Tag Archives: Assistive Technology

School is in Session

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It’s been a great three weeks back in session at The Caroline School at Easter Seals for new and current students alike as well as teachers!

We have enjoyed getting back to our schedule and seeing old friends, like Mr. Bernie, the pet therapy dog, as well as meeting new friends and teachers. In Classroom One we welcomed Mrs. Tiana, Violet, and Paxton and in Classroom Two we added Clarke!

Our teachers were excited to use the new OATECA assessment and curriculum thanks to Anthony and Elizabeth DeLuca. This new curriculum measures goals and objectives that are created from the curriculum to foster each student’s learning experience.  tcs6

What better way to get to know each other than to ask questions and share experiences? Classroom Two did this by creating a collective Summer Adventures book. Students used communication devices, voices, and assistive technology to share pictures, text, and even color preferences.

All students at The Caroline School have access to utilize high tech assistive technology devices such as iPads and Apple TV’s to low tech devices like the Big Mac through Easter Seals BridgingApps, award winning smart technology lab and program. Teachers and staff implement assistive technology for communication, academic goals, and if necessary as a positive reinforcement on a daily basis and as appropriate for each child.

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We would love to add new friends to our book! To learn more visit CarolineSchool.org

Tabitha Hernandez, Caroline School Director, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Have You Ever Heard of “Ear Reading”?

Last August, I was excited to become the Program Coordinator for BridgingApps, one of the many programs of Easter Seals Greater Houston.  Before joining the BridgingApps team, I worked as a special education teacher in a variety of classrooms including resource, co-teach, inclusion, and adaptive behavior settings.  As a former special education teacher, helping students with disabilities and their families remains close to my heart.  Being a part of the BridgingApps team has allowed me to find and share creative ways of using technology to improve all students’ learning opportunities with my fellow educators. AmyLou_Podcast_mode

As school starts up again, I wanted to share a bit about a term you may have heard lately- “Ear Reading”.

What in the world is “ear reading”?  You have probably done it, but did not realize or know how helpful it can be for people of all abilities.  Remember reading aloud as a child?  Ever listen to an audiobook?  Educators used to be taught that all children have to learn to “eye read” and maybe even inadvertently given the impression that students who were unable to do so weren’t as smart as their peers. boy with book

Dyslexia specialists and interventionists, however, have known otherwise for years!

According to their website, the International Dyslexia Association defines ear reading as a process where “rather than the written words being taken in through the eyes and processed in the brain, the verbal words are heard through the ears and then processed in the brain.”

So, how can this help in the classroom and what does it have to do with technology?  I have seen first-hand the positive effects that read-alouds have on comprehension, predicting, and many other necessary reading skills.  Technology has allowed us to have the power to essentially provide an appropriate level read-aloud for every child in the class (or at least for the number of electronic devices- tablets, laptops, etc. available in the classroom).  It also allows those students who may not have been able to fully participate in a group discussion of a book due to their lower reading level to listen to that book and have meaningful discussions about it.

Listen to the Podcast here!

Hoopla Podcast Feature

Below are a few of the apps for ear reading that you can find in our app search tool at https://search.bridgingapps.org/dashboard:

Audiobooks.com (free app for iOs and Android, free trial period and then $14.95 per month- 1 book per month)
Kids A to Z – free to download, but requires a subscription to use
Audible – free to download, but requires a subscription to listen to books

Sign in using library card:
Hoopla
Overdrive
Libby, by Overdrive

Services that your students might be eligible dependent on their diagnosis:
BARD Mobile (eligible patrons of the NLS- National Library Service, can borrow audio and braille books to use along with a braille reader on an iPad)
Bookshare:  Web-based service that is free for US students with qualifying diagnoses and offered as a subscription for others.
Voice Dream Reader app can be used to access Bookshare service

The apps below allow users to take pictures of books, documents, etc. using their device and then have it read to them:
Avaz Reader – currently $29.99 to download the app
Speechify – free

Ear Reading

Amy Fuchs, Easter Seals Greater HoustonBridgingApps Program Coordinator

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The Debt We Owe Our Heros

Veterans are not a monolith. They possess a variety of talents and skills and needs after the epic storm that crashed and stalled over Houston in Aug of 2017.  Hurricane Harvey was a call to action and many Veterans responded valiantly putting themselves in harm’s way once again to assist their own families, their neighbors, and the community-at-large. 

They borrowed John-boats and utilized high clearance vehicles, expertly jimmying equipment for high water rescue. They guided the confused and grief-stricken with clear and simple instructions to pack a survival bag and abandon things that could not be transported to higher ground. They stood up distribution warehouses and procured supplies from a generous nation and efficiency and effectively pushed water bottles, diapers, and sanitation supplies to where they were needed most in this flooded city.

