Sunday, January 30, 2011

Accessible YouTube

YouTube has been a great way to connect ideas, people, and innovation. However, in the past it was not accessible to those with hearing and other disabilities, as well as those who speak a language different than the YouTube author, etc.

Now, YouTube has introduced a captioning service. While I've found that that automatic components are often not available for videos, a person can upload text so that the video has almost immediate accessibility.

If you need assistance in obtaining accessibility and/or inclusion services,
please contact Dr. Jeanne Beckman at

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Taking ownership of disabilities in learning?

Frequently, I have heard school personnel state that students should “take ownership” of their reading or writing disability and “do it the regular way.” However, the law states that students should receive accommodations to allow them equal access to their regular curriculum. Thus, books on computers that read the words aloud, dictation software so that students can write by dictation, and human note-takers in class are all examples of accommodations.

Remediation is specialized tutoring to improve the skills of the person with disabilities. Multi-sensory reading tutoring, manuscript or cursive instruction, and instructions on how to organize your written work are examples of remediation.

Accommodation, without remediation, will destine these students to a truly handicapped life. However, if a student cannot walk to class, we don't say they cannot attend a regular class until they can walk independently, nor do we tell them they should take ownership of their disability and walk like their peers because they'll need to later in life. We provide a wheelchair as an accommodation to get to class, and provide adequate and appropriate remediation of physical and occupational therapy so that they can become increasingly independent. They may never be efficient enough to walk everywhere, but to be able to walk a few steps toward a library shelf would be a reasonable goal. The same holds true for those with invisible disabilities. Because it would impede their ability to access, learn, and demonstrate acquired knowledge of the regular curriculum, we cannot require them to use an inefficient method to access the full curriculum because of a value system that says they "should," rather we need to provide them fully accommodated access to the full, regular curriculum while providing enough research-validated remediation that they will make reasonable progress at acquiring the skills for independent reading/spelling etc. "the regular way." A benefit of using Dragon is that they will be able to use this tool throughout their lives, as non-disabled individuals use Dragon in the business world, while using a method such as Co-Writer is so slow and tedious that many students find it frustrating because it hampers the speed and quality of productive output of many of the students with learning and other hidden disabilities.

Do you need help in getting reasonable accommodations and remediation?
Dr. Jeanne Beckman is available to assist you in determining what you need to learn and thrive. Please call her at 847-446-1251
or email her at

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Consider Low Tech First?

I have heard many technology professionals state that we should "always consider low tech first."

Actually, I strongly disagree. It is my belief that, instead of always starting at the low-tech end of the technology continuum, we should ask what tools would give our students the closest approximation to the age peer’s access to the learning process, including speed of acquisition of knowledge, closest approximation to the output speed, quality of output, and independence of the student’s non-disabled peers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Students using "talking machines" win writing contest

There are many who believe that those individuals cannot speak the conventional way are so disabled they cannot effectively participate in "regular" society. However, there are two Canadian brothers who have so effectively challenged that stereotype that they have both won prestigious writing awards. In an article found in the Abbortsford Mission times, there was an article about these brothers and the technology that assists them in sharing their voices.

Abbotsford has two young, talented writers in its midst, but unlike many wordsmiths who can bounce ideas off others, Lyndon and Tyrone Brown depend entirely on their own creativity.

The two boys have severe dyspraxia, which prevents them from being able to talk.

To combat their frustrations and express their thoughts, the Browns have taken to writing.

Last week, they both found out they had won the prestigious 2009 Commonwealth Essay Competition, which allows youths from Commonwealth nations around the world to show their writing talents.

"It's the one time they are focused," said Melody of the boys' dedication to writing.

She added, it was difficult for Tyrone, 14, and Lyndon, 12, to believe they had won a prize (100 pounds of sterling, which is around $200).

"They just couldn't believe it ... they are used to being written off," she said.


These students use Lightwriters, a tool which speaks the words that these brothers type. There are many other technology tools to assist individuals of all ages and abilities to become active participants in their communities.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

GhostReader text to speech for Mac

For those who need the computer to read aloud to them, there has been the assumption that a PC, rather than Mac, was required. Here's a press release from AssistiveWare regarding GhostReader, which reads text and PDFs aloud on the Mac platform.

