There’s an App for That!

a ball covered in app icons

Looking for ideas for apps for that new tablet or phone? There are so many apps and so little time. Where do you start? Here are some ideas, though certainly not everything that could help. I hope it will get you started at least.

What is you are trying to do?

Begin with the end in mind.  For example:

  • Are you looking for a way to communicate? If so what? To whom?
  • Do you want to remember something? Do you need a reminder only in certain locations? Do you need pictures or photos or will text be enough?

How do You Your Access Your Device?

Do you need audio such as Voiceover or TalkBack options? Do you use switches? Would a stylus help? You’ll need to find apps that work with the way you use your tablet or other device.

Built-in Access Features

First, ask if you are using the built-in access features of your device. These are there, free and can really be helpful!

Some ideas for alternative access:Extension stylus on finger from ShapeDad

How Much Can You Spend?

In an ideal world, this wouldn’t matter, but we all have limits. Either you have some funding or need to find some. Check MAPT’s AT Funding Strategy for ideas on funding more expensive apps. Also look for apps that let you try them before plunging in. Make sure you know if an app requires in- app purchases to be fully functional or if it requires yearly subscriptions.

Where Can I Research Apps?

Person's hands on an iPadDirectories

I am sure there are many other considerations, directories, adaptions and tips. I hope this helps you in your search! We would love to hear your thoughts on this!

Special Education: Is A New Future Possible?

A visual-spatial diagram of the Ideo framework for design thinking with many, many concepts; see the links in the caption for detailed information
Ideo.org and The Art of Innovation

In my last post, I tried to make the case that now is the time to disrupt special education because it has become rigid, compliance-driven, bureaucratic, and politically corrupted. In other words, the mission of special education as it was originally envisioned when it began in the 1970’s has been gradually parasitized by the interests of other groups besides the students whose educational benefit was the point of the law. To transform Special Education, we will need to truly innovate in ways that are stable and sustainable.

Any whole-system changes, like charter schools, however individually successful or unsuccessful they might be, absorb many of their assumptions about how education must be delivered from the current system. These remains of the old system doom such efforts to the same slow decline toward which public education as a whole is currently drifting. We need to think about how education should happen much more from scratch.

So, how should we frame our strategy for transformation?

  1. Not just inclusion, but full integration of “regular” and “special” education. There is no organizational quality justification for the segregation of special education from regular education other than outside economic, political, and stigma-related interests. Certainly, students aren’t better off educationally. If the goals of education are the inclusion of all in American society, and the universal respect for individual difference, the continuing segregation of special education is a slap in the face to these very American values.
  2. Making student-directed planning (SDP) the core of transformation. I am a member of a statewide advisory group focused on improving the education of students who are deaf-blind.  There are roughly 300+ students who meet the criteria for this special education eligibility set of characteristics in Michigan and many county and local special education systems have only one or a handful of such students. Often the districts are at a loss about how to approach supporting the educational benefit of these individually unique students. A Federal program (DB Central at Central Michigan University) provides TA and facilitation support to local districts trying to build high-quality supports for their students who are deaf-blind. Their experience is instructive.

    School districts prefer DB Central’s person-centered planning approach to the much more typical mind-numbing compliance-driven IEPC model. The districts, student,  and family come away from the PCP experience with a consensus on support, and relationships that allow meaningful adjustment of the plan instead of conflict. This could be the reality for everyone in school if student driven planning and supports implementation was the center of a collaborative effort.

  3. Universal Assistive Technology (UAT), embedded in student and family control,  maximizing educational coordination, and connecting individual and student groups to the larger community. UAT would be based on supporting the customized learning of each student for each educational outcome. The celebration of Neurodiversity would be a universal as well since the evolution of the use of AT by each student would reflect that student’s particular neuro-developmental pattern in reaching personally useful cognitive/emotional outcomes.

    This dimension of the framework for strategic educational change also means that schools will stop treating AT as a luxury for students and accept that student control over the use of AT and related technologies is a premise of educational benefit, not an opportunity to engage in power struggles.

    All students will live in adulthood as part of a world in which every aspect of their lives is conditioned on the availability, access, and usability of AT and other related technologies. That is, we all use technology as (AT) support for our cognition and mood, all day and every day of our lives. It is criminal to deprive students in special education systems of the same necessary access to supportive technology that is now the birthright of everyone else.

