News

AEM Center offers series of training on accessibility in distance learning

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…

Supporting Students with IEPs During eLearning Days

With schools across the country forced into the situation of closing and providing services to students via distance education, this webinar focused on the specific educational and technical needs of students with IEPs. Particular emphasis was paid to supporting students who use Assistive Technologies (AT) and Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) and the importance of ensuring distance learning systems work effectively with these. Resources and offers for technical assistance were described.

Due to high demand and a tremendous turn out, the live session on March 23rd was not available to most who registered for the event.

The recording from edWeb is now available to view at this link

Supporting Students with IEPs During eLearning Days was presented by Christine Fox, Deputy Executive Director, SETDA; Cynthia Curry, Director, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials and the Center on Inclusive Technology & Education Systems (CITES) at CAST; and Luis Perez, Technical Assistance Specialist, National Center on Accessible Educational Materials at CAST –

“Study from Car” Initiative Starts in Maine

Network Maine logoNetworkmaine is a unit of the University of Maine System providing Maine’s Research & Education (R&E) community with access to high-bandwidth, low-latency connectivity and complimentary services that enhance their ability to successfully deliver on their missions. Founded in 2009 Networkmaine provides K-12 schools and public libraries in the state with Internet connectivity at little or no cost through the Maine School Library Network – MSLN project.

The following announcement comes from Networkmaine:

Study-From-Car Initiative

With the closure of public schools and the subsequent transition to remote learning, many schools have identified a lack of adequate Internet access in the homes of some of their students, limiting the ability of those students to participate in online learning opportunities.

Networkmaine has offered assistance to the roughly 140 local schools that have their WiFi networks provided through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (MLTI) in creating an additional “guest” WiFi network.  This additional WiFi network will be completely segregated from any existing network(s) at the school.  The hope is that the MLTI wireless service currently bleeds out of the building to the extent that someone could park in the parking lot and obtain service, allowing them to participate in online learning while maintaining the social distancing that the school closures are intended to facilitate. We have already heard from schools that are re-positioning their WiFi access points near exterior wall and windows to help extend the outside coverage.

We have dubbed this effort Study-From-Car as a play on the phrase work-from-home that has become so prevalent in the media.

We encourage participating schools to use the hashtag #studyfromcar if they make any announcements on social media.

Use this link for more information – and to see an interactive map where Study from Car schools are located

Don Johnston offers free software to schools

This announcement comes from Don Johnston, a company that makes assistive technology software, services and curriculum materials

As some of the most vulnerable students head home for eLearning, our role is to let our tools go to work helping students access learning—so they don’t miss a beat.

Whether you’re a current customer or a new customer, we’re here to help you provide essential accommodations and learning supports across your caseload or school district.

Fill out our online form, we’ll contact you with next steps. (This is a manual process, so it may take some time to get set up due to the increasing need.)

 

Freedom Scientific offers free licenses until June

Freedom Scientific is offering college students in the US and Canada a Free Home License of JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion which will expire June 30, 2020.

If you are suddenly at home with no access to your AT software, we have you covered.

We know many of you must remain at home and will need to continue to work or attend school remotely. To ensure that your life remains accessible we are offering those in the US and Canada a Free Home License of JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion which will expire June 30, 2020.

For those outside of North America, Freedom Scientific and our international distributors are working together to provide home solutions for our customers during the COVID-19 crisis. Please contact your states distributor if you need assistance connecting to school or work from home.

Use this link for more information…

 

MaineCare now allows Telehealth to deliver pharmacy services

In a special ruling made on March 16, 2020 by the Division of Policy of MaineCare, Chapter 101 of MaineCare Benefits Manual Chapter I, Section 4, Telehealth services for Pharmacy Services are now covered by MaineCARE.

