Free Home Access for AT Software

Makers of assistive technology (AT) software are stepping up during the COVID-19 crisis.

Access Key on keyboard

Freedom Scientific and Don Johnston, Inc. are advertising free access to their software in response to the need for sheltering at home.

Freedom Scientific is offering those in the US and Canada a Free Home License of JAWS, ZoomText, or Fusion which will expire June 30, 2020.  “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.” Learn more at this Freedom Scientific webpage.

Don Johnston, Inc, makers of literacy software relied on by many students throughout the US and abroad, is reaching out to schools, districts, and practitioners (OT, SLP, PT, AT, Educator, etc.) to request free access for students. This is the maker of Co:Writer, Snap&Read, and more. Both current, as well as new customers, are encouraged to request access. Parents may also get in touch with their schools for this purpose. Learn more at this Don Johnston, Inc. webpage

Is there an AT tool you need access to for use at home to stay safe and productive during this stressful time? Contact your vendor and learn if they, too, are stepping up. After all, customer loyalty is built this way. Need help? Contact your local AT Regional Center for assistance.

Also of interest: many AAC (communication) apps are going on sale in April for Autism Acceptance Month. Here is a document with links and pricing (thanks Lauren Schwartz Enders!)

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Four Just-In-Time Tips for Sending Accessible Home Work

A sad boy leaning against a pile of papers.

Educators! You’re building the plane while flying it, we know. Here’s a starting place for keeping in mind your students with disabilities who use assistive technology to access the curriculum.

One. Did your printed worksheet start as a digital file?

Provide it as a digital file, too. Assistive technology can access digital files more readily, and often with built-in features of computers and mobile devices.

Two. Avoid making PDF files. Create a Google Site instead.

Google sites are vastly more accessible than most PDF files. They are also reasonably easy to create. Start here toward the goal of a curriculum that is Universally Designed for Learning.

Three. Test your Google Docs, Sheets and Slides with Grackle.

Grackle is Google’s accessibility checker. Run it and make corrections. Your students who use assistive technology will benefit. Here is the Grackle Chrome extension.
Here’s the complete Grackle Suite of tools (free).

Four. Don’t link to a site you can’t tab through.

Websites that cannot be navigated with the tab key, but only a mouse, are not going to work for most assistive technology. There are other barriers at websites, of course, but this is a starting place to know if your student who uses AT will have access. Test the site with your tab key. Can you see where you are as you tab along?

More resources:

These tips were gleaned from an online Town Hall hosted by Mike Marotta (Director of the NJ AT Program) on Monday with a distinguished panel of AT experts who are ready to help everyone from parents to educators. View the Town Hall COVID-19, School Closures and AT: What Do We Do?

Mike also shared a Google doc of crowd-sourced information, “Providing Access to Distance Curriculum”.

Thank you for all that you do for students!

Accessible Materials for All Learners, including tips for IEPs and eLearning Days from SETDA and AEM Center

Office of Civil Rights Short Webinar on Online Education and Website Accessibility (3/16/2020)

Addressing the Risk of COVID-19 in Schools While Protecting the Civil Rights of Students (3/16/2020)

Questions and Answers on Providing Services to Children with Disabilities During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (3/2020)

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AT and Coronavirus Preparedness

Steps, products, and resources to prevent infection, educate others and prepare for staying at home this COVID-19 season. Updated March 16, 2020.

Microscopic view of a virus

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

Wash Your Hands Often While Singing the ABCs

Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. Washing can protect you from infection and help protect others if you are a carrier of the virus. On the go, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if you have no access to soap and water. Here’s a Popular Science recipe for homemade hand sanitizer gel (many stores are running low, but some on these ingredients, too, unfortunately).

Go to CDC What you need to know about handwashing video (no audio).

Disinfect Your Assistive Technology (AT)!

According to a new study, the virus can survive on hard surfaces for up to 3 days (such as plastic and stainless steel) and up to 24 hours on cardboard. The CDC says, “Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.”

Door knobs, drawer pulls, light switches and counters, sure, but don’t forget your AT! Mobile devices, computer equipment, braille displays, white canes, mobility equipment, communication devices, anything you, and especially anything that others, touch should be frequently disinfected.

Some AT devices are not supposed to be cleaned with spray cleaners (consult the manufacturers’ recommendations).

Here is what Apple recommends:

“Using a 70 percent isopropyl alcohol wipe or Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, you may gently wipe the hard, nonporous surfaces of your Apple product, such as the display, keyboard, or other exterior surfaces. Don’t use bleach. Avoid getting moisture in any opening, and don’t submerge your Apple product in any cleaning agents. Don’t use on fabric or leather surfaces.”