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 They rendered physical and psychological first aid with compassionate and comforting expertise. They applied training, insisted on teamwork, established chains of command and networked with over-saturated emergency response systems. They warned us of the various toxic exposures in water-born illnesses, insect carried diseases and predicted the rapid growth of mold between brick and sheetrock. When they faced obstacles, they engaged in creative problem solving to invent new ways to overcome.

Technology-assisted them including Easter Seals Greater Houston’s BridgingApps program. Facebook and Instagram, walked talkie apps, even Pinterest crowdsourced ideas and speed help around a city that knew we had to help ourselves, just as we knew we depended upon each other for our literal survival. Websites were born that matched people who needed help mucking and gutting with volunteers ready to get to work clearing a path to recovery. As mountains of debris piled on curbsides, rotting in the blazing sun, the next phase of the disaster began. Once the urgency subsided, and the adrenaline supply was exhausted, aspects of community-wide post-traumatic stress became evident. 

And our Veterans suffered from familiar foes of fatigue and survivor’s guilt, hypervigilance and insomnia, nightmares and relationship turmoil, numbness and self-neglect. They were triggered by the ever-present helicopter traffic that reminded them of the sounds of war. They were triggered by cramped sleeping quarters in large rooms filled with cots and chaos.  As the immediate aftermath of the disaster waxed, Veterans of the Storm named Harvey eventually went home to their own personal disasters, that were very real whether or not their own houses were damaged by the slowly receding muddy waters that had engulfed the city. 

We owe a debt of thanks to the heroes that walk among us in civilian dress. Veterans hide in plain sight but still carry the weight of duty and profound responsibility to serve and protect this nation.  We owe them more than simple gratitude.  

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ESGH was and is proud to be at the forefront with them through Harvey and our Harvey Recovery work thanks to our community, Save The Children, The Mayor’s Fund, Americares, Freddie Mac, Simmons Foundation and so many more. (https://www.eastersealshouston.org/Programs/harvey-heroes.html) AND we are proud to be able to continue offering our veterans programs and services to our current and retired military – through our #TexasVeteransandFamilyAlliance, our #mentalhealth program and so much more as well as continuing in our efforts for Harvey Housing recovery.

Amy Harkins, Easter Seals Greater Houston, Veterans Program and Harvey Recovery, Psychologist

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Technology Bears No Age

Audra Success Story | Older Adult & Stroke Survivor Using Mobile Technology

Ms. Audra Evert is an amazing artist, and her home is covered with her colorful abstract paintings. She suffered a stroke some years ago, and she needed help using a desktop windows computer and a flip phone for her technology needs. Her interests include internet searches, emails, saving and sharing photos, creating word documents, and excel spreadsheets. A nephew of hers recently asked for her knowledge about the family. She developed a goal to create a family tree.

 ESGH BridgingApps digital trainer, Jana Rodriguez helped Audra research a few options to create a family tree and offered the free website service FamilyEcho.com. Together Jana helped Ms. Evert create her family tree, as seen in her printed copy. A copy was also sent via PDF to her nephew. She hopes to expand the details with more research on other family members. At the beginning of this journey she dreaded the thought of how difficult this task would be. She was so pleased with the ease and design which she described as “perfect”!

Audra owns a flip phone and has been frustrated with not knowing how to take photos and then share them with others. Jana of ESGH BridgingAPPS  program has been working on basic phone skills with Audra, who has been practicing manipulating photos on her phone.  She is learning how to take photos, rotate and crop them, and send them to friends and family via email.  She has been thrilled with her progress!

By: The BridgingApps Team, Easter Seals Greater Houston

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Adult Program Gives Participant Sense of Pride

Meet one of Easter Seals Greater Houston’s awesome young adult clients. Every week she participates in our Life Enrichment for Adults with Disabilities (LEAD) Young Adult Day Program. During the LEAD Young Adult Day Program this non-verbal woman with autism, along with other participants blog2ages 18 to 30, partakes in activities focused on enriching life skills and social skills as well as fun recreational activities. During LEAD, we incorporate her communication device as much as possible; while the rest of the time, we speak to each other through eye contact and gestures. Her mom continually says that this is the only place where she feels comfortable enough to leave her daughter.

We love to see how being in the LEAD program has enriched our participants’blog1 lives. For example, this young woman loves to have things in their place, such as, crayons cannot have wrappers on them, water cannot sit in a cup for too long, and shoes come off as soon as it is allowed. One day during Easter Seals Greater Houston’s LEAD at Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church, we made hats (seen in picture) and instead of ripping off the decorations as soon as she got home, she put it on her head and paraded it around. We provided her the opportunity to create something (with a hot glue gun, I might add) that gave her a sense of pride and independence. This hat was made last year and I am told it sits on her dresser, with every ball, flower, and sequence still intact.

We are proud of all of the growth that our Adults experience by attending Easter Seals Greater Houston’s Life Enrichment for Adults with Disabilities Day Program. We have two Adult Day Program groups, ages 18-30 and another ages 30 and up. We also serve our clients through a variety of other services. Please reach out to Lindsey Holton at LHolton@eastersealshouston.org for more information on how you and your loved ones can get involved!

