Website collects educational resources for teachers, families

As reported in the Kennebec Journal...

University of Maine logoPreK–12 schools in Maine and around the country reopened for in-person instruction this fall after abruptly closing in the spring because of the coronavirus pandemic. But with many now operating on a hybrid schedule to limit the spread of the disease, educators and families continue to face uncertainty, and demand for reliable resources related to remote learning and other issues raised by COVID-19 has increased, according to a news release from the University of Maine.

To meet this need, the UMaine’s College of Education and Human Development has created a website to help address questions and provide research-backed information for teachers and parents.

The PreK-12 Resources for Educators and Families site, includes links to materials on topics such as social-emotional learning, trauma-informed teaching, special education, literacy and more.

Faculty experts and graduate students in the college vetted all of the resources and provided short descriptions to make it easy for members of the public to understand how each one can be used. In addition, the different topic areas are organized into resources for educators and resources for families to make it easier for users to find the most relevant information.

Read the article on the Kennebec Journal news site

Visit U Maine’s PreK-12 Resources for Educators and Families

Zoom joins forces with Otter.AI to improve accessibility

Closed Captioning logoFirst reported in summer of 2019, a partnership between videoconference giant Zoom and accessibility company Otter.ai to provide live captioning to Zoom meeting has finally been completed.

As reported by the trade publication, ZD Net, Otter.ai will now provide live captioning for Zoom meetings and webinars for Zoom Pro customers. Otter.ai has provided live captioning for meetings through the use of a smartphone app or web-based application for several years and recently introduced Live Notes, “a new feature that enables users to open a live transcript of the call during a video conference, in a separate shared file, which transcribes what is being said in real time” according to ZD Net reporter Daphne Leprince-Ringuet. She goes on to note that with the new service built into Zoom meetings, “captions will appear directly within the call, with a couple of seconds of lag, and presumably will be accurate enough for key information to consistently come out in the form of plain text.”

“Based on a sophisticated algorithm, Live Notes can separate human voices to identify different speakers and includes their name in the transcript to indicate that a given participant has started intervening,” the article also reports.

The rush to provide live captioning has been accelerated in recent months as COVID-19 restrictions have forced nearly all business meetings and academic activities to virtual space. Workers and students with disabilities who need the accessibility accommodation of live captioning have had limited options. Google‘s suite of free office suite applications have provided live captions using the system’s Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR) for some time. But the quality of Google’s ASR has generally been below par and lacks the accuracy of CART transcription provided by a trained CART professional.

Microsoft has also incorporating live captioning into its Office 365 suite of services including MS Teams, their direct competitor for Zoom Meeting. Accessibility professionals around the country have commented that Microsoft’s solution, which uses ASR and artificial intelligence (AI), is generally better than Google, but still not as good as CART.

With the including of Otter.ai into the Zoom Meeting solution, the competition to improve auto captioning has been ratcheted up a notch. One can only hope people with disabilities are the beneficiaries of this partnership.

In Zoom, live captions are available now for Otter customers paying for a Business plan, as well as for Zoom Pro customers.

Read the ZD Net article…

Zoom Meeting website

Otter.ai website

November 2020 Webinars

Maine CITE is offering the following webinar in November 2020:

Webinar: Automating Independence: Make your Smart Home Smarter!

Date: November 19, 2020
Time: 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm ET

Smart door locksIn this follow-up to last year’s webinar Smart Homes as Assistive Technology 101, Ben Jacobs returns with more information about the use of Smart Home technology as a way of improving the lives of people with disabilities.

Smart Home technology has made living independently easier for many people over the past few years. Being able to control your environment through smart speakers and smart phones has uncovered a new world of independence for so many people. However, through the use of sensors, button, schedules, and other smart home integrations we can make it even easier, almost to the point that your environment anticipates your needs as opposed to having to ask it to adjust all of the time. Join Ben Jacobs , Founder and CEO of RebelTech Consulting, as he shares information about how to set up various automations for existing smart home technologies to unlock the true power of the smart home.

Presenter: Ben Jacobs

Use this link for more information and to register for “Webinar: Automating Independence: Make your Smart Home Smarter!…”


The following list of November 2020 webinars on the topic of assistive technology and accessibility is generated by the Accessible Technology Consortia funded by the Center for Accessible Technology. Thank you.

