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.
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.
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.
NEWTON, Mass. Through a partnership with the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association,The Carroll Center for the Blindrecently 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…
Time 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 Allyis 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.
Yes, Bookshare DOES Have Many of the Textbooks Your Students Need!
Many 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 licensesor 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
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.
Microsoft recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact™ Analysis of Microsoft Accessibility And Assistive Technologies For Education to quantify the benefits of Microsoft accessibility tools for students, teachers and schools.
According to the news release from Microsoft, “Forrester conducted numerous interviews across K-12, Higher Education, and an alternative school. These schools were using the built-in accessibility tools that are offered with our Microsoft 365 platform, including Office 365 and Windows 10. These schools represent over 90,000 students and 5000 faculty and staff.”
The research showed the following barriers to implementing Assistive Technology in schools:
Existing solutions could not be widely deployed and often had a stigma associated with them
Learning experiences could be disjointed and distracting
Technology costs and effort were too high.
Microsoft reported that “the study revealed that by deploying and using Microsoft Accessibility and assistive technology tool… schools can improve student learning, reduces costs and effort, and save time and be more effective.”
Casey, Collins Introduce Bill to Expand Access to Assistive Technology for Seniors and People with Disabilities
Legislation Would Help Seniors and People With Disabilities Maintain Independence
Washington, D.C. – Today, June 13, 2019, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), the Ranking Member and Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging, introduced the 21st Century Assistive Technology Act that would increase access to assistive technology—devices or services that help seniors and people with disabilities to maintain their independence and live where they choose. The bill, which comes following a May 22nd hearing in the Aging Committee on the topic, would also help reduce the low employment and high poverty rates of older adults and people with disabilities by helping them live independently and maintain employment.
“Assistive technology helps millions of people live independently, remain engaged in their community and improves the quality of life for seniors and people with disabilities,” said Senator Casey. “It is important that we update this bill to support the advances in assistive technology over the last 15 years, so that those who need it can be full participants in every aspect of their lives.”
“As our population ages, the need for care and support is increasing,” said Senator Collins. “Advances in technology are working to bridge the ‘care gap,’ improving function in activities of daily living, helping to manage multiple chronic conditions, reducing risk of hazards, and making homes safer for seniors. The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act would help to ensure that seniors continue to have access to these life-changing technologies to help them maintain their independence.”
The 21st Century Assistive Technology Act (S.1835) Act would update the Assistive Technology Act by clarifying that the program serves all people with disabilities, including veterans and older adults who developed disabilities later in life. The Assistive Technology Act would also increase the funding authorized for programs that serve rural areas. Assistive technology refers to any piece of equipment, product or service that helps someone with a disability or functional limitation accomplish their daily needs such as wheelchair ramps, hearing aids, screen readers and even smart phones.
This bill is supported by the Assistive Technology Act Programs, the Association of University Centers on Disabilities, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, the American Association of People with Disabilities, The Arc of the United States, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools and CAST.
June 7, 2019 – Eleven national organizations have come together to outline a new vision for education technology in a series of publications that explore conception, design, procurement, use, and continuous improvement of ed tech initiatives.
The collaborative publications build off a central report, “Inclusive Technology in a 21st Century Learning System”, by Ace Parsi, Director of Innovation at the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD). The report lays out a new inclusive vision for educational technology and considerations to ensure technology closes educational, economic, and civic opportunity gaps for individuals with disabilities.
The complimentary local and state/national briefs were developed in collaboration between the following organizations:
Policy and Research Organizations: The American Institute for Research, Digital Promise, the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, and The Learning Accelerator
Associations Representing Local Policy Leaders: CoSN – Consortium for School Networking, the School Superintendent Association and Association of School Business Officials International;
Associations Representing State Policy Makers: National Association of State Directors of Special Education, the State Education Technology Directors Association, and the National Association of State Boards of Education;
National Policy and Advocacy Organizations: The Alliance for Excellent Education, the Future Ready Schools initiative, and the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
“Working together with these 10 other organizations sets a prime example of how all decision makers should be working together to ensure the needs of all learners are truly being met,” noted Lindsay Jones, CEO of the National Center for Learning Disabilities.
“These publications provide information and guidance to educational leaders to effectively leverage education technology to meet the needs of all learners, particularly those with disabilities,” said Tracy Gray, Managing Director at the American Institute for Research.
We recently added a new resource to theAccessible Digital Documents page which discusses some new applications and new features to legacy applications that will provide live captioning to presentations and webinars thus making them more accessible. The resource is based upon adaptations of some trade articles and support documentation on the applications’ websites. The three new services, all involving the use of Speech-to-Text technology (S-t-T) with Artificial Intelligence (AI) are: