Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Website of the Day and Amazing Free Software - Don't miss this!

If you take now other advice I give on this blog let it be to check out and download the (free) software at Deafblind.org. This software is definately not just for Deafblind students, I can't think of any classroom for students with moderate to severe disabilities that would not have a use for it. The six pieces of software may save your school or agency thousands of dollars without really sacrificing quality.

I have only managed to play with five of the six of the programs since I discovered them three hours ago, but I am amazed. They are well done, versatile and easy to install and use.

First there is Sense Factory, a simple cause and effect program for one or two switches or the touchscreen. It rivals any simple cause and effect software out there, free or high priced. It also allows you to design your own switch programs akin to Switch It Maker, only about $125 (USD) cheaper. You can download a number of activities as well.

Then there is Everyday Skills, with is another simple cause and effect OR can be used as a quiz style program with switches or touchscreen. Students can watch and hear the sequences of ADLs or anything else you create and answer questions.

Next there is EdWord. This is the clincher. It is a talking word processor, along the lines of Write:Outloud or any other talking word processor, but with a much simpler interface. The uncluttered, clear design is fantastic. Plus you can set the level of options for each user. (The only thing I don't like is it will speak characters or words, but not sentences or paragraphs, but considering the price difference $99 (USD) versus nothing, I think it is worth it.) When you leave the EdWord program, but it is still open the software will act as Microsfot Narrator, reading all sorts of text boxes to you!

But here is where EdWord blows Write:Outloud and similar programs away, it can also be used as a symbol and text or symbol only processor, like Writing with Symbols or Clicker. You can type in text and have symbols appear overhead or you can create grid and make interactive writing activities. And did I mention that it is FREE!

One of the catches is that there are no included symbols. Not to fear that is where Symbol Maker comes in. With a few mouse clicks Symbol Maker transforms those symbol libraries, photograph collections, etc. into the symbols that are integrated into EdWord. Checkout any free symbol set if you don't already have a set of symbols you can convert. (For free symbol sets try: Sclera's Pictograms or Imagine Symbols.)

Be sure to download and make a quick read of the manuals for Symbol Maker and EdWord, because although simple, you do need to follow the directions to get it all working. Using Grid Maker is how you create the Clicker-esque interactive activities, I can't wait to try this feature out more.

Finally I have not tried EdWeb yet. It is a talking web browser which will not only speak web sites, but convert them into symbols.

This is the most amazing free web resource I have found to date for the special needs classroom. I can't even begin to say how impressed I am.

Kudos to Deafblind.org, UMIST and Sense!

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