  4. In the same way that Accountable Community Organizations expand the universe of health care by distributing collaboration throughout the entire community to produce mutually reinforcing outcomes, so education needs to dramatically expand the scope of the concept of “wrap-around” to include everyone in the community who can contribute to the education of all of its students, including those now segregated into the “separate-but-equal” model of current special education practice.

    This collaborative model also helps break down the “manufacturing” of education that produces graduates like Kellogg’s produces boxes of cereal.

    A greyscal profile of a human head, with the brain broken into separate departments such as memory department, cutting up fuel (the mouth) and so forth  as you would find in a bureaucracy
                                        The Brain as Bureaucracy:                                       Don’t Forget Those Approval Signatures!

    We have the promise of such an approach in the current assumption that students who aren’t labeled are expected to participate in community experiences including many not sponsored by or paid for through school districts. Why should the expectations be different for students with educational disabilities?

    Memoranda Of Understanding (MOU’s) are common methods of coordination across organizations and resources that pursue different, but complementary, outcomes. Such a system of community networking and mutual respect would help eliminate the factory model of education and promote those values that have always been the best that education could offer.

Happy 4th of July! Celebrate by thinking about how to expand freedom and choice for yourself and your community through AT.

Resources:

Creative Adaptations Spark Innovation

person with cell held to face with thought bubble of a lightbulbNecessity is the mother of invention” an English-language proverb, is certainly true when it comes to technological innovation. People who have disabilities are often the spark as they have the necessity or need to be able to do something and this has led to innovative solutions. Many of these innovative solutions have become technology that everyone now takes for granted.

Historical Tech

The history of technological innovation is full of examples of innovation which started with an adaptation for someone with a disability. Here are just a few examples:

  • Alexander holding device to his earDo you use a telephone? The old landline phones became commonplace a long time ago. Did you know that Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone in an attempt to better communicate with his wife who was hard of hearing?
  • Do you listen to audiobooks? Thomas Edison saw his invention of the phonograph as a way to open the printed world to the blind by recording book readings.

Some More Recent Tech

Does your car talk to you? “Your door is ajar?” for example. I was looking up a device that had been in the AT inventory for many years. The device was designed to be used by people who were blind by a company called Parrot. After a lot of searching, I found out this company was now making parts for the automotive industry.

At an AT National meeting almost 10 years ago, I was sitting talking with a colleague keyboard on phone with trail from w to K following someones fingerfrom the Alaska AT program after most of the group had left for the day. A man came up and introduced himself. He was really excited to show us an invention he had worked on: “Swipe”. He pulled out his phone and showed us how fast he could enter text on the keyboard. The company’s background was in working on argumentative communication for people who have disabilities.  He talked about the time and effort they’d spent trying to interest mainstream companies in his product and was so excited he had a productive meeting. Within the next couple years, I got an Android based phone which included Swipe!

There are so many examples! For more read this article “How tech for the disabled is going mainstream.

“Companies could look at designing for accessibility as a sales opportunity. Most features that are accessible for the disabled have great value to everybody,” says Donald A. Norman, a former Apple vice-president for advanced technology who heads a joint business and engineering program at Northwestern University.

Sometimes when we talk about Assistive Technology (AT), people think AT is “special” and just for people who have disabilities, and has nothing to do with them.  I’ve always said that for someone without a disability, technology may make things easier or faster, but for someone with a disability it can make things possible and in many cases everyone has benefited!

What technology do you use or know of that was originally invented for someone with a disability?

Google Calendar for Students!

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

One of my first professional roles after I graduated from Eastern Michigan University (EMU) was supporting young adults who had disabilities and were transitioning out of high school to whatever comes next.  At the time, I was only a few years older than the people I met with and I think it was as much of a learning experience for them as it was for me.  We focused on completing daily life tasks (meal prep, laundry, shopping, bill paying, etc.), finding housing options, researching job postings & prepping for interviews, learning to use public transportation, pursuing continuing education, and meeting & connecting with other young adults in our shared community.  Graphic of a calendarIn order to work on the areas mentioned, a scheduling system or calendar was essential.  Many of the young adults that I worked with had never used a calendar/been responsible for planning their day/week/month before we started working together.