GhostReader 1.6 delivers new voices and Safari 4 compatibility

GhostReader box

Amsterdam - 16 April 2009 - ConvenienceWare™ / AssistiveWare® today announced the release of GhostReader™ 1.6, which delivers new voices for Arabic, Greek, Russian, Italian, Turkish, British English, and Norwegian. It also provides Safari 4 compatibility and adds new large educational discounts. GhostReader is a powerful, yet easy to use multilingual text-to-speech solution for Mac OS X that reads aloud PDF, Word and other documents as well as selected text in any application. It can also convert any text to audio files, MP3s, or bookmarkable audiobooks for playback on iPhone and iPod. Sit back and relax while GhostReader reads for you!

GhostReader 1.6 includes the following enhances:

  • New voice languages: Arabic, Greek, Russian.
  • New high quality voices for existing languages: Italian male voice, Turkish female voice, British female voice, Norwegian male voice.
  • Compatibility with Safari 4.
  • New localization: Italian (provided by our partner Active Software).

GhostReader can be used by anyone who prefers to listen to text rather then [sic] read it. Many professionals, writers, educators and students use it on a daily basis to save time, to proof read their own writing or to learn the pronunciation of foreign languages or to improve their reading and listening comprehension.

For more information, please go to

Being able to learn by reading, regardless of whether by traditional books and eyes, by listening, or by other means, is a right to which everyone is entitled.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is discouragement inherited?

The other day, I heard a father of a college freshman with significant learning disabilities speak about how his son needed to "try harder," "get more organized," "pay attention," "buckle down," and perhaps be allowed to fail. He also said that maybe University X is not the right school for his son. The implication is that this student is not trying hard enough, is perhaps partying too hard, and just being a typical adolescent who is abusing his new-found freedoms. Is there truth to what he says?

Whenever I hear these kinds of comments about students with learning disabilities or attention deficit disorders, I try to see whether these comments would fit if a different disability were substituted. So...if you had a student who was blind, would you say he or she needed to "try harder" to read regular text in books? If you had a student in a wheelchair, would you say he or she needed to "try harder" to go up a flight of stairs? No, you wouldn't. You would provide appropriate accommodations, such as Braille texts or an elevator to get to another floor. So why is it so different for those with learning disabilities? And why would a father be parroting the very phrases that the child was subjected to in grade school and high school?

The answer to the first question, I have come to believe, is three-fold. First, it is difficult to "see" a learning disability or attention deficit disorder because it is internal, it is due to the manner in which the different parts of the brain communicate. It is obvious if a person is blind that he or she cannot use traditional text, yet there have been those who have discriminated against those with vision impairments. There have also been cases where those in wheelchairs have been forced to literally drag themselves up stairs in order to reach a government court or other public place. Secondly, there is variability in performance among those with learning disabilities, even within an individual. This variability can depend on the specific demands of the particular task, the competing demands on the person at the time, fatigue, and other factors. Thirdly, while most public officials and school administrators have learned that it is not politically correct to demean those who are blind or have other visible disabilities, it still seems that there are many who believe it is acceptable to demean those with learning and attention disabilities. We know from research that overt, or even subtle biases about an individual or group of students will diminish their performance to match those low expectations.

So, why would a father make pejorative comments about his son? And, can discouragement be "inherited?" I have come to believe that the reason you hear these kinds of put-downs coming out of the mouths of parents one would expect to be defending and advocating for the child is that many of these parents have similar disabilities themselves, and have incorporated these biases into their own self-concepts after years of being put-down by others for their own weaknesses.

So how can we facilitate a change to this system where students with disabilities not only face undue barriers to full access to an inclusive education, but also face continual verbal put-downs for failing to perform to their potential because they did not have appropriate accommodations? How can we facilitate a fundamental shift back to a time where families and communities were the center of learning, producing hard-working, community-minded citizens, employers and employees? How does science and technology fit into this picture and when is the old-fashioned "human touch" the only appropriate method?

Come back for part two of "is discouragement inherited?"

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Walk on

One of my fellow techies shared this video with me about DJ Gregory, a young man with cerebral palsy who set a goal of walking every hole of a full year of the PGA tour. His ability to persevere and achieve his goal despite his limitations should help us all to keep focused on where we want to go. He also has a blog of his year:

Enjoy this ESPN video: