Thursday, December 20, 2012

AT Resource and Loan Centers

Besides hanging out here at the AT Playground, I do have a "day job" as an AT Specialist for Delaware's "Tech Act" group. Before we get too far into things, let's actually look at what the Tech Act is. I like the definition the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities has on their website:
The Assistive Technology Act was first passed by Congress and signed by the President as the Technology-Related Assistance Act of 1988. It’s often called the Tech Act for short and has been reauthorized in 1994, 1998, and 2004. The most current version of the Act is authorized through 2010.
The Tech Act is intended to promote people’s awareness of, and access to, assistive technology  (AT) devices and services. The Act seeks to provide AT to persons with disabilities, so they can more fully participate in education, employment, and daily activities on a level playing field with other members of their communities. The Act covers people with disabilities of all ages, all disabilities, in all environments (early intervention, K-12, post-secondary, vocational rehabilitation, community living, aging services, etc.).
 You can also find summaries of the law on their fantastic website. I could try to fully explain how AT Loan Centers work, but I'd rather show you this neat video the kind folks with the PACER center in Minnesota put together. 

Besides lending equipment, we also provide other services. One valuable service we provide is helping people understand the process for getting AT. A lot of people still think they are supposed to just go figure it out on their own. We help everyone-- consumers, clinicians, practitioners, educators, parents, caregivers, and anyone who wants to know-- understand the process for getting the stuff and getting it funded. We also provide information on alternative funding options for AT for those times when insurance can't or won't cover what's needed. 

So if you or someone else needs AT and you haven't the foggiest place to start, you can always ask me and I'll help you as best as I can. I will also try to get you in contact with your state's Tech Act group, so they can give you help more specific to your state. You can also find your own state's Tech Act group info from the listing at

Now in keeping with spirit of the holidays, I'm going to have some more egg nog and leave you with some video cheer in the form of Buddy the Elf.

Happy Holidays everyone!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Idea Paint

I recently learned of a cool new product called Idea Paint. I understand that it's not incredibly new, but I think it has some great uses.

If you haven't heard of this or seen this, check out this video:

This stuff is FANTASTIC! It really is. With this paint, you can turn tables and walls into dry erase boards. Imagine doing math right on the table! Drawing a graph and doing calculations right on the table's surface? What about actually having a word wall that's a real wall?

I know, "Marvin, this is wicked awesome, but how is it assistive technology?"

I think about students who are physically not able to access a regular white board or blackboard (yes, there are still a few of those out there). By painting a table with this material, they can write or draw on it. 

Recently, I was working with a teacher who was teaching her students about graphing coordinate systems and lines. You know, that (X,Y) stuff. We discussed options for her students with physical disabilities that keep them from being able to use the whiteboards in the classroom or the SMARTBoard in the front of the room to do graphing with the rest of the class. We looked at the idea of making one of the tables in the room a white board table by gluing affixing one of the white boards in storage to a table in the room so the students could graph on it.  We could make a coordinate system using permanent marker on the white board, so it wouldn't be erased as you used it, and then have the students to plot points with dry erase markers, checkers, pogs (yes, I said pogs), cars, whatever they wanted to use to represent those points. If you needed a line between two points, you could easily lay a yard stick or other straight edge on the table and draw the line with a dry erase marker. If we used the clear IdeaPaint, we could paint all of the tables in the classroom so that any table could be used. We could also paint the students desktops so they could graph on their own actual desktops. It just opens up a world of possibilities. 

You can check out their website at

So if you're looking for a vertical whiteboard alternative, try some IdeaPaint and get horizontal!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Did Someone say Free Canes?!

The NFB, National Federation of the Blind, has a great program through which people who use white canes for mobility can actually get one free of charge. If you're not familiar with white canes, these are special canes used by people who are visually impaired or blind may use a white cane to help them navigate their environment. They come in different lengths and typically require the user to be trained in how to effectively use one. 

The NFB has a free white cane program that can get qualified cane users a free cane. This is great if you have to purchase your own and can't afford it. You can get info on the program at You can find links to the program application as well as an FAQ on the program there. 

If you would like more info on using a white cane, the NFB has a nice article going over that at

As always, pass along this valuable resource to people you  may know even if you don't need this yourself.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Cooking with AT Part 2

In the first part of this series, I placed a general spotlight on the great products OXO makes. While they are fantastic, they certainly aren't all that is out there. So I'd like to talk about some of the other products out there that help people in the kitchen.

