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

Maine AgrAbility video highlights students’ learning on the farm

Buxton, Maine — Over the past year, Maine AgrAbility and partner Alpha One integrated agriculture into the curriculum of a peer mentoring program at Massabesic High School in York county. The program, funded by the Maine Department of Labor Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and supplemented with hands-on opportunities, culminated with summer work experiences on a local farm.

Sally Farrell, owner of Rummler Run farm in Buxton and former University of Maine Cooperative Extension 4-H professional in York County, agreed to introduce three of the students to daily life on her farm in summer 2019. The stories and experiences of those three students — practicing problem-solving, handling small livestock, helping ensure biosecurity practices — are told in the video “On the Farm.”

Maine AgrAbility, a collaborative project of UMaine Extension and Alpha One, is dedicated to helping farmers, fishermen and forest workers work safely and more productively. For more information, contact Leilani Carlson at 207.944.1533; leilani.carlson@maine.edu.

More information also is available on the UMaine Extension AgrAbility website.

About University of Maine Cooperative Extension:

As a trusted resource for over 100 years, University of Maine Cooperative Extension has supported UMaine’s land and sea grant public education role by conducting community-driven, research-based programs in every Maine county. UMaine Extension helps support, sustain and grow the food-based economy. It is the only entity in our state that touches every aspect of the Maine Food System, where policy, research, production, processing, commerce, nutrition, and food security and safety are integral and interrelated. UMaine Extension also conducts the most successful out-of-school youth educational program in Maine through 4-H.

Google Teach From Home

Google logoIn response to the rapidly changing educational landscape, Google has created a new resource for teachers Teach from Home. The new web resource is available in eleven languages and provides teachers with answers to many questions and links to make additional resources found on their Google in Education service. There is a complete section on accessibility that describes how to turn on and use access features in Chrome and on Chromebooks.

The Teach From Home resource is also available to download (in PDF) for teachers who have limited access to the internet.

Google has also created a complementary resources, Learn @ Home a guide for parents and guardians.  Google partnered with learning creators to bring parents and families meaningful resources and activities. These resources are not meant to replace homework assigned by teachers, but meant to complement that work.

Use this link to visit Teach From Home

 

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 –

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.

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.

Accessible Media and Services for Students

Blind person walking in mall with guide dogThe Described and Captioned Media Program (DCMP) is a leading national source for accessible educational content, providing services for students who are blind, visually impaired, deaf, hard of hearing, or deaf-blind. Families and school personnel with early learners through Grade 12 students can register for free access to over 6,000 Educational Media titles on-demand and on DVD. DCMP’s Learning Center contains a wealth of information related to education, accessibility, deafness, blindness, and other related topics. DCMP provides Media Accessibility Guidelines through our Captioning Key and Description Key, used by media professionals as well as amateurs around the world.

The Described and Captioned Media Program provides premium media designed for students with disabilities and leads as a resource for families and teachers, supported by the federal Department of Education.

A recent additions to their website, Is Your Student Ready for What Comes Next? provides a set of resources to assist students in the Transition process. Some of the resources include:

  • Map It: What Comes Next is a free, online, interactive training designed for transition-aged students who are deaf or hard of hearing.
  • The Getting a Job! online training was developed and designed for students who are deaf or hard of hearing and the professionals who work with them.  Focusing on the transition from school to work, the training offers a series of activities, supporting documents and topical videos designed to help the job seeker prepare for the world of work.  All the videos in the modules are presented in ASL, and are also voiced in English and captioned.

Additional videos and resources include:

  • Real Life 101: College Prep – With college just ahead of them, the hosts visit with some people who help students prepare for this milestone.
  • Real Life 101: Vocational Training – In this video a career planner discusses how to find the right career for the right person.
  • Paying Your Way Through College – This video helps viewers understand four-key financial aid sources: scholarships, grants, work-study, and student loans.
  • Biz Kid$ – Public television’s Emmy Award-winning financial education series of 65 videos for teens and preteens. Each video has a lesson guide, and the Biz Kid$ website has many additional ideas for learning activities.

Most of the resources on the website require a FREE DCMP membership which may be applied for on the site.

Partnership helps students with access

From the Franklin County, Daily Bulldog...Posted by Ben Hanstein

Robots connect UMF interns with K-12 students

Kevin Good and Hillary Goldthwait-Fowles with robotFARMINGTON – 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.

Read the entire article at the Daily Bulldog…

UMF AT Program on Facebook…

New Xbox Adaptive Controller – Try it out!