When I think back to my own high school transition (summer & fall of 2003), I remember that I didn’t use a calendar before my freshman year of college and it was a little difficult getting used to it.  In 2003, electronic calendars may have existed, but they were not well used by me or my peers.  To put this period of time into perspective: laptops were still very new & expensive and I only knew perhaps 1 or 2 people who had them (many of us had non portable, desktop computers or just went to the library on campus when we wanted to get online/type up homework).  And at the time, there were no smart phones!  My first calendar/planner was the one EMU handed out at student orientation; spiral bound with a small space for each day to write my appointments in.  Hands writing in a paper calendarDo you remember your first planner/calendar?  Comment what it was in the comments section of this post! 🙂  Flash forward to 2017 and I can’t imagine having to go back to the paper planner system.  I know some people are still very attached to their paper planners (much respect), but I am a convert and an epic fan of Google Calendar!

“Google Calendar is a powerful, free service you can use to organize your schedule and coordinate events with others. It has many useful features, including the ability to share calendars with others and easily switch what is currently being displayed. You can access your calendar from any computer or mobile device as long as you are signed in to your Google account.” Learn more info from Google Calendar Tips.

Google Calendar

Google Calendar became an integrated Assistive Technology support for (some of) the young adults I worked with once they and their support networks leaned how to use it.  From my experiences, Google Calendar is fairly intuitive; use the link listed in the paragraph above to access a free, online tutorial of how to get started with Google Calendar.

Students can use Google Calendar to:

Hand holding a phone with Google Calendar open on it

  • Input their class schedule: Google Calendar can be accessed on both smart devices and desk/laptop computers. If a student uses the app on their smart phone, they have access to their schedule whenever they have their phone on them.  Details such as directions to which building & room the class is located in can also be added.
  • Create reoccurring appointments: Students can create a daily/weekly schedule once and it will appear in their calendar each week.
  • Schedule additional appointments for: Study time, time after class to review notes, time to meet with a tutor/Personal Assistant, etc. Sometimes having their built in time/visual reminder can be helpful instead of having to “just remember”.

Group of people

  • Find a time for groups to meet to work on projects: The “Find a Time” feature allows you to compare schedules of guests, whether you are scheduling a meeting or inviting friends to lunch, to pick a time that is free for everyone. Learn more about the Find a Time feature.
  • Get scheduling support remotely: When a student invites their Personal Assistant, parent, etc. to their calendar, that designated support person can help schedule appointments, review schedules, double check, etc. remotely from their own computer or mobile device. This feature can be changed/people can be uninvited from calendars whenever needed (for when there is a staffing change for example).

Do you use Google Calendar?  What are your favorite features? Comment below!

If you liked this post, check out my next, Google Drive for Students!

 

 

 

Ditto – A Bluetooth Vibrating Cell Phone Signaler and Alarm Clip

Guest Blogger: Liz Kobylak, Hearing Technology Resource Specialist

The box with Ditto device "wear it anywhere Never needs charging"

The exhibit hall at the 2016 national convention of Hearing Loss Association of America (HLAA) convention was filled with interesting displays of products that can benefit people who have hearing loss. One nifty de-vice that caught my eye was the “ditto”, a battery operated Bluetooth vibrating cell phone signaler, from a company named “Simple Matters”. The easy-on-the-wallet price ($40) made it a hit. Ditto is designed to vibrate when one receives an important cell call, text or e-mail message… it is clipped to clothing or carried in a pocket. Ditto can also be used as a timer or wake up alarm.
The Ditto box comes with the following:

    • Ditto
    • Wristband
    • Clip
    • Battery (CR1632)

After inserting the battery and attaching the clip, the Ditto is paired via Bluetooth with your cellphone (iOS or Android) using the free Ditto app… and you are ready to go. The default settings are: 1 vibration for an email, 2 vibrations for a text, and 3 vibrations for a phone call. The app allows the user to customize settings as desired/needed: to select favorite contacts and only be alerted to those incoming messages or to be alerted to a calendar event. The vibrations can be changed or turned off via the app. The Ditto can also be used as a timer or alert to third party apps such as Facebook.

As a person with severe to profound hearing loss, I often do not hear the alerts my Android phone emits. This happens frequently when the phone is inside my purse or I am in a noisy environment. Not that I want to be alerted to every single incoming message, but it is nice to stop checking the phone dozens of times for an ex-pected important message from specific people. I like that the signal is unobtrusive to those around me. Additionally, when travelling, I have been hauling around my beloved bedside alarm clock with the bed shaking feature. However, I have recently noticed that many hotels are streamlining the appearance of their guest rooms with fewer available outlets near the bedside. The “charging station” is usually not close enough for me to use my special clock. The wristband that comes with the Ditto allows for gentle vibration on the wrist. It is not exactly fashion forward but gets the job done.