The Ove Glove

I was looking at a listing of the top 12 kitchen injuries on (, and the number 3 injury was oven burns. Now, they talk about people brushing the sides or top of the oven when taking things in or out. Sometimes, pot holders or regular oven mitts are too cumbersome to use effectively. The Ove Glove is a nice little product because it gives you all 5 fingers free I also gives you a non-slip textured grip which can help you hold on to pots, roasting pans, or anything hot you may be trying to pick up and move. 
photo of the ove Glove oven mitt. It shows the 5 fingers of the glove. The glove also has anti-slip ribbing on the palm and fingers.

How does it do with heat? Well, I was able to pick up a 12" cast iron pan out of a 425 oven and the only thing I felt was the weight of the pan. The heat didn't come through at all even when I held it for a while. 

Finding an Ove Glove shouldn't be too difficult, a simple Google search showed I have 4 stores near me that carry them, two actually in Delaware, as well as lots of options if you're willing to order online. the best price I found was $16.99 with free shipping from Still, look around and see what you can see.

Talking Thermometer

One of the tools I find myself using more and more in the kitchen is the thermometer. My wonky oven aside, I've learned that it's good to be able to check the actual internal temperatures of some things when you're cooking. Go figure! Imagine trying to check the temperature on something if you're reading one of the older "dial style" thermometers or even a digital one with small print.


So what can I use instead? Try a talking digital thermometer. Yep, they do make talking digitals for the kitchen too. One that I've found that I think does a great job is the RT8400 Digital Talking Thermometer from ThermoWorks. The unit has a very simplistic design--big LCD display and a big button you press to hear the temperature. No fuss, no muss.
Photo of the RT8400 Digital Talking thermometer. The picture shows the unit's large LCD display and the large talk button directly below the LCD screen.

The thermometer can take reading in seconds, reads in both Fahrenheit and Celsius, has a nice little cover/sheath to protect the probe, and is even nicely shaped to easily fit the user's hand. Right now, ThermoWorks has the unit marked down from $39 to $29. One of the things I really like about this unit, and about ThermoWorks, is that they explicitly say that this unit works well for people with a visual impairment. I don't know if that was indeed a target audience when the thermometer was being designed, but I'm glad that they do acknowledge it's usefulness to people with visual impairment. You can see the thermometer on the ThermoWorks website at

Covered Ice Cube Trays

I'm posting this one because for some reason, I'm having a few requests for these at work. The unit that we have on the shelves at work is no longer available. It's actually kinda neat. You take the cap off of the end, fill the bottle with water up to the fill line, put the cap back on and then lay it down in the freezer. When the water had frozen, all you had to do was bang slam pound hammer tap the bottle on a hard surface and then shake the bottle. Take the cap off and presto! A dozen or so little round ice cubes ready to use. I never would have thought that such a simple little device which previously I never saw leave the resource center would quickly become so popular. Here's a look at the old Make 'n' Shake ice trays.

Picture of the make and shake ice tray with the lid off.Photo of the make and shake ice tray.
 In talking to the people who were searching high and low for these things I came to learn that These ice trays are very popular with users who have arthritis or manual dexterity problems. There's none of the grabbing the tray and twisting to free up the cubes. Considering as how I would either launch ice cubes or break the trays in trying to get all of the cubes out of regular trays, I think I can even get behind these. The problem is, this particular tray is no longer available. 

Enter The Replacements!

There are a few other covered ice cube trays on the market that seem like suitable replacements. One is the from OXO and it's fantastic. 
Photo of the OXO covered ice cube tray. The cover is pulled back some so you can see the tray beneath.
This lovely little ice tray has nicely rounded compartments for the cubes, making it easier for them to slide out of the tray. The lid also makes it easier to stack without spilling. Yep, that means no more glaciers in the freezer due to spillage! You can check it out on the OXO website at

Another nice option for covered ice cube trays is also pretty darned cool. It's also called simply the covered ice cube tray. It's really just a simple design-- snap on top with a fill hole. That's it. Don't believe me? Check it out yourself.