Here is a CDC list of approved cleaners for use with COVID-19.
Here are the CDC’s Environmental and Cleaning Recommendations for Households Infected with COVID-19.
Here is advice on cleaning surfaces and devices from NPR

Don’t Buy Masks to Protect Yourself

They won’t protect you from coronavirus infection but can protect others from your sneezing and coughing if you are infected. Masks are also useful if you are not able to sneeze or cough away from others (such as into the crux of your arm).

Do Avoid Touching Your Mouth, Nose, and Eyes

In addition to hand washing and disinfecting surfaces, the CDC says to:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

To avoid touching your face, one suggestion frequently recommended is to use a scented lotion or even rubbing raw onion on your fingers to alert you when reaching toward your face.

Go to the CDCs COVID-19 Stop the Spread of Germs video (no audio).)

Stock Up to Stay Home

As of this writing, there are people instructed to stay at home for a variety of reasons (travel history, compromised immune systems, other precautions, illness).  Clearly, some preparations are in order. If you are a caretaker for a family member who lives on their own, prepare their household as well. Here is a downloadable infographic that explains the need to prepare in simple terms (thank you TechOWL, the Pennsylvania AT Program).

Prepare to Work from Home

Some employers may ask employees to work from home as cybercommuters. If your workplace does not already subscribe to one, consider a video conferencing service. There are a variety of ways to remain productive as a team, from Skype with screen sharing to Zoom subscriptions. There are free plans and services that don’t require downloading software (browser-based). Here is a comparison of six video conferencing options. Remember to keep in mind accessibility.

Combat Social Isolation

Therese Willkomm, Director of the ATinNH (the New Hampshire AT Program), notes this may become a critical issue this virus season, particularly for elderly family members. “This is where technology can be especially useful,” she notes. If you have a tech-phobic loved one who doesn’t have the internet, one solution is taking an old smartphone and using it to create an internet hotspot (if they’re not in a cell service dead zone).

“Take out that old backup phone, add a line to your cell plan, and plug the phone in under their bed or somewhere,” Dr. Willkomm recommends. “Now you can connect an Amazon Echo Show and drop in on your parents face to face!” 

She recommends Echo Show ($90 new on Amazon) because your loved one does not need to touch it or do anything to receive the video call. For face-to-face visits, both parties can use an Echo Show or you can drop in using the Alexa app on your smartphone or tablet. Regardless, both parties will need to download the Alex app to their smartphones. The Alex app allows users to select which of their contacts to permit to “drop-in.” Read How to Set Up and Use Drop-In on Amazon Echo Devices. Here is a product review of the Echo Show for use with seniors.

Another cheaper option is voice-only drop-in using an Echo Dot ($50). Again, this is a way to talk to a person without their having to touch or answer a device (like an intercom).  Learn more about free voice and video calls using Alexa devices from PC Magazine.

Further reading:

5 Things to Know About Coronavirus and People with Disabilities
CDC’s comprehensive COVID-19 preparedness web page.

Also related:

MassHealth is authorizing 90-day supplies of medication for Masshealth members (PDF)

Masshealth has issued guidance to both PCA agencies and independent PCAs on how to provide service during the new coronavirus outbreak

This post was first published at the AT3 Center News and Tips blog and is reposted with permission.

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MassMATCH Empowers Your Choices

MassMATCH thanks Easterseals MA and the Southeast Center for Independent Living (SCIL) for partnering with us to create the Empowering Choices initiative.

It’s hard to be in charge of your life when your finances feel out of your control. Getting to a place with choices and greater independence can be a long climb — one that’s particularly steep if you’re living on a limited income with a disability and the equipment you need is out of reach.

That’s why in 2018 the Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) — the umbrella agency to the MassMATCH program — applied to the federal Administration for Community Living (ACL) to fund “Empowering Choices.” The grant-funded project would expand opportunities for financial literacy training and provide an easier way to finance assistive technology.

Funded in 2019, the Empowering Choices initiative created two new resources that can help individuals with disabilities in Massachusetts achieve their goals and acquire tools needed for independence. They are:

1. Financial Literacy Training

How do I make a budget? How do I avoid scams and identity theft? Is this purchase a want or a need? What is credit, anyway?

These are among the popular topics included in Budget Your Bucks trainings offered by the Southeast Center for Independent Living. SCIL has been providing the 6-week Budget Your Bucks training series for a number of years and Empowering Choices made possible curriculum revisions for, and outreach to, the low-income and diverse communities of Fall River and New Bedford.