Owen and friend play with XboxIf you are a New England Patriots fan you watched a wonderful Super Bowl win a few weeks ago and, no doubt, enjoyed the many special Super Bowl ads which have become almost as popular as the game itself. So, you probably saw the special advertisement featuring a group of children extolling the virtues of the newly released Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller (if you missed the ad, we’ve provided a link below). As they say, the video “went viral” but not just because of the product, but the impact of the product on the lives of children with disabilities.

“What I like about the Adaptive Controller is that now everyone can play…”

About the new device

Microsoft Xbox Adaptive ControllerAs reported in the AT3 Center’s Blog, the Microsoft Xbox Adaptive Controller was released last September and is the first of its kind video game controller designed specifically for people with disabilities.

Ben Jacobs, Accommodations Specialist at GA Tools for Life, and a gamer since childhood, doesn’t mince words about the significance of this release, “For a first-party company to acknowledge there’s a demographic they were missing and create a controller is amazing. Also, I can’t think of how to make this controller any better than it is.” In a recent article in the AT3 Center’s Monthly Blog, Jacobs goes on to explain: “The Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) falls into the category of gorgeous AT. While its branding fits with other Xbox controllers, it is distinguished by two large responsive black buttons set in an elegant bone console. Jacobs stresses, however, that the central achievement of the XAC is how it works as a hub to allow for all kinds of customization.”

And, according to the touching video ad which shows a half dozen children using the Xbox Adaptive Controller, apparently it is a hit with kids. As one boy in the video says, “I love video games, my friends, my family and again video games…” The boy’s father, moved to tears, is later seen in the ad saying, “It’s his way if interacting with his friends when he can’t physically otherwise do it…”

For the AT techs and gamers, Jacobs notes the Controller houses 19 3.5 mm input jacks and two USB ports for switch accessibility to every function, a testament to Microsoft’s commitment to building a device that works within the existing AT ecosystem. He adds, “for gamers with motor disabilities, this is profound. The Xbox Adaptive Controller’s built-in buttons will work for some users (and the console is ready for mounting with three threaded holes), but the unit’s interoperability with third-party switches means individuals with an existing method of gaming on a PC can get quickly comfortable on the Xbox.”

“Whether it’s a head array or switches for use with a knee, however a gamer uses switches, they can use the Xbox controller,” Jacobs says.

Try Before You Buy

AT4Maine - Assistive Technology of All Maine PeopleWhile the Xbox Adaptive Controller is reasonably priced at around $100 it is always great when you can “try it before you buy it” just to make sure a product is right for you or your family member. Fortunately, Kevin Good, Special Education faculty at the University of Maine Farmington and coordinator of the Center for Assistive Technology’s Collection of Assistive Technology (AT) at UMF anticipated this need and added TWO of the Xbox Adaptive Controller to the university’s AT collection. Supported by Maine CITE, Maine’s Assistive Technology Act program, the Adaptive Controllers are part of a statewide collection of AT that is available to all citizens of Maine. Information about these devices, and over 1,200 other assistive technology devices that are available to borrow on a short-term loan, may be found at AT4Maine.org the online repository for the UMF collection, as well as three other AT equipment loan centers in Maine.

We’ve included the video of the Xbox Adaptive Controller ad below on the chance that you haven’t seen it. We’re sure you’ll enjoy it.

As Owen, the boy in the video says, “What I like about the Adaptive Controller is that now everyone can play…”

Special thanks to AT3 Center’s Eliza Anderson for the article See Xbox for All featuring the interview with Ben Jacobs.

Pre-Employment Transition Services

As posted in the Maine Parent Federation News

High School student working in laboratoryThe Maine Department of Labor’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (or “VR” as it‘s commonly referred to) provides services to transition-age youth with disabilities to help prepare them for employment. Every high school in Maine has an assigned VR Counselor.

With the passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), there’s an increased national focus on making sure that young people with disabilities and their families start career planning early. To support this, VR is partnering with schools and organizations across the state to expand opportunities for high school students to learn about the world of work through “Pre-Employment Transition Services”.

Here are some examples:

  • Job Tours/Job Shadows
  • Job Clubs
  • Mock Interviews
  • Self-Advocacy/Independent Living Skills
  • Group Career Preparation Activities

Additionally, VR has a number of career assessment tools and helpful labor market information that can assist students to learn about education requirements, projected openings, and wage information for their career fields of interest.

To learn more about Pre-Employment Transition Services available in your area please contact your high school or local VR office. A complete listing of offices is available on the VR’s website.

For more information call (207) 623-6799.

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Photo credit: Image licensed by Creative Commons by Speed of Creativity.