Want to fill it? Just snap the top on firmly and then flip back the cover on the fill-hole. Snap the fill-hole cover back in place and pop it in the freezer. Ready to take the cubes out? Take the cover off and work the tray. OK, so I would have to do a little twisting, BUT if I keep the lid on, I can actually flip the tray over first and then pound hammer tap on the bottom to loosen up the cubes. Then I just flip it back right-side up, take off the cover, and I'm ready to enjoy the cold magic of my ice cubes! If this model is more to your liking, you can check it out at

There are lots and lots of different "kitchen gadgets" that also double for AT, and similarly, a lot of AT that can be useful kitchen gadgets. One tool you may want to make sure you have available in the kitchen is a "reacher"/grabber. The key to finding a useful reacher for the kitchen is finding one that you can comfortably use to take cans, jars, bottles, or whatever off of shelves. I usually like a reacher with a good, solid grip so it can hold on to items easily, rubberized jaws so they can hold things without them slipping out of the jaws, and good light weight so I'm not fighting the weight of the reacher while I'm trying to lift something with it. There are a lot of different models and makes available, so I recommend taking your time and looking at a few before making your purchase. 

More resources

I found more helpful information on cooking with a disability from the following resources:

"Ten Tips for Cooking with A Disability or Injury" from the Cooking Manager blog has some great ideas. The author has written a follow-up post, "More Tips on Cooking with A Disability or Injury," which has even more useful help. You can find the first blog posting at and the second one at

The Disabled Hands blog has a kitchen section with lots of selections of useful kitchen items for people with limited dexterity. They have a large array of items to check out as well as commentary from users on just how useful the items are. Definitely a great resource. You can find it at has a nice article on it's website entitled, "Making the Kitchen Safe and Convenient for Seniors." While the title says it's for seniors, the tips are great for improving the overall accessibility of any kitchen. You can find it at

Monday, July 23, 2012

Allez Cuisine! Cooking with AT

I love to cook. Ask anyone who knows me and they'll tell you that I really, really love to cook. The kitchen often is my sanctuary when the rest of the world seems to go crazy. During grad school when the rigors of my thesis would weigh heavily on me, I'd spend some time in the kitchen and make a delicious meal for my roommate, his girlfriend, and whomever else just happened to come by.

I know a lot of people with disabilities also share my love of cooking, but the kitchen can be problematic if you have dexterity or fine-motor issues. There's a lot of assistive technology that can help people be more than successful in their culinary pursuits. From modified utensils to protective equipment, there is a lot of really good stuff out there to help people.

Good Tools for Good Eats

Now, I don't know about you, but when I think accessible cooking utensils, I think OXO. OXO is the maker of the Good Grips line of kitchen tools. These tools were designed incorporating the principles of universal design. Now, this is where I could go into a very long lecture class diatribe discussion about universal design and it's merits, but I will save that for some resources on the subject at the end of the post. Still, the idea of universal design refers to "The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest  extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design." (courtesy of North Carolina State University's Center for Universal Design,

OXO has thoroughly embraced universal design. In fact, OXO actually says it was founded on the principles of universal design, and it's more than obvious in the development of it's products.  From angled measuring cups that you can read from the top instead of the side to a pepper grinder that's not only easy to adjust the grind but also easy to grind, the attention paid to universally designed products shines through. While they might not have specialty items like scoop dishes or weighted utensils, you may be surprised by all of the wonderful tools they do have. I know personally, I will never use another whisk but my OXO GoodGrips whisk. You don't have to go to fancy shops to get GoodGrips kitchen tools. Here in Delaware you can get them at Boscov's, Bed Bath and Beyond (watch out for that Beyond part! Found a Dalek in there once), Kitchen Kapers and even Williams Sonoma. If you want to check out the great products they have, visit their website

YouTube video that talks about OXO's design philosophy.

For more information on Universal Design, you can visit the North Carolina State University's Center for Universal Design's website at

There's also a nice website devoted to helping people better understand universal design called Universal Design Education. The website is

Make sure you come back and I will be posting more kitchen friendly AT!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Listen With Your Eyes, Sing With Your Hands

I've been out on vacation back home in sunny, beautiful California with my son. In our travels, we went to Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk for the glory of the Big Dipper roller coaster and for my son's first rock concert! Blue Oyster Cult was giving a free concert as part of a Friday night free concert series being put on there.
Picture of a banner announcing the free friday night bands on the beach concert series at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

When we found my brother and our spot for the concert, I saw something interesting. In the back of the concert area was a sign marking the section for the deaf and hard of hearing. I thought that was cool and figured the distance from the stage was to protect anyone with already damaged hearing from further damage due to the loud music. The area also had bleacher style seating, which I thought a little curious, but didn't pay that much attention to.