Technology to Provide Services to People Living with Dementia and Their Caregivers during COVID-19 from NACRC
November 2, 2020 at 2:00 pm Eastern

Advancing Technology Keeps Pace with Changing Seating and Mobility Needs from ALSA (ALS Assn.)
November 16, 2020 at 12:00 pm Eastern

Maintaining Services and Supports for People Living with Dementia and their Caregivers during COVID-19 from NACRC
Thursday, November 19, 2020 at 2:00 pm Eastern

Personal Narrative Writing with Low and High Tech AAC from SETC
November 2, 2020 at 6:15pm Eastern

Administrators as Allies in Improving AT Services-Part 1 from AbleNet
November 3, 2020 at 1:00 pm Eastern

Testing Accommodations in the Age of eLearning from DJI
November 5, 2020 at 1:00 pm Eastern

Reading for All, Part 3: Creating Accessible Content with EPUB from NCAEM
November 10, 2020 at 2:00 pm Eastern

Administrators as Allies in Improving AT Services-Part 2 from AbleNet
November 17, 2020 at 1:00 pm Eastern

Switch Access to Literacy for Emergent Readers from SETC
November 17, 2020 at 3:00 pm Eastern

Bookshare from SETC
November 18, 2020 at 6:15 pm Eastern

AAC & AT Chatter: Shared reading and AAC from SETC
November 24, 2020 at 3:00 pm Eastern

 

October 2020 Webinars

Maine CITE is offering the following webinar in October 2020:

Webinar: Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology and Students with Dyslexia

Date: October 27, 2020
Time: 3:15 – 4:15 pm ET

student with stack of booksStudents with Specific Learning Disability – also referred to as Dyslexia – make up the largest percentage of learners with disabilities in the U.S. Qualifying as students “with print disabilities”, Maine regulations require IEP Teams to consider the need for Accessible Educational Materials (AEM) and associated Assistive Technology (AT) for these students.

In this presentation we discuss the use of various AEM and AT as part of the arsenal of tools and accommodations for students with Learning Disabilities/Dyslexia.

Presenters: John Brandt, Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles, Kevin Good.

Use this link for more information and to register for “Webinar: Accessible Educational Materials, Assistive Technology and Students with Dyslexia…”


The following list of October 2020 webinars on the topic of assistive technology and accessibility is generated by the Accessible Technology Consortia funded by the Center for Accessible Technology. Thank you.

Accommodations for hiring and work from the Great Lakes ADA & ADA NN
October 20, 2020 at 2:00 pm Eastern (1.5 hr.)

UDL in Action: Practical Ideas for the Classroom from SETC
October 1, 2020 at 12:30 pm Eastern

Implementing PODD in the Classroom (AAC) from SETC
October 5 2020 at 12:15 pm Eastern

Promoting Access, Engagement and Learning Success for Students with Severe Disabilities from AbleNet
October 7, 2020 at 12:00 pm Eastern

AT/AAC in the IEP from SETC
October 7, 2020 at 12:30 pm Eastern

Empowering Learners with Dyslexia to Acquire & Use Their Digital Voices from edWeb
October 8, 2020 at 3:00 pm ET

Home to School Connection with AAC and Google Docs from SETC
October 13, 2020 at 9:00 am Eastern

A Discussion of Empowering Autonomy and Self in Individuals with AAC Needs from ISAAC & USSAAC
October 14, 2020 at 7:00 pm Eastern

AAC Talk: Communicating with the World from SETC (for AAC users)
October 15, 2020 at 12:30pm Eastern

Tech for Teens Club : Intro to Coding & Video Games from PHP
Saturday, October 17, 2020 at 11:00 am Eastern

Apps for Alphabetic Knowledge and Phonological Awareness from SETC
October 20, 2020 at 9:00 am Eastern

Making Sense of the Math Through Fractions from AbleNet
October 27, 2020 at 12:00 pm Eastern

Virtual or Classroom Visual Support for all from SETC
October 29, 2020 at 12:30 pm Eastern

Personal Narrative Writing with Low and High Tech AAC from SETC
November 2, 2020 at 12:15 pm Eastern

 

 

Maine DOE Publishes – Returning to School Tool-Kit

EducationThe Maine Department of Education has released a new web resource, COVID-19 Returning to School Tool-Kit which details the latest information and guidance about COVID-19. The resource was designed for district and school staff and educators as they begin to welcome employees and students back to school and into learning communities for the 2020/2021 school year and during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Tool-Kit includes Health & Safety Resources/Guidance for Schools, guidance on Masks, Distancing, and Hand Hygiene, as well as Training & Professional Development materials.