The impact has been measurable

52 individuals with disabilities from Fall River and New Bedford participated in Budget Your Bucks during the grant-funded period. 45% improved their financial literacy scores, and those with the lowest initial scores saw their scores improve an average of 23.5%. An impressive 87% completed the 6-week series (and earned a Walmart gift card and certificate of completion).

SCIL also provided financial literacy training to 130 youth through their Youth Transition Programs. The trainings were carried out at area high schools and at a workshop at the annual Youth Leadership Forum.

“And they were so proud when they finished!” reflects Heidi Collins, SCIL Program Director.

A large room of young people with disabilities face a man holding a microphone before a projected image of a quiz game. There is a table with SCIL materials.

SCIL presents at the Youth Leadership Forum

Since then, outreach conducted in the Fall River and New Bedford communities has continued to pay off. SCIL has been invited to provide Budget Your Bucks at a behavioral health center and a public housing development. The local domestic violence shelter is now also making regular referrals.

“We’re seeing participants learn from each other, not only the curriculum. One woman in shelter got into subsidized housing. They help each other. It’s powerful to see,” emphasizes Collins.

Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive: improved banking habits, better checking account balances, comparison shopping. Some report following a monthly budget and cutting out unnecessary spending such as eating out often.

“One woman used the spending tracker tool, stopped bringing takeout coffee and bought herself a coffee pot. Another saved for a vehicle so she could get a better job,” Collins says.

Another exciting result? Financial literacy training will soon be available statewide. The curriculum has been shared with all the Massachusetts Independent Living Centers (ILCs) and SCIL has provided training on its components.

“We’re delighted to see Empowering Choices take off in this way,” says Ann Shor, Director of Assistive Technology and Independent Living Programs at MRC. “Working together, we can make these resources available to so many more communities.”

2. Mini Loan Program

The second resource made possible by Empowering Choices is a new affordable way to purchase assistive technology: the zero-interest Mini Loan Program.

The Mini Loan is a new offering of the Alternative Finance Program that MassMATCH partner, Easterseals MA, has managed for years. What makes the Mini Loan Program different is a zero-interest rate, loan amounts ranging from just $100 to $2,000, and a very fast turn around from application to check in hand. Best of all? Persons with low credit scores or no credit history are encouraged to apply.

“We wanted to create an affordable way for people to buy the assistive technology they need as well as a way to improve their credit scores,” reflects Steven Crays, Coordinator of the Alternative Finance Program at Easterseals MA. “Instead of using a banking partner, Easterseals MA is the direct lender. This gives us more flexibility and speeds up the process considerably.”

A handful of loans have been made to date, so help us get the word out! Each has had a profoundly positive impact on the life of the applicant. They include:

A man seated in a wheelchair smiling in a parking lot with accessible parking icon painted on pavement.

Dan Moore with his new wheelchair

  • An elderly woman who’d felt trapped at home when her condition worsened, now gets out and about thanks to the financing of a $1,800 ramp.
  • A high school graduate with autism is financing the computer he needs for college and building credit for adulthood.
  • A woman whose husband had a stroke has financed a unique stairlift wheelchair so she can safely move him in an emergency.

And then there’s Dan who has multiple sclerosis as well as college and medical debt.

“I still can’t quite believe how easy it was to get help from Easterseals MA and their ‘Mini-Loan’ program for assistive technology [….] Before I knew it, I had a check in hand that would cover the lion’s share of my wheelchair expense. [The loan terms] meant the difference between me getting the technology I needed and being housebound.” — Dan Moore (read Dan’s story)

Do You Know Someone Who Could Use Empowering Choices?

One lesson learned from this project is the power of word-of-mouth from trusted neighbors. We can put out the message on social media and spread flyers with local organizations, but nothing is as effective as hearing directly from one another.

To better reach the communities of Fall River and New Bedford, the Empowering Choices initiative created Community Ambassadors. These were individuals trained on the offerings of the program who came from within these communities. Community Ambassadors attended events and community gatherings to “talk up” Budget Your Bucks and MassMATCH services. One of the Ambassadors had previously completed Budget Your Bucks herself, and while serving as a Community Ambassador saved up for a car, improving her capacity to get around the neighborhood. This is the sort of success that sells a program!

As a member of our MassMATCH community: who do you know who could benefit from a zero-interest loan to purchase technology? Who do you know who could use financial literacy education?

Contact:

The Alternative Finance Program at Easterseals MA to learn about financing AT.
Your local Independent Living Center and ask about financial literacy training.

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Protect that Home Button!

Do you have a student who likes to switch apps mid activity?
Do you need a way to prevent home button fatigue?

Well … there’s a sticker for that!

Close up of fingers holding an oblong disc with a hole in the middle, hovering next to an iPad home button.