So the concert starts, and the MC introduces the man who will be doing the ASL (American Sign Language)  interpretation for the concert. How cool! I thought that was pretty progressive to have an ASL interpreter at the show, but I wasn't really seeing how it would work. 

The ASL interpreter for the concert on stage.

Now, I've been to concerts before with people who were deaf. I'll never forget seeing the group of folks I later learned were deaf at my first AC/DC concert. They were the brave folks who were really close to the speakers. I learned later it was so they could feel the music coming from the speakers. When the band did "For Those About To Rock," the group would all jump and cheer each time the cannons fired (if you don't know the song, yes I said cannons for a 21 gun salute). It was an incredible sight that undoubtedly made a lasting impression. So the idea that you couldn't enjoy music if you have any sort of hearing impairment wasn't one I had. There was also that Beethoven guy, but I won't dive into that story right now.

Back to Blue Oyster Cult. . .

The lead singer starts talking to the crowd making sure we're ready to rock.  The interpreter, standing on stage in clear view of the hard of hearing section, is interpreting what he's saying. Cool. I love people take steps to try to be as inclusive as possible. The band starts playing, and the interpreter stays on stage and starts signing the lyrics. Yes, you read correctly--signing the lyrics! Not only did he sign the lyrics, but he kept rhythm as best he could with the band!

Photo of Blue Oyster Cult performing while an ASL interpreter signs the lyrics for their song "Don't Fear The Reaper."

Song after song he was there signing and keeping up with body language emphasis in his signs to match the emphasis the singer had in his voice. Indeed he was burning for you! He did not fear the reaper! He really rocked it out during "Godzilla." He was really giving his interpretation his all, and that was outstanding. What's more, he worked alone. There wasn't a second interpreter to take over. He did it all and kept the energy going.

Then something the MC said hit me--he was tonight's ASL interpreter. That would seem to indicate that this wasn't an anomaly. This was a regular practice. So as fantastic as I thought the interpreter was, the fact that they do this for all of the shows really blew me away.

So of course, I started looking around to see who else is doing this. I figured it's 2012, this can't be that new. It's not. Digging around I saw video on YouTube of different acts with ASL Interpreters at their concerts. I also found a great story from NPR back in 2006 that looks at ASL interpreters. Apparently, under Title III of the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), auditoriums, amusement and recreation facilities are required to provide accessible services. So providing ASL Interpreters is another way that the ADA helps make even music concerts more accessible. 

So you're probably wondering why I'm writing about this in a blog about assistive technology? Well, ASL does actually qualify as AAC, augmented and alternative communication. That makes it AT. While it isn't an AT device, it more closely resembles an AT service. So by providing the ASL interpreter, the concert promoter and the Beach Boardwalk were providing the necessary AT service so that members of the audience who sign could also "listen to" the song lyrics. In an indoor arena,  people with a hearing impairment may have been able to use an assistive listening device--an FM, infrared, or Bluetooth system-- to get clearer audio. However, that still leaves out individuals who would benefit from ASL interpretation. Some theaters are using portable captioning systems to allow those folks access to captions. There are even apps for smartphones and mobile computing devices that tie into existing systems a theater may have, insuring the user that there will always be a unit they can use. However, it still leaves the ASL gap. By providing interpretation services, you make sure that you are as inclusive as you can be. From a human perspective, you're recognizing that things are just more fun when we all can enjoy them.

If you're interested in more information about ASL, you should check out some great information from the National Association of the Deaf at

For more information on ASL interpretation and sign language interpretation in general, you should check out the World Association of Sign Language Interpreters at  

If you want to check out that piece on NPR, you can read it or listen to it at

Here are some examples of ASL interpreters at concerts.

This is video from YouTube of an ASL Interpreter really getting into the music and expressing it in her signing.

Here's another interpreter at a Lady Gaga concert. She's in the lower left portion of the screen facing the audience.

Alana has to be my most favorite ASL interpreter for two reasons. First, she really gets into the interpretation. She owns it and "sings" the song instead of just "speaking" it. Her YouTube handle is lordalana, check her out if you frequent YouTube. Second reason why she's my favorite is because she's interpreting for AC/DC who is one of my favorite groups. This is her interpretation for "You Shook Me All Night Long."

And here's her fantastic interpretation of "Hell's Bells."

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Free Video Captioning!

If you've ever wondered how to add closed captions to your videos, you may want to check out this free webinar put on by The Accessible Technology Coalition. It's entitled, "Free Captioning of Videos on YouTube." I've done this before and it's a fantastic way to easily get captions for your videos. It's also free, so you can't beat the price.

You can register and get more information at

You can also find a listing of all of the services that the ATC offers on their website

The webinar is coming up this Tuesday, June 19! Check it out!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is It A Bargain?

As some of you know, I write an article for work called "The AT Bargain Basement." It shows up in our "quarterly" newsletter The AT Messenger. You can see the current issue and back issues at

In the article, I try to find what I call assistive technology bargains--AT you can find for $100 or less. I started this undertaking because I often found people were looking for inexpensive AT. The biggest area where you see this is in magnifiers. You can get very inexpensive magnifying glasses at everywhere from your local dollar store to your local grocery store. Some of these magnifiers can be just what the doctor ordered (or would have  ordered), and sometimes, they're not quite strong enough. That's the way it can be when you're buying products untried and untested. One way you can test this stuff out is to contact your state's Tech Act project (sorry to my friends outside of the US) on the RESNA Catalyst Project web page at Just about all of the states (should) have projects that allow consumers to come in and at least try equipment if not borrow it. Borrowing equipment aside, some things just seem like bargains, but when we get them, we realize they aren't. That's what I'd like to look at right now-- what makes something really a bargain?

Typically, when we think about a bargain, we think about getting something for a lower price than you'd normally pay for it. So if you normally would get bananas for $0.69 per pound, but you can get them on sale for $0.39 per pound, that lower price would be a bargain. The same would be true of finding those shoes you wanted for half price. When it comes to assistive technology, we need to re-consider the bargain. We can't just look at cost, but we have to look at function. A bargain in "AT World" is one where I can get all of the functions that one device offers for a lower price. So if I need a 4x magnifier and I could buy brand X for $100, or brand Y for $50-60, the brand Y magnifier would be a bargain if it provides the same quality of magnification. I could pay less money and get a magnifier that's of lesser quality, but that wouldn't be a bargain. That would be a waste of money.

So how do I know what's a quality find? How do I know what's indeed a true AT bargain? That's where you need to do some homework both within and without. Honestly, the within part can be much more difficult than the without part.

Looking Within

Whether or not you're looking for an AT bargain, you should be considering what you needs are. Do you have a hard time reading your mail? Can you not hear what's being said in the classroom? Do you have a hard time remembering things? Do you easily get lost trying to get around when you're out and about? These are all the types of questions you should be asking. Maybe not these exact questions, but ones relating to what you're having difficulty doing. If you start to think about that, you're more than half way to finding what's going to work for you.

All too often, we begin looking for assistive technology by looking at assistive technology. I call this the "browsing" or "window shopping" approach. While it's a nice way to kinda see what's out there and new in the world of AT, it's not a a very productive way to find what may be useful. It can often eat up valuable time and it can lead you past some more simple and elegant AT solutions. If you're thinking about what it is that's giving you a problem, you can think more clearly about what will solve that problem because you will have to define that problem. Not quite making sense yet? Let's look at an example.

Suppose you have a tough time reading books, letters, the newspaper, worksheets, bank statements and bills, you name it because the print is too small. Your first reaction may be to find a magnifying glass. Maybe you see one in your local supermarket. Maybe it's in a bookstore or a dollar store. It's just gotta work right? So you get it and. . . it doesn't work. It's too weak. So you might look for other magnifiers, maybe buy some other cheap ones and find one that works for reading your bills, but not for the newspaper or books. After a while, you could end up with a bag of magnifiers that sorta do the job. If we rewind a bit and instead of heading for the magnifier, you go see your doctor about your vision, you can see just how bad things are. Just don't forget to tell the doctor what you are having trouble reading and what you can read fine. Maybe the solution is prescription eyeglasses? Maybe it's not. The thing about seeing the doctor is that it helps you see if there's a larger problem causing your difficulty with reading. Also, the doctor can tell you exactly how much magnification you need. That will give you a definite starting point when looking for a magnifying glass. If the doctor says you need at least a 4X magnifier, you can skip the ones at the dollar store (typically 1.5x to 2X) and even some of the ones in other stores (it can be really hard to find a 4X magnifier in your local we-sell-everything store). You will most likely have to look at the more quality magnifiers which tend to cost more money.

