Monday, November 29, 2010

iDevices and Switch Control

Hardware Based Options
There are three hardware-based options of which I’m aware for accessing the music playing functions an an iPod, iPhone, or iPad, as well as customisable software programs. These won’t help you to use the programs on an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad - just to play the music, audiobooks and podcasts you’ve already put onto the device.
Each option has different features, and of course different things work for different people so I’ll let you know as many features as I have knowledge of, and we can go from there:

SpaceKraft’s iPod Switcher

This is the simplest controller, with only three buttons. It has a desktop docking unit where the iPod sits plus a wireless controller unit with the three buttons.
The iPod Switcher with a traditional type iPod
The iPod Switcher with a traditional type iPod
Functions it controls: Play/Pause, Next Track, Previous Track.
Switch access: This unit does not allow your own switches to be plugged in, only the unit’s own built-in buttons can be used.
Compatibility: The sales page just says “iPod”. There’s no clear indication of which iPods it will operate with - it looks like the dock part would only fit specific sizes of iPods.
Wireless controller size: 24cm wide, 19cm deep, 7cm tall.
Button size: Unspecified.
Cost: £295 (No USA vendor has been found)
Notes: The switcher control box is battery powered. The page says “Operates on 240v” which implies the dock section needs to be plugged in to operate, however.

RJ Cooper’s BIG iPod Remote

RJ's BIG iPod Remote being used by an elderly womanFive-button remote with large brightly coloured buttons on the top, separate switches can also be plugged in.
RJ's BIG iPod Remote being used by an elderly woman
Functions it controls: Play/Pause, Next Track, Previous Track, Volume up, Volume down.
Switch access: The unit’s own built-in buttons can be used or any/all of these buttons can be replaced by separate switches.
Compatibility: It should fit any iPod/iPhone/iPad except the iPod Shuffle.
Wireless controller size: 8″ wide x 5″ deep x 3″ tall.
Button size: The large green button is 1-3/4″ and the smaller buttons are 1-1/4″.
Cost: US$119 via RJ Cooper

Technical Solutions’ iScanMP3 (formerly SwitchPod)

Single switch visual/auditory scanning system, including adjustable scan speed.
The iScan MP3 plugged into a traditional style iPod
The iScan MP3 plugged into a traditional style iPod
Functions it controls: Play/Pause, Next Track, Previous Track, Volume up, Volume down, Power on/off.
Switch access: Plug in any standard switch.
Compatibility: It should fit any iPod/iPhone/iPad except the iPod Shuffle.
Cost: AU$190 via Technical Solutions; US$289.95 via Enabling Devices

RJ Cooper iPad Switch and Switch Interface
This bluetooth switch is designed to be used in conjunction with app designed for switch use.  Currently that includes the Conley Solutions's Tap Speak Choices AAC app.  There is information out there that most AAC apps will be adding switch support.
Functions it controls:  any which are supported in the app, will not run the iPod/iPad
Compatibility: It should work with any iPod or iPad as long as supporting apps are used
Cost: US$99 for the Switch Interface and US$149 for iPad Cordless Super-Switch

Other Options

There are some ‘easy music controller’ programs for the iPod Touch, iPhone and iPad which present an interface that’s easier to operate for those with limited dexterity. They generally operate by gestures, where a single tap gesture anywhere on the screen will operate either the ‘pause/play’ function or the ‘next song’ function. Some are configurable so that you can define what gestures mean what.
These are some cheap options I recommend:
Gesture Player
This is the one I use myself to listen to my audio books. Specially cool things about it:
  • Compatible with both iPad and iPhone/iPod Touch. Most seem to be iPhone/iPod Touch only.
  • Clearly displays the function you have activated, so you know what’s happening.
  • You can pick a default playlist to use. Most seem to only have the option to use the full library.
  • Can adjust the sensitivity of the gesture recogniser, more sensitive requires the gestures to be more accurate before they’re recognised.
About the only thing that isn’t perfect about this one is there’s no ability to configure which gesture does what!
Swiper Music Player
Swiper has slightly different controls, so a single tap to the screen moves to the next track and a long tap (press-and-hold) is needed to operate the play/pause function. It also displays the music’s cover art so you can see pictorially what’s playing. Swiper is for the iPhone/iPod Touch only, there’s no iPad native version.
LeechTunes allows some controls to be customised, but basic controls seem fixed, including a single tap operating the play/pause function. There are a bunch of different “skins” to change the appearance and a software function to lock the program in either portrait or landscape mode. It also has iPhone/iPod Touch and iPad versions.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Learning through the Olfactory Sense

Many of our learners who have multiple disabilities we are often somewhat limited in what sensory pathways we can use to teach new skills or build cognition.  Our students may be deaf, blind, have reduced tactile sensation, be unable to eat or even taste foods by mouth or be unable to participate in most vestibular and proprioceptive activities because of medical conditions like orthostatic hypotension or brittle bones.  These means that the sense of smell may be the most powerful means of accessing our students skills.

