by Regina Mayolo, C.A.P.S.
Several years ago, West Virginia AT System (WVATS) was part of a home assessment project funded by the USDA, a component of which was to provide assistive devices to help older adults age in place. The project uncovered Appalachian cultural barriers to seniors adopting home assessment recommendations. For example we often heard:
Not surprisingly, cultural issues also meant that project participants were reluctant to use higher-end devices and were more likely to use low-cost, low-tech devices. For instance, the $3 jar popper was almost universally preferred over the fancy electric jar opener. Indeed, it became clear that conventional thinking about what constitutes an assistive device needs to expand. After all, a simple toaster oven is sometimes more useable than a much more expensive oven unit; light switch extension handles, threshold ramps, and offset hinges can often eliminate the need for extensive (and unwelcome) home modifications; inexpensive press lights can make hallways or cabinets safer and easier to use. Put simply, low tech is often good tech.
One off-shoot to this awareness is a new approach to WVATS's marketing material to seniors. As a part of the home assessments project, WVATS developed a low-cost low-tech pamphlet keeping the proclivities of the audience in mind. The pamphlet is styled to look like a sales circular for a newspaper--a familiar form of supermarket advertising--rather than an academic education piece or bit of human services outreach.
This is one way that WVATS has worked to incorporate an understanding of cultural issues into its outreach--a sensitivity that enables the program to now make recommendations that are more likely to make a difference. Success is reflected in comments from participants and family members:
Regina Mayolo is a technical assistance specialist for the West Virginia Assistive Technology System. The WVATS Low-Cost Low-Tech Pamphlet is available for download at this WVATS Web page.
Workshops on adapted art and adapted music offer low-tech tools and ideas for immediate application for teaching the arts to students with disabilities
A couple of years ago South Carolina's Assistive Technology Program (SCATP) Director Carol Page (Ph.D, CCC-SLP, ATP) decided it was time to branch out from offering "Trash to AT Treasures" her standard low-tech AT fabrication workshop. She was interested in doing something different. For help, she began brainstorming with her staff; together they realized they had offered many workshops to meet standard curriculum activities for students with disabilities--AT for reading, writing, and math-- but what about art and music?
Page was inspired by the work of Theodore Mickens, an art teacher in Greenvill, SC who is well known for adapted art strategies. So in 2010 she brought Mickens to the SCATP resource center to provide a workshop. She noted, however, that his projects required large spaces and equipment not everyone might readily have (such as using a plastic toddler pool for remote control car painting [see an inspiring picture of this at Mickens's Web site]). With Mickens's permission she began thinking how to adapt some of his ideas on a smaller scale for the classroom and for home. In 2011, SC AT Program's Adapted Art Make-and-Take and Adapted Music Make-and-Take were born.
For music, Page collaborates with Erin Bellinder who has a BA in music and runs the Bridges program at the Therapy Place, a rehabilitation center that has her routinely teaching and implementing creative solutions with children under age 6. Page also works with local Kindermusik Director Ally Trotter. For both art and music workshops, SCATP's goal is for participants to come away armed with adapted tools and instruments that they can put to immediate use with specific individuals they know. Everyday materials, dollar store goods, as well as freeware are demonstrated and/or provided.
Last year 15 participants attended each workshop. They were parents, special educators, and art and music teachers, mostly people who routinely work with children with significant disabilities. Some had not been to the SCATP resource center before, and while they were there they also learned about the device loan program and other SCATP services. The workshops were held in the resource room with many AT products and SCATP customized adaptations on display.
While Page goes over numerous advantages to low-cost AT solutions (i.e. "the simplest solutions are usually the best"), at the outset of each workshop she also reminds attendees of two low-tech project considerations to keep in mind:
1) It must be worth your effort or time, and
2) What looks low-cost may end up expensive once needed supplies and equipment are purchases.
Consequently most of SCATP's make-and-takes are fast and constructed from materials found around the house. "But we do meet a lot of people who aren't afraid to adapt things for switch use (and there's a big need), so that's probably the highest tech thing we do all day" (check out SCATP's no-soldering-required switch recipe!) Page also demonstrates Tux Paint, an engaging freeware application, and shows how it may be accessed using Camera Mouse (also freeware) for children who need a hands-free way to create.
To get the work out, SCATP advertises the workshops using their web site, listserv, as well as the listservs of several school districts. The program provides all the materials needed for the projects and what participants create they take home with them. To offset program costs, SCATP charges $10 for the Adapted Art workshop. "We want people to feel like when they leave, 'I can do this! This isn't going to cost me a small fortune and these aren't materials I can't find!'"
