FARMINGTON – Interns at the University of Maine at Farmington have been working with students in Regional School Unit 21 this year, utilizing robots equipped with two-way communication devices in order to interact with their younger counterparts in Kennebunk.
Project Circuit is a new program supported by the Department of Education’s Maine CITE, an initiative aimed at improving access to assistive technologies for Maine students, residents and the elderly. Assistive technology is anything designed to remove barriers for a person with a disability – for students, this means improving their accessibility to programming. The UMF program is working with RSU 21 as that district is the first in the state to employ a certified assistive technology specialist, Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles. UMF interns are in instructor Kevin Good’s Assistive and Instructional Technology course, offered through the college’s Special Education program.
Good said that his course was designed to get future educators comfortable with technology like the telepresence robots. He tells his students that they are designers and makers, not just users of the technology.
“I’m pushing students to think through the process,” Good said. “I watch my students grow and change how they approach [new technology].”
The obvious use of the robot, which includes a two-way communication screen mounted on top of a wheel assembly, is to accommodate students that are unable to physically attend a class or event, Goldthwait-Fowles said. Students that are hospitalized or home-bound by an illness can continue to participate in their classes. However, there are potential uses for other disabilities as well. Students on the autism spectrum, for example, may not be able to attend a crowded event due to sensory overload. Educators may start by showing the student a copy of a class’ whiteboard, then move on to using the robot to allow the student to attend a class.
Beyond student-to-class usage, Good and Goldthwait-Fowles said, the robots also can allow others, such as the UMF interns, to work with K-12 students across the state. The system is on a secured network, Good said, but one that is globally accessible. This allows the UMF interns an earlier opportunity to work directly with K-12 students. At this point, Good likes to say, UMF can be anyplace it can send a robot.
“Anyone can access this and use this,” Goldthwait-Fowles said. While only RSU 21 has a full-time, on-site robot, others can be made available on a temporary basis for specific students.
A new article in Inside Higher Ed magazine Helping Institutions Reach Accessibility Goals details the fact that many institutions of higher education fail to have “coherent policies around accessibility. ” And, they note that there has been “…a recent uptick in high-profile lawsuits alleging failure to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act…”
While the reasons for this situation are many, the article suggests “time constraints” make be a factor. Quoting Cynthia Curry from the National Center on Accessible Educational Materials (NC-AEM), “Part of the problem is that people don’t have the time to do something systemic around accessibility within their institutions…” Curry said. “Most institutions, of course, aren’t looking proactively at accessibility. They’re looking at it more as a retrofit, or they’re being reactive if something litigious comes up.”
Maine CITE’s own resident digital accessibility resource person is John Brandt. Brandt’s own 25-year experience in web development and accessibility suggest that the perceived high cost to make web content accessible is probably the largest single factor in the equation. “Most organizations look at accessibility as expensive because they are approaching it from a mitigation perspective. They often fail to look at the costs associated with NOT having accessible content – lost student admissions, lack of student retention, etc.”
While most web accessibility experts will talk about the importance of “adding accessibility in at the beginning” of a web design process, colleges and universities are often not able to do this since they were among the first organizations to have websites in the 1990s – they have accumulated lots of content.
For colleges and universities just starting out with the process, these quality indicators can provide a blueprint and structure of the thinking process that need to be considered. Tom Tobin, one of the people interviewed in the article, encourages “institutions (to) focus accessibility efforts on the potential impact on student access and learning outcomes, rather than merely on ‘legal-compliance arguments.’”
“While the description of the quality indicators alludes to the broad access benefits for all learners when accessible materials, tools and interface are adopted, the actual indicators and critical components are focused squarely on meeting the needs of learners with disabilities — only a part of the access conversation,” Tobin states in the article.
FARMINGTON, ME —The University of Maine at Farmington (UMF)educator preparation program is proud to announce that it has received national accreditation from the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP). UMF is the first institution in the state of Maine to meet the new, rigorous national accreditation standards. UMF has also received full approval for state accreditation, including several commendations, from the Maine State Board of Education.
A longtime leader in Maine and one of the premier teacher education programs in New England, the UMF program has been noted for providing pre-service teachers with a unique educational experience that maximizes career preparation and post-graduation success.
The CAEP review recognized the UMF program for providing students with effective learning opportunities in and out of the classroom that help prepare them for a career in teaching. The UMF program passed the rigorous peer review on all five CAEP standards, which are based on the principles that its graduates are competent, caring educators and its faculty have the capacity to maintain and enhance the quality of the professional programs.
CAEP is the sole nationally recognized accrediting body for educator preparation. UMF’s accreditation runs from 2018 to 2025.