Use this link to view the COVID-19 Returning to School Tool-Kit… 

UMaine assistive technology spinout UNAR Labs receives grant

From the University of Maine News

UNAR Labs receives $300,000 NIH Small Business Innovation Research award

UNAR Labs devices and mediaORONO, MAINE, August 12, 2020 – UNAR Labs, a University of Maine spinout company that develops assistive technology for blind and visually impaired (BVI) users, has been awarded $300,000 under the National Institute of Health’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I program to further prove its concept. With the award, the company plans to prototype an information access system that would help educational institutions develop accessible learning materials more efficiently.

The company’s mission is to make the visual graphic information that has become such a big part of modern daily life more accessible to BVI users on the digital devices they already have, including smartphones and tablets.

“More than 60 to 70 percent of digital content is completely inaccessible to visually impaired users — think of maps, images, photos, Facebook, Twitter,” says Hari Palani, co-founder and CEO of UNAR Labs. “We want to provide a bridge and enable BVI users with access to all this information.”

UNAR Labs’ core technology is a software platform called Midlina that translates visual graphical information into an accessible multisensory graphic that BVI users can touch, feel and hear using the haptic, vibration and audio features built in to digital smart devices (phones/tablets).

The SBIR award will allow Portland-based UNAR Labs to focus on improving the process to translate textbooks and other educational materials – including the graphical components — into a multisensory format that makes them fully accessible for BVI students. Using existing methods, this process can take two weeks to two months (depending on the complexity of the material), involves significant manual labor, and can cost many thousands of dollars, according to Palani. The company is developing a software system that aims to cut this time down to hours and reduce the manual labor that makes it so expensive.

“Translating visual information into equivalent non-visual information is not a trivial task, so we have a long research agenda to achieve this technical feat,” says Palani, who came to UMaine in 2011 to conduct graduate research on accessible technology with professor of spatial informatics Nicholas Giudice, co-founder of UNAR Labs.

The two began to explore commercialization of their research after connecting with the team at UMaine’s Foster Center for Innovation in 2017. Their path to commercialization has been deliberate. In 2017, UNAR Labs became the first team from Maine to be invited to participate in the National I-Corps program. After completing I-Corps, where Palani and Giudice conducted extensive customer discovery research, they joined the MIRTA accelerator at UMaine in 2019, built a prototype, and began to prove the feasibility of their technology. A $225,000 National Science Foundation Phase I SBIR award in 2019 helped fund this work, along with a $100,000 commercialization support grant from the Maine Technology Institute. UNAR Labs is participating in the 2020 Top Gun program, a statewide accelerator that targets startups with high growth potential.

Giudice, who is visually impaired, believes that UNAR Labs has a distinct edge in advancing this technology.

“Lots of companies are interested in this type of technology, and for good reasons, but they’re often coming at it from a technical standpoint and not thinking about it from the human side — the perceptual, cognitive aspects of it,” says Giudice. “We’re working in a field that we both have had a lot of experience in, personal and professional. This company is built out of a lot of Hari’s dissertation work and my experience as a blind scientist who has dealt with trying to find solutions to this for the last 20 years and understands what works, what doesn’t and the real challenges.”

That’s a key reason why UNAR Labs is building solutions for use in commercially available hardware (e.g., smartphones). A dedicated device with a braille display to show graphics can cost upwards of $15,000, Giudice says. For institutions, the process of producing accessible versions of textbooks involving graphic information is in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 and involves a complex, multi-step production process that requires an experienced transcriber to convert the materials to a tactile format and a second person to check that they are accurate before printing on a tactile embosser. UNAR Labs’ software would automate this process and eliminate those manual steps, setting it up so that educational institutions (or commercial production facilities) could quickly and easily prepare accessible material from standard visual materials for printing and delivery.