Looking Without

If we know what features we're looking for in a device, we can start looking for devices that have those features we need, AND we can also start looking at device prices. This is where we go apples to apples. The most important thing, though, is that I know what features I'm looking for in a device. 

So returning to our example from above, is there some way I can take care of my reading needs without having to buy anything? Could I look at my bills online and use the magnification capabilities of just about every web browser? Could I read my books online and do the same thing? What about the newspaper? Written correspondence gets difficult as can recipes on the packaging of different foods. So what do I do with those things I can't see via my computer but want to use a magnifying glass to read? 

Well, first things first, find the magnifier that works for you. Don't worry about the price since you haven't bought it yet. Just find the one that works. Once you know one works, consult the Internet. Let "The All Powerful Google" help you find that bargain price. What most people don't know is that Google has a feature called Google Shopping, you can find it at, which you can use to search for products you want to buy. 

Don't want to use The Google? Feel free to use the search engine of your choice. You can also contact your state Tech Act/RESNA Catalyst Project group for help. You can find the listing of the state projects at If your state Tech Act group has an equipment demo and loan program like we do here in Delaware, make use of that. That way, you can actually spend some quality time with equipment to really see if you want to make that purchase or not. You may be surprised that spending a little time with some equipment can help you make much more educated decision than reading lots of user reviews on a website.

The most important thing to remember when looking for AT bargains is that you can't skimp on function. If you do, you may quickly learn that what you thought was a bargain certainly isn't.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Decisions, decisions. . .

So lately I've been seeing more people than usual who want to get someone some assistive technology.

That's a  very good thing.

At the same time, I'm seeing more people than usual who want to start with the "stuff" part instead of the assessment part.

That's not so good.

What does that mean--start with the stuff? People are thinking that they need some sort of assistive technology, and they want to see lots of it so they'll be able to find what they need. Unfortunately, this doesn't usually lead to successful AT interventions.

I'm reminded of an old saying from Pokemon Mark Twain, "To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

So what should I do if I want AT? Do I just do nothing? Do I stay away from AT all together? Of course not. That's far from what I'm suggesting. I do think we can proceed in a thoughtful manner and find AT that actually helps the user. So what does that look like? Well, I like to proceed using the SETT framework. SETT stands for Student, Environment, Tasks, Tools. The frameworks was created by Dr. Joy Zabala, and the particulars regarding it as well as some supporting documentation are available on her website  One of the things I like about the SETT is that it starts with the student or the individual instead of the technology or tool.

I know that jumping right in and having a lot of tools to choose from seems like the best way to find AT. I mean if you know what all of the options available are, you can choose the best one right? But how do you solve a problem that hasn't been defined? You can know that you need assistive technology, but do you really know why you need it? Do you know what it will do? Do you know how it will be used? Starting with a "tool-centered" approach can be confusing if you have a lot of tools to go through. It can also be frustrating if you don't. Taking person-centered approach and using a framework like the SETT can help you find the right tools without simply going through everything at hand and disqualifying it without really taking into consideration what the person really needs and often what the tool can really do.

Previously on. . . 

In an earlier series of posts entitled, "Understanding The Process," I went over how to get AT outside of the educational system (for non-students or for students needing to get equipment outside of the school system). In Parts 1 and 2 ,I talked about talking to your doctor and clinician (physical or occupational therapist or speech language pathologist). That's important to make sure that you don't have a change in your condition that needs to be dealt with using something other than AT. It's also important to make sure that you are looking at the right AT device. Similarly, the clinicians need to make sure that if they're considering AT for you, they're looking at the right stuff. I think an example would help here, and I just can't take my mind off of the number one thing people keep asking me about-- The iPad.

Ever since 60 Minutes aired their piece "Apps for Autism," I've been answering lots and lots of questions regarding iPads and their use as communication devices. I won't begin to go into all of my problems with the 60 Minutes story, but suffice it to say, it did not paint an accurate picture of the world of AAC (Alternative and Augmented Communication). So after the piece airs, I start getting calls from people wanting to try the iPad as a communication device. Nothing wrong with that, but the vast majority of those calls were coming from people who have never tried any device of any kind. A pretty alarming number were coming from people who arent working with a clinician at all (no speech language pathologist (SLP) involvement at all). While some of these calls were coming from parents, caregivers, and teachers, a lot were coming from SLP's who hadn't worked with other electronic AAC devices before.