Notably, CAEP recognized UMF for its strong relationship with the community and how this mutual commitment enriches the student experience through activities, resources and support for educational improvement. In addition, the review applauded the UMF teacher preparation program for the quality of its candidates from recruitment through certification.
UMF’s teacher preparation program provides students with field experience, early and often, with student teaching, practicum and internships boasting an average of 329 students in formal placements in schools around the state annually.
These experiences prepare educators for the real classroom and create a statewide demand for UMF graduates while helping to support educational partnerships at more than 130 Maine schools annually, not including early childhood and infant centers.
According to UMF’s 2018 teacher education unit alumni survey, 84 percent of respondents indicate being employed as a teacher in the field and a majority being hired within one year of graduation. In addition, 98.9 percent of graduates responding to the survey said they were very satisfied or satisfied with the UMF program.
In its overall approval of the UMF program, the Maine State Board of Education also commended UMF for its commitment to staff its educator preparation program with full time faculty. It observed that UMF is unique in the fact that all field supervisors who mentor and oversee pre-service teachers in schools around the state are full time faculty that can model the best in professional practices.
The Maine review also commended UMF for its dedication to assistive technology within the Spenciner Curriculum Materials Center. The center, connected to the Maine Department of Education’s Maine CITE Program, houses an extensive collection of assistive technology devices such as adaptive gaming controllers and 3-D printers that are available to loan to students, educators and the general public.
These resources can help all children, including those with disabilities, succeed in the classroom. The report noted the facility is “a remarkable resource for the students, faculty, and the larger community encouraging inclusive practice with state of the art materials and equipment.”
More on University of Maine at Farmington
A nationally recognized public liberal arts college, UMF enjoys a 150-year tradition of providing a quality academic experience combined with the personal attention and close student / faculty collaboration that help prepare all students to be successful. Rooted in a tradition of teacher preparation, UMF offers top quality programs in the arts and sciences, teacher preparation, and business and pre-professional studies. UMF is located in the heart of Maine’s four-season outdoor recreational region and is a welcoming, close-knit academic community that prepares students for engaged citizenship, enriching professional careers and an enduring love of learning.
A person receiving Social Security disability benefits or SSI has likely been told they can’t work, or if they do work that they should limit their hours. They may believe they can’t work. They may have limited work experience or education. And likely they fear losing their financial and medical safety net if they try to work.
How can a service provider encourage work for a consumer who is living this experience? What is a social service provider to do in this “Employment First” state, especially without experience in employment services?
Join a session to learn what “Work and Benefits Navigation” means, and how you can be an employment champion for your clients and your agency.
As case managers, community integration workers, DSPs, residential staff, or others with a supporting role in the life of a person with a disability, you have a critical role in the employment success of the individuals you serve. Work and Benefits Navigation training will equip you with information, skills, and resources you need to challenge myths about work and benefits and encourage employment.
Training will be provided by Community Work Incentives Coordinators (CWICs) from Maine Medical Center’s Department of Vocational Services. They have many years of experience in assisting people with navigating Social Security’s return-to-work rules, and encouraging them – and those who play a supporting role in their lives – to think about earnings and work in a new way.
The new Portland location at 892 Riverside Street, offers consumers access to gently-used recycled durable medical equipment at a much-reduced cost, as well as short-term loans of Assistive Technology equipment. Some items available for purchase or loan include scooters, wheelchairs, canes, and bath chairs.
The Assistive Techology Equipment Reuse and Loan Store, which was previously located in Bangor, also accepts donations of gently-used durable medical equipment to be cleaned and repaired and offered to consumers.
The AFARI Mobility Device, co-invented by CCIDS professors Elizabeth DePoy and Stephen Gilson, is part of the current Access+Ability exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York City.
Here are links to some recent articles about the exhibit and/or AFARI:
The Sun Journal recently published an article about the Pietree Farm in Sweden, Maine describing how the Maine AgrAbility project helped Stephen and Tabitha King make the farm more accessible so their daughter Naomi (who has a progressive muscular disorder) could continue to work.
The article notes, “King was adamant about making the whole farm accessible — not just for herself but for anyone who might like to visit the farm. She understood, better than most, how alienating it can be for a person with limited mobility to visit businesses, even those that claim to be accessible, only to find a ramp leading to a 6-inch step, or a bathroom with a trash can blocking the way where a wheelchair might need the space to maneuver.”
“Maine was first funded as part of a tri-state effort with New Hampshire and Vermont in 1996. In 2010, Maine was awarded single state funding to address the needs of Maine farmers and farm workers. Lani Carlson is the Maine AgrAbility project coordinator.”