The company’s long-term goal is to create a suite of products that will meaningfully improve information accessibility for the BVI community across platforms and devices.

“We have met all our planned milestones thus far and are well on our trajectory toward creating a truly inclusive and accessible digital world,” Palani says.

UNAR Labs is in the process of hiring its first full-time employee, and Palani says they hope to add four more positions before the end of 2020. In addition, the company has contracted with UMaine’s Virtual Environment and Multimodal Interaction (VEMI) Lab — known for innovative research to support nonvisual information access — to help conduct some of the human usability studies with the products being developed as part of their new NIH project.

Contact: Ashley Forbes, ashley.forbes@maine.edu

Photo credit: Image from University of Maine News

Webinar on Accessible Virtual Meeting Platforms

Recording Available of Webinar on Accessible Virtual Meeting Platforms

US Access Board logoThe U.S. Access Board recently (July 21, 2020) conducted a webinar on the accessibility of virtual meeting platforms as part of its Section 508 Best Practices Webinar Series. Presenters from the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Communications Commission reviewed features and considerations for ensuring access to virtual platforms according to the Section 508 Standards. A recording of this free webinar – including handouts – is available on the webinar site. 

The Section 508 Best Practices Webinar Series provides helpful information and best practices for federal agencies in meeting their obligations under Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which ensures access to information and communication technology in the federal sector. This webinar series is made available by the Accessibility Community of Practice of the CIO Council in partnership with the U.S. Access Board.

 

2020 Guide for Maine Families on AT and AEM Published

EducationThe Maine CITE Assistive Technology Program is pleased to release the revised Guide for Maine Families on Assistive Technology and Accessible Educational Materials. The 2020 Guide provides Maine families who have children with disabilities an easy to use resource describing how to get the assistive technology (AT) devices and services they need. Information about accessible education materials (AEM) and families’ important role in the planning process are also provided.

The 2020 Guide updates general information about AT and AEM. It includes new resources about assistive technology used during “learning at home” activities, as well as AT device demonstration and loan services – AT4Maine.org.

Use this link to download the The Guide – PDF

UMF Offers Online Certificate Program is Assistive Technology

University of Maine Farmington - logoThe University of Maine Farmington – Division of Graduate and Continuing Education has announced they are offering a graduate certificate in Assistive Technology. The new program is offered completely online.

Those completing the certificate program will be prepared to:

  • Support the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in both school and community settings.
  • Utilize assistive technology to increase independence and eliminate or  mitigate barriers.
  • Assess, design, research, and implement Assistive Technology.

The certificate in Assistive Technology (AT) prepares a broad range of professionals who can assess, design, research, and implement Assistive Technology (AT). Those completing the certificate will be prepared to support the inclusion of individuals with disabilities in both school and community settings by utilizing assistive technology to increase independence and eliminate or mitigate barriers. Courses are chosen in consultation with your academic advisor to ensure professional goals are reached and that sufficient preparation is undertaken for those seeking national certification.

For more information and to enroll, please contact the University of Maine Farmington – Graduate Studies or by phone 207.778.7502 or email gradstudies@maine.edu

Tips for Hosting Accessible Meetings with Deaf Participants

Accessibility pictogramThe National Deaf Center on Postsecondary Outcomes (NDC) has hosted a valuable set of tips for hosting meetings where some of the participants may be deaf or hard of hearing. They note, “besides running a better meeting, effective communication between hearing and deaf people has other benefits for career success. Research shows it strengthens relationships, increases well-being, and fosters meaningful participation in the workplace.”

Among the tips are recommendations regarding:

  • the use of captioning for any videos shared in the meeting,
  • the importance of providing the right accommodations – including in-person American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter, remote ASL interpreter, remote speech-to-text services, large print materials, and presentations slides as handouts with presenter notes, and
  • establishing some meeting ground rules, including taking turns, and identifying yourself before making comments.

The complete list of tips (PDF) may be downloaded from this link to the NDC website

In need of further assistance? Connect with the NDC Help Team