I'm not sure about your state, but here in Delaware, iPads are not currently purchased by Medicaid or some private insurances. Reason being, it's a consumer electronic device. Trying to get it covered, you run into the same problem you run into trying to get Medicaid to cover computers--They are consumer electronic devices and can be used for purposes other than the requested medical purpose. I know, I know. I don't make the rules. Still, I can understand this one. Communication is absolutely of medical necessity. Is Facebook? Twitter? YouTube? I do enjoy Angry Birds, but is it really medically necessary for me to get my daily fix of it? Not likely. This gets us into the dedicated vs. non-dedicated device wars. I'm going to attempt to keep us out of that battleground (for now) and say this is the big concern over having entities who pay for medical goods and services paying for goods that aren't necessarily medical. So that means I'm "stuck" with other communication devices. The boring old ones that have been around for ages that funding sources will cover.

It's not that bad. It really isn't. The devices are getting better and better. The DynaVox Maestro has a very "iPad-ish" look to it that's different from it's predecessors. One of the best parts about it is I can get the device "unlocked" for $55. What does that mean? That means for $55, you can have DynaVox open the operating system for the device to you. That will open your device as a Windows 7 touchscreen computer with your communication software running on it. Prentke Romich offers something similar with their ECO2 device.

Now, I don't want to lose focus, which can certainly be easy when talking about this stuff, but it's knowing that these devices, which are most often covered by Medicaid and other funding sources, offer the ability to have their "computer-ness" unlocked that brings you a very powerful tool. If indeed you want that, it's available as well as the ability to run other Windows software on the device. When I start with the tool, I'm greatly limiting myself because I'm forcing myself to only consider one possible solution no matter how difficult or even impossible that solution may be. When I think about what the individual's needs and wants, I can think in terms of  general device properties. When I add in things like thinking about where the individual's going to be using "something" and what they're going to be using the "something" to do, I can refine that list more and more. It's like the wish list the kids from Mary Poppins made up of qualities they want in an nanny. Here's a little video clip of that scene.

Once I have my wish list of device properties, I can move on to finding what tool can do all of the things I need that "something" to do. If I have those properties, it's easier to sort the devices from the larger field of AT. It might also lead me to a very simple, readily available solution. Still, if I don't know what those properties are and I'm thinking about tools first, it can take me a long time to get there if I get there at all.

Drawing on another movie analogy, it's like when James Bond goes to see his gadget guy, "Q." Before Bond goes on a mission, he sees Q and gets the equipment he may need given the dangers he may face. Need something to take down someone following you? Q's got the thing. Need something to disable video cameras watching you? Q's got something. Here's a little video clip of Q giving James Bond a little toy.

In this clip, we see Bond getting a very special briefcase. Now, what we're not seeing here is that the stuff in the briefcase was chosen to be most helpful to Double-0 agents in the field. So a little bit of thought actually went into the choice of equipment, and equipment was chosen that would benefit agents in the field based on that information.

See where I'm going with this? If you have an idea as to what an individual's needs are and what they're being asked to do, getting them set up with AT to try, and hopefully be successful with, becomes much, much easier. 

The main thing to remember about any assistive technology is that the device isn't the end. Having AT doesn't mean it will work. We need to know what the person using the AT needs to do before we can set about finding them the tool for the job. If we do that, we stop seeing the world as full of nails just because we have a hammer. Instead, we start looking through the toolbox for exactly what our need may be.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

FCTD Assistive Technology Solutions

The Family Center on Technology and Disability (FCTD) does a great job getting information about assistive technology to the masses. Not only do they get information out there, but they get GOOD information out there in a way that's very easy to understand. With their latest offering, Assistive Technology Solutions Fact Sheet, they continue that winning streak.

The Assistive Technology Solutions Fact Sheet is a great resource for anyone who is very new to the world of assistive technology. It gives examples of various types of AT and of different levels (low, mid, and high tech). You can find it by clicking this link:

The site ( also has other information that you may find useful in learning about or navigating the assistive technology landscape.