Easter Seals Greater Houston, Adult Programs

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Miraculous Megan: Longtime Client and Friend

Megan Fry is an amazing 17 year old girl. She has been part of the Easter Seals Greater Houston family for over 10 years. She has the mind and the personality of a typical developing teenage girl. She loves art and has her own website, Just My Eye, that meg-w-dvox-300x225showcases her creations. One of Megan’s many unique qualities is that she was born with cerebral palsy, with an end result of being nonverbal and using a wheelchair to maneuver around. You need to be careful because she drives her chair around very fast! She communicates and shows off her big personality by using a Tobii. The Tobii is a device that allows Megan to use her eyes to pick out her words which are then shared through the speaker.

Over the years, Megan has attended our summer camps, participated in Family Day Out, received In-Home Respite, and participated in our BridgingApps program. Her family has participated in our Lil’ Rustler Rodeo night with the Houston Livestocgroupk Show and Rodeo, used a Respitality weekend, participated in our Walk With Me at the Houston Zoo event and our Hats Off to Mother’s Luncheon. We were fortunate to have Megan as our summer intern this past year. She created and distributed our Easter Seals Montgomery County newsletter. Megan is currently participating in our Family Day Out program as a Junior Director. She is amazing with our clients and our families.

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Megan is a true success story and ambassador for Easter Seals Greater Houston. Megan and her mom even went on speaking engagements last year to represent Easter Seals during the United Way campaign. She has received services and continues to give back to our community. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for Megan because we know there is nothing she can’t accomplish!

Kristie Carlisle, Respite Program, Easter Seals Greater Houston

Check out Megan’s dad’s post about how assistive technology helped him connect with his daughter here!

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Cutting Edge Technology and The Power of a Parent

We at Easter Seals Greater Houston have countless stories of our clients with disabilities who are non-verbal and who were previously thought to not be at the same cognitive level of their peers, actually be cognitively higher than their peers but just needing the outlet of communication devices.  Many of our clients and their families live below the poverty level, simply due to care-giving issues and medical bills – placing expensive communication devices out of their reach. We are incredibly proud of our AT&T Assistive Technology Lab, which allows anyone in our community who has the need to try out assistive technology to be able to do so with assistance and guidance and with no charge,  and our BridgingApps.org program, which was conceived, implemented and expanded only because of a few incredible parents and their sheer will and determination.  We our especially proud of the parents who when faced with a stumbling block, figure out a way around it and share it with the world. This is one of the cases.  Thank you to all of you.   Family, friends, parents, teachers, counselors, schools and employers, etc – take a look at the training, curriculum, evaluation capabilities and therapist reviewed apps that have come out of the combination of parents and the cutting edge technology that is in the forefront of our world today.

Our son Nolan, has been non-verbal for the last 11 years. We have been working with him since the age of one on speechnolan utilizing a wide range of speech therapy, different therapists, and a wide assortment of assistive technology also known as Augmentive and Alternative Communication devices (AAC). Over the last five years we have incorporated a huge number of apps for iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad into Nolan’s speech communication tools.  We noticed that although Nolan could not speak, he began to communicate with us by showing us pictures on our smartphones. We wondered if we could design and create an app that could organize pictures in a simple, but intuitive way to facilitate what Nolan was trying to communicate. This is how urTalker Pro was developed. Many non-verbal, autistic and special needs individuals have the ability to learn and use assistive technology, but the price for specific devices can be prohibitive. urTalker was developed to be affordable .

We were invited to share information about our app at a BridgingApps monthly meeting and appreciated the opportunity to demonstrate how the app works and provide a copy for the AT&T Assistive Technology Lab at Easter Seals Greater Houston. Families and professionals are welcome to try out the app in the lab and give us feedback. We believe this is only the beginning, and we plan to develop additional apps, specifically one in Spanish and one targeted to those recovering from strokes.  urTalker Pro is a fully featured communication app providing affordable augmentative and alternative communication. This assistive technology app comes with fully customizable grid or “board” style views for categories and words allowing the user to grow with the app. You can start with simple 1 or 2 word communication views and move all the way up to 16 grid displays for advanced communication needs.

2013 urtalker3urTalker allow you to leverage the camera and audio on the iPad to add your own picture and sounds so individuals can fully personalize the app with their home, food, therapy or related items that help them communicate.  Our applications are designed to help individuals with communication disabilities have a voice. Our communication apps are designed to become a portable communication device that is fully customized to that individual. Whether it is a child or an adult our apps are designed for simple to complex communication and easy to configure. While every urTalker communication app comes with default categories and images, every app provides the ability to create any number or additional categories, load any type of image and most importantly record your voice for use with those images and words.

Ryan and Jody Farris
For more information please visit urTalker and BridgingApps

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