Most of us are sure to include the sense of smell in our cooking lessons, passing around the vanilla extract or onion for every one to sniff.  Yet how can we include the sense of smell in other areas of the curriculum.

1.  Consistently call attention to the scent of items in natural settings, if possible pairing the scent with another sense such as touch or hearing.  Have your student notice the smell of the crayon while feeling its shape and making the movements for coloring hand over hand.  Notice the odor of the playground ball as you roll it and bounce it.  Observe the smell or the toothpaste and hand soap while doing activities of daily living.

2.  If at all possible consider embedding scent into a visual schedule/calendar box system.  A few drops of an essential oil like evergreen or gardenia can be added to the "outside" symbol, a minty toothpasty kind of smell added to the ADLs symbol or a lemony smell for vocational tasks that involve using citrus scented cleaners.  (You can add scents to symbols by placing a free drops of oil on a cotton ball in a small container or plastic zip bag attached to the back or the symbol.)

3.  Ask people to try to stick to the same perfume, aftershave, scented lotion or or even deodorant so students can associate a person with a scent.

4.  Attempt to embed scents into theme units.  Learning about India?  Introduce each lesson with the smell of curry.  Learning about gardening?  Introduce each lesson with the smell damp soil (put some in a baby food jar).  Think about this when you plan out your unit.

5. Using a systematic program (such as Every Move Counts) do a preference assessment on your student's favorite scents.  You can then use this scent to reinforce learning activities.  For example teaching switch use using a scent diffuser and an environmental controller.

6.  Add an aroma diffuser to your sensory area.  You can adapt battery run ones with a battery interrupter for switch use or get a plug in version and use with an environmental control unit.  Some more expensive versions have a remote control, which means you can program communication devices or IR environmental control units to run the diffuser.

7.  When doing sensory stimulation, sensory soothing and educational activities consider using scent:
Please note:  student and staff sensitivities and allergies must be taken into account when planning to add olfactory experiences to your program.  Some people believe that scented toys maybe risky for children, please be aware of the risks and understand your school/agency policy.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Free iPads for Low and Non-Verbal Individuals with Autism

Hollyrod Foundation has a program to provide individuals with autism and communication challenges iPads for communication.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Things you never thought you would say...

One of my tutoring students is a late bloomer in terms of AAC.  It wasn't until 17 when he received his first dynamic display device, a Tobii C-Eye

Six months later he was hanging out in his kitchen with a friend, blasting Shania Twain on his iTunes, through her Tobii.

"That's too loud; turn it down!" his mother told him.  Like any other teen would he turned it down, but just a little.

One of the best gifts of AAC and accessible environmental control is a chance to be like any other kid.  Not to mention the chance for a parent to be like any other parent.

More AAC Apps Coming to iPad

The world of AAC is opening up even more.  A number of new iPhone/iTouch/iPad apps are being added to the broad field of AAC apps in the iTunes App Store.

First TouchChat by Satillo offers the advantages of a well known and widely used AAC system that has been around for over a decade since the original ChatPC on the iDevices.  Four vocabulary page sets come with the TouchChat - VocabPC, MultiChat15, Spelling and Primary.  A number of other vocabulary page sets can be purchased if more suitable such as Inman Innovations Word Power and PRC's iEssence for literate users.  The TouchChat uses SymbolStix symbols with over 8,000 available.  TouchChat offers something unique to complete iDevice AAC systems - a sharing site where page sets can be posted and used by others.  The TouchChat app is $149 with additional costs for more vocabulary page sets and $59 for six months access to iShare.  A Windows based desktop editor is also available for $59, it must be used with a subscription to iShare.  This allows off-device programming.  The device also offers a choice of five synthesized voices.

