Bookshare Summer Read-a-Thon Starts

Bookshare logoEach year, our colleagues at Bookshare encourage students to continue to read during the summer months after school is out. This year’s campaign called #AllInTogether is seeking to get students who are Bookshare members to read 200,000 books by July 31st.

Here are some of the details from Bookshare’s website:

Let’s Read 200K Together

This summer, while staying physically distant from others, why not come together virtually to share in the joy of reading? Bookshare’s #AllInTogether Summer Read-a-thon is a national campaign to share in the common bond of reading. Join Bookshare readers from around the world to escape, enjoy, and explore books for readers of every age and level. By July 31, we aim to have read 200,000 ebooks as a community.

Completed details and entry directions are on the Bookshare website…

AEM Center offers series of training on accessibility in distance learning

National Center on Accessible Educational Materials logo

The AEM Center at CAST is offering free webinars on access and distance education for educators, parents, and those involved in remote instruction.

The series of six webinar, beginning on March 30, 2020 are designed to help educators who are now offering all of their lessons online – and parents – to support learners with disabilities, particularly those who use Assistive Technology (AT) and need Accessible Educational Materials (AEM).

Topics and dates are as follows:

Webinar 1: Personalizing the Reading Experience 
Monday, March 30, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 2: Creating High-Quality and Accessible Video
Monday, April 6, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 3: We’re All in This Together: Four Cs for Supporting All Learners in the COVID-19 Crisis 
Tuesday, April 7, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 4: Creating Accessible Documents and Slide Decks
Monday, April 13, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 5: We’re All in this Together: Communication and Collaboration In-the-Trenches
Tuesday, April 14, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

Webinar 6: Making Math Notation Accessible
Tuesday, April 21, 2020 from 3:00 – 4:00 PM ET

For those unable to attend the live sessions, all webinars will be recorded and archived.

Use this link to read complete program descriptions and sign up…

Online teaching resources for Maine educators

Providing Equal Access to Distance Curriculum

As schools in Maine close in response to concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and begin to educate their students “from a distance,” we offer some resources to assist in the process.

This resource includes links to articles, videos and services which will assist Maine educators to ensure access to all of their students as they move to teaching online. There are also some references for therapists.

Use this link to go to Resources for Maine Educators Teaching Online

Thanks to our colleagues for sharing their resources. We acknowledge the work of Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, PhD, ATP of RSU 21, Kennebunk, ME and Mike Marotta, Director, The Richard West Assistive Technology Advocacy Center, NJ, and Luis Perez, Ed.D. from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials.

Robbie Foundation – Academic Scholarship Program

The Robbie Foundation is now accepting applications for the 2019-20 academic year.

Robbie Foundation logoThis program is open to Maine children with developmental disabilities who are pursuing a post-secondary education. Understanding how difficult it is for a family to afford all that is required in the life of a child with special needs, Robbie Foundation will award a grant of $1,000 – $2,000 to one family. This money will be applied to tuition and disbursed directly to the college or university.

Deadline for this academic year is April 15th. You still have time to submit an application.

For more information and to apply, please visit the Robbie Foundation website…

US Department of Education – Guidance on COVID-19

In an article published by Disability Scoop, the US Department of Education has offered guidance to educators across the nation on how to handle the needs of students with disabilities.

The article notes:

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights issued a webinar and fact sheet this week for education leaders aimed at ensuring that students’ civil rights are upheld while schools are closed due to COVID-19.

The webinar reminds school officials that distance learning must be accessible unless “equally effective alternate access is provided.”

Online learning tools should be compatible with any assistive technology that students use and schools must regularly test their online offerings for accessibility, the Education Department said.

Carroll Center Opens AT Device Lab to Empower Individuals with Vision Loss

NRefreshable Braille DisplayEWTON, Mass. Through a partnership with the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, The Carroll Center for the Blind recently launched an assistive technology device lab to help individuals with vision loss to better understand and learn how to effectively use various devices that have the power to help them retain their independence. The open-concept device lab offers access to a wide spectrum of over 18 different popular devices for use by all of the Center’s program participants.

Most smartphones and other devices now come with several built-in accessibility options. Plus, there are a wide assortment of other mainstream and specialized applications available to download which support independence for people with low vision or blindness.

Both free and paid mobile applications like Aira or Microsoft’s Seeing AI provide the ability to narrate the world through your smartphone camera—reading out street signs, printed text, and identifying objects and people. Voice activated in-home smart assistants like Amazon’s Alexa give people the ability to control household appliances, adjust lights, monitor thermostats, and so much more. Learning to use transportation apps like Uber and Lyft enable unprecedented travel independence.

Increasingly, technology is a great equalizer for people who are blind and visually impaired. While the Carroll Center offers a comprehensive variety of programs specifically concentrating on technology, some amount of technology instruction is incorporated into almost every program that it offers these days.