The manufacturer states that the Ditto can be programmed as a tether device to help those people who tend to leave their phones behind in restaurants, etc. The battery will last 3-6 months, depending on the amount of use and the app promises to alert me when battery life is running low, which I find reassuring. The device is also waterproof and can be worn while swimming or showering. The Ditto comes with a 12 month warranty.
This is a simple device that is very easy to use. To see how the Ditto works for yourself, visit the Simple Matters website.

Book Scents and E-Reader Sense (Part 2)

Drawing of an e-reader and an open book. Text states, "there are two kinds of people: e-readers and people who need to be able to smell printed pages."

By Jen Gosett, BS, CTRS, MATP Staff

Have you ever tried to read something (book, flyer, art print, etc.), but found the font or script was difficult to make out? Sometimes efforts to market in unique and eye-catching ways can obscure the original message.

After a recent update on my Kindle Paperwhite e-reader, I noticed something new: I had the option to choose to read my e-books with the entire font of the book changed to “OpenDyslexic”.
E-reader displaying a menu used to change the font of an e-book

Upon first glance, this font reminded me of the groovy 1970’s era.  After a little research, I learned why OpenDyslexic looked so much different from other fonts.  “OpenDyslexic is created to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. Letters have heavy weighted bottoms to indicate direction. Letters in the Open Dyslexic fontYou are able to quickly figure out which part of the letter is down which aids in recognizing the correct letter, and sometimes helps to keep your brain from rotating them around. Consistently weighted bottoms can also help reinforce the line of text. The unique shapes of each letter can help prevent confusion through flipping and swapping.  OpenDyslexic also has other features, like wider letter spacing and a unique italic style.”

In doing a little more research, I found that OpenDyslexic is not the only font out there created to specific support those with Dyslexia.  “The Lexie Readable font was designed with accessibility and legibility in mind.  Features like the non-symmetrical b and d, and the handwritten forms of a and g may help dyslexic readers.”  And Sylexiad fonts are “a collection of researched fonts for adult dyslexic readers.  Developed by Dr. Robert Hillier, a Senior Lecturer at Norwich University of the Arts. The research involved the design and testing of a new font family developed and informed from a dyslexic perspective against other fonts recommended by dyslexia organizations. For the majority of those adult dyslexic readers tested, the evidence indicated a clear preference for the Sylexiad fonts.”
Text "Sylexiad, a collection of researched fonts for adult dyslexic readers"

You may now be thinking, ‘interesting, but do these fonts really help?’ Emoji thinking face The answer, like many things in life, is debatable.  I shared my topic for this post with a fellow MDRC AT team member and she forwarded me an article that stated, “there is no evidence that dyslexia fonts help people with dyslexia to read faster and more accurately.”  The fonts mentioned in this blog post “supposedly make it easier for people with dyslexia to recognize the differences between letters. The fonts can be downloaded and used for free. But keep in mind that more rigorous research still needs to be done to find out whether these fonts really help with reading.  Specifically, these fonts still need to be studied using what researchers call controlled, randomized studies. The studies also need to be published in peer-reviewed scientific journals. ‘Peer-reviewed’ means that the work has been examined and deemed worthy of publishing by independent experts in the field.”

Gavel and a stack of booksNow for my own, personal verdict: As I mentioned in Part 1 of this blog post, I believe I have dyslexia (though I have not been tested for it).  I tried out the OpenDyslexic font on my Paperwhite for a few days to see if I could tell a difference.  After the novelty of the new font wore off, I felt that I was more distracted by the groovy-looking letters and ended up switching back to my original font (Helvetica).  Final thought: I think the fonts mentioned in this post could be helpful to individuals with Dyslexia; it just depends on how the person using it feels.  

 

 

 

Looking Back

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW, MATP Staff

Our son, Theodore, was baptized Sunday. Standing in front of the congregation, I was brought to tears remembering the journey we’ve been on with this wonderfully supportive group of people holding us up and getting us through. We’ve been through so much loss and grief and I’ve been through so much depression and PTSD.