Conley Solutions is adding a full AAC app to its Tap Speak Button and TapSpeak Sequence apps.  Tap Speak Choices uses Mayer-Johnson Pictures Symbols, allows 1-56 buttons per page, has drag 'n' drop editing and is one or two switch accessible using RJ Cooper's Bluetooth Switch Interace ($99).  No price has been listed for Tap Speak Choices nor is the type of speech listed - recorded or synthesized.

Smarty Ears is also offering an AAC app now, although much less compelling than either of those above or the original Proloquo2Go.  Smarty Ears AAC app is called Expressive.  It uses non-standardized clip art images, many of which are confusing (i.e. verbs is two clasped hands).  There are male or female voice options.  Expressive is $34.99.

It should be noted that some smaller, innovative health insurance companies, such as Fallon in the Northeast, are now funding iDevice based AAC. 

Finally RJ Cooper mentions on his site that ALL of the AAC Apps will be adding switch access.

A User Finds a Device

I will admit that I have been a naysayer about Dynavox's new Maestro AAC device.  My reasons for my less-than-impressed attitude are two fold.

First I find Dynavox's arrogance repugnant, take for example this quote, "When asked about the iPad at leading communications company, Dynavox, some of the representatives felt the device was helpful, but not to be relied on in assisting those with autism or other special needs." (The Examiner).  Really, Dynavox?  Really?  Since when do you get to decide what can be relied on for AAC?  Is it because it isn't a Dynavox or is it (more likely) that someone is offering an AAC solution with a price tag way way under the $8,000 you charge?  Everyone knows you charge that price because it is the top price the government will allow you to charge.  Tech prices in all other sectors drop over time as components become less expensive, but not for AAC.  Proloquo2Go has leveled the playing field for AAC as far as offering a complete language solutions of the same quality or better than the big players in the field at an affordable price.  Now well know AAC companies like Saltillo are jumping on the iPad bandwagon, offering AAC solutions for a price users, families and schools can afford.  Meanwhile Dynavox proports to be the field of AAC to help those with communication disorders and instead shows the kind of attitude shown in that the quote above (and others like it) which demonstrates what they really care about is making money for their stock holders before helping anyone.

Second I continue to find major faults with Dynavox's software system.  Both InterAACt (and Gateway before it) mix symbol sets without regard for the needs of the user, often times the symbols for a single word (i.e. "sorry") is different on the same pages within one system.  InterAACt has built in visual display scenes, which are poorly researched for most AAC users (research has found them useful for aphasia and young children with autism, which is only a percentage of AAC users), and those visual scenes are nearly impossible to remove.  Additionally InterAACts varibles are hard on those who need keyguards and the "emergent" communicator level lacks important vocabulary like, "feelings".  Essentially is is almost easier to program from scratch than it is to reprogram a Dynavox for many users.

Those things remaining true this past week I participated in a Maestro trial for a young adult user.  This user is currently using a Go Talk 20+.  This users is definitely ready for dynamic display.  We were looking for a lightweight device for this ambulatory user to be able to carry which had a large and bright screen and a key guard to assist in access issues for to fine motor control.  A number of devices have been trialled unsuccessfully, the PRC Springboard was difficult cognitively, the Saltillo Alt-Chat had a screen which was too dark and too small for our users vision issues, the Xpress was both too cognitively difficult and too small, Proloquo2Go on the iPad didn't have fine motor setting or a key guard that would help with the fine motor issues and the Dynavox V and Tobii C-8 were too heavy. 

Since we had a Dynavox rep coming out to demo an Eyemax for another user we asked for a Maestro for this user.  I was thrilled to see that the Maestro seems to be a perfect match for our user.  It is only .4 ounces heavier than the Alt-Chat, but the screen is large, bright and clear.  The key guard eliminated most (though not all) of our fine motor access issues.  Thus the only remaining problem was the software (with it's mixed symbol sets and key guard defying variables), thus we choose to make some pages from scratch for our user.  The page we mostly used, one we were calling "Bossy Betty" had words like "go", "on", "in", "under", "table", "corner", "outside", "chair", "come back" and "sorry".  Thus in what had to be the funniest demo I have ever been to I spent a lot of time under the table, in a chair, outside and in the corner.  This was the most communication we have ever seen out of this user in one time.

We will try again with the Maestro next week and then begin the long and arduous trek towards funding if things work out so well again.  (And a long trek it will be with that $8200 price tag.)

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