In the “concise summary” the change in rules states:

This emergency rulemaking will remove the MaineCare Benefits Manual (MBM), Chapter I, Section 4, Telehealth Services blanket prohibition against providers utilizing telehealth to deliver services under the MBM, Chapter II, Section 80, Pharmacy Services. Pursuant to 5 M.R.S. Section 8054, the Department has determined that immediate adoption of this rule is necessary to avoid a potentially severe and immediate threat to public health, safety or general welfare. The Department’s findings of emergency are set forth in detail in the Emergency Basis Statement. Maine is facing a substantial public health threat posed by the global spread of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a worldwide pandemic. As a preemptive action by the Department, Pharmacy Services will be available via telehealth when medically necessary and appropriate.

This emergency rule change will take effect upon adoption and will be in effect for 90 days (5 M.R.S. § 8054). The Department is concurrently engaging in the routine technical rulemaking process for Section 4 to prevent a lapse in the rule and added services.

Please use this link to see the new rules and rulemaking documents

 

US Department of Education updates guidance

The United States Department of Education (USDOE), in response to apparent incorrect assumptions being made across the nation, that providing educational services to student with disabilities via “distance instruction” presents too many barriers. On March 21, 2020 the USDOE published, Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities. 

This guidance states the following:

At the outset, OCR and OSERS must address a serious misunderstanding that has recently circulated within the educational community. As school districts nationwide take necessary steps to protect the health and safety of their students, many are moving to virtual or online education (distance instruction). Some educators, however, have been reluctant to provide any distance instruction because they believe that federal disability law presents insurmountable barriers to remote education. This is simply not true. We remind schools they should not opt to close or decline to provide distance instruction, at the expense of students, to address matters pertaining to services for students with disabilities. Rather, school systems must make local decisions that take into consideration the health, safety, and well-being of all their students and staff.

To be clear: ensuring compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), † Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (Section 504), and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act should not prevent any school from offering educational programs through distance instruction. School districts must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students. In this unique and ever-changing environment, OCR and OSERS recognize that these exceptional circumstances may affect how all educational and related services and supports are provided, and the Department will offer flexibility where possible. However, school districts must remember that the provision of FAPE may include, as appropriate, special education and related services provided through distance instruction provided virtually, online, or  telephonically.

The Department understands that, during this national emergency, schools may not be able to provide all services in the same manner they are typically provided. While some schools might choose to safely, and in accordance with state law, provide certain IEP services to some students in-person, it may be unfeasible or unsafe for some institutions, during current emergency school closures, to provide hands-on physical therapy, occupational therapy, or tactile sign language educational services. Many disability-related modifications and services may be effectively provided online. These may include, for instance, extensions of time for assignments, videos with accurate captioning or embedded sign language interpreting, accessible reading materials, and many speech or language services through video conferencing.

It is important to emphasize that federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to meet the individual needs of students with disabilities. The determination of how FAPE is to be provided may need to be different in this time of unprecedented national emergency. As mentioned above, FAPE may be provided consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students with disabilities and those individuals providing special education and related
services to students. Where, due to the global pandemic and resulting closures of schools, there has been an inevitable delay in providing services – or even making decisions about how to provide services – IEP teams (as noted in the March 12, 2020 guidance) must make an individualized determination whether and to what extent compensatory services may be needed when schools resume normal operations.

Finally, although federal law requires distance instruction to be accessible to students with disabilities, it does not mandate specific methodologies. Where technology itself imposes a barrier to access or where educational materials simply are not available in an accessible format, educators may still meet their legal obligations by providing children with disabilities equally effective alternate access to the curriculum or services provided to other students. For example, if a teacher who has a blind student in her class is working from home and cannot distribute a document accessible to that student, she can distribute to the rest of the class an inaccessible document and, if appropriate for the student, read the document over the phone to the blind student or provide the blind student with an audio recording of a reading of the document aloud.

Download and read this entire PDF document: Supplemental Fact Sheet Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Preschool, Elementary and Secondary Schools While Serving Children with Disabilities…

Accessibility Tips for Teaching Online

Ordinarily, we would simply link the following article from the National Deaf Center entitled “5 Tips for Disability Service Professional to Provide Accessibility in Online Classes.” But in reviewing the PDF they produced as the handout, ironically it was not accessible. So, because it is important information, and does not bear any copyright mark, we are replicating it here.