Me next to my husband who is holding our son who is trying to eat his foot. We are next to the baptismal font. Our minister is crouched down in front of it talking to the congregation's children who are gathered around to hear about the meaning of baptism and to welcome Theo.

We lost two babies. My history of sexual abuse by my pediatrician combined with these losses and the exams and treatments created the perfect storm for PTSD. We’ve been through a lot. Too much to allow myself to even remember.

So–this weekend was joy and remembrance and sorrow. This week I find myself looking back too. Through some kind of glitch in the cloud, we’ve lost the public posts on our blog from the last several years. I have draft copies of most of mine saved in Dropbox. In 2015 at this time of year, I was suffering through the deepest depression I’ve ever experienced myself. I could have been hospitalized but was avoiding it. All my back up systems were breaking down. I wrote a blog desperate to find some AT or answers that worked. I want to share that blog from history here and say that even the best plans and tiers of support can’t always “fix” things. AT can help on the way back or sometimes to prevent a path down, but if you are at a lowest low, get help. Reach out and get help. My best friend and my therapist, a work colleague and my husband got me through until I could get better. If you are depressed and suicidal, tell someone and keep telling until the right team for you appears and helps you out.

In the meantime, here are my thoughts from the summer of 2015:

What do you do when your AT and mental health recovery plans fail?

I have AT, I have a WRAP Plan (Wellness Recovery Action Plan). I have lists of things to try and people to call. I have the PTSD Coach app. I have the Lotus Bell app. I have At Ease. I have my WRAP plan in an app. I have friends and family that love about me pre-programmed in my PTSD Coach app. I have co-workers who care.

And then there is depression—and for me lately PMDD like I’ve never had before—with every single diagnostic symptom. Two miscarriages, chemo, grief, infertility treatments, family challenges, fertility meds that affect my mood and cognition, PMDD, PTSD–they are all throwing their spears at me, and last week (and actually a little today) I was some kind of open-season, willing target. I was miserable, tired, hopeless, and feeling worthless—like I deserved every last bit of the awful I was feeling. I told my husband he should leave me, that I wasn’t worth his time and love. I told myself I didn’t deserve to be a mom. I looked for a job collecting carts at the grocery store because I didn’t feel worthy/up to the job I’ve loved for more than 11 years. Yoga didn’t help—started angry, ended angry. Crying didn’t help. I hated myself, my job, my marriage. I wanted to quit my job and my marriage. This month I wasn’t suicidal, but last month I was.

I read an article describing depression and thought—wow she gets every last bit of this and I feel every last bit.

Antidepressants weren’t helping. Apparently, the one I’m on doesn’t help with PMDD and I don’t want to add more while trying to get pregnant.

I wanted to throw my apps and iPhone in the fire along with my journal and lists of self-care options.

All the AT, all the well-meaning people and plans, all of it made me angry and sad. I let my therapist know I was in trouble but didn’t leave a door open for her to help—on purpose.

So then what do you do? What do you do with this kind of hopeless depression?

I knew this was PMDD. I knew I just needed to make it 24-48 hours—and hopefully not destroy myself and my relationships in the meantime. What do you do when it’s not PMDD and nothing seems to be working?

I considered partial hospitalization but dismissed it—having worked in mental health hospitals I didn’t think it would be all that therapeutic.

I went to yoga anyway. I took naps. My fishtank became AT a little—watching the fish was calming and I didn’t get angry doing/considering doing it. My dogs and cats stuck by me even as I got angry at everything and then sad and then refused to do other helpful things. I waited for it to pass. I took it out on my husband. I took it out on myself.

Thursday was bad. Friday was devastating. Saturday I mostly could hold it together. Yesterday it started to get better. Today is kind of ok.

Friday I was sure life was always going to be this way—except that I knew deep inside that I just needed to make it one more day.

Months ago in the depths of post-partum depression after losing our first child, I didn’t know deep inside that I needed to make it just one more day. The world was a deep, dark abyss. It didn’t get better the next day or the next, though then too I wasn’t suicidal, so that was the last sliver of hope I had.

Really then what do you do? When the meds aren’t helping, the plans make you want to barf, you want to scream and cry and push all the well-meaning people away? How do you hunker down and get through? Somehow I did but each time the waves come crashing, I wonder if it’s possible to make it to the other side.

Have you found things that work that you can make yourself do? Do you use any AT (apps, soothing sound machines, light therapy boxes) for depression that continues to work for you even when things are really bad?

