful struggle, we settled into a new normal. In many schools, family communication did increase, materials for learning became digitized and distributed via the web, and new methods of teaching and learning surfaced. 

And then a shift happened. It seemed that we were out of the danger zone and moving away from the COVID “battlefield”. So we filtered back into our school buildings. We set aside our virtual meetings. We picked up our paper and pencils. And we began again. This time we had increased our technology use and application and did utilize new techniques. But for some the opportunity to slip back into old ways was a sign that we had made it through. Unfortunately, for many students and families who had been provided accessible materials or tools to access materials, that ‘easy’ move back to the old normal was detrimental.  

Pre-pandemic we had methods, tools, and techniques that worked and we had some that did not. During the pandemic, we maneuvered into a new environment that had new methods, tools, and techniques that worked, sometimes better and sometimes worse. For each individual student, educator, and family the effectiveness varied in both in-person and online. What didn’t change was the need for all students to have access to equitable education.

So as we analyze, trim, add, and tailor from our past we can look at a few guiding questions:

  1. What accessible educational materials (AEM) developed in a virtual setting that did not exist or was limited in face-to-face settings? 
  2. What methods were used to provide materials to students and families in a virtual setting? 
  3. Are there options for providing materials digitally and physically? 
  4. Can we reevaluate materials that are one-size-fits-all?
  5. What worked for some and not for others (including family communication)? 
  6. How can we balance both old normal and new normal tools and tactics to create an inclusive environment at our schools?

PATINS' staff have specialized expertise to guide this process through consultations and training. Just this week the session: The Barriers that COVID Conquered: Shining a Light on Equitable Ed 4 All Webinar was offered and can be recreated and tailored for individual school’s specific needs. Also, this topic will be covered in our upcoming virtual conference Access to Education (A2E) in the session titled: “Returning FTF Without Abandoning Virtual Strategies" by Sarah Gregory & Kelly Fonner. Check out a preview of the session

To recap, as we dust off the old ways and apply the new ones, remember to 1) analyze the effectiveness of strategies and tools, 2) trim those that did not meet our student’s needs, and 3) add and tailor the new strategies and tools that have worked to provide access to all. In doing so we can move from lessons of the past to our own liberated future echoing el grito (the shout) from Mexican Independence Day: Viva! Our schools, Viva! Our students, and Viva! Accessibility!
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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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Aug
19

Looking Forward to Fall!

Fall will be here before you know it and I am so excited, Fall is one of my favorite times of the year. Although I love summer and hate to see it come to an end, the Fall brings its own wonderful treasures.

Fall brings football, which I love. The Pittsburgh Steelers is the team I root for. I’m often asked why Pittsburgh? There was a very famous linebacker who played for Pittsburgh named Jack Lambert and I just happened to have an uncle with the same name and I thought that was neat! 

Also, in 1977 my hometown college basketball team from the University of Evansville was on an airplane when it crashed leaving the Evansville airport killing all 29 people who were aboard. I was just 11 when this happened but I had just been to watch them play and it was quite devastating. 

Harry Lyles Jr. states in his article “‘Oh my God, it’s the Aces’: Remembering the University of Evansville plane crash that shook college basketball”:

On Feb. 11, 1978, just under two months after the crash, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to Evansville to play in a charity basketball game to raise money for the crash victims and their families. “They all said, ‘When do they want us to come?’ Not, ‘I’m available next Saturday’ or ‘I’m available June the 15th,’” Stephenson tells me. “It was, ‘When do they want us to come?’ and they came.” The university offered to pay their travel expenses, and the Steelers declined. Stephenson took Keith Vonderahe, Maury King’s 6-year-old son, back in the locker room to meet the Steelers. Back there, they met players like Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, Jack Ham, Franco Harris, and others. “It was the first time since the plane crash that there was — you felt joy in the arena, and in the community,” Stephenson says.

This act of kindness and grace for my community made the Pittsburgh Steelers my favorite team as well as many others in Evansville.

I also look forward to the MLB (Major League Baseball) playoffs in the Fall. I played girl’s little league fastpitch hardball when I was young and I have loved baseball ever since. I root for the New York Yankees and again I am often questioned about why the Yankees. We didn’t have a team that was very close but the Yankees did have a player named Don Mattingly, 1st base All-Star, who was from Evansville, so they became my team!

Fall is also the perfect season for tennis and pickleball which are the sports I play now. The break in the heat and humidity are welcomed and fall evenings are perfect weather for being outside.

Fall also brings Halloween and although I have never cared for the costume aspect of the holiday I happen to love the pumpkin painting and carving, the decorations, and most of all handing out candy to all the trick and treaters! My daughter Courtney, my best friend Donna, and I have been at it since Courtney was a little girl. The memories of these wonderful fall days always bring a smile to my face.

Sandy's daughter Courtney painting pumpkins
Sandy's daughter Courtney with painted pumpkins
Sandy, her daughter Courtney, and her friend Donna with painted pumkins
Sandy, her daughter Courtney, her friend Donna and painted pumkins

Finally, Fall brings a new and exciting school year full of new opportunities and possibilities. I am
here to help Indiana educators serve their student’s need for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM). Let me know if I can be of any assistance this Fall or anytime!
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enfrdeitptrues

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