BubCap Pro is a durable aluminum sticker with a small hole that protects the home button from overly eager fingers. The aluminum cover prevents home button depression, but a pen tip may be inserted to achieve this operation. The problem is common enough that the RJ Cooper picked up this invention for their website.

Cost is $12 for 2. Bulk options are available. According to RJ Cooper, each sticker may be removed and re-installed several times.

Problem solved!

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AT Mini Loan Program Success! Dan’s New Chair

The Assistive Technology (AT) Mini Loan Program is a MassMATCH financial loan program managed by Easterseals MA. Thank you, Dan Moore, for sharing your powerful story and helping to get the word out about this new way to finance assistive technology. 0% interest loans are available for up to $2,000 for the purchase of assistive technology. Individuals with no credit and poor credit are encouraged to apply.

A man seated in a wheelchair smiling in a parking lot with accessible parking icon painted on pavement.Nothing is easy when you have Multiple Sclerosis (MS). By the time you’re dressed and ready to get out the door, you’ve used up so much energy that you’re ready to turn around and collapse into your bed.

Equally difficult is the constant wrangling with healthcare providers, insurance companies, and agencies that are ostensibly there to help you, but too often burden you with red tape, endless waits, and exorbitant fees.

So I still can’t quite believe how easy it was to get help from Easterseals MA and their “Mini-Loan” program for assistive technology. When I realized that my only chance of reclaiming my mobility and independence was to spend thousands of dollars out-of-pocket for a power wheelchair, I felt crushed. There was no way I could afford it, and the idea of adding to my existing medical and student loan debt was utterly terrifying.

I found Easterseals MA during a desperate Google search session. I quickly got in touch with Steven Crays, the coordinator of their Alternative Finance Program. He was so understanding and responsive. He always got back to me immediately, and after discussing the options he thought the Mini-Loan program might be just what I needed.

How right he was! Steven put me in touch with another super competent and helpful team member there, Catherine Fradenburg, the manager of the Alternative Finance Program. Before I knew it, I had a check in hand that would cover the lion’s share of my wheelchair expense. The unbelievable terms of the loan—5 years at 0% APR—meant the difference between me getting the technology I needed and being housebound.

Thank you, Easterseals MA!

Learn more about this program and other ways to finance assistive technology at the Massachusetts Alternative Finance Program.

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New! The Tar Heel Shared Reader

Dinosaur Bones and photo of a dinosaur skeleton. Below are icons for communication and in the upper left the word Look and a symbol for the number of comments recorded.

A Tar Heel Shared Reader book screenshot

Here’s an exciting new resource to know about.

The Tar Heel Shared Reader is an evidence-based tool for reading with students who have significant cognitive disabilities. The Tar Heel Shared Reader brings together the celebrated, accessible, age-appropriate Tar Heel Reader library with new onscreen tools and supports to encourage interaction and comprehension.

Reading together with the strategies and tools encouraged by the Tar Heel Shared Reader helps develop the knowledge necessary for eventual reading success, for example:

  • Vocabulary
  • Concepts of print
  • Knowledge of the alphabet
  • Phonological awareness
  • Expressive communication

Find the Tar Heel Shared Reader at www.shared.tarheelreader.org. Each book includes onscreen customizable communication and commenting supports.

Learn how to use the Tar Heel Shared Reader. Visit www.sharedreader.org and find seven professional development training modules, implementation guides, and quick reference and how-to supports.

Check out the bibliography of research used to create the Tar Heel Shared Reader.

Thank you, Center for Literacy and Disability Studies of UNC — and Karen Erickson, Ph.D — for all you do for students with disabilities! The original Tar Heel Reader has grown over the last 12 years to include thousands of titles. Books may be speech-enabled, accessed by a variety of assistive technologies and include a range of subjects of interest to adults as well as children.

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New Video! AT Regional Center Public Service Announcement

Many thanks to Ally Donnelly of NBC 10 Boston for covering the Grand Re-opening of the AT Regional Center in Boston which is managed by Easterseals Massachusetts. NBC 10 created a wonderful public service announcement that has been airing to promote MassMATCH and Easterseals MA. The video is now captioned and available for sharing.

Check it out! You can also read about the re-opening of the center.

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Apps for Accessible Handouts and Worksheets

A child works on a worksheet with colored pencils.

Students with print disabilities often need to hear a handout or worksheet read aloud. Some students may also need a way to markup that worksheet using a keyboard or another digital means or tool.

Looking for a single app that can both read a worksheet aloud (on the fly) and allow a student to add or highlight text?

Two apps were recommended on the QIAT listserv (our favorite source for AT Tips for Education)

One: Snap and Read ($3.99/mo.)