The following comes from the National Deaf Center. Please contact them if you have questions about this content.

5 Tips for Disability Service Professionals to Provide Accessibility in Online  Classes

Disability service professionals are on the front lines — bringing their specialized knowledge, unique strengths, and necessary insights — to ensure that all classes are accessible to deaf and hard of hearing students as colleges and schools move them online in response to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

These five tips from the National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes at the University of Texas at Austin can help them address access issues for deaf students who use assistive listening technology, American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters, speech-to-text services, captioned media, and more, as well as provide guidance to students, faculty members, and administration and leadership.

Tip 1: Communication is Key

  • Make sure accessibility is addressed on all levels of your institution . Your input is essential during this transition to online classes.
  • Share these 10 Tips for Educators with all faculty members, adjunct instructors, and anybody teaching online at your institution.
  • Inform current students how they can update their accommodation plans with your office. What may have worked for deaf students in person may not work online.
  • Students who may not have had accommodations before may need them now. Research shows only half of deaf college students file documentation or request accommodations. Let all students know how to connect with your office for support if they experience any unexpected challenges.

Tip 2: Remain Flexible When Re-evaluating Accommodations

  • It won’t be a ‘one-size-fits-all’. Deaf undergraduates encompass a range of identities , vary in communication preferences, and 50% have additional disabilities.
  • Accommodations for synchronous (everyone online at the same time) versus asynchronous (at your own pace) style courses will vary and may require more than one accommodation.
  • Consider the most common accommodations used by deaf students and how they can continue in online courses.

Tip 3: Don’t Cancel Service Providers

  • Consistent service providers are critical for deaf students. The classroom providers assigned to the face-to-face version of the course should continue providing services in the online course. Vocabulary and other signed concepts may already be established between the student and the interpreters, while speech-to-text professionals may already have a dictionary of specific terminology prepared.
  • Interpreters and speech-to-text professionals cannot be replaced by auto-generated captions for real-time communication needs. This does not provide equal access.
  • Consider having on-call interpreters and speech-to-text providers available during business hours to provide services for office hours, tutoring, student group meetings, walk-in advising appointments, or other ad hoc needs. These services can be available remotely. Ask your service provider for ways to meet this need.

Tip 4: Prepare Protocols for Captioning Media

  • Establish a procedure and priority list for videos, pre-recorded lectures, and other media in need of captioning. The courts recently ruled that appropriately captioned media provides equal access to students as required by law. Be wary of relying on any program that uses auto-generated captions for videos.
  • Provide faculty guidelines on where to find existing captioned videos. This will help reduce the influx of requests needed. Ask if the library or other departments can assist with finding accessible instructional materials.
  • If you need to caption a video or pre-recorded lecture, consider using a combination of both in-house staff or contact a captioning vendor. Staff can follow industry standards and use DIY captioning resources.

Tip 5: Manage Technology, Equipment, and Troubleshooting

  • Service providers may need to be granted access to your college’s learning management system (LMS), such as Canvas or Blackboard, or other videoconferencing and online resources. Work with your institution and service providers on how to access platforms.
  • If students or service providers need additional devices or access to software, plan on allocating resources to temporarily loan equipment. Ask students and providers what devices they may have available for accessing online coursework (computer/laptop, tablets, smartphones, etc).
  • As a backup, ask faculty to record virtual meetings and lectures, in case issues with internet connection, technology, or accommodations arise.
  • When online classes begin, check in with deaf students after the first week in case there are unanticipated barriers
  • Share these tips with your colleagues, administrators, and faculty. Let them know how you are planning to make your campus accessible, and how they can too. Now is the time to come together as a disability services community, support each other, and make sure everyone is involved in ensuring  accessibility.

Have Questions? Contact NDC Today!

The National Deaf Center provides year-round support to faculty, disability services professionals, deaf students and their families, and service providers. We are here for you! 

 

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. of 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…