Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Software Helps People With Disabilities

Fox 9 News Reporter, Dawn Stevens, interviews Simon Technology Center Director Bridget Gilormini for a piece on assistive technology. Below is a list with links of the software programs and tools mentioned in the report:

Stretch Break: A software program that prompts users to take a break. Stretch Break is an easy-to-use program that will help computer users feel refreshed and avoid repetitive motion injuries. The many customizable options allow each user to create a stretching regime that is right for them.

In a search to locate similar programs we found five similar Mac computer programs: StretchWare, MacBreak, MacBreakZ!, Simon Says and Health-F1.

MacSpeech Dictate: Speech to Text Software program for the Mac that translate your spoken words into text. Can also use spoken commands to control various functions on the computer.

TANGO: Dynamic Display communication device for users who need a voice. The device features a built in camera, is programmable and has a very high quality voice.

Time Timer: A visual timer available as a clock like device, a watch and a computer software program.

Live Scribe Pen: A pen that records both your writing and sound and syncs the two together. When you tap on your notes the pen pulls up what was being said at that time. Compatible with both Mac and PC.

Big Keys Keyboard: Big Keys Keyboard available in a variety of configurations (ABC, QWERTY, etc.) and color combinations. Also available with keyguards to help isolate keys.

Sci Cal 3000
: Large display scientific calculator with speech output. Contact developer for availability in other languages.

ClassMate Reader
: portable text reading device that reads a variety of text formats with features such as text highlighting, auditory dictionary, and support for DAISY file format (allows easy navigation through the text)

Neo: Portable word processing device with features such as spell check, word prediction and auditory feedback of selected text.

Logan ProxTalker
: A mid tech communication device that bridges communication from use of a PECS like system to a dynamic display device. Messages come pre loaded on small squares with accompanying picture. It is easy to learn, use and program.

For more information on these devices/software and more contact the Simon Technology Center at or 952-838-9000.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Universally Designed Toys Offer Fun and Access for All

by Tenley McDonald

When you think of toys, your first thoughts might be of dolls or blocks or little red trucks. If your child has a disability, however, you might want to first think of universal design. It’s a term that refers to products and environments that are created to be used by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation. A puzzle with large knobs, for example, could be enjoyed by a typically developing 2-year-old as well as by a toddler who has difficulty grasping small objects. Strategically and universally designed toys can engage children of all learning styles and abilities. They also can promote learning, inclusion, and social skills.

How can you find a universally designed toy for your child? Here are some questions to ask.

• Is the toy appealing? Does it have texture or bright colors? Does it respond with lights, sounds, or

movement? Texture, bright colors, sounds, and lights add multi-sensory appeal to the toy.

• How is the toy activated? How much force is required to set it in motion? The toy should be easy to

use and require little strength.

• Where will the toy be used? Can it be used in different locations and positions, such as on a

wheelchair tray or on the bed when your child is lying down? If a child has limited mobility, the toy

should offer such flexibility.

• Is the toy adjustable? Can the volume level, height, speed, or level of difficulty be changed? Toys

with adjustable features may appeal to your child longer.

• Is the toy safe and durable? Will it easily break or become damaged? Can it be washed and cleaned?

A toy that is easily damaged or has small parts is not suitable for a young child.

• Does the toy promote development? Does the child participate actively when using the toy? Toys that

encourage imagination, stimulate interaction, and promote social play support a child’s development.

PACER’s Simon Technology Center (STC) has several publications that can help families learn more about universally designed toys. STC staff also recommend the following Web sites for more information about toys for children with disabilities.

• The Let’s Play Project ( provides information about finding and selecting toys for

children with disabilities, adapting toys to make them easier to use, and identifying other resources to

promote play.

• The National Lekotek Center ( offers special play and learning centers where children

with disabilities can have fun with traditional toys, adapted toys, books, and computers. Its Web site

provides many resources on how to select appropriate toys for your child as well where to find a

Lekotek Center near you.

All children learn by doing and playing. By choosing universally designed toys, you are giving your child the opportunity for communication, self-expression, learning, inclusion, and success.

For more information on universally designed toys, please call PACER Center at 952-838-9000 and ask for Tenley in the Simon Technology Center.

Career Possibilities: Discover, Explore, Dream!

The "Career Possibilities: Discover, Explore, Dream!" Webinar is the first in a series of three Webinars created to help teens explore career options and learn about assistive technology that can help them succeed at school, work, and the community. This Webinar introduces teens to several online career resources that can help them identify career interest areas. Students will also learn about resources specific to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) career paths. The Webinar includes video and audio interviews with several young adults working in STEM related fields.

Early Childhood Corner: A is for Apple

The January CELL practice guide discusses how parents can help their preschooler learn to read by becoming familiar with letter sounds. Linking letter sounds with pictures is a great way to introduce your young child to the alphabet. While looking at picture books with your preschooler , have her name the pictures. Repeat the name of the picture while stressing the word’s first letter sound. Have your child repeat the first letter with you. Alphabet books that show each alphabet letter by itself will help your child learn to identify written letters. Access more information about this practice guide “A is for Apple.”

Did You Know? iTunes U

Do you or anyone in your home own an iPhone or an iPod? If you do, then you probably have iTunes on your computer. iTunes is a free software program designed by Apple, and available for free on Mac and PC computers with or without an iPod, that has several different functions.

1. It allows you to move music CD's onto your computer to listen to or put on your iPod/iPhone.

2. It has an online store that allows you to purchase songs, TV shows, movies and IPod applications.

3. It allows you to explore and subscribe to free podcasts of radio shows (NPR), news segments (BBC, CNN, FOX), and much more.

But did you know that iTunes has a special section just for continued learning? That section is called iTunes U. In 2007 Apple launched an entire section of the iTunes store dedicated solely to free content from top universities. The posted content included campus tours, language courses, and audio/video recordings of entire class courses. As of today, iTunes U has grown from 5 to over 175 participating higher education organizations and has reached over 100 million downloads. Organizations include MIT, Harvard University, Oxford, Stanford University and many more.

Tapping into the wealth of free learning on iTunes U is fairly simple. First, you must have iTunes on your computer and you need to be connected to the internet. If you don't already have it, you can download it for free at for both PC and Mac. To find iTunes U just visit the iTunes store. To visit the iTunes store, click on the link in the choices on the left side of iTunes. (It looks like a green shopping bag.) When in the store, you will see a black bar across the top of the page with different options; one of them should be iTunes U. Can't find it? Don't worry! You can also scroll down to the very bottom of the iTunes store and you will find a link for it there, too.

Once you have arrived at the iTunes U page, you can explore the newest and most popular content. You can also browse by content provider or use the store search in the top right corner of iTunes to look for something specific. When you find something you are interested in, just click on it and you will be taken to a page that describes the content and allows you to either download a single audio file/video or "subscribe" to get them all.