Even a photo image of a handout can be read aloud with the OCR (optical character recognition) provided by Snap and Read. Text-to-speech includes synchronized text highlighting and words may be translated into other languages. Markup options include highlighting and adding text. Files may be saved to Google Drive, One Drive or downloaded. The app works with iOS devices and the Chrome browser for use with websites and Google Docs.

Two: Claro PDF Pro ($9.99 iOS only)

Claro PDF Pro also converts image files to readable text (OCR). Purchase of the app provides 5,000 page credits for the Claro Cloud conversion service (more credits may be purchased). Files may be converted from multiple apps such as Notes, Safari, Photos. The app’s text-to-speech uses a human-quality voice and four voices are available to choose from for reading in different languages. There is also a free non-Pro version to consider which may work for some classrooms (iOS only, the Android version does not include markup).

A third option to consider for making your worksheet accessible involves two apps: Voice Dream Scanner ($5.99 iOS only) for OCR and then the Apple’s Notes app for markup guided by Apple’s native screen reader. Likely the Notes app will soon provide OCR across iOS devices, and a separate scanning app won’t be necessary (Notes does this already with some Apple hardware). Currently, on most hardware, Notes will create a PDF, but as an image only. Read more about Notes.

To avoid the need to convert a hardcopy handout to an accessible digital file, consider Creating Accessible Digital Worksheets and Quizzes with Google Forms.

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8 Great Sources for Free E-Books

Illustration of three black children and the caption,

Screenshot from the Storyline Online production of To Be a Drum, by Evelyn Coleman. Illustrated by Aminah Robinson.

Do you have a student who needs access to e-books (perhaps to both hear and see text), but does not qualify for Learning Ally or Bookshare?

The question was raised on a popular listserv for educators and Assistive Technology (AT) Specialists. Below are 8 sources to know about. Enjoy! And thank you to the AT and Reading Specialists who generously share their knowledge and expertise through QIAT.

Farfaria

Get a free picture book every day with the FarFaria App (iOS or Android). FarFaria provides stories read aloud by professionals. Text highlighting is an option. Kindergarten to grade 3.  Also a subscription service.

TumbleBookLibrary

Ask if your school or public library subscribes to TumbleBook. If they do, you have access to hundreds of animated talking picture books, narrated chapter books and graphic novels, as well as videos from National Geographic. Books are streamed from a web browser or on the Tumblebook app.

Storyline Online

This is not exactly a source for e-books, yet an incredible free resource for high-quality narrated stories. Made possible by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation, Storyline Online provides captioned videos of famous actors reading aloud picture books accompanied by music and animated illustrations (yes, the original illustrations!)  Check out Betty White reading Harry the Dirty Dog or James Earl Jones reading To Be a Drum (and disclosing he didn’t read aloud until age 14 because of stuttering and dyslexia). Lots of inspiration for young readers and pre-readers, here. There’s a Vimeo player option for an ad-free experience too.

Rivet

Over 3,500 free leveled picture books are available via Google’s new free app for learning to read. Created by engineers interested in applying machine learning to literacy software, Rivet does more than offer text to speech with synchronized text highlighting. It will listen to students practice reading, coach on the pronunciation of words, and provide points and badges for encouragement, tracking progress. Significantly, the app also translates and defines words for more than 24 languages. Available for Android and iOS devices, Chromebooks, and even Kindle Fire.

Digital Book Index

This is a comprehensive source for free, downloadable and web-based e-books with support for iPad, Kindle and Nook. Over 165,000 full-text digital books from commercial and non-commercial publishers, universities and more. 85% of the content is free. Some files may be compatible with apps such as Voice Dream Reader for a text-to-speech experience. This is a source for classic and contemporary fiction and non-fiction for adults as well as children.

Bookshare

Bookshare is a comprehensive ebook subscription service (free to users with qualifying disabilities), but it allows anyone to read public domain books using their Bookshare web reader.

Tar Heel Reader

TarHeelReader.org is a place to find and write easy-to-read accessible books on a range of topics. All content is read from the Tar Heel Reader website and may be speech enabled and accessed with a range of assistive devices (including switches). Tar Heel Reader is celebrated as a book source for adult emerging readers who too frequently must learn to read with content made for children.

Open eBooks

Thousands of popular books are available free to qualifying communities through Open eBooks. Students do not have to prove a print disability. Teachers and librarians who work with low-income students, students from military families or students in special education can join Open eBooks and provide access codes. The Open eBooks app may be downloaded for use with iOS and Android devices and texts may be read aloud using their built-in text-to-speech features.

Happy reading!

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