***My take away in case I’m ever feeling like I did in 2015 again? Nap, spend time with pets, ignore all the AT apps if they are making things worse, consider a fishtank as AT, make yourself do one thing positive (yoga, a shower, a walk, sitting outside), and call for help. These are the things I will do. What works for you?

 

Go Green!

By Aimee Sterk, LMSW

I’m behind this year… way behind. With a new baby (5 months is still new right?) and going back to work after leave, I have been short on time for anything at all and have neglected my garden. My colleague Laura had a great blog about getting out and working in the yard, which is also a bit of a disaster at our house. I prefer gardening, so I will focus on just the garden. I usually put seeds in early May. Its early June—-but there is still time and a lot of AT that can help.

I plan what I grow based on what my family likes to eat, how much space I have, and potential cost savings. For example, we eat a lot of carrots and onions but I find them harder to grow and relatively cheap at the store, so I don’t grow them myself. I do grow herbs, kale, fancy greens/salad greens, and heirloom cherry tomatoes. This year I’m also growing sunflowers—more for the beauty and the birds than for cost savings.

a 6 inch tall raised bed with 5-6 tomato plants in cages and some weedy looking chard and small kale seedlings surrounded by a chicken wire fence. Some hedge roses are in the background
One of my raised beds with volunteer kale and chard and tomato seedlings planted this year. I make my own compost and as you can see, there are lots of egg shells in it this year. I heard the calcium is good for tomatoes.

I grow my plants in raised beds or containers right next to our driveway—seeing them when I come and go reminds me to water them. Raised beds and containers provide a variety of benefits:

  • If your soil is poor, it provides a method for adding good soil
  • It allows for people with physical disabilities to more easily access the beds—they can be raised to counter height if need be
  • It allows for better drainage

My raised beds are not very raised and are starting to decompose so I think this is the last year for them. I have chronic upper back pain and, since giving birth, have also struggled with low back pain so new, higher raised beds are in the plans for next year.

a half a dozen waist high raised beds overflowing with vegetables and flowers
The Ann Arbor CIL hosted a community garden for years. Their raised beds are gorgeous–you can sit on the edges to work them or lean over just a bit. They are my nirvana raised beds.
two women, one using a wheelchair, work on a strawbale bed with tomato cages sticking out of the top
My cheapest option for higher raised beds next year are strawbale beds.
A man using a wheelchair with a raised bed that he can pull his wheelchair under--a tabletop raised bed
Ann Arbor CIL also had some tabletop raised beds that you can pull a wheelchair up to and under. Glen Ashlock,a former staffer and AT guru is pictured here with the bed.

Raised beds and container gardening don’t have to be costly either. A cheap, large pot or 5-gallon bucket on some pavers or bricks make wonderful, small raised beds that would be great for greens or potatoes or even small tomatoes. Straw bale gardens  are cheap, easy ways to create a raised bed and use the decomposing straw to feed your plants. There is a great Facebook group called the Container Gardening Alliance that provides lots of tips and tricks for container gardening.

over the door canvas shoe caddies are filled with dirt and plants are growing out of each shoe caddy opening
An ingenious example of an inexpensive, space-saving, accessible container garden.

Adapted garden tools and watering systems also increase access to gardening. Hand tools can be built up with bicycle grip tape or pipe insulation. Handles can be lengthened or shortened as needed to give people the reach they need. Drip systems or sprinklers attached to platforms with hoses run to them that do not obstruct pathways prevent the need for carrying heavy watering cans.

handheld tools with built up grips and ergonomic handles

You don’t need a yard to have fresh herbs, flowers, and vegetables. A sunny window and some pots are all you need—and the plants will brighten your day and clean your air for you.

There are so many ways to make gardening accessible. What tips and tricks do you use? What are you growing this year?

Be sure to check out our accessible gardening webinar that covers all aspects of accessible gardening: tools, pathways, beds, and container gardening. Go green thumbs!

The Need for Transformation in Special Education

A collection of works related to special education including IEF, Child, Appropriate

I became directly involved in special education advocacy in 1981 when I went to work for Michigan Protection and Advocacy Service. The national special education requirements (The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975) were still relatively new then.