With so many different devices on the market, it can be challenging to choose the most applicable solutions. With the creation of this new device lab, program participants at the Carroll Center for the Blind are now able to freely explore the technologies that are best for them. They practice with these devices and applications prior to making a purchase decision that is best suited to their personal needs and budget.

“Being able to get hands-on with a variety of new technology and devices both in-class and out of class has been enlightening,” says Chris Lockley, a program participant at the Carroll Center. “Access to so many options has provided me with a sense of choice and freedom that I felt I had lost. It’s empowering.”

Access to assistive technology creates life-changing opportunities and possibilities for people with disabilities, whether at school, work, home or in the community…

Read the full story about the assistive technology device lab at article source here.

Text-to-Speech vs. Human Audio Debate

Book with headphonesTime was, if you wanted/needed to have textbooks and other educational materials in “audio” format, you needed to acquire a recording made by a human narrator reading the materials. Indeed, the earliest forms of these recordings were developed in the late 1940 as a service known as, Recordings for the Blind (later renamed Recordings for the Blind and Dyslexic, and now known as Learning Ally), started in New York City.  Learning Ally is currently the largest supplier of human-narrated audio texts and educational materials.

As information technology has advanced greatly in the last 20 years, so too has the quality of “audio” transformations made by text-to-speech software (TTS). One might assume therefore that the need for audio recordings from human narrators would no longer be needed. Perhaps.

A recent blog article from Christine Jones at Bookshare/Benetech (full disclosure – Bookshare is a supplier of digital content that can be read by TTS) notes that the differences between TTS and human narration have become less and may soon “be negligible.”

Perhaps what is more important from Ms. Jones’ article is the emphasis that not only are audio and digital/TTS options essential for many readers with print disabilities, ALL students, even those without disabilities, can benefit from the use of these audio methods when used in conjunction with printed materials.

The decision on whether a student should use human-narrated audio content or digital content read with TTS is probably best done on an individual basis. However, it is quite likely that having both options available will continue to be a good thing for some time to come.

Read Christine Jones complete article, Reframing the Text-to-Speech vs. Human Audio Debate: Both Make Reading Easier…

Read Why Audiobooks? from Learning Ally…

 

Photo credit: Image licensed through Creative Commons by Jeff Golden 

Bookshare Offers K-12 Textbooks in Accessible Formats

The following message comes from Bookshare..

Yes, Bookshare DOES Have Many of the Textbooks Your Students Need!

Bookshare logoMany people view Bookshare’s large collection of ebooks primarily as a source of classroom reading or pleasure reading books, such as novels, biographies, and the like. Indeed, Bookshare does offer a rich selection of these materials. However, did you know that our library also includes more than 25,000 textbooks?

The largest single source of Bookshare’s textbooks is the National Instructional Materials Access Center (NIMAC), a federal repository of K-12 textbooks in accessible formats established by the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The NIMAC contains more than 50,000 files supplied by publishers in compliance with IDEA, and Bookshare is one of the largest distributors of NIMAC-sourced titles. In fact, Bookshare already contains nearly 11,000 book files from the NIMAC, and Bookshare members benefited from more than 30,000 downloads of these titles in the past twelve months. To get an idea of the breadth of materials available in the NIMAC, check out these special collections of NIMAC-sourced titles already available in Bookshare.

Generally, NIMAC-sourced textbooks contain images, are of high quality, and offer an excellent user experience. So why doesn’t Bookshare have all 50,000+ files that are in the NIMAC? Because NIMAC-sourced books are added to Bookshare at the request of educators serving qualified students. If a textbook is in the NIMAC but not already available on Bookshare, educators can submit a book request, and the Bookshare Team will work with the NIMAC and/or the appropriate state agency to obtain the title, convert it into a student-ready format, and make the title available in the collection. Any representative of a U.S. K-12 public or charter school with an organizational Bookshare account can share Bookshare’s NIMAC books with their qualified K-12 students — those who both qualify for Bookshare AND have IEPs. (Students do not need an IEP to access most Bookshare books, but they do need one to obtain NIMAC-sourced books. This is because the NIMAC was created by IDEA specifically to serve students served in special education.) These students can then log in to their Bookshare accounts to access and read the books. For more information on how Bookshare and the NIMAC work together, check out this list of frequently asked questions.

Bookshare Has Even More Textbooks for Students with Reading Barriers

In addition to NIMAC-sourced books, Bookshare offers thousands of textbooks that are available to any member. Some of these may be alternative versions of books we obtained from the NIMAC, but we have purchased, chopped, scanned, and proofread them to make them available to students who do not have IEPs. Some may be textbooks we obtained from publishers. In addition, Bookshare offers a selection of “freely available” textbooks, which are available under Creative Commons licenses or are in the public domain and therefore available to anyone, not just Bookshare members. (So in most cases, even non-members will be able to download them or select “Read Now” next to the titles to open them in Bookshare Web Reader.) Many of these “freely available” titles are “open educational resources” (OER) published by organizations interested in making educational content available to all.