For more adapted are and music ideas, AT Program News readers can email Carol Page for a copy of SCATP's Adapted Art and Adapted Music Power Points. Page is with the USC School of Medicine, Center for Disability Resources, Department of Pediatrics, University Center of Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. Contact her to learn how to create paintings with a light box, a hanging frame for one-handed music adaptation, and much much more!
A low-tech recipe from Assistive Technology in New Hampshire's Therese Willkomm, Ph.D.
Therese Willkomm--oft-referred to as the "MacGyver of AT"--has done it again. Proving that high-tech gizmos are often improved with low-tech solutions, she has created an adjustable, durable, portable, low-cost iPad stand that--unlike a lot of expensive commercial alternatives--works for individuals who experience various disabilities.
The stand weighs almost nothing, incorporates a non-skid bottom to prevent sliding around, and collapses flat to easily fit into a student's backpack or book bag. Step-by-step instructions are available at this AT in NH Web page PDF, and Dr. Willkomm demonstrates construction on You Tube (below).
Tools and Materials Needed:
Options for construction include the use of Velcro One-Wrap to attach the stand to your thigh;
also an Incase Magazine Jacket Cover to more firmly secure the device to the stand's adjustable support.
The stand is one of 50 ways to adapt the iPad that Dr. Willkomm lays out in one chapter of her upcoming book: Beyond Duct Tape and Velcro--Creating Assitive Technology Solutions in Minutes--Part II (due out this December). Dr. Willkomm's first book, Make a Difference Today--Assistive Technology Solutions in Minutes is currently available from RESNA and contains 618 pictures for creating hundreds of solutions using everyday tools and materials. Both books address the challenge of coming up with solutions quickly and affordably for person who experience physical, sensory or cognitive impairments.
Thanks to Dr. Willkomm for this great back-to-school contribution!
Strategies, ideas, and resources for easing a child into new routines
by Randi Sargent, parent and assistive technology (AT) advocate
For many of us who support students with special needs, back to school either comes too quickly or not quickly enough. After a summer of relaxed schedules and vacations, we need to prepare our kids for "back to school" and for our kids who rely on assistive technologies, this involves more than a trip to Target for markers and paper. Read on to learn about visual strategies and low-tech assistive technology tools you can use to help kids transition smoothly to a classroom and minimize back-to-school anxiety.
Create Visuals to Illustrate New School Routines
Visual supports, such as schedules and people locators, help kids with special needs get back into or learn a new school routine. These can be made in low-tech ways using magazine pictures, photos and picture symbols from Boardmaker or other free sources. To familiarize a child with a new environment, get or take pictures of the teacher, classroom, cafeteria, bathroom, gym, playground, and other key areas around school. Use these to introduce the new environment and later to make the daily classroom visual schedule. For purchase, there are even pre-made bracelets available with classroom routine symbols! Parents can make wearable/changeable schedules that shows daily after school activities and therapies.
To teach or remind a child of a new or task-specific routine, create picture-based mini-schedules. For example, consider their new morning routine and create a mini-schedule with symbols and pictures. What tasks does the child need to complete to get out the door in the morning? This might include toileting, dressing, eating breakfast, washing up, donning their coat /backpack, and taking the bus. Depending on the child's level of independence, you may need to break down the routine into large or small tasks. Time Timer is a classic visual-aid product used in classrooms to help students understand the passing of time. Store visuals in portable wallets and communication books so your student has their visual reminders or communication aids with them at all times.
Some students stress about where family members are during the day while they are at school. Use family photos to create "people locators" showing where Dad or Mom will be during the day or who will be home with them after school. They can refer to this visual for re-assurance and hopefully avoid asking the same questions over and over.
Communicating Personal and Social Information
Any child facing a new teacher and peers needs to introduce them self. For children with special needs who have impaired communication, low-tech AT can help make a successful introduction. A Talking Photo Album is a great tool for using pictures, text, and voice to create an "About Me" book to show classmates their interests, abilities, and assistive technologies they use. It can be especially helpful as an introduction for a new teacher. For ideas on what to include in a teacher information packet, see the article on preparing the school for your child at the About.com link below and adapt these for a visual version. Students love to show pictures of their vacations and favorite things making a Talking Photo Album a great way to socialize with peers.