But, over the years, the large-scale vision of educational support customized to each individual student has become rigid and bureaucratic, creating a very complex and administratively expensive set of interacting “standards of care”, to use the medical phrase. This complex of standards is a direct result of the legal struggle that led first to the law itself and then to a long series of school district and court battles that continue today, largely focused on narrower and narrower education issues and often focused on jurisdictional or procedural disagreements (though occasionally big-picture values, like the recent US Supreme Court Decision break through).

I happened to be working in a different role in the early 70’s before the original national special education law was passed, and I participated tangentially in the discussion that parent groups, educators, and legislators were having about what vision the proposed national framework for special education should have.  At that time there were two very different and, in some ways, opposing concepts of that vision:

  • One was what we would call a “wrap-around” model today, involving memoranda of understanding among all the local support systems, and collaborative models of planning, coordination, and implementation of an education plan for a specific student.
  • The other (the one we more or less have now) was to make the local or intermediate school district the final responsible party for all aspects of eligibility determination, testing, plan development, coordination, and implementation.

As I remember (it WAS over 40 years ago), the choice of the second alternative was based on analogy with the then recent civil rights legislative victories and the critical value of litigation in the development of effective civil rights enforcement and local change in law and practice.

Now, I would argue that the momentum of that original vision of special education is largely spent, and current change efforts will increasingly focus on less and less meaningful targets, applicable to fewer and fewer students, even if occasionally, the regressive decisions of individual districts allow for value based visionary court decisions.

I do believe there is a way to harken back somewhat to that original vision (I will go over that as part of my next post in July). But I also believe that we must begin to build a new vision of how special education might transform itself into something that would reflect the best of what we hoped for in that turbulent educational and disability rights ferment of the 70’s.

Next Post: Initial Exploration of the Potential for Transformation in Special Education

 

Adventures in Lawn Work

Spring is finally here!  It’s my first spring in my first home and I’ve been anxiously awaiting the time when I could finally get out in the sunshine and work in my very own yard!  I knew it was going to be quite the job.  Our home had not been lived in for two years prior to us moving in so it was quite overgrown, to say the least.  We moved in late November, so there also wasn’t much time for us to clean up from the fall season.

I was so anxious to make our lawn look nice, that I was left with a sense of disappointment when I couldn’t exactly jump right in.  As a wheelchair user, I’m not able to reach the ground, which seems fairly important for yard work.   The largest job we have to do is raking.  There are still those leaves from last fall and quite a bit of dead and unwanted vegetation.  When I began, I started using a common leaf rake with a grip made of foam rubber tubing.  This allowed me to hold the rake further down toward the tines with the rest of the rake over my shoulder, grabbing the leaves and driving my wheelchair backward toward the leaf pile.  Truthfully, the rake was

Device that attaches to the handle of lawn tools, allowing you to put your arm through a ring and to a grip that lower down on the handle
Robo Handle

extremely heavy to use one-handed and the whole process was exhausting and not that effective.   I realized I needed to slow down and enjoy the process. I’ve been thinking about my abilities and the assistive technology that would work best for me.  When I began researching on the web, I realized there are many options for adaptive lawn tools that I had never thought about and several websites dedicated to the subject.  For example, there are lightweight rakes, telescoping rakes, rakes with interchangeable heads and tools, rake-scooper combination tools, and the Robo Handle, which attaches to handles to allow the use of tools with one hand.  Even a YouTube video of a wheelchair user raking convinced me that perhaps I need to change my technique.

No Bend weederThere is still much work to do beyond raking, however.  Weeding is a never ending chore, which is why I was excited to find the No Bend Weeder.  It is has a long T-shaped handle, and small “claws” that go into the ground (so it does require some arm strength to penetrate the ground).  You then twist, pull up the weed, and press a button to shoot it into your lawn/leaf bag or barrel.

Raking and weeding left some obvious bare spots in the lawn.  One of my favorite lawn duties is spreading grass seed and watering it.  Seeding by hand led to piles of seeds in some spots and none in others.  By using a simcoiled hoseple flour/sugar container with a handle and small spout, I was able to spread the seed much easier and evenly.  Watering without experiencing kinks is a problem for everyone.  I’m looking to invest in a lightweight coil hose that might be easier to use.  I’m finding that there are also many options for hanging hoses at any height.

I’m so excited to finally have a lawn and to discover that there are so many AT options to help me participate in creating my own beautiful space.  We still have much work to do, but I am starting to see the beginnings of my outdoor sanctuary.

view of a mulched tree. wooden fence, small garden plot