Educators Can Access Reading Lists Created by U.S. School Districts

Bookshare’s Collection Development team has collaborated with several large districts around the country to create lists of the textbooks they commonly use – including math, English language arts, and science – to make them easier to assign to their students. These lists are made available on Bookshare so that all educators can access and share them. They can either subscribe to or copy these lists and assign them to their students, or assign specific books from the lists using Bookshare’s new Assign & Read feature. Feel free to mine the lists for textbooks and instructional materials that will benefit your students.

Students Can Read Textbooks on Multiple Devices

Most importantly, Bookshare members can read their textbooks in the ways that work for them, just as they can all other books in the collection. They can read them on computers, Chromebooks, tablets, mobile devices and refreshable Braille displays. They can even download every textbook as a Microsoft Word document, with all of the flexibility that format offers.

At Bookshare, we believe that when students have all the learning materials they need (even their textbooks!) in formats that work for them, they can succeed in school and become more engaged and confident learners.

 

AEM Pilot Has Launched

From NC-AEM

The AEM Pilot Has Launched!

We’re excited to announce the launch of the AEM Pilot. If you’re in a school district that has work to do to improve the accessibility of materials and technologies provided to learners with disabilities, enlist a crew and board the AEM Pilot! It’s a secure, interactive, web-based tool aligned with the AEM Quality Indicators with Critical Components for K-12.

The AEM Pilot:

  • Provides guidance on establishing a high-functioning cross-disciplinary district team
  • Scaffolds individual and group knowledge about AEM and related technologies
  • Presents guiding questions for critical self-reflection
  • Offers exemplars of effective practices already in use by states and districts
  • Recommends specific actions for getting started with improving the provision of AEM in your district
  • Guides your district’s team in conducting self-assessments in relation to the AEM Quality Indicators
  • Saves your team’s data for progress monitoring purposes
  • Generates reports that include self-ratings, goals, and action steps.

Let the AEM Pilot navigate a crew of accessibility heroes in your district.

Use this link for more information about the AEM Pilot… 

 

Inclusive Technology Ecosystems Wanted

From NC-AEM

National Center Seeks School Districts to Lead Changes in EdTech and Assistive Technology

The Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES) is teaming up with districts across the country to find out what works in creating and sustaining effective technology systems in schools. Is your district ready and willing to be part of this work?

Many schools across the country have made strides in improving collaboration between assistive technology (AT) and educational technology (EdTech). Coordinating efforts is a first step toward improving access to digital learning opportunities for students with disabilities. But how is interdependence between AT and EdTech achieved in a way that leads to inclusive technology ecosystems?

About CITES

Led by CAST and American Institutes for Research (AIR), CITES is a national technical assistance (TA) center funded by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs. We’re partnering with select districts to identify practices that support and sustain balanced, inclusive technology ecosystems in schools. The goal is to produce the CITES Framework, which will be built on research and evidence-based practices that can be scaled and used nationally. What we learn in the process will inform our ongoing TA products and services for school district personnel and families.

Partner with Us

CITES will be selecting up to 10 school districts to create a cohort of Framework Development Districts. Will your district be one? If selected, the CITES team will provide TA, resources, and coaching as your district team implements promising and evidence-based practices identified for consideration in the CITES Framework. Practices related to district leadership, instruction, and family support will be selected. Together we’ll find what works in the coordination of AT and edtech and, ultimately, inclusive technology ecosystems in schools.

How It Works

We are looking for districts that will commit to a three-year partnership. As a Framework Development District, you will establish a cross-disciplinary team and implement up to three evidence-based practices per academic year. Practices are broadly defined as tools, guidelines, protocols, or strategies that show evidence of improving technology systems for learners with disabilities. During each implementation, the CITES team will provide training, resources, coaching, and data collection instruments. An annual $1,000 stipend will be provided to support districts with self-selected supplies and materials.

In addition to activities related to implementation of practices, Framework Development Districts will be connected to one another to form a CITES Cohort. The CITES team will facilitate routine opportunities for districts in the cohort to exchange resources, share findings, and solve common problems.

Finally, CITES will rely on our Framework Development Districts to help in the dissemination of our findings about what works in creating balanced, sustainable inclusive technology ecosystems. If you’re interested in being in the national spotlight as a change agent, being a Framework Development District can make that happen! Consider telling your story in a video, over a webinar, or co-presenting at a national conference with us.

Use this link for more information and to sign-up…