Read Social Stories Together
Stories about going to school offer important lessons for all children. Popular characters such as Arthur, Franklin, and the Berenstain Bears all have their concerns and questions about new teachers and making friends. See the link below for a recommended list of social stories you can share with your child in a comfortable, non-stressful way. Kids may want to read these over and over.
Make Back to School Fun
Plan a special trip to get your child with special needs involved in purchasing their school supplies. Use symbols or pictures to make a visual back to school shopping list. See the links below for free printables of back-to-school coloring activities and games.
With some planning and preparation on the part of parents and teachers, visual strategies and low-tech assistive technology can help students of all ages get back into the school routine and start the new school year with confidence.
Learn more from these resources:
Randi Sargent is a parent of a teen with multiple disabilities who uses AT throughout his day for communication, mobility, and learning. She serves on the Board of Directors for the Federation for Children with Special Needs, Boston, and is a member of the AT Advisory Council for the Massachusetts's AT Act program (MassMATCH). Sargent is the founder/owner of Say It With Symbols.
Here's a high-tech way to make a low-tech tool! Create communication boards using boardmaker symbols for free at this site. Template layouts for 1 to 16 images are provided, along with instructions for getting started and tips for different uses (including a link to a recorded workshop on visual communication). Thanks to Carrie L. Leonhart, M.S., CCC-SLP of PIAT (Pennsylvania's AT Act program) for sending this in!
Search low-tech AT andadaptations for use with infants and toddlers! Tots N' Tech is an inter-university collaboration between Thomas Jefferson University (TJU), Temple University (home to PIAT), and Arizona State.
includes detailed plans for this uniquely accessible garden box along with dozens of other low-tech, low-cost projects useful for persons with quadraplegia (daily living, mobility, recreation, in particular). Rich Fabend is a retired special educator with quadreplegia who created the site to share his ingenuity (and story).
provides pages of low-tech products for the classroom.
"homebuilt assistive devices" are shared by site founders Scott and Tom Jeary. Projects range from recreational equipment to toileting and may be browsed by environment: outdoor/sports/games, playroom, school, kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom.
A monthly low-tech AT newsletter for seniors put out by the Independent Living Partnership in California. Styled like a newspaper advertizing flyer of inexpensive helpful products. (Thanks to Scott Weissman of ND's IPAT for sending this in!)
This mother of AT databases includes Do It Yourself projects with descriptions and contact info for their designers/inventors. DIYs are integrated into any keyword search at the site (so if you look up Camera Mount for Wheelchair you'll see DIY as well as comercial products) They may also be browsed (all 43 pages at the link above).
18 projects are detailed with photos and instructions ranging from battery interrupters and soldering instructions to a pediatric bucket seat.
9. 50 Fun Ideas for Simple Switch or Low-Tech Activities [for
A Word doc download by Molly Shannon, OTR/L, ATP. Thanks to the North Carolina AT Program.
10. Utah AT Program's Pinterest page
Storee Powell writes that the Utah program is finding, categorizing, sharing, and disseminating low-tech ideas online via Pinterest. Their main audience is special educators. "Pinterest allows professionals and families to share their low-tech ideas with us also- and it helps us help others better. And it is FREE!"
A PDF from the Louisiana Dept. of Education AT Initiative.
Motor/Writing/Reading supports... ideas and products.
Students with autism, in particular, benefit when instructions are presented visually, but all students with difficulties following multi-step directions can benefit from table tents. Younger students can benefit from pictures/picture symbols to indicate each step, while students who are able to read can often use a simple list of written directions to know what to do.
Table tents reinforce reading skills: sight word vocabulary and art vocabulary. They also help a teacher to be extremely clear, concise, and explicit in his or her directions to the whole group. For many students, an explanation with fewer words yields greater understanding.
From the National Rehabilitation Information Center:
April 16, 2010
Did you know that ABLEDATA maintains a database of noncommercial and do-it-yourself assistive technology solutions? It’s absolutely true! In addition to more than 36,000 commercial AT products, ABLEDATA lists protoypes, DIY solutions, and custom adaptations to existing technology. Search for yourself!Our information specialists contribute items for this database. We’re always on the lookout. Do you have a prototype, adaptation, or DIY project to add? Maybe you made your own umbrella holder for your wheelchair. Or created a custom seating or sleeping solution for your child with a disability. Maybe you’re a designer with a great product idea or a student with a design project. If you’re the kind of person who thinks “I wish I had an X that does Y” and then builds